From using artifacts to mathematical meanings: The teacher’s role in the semiotic mediation process

Colloquium | February 26 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 2515 Tolman Hall

 Maria Alessandra Mariotti, Università di Siena, Italy

 Graduate School of Education

The potential of artifacts for learning have been extensively studied, with a main focus on their possible use by students and the subsequent benefits for them. However, there has been the tendency to underestimate the complexity of exploiting this potential, and specifically the complexity of the teacher’s role orchestrating the teaching and learning process. Following Vygotsky’s seminal idea of semiotic mediation, the theoretical framework of Theory of Semiotic Mediation (TSM) has been developed (Bartolini Bussi and Mariotti, 2008) with the aim of providing a teaching and learning model, where attention is focussed on on the semiotic processes related to the use of cultural artifacts.

Taking a semiotic mediation perspective means acknowledging the central role of signs in teaching-learning activity: specifically, the production of signs and their transformation. We postulate that the teacher can exploit the semiotic potential of an artifact to make students develop genuine mathematical meanings. The evolution of meanings, described through the analysis of signs produced in classroom activities, corresponds to the move from personal meanings, rooted in the context of the artifact, to conscious mathematical meanings. Such an evolution is a long term process that, according to our assumption, is neither spontaneous nor granted, and for this reason needs a delicate, carefully designed intervention of the teacher.

Through the semiotic lens it is possible to analyze the classroom discourse and highlight specific patterns in the teacher’s action that make students’ personal meanings evolve towards the mathematical meanings that are the objective of the didactic intervention.

In my talk, I will discuss a first model of the teacher’s action and I will provide some examples drawn from long term teaching experiments carried out at different school levels.