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Teachers can help pupils overcome 'maths anxiety'

13/09/2012 Joanna
A new US report will be of considerable interest to those in maths teaching jobs in the UK, after it revealed that children can develop "maths anxiety" from as early as primary age.

Furthermore, the University of Chicago's 'Math anxiety, working memory and math achievement in early elementary school' study found that the highest-achieving pupils can conversely be the worst affected by this affliction, which can follow people throughout their lives.

These findings may help to explain why nearly a quarter of pupils voted maths as their least favourite subject in a recent University of Manchester survey.

The US-based researchers found that while around half of pupils are affected by the condition, it does not appear to hinder the mathematical performance of less able pupils.

However, for more able students, maths anxiety leads to significant under achievement. The report attributes this to the impact worrying has on "working memory", a mental notepad that is used to calculate maths problems.

While this is impaired by anxiety in higher-achieving students, less able pupils who use simpler methods to work out sums - such as by counting on their fingers - remain unaffected.

Importantly, the implications of maths anxiety are far reaching.

"Early math anxiety may lead to a snowball effect that exerts an increasing cost on math achievement by changing students' attitudes and motivational approaches towards math, increasing math avoidance and ultimately reducing math competence," explained professor Sian Beilock.

But how can those in primary school teacher jobs help tackle this issue?

"When anxiety is regulated or reframed, students often see a marked increase in their math performance," the authors explained.

This might involve getting pupils to write down their maths worries, in the form of "expressive" writing, or drawing in the case of younger students.

Explaining to pupils that exams are a "challenge" not a "threat" could also help pupils achieve their potential. 

Posted by Theo FouldsADNFCR-2164-ID-801448497-ADNFCR
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