Clarifiable Ambiguity in Classroom Mathematics Discourse

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Department of Mathematical Sciences


Ambiguity is a natural part of communication in a mathematics classroom. In this paper, a particular subset of ambiguity is characterized as clarifiable. Clarifiable ambiguity in classroom mathematics discourse is common, frequently goes unaddressed, and unnecessarily hinders in-the-moment communication because it likely could be made more clear in a relatively straightforward way if it were attended to. We argue for deliberate attention to clarifiable ambiguity as a critical aspect of attending to meaning and as a necessary precursor to productive use of student mathematical thinking. We illustrate clarifiable ambiguity that occurs in mathematics classrooms and consider ramifications of not addressing it. We conclude the paper with a discussion about addressing clarifiable ambiguity through seeking focused clarification.

Publisher's Statement

© 2019 Research Council on Mathematics Learning. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1080/19477503.2019.1619148

Publication Title

Investigations in Mathematics Learning