Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teachers Have the Power to Alleviate Math Anxiety

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teachers Have the Power to Alleviate Math Anxiety

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many students suffer from math anxiety, but teachers can incorporate skills to alleviate it for their students. In order to alleviate math anxiety teachers first and foremost need to portray a positive, enthusiastic, helpful attitude, which communicates a love and usefulness for mathematics. Math curriculum should be designed that deepens student understanding in a practical, engaging and fun way. Pedagogy should be implemented that moves from the explain-practice-memorize strategy to strategies that stress reasoning and understanding. A classroom culture that prompts student inquisition, discovery, learning and the exploration of ideas needs to replace the structured, rigid atmosphere usually associated with math class. And finally, assessment should be conducted in a variety of ways.

Introduction

Not only do students today need math remediation at an overwhelming rate, but reports state that two thirds of American adults fear and loathe math (Burns, 1998). One reason such negative experiences are reported is math anxiety, which knows no boundaries regarding race, age or gender. Math anxiety can be perpetuated in the home, in society, and in the classroom. Because most students can name the teacher they believed caused their anxiety, the exact moment when it happened and the event that triggered the anxiety in the classroom, an examination of teacher attitudes, curriculum, pedagogy, the classroom culture, and assessment is crucial to understanding and alleviating the problem. Students at all grade levels can experience math anxiety and they attest to similar characteristics and consequences. One of the most notable consequences of math anxiety is poor math achievement and poor math grades. Part of this is because students with math anxiety attempt to cope with the debilitating effects of their anxiety by avoiding math in school. This in turn can lead to limited college majors, and ultimately career choices that are restricted mathematically and monetarily. This limited exposure to mathematics is also responsible for lower math achievement and competence (Ashcraft, 2002). The anxiety, which is not significantly related to intelligence, has been shown to inhibit student learning (Ashcraft, 2002) and to reduce working memory capacity (Ashcraft & Kirk, 2001; Beilock,& Cart, 2005; Shobe, Brewin & Carmack, 2005), which in turn has a major impact on students" serf-confidence related to mathematics.

Math anxiety is often the result of repeated negative experiences related to mathematics (Kogelman, Nigro, & Warren, 1978). It is a conditioned fear that develops into a fatalistic attitude, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces one's beliefs about an inability to perform mathematically. For those who suffer from math anxiety physiological symptoms such as sweaty palms, nausea, muscle contractions, difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat and chest, headaches, heart palpitations, restless behavior, forgetfulness, and a temporary boost in one's heart rate are familiar. Teachers' attitudes, curriculum, pedagogy, the classroom culture, and assessment greatly impact students. All these areas must be considered in order to alleviate anxiety in the classroom. In a 1999 study by Jackson and Leffingwell, it was discovered that sixteen percent of the students studied were first traumatized mathematically in third or fourth grade. The difficulties in fourth grade arose from new math ideas such as fractions, timed tests, and memorization of multiplication tables and formulas. Teachers at this level were blamed for hostile behavior, making derogatory comments when children did not understand concepts, appearing angry when asked for additional help, displaying insensitive and uncaring attitudes, stereotyping females as not needing math, ridiculing girls more overtly than boys, and favoring boys in the subject. Approximately twenty-six percent of the students in the study first realized feelings of math anxiety in ninth, tenth and eleventh grade. …

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