Thing-a-day #13 & #14: Analysis and powerpoint

Working on the math student interviews again, because this is the last week of classes and I was assigned to give a final presentation tomorrow. Our actual finals aren’t due for another couple of weeks, so the way this works in a lot of classes is that we present on our work in progress during the last week, get feedback from professors and classmates, and ideally work all of that into the final analysis.

Tomorrow’s class presentation is for a course that focused primarily on appraisal theory. Basically, appraisal is a tool from the systemic functional school of linguistics that allows you to look at the specific words of a text and interpret the way that text is expressing emotions and opinions. Like a lot of SFL analysis, it starts with microanalysis of linguistic data. I’ve been finding it helpful as a start to the analysis, but (as I have in the past) I like to balance a systemic functional analysis with another coding scheme based on interactional sociolinguistics. I find interactional sociolinguistics to give me a better handle on the social meanings that are playing out in my data, while SFL allows me to see how those social meanings are constructed on the word or clause level.

So last Friday I went through the constructed dialogue episodes and did a second level of coding for appraisal, and today I made a powerpoint for my class presentation that contextualizes it all within positioning theory. Here are the preliminary results I’m presenting tomorrow:

  • My non-math major participant expresses a lot of judgments of herself in the area of social esteem. Specifically, she makes positive judgments of her tenacity, and negative judgments of her capacity, as a student of mathematics. The storyline here is that she’s trying to figure out what it means to be a good student; in the past, she’s found that working hard is sufficient, but now she’s working hard and not seeing results.
  • When she constructs dialogues between herself and her professor, she includes negative judgments of her professor’s capacity as a teacher. She also presents him as someone who only sees things in one way, rather than acknowledging that there might be a variety of ways of understanding or explaining math content. She contrasts this with the students who work in the tutoring center, who are more willing to consider different perspectives, including a variety of ways of understanding, as well as her own perspective as someone who doesn’t understand.
  • At one point she constructs a dialogue between her past and present self, having understood some point of calculus that she didn’t get initially. She talks about this twice. In the first instance she positions the math itself as something that starts off scary and confusing, but eventually becomes simpler. In the second instance she connects this with a more positive judgment of her own capacity as a math student. Notably, this whole episode isn’t explicitly about herself; instead, she narrates it as something that happens to a generic “you” — at first “you” don’t understand but eventually “you” do.

The work I still have to do is to look at my interview with the tutors, who are math majors and frame the process of learning math in a very different way.

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