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The Knowledge, Beliefs and Attitudes

of the Mathematics Teacher: a model
Paul Ernest
University of Exeter, School of Education, St Lukes, Exeter
EX1 2LU, United Kingdom

Version of record first published: 07 Jul 2006

To cite this article: Paul Ernest (1989): The Knowledge, Beliefs and Attitudes of the
Mathematics Teacher: a model, Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and
pedagogy, 15:1, 13-33

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Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1989 13

The Knowledge, Beliefs and

Attitudes of the Mathematics
Teacher: a model
University of Exeter, School of Education, St Lukes, Exeter EX1 2LU, United
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ABSTRACT Official pressure for reforms in the teaching of mathematics overlooks a key factor:
the psychological foundations of the practice of teaching mathematics, including the teacher's
knowledge, beliefs and attitudes. Research on teaching and teacher education also under-
emphasises this area, which Shulman terms the 'missing program' in research on teacher
cognitions. The present paper addresses this lack by proposing an analytic model of the different
types of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of the mathematics teacher, and their relationship with
practice. Of particular note is the importance accorded to the teacher's practical knowledge of
the teaching of mathematics (both pedagogical and curricular knowledge), knowledge of
classroom organisation, and knowledge of the school context. Also notable is the importance
ascribed to the teacher's beliefs concerning the nature of mathematics, and concerning the
processes of teaching and learning mathematics. The model has implications for teacher
education, and these are discussed at the end of the paper.

The last 20 years has seen a substantial volume of research on teaching and the
teacher. Much of this has focused on psychological aspects of the teacher and, in
particular, on the teacher's general thought processes (Shavelson & Stern, 1981;
Clark & Peterson, 1986). However, a distinction can be drawn between two aspects
of the psychology of teaching. These are the teacher's thought processes, such as
planning, interactive decision-making and reflection, and the thought structures of
the teacher; the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes stored as schemas in the mind of
the teacher. The distinction between the fluid processes of thought and the semi-
permanent structures of thought, parallels Schwab's (1961) division between the
syntax and semantics of a discipline, and the traditional philosophical distinction
between function and structure (Philp, 1973).
This distinction, and the importance of both aspects of thought in the
psychology of teaching, has not been sufficiently emphasised in research until
recently, which has tended to focus on teachers' thought processes. There is now a
growing interest in teachers' knowledge, including attitudes and beliefs in some
14 P. Ernest

cases (Stones, 1979; Elbaz, 1981, 1983; Shulman 1986a, b, 1987; Bennett, 1987).
Shulman (1986b) terms the role of subject matter knowledge in teaching the
'missing program' in research on teacher cognitions, and argues that knowledge of
teaching will not advance until this lack is addressed.
This paper is intended as a contribution to the 'missing program'. It offers a
model of the cognitive structures; the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes specific to the
teacher of mathematics. It is intended to add to the overall understanding of
teaching by elucidating the teaching of a specific subject, namely mathematics. By
offering a conceptualisation of the psychology of mathematics teaching the model is
intended to provide a foundation on which to base both empirical research into
mathematics teachers and teaching and mathematics teacher education. Currently
empirical research based on the model of mathmatics teachers' knowledge, beliefs
and attitudes is underway. Some of the consequences of the model for teacher
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education are explored at the end of the paper. To the extent that the model is
successful and transferable, it may also serve as a paradigm for the understanding of
the teaching of other subject matter areas.
There is a particular need for such a model specific to mathematics. In many
countries there is a growing pressure for innovation in the teaching of mathematics.
Important official publications, such as NCTM (1980), in the USA, and Cockcroft
(1982) and HMI (1985), in non-Caledonian Britain, have made strong recommen-
dations for change including, most notably, the following:
—Mathematics teaching needs to focus more on problem-solving, applications
and higher level skills.
—Mathematics teaching must accommodate the advances in information and
microchip technologies, especially electronic calculators and microcompu-
ters, and equip students to make full use of these tools.
Furthermore, these recommendations are largely endorsed in the proposals for a
National Curriculum in Mathematics (DES, 1988), which is likely to become law in
the near future.
These recommendations are being urged on the mathematics teacher in the
name of 'good practice'. However, their enactment requires major changes of the
teacher, who must adopt new approaches to teaching, including a new role as
facilitator instead of instructor, as well as the acquisition of new knowledge. To
implement far-reaching innovations such as these successfully requires an under-
standing of the new demands made on the teacher, and of ways in which the teacher
can accommodate them. It also requires a more fundamental understanding of how a
mathematics teacher's knowledge, beliefs and attitudes provide a basis for classroom
teaching approaches. The present proposals represent a tentative attempt to specify
the essential knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of the mathematics teacher, and the
ways in which these affect the teaching of mathematics. They represent an attempt
to understand the psychological factors underpinning the impact of curriculum
innovation on the mathematics teacher, as well as providing a conceptual foundation
for empirical research on the mathematics teacher, and for the reform of mathema-
tics teacher education.
The Mathematics Teacher 15

The model that follows treats the mathematics teacher's cognitive structures,
the permanent but ever-changing and growing body of knowledge, beliefs and
attitudes stored in the mind of the teacher as schemas. These are the sources of the
constructs, relations, procedures and strategies through which the teacher's thought
processes operate. Indeed the teacher's procedural knowledge—most notably the
pedagogical skills—provide the basis for the teacher's thought processes, before,
during and after teaching. Also, the growth of thought structures either incremen-
tally or through restructuring, arises from the operation of the teacher's thought
processes (Yorke, 1987). Thus the teacher's thought processes and structures are
closely interrelated in practice. However, the following model aims to treat only half
of the picture, namely the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes of the mathematics
teacher. This is partly for reasons of space, but another good reason is that teachers'
thought processes, which can be described by the following cycle (see Ernest,
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planning —> teaching —> reflecting —> planning

comprise general thought processes, in contrast to the subject-specific knowledge,
beliefs and attitudes of the mathematics teacher.


The different components of the model are given in the following list.
of mathematics
of other subject matter
of teaching mathematics
Mathematics pedagogy
Mathematics curriculum
classroom organisation and management for mathematics teaching
of the context of teaching mathematics
The school context
The students taught
of education
Educational psychology
Mathematics education
Conception of the nature of mathematics
Models of teaching and learning mathematics
Model of teaching mathematics
Model of learning mathematics
Principles of education
16 P. Ernest

Attitude to mathematics
Attitude to teaching mathematics
The three different categories: knowledge, beliefs and attitudes, are discussed at
length below.

First of all, there are the knowledge components of the model. Evidently the
mathematics teacher needs knowledge of mathematics itself. Knowledge of other
subject matter, such as physics or geography, is also useful to the teacher of
mathematics. But beyond pure subject matter knowledge the teacher needs to know
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how to teach mathematics. This includes knowledge of how to represent mathemati-

cal topics and ideas in a way that children can grasp (pedagogical knowledge of
mathematics), knowledge of mathematics curriculum materials and resources, and
knowledge of how to organise and manage a mathematics class. The importance of
such pedagogical knowledge for teaching has only recently been recognised (for
example, see Stones, 1979; Elbaz, 1981, 1983; Shulman, 1986a, 1986b, 1987;
Bennett, 1987), and less often specifically for mathematics (Leinhardt & Smith,
1985; Lampert, 1988).
Teachers also quickly build up specific knowledge of the children taught, the
school and the overall context of teaching mathematics. Finally, teachers need
knowledge of education, mathematics education in particular, as its constructs,
theories and results inform the teacher's perceptions of classroom events, and
thought processes in general (Yorke, 1987). Knowledge of educational psychology
also plays an important part in planning teaching and understanding children's
learning (Stones, 1979).

Knowledge of Mathematics
Mathematical knowledge, unlike some of the other components in the model, is
built up from early childhood onwards, and is often largely constructed before the
end of the pre-service teacher education period. The teacher's knowledge of
mathematics is a complex conceptual structure which is characterised by a number
of factors, including its extent and depth; its structure and unifying concepts;
knowledge of procedures and strategies; links with of other subjects; knowledge
about mathematics as a whole and its history.
This knowledge provides an essential foundation for the teaching of mathema-
tics. The major goal of teaching is to facilitate the reconstruction of some portion of
the teacher's knowledge of mathematics by the learner. Whatever means of instruc-
tion are adopted the teacher needs a substantial knowledge base in the subject in
order to plan for instruction and to understand and guide the learner's responses.
The teacher's knowledge of mathematics will underpin the teacher's explanations,
demonstrations, diagnosis of misconceptions, acceptance of children's own methods,
The Mathematics Teacher 17

curriculum decisions (such as emphasising central concepts), and so on. Thus

knowledge of mathematics provides a foundation for the teacher's pedagogical
knowledge and skills for teaching mathematics.

Knowledge of Other Subject Matter

Knowledge of other subject matter has an important contribution to make to the
teaching of mathematics, for it provides a stock of knowledge of uses and applica-
tions of mathematics, which can serve two purposes. First of all, the uses of
mathematics such as networks in geography, graphs in economics, probability in
genetics, formulas in physical science, and so on, provide justification and motiva-
tion for studying some of the content of mathematics by showing children its
relevance. Second, it provides a range of models, images and analogies for mathema-
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tical concepts. For example, the thermometer and depth below sea level, model the
ordering of integers, and image projection by light provides an analogy for mathe-
matical enlargement. Such models and images offer concrete and familiar represen-
tations of abstract mathematical concepts, and provide a basis for the learning of
these concepts, by building on children's previous knowledge.
Knowledge of the processes and methods of inquiry of other subjects can also
contribute to the teaching of mathematics, since many of these processes, such as
looking for pattern, hypothesising relationships and testing conjectures, are equally a
part of mathematical problem-solving, which is identified by many as the heart of
mathematics (NCTM, 1980; Cockcroft, 1982; National Curriculum Mathematics
Working Group, 1987).

Knowledge of Teaching Mathematics

Knowledge of teaching mathematics can be divided into two areas, pedagogical and
curriculum knowledge of mathematics, after Shulman (1986a).
Pedagogical knowledge of mathematics. This is practical knowledge of teaching
mathematics. It includes knowledge of approaches to school mathematics topics;
different ways of presenting mathematics including problem-solving; knowledge of
children's methods, conceptions, difficulties and common errors; knowledge of
mathematical tasks, activities, explanations, test items, and so on. It is this knowl-
edge which a teacher uses to transform and represent knowledge of mathematics for
teaching (Wilson, Shulman & Richert, 1987). Thus it is central to the planning of
instruction; also to interaction with individual learners and to other decision-making
during teaching based on pedagogical (as opposed to managerial) grounds.
Curriculum knowledge of mathematics. This includes knowledge of texts and
schemes used to teach mathematics, their contents and ways of using them; school
produced curricular materials; other teaching resources such as computer software
and teaching apparatus; examinations, tests and syllabuses. This is knowledge of the
materials and media through which mathematics instruction is carried out and
assessed. Shulman (1986a) refers to this as the knowledge of the materia medica of
18 P. Ernest

teaching, in an analogy with the practice of medicine. Evidently this knowledge is

vital to the planning and carrying out of mathematics teaching.
Recent years have been a growing acknowledgement of the importance of
pedagogical subject matter knowledge in general (Elbaz, 1981, 1983; Stones, 1979;
Wilson, Shulman & Richert, 1987; Tamir, 1988), and mathematics teaching knowl-
edge in particular (Leinhardt & Smith,1985; Kuhs & Ball, 1986; Lampert, 1988). It
is increasingly recognised that this knowledge forms the essential bridge between
academic subject matter knowledge and the teaching of subject matter. For it is that
knowledge which determines how mathematics is represented to students in their
learning experiences, either directly by the teacher, or by means of instructional
media. It includes the practical skills of transforming subject matter for teaching,
and the pedagogical knowledge and skills for teaching it. Because of its largely
practical origins, knowledge of teaching subject matter has been termed practical
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knowledge (Elbaz, 1981, 1983). Stones (1979) provides a three-fold analysis of the
skills associated with such pedagogical knowledge. He suggests that the knowledge
can be manifested in (A) performance by the teacher, (B) recognition in others'
performances, and (C) explicit verbal description and explanation. This analysis
illustrates the complexity of such knowledge, since it comprises both practical skills
and general principles.
Teachers begin to acquire their knowledge of mathematics teaching during their
student years, on the basis of their learning experiences (Ball, 1987, personal
communication). They learn mathematics pedagogy during their pre-service teacher
education, in mathematics curriculum and methodology courses, which also attend,
in varying degree, to curriculum knowledge of mathematics. However the most
significant part of teachers' learning of such knowledge probably takes place during
teaching itself, either pre-service teaching practice or in service, being based on
practical teaching experience.

Knowledge of Organisation for Teaching Mathematics

This includes knowledge of organising classes of students for mathematics instruc-
tion in co-operative groups, individually, or as a whole class; classroom questioning;
the management of practical activities, as well as visits and excursions; control
aspects such as keeping order and gaining attention; knowledge of classroom
routines, access to resources, and managing classroom testing; the management of
classroom resources such as furniture, computers and texts; and so on.
This knowledge is important because the teaching of mathematics to a group of
30 children clearly requires organisational and managerial knowledge and skills, in
addition to the types of knowledge and skill listed above (Doyle, 1986; Bennett,
The assumption made here is that the knowledge of organisation and manage-
ment for teaching is specific to mathematics. For the mathematics teacher, this
knowledge is to a large extent acquired experientially during the teaching of
mathematics, and is specific in that it is both acquired and employed in the teaching
of mathematics. But this is not to say that it cannot be transferred to other areas of
The Mathematics Teacher 19

the curriculum, although a degree of transformation may be required. Clearly

knowledge of managing a particular individualised learning scheme for mathematics
is less transferable than knowledge of organising a display of children's mathemati-
cal work.

Knowledge of the Context of Teaching

During service at a particular site, teachers acquire specific knowledge of the
context of teaching, which embraces the students, staff, and the whole social and
material fabric of the school.
Knowledge of students. This includes knowledge of the classes of students
taught: their group dynamics, group behaviour, how they interact and co-operate in
groups, their responsiveness to learning tasks, their responses to the teacher's
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authority, and the steps that need to be taken to elicit their co-operation and to
control them. It also includes knowledge of the children taught as individuals, both
as learners, and as individual members of the school community.
Knowledge of school context. This includes knowledge of other teachers;
knowledge of the classroom, departmental and school location of teaching resources,
such as computers, audio-visual and reprographic facilities; knowledge of school
governance regulations, procedures, assessment systems and policies; knowledge of
out-of-class activities; knowledge of the school ethos, and of the school and
departmental expectations concerning the role of the teacher; and so on. It also
extends beyond the school, to knowledge of its broader social, cultural, ethnic and
geographic contexts.
The impact of the context of teaching on teachers is noted by many authors
(Clark & Peterson, 1986), although the importance of the teacher's knowledge of
this area is given less recognition (but see Elbaz, 1983; Feinman-Nemser & Floden,
1986). Its importance is that it provides the teacher with representations of the
social context in all its multiplicity. Thus it is through this knowledge that the
constraints, pressures and opportunities afforded by the social context of teaching
are mediated. It seems likely that knowledge of the students taught and knowledge
of the school context are, together, among the most powerful determinants of the
classroom approach employed by the teacher. Studies of teacher socialization
effects, both in general (Lacey, 1977), and in particular for mathematics (Brown,
1986) confirm this.

Knowledge of Education
This component of a teacher's knowledge includes all the concepts, theories,
empirical results and other knowledge that is acquired from the literature and
courses in educational psychology, education and mathematics education. It also
includes knowledge of the diversity of social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds and
of special educational needs. This knowledge is important because it provides the
teacher with the means to construe and interpret classroom experiences, as well as
to reflect on and assess a whole broad range of educational issues and experiences.
20 P. Ernest

Thus it plays a key role in reflection, as well as in planning, particularly in

providing the conceptual resources for the teacher to accommodate individual,
social, cultural and educational diversity in the classroom. In addition, meaningful
instruction depends on the teacher's knowledge of educational psychology, as it
applies to learning and instruction (Stones, 1979, 1983).
This analysis of the knowledge used by the teacher of mathematics in his or her
professional activity raises a number of questions:
—How much and which aspects of a teacher's knowledge of mathematics is
actually used in teaching? Precisely how is this knowledge used?
—How do teacher education courses assist in developing the teacher's practical
knowledge of teaching, including the pedagogical, curriculum and organisa-
tional knowledge of mathematics teaching?
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—Can mathematics teacher education courses usefully prepare teachers to

learn of the social context of teaching, or must this be acquired in service?
—Which aspects of educational theory are actually useful in practice, and how
are they used?
In addition to knowledge it is necessary to consider beliefs to account for the
differences between mathematics teachers. It is possible for two teachers to have
very similar knowledge, but for one to teach mathematics with a problem-solving
orientation, whilst the other has a more didactic approach. Because of the potent
effects of beliefs, like this, the model provides an extensive treatment of the
mathematics teacher's beliefs.
What is referred to here as 'beliefs' consists of the teacher's system of beliefs,
conceptions, values and ideology also referred to elsewhere as the teacher's 'disposi-
tions' (Kuhs & Ball, 1986). The importance of teachers' beliefs and conceptions
concerning subject matter has been noted by a number of authors, both for
mathematics (Kuhs & Ball, 1986; Ernest, 1987, 1988b; Underhill, 1987; Brown,
1988; Cooney, 1988) and for other areas of the curriculum (Clark & Peterson, 1986;
Feinman-Nemser & Floden, 1986). The argument is that such conceptions have a
powerful impact on teaching through such processes as the selection of content and
emphasis, styles of teaching, and modes of learning. In addition to subject matter
related beliefs, the teacher's principles of education and views of its overall goals are
also important (Wilson, Shulman & Richert, 1987).

Conception of the Nature of Mathematics

This is a teacher's belief system concerning the nature of mathematics as a whole.
Such views form the basis of the philosophy of mathematics, although some of the
views likely to be held by teachers may not have been elaborated into fully
articulated philosophies. Teachers' conceptions of the nature of mathematics by no
means have to be consciously held views; rather they may be implicitly held
philosophies. The importance of such views of subject matter has been noted both
The Mathematics Teacher 21

across a range of subjects (Feinman-Nemser & Floden, 1986) and for mathematics
in particular (Thorn, 1973; Lerman, 1983, 1986; Ernest 1985, 1987, 1988b). Out of
a number of possible variations, three philosophies of mathematics are distinguished
because of their observed occurrence in the teaching of mathematics (Thompson,
1984), as well as for their significance in the academic study of the philosophy of
mathematics (Benecerraf & Putnam, 1964; Lakatos, 1976; Davis & Hersh, 1980;
Tymoczko, 1985). They are presented here in simplified form, and in practice
teachers may combine elements from more than one of the views.
First of all, there is a dynamic, problem-driven view of mathematics as a
continually expanding field of human inquiry. Mathematics is not a finished
product, and its results remain open to revision (the problem-solving view).
Secondly, there is the view of mathematics as a static but unified body of
knowledge, consisting of interconnecting structures and truths. Mathematics is a
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monolith, a static immutable product, which is discovered, not created (the Platonist
Thirdly, there is the view that mathematics is a useful but unrelated collection
of facts, rules and skills (the instrumentalist view).
Teachers' views of the nature of mathematics may also be compounded with
additional constructs, such as views of the relationship between different subject
matter areas, for example. Is mathematics entirely distinct from other disciplines?
Or are mathematics and other areas of knowledge interrelated or partly integrated,
sharing concepts and methods of inquiry? The conception of knowledge as inte-
grated is often associated with a problem-solving view of mathematics, but there is
no strict necessity behind this link.
The different philosophies of mathematics have practical classroom outcomes.
For example, an active, problem-solving view of mathematical knowledge can lead
to the acceptance of children's methods and approaches to tasks. In contrast, a static
Platonist or instrumentalist view of mathematics can lead to the teacher's insistence
on there being a single 'correct' method for solving each problem. Again, a teacher's
view of knowledge as integrated can lead to teaching in which mathematics and
other subject matter areas are interrelated. The opposite view can result in an
insistence that questions of mathematics and geography, for example, are dealt with
separately during mathematics lessons and geography lessons.
Some of the main curriculum reform movements in mathematics have
been based on views of mathematics. The 'modern maths' movement of the early
1960s can be likened to the Platonist view through its stress on structure, the laws
of number, and central and unifying concepts of mathematics, such as sets
and functions. A second parallel can be drawn between the instrumentalist view and
that underlying the 'back-to-basics' movement. This movement emphasises basic
numeracy as knowledge of facts, rules and skills, without regard for meaningful
connections within this knowledge. More recently, the problem-solving view of
mathematics has been reflected in the recommendations of official bodies (NCTM,
1980; Cockcroft, 1982; HMI, 1985; National Curriculum Mathematics Working
Group, 1987). Namely, that the processes and strategies of mathematical activity
22 P. Ernest

are central, and that the main aim of mathematics teaching is to empower children
to become creative and confident solvers of problems.
Teachers' views of mathematics evidently affect the extent to which such
curriculum innovations or movements take hold, through the way mathematics is
taught (Thorn, 1973; Cooney, 1988). For beliefs about mathematics are reflected in
teachers' models of the teaching and learning of mathematics, and hence in their
practices (Thompson, 1984).

Models of Teaching and Learning Mathematics

These are the teachers' beliefs or mental models of the nature of the teaching and
learning mathematics. The importance of these models is the powerful impact they
have on the way in which mathematics is taught in the classroom (Cooney, 1985,
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1988; Ernest, 1988b; Kuhs & Ball, 1986; Thompson, 1984). The influence of these
models is mediated via the minutiae of classroom experience: such as the choice of
mathematics learning tasks, the treatment of children's errors, the acceptance of
children's ideas, the fidelity with which a published mathematics scheme or text is
followed, and so on. It seems appropriate to term these beliefs 'models' since they
are sets of ideas (which may include memories of past teachers) on which the
teacher 'models' his or her behaviour.
Model of teaching mathematics. This is the teacher's conception of the type
and range of teaching actions and classroom activities contributing to his or her
personal approaches to the teaching of mathematics. It includes mental imagery of
prototypical classroom teaching and learning activities, as well as the principles
underlying teaching orientations. Some of the constructs involved are the follow-
ing: A narrow, instrumental and basic skills type view versus a broader, creative
and exploratory view of mathematics teaching; A meaning, understanding, and
unified body of knowledge view versus a facts and skills mastery view of mathe-
matics teaching, which focuses on performance and correctness of response; In the
use of curricular materials: an approach in which mathematics is based on strictly
following a text or scheme, versus an approach in which the teacher supplements
or enriches the textbook with additional problems and activities, versus an ap-
proach in which the teacher or school constructs virtually all of the mathematics
curriculum materials.
Using these constructs the following simplified models of mathematics teaching
can be sketched:
—the pure investigational, problem posing and solving model
—the conceptual understanding enriched with problem-solving model
—the conceptual understanding model
—the mastery of skills and facts with conceptual understanding model
—the mastery of skills and facts model
—the day to day survival model
The importance of the teacher's mental model of mathematics teaching is that it is
the key determinant of how mathematics is taught, given the contextual constraints
The Mathematics Teacher 23

which must be accommodated in any school situation. It is likely to be closely

related to and influenced by the teacher's conception of the nature of mathematics,
as was suggested above.
Many of the recommendations for the improvement of mathematics teaching
focus explicitly on changes in this model (NCTM, 1980; Cockcroft, 1982; HMI
1985; National Curriculum Mathematics Working Group, 1987). Thus, for
example, the Cockcroft Report (1982, paragraph 243) urges that mathematics
teaching at all levels should include problem solving, discussion, practical and
investigational work, in addition to the more frequently occurring teacher exposition
and pupil practice of routines. For these recommendations to be carried out, it is
necessary for many mathematics teachers to make changes in their styles of
It is clear that teachers' models of the teaching of mathematics are an important
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factor in the implementation of curriculum reforms. Furthermore, they are a factor

which is overlooked in many patterns of curriculum dissemination, resulting in
innovations being assimilated to teachers' existing models of teaching. For example,
the new British General Certificate of Secondary Education examination (SEC,
1985) requires that pupils carry out mathematical investigations and projects for
assessment, but it has already been noted that teachers are treating such inquiries
didactically (Lerman, 1987).
Model of learning mathematics. Closely associated with the above is the
teacher's mental model of the learning of mathematics. This consists of the teacher's
view of the process of learning mathematics, what behaviours and mental activities
are involved on the part of the learner, and what constitute appropriate and
prototypical learning activities. Thus it is made up of aims, expectations, concep-
tions and images of learning activities and of the process of learning mathematics in
general. Two of the key constructs on which the range of models of learning
mathematics are based are as follows: A view of learning as the active construction
of knowledge as a meaningful connected whole, versus a view of learning mathema-
tics as the passive reception of knowledge; The development of autonomy and the
child's own interests in mathematics versus a view of the learner as submissive and
Using these key constructs the following simplified models of learning mathe-
matics can be described:
—child's exploration and autonomous pursuit of own interests model
—child's constructed understanding and interest driven model
—child's constructed understanding driven model
—child's mastery of skills model
—child's linear progress through curricular scheme model
—child's complaint behaviour model
The teacher's model of learning mathematics concerns the nature of the child's
activity, and the role assigned to the child's volition and choice. An explicit focus on
the model of learning is often associated with a child-centred teaching ideology, as
in the Plowden Report (1967). However, the suggestion here is that a model of
24 P. Ernest

learning mathematics plays a central role in the beliefs of teachers of all educational
The teacher's model of learning mathematics, in so far as it is realised in
practice, is a vital factor in the child's experience of learning mathematics. It
influences both the cognitive and affective outcomes of learning experiences. In the
long term these learning experiences can vary in results from a student who is an
interested, confident, skilled and autonomous problem-solver, at best, to one who is
a disenchanted, non-numerate mathephobe, at worst.

Principles of Education
These are the very general values, beliefs and principles that underpin a teacher's
view of the aims and purposes and nature of education. Some of a mathematics
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teacher's principles are likely to be specifically concerned with the teaching of

mathematics, such as a commitment to giving every child the experience of success
and confidence in mathematics; a commitment to the preparation of critical thinking
and numerate citizens; a belief that every child can be creative and original in
mathematics; a respect for each child's own mathematical knowledge: a unique
network of experiences, concepts, associations, strategies, feelings: and so on.
A teacher's principles can exert a powerful influence on teaching, especially via
planning and reflective thought processes. However, their effect depends very much
on the extent to which the teacher's beliefs and actions form an integrated whole.
For principles to be effective, they need to be linked with the teacher's models of
teaching and learning, as well as with the actual practice of teaching.

The third category of the proposed model consists of the attitude components:
attitudes to mathematics, and attitudes to teaching mathematics. Again, there is
recognition of the importance of these components for the teaching of mathematics
(Battista, 1986; Ernest, 1988a; Schofield & Start, 1978).

Attitude to Mathematics
First of all, there are the teacher's attitudes to mathematics itself. These include
liking, enjoyment and interest in mathematics, or their opposites, which in the
extreme case can include mathephobia. There is also the teacher's confidence in his
or her own mathematical abilities: the teacher's mathematical self-concept, and the
teacher's valuing of mathematics.

Attitude to Teaching Mathematics

Second, there are the teacher's attitudes to the teaching of mathematics. These
The Mathematics Teacher 25

include liking, enjoyment and enthusiasm for the teaching of mathematics, and
confidence in the teacher's own mathematics teaching ability (or their opposites).
Attitudes to mathematics and its teaching are important contributors to a
teacher's make-up and approach, because of the effect they can have on a child's
attitudes to mathematics and its learning (Aiken, 1970). As is well known, affective
factors have a powerful influence on learning (Evans, 1965; Khan & Weiss, 1973).
Researchers have found a significant correlation between teacher attitude and
student achievement in mathematics (Begle, 1979; Schofield, 1981; Bishop &
Nickson 1983), although it is often found to be weak (Begle, 1979; Bell, Costello &
Kuchemann, 1983). Whilst attention was initially directed at attitudes to mathema-
tics itself, researchers are finding that the second cluster of attitudes is equally
important (Schofield & Start, 1978; Battista, 1986), or even more powerful (Ernest,
1988a), in terms of impact on the teaching of mathematics.
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This analysis of the beliefs and attitudes of the teacher of mathematics raises a
number of questions: To what extent do a teacher's attitudes and beliefs affect their
teaching of mathematics? How does this take place? How do teachers' realised or
enacted models of teaching and learning mathematics differ from their espoused or
stated models? What are the effects of teacher education courses on teachers'
attitudes and beliefs? What experiences have a positive effect on attitudes and
beliefs? Which have a negative effect? It has been noted that student teachers'
idealism is 'washed out' by socialisation in schools (Lacey, 1977). Can teachers be
helped to develop beliefs about mathematics and its teaching which are realistic and
robust enough to resist this? What leads to shifts in beliefs and attitudes? Is it
involvement in new practices, as curriculum developers suggest (Ahmed, 1987), or
reflection on beliefs and practice?


To complete the account of the proposed model of the knowledge, beliefs and
attitudes of the mathematics teacher an account of the structure is needed. This
must include the relationships between the various components of the mathematics
teacher's knowledge, beliefs and attitudes, as well as the practice of teaching. A
number of other authors also include the practice dimensions in their models of
teaching. These models may be general, such as in Clark & Peterson (1986), or
specific to the teaching of mathematics, as in Kuhs & Ball (1986) and Underhill
The practice of teaching mathematics is, of course, the primary function of the
mathematics teacher, and the end to which the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes are
directed. Beyond this end, it is important to consider the practice of teaching for a
further reason. For the observation of practice can reveal an important mismatch.
This is the disparity between the teacher's beliefs and intentions, on the one hand,
and the teacher's actual classroom practice, on the other. Case-studies have shown
that there can be a great disparity between a teacher's espoused models of teaching
26 P. Ernest

and learning, and the models actually realised in the teaching of mathematics
(Thompson, 1984; Cooney, 1985; Brown, 1986; Cooney & Brown 1986).
We first consider the impact of the three areas of the model on the practice of
teaching mathematics. This provides an indication of the functional relationships
that exist between the separate elements of the model.

The Impact of Knowledge on Teaching Mathematics

Knowledge of mathematics, and other subject matter, has a key role to play in the
teaching of mathematics, as has been discussed above. It is transformed by means of
the practical knowledge of mathematics teaching (both pedagogical and curricular)
into representations for the classroom use of content knowledge. In this way
theoretical knowledge of the concept and methods of mathematics relates to the use
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of mathematics content in teaching, mediated by practical knowledge of teaching

Knowledge of education informs a number of aspects of practical knowledge of
teaching, including knowledge of organisation and management, the context of
teaching, and practical knowledge of teaching mathematics, especially pedagogy. In
particular, knowledge of educational psychology makes a key contribution, through
mathematical pedagogy, to the understanding of children's learning, including the
assessment of its outcomes. It contributes to the diagnosis of student levels of
learning, and in matching tasks to individual pupils. In this the teacher's knowledge
of the context of teaching, especially knowledge of the students, has an important
part to play. It also underpins classroom relationships, through knowledge of
individual pupils and the matching of tasks to individual pupils.
The teacher's knowledge of classroom organisation is reflected in the organisa-
tion and classroom procedures adopted in practice.

The Impact of Beliefs on Teaching Mathematics

The teacher's view of the nature of mathematics provides a basis for his or her
mental models of the teaching and learning of mathematics. For views of the nature
of mathematics are likely to correspond to views of its teaching and learning. Thus,
for example, the instrumental view of mathematics is likely to be associated with a
transmission model of teaching, and with the strict following of a text or scheme. It
may also be associated with the child's compliant behaviour and mastery of skills
model of learning.
Similar links can be conjectured between other views and models, for example:
Mathematics as a Platonist unified body of knowledge corresponds to a view of the
teacher as explainer, and learning as the reception of knowledge, although an
emphasis on the child constructing a meaningful body of knowledge, is also
consistent with this view; Mathematics as problem-solving corresponds to a view of
the teacher as facilitator, and learning as autonomous problem posing and solving,
perhaps also as the active construction of understanding.
The Mathematics Teacher 27

The teacher's mental or espoused models of teaching and learning mathematics,

subject to the constraints and contingencies of the school context, are transformed
into classroom practices. These are the enacted (as opposed to espoused) model of
teaching mathematics, the use of mathematics texts or materials, and the enacted (as
opposed to espoused) model of learning mathematics. The espoused-enacted dis-
tinction is necessary, because case-studies have shown that there can be a great
disparity between a teacher's espoused and enacted models of teaching and learning
mathematics (Brown, 1986; Cooney, 1985; Cooney & Brown, 1986; Thompson,
1984). Three key causes for the mismatch between beliefs and practices are as
First of all, there is the depth of the espoused beliefs: the extent to which they
are integrated with other knowledge and beliefs, especially pedagogical knowledge.
If the beliefs are represented in a disconnected verbal way, without rich connec-
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tions to other beliefs and knowledge, only a limited basis for their enactment
exists. Hence a disparity between espoused or stated beliefs and actions, should
not be surprising.
Second, there is the teacher's level of consciousness of his or her own beliefs,
and the extent to which the teacher reflects on his or her practice of teaching
mathematics, leading towards a greater integration of beliefs and practice. Some of
the key elements in the teacher's thinking, as it concerns practice, are the
following: Awareness of having adopted specific views and assumptions as to the
nature of mathematics and its teaching and learning; The ability to justify these
views and assumptions; and Reflexivity: being concerned to reconcile and integrate
classroom practices with beliefs; and to reconcile conflicting beliefs themselves.
Third, there is the powerful influence of the social context. This results from
the expectations of others, especially teachers and superiors. It also results from
the institutionalised curriculum embodied in adopted texts, the system of assess-
ment, and so on. These sources lead the teacher to internalise a powerful set of
contraints affecting the enactment of the models of teaching and learning mathe-
matics. The socialisation effect of the context is so powerful that teachers in the
same school, despite having differing beliefs about mathematics and its teaching,
are often observed to adopt similar classroom practices (Lerman, 1986).
A number of areas of knowledge play an important role in the teacher's enacted
models of teaching and learning mathematics, as the above discussion suggests. First
of all, appropriate practical knowledge of teaching mathematics, both pedagogical
and curricular, is necessary for the implementation of such models. Second,
appropriate knowledge of organisation and management is indeed. Third, knowledge
of the different components of education helps to provide a basis for these models,
such as knowledge of learning theory. Finally, knowledge of the context of teaching
is needed to enable the models to be adjusted to fit and to respond to the realities of
the teaching context.
The teacher's principles of education can also be expected to have an impact on
the ways in which specifically mathematical beliefs are enacted, and the way
knowledge is utilised in the teaching of mathematics.
28 P. Ernest

The Impact of Attitudes on Teaching Mathematics

Finally, the teacher's attitudes to mathematics itself may affect the teacher's
attitudes to the teaching of mathematics, which in turn have a powerful impact on
the atmosphere and ethos of the mathematics classroom. In particular, the teacher's
displayed attitudes to the teaching of mathematics, such as enthusiasm and confi-
dence, can be expected be a major contributor to the ethos of the mathematics
classroom. This in turn can be expected to have a powerful influence on pupils'
perceptions of mathematics. Although it is, of course, the pupil's total classroom
experience of learning mathematics which contributes to the pupil's learning of, and
views and attitudes towards mathematics, and ultimately, to the pupil's achievement
in mathematics.
Teacher knowledge, especially that of mathematics and its teaching, can be
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expected to influence the teacher's mathematical attitudes. It seems likely that

confidence, both with regard to mathematics and its teaching, will relate to the
teacher's knowledge of these areas, via the perceived adequacy of the teacher's


This account of the impact of teachers' thought structures on teaching utilises a
two-fold division of the elements of the model. There are, first of all, the
components of theoretical knowledge and associated beliefs and attitudes. Secondly,
there are practical knowledge components, and associated beliefs and attitudes.
Typically these two types of elements are linked: aspects of theoretical knowledge
(and associated beliefs and attitudes) form the basis for components of practical
knowledge (and associated beliefs and attitudes), which relate to some aspect of
classroom teaching practice. To a large extent, the distinction between these the two
types of knowledge involved is that between 'knowing that', and 'knowing how',
which is made by Ryle (1949). It has been further developed, in a psychological
direction, by Stones (1979) in his distinctions between knowledge types A, B and C.
At some remove from practice is theoretical knowledge ('knowing that'), and
teacher's beliefs and attitudes towards it. It includes the more organised and
principled theoretical knowledge which is largely acquired prior to or away from the
practice of teaching. This level includes knowledge of mathematics and other
subject matter, beliefs about and attitudes towards mathematics, knowledge of
education, and educational principles.
Closer to the practice of teaching is the practical knowledge ('knowing how'),
and teachers' beliefs and attitudes towards the practice of teaching mathematics. It
is called practical knowledge (after Elbaz, 1981,1983) because it is largely acquired
from the practice of teaching. This level includes knowledge of teaching mathema-
tics, models of teaching and learning mathematics, knowledge of classroom organisa-
tion and of the school context of teaching, and attitudes towards the teaching of
mathematics. Some of these components, such as the models of teaching and
learning mathematics, fit less easily in this grouping, because they have principles
constituents, as well as relating directly to practice.
The Mathematics Teacher 29

The model of the knowledge, beliefs and attitudes which underpins the
practices of the mathematics teacher, presented above, can be compared with a
number of other current models in the literature. The proposed model shares many
of its components with, and indeed owes a number of features to one of the major
research programmes in this area, Lee Shulman's Knowledge Growth in a Profession
project (Shulman, Sykes & Phillips, 1983). In Wilson, Shulman & Richert (1987) a
model of teacher's knowledge is proposed with the following constituents: Knowl-
edge of subject matter, pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of other content,
knowledge of curriculum, knowledge of learners, knowledge of educational aims and
general pedagogical knowledge. These are empirically well grounded categories,
since Shulman and his collaborators have been carrying out extensive experimental
work. The comparison evidently provides some measure of support for the present
model, since there is evidently a great deal of overlap. A key difference is the
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apparent neglect of attitudes and beliefs. However it seems that beliefs about
subject matter, at least to some extent, are incorporated into Shulman's 'knowledge
of subject matter' category. Again 'knowledge of the context of teaching' is missing,
but it is included in accounts elsewhere as 'knowledge of educational contexts'
(Shulman, 1987).
The shared features with Shulman and co-workers' treatment of teachers'
knowledge suggests that the present model can be generalised. It is easy to replace
mathematics and the associated conceptions and models by say, English, and
conceptions of teaching and learning language, including writing and reading. There
is a range of views of the nature and function of language, just as in the philosophy
of mathematics (Clark & Peterson, 1986).
Concerning the mathematics teacher, the models that are available are less
thoroughly worked out. Underhill (1987) proposes a tentative model which distin-
guishes between beliefs/conceptions, professional knowledge and professional ac-
tions. Its components are:
Beliefs/conceptions: mathematics, mathematics learning, mathematics teaching.
Professional knowledge: generic pedagogy, mathematics pedagogy, mathematical
knowledge, curricular knowledge, generic professional knowledge.
Professional actions: classroom, planning/evaluation, professionalism.
These categories, and their constituents, have much in common with those of
the present proposals. Generic professional knowledge, for example, is comparable
with knowledge of education and the context of teaching. The most significant
differences are the inclusion of professionalism (professional behaviour), and the
exclusion of attitudes (although these seem to be implicit in some of the constitu-
ents). The present proposals also have much in common with a model of the
mathematics teacher's knowledge and beliefs in Kuhs & Ball (1986).
Thus by comparison both with a general model and with models specific to
mathematics teaching, the present proposals gain support from consistency with the
models of other researchers.
30 P. Ernest


The model presented above makes two distinctions which are relevant when
considering its implications for teacher education. First of all, there is the distinc-
tion between knowledge, beliefs and attitudes. Knowledge is the cognitive outcome
of teacher education, and beliefs and attitudes represent the affective outcome (for
simplicity the slender but significant cognitive aspect of beliefs is ignored). The
cognitive goals of teacher education, namely the acquisition of knowledge, may be
addressed relatively directly as the content of instructional and learning experi-
ences (but more of this later). The affective goals, namely the development of
beliefs and attitudes, cannot be treated in this way as the content of instruction, to
any significant extent. The acquisition of models of teaching and learning mathe-
matics will largely occur through the modes of instruction experienced and wit-
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nessed. Views of the nature of mathematics will likewise depend on the modes of
instruction and types of experience through which mathematics is learned. Atti-
tudes to mathematics and its teaching will represent the teacher's personal reac-
tions to experiences in these areas, compounded with other influences. These
examples serve to show that the crucial factor in developing beliefs and attitudes
in teacher education is the form, rather than the content of the learning experi-
ences. One of key features of the model presented above is the importance
accorded to the beliefs of the mathematics teacher. The consequence for teacher
education is that great attention must be given to the form or mode of presenta-
tion of teacher preparation courses. Thus if, as Cockcroft (1982) recommends,
mathematics teaching should include significant elements of practical work, discus-
sion, problem solving and investigative work, then so too must teacher education,
if teachers are to learn to model these styles. Of course, this point is not new.
Stones (1983), for example, draws attention to the irony of teacher education
institutions using lecture methods to teach pedagogy. The inconsistency of the
form and content of such instruction seems likely to negate the intended out-
comes. By attaching importance to beliefs and attitude components for the teach-
ing of mathematics the model presented here provides a further powerful rationale
for examining and planning the modes of instruction of teacher education courses
as carefully as their contents.
The second distinction made is that between theoretical and practical knowl-
edge. Theoretical knowledge has long been the main content of teacher education
courses, leavened with some teaching methodology courses and practical teaching
experiences. Practical knowledge has traditionally been treated rather casually.
Other than in the methodology course, it is assumed to be acquired from immersion
in teaching experiences and practices. The model proposed here identifies a number
of important areas of practical knowledge for teaching. These are pedagogical
knowledge of teaching mathematics, curriculum knowledge for teaching mathema-
tics, knowledge of organisation and management for mathematics teaching, and
knowledge of the context of mathematics teaching, including both knowledge of
school and of pupils. The assumption that these areas of practical knowledge play a
central role in the teaching of mathematics raises a number of questions for teacher
The Mathematics Teacher 31

education. What university or college based experiences are appropriate for laying
the foundations for these areas of knowledge? How should school based experiences
be structured to optimise the learning in these areas? How useful would an explicit
discussion and treatment of these areas be to student teachers? What balance should
be sought between experimental, observational and analytical approaches to these
areas of knowledge (Stones's (1979) three levels of skills)?
This paper began by discussing the importance of taking account of teachers'
psychology if changes to the teaching of mathematics are expected. Currently, it is
clear that the imposition of a British National Curriculum in Mathematics (not to
mention the other subjects) will require changes in teaching (DES, 1988). These
changes involve both content and teaching styles in mathematics. If teacher
education institutions are to prepare mathematics teachers to implement such
innovations, it is vital that attention is devoted to the deeper issues involved. The
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design of courses needs to consider the development of student teachers' knowledge,

beliefs and attitudes, both at the theoretical and practical levels. The model and
proposals offered here provide a framework for considering some of the questions
which the design of such courses raises.

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