In an effort to improve mathematics instruction, I studied how the positions students choose or are pressed to take on can lead to failure in an inquiry-based classroom. Positioning refers to the temporary roles that a student or a teacher can place each other in or take on in a given classroom environment. Since positions are constructed and maintained by language use, I drew from positioning theory and discourse theory for my theoretical framework. From analyzing transcripts of classroom episodes and interviews with the teacher and a student, I identified common positions that the teacher and the student took on. I also looked at how these positions were negotiated in the classroom. I give a specific example of how positions could negatively change between the teacher and the student. The teacher went from a position that supported inquiry-based instruction to a position that supported traditional instruction, and the student went from a position that supported learning to a position that was detrimental to learning. The positions and the negotiation of positions impacted learning and helped to explain why the student might be failing. I found that positions changed (for better or worse) because of specific pressures, which I analyzed. For instance, when the teacher and the student succumbed to specific pressures and stepped out of certain positions, the teacher felt ineffective and the student engaged in less desirable positions that hinder learning. From this study, we can learn how to better address student and teacher failure in an inquiry-based classroom. These results have significant implications for research, teaching, and teacher education. Therefore, positioning is vital to the implementation of inquiry-based instruction in that it can either maintain or undermine it.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Mathematics Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





positioning, discourse, failure, inquiry-based instruction