Sunday, April 17, 2011

Where does math anxiety in preservice teachers stem from?

By Marianne Wesseling

¨Past Negative Experiences
¨Content Knowledge
¨Methods of Instruction
¨Past Teachers
¨Embarrassing Experiences Personality Factors

          To reduce preservice teacher mathematics anxiety, the root of their apprehension towards math must first be examined.  It is important that preservice teachers be encouraged to identify the root of their math anxiety in order to fully realize its cause and effects.  Through research of perceptions of mathematics teaching among elementary preservice teachers, Swars (2005) concluded that “mathematics methods courses need to provide a self-awareness of past experiences with mathematics among preservice teachers, particularly negative experiences, in order to facilitate the building of mathematics teacher efficacy” (p. 145).  In 2006, Swars et al. conducted a study concluding that this self-awareness of past experiences in mathematics would not only increase teaching efficacy, but would serve to reduce math anxiety in preservice teachers as well.  

            Through extensive research of mathematics anxiety, it becomes apparent that its root in elementary preservice teachers stems mostly from their past negative experiences in the elementary school (Brady, 2005; Cady & Rearden, 2007; Liu, 2008; Perry, 2004; Swars et al., 2006; and Uusimaki & Nason, 2004).  Though there is a general consensus that math anxiety stems from elementary school, it is important that the particular elements that caused this fear and negativity towards math be identified.  The root of mathematics anxiety in preservice teachers will be examined and categorized by the following: mathematical content, instruction, and personality factors.

Mathematical Content
            Mathematical content in elementary schools is generally worrisome to many preservice teachers experiencing mathematics anxiety.  In a study by Brady & Bowd (2005), it was concluded that a third of the participants “entered their practicum having taken little in the way of formal mathematics instruction beyond the minimum required for high school graduation” (p. 43).  It is not surprising that some preservice teachers do not feel confident about teaching math when they have been away from it for most or all of their post secondary years.  It is important that the math methods course they take refresh elementary mathematic content so that preservice teachers may gain the confidence they are lacking in this area.  Jones, Hopper and Pomykal Franz (2008), describe math as a language with abstractions, symbols and meanings.  Similar to learning how to read, they say that experiences in math “supply the foundation to future development” (p. 308).  How will a preservice teacher struggling with the understanding of elementary mathematical content effectively teach math to their own classroom of students?

          Some preservice teachers have identified teaching methods that were implemented in their elementary classrooms as being the root of their math anxiety. Research done by Swars et al. (2006), implicated that timed tests, pop quizzes and other forms of assessment that focus on a memorization of procedural knowledge contributed to a preservice teacher’s math anxiety. It is not uncommon for teachers to concentrate on teaching basic skills and on how to solve a problem rather than on conceptual understanding and why we are able to apply different formulas to solve a problem. In order for a preservice teacher to be able to share this conceptual understanding, they must have the training and confidence in themselves and in their knowledge of mathematics.

          In a study done by Uusimaki and Nason (2004), half of their participants who were preservice teachers suffering from mathematics anxiety “specifically identified primary school teachers for their learned dislike and fear of mathematics” (p. 373). Teachers drawing attention to student errors, being impatient when having to assist struggling students and displaying gender biases can be detrimental to a student and cause lasting math anxiety (Brady & Bowd, 2005). Teachers with mathematics anxiety tend to use more traditional teaching methods involving whole class instruction and seatwork rather then individualized instruction, problem solving, and games to make math learning fun and interesting (Swars et al., 2006). Many of these teachers may be unaware of the math anxiety they possess and the probability that this will be passed onto their students. Brady & Bowd (2005) have described math anxiety as a cycle because of the fact that math anxiety is passed from teacher to student who then becomes a preservice teacher and brings it back into the classroom to new students.

Personality Factors
          It is not unlikely to have students in the classroom who are afraid or embarrassed to ask questions when struggling in any subject. Gresham (2008), concluded that some preservice teachers experiencing math anxiety “felt isolated with their learning and experienced embarrassment with the learning of mathematics when help from instructors or others was needed” (p. 181).  Shyness and intimidation are powerful factors contributing to the “I can’t do it!” mindset that a number of preservice teachers exhibited as students at the elementary level.  These past negative feelings can be overwhelming for preservice teachers and can increase their level of mathematic anxiety.

            Another personality factor that can have an effect on math anxiety is the preconceived notion that mathematics is a male domain.  The vast majority of elementary preservice teachers are female and harboring these thoughts can affect the levels of their math anxiety.  Through a study of preservice elementary teachers, it was found that females exhibit higher levels of mathematics anxiety than males in secondary school and in college (Malinsky, McJunkin, Pannells & Ross, 2006).  The need for gender equality in exhibiting confidence in mathematics is apparent.  

            It is clear that the root of mathematic anxiety in preservice teachers stems from past negative experiences in math in the elementary school.  Whether it originated from difficulties with math content, instruction, teachers themselves, or from their own personality factors, it is imperative that preservice teachers take a good look at root of their math anxiety so that they may take steps to overcome it and learn from it.  Without this self reflection, preservice teachers unknowingly run the risk of bringing mathematics anxiety into the classroom which is a cause for alarm because of the clear connection that high levels of math anxiety has with low levels of 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 

Brady, P. & Bowd, A. (2005). Mathematics Anxiety, Prior Experience and Confidence to Teach Mathematics among Pre-Service Education Students. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 11(1), 37-46. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ821336) Retrieved May 12, 2009, from Eric Database.
Cady, J. & Rearden, K. (2007). Pre-Service Teachers’ Beliefs about Knowledge, Mathematics, and Science.  School Science and Mathematics, 107(6), 237.  Retrieved May 27, 2009, from Platinum Periodicals database. (Document ID: 1517891781).
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.

Hopper, P.F., Jones, B. R., & Pomykal Franz, D. (2008). Mathematics: A Second Language. The Mathematics Teacher, 102(4), 307.  Retrieved May 10, 2009, from Platinum Periodicals database. (Document ID: 1597070691).

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.
Malinsky, M., McJunkin, M., Ross, A., & Pannells, T. (2006). Math anxiety in pre-service elementary school teachers. Education, 127(2), 274. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ765826) Retrieved July 28, 2008, from Eric Database. 
Perry, A. (2004). Decreasing Math Anxiety in College Students. College Student Journal, 38(2), 321. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ704967) Retrieved July 8, 2008, from Eric Database. 
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.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.
Uusimaki, L., & Nason, R. (2004).  Causes Underlying Pre-Service Teachers’ Negative Beliefs and Anxieties about Mathematics.  International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. (ERIC Document # ED489664) Retrieved January 5, 2009 from ERIC database.

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