Stop the Spread of Math Anxiety

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Educators have long-known that math anxiety can affect student performance, but the underlying source of that apprehension may surprise you.

“Math anxiety can develop in the very early grades, often because of the negative messages about math that children pick up from the adults in their lives,” according to Karyn Lewis, a senior researcher at Education Northwest. “…Research shows that teachers unintentionally transmit their own attitudes about math to their students. This means teachers who have math anxiety can pass it on to their students, which can impact students’ math performance.”

The sequence is problematic on many levels, Lewis explained in a recent blog post.

First off, “math anxiety undercuts math ability,” making it more difficult for students to master the material needed to succeed in upper-level courses.

And as a result, math anxiety “shuts down many (often lucrative) career paths for young adults,” Lewis notes.

She offered three tips for educators to keep in mind:

  • Don’t make assumptions. Preconceptions that some people are just good at math (while others aren’t) are especially harmful. “These stereotypes can prevent girls and students of color from developing an interest in math —and fuel math anxiety,” Lewis says.
  • Acknowledge difficulties, but express confidence that all students can overcome math-related challenges. Lewis’ advice? “Avoid the temptation to comfort or console.”
  • Create a school culture that normalizes struggles and promotes a growth mindset. Educators must let students know that their abilities “can change over time because of effort, perseverance, and practice.”

Read the full article.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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