Mathematics Anxiety and Mathematical Self-Concept: Considerations in Preparing Elementary-School Teachers

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, research studies on affective variables have received increased attention within the fields of psychology and education (Murphy & Alexander, 2000; Pintrich, 2000). Educational psychologists have been interested in determining the nature of the relationship between affective variables and academic achievement (Cokley, 2000; Lent, Brown, & Gore, 1997). Mathematics anxiety (Hembree, 1990; Ma, 1999) and academic self-concept (Manger & Eikeland, 1998; Marsh, 1994) are two of these variables which are also the focus of the present study. In particular, the purpose of this study was to explore the effect of the type of educational system and the number of years spent in teacher education programs on preservice teachers' mathematics anxiety and mathematical self-concept scores.

Anxiety is a complex construct that has been defined in a number of ways (Fennema & Shermann, 1976). Spielberger (1972) discussed two general types of anxiety: state anxiety and trait anxiety. State anxiety is the unpleasant emotional state or condition which is characterized by activation or arousal of the autonomic nervous system (p. 482). State anxiety is dependent on time and situation, and is aroused when a person perceives a situation to be dangerous. Trait anxiety, on the other hand is described as relatively stable individual differences in anxiety proneness (Spielberger, 1972) and does not depend on time or situation. Mathematics anxiety is a form of state anxiety as it is aroused in situations involving mathematics.

In a recent study, learning math anxiety (LMA), anxiety about the process of learning, and math evaluation anxiety (MEA), more directly related to testing situations, were acknowledged as critical elements of mathematics anxiety (Hopko, 2003). Baloglu and Kocak (2006) stated that situational, dispositional, and environmental factors are three sources of mathematics anxiety. Situational factors are external and dispositional factors are internal and related to personality. In addition, environmental factors are defined as individuals' attitudes, prior perceptions and experiences (Baloglu & Kocak, 2006). Similarly, McLeod (1994) found that students construct anxieties about the subject in a similar way that they form identities, and there are many individual and environmental influences that cause anxieties to develop.

Elementary mathematics classes can be considered to be the beginning point of mathematics anxiety (Harper & Daane, 1998), directly linked to prior experiences at the elementary and secondary school levels (Jackson & Leffingwell, 1999). Those experiences could lower confidence in one's own mathematics ability, leading to students avoiding mathematics by the time they get to secondary school (Harper & Daane, 1998). Math anxious people may avoid mathematics classes and mathematics-related activities. Mathematics anxiety is a critical factor not only for student learning (Hembree, 1990; Ma, 1999), but also for teachers' effectiveness in teaching. Vinson (2001) noted that teachers who experience mathematics anxiety may promote the early development of mathematics anxiety in their students. Swetman, Munday, and Windham (1993) found that elementary school teachers who experienced higher levels of mathematics anxiety spent less time on planning mathematics-related activities and dedicated fewer hours to mathematically related activities than did the teachers with lower anxiety levels. In this study, we sought to understand how two environmental factors, type of educational system and years spent in teacher education programs, affect preservice teachers' mathematics anxiety and mathematical self-concept levels.

Reyes (1984) defined confidence in mathematics as a particular component of self-concept that is specific to mathematics (p. 559). Thus, confidence in mathematics or self-concept specific to mathematics is related to one's perception of self regarding achievement in school (Reyes, 1984). …