Math anxiety: Can teachers help students reduce it?

Math anxiety: Can teachers help students reduce it? Ask the cognitive scientist. Beilock, S. & Willingham, D. (2014). American Educator, 38(2), 28.

This article is an explanatory piece focused on providing teachers with current interdisciplinary research findings on math anxiety and math performance that can be translated into classroom strategies.

Article Summary

Beilock and Willingham (2014)  focused on the when and where regarding math anxiety in order to answer what can be done about it. They reported that math anxiety can start as early as early elementary school and is predictive of math performance. Math anxiety negatively impacts working memory, leaving fewer resources for solving math problems in general.

An interesting finding from some research studies reported by the authors was that higher working memory has stronger negative effects on math anxiety and performance relationship. In addition, the lack of basic math skills and teachers’ math anxiety affect students’ math performance negatively. Timed math tests were found to be more strongly associated with math anxiety and poor math performance. Freewriting prior to a math test regarding emotions students associate with math anxiety can help reduce performance differences between low and high math anxiety students.

Beilock and Willingham (2014) suggested several strategies that teachers can utilize to help reduce math anxiety in students.

  1. Teacher training focused on how to teach math to ensure confidence will reduce teacher anxiety, which in turn will increase math performance in students. 
  2. Teachers can encourage parental engagement with their young children around math at home to boost basic math skills, better equipping young children to learning math in school environment.
  3. Alleviating time pressures on math tests.
  4. A teacher should also pay attention to his/her response towards students when they encounter difficulty in math. Attention should be paid on potential  messaging implied by a teacher’s response to his/her student. Emphasizing hard work and effort to overcome difficulties conveys belief in a student’s math ability. A teacher can provide concrete strategies for problem solving and study habits to further aid the student. 
  5. Leaving some time prior to a math test to prompt emotional free writing on feelings about the upcoming test can help tighten performance gaps between students with high and low math anxiety.

How can you apply this piece within your own system be it as a parent or through educational use?

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©Copyright 1999 Lin Lim   

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