Academic journal article International Journal of Education

"By the Numbers:" Language-Based and Competency Enhancing Math Instruction to Alleviate Older Women's Math Stereotype Threat Reactions

Academic journal article International Journal of Education

"By the Numbers:" Language-Based and Competency Enhancing Math Instruction to Alleviate Older Women's Math Stereotype Threat Reactions

Article excerpt


Haack (1979) purported that the use of language in math-related statistics instruction (i.e., "statistical literacy") is a good instructional approach to teach introductory statistics to learners. Extending current stereotype threat research on women, older adults, and math, the present research explored math-related anxiety and test performance outcomes between younger ("traditional") and older ("non-traditional") women college learners in four different instructional conditions ("math as language/competency enhancing," "math as language/competency destroying," "math as numbers/competency enhancing," and "math as numbers/competency destroying,"). An exploratory investigation examined whether the "math as language/competency enhancing" would elicit significant and assistive "self schema" linkages with positive gender performance ("women are better at verbal tasks" concept) and aging-related expertise ("older adults have accumulated language skills" concept) positive stereotypes based on past language-related socialization experiences for women and older adults. The positive impact of the "math as language/competency enhancing" instructional condition in preliminary results appeared to benefit both younger and older women learners in both personal attitudes toward math ability, general learning capability, and testing performance behaviors. Analyses by age level supported the idea of a math-related "decrement" stereotype threat belief among the older women learners, in comparison to younger women learners, across learning conditions.

Keywords: stereotype threat, math instruction, math self-efficacy, age differences, testing

1. Introduction

There will be an increasing presence of older women learners on college campuses (U.S. Education Department, National Center for Education Statistics, 2008) and other educational settings (e.g., work-related training) in the coming decades, and it is vital to address their unique learning needs and motivations (e.g., Principi & Lamura, 2009). Math education is an important area for women that needs further examination. Math efficacy can directly impact women's educational and career pursuits across the life span into later life, creating "barriers" where there should be only opportunities (e.g., Brodish & Devine, 2009; Hart, Petrill, Thompson, & Plomin, 2009; Hartman & Hartman, 2008), and potentially creating a detrimental cycle of negative self-evaluation and restrictive life choices. Social stereotypes exist for women learning math (e.g., "women can't do math" stereotype belief). The general objectives of the research study was to more closely examine this phenomenon for older ("non-traditional") women learners from a possible "double jeopardy" effect (i.e., combined "women and math" and "older learners and cognitive decline" decrement stereotypes) and, from a positive gaining perspective, to explore specific instructional strategies for minimizing the impact of this potential combined double jeopardy stereotype reaction. Extending Haack's (1979) finding of language-based statistics instruction (i.e., "statistical literacy") as a good instructional approach, the present research examined the use of language and efficacy enhancement in math instruction with older women learners.

The following will explain how this research meaningfully extends knowledge in the fields of math education, women's studies, and gerontology. Specifically, the proceeding literature review will begin by presenting research on Stereotype Threat Theory as a conceptual framework for the research. The literature review will then introduce research that relates and extends Stereotype Threat Theory to the topics of women and math anxiety and older learner efficacy issues. Finally, the resultant discussion of the literature will culminate with an examination of the combination of these two areas or a "double jeopardy" hypothesis related to the potential stereotype threat reaction of relatively older ("non-traditional") women learners in a math-related learning and testing context. …

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