Using Bibliotherapy to Overcome Math Anxiety

Article excerpt


Math anxiety is a widespread phenomenon. More recently, children's and adolescent literature has been recognized as a means to teaching math to students through the use of stories to make the math concepts relevant and meaningful. Literature can also be used as a form of therapy to reach students who may be frustrated with math and/or who experience math anxiety. Story and picture books, such as A Gebra Named Al (Isdell, 1993), are now available to use in the classroom as forms of bibliotherapy in helping students overcome or come to terms with anxiety toward math. In this article the author proposes using reading and discussion to aid in reducing math anxiety in students via the story of Sarah and her struggle with math anxiety.


Sarah dislikes math. Year after year of drill and practice and being taught math while seeing little or no value in learning it has turned Sarah off to the subject. Sarah has lost her confidence and ability to successfully do math and just plain hates it. Sarah's negative feelings about algebra may be typical of many math-anxious students in middle school. Sarah is not alone in her feeling about algebra or math in general for mathematics anxiety has been a prevalent concern among educators and parents for decades. Educators are noticing more students appearing fearful of math and science classes. Sarah's teacher is well aware of Sarah's math anxiety based on her low performance on assessments, sweaty palms while doing math, and her math anxiety survey which was administered at the beginning of the year which indicated a high level of math anxiety.. Sarah's math teacher and the school counselor are collaborating to address the issue of math anxiety. They have decided to use a combination of psychological approaches including bibliotherapy, counseling, discussion, visualization, and relaxation techniques to help students overcome and/or reduce their frustration with math.

Math anxiety is a growing concern in the U.S. Educators need to apply the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics(NCTM) Standards and check for the mathematical disposition of their students. With declining math and science scores internationally, the United States needs to recognize the fear that many Americans have of math and do something while students are still in K-12 schools to help build their confidence in their ability to do math and take as many math classes as possible to stay abreast of the technological era. If students like Sarah do not feel they can succeed at math or that they are not mathematically able, they may decide not to follow a particular career track due to this belief. Teachers and counselors can make a difference in the lives of secondary level students like the "Sarah's" by working with them in overcoming and reducing their dislike and lack of success with math.

Evidence of poor attitudes and high levels of anxiety toward math is abundant elementary age through adulthood (Jackson & Leffingwell, 1999; Burns, 1998; Furner, 1996; Tobias, 1993; Hembree, 1990). Since math anxiety is widespread and the need for the understanding of math is critical in an increasingly technological society, teachers must play an important role in reducing the levels of math anxiety in their students. Children's and adolescent literature has been recognized now as a means to teach mathematics to students through the use of stories to make the math concepts relevant and meaningful (Forgan, 2002). Literature can also be used as a form of therapy to reach students who may be frustrated with math or who experience math anxiety.

Understanding Math Anxiety in Students

Affective factors play a critical role in math learning and instruction (McLeod, 1991) and causes for math anxiety are varied. Much research has shown that teachers and parents who are afraid of math can pass on their anxiety to the next generation by modeling behaviors of their own discomfort with the subject. …