Friday, 17 September 2010

Fear of mathematics 1

On Wednesday this week, I spoke to an enthusiastic group of primary school mathematics leaders on an Every Child Counts conference at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk. I had been invited to speak about 'Fear of mathematics'.

One of the main points I made was about the relationship between mathematics anxiety and a rote-learning mind set. There is research evidence (see a study by Karen Newstead, 1995, 1998) that children aged 9 to 11 years are more likely to develop mathematics anxiety if they are taught by traditional methods that rely on memorizing and drill of calculation processes without a focus on understanding.

It seems that teaching that promotes reliance on rote-learning in mathematics generates more anxiety about the subject. The learner gets the idea that there is only one right way of doing any mathematics question, worries about which process to use for which problem, gets different processes confused and cannot cope with anything that is not immediately recognisable as requiring a standard, routine response.

But this is a viscious circle, because mathematics anxiety seems to reinforce reliance on rote-learning. The anxious learner is more likely to have given up expecting to make sense of mathematics and seeks only to try to remember what you have to do for certain kinds of questions. Anxiety inhibits learning with understanding.

The key seems to be to teach mathematics well! In other words, to teach in a way that promotes a meaningful learning mind set, that encourages children to make sense of mathematics, by making connections between language, symbols, practical and real-life situations and pictures. I have written about this extensively in Chapter 3 of Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers, 4th edition: Learning How to Learn Mathematics.

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog from the Mathematics Explained companion site.

    Enjoying both the book and the blog.