Displaying epistemic independence during mathematical problem solving in small group interaction


  • Hanna Fredriksdotter Uppsala university
  • Niklas Norén Uppsala University




Conversation Analysis, differing proposals, accounts, concessions


This study focused on Grade 6 students’ handling of differing proposals when discussing solutions to mathematical problems in small groups. Using conversation analysis, we analysed video recordings of naturally occurring student–student interaction. Findings show that students avoided criticizing peers’ proposed solutions, whereas they either advocated or rejected their own. Furthermore, rejections were immediately followed by conceding to someone else’s proposal, with the concession emphasized through the conceder’s affect-laden embodied actions. Students’ interactional work not only maintained their social relations but also offered opportunities to display epistemic independence. These findings imply that teachers should support students’ argumentation in the mathematics classroom in presenting critical reviews of peer’s differing proposals in ways that are not face-threatening.

Author Biographies

  • Hanna Fredriksdotter, Uppsala university

    Hanna Fredriksdotter is a PhD student at the Department of Education at Uppsala University. Her research project concerns young students’ interaction in the mathematics classroom, focusing on peer collaboration during mathematical problem solving. She has several years of experience as a mathematics teacher at elementary- and secondary-school level.

  • Niklas Norén, Uppsala University

    Niklas Norén is an associate professor at the Department of Education at Uppsala University. Using ethnomethodological and multimodal interaction analysis, his research concerns young students’ literacy practices in school, with particular interest in the ways that talk-in-interaction may support students’ development of knowledge, identities and communicative competencies.


Ayala-Altamirano, C. & Molina, M. (2021). Fourth-graders’ justifications in early algebra tasks involving a functional relationship. Educational Studies in Mathematics. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-021-10036-1

Beach, W. A. & Metzger, T. R. (1997). Claiming insufficient knowledge. Human Communication Research, 23(4), 562–588. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.1997.tb00410.x

Buttny, R. (1993). Social Accountability in Communication. Sage Publications.

Chan, M. C. E. & Clarke, D. (2017). Structured affordances in the use of open-ended tasks to facilitate collaborative problem solving. ZDM, 49, 951–963. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-017-0876-2

Davidson, J. (1984). Subsequent versions of invitations, offers, requests, and proposals dealing with potential or actual rejection. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (eds), Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis. Cambridge University Press.

Gardner, R. (2014). Conversation analysis in the classroom. In J. Sidnell & T. Stivers (eds), The Handbook of Conversation Analysis (pp. 593–611). Wiley-Blackwell.

Goodwin, M. H. (2006). The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion. Blackwell Publishing.

Goodwin, C. (2007). Participation, stance and affect in the organization of activities. Discourse & Society, 18(1), 53–73. www.jstor.org/stable/42889103

Hayashi, M. (2014). Turn allocating and turn sharing. In J. Sidnell & T. Stivers (eds), The Handbook of Conversation Analysis (pp. 167–190). Wiley-Blackwell.

Heller, V. (2017). Managing knowledge claims in classroom discourse: the public construction of a homogeneous epistemic status. Classroom Discourse, 8(2), 156–174. https://doi.org/10.1080/19463014.2017.1328699

Heller, V. (2018). Embodying epistemic responsibility: The interplay of gaze and stance-taking in children’s collaborative reasoning. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 2(2), 262–285. https://doi.org/10.1558/rcsi.37391

Herder, A., Berenst, J., de Glopper, K. & Koole, T. (2018). Nature and function of proposals in collaborative writing of primary school students. Linguistics and Education, 46, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.linged.2018.04.005

Heritage, J. (1984a). Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Polity.

Heritage, J. (1984b). A change-of-state token and aspects of its sequential placement. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (eds), Structures of Social Action: Studies in Conversation Analysis (pp. 299–345). Cambridge University Press.

Heritage, J. (2012). Epistemics in action: Action formation and territories of knowledge. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 45(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/08351813.2012.646684

Heritage, J. (2014) Epistemics in conversation. In J. Sidnell & T. Stivers (eds), The Handbook of Conversation Analysis (pp. 370–394). Wiley-Blackwell.

Houtkoop-Steenstra, H. (1990). Accounting for proposals. Journal of Pragmatics, 14, 111–124. https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(90)90066-M

Ingram, J. (2018). Moving forward with ethnomethodological approaches to analysing mathematics classroom interaction. ZDM, 50, 1065–1075. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11858-018-0951-3

Ingram, J. (2020). Epistemic management in mathematics classroom interactions. Students claims of not knowing or not understanding. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 58, 100754. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmathb.2019.100754

Kämäräinen, A., Björn, P., Eronen, L. & Kärnä, E. (2019). Managing epistemic imbalances in peer interaction during mathematics lessons. Discourse Studies, 21(3), 280–299. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445619829236

Kämäräinen, A., Eronen, L., Björn, P. M. & Kärnä, E. (2021). Initiation and decision-making of joint activities within peer interaction in student-centred mathematics lessons. Classroom Discourse, 12(4), 299–318. https://doi.org/10.1080/19463014.2020.1744457

Kevallik, L. (2010). Minimal answers to yes/no questions in the service of sequence organization. Discourse Studies, 12(3), 283–309. www.jstor.org/stable/24049836

Koole, T. (2012). The epistemics of student problems: Explaining mathematics in a multi-lingual class. Journal of Pragmatics, 44, 1902–1916. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2012.08.006

Kotthoff, H. (1993). Disagreement and concession in disputes: On the context sensitivity of preference structures. Language in Society, 22(2), 193–216. www.jstor.org/stable/4168430

Krummheuer, G. (1995). The ethnography of argumentation. In P. Cobb & H. Bauersfeld (eds), The Emergence of Mathematical Meaning (pp. 229–269). L. Erlbaum Associates.

Kyndt, E., Raes, E., Lismont, B., Timmers, F., Cascallar, E. & Dochy, F. (2013). A meta-analysis of the effects of face-to-face cooperative learning. Do recent studies falsify or verify earlier findings? Educational Research Review, 10, 133–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2013.02.002

Marchant, C. N. G., Jones, S. R. & Tanck, H. (2022). Argumentation in the middle grades: Exploring a teacher’s support of collective argumentation. In K. N. Bieda, A. Conner, K. W. Kosko & M. Staples (eds), Conceptions and Consequences of Mathematical Argumentation, Justification, and Proof (pp. 79–94). Springer International Publishing AG.

Mondada, L. (2022). Conventions for multimodal transcription. Retrieved from www.lorenzamondada.net/multimodal-transcription

Norén, N., Melander Bowden, H. & Evaldsson, A-C. (2022). Young students’ treatment of synthetic voicing as interactional resource in digital writing. Classroom Discourse, 13(3), 241–263. https://doi.org/10.1080/19463014.2020.1814367

Raymond, G. & Heritage, J. (2006). The epistemics of social relations: Owning grandchildren. Language in Society, 35, 677–705. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404506060325

Robinson, J. D. (2016). Accountability in social interaction. In J. D. Robinson (ed.), Accountability in Social Interaction (pp. 1–44). Oxford University Press.

Scott, M. B. & Lyman, S. M. (1968). Accounts. American Sociological Review, 33(1), 46–62. www.jstor.org/stable/2092239

Skarbø Solem, M. S. (2016). Negotiating knowledge claims: Students’ assertions in classroom interactions. Discourse Studies, 18(6), 737–757. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445616668072

Skolverket (2022). Kursplaner för grundskolan. Retrieved from www.skolverket.se/undervisning/grundskolan/laroplan-och-kursplaner-for-grundskolan

Stevanovic, M. (2012). Establishing joint decisions in a dyad. Discourse Studies, 14(6), 799-803. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461445612456654

Waring, H. Z. (2007a). The multi-functionality of accounts in advice giving. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 11(3), 367–391. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9841.2007.00328.x

Waring, H. Z. (2007b). Complex advice acceptance as a resource for managing asymmetries. Text & Talk, 27(1), 107–137. https://doi.org/10.1515/TEXT.2007.005

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Solution Tree Press.

Willemsen, A., Gosen, M., Koole, T. & de Glopper, K. (2021). Asking for more: Teachers’ invitations for elaboration in whole-class discussions. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 4(2), 192–216. https://doi.org/10.1558/rcsi.12409






How to Cite

Fredriksdotter, H., & Norén, N. (2023). Displaying epistemic independence during mathematical problem solving in small group interaction. Research on Children and Social Interaction, 7(2), 214–237. https://doi.org/10.1558/rcsi.25368