Shields (2005) suggests that five areas contribute in one way or another to math anxiety: teachers’ attitudes, curriculum, instructional strategies, the classroom culture, and assessment. Let’s take a look at what research studies say about each of these five areas as well as what can be done to lessen anxiety and improve student achievement in mathematics.
Teacher attitudes. Research studies confirm that teacher attitudes greatly influence math anxiety and represent the most dominating factor in molding student attitudes about mathematics (Harper & Daane, 1998; Ruffell, Mason, & Allen, 1998). Here are some things you can do to maintain a positive attitude in yourself as well as in your students:
- Present an agreeable disposition that shows mathematics to be a great human invention.
- Show the value of mathematics by how it contributes to other disciplines as well as society.
- Promote student confidence and curiosity by assigning appropriate, interesting, and relevant tasks.
- Reduce the weight given to tests in determining grades, ranking students, or measuring isolated skills.
- Assess students on how they think about mathematics.
- Include multiple methods of assessment such as oral, written, or demonstration formats.
- Provide feedback that focuses on a lack of effort rather than a lack of ability so that students remain confident in their ability to improve (Altermatt & Kim, 2004).
- Use the six NCTM Assessment Standards for School Mathematics (1995) as a guide for their testing practices. In brief, these standards state that assessment should (1) include real life activities, (2) enhance mathematics learning, (3) promote equity, (4) be an open process, (5) promote valid inferences about mathematics learning, and (6) be a coherent process.
Research studies clearly indicate that student performance in mathematics improves when anxiety is alleviated (Ashcraft, 2002). Teachers alleviate that anxiety when they demonstrate excitement and confidence in the subject, develop a relevant mathematics curriculum, use effective instructional strategies, create classrooms centered on discovery and inquiry, and assess students in a meaningful and fair manner (Shields, 2005).
Altermatt, E. R., & Kim, M. E. (2004). Can anxiety explain sex differences in college entrance exam scores? Journal of College Admission, 183, 6–11.
Ashcraft, M. H. (2002). Math anxiety: Personal, educational, and cognitive consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 181–185.
Harper, N. W., & Daane, C. J. (1998). Causes and reduction of math anxiety in preservice elementary teachers. Action in Teacher Education, 19, 29–38.
Ruffell, M., Mason, J., & Allen, B. (1998). Studying attitude to mathematics. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 35, 1–18.
Shields, D. J. (2005, Fall). Teachers have the power to alleviate math anxiety. Academic Exchange, 9, 326–330.