Sunday, April 17, 2011

What strategies can be provided to preservice teachers to decrease their mathematics anxiety?

¨Participation in a Mathematics Methods Course, workshops and professional development
Familiarization and Practice with Manipulatives
¨Familiarization With Curriculum Documents
¨Understanding of Learning Styles
¨Content Knowledge
¨Positive Teaching Experiences

¨Development of Confidence

          Researchers agree that teacher educators need to examine math methods courses they teach to preservice elementary teachers so that they are able to provide them with strategies to teach math confidentially and effectively (Bryant, Moseley & Utley, 2005; Bursal et al., 2006; Gresham, October, 2007; Gresham, 2008; Liu, 2008; Swars et al., 2006; & Ward, 2005).  Swars (2005) believes that positive experiences with math methods courses will lead to higher math teacher efficacy.  Many researchers also agree that the root of math anxiety in preservice teachers should be discussed in methods courses.  A study by Liu (2008) concluded that an online discussion with elementary preservice teachers about their mathematics anxiety played a major role in decreasing the amount of math anxiety they were experiencing.

Math methods courses should also be providing preservice teachers with experience using manipulatives.  It would be incredibly beneficial for preservice teachers to experience the hands-on use of manipulatives and view demonstrations of their use in the classroom instead of just reading about these manipulatives in a book or seeing them in a catalogue.  It would be most effective for teacher educators to utilize the very manipulatives they are discussing to instruct preservice teachers how to incorporate them in their lessons.  The results of Gresham’s study in October, 2007, revealed a decrease in mathematics anxiety after the preservice teachers had completed a mathematics methods course that involved using manipulatives and hands on approaches to teaching mathematics content.  

Manipulatives are not the only resource available to teachers in the classroom.  Teacher educators should also be providing preservice teachers with examples of curriculum documents and how to use them.  Documents such as texts, teacher guides, curriculum standards, and assessment resources must be utilized in methods courses to prepare preservice teachers for their use in the classroom.  Preservice teachers cannot be expected to walk into a classroom without being familiar with these documents and automatically know how best to use them.  Castro (2006) attests that if math methods courses “prepare preservice teachers to use curriculum materials; we are preparing them to become knowledgeable professionals that are part of a larger community of educators” (p. 22).  Increasing a preservice teacher’s comfort with mathematics documents and curriculum guides will lessen the anxiety felt when faced with having to utilize them.   

Gresham’s study in October, 2007 indicates that Jerome Bruner’s framework reduced math anxiety in preservice teachers when employed in methods courses.  Bruner’s framework suggests that “learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas of concepts based upon their current or past knowledge” (p. 182).  The constructivist approach focuses on helping students develop learning and thinking strategies.  Gresham (October, 2007) concludes that applying Bruner’s framework decreases math anxiety in preservice teachers by helping them learn how to best offer instruction involving the use of concrete materials or pictorial activities.  An increase in knowledge about the way children learn will lead to an increase in preservice teachers’ confidence to teach math effectively, thereby decreasing their math anxiety.  

Another strategy that will help preservice teachers become confident in teaching mathematics is being able to determine a student’s learning style and how to adapt a lesson accordingly.  Gresham (December, 2007) explored global and analytic learning styles in a study of preservice elementary teachers and concluded that “as global orientation scores increased, mathematics anxiety scores increased as well” (p. 27).  Being aware of learning styles and how they impact math anxiety can lead to a preservice teacher improving their effectiveness of the methods they use to teach mathematics in their classroom (Gresham, December 2007).  

            Providing preservice teachers with elementary mathematics content knowledge will also serve to decrease mathematics anxiety.  The data collected in a study done by Swars, Smith, Smith and Hart (2008), indicates that as preservice teachers increase their understanding of mathematical content knowledge, they “become better able to understand and embrace more cognitively oriented pedagogical beliefs and become more confident in their skills and abilities to teach mathematics effectively” (p. 63). The Ontario Ministry of Education (2004) makes it clear that to teach math effectively, teachers need a strong knowledge of mathematical content and pedagogy and Schiano & Svendsen (2007), with the New York State Mathematics Initiative, agree that “by increasing the content knowledge and pedagogy of teachers, the level of student achievement in mathematics will improve” (p. 1).  Whether it is through heightened entrance requirements in mathematics for the teacher education program or additional mathematics content courses during the teacher preparation program, avenues for this increase in mathematical content knowledge and pedagogy need to be explored so that preservice teachers are prepared to teach math in the classroom.  

            The teaching experience that preservice teachers have should also be examined to ensure that they are gaining the experience needed to reduce their math anxiety and become effective mathematics teachers.  During their practicum, preservice teachers should be given the opportunity to observe an effective math teacher and gain the knowledge and understanding of the mathematics curriculum, content, and materials so that they are well prepared and confident to teach their own class.  Swars et al. (2006) recognize that “mathematics methods courses should allow preservice teachers to have mastery experiences through actual mathematics teaching experiences as well as vicarious experiences of observing role models teach mathematics” (p. 313).  The practicum experience is pivotal in learning how to teach math confidently utilizing all of the materials and resources available to them.  

            It is imperative that strategies are provided to elementary preservice teachers to decrease their mathematics anxiety.  These strategies include: the discussion of math anxiety to determine its cause and effect; the exploration of useful and effective math manipulatives that can be used in the classroom; an overview of learning styles and how to plan lessons to accommodate them; the familiarization of math documents such as texts, guides and curriculum resources; and the participation in a practicum where they are able to observe and gain experience teaching mathematics in the classroom.  It is important that teacher educators provide elementary preservice teachers with these strategies in order to reduce the math anxiety they are experiencing so that they may increase their math teaching efficacy.   
My other posts on Math Anxiety
Mathematics Anxiety in Preservice Teachers: An Overview 
Symptoms of Mathematics Anxiety
The Effects of Mathematics Anxiety
Why is Mathematics Anxiety in Preservice Teachers Worrisome? 
Where Does Mathematics Anxiety in Preservice Teachers Stem From?
What Strategies Can Be Provided to Preservice Teachers to Decrease Mathematics Anxiety?
The Power of Positivity 
Examining Learning Styles
Why Use Manipulatives? 
Mathematics in Children's Literature 

Bryant, R., Moseley, C., & Utley, J. (2005).  Relationship Between Science and Mathematics Teaching Efficacy of Preservice Elementary Teachers.  School Science and Mathematics, 105(2), 82-87.  Retrieved May 26, 2009, from Platinum Periodicals database. (Document ID: 866548841).
Bursal, M., Paznokas, L. (2006). Mathematics Anxiety and Preservice Elementary Teachers' Confidence to Teach Mathematics and Science. School Science and Mathematics, 106(4), 173-180.  Abstract retrieved July 8, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1152027251).
Castro, A.M. (2006). Preparing Elementary Preservice Teachers to Use Mathematics Curriculum Materials. The Mathematics Educator, 16(2), 14-24. Retrieved May 19, 2009 from
Gresham, G. (2008). Mathematics Anxiety and Mathematics Teacher Efficacy in Elementary Pre-Service Teachers. Teaching Education, 19(3), 171-184. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ811912) Retrieved May 12, 2009, from ERIC database.
Gresham, G. (2007, December).  An Invitation into the Investigation of the Relationship between Mathematics Anxiety and Learning Styles in Elementary Preservice Teachers.  Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice, 13, 24-33. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ791538) Retrieved July 8, 2008, from Eric Database.

Gresham, G. (2007, October). Study of Mathematics Anxiety in Pre-Service Teachers. Early Childhood Education Journal, 35(2), 181. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ775797) Retrieved July 8, 2008, from Eric Database.
Liu, F. (2008). Impact of Online Discussion on Elementary Teacher Candidates’ Anxiety Towards Teaching Mathematics. Education, 128(4), 614-629. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ816949) Retrieved February 16, 2009 from Eric Database.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2004). Teaching and Learning Mathematics – The Report of the Expert Panel on Mathematics in Grades 4 to 6 in Ontario.  Retrieved May 14, 2009, from
Schiano, A., & Svendsen, J. (2007). New York State Mathematics Initiative. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from New York State Education Department
Swars, S.L., Daane, C.J., & Giesen, J. (2006). Mathematics Anxiety and Mathematics Teacher Efficacy: What is the Relationship in Elementary Preservice Teachers? School Science and Mathematics, 106(7), 306.  Retrieved July 6, 2008, from Research Library database. (Document ID: 1305568341).
Swars, S., Smith, S., Smith, M., & Hart, L. (2009, February 1). A Longitudinal Study of Effects of a Developmental Teacher Preparation Program on Elementary Prospective Teachers' Mathematics Beliefs. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 12(1), 47-66. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ826882) Retrieved May 29, 2009, from ERIC database.

Swars, S.L. (2005). Examining Perceptions of Mathematics Teaching Effectiveness among Elementary Preservice Teachers with Differing Levels of Mathematics Teacher Efficacy. Journal of Instructional Psychology,32(2), 139-147. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ774152) Retrieved July 6, 2008 from Eric Database.

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