BEFORE: What is maths anxiety and what do I need to know about it?

One major reason for surveying learner attitudes to maths is the following:

  • Many learners have had negative experiences to do with maths.

Many tutors too. Our attitudes shape how we learn. So do the attitudes of parents. As tutors, these attitudes shape how we teach as well.

For some learners, the level of anxiety that they feel is on par with the feeling you might get at night in a dark alleyway when you think you’re about to be physically attacked.

This is maths anxiety. And it’s now a recognised psychological condition. It’s anxiety about your ability to maths – a feeling of tension, apprehension or fear that gets in the way of being able to do the maths.

You need to know what your learners’ attitudes are about learning, and especially about maths and numeracy. And you need to make sure that you also have a good attitude about teaching maths and numeracy.

There is research that connects maths anxiety to the following:

  • Poor performance in maths and numeracy tasks and tests.
  • Negative attitudes towards maths and numeracy including anger.
  • Maths avoidance.
  • Poor working memory.

Maths anxiety is also part of a vicious circle of negative maths experiences. For example, when a learner is anxious about completing a maths question or task that uses maths, they might perform poorly. This poor performance could be because of the anxiety or lack of competence due to a tendency to avoid maths. Their poor performance or bad marks reinforce their belief that they are “just not a maths person”. In turn, this increases the anxiety and avoidance.

Using Attitudes to Maths Survey can help you deal with maths anxiety by getting learners to write about and then discuss maths feelings as part of evaluating their own learning.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Engage in your own maths and numeracy professional development.
  • Accommodate different learning styles.
  • Create a variety of different testing environments.
  • Design positive maths and numeracy learning experiences.
  • Look for ways to make maths relevant and applied.
  • Provide a safe environment for risk-taking and prediction when using maths.
  • Have conversations about why we do things in particular ways and not others.
  • Encourage different kinds of problem-solving.

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