Preservice Teachers as Document Detectives

From Section:
Programs & Practicum
Jun. 01, 2020
June, 2020

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 45(6)

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines the preservice teachers’ understanding of critical analysis practices.
The paper argues for the importance of preservice teachers being encouraged to collaboratively construct knowledge of critical analysis practices, through interrogation of media text containing graphs and representations, the process of analysis dependent on ideas from mathematics.
Further, the paper describes the value of using items from the media as resources for enhancing knowledge of critical analysis practices.
This study focuses on preservice teachers’ ability to comprehend text from the media, in particular text that included mathematical representations.
Interrogation of such text has the potential to deepen students’ understanding of text that they may encounter in society.
The long term aim of interrogating such text in preservice classrooms would be to encourage the preservice teachers to carry such skills into the classroom.

Research process
During the research, a variety of media text that included graphs and representations was investigated and critically analysed by the preservice teachers.
The research questions were:
1. Why is it important to refer to ideas from mathematics, in the process of critically analysing media text containing visual representations?
2. What resources can be used in the process of scaffolding critical analysis competencies?

The case study research involved 23 preservice teacher participants who were enrolled in the Primary Graduate Diploma program at one Australian university.
The participants were involved in a series of learning sessions, the learning taking place once weekly for four weeks in a university classroom.
A selection of six samples of media text containing tables, graphs, and varied visuals were collaboratively discussed and critically analysed by small groups of five to six preservice teacher participants.
The process was guided by a mathematics education lecturer, who fulfilled the role of the facilitator of learning, encouraging and guiding the learners to participate in extensive critical discourse relating to the content and context of the media items.
During the process, data presented in the tables and graphs were used to justify, confirm, disconfirm, and summarise ideas, and make decisions, thereby aiding collaborative construction of meaning.
The preservice teachers’ critical discussions about the media items were recorded and data collated.

Results and discussion
Students require opportunities to engage with everyday text that reflects authentic cultural and social practices (Lemke, 2003), to aid them to efficiently utilise text that they encounter in everyday situations (Monteiro & Ainley, 2010).
Engaging everyday examples can aid preservice teachers (and other students) to “become media detectives themselves, looking for cases of poor practice or reporting” (Watson, 2000, p. 5).
Use of such text can aid them to uncover cases where text is written to influence ideas through presenting certain views and silencing others, for instance (Luke & Freebody, 1999).
In the current study, dialogue about the above-mentioned text depended on a deep engagement with the subtle meanings in the visual text by the preservice teachers.
Elements of the dialogue reflected critical analysis, referring to the views portrayed in the text, the purposes, bias and misrepresentations, disguised information and specific emphasis, the author’s background, and choices made when presenting the data.
However, in general, the preservice teachers struggled to comprehensively critically analyse the text.
As evident in the examples, with focus on such media visuals and scaffolding from other students and the facilitator, the preservice teachers were encouraged to collaboratively construct knowledge of critical analysis practices relating to tables, graphs, and varied visuals.
As illustrated in the examples, mathematical knowledge is often crucial in terms of drawing deep understanding and critically analysing and describing such visuals and representations.
This indicates the importance of extending preservice teachers’ knowledge of mathematical ideas in order to scaffold their ability to critically analyse media visuals (as a first step towards them conveying such skills to their students).
In this study, relying on mathematical ideas to analyse the text at times posed challenges to the preservice teachers.
For example, an understanding of the importance of random sampling when collecting data is crucial in terms of critically analysing the messages in such presentations.
Further, an understanding of the impact that the presentation of the data can have on the perceived meaning is also crucial in the critical analysis process.
With input from others and guidance from the facilitator, discussion can be extended to factors including mathematical factors that can impact on the authenticity of messages presented in graphs and visuals, such as the factors discussed in the above-mentioned examples.
The media resources selected in this study proved to be useful resources for the preservice teachers, providing opportunities for them to develop their ideas about critical analysis.
This concurs with other studies that found such items to be useful resources for scaffolding preservice teachers’ critical analysis competencies (Monteiro & Ainley, 2003, 2004, 2007; Robertson & Hughes, 2011).
Notably, these examples illustrate the significance of mastery of critical competencies in terms of constructing a deep understanding of mathematical information presented in media text. Investigation of such text in instruction has the potential to enhance understanding of the mathematical messages depicted in visuals and of claims made about the visuals (see Watson, 2015), and place learners in a better position to draw deep understanding of both the mathematical content and its representation in text.
In answer to the research questions, the examples illustrate the importance of a focus on mathematical ideas and language when scaffolding critical analysis competencies, a deep understanding of media visuals and representations often being dependent on mathematical knowledge.
In the examples, mathematical ideas were clearly crucial in terms of the preservice teachers’ ability to navigate, make deep meaning of, and describe the given text.
In many instances, the preservice teachers in this study required scaffolding to expand their critical competencies based on mathematical ideas.
This indicates the importance of preservice educators endeavouring to aid their students to navigate such text, similar text commonly found in the media rich world.
Although the study addressed the research questions, the outcomes of the study are limited by the small number of participants and small amount of media text investigated, and the fact that the study was non-longitudinal.
The results, do however, have the potential to aid understanding of the challenges faced by preservice teachers in the critical analysis of graphs and representations and the value of using media text in this regard.
These results can be extended by further comprehensive studies on the topic.

Lemke, J. L. (2003). Mathematics in the Middle: Measure, picture, gesture, sign, and word. In M. Anderson, A. Sáenz-Ludlow, S. Zellweger & V. V. Cifarelli (Eds.), Educational perspectives on mathematics as semiosis: From thinking to interpreting to knowing (pp. 215-234). Brooklyn, NY, and Ottawa, Ontario: Legas.
Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (1999). Further notes on the four resources model. Retrieved October 19, 2018, from
Monteiro, C., & Ainley, J. (2003). Developing critical sense in graphing. CERME 3: Proceedings of Third Conference of the European Society for Research in Mathematics Education, Bellaria, Italy (pp. 1-10). Retrieved from pdf
Monteiro, C., & Ainley, J. (2004). Critical sense in interpretations of media graphs. Proceedings of the 28th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Vol. 3 (pp. 361-368).
Monteiro, C., & Ainley, J. (2007). Investigating the interpretation of media graphs among student teachers. International Electronic Journal of Mathematics Education, 2(3), 187-207.
Monteiro, C. E. F., & Ainley, J. M. (2010). The interpretation of graphs: Reflecting on contextual aspects. Alexandria (UFSC), 3(2), 17-30.
Robertson, L., & Hughes, J. M. (2011). Investigating pre-service teachers’ understanding of critical media literacy. Language and Literacy, 13(2), 37-53.
Watson, J. M. (2000). Lessons from chance and data research for the classroom. Teaching Mathematics, 25(4), 3-9.
Watson, J. (2015). Statistical literacy in action: Should all graphs start at zero? Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 20(4), 26-30. 

Updated: Mar. 22, 2021
Case studies | Critical enquiry | Literacy instruction | Mathematics education | Preservice teachers