Tips that can be used to help pupils get over their fear of maths
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By Dr Bernadette Aineamani
It’s no secret that South African pupils have historically underperformed in the subject of mathematics. And, as our country heads into a digital future powered by the fourth industrial revolution, the need for higher mathematics acumen in our matriculants and graduates grows exponentially.
However, we can never reach that stage unless, our pupils overcome their fear and anxiety of this subject.
Maths anxiety has been a dominant force in education history. It is a problem all over the world and has come to shape the very curriculum that seek to convey this arithmetic-based subject.
Maths anxiety is felt in classrooms, homes and workplaces across the world and is widely acknowledged as a barrier to engagement and progress in maths, as well as other areas of education, employment and life.
How do you tackle maths anxiety? It starts with understanding exactly where it comes from.
What causes maths anxiety?
We all have curious brains that have an in-built, highly-tuned safety mechanism that protects us so we can avoid danger. And when faced with a perceived “danger”, we have a “fight or flight response”.
When it comes to maths anxiety, the same principle applies. If faced with a task that requires maths, many could perceive danger to be:
· Social threats – such as humiliation, exclusion and being left behind or isolated
· Fear of failure – being asked to do something the pupil experiences as too hard through insufficient scaffolding, context, meaning or narrative.
Research has shown so far that these are common contributing factors to maths anxiety across different ages and stages of life.
In schools around the world, many students report experiencing maths anxiety as a result of finding the work difficult, competing with peers, gender bias, teaching methods, and lack of extension and remediation.
How do we overcome maths anxiety?
· Support pupils from as early as the fpoundation Phase, to develop maths talk by introducing mathematical concepts and language in a way that young children already understand, such as through discussing sharing and fairness.
· Building mathematical resilience by encouraging mathematical engagement in a way that reduces the negative effects that lead to maths anxiety.
· Go beyond the textbook to provide tangible and relatable real-world examples that pupils can relate to in their own lives to convey mathematical concepts.
· Content that is given to students should be carefully written in relation to the intended learning objective, to avoid any misconceptions or ambiguity.
· Teachers should be encouraged to allow more thinking time before asking for responses to questions.
· The feedback given to students after they attempt a maths task should not be negative or a put-off.
· In a classroom setting, the behaviour of students laughing at their classmates who struggle with maths tasks should be strongly discouraged by teachers through strategic approaches such as using students’ incorrect answers to discover underlying misconceptions instead of marking their answers as wrong and moving on to the next task.