Otten, Engledowl, & Spain (2015)

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Univocal and Dialogic Discourse in Secondary Mathematics Classrooms: The Case of Attending to Precision


Univocal discourse, characterized by its function of conveying information from one person to another, is common in mathematics classrooms but dialogic teaching aims at students coming to participate in dialogic discourse, that is, discourse functioning to generate new meaning within a community. Many mathematical practices are directed at the development and refinement of new mathematical ideas, and many mathematics educators call for collaborative sense making, so there is potential for mutual support between dialogic discourse and such practices as attending to precision. Drawing on data from five secondary mathematics classrooms, this study focused on instances of attending to precision in whole-class settings. We coded these instances based on the degree to which the discourse was univocal or dialogic. We found that the instances were predominantly univocal but that these univocal instances varied with regard to whose ideas were being transmitted—the teacher's or a student's. Dialogic instances were rare but we share examples in which the co-construction of meaning through discourse involved attending to precision in ways that were qualitatively different than the univocal instances. The study provides illustrations of dialogic interactions and discusses the balance between univocal and dialogic discourse that is sought within dialogic teaching. It also contributes to the field an initial analytic framework for and examples of attending to precision in secondary classrooms. We discuss implications with regard to students' roles in secondary mathematics classroom discourse.


Otten, S., Engledowl, C., & Spain, V. (2015). Univocal and dialogic discourse in secondary mathematics classrooms: The case of attending to precision. ZDM, 47(7), 1285–1298.
author = {Otten, Samuel and Engledowl, Christopher and Spain, Vickie},
doi = {10.1007/s11858-015-0725-0},
journal = {ZDM},
number = {7},
pages = {1285--1298},
title = {{Univocal and dialogic discourse in secondary mathematics classrooms: The case of attending to precision}},
url = {},
volume = {47},
year = {2015}