Math anxiety is a problem students have faced for centuries (Ramirez, Shaw & Maloney, 2018). The phenomenon hinders students working memory, thus inhibiting their full potential. Math anxiety happens to people at different stages in life for unique reasons. Even so, teachers of math play a major role in inculcating the nervousness in learners. Students often internalize their instructor’s enthusiasm and interest in teaching. If a teacher shows negative attitude or little interest in the subject, learners will no doubt look at the course from the same negative perspective. However, a teacher with a desirous attitude influences students positively (Ramirez, Shaw & Maloney, 2018). Such a teacher is able to use a number of methodological steps in a bid to reduce the phenomenon. For instance, reviewing the most basic mathematical skills so that to demystify math language which many wrongly perceive to be unintelligible. This paper discusses the causes of math anxiety and its preventive measures.
Math teachers at all levels face problems in teaching the subject. One of the greatest challenges they meet is how to instruct learners who experience math anxiety. Math anxiety is an inconceivable nervousness towards mathematics which greatly interferes with people’s ability to manipulate numbers and solve math problems within academic situations and everyday life (Ramirez, Shaw & Maloney, 2018). Learners with math anxiety appear panicky when faced with situations which require manipulation of numbers. They experience an unusual mental turbulence. Their minds freeze and they experience physical rigidity and tension. Datta (2018) states that about two thirds of students loathe math. Misconceptions regarding the complexity of math make learners perform dismally. Similarly, teachers find it extremely difficult to help learners appreciate math. In a bid to contain the situation, teachers need to determine the causes, symptoms and preventive measures of math anxiety.
Causes of Math Anxiety
One of the causes of math anxiety is poor test grades. The tests in mathematics are not assigned on the basis of wide range of factors. They are designed to attain measures of students’ proficiency on particular sets of knowledge and skills within specific areas (Wang, Shakeshaft, Schofield, & Malanchini, 2018). Because of such rigid confinement, students develop negative predispositions towards math. Such learners stop practicing and handling assignments thereby creating their own failure. Teachers and parents who are scared of math also demotivate learners. Teachers pass math anxiety to learners whereas parents do the same to their children. There are learners who fail to excel in mathematics because their parents’ misguided opinions (Ramirez, Shaw & Maloney, 2018). The situation is even worse if such parents become successful in life despite their dismal performance in math. Majority of such parents fail to encourage their children to put more efforts in mathematics because they feel it has little significance in one’s success. Likewise, students may live in an illusion that they can as well excel even with little appreciation for math. Therefore, teachers’ and parents’ value for math is very critical in students’ overall performance.
Teachers’ behavior can also provoke students dislike for math (Datta, 2018). There are teachers who never give assignments regularly. The situation retrogrades when the same teachers fail to put extra efforts in assisting learners. Just like other professionals, teachers are bound to show frustrations and anger whenever they fail to accomplish their goals. Students perceive constant aggravation from teachers as lack of care and will to help them excel in the subject (Datta, 2018). Teachers need to be firm but not coercive on learners. Through strictness, they motivate but with coercion, they demotivate. In that regard, teachers need to avoid unrealistic expectations of the students.
Teachers ‘approach in handling different concepts is also consequential in the overall performance of students in math (Ramirez, Shaw & Maloney, 2018). Just like in other subjects, good foundation is necessary in math. Teachers need to begin their instructions from the most basic to the most complex. Precisely, students can possibly fail in the subsequent topics if a teacher fails to achieve the required objectives in a previous topic. On the same note, math teachers need to engage students in constant revision, where learners move back and forth as they handling various topics. The approach is necessary in showing learners how various concepts are interconnected. Instructors who fail to employ this methodology cause students’ loss of interest in the subject. Whichever method a teacher uses, students need to leave the instruction room more confident about their abilities in math.
Remedies to Math Anxiety
Generally, teachers need to be enthusiastic about teaching mathematics (Datta, 2018). The excitement should be both intrapersonal and interpersonal. With the positive attitude, teachers inculcate strong belief in their students’ abilities. Students are less likely to perform excellently in math if teachers of mathematics themselves do not enjoy teaching the subject. It is important that teachers empathize with students. The only way to achieve this is by trying to recall what it was like to understand new mathematical concepts during their time in school. The approach is a better way for instructors to establish patience with teachers. Tolerant teachers never give up in their quest to help students succeed. One way in which teachers can show they understand and share their students’ experiences and emotions is by providing a holistic review of mathematical concepts which had been tackled previously (Passolunghi, & Costa, 2019). The approach ensures that learners handle basic math skills before they proceed to complex ones. The procedural approach is critical not only in shaping learners’ attitude towards math but also in making mathematics concepts less complex to them. Leaning math is like a building block process whereby each step affects the subsequent ones.
Mathematics is a language (Datta, 2018). It entails definition of terminologies and description of symbols which students have to understand for them to excel. Apart from parental psychological support, teachers play a critical role in shaping mathematicians. Conducive math learning environment determines learners’ performance. Teachers should be approachable and ready to help learners whenever consulted (Passolunghi, & Costa, 2019). Besides, they should be able to notice the physical manifestations of anxiety. In such a situation, encouraging statements from the teacher can be very helpful. Scholars have a lifetime task to research. Therefore, they need people to deliberate with whenever they encounter challenges. Teachers can also introduce cooperative learning in which students guide themselves. Students have distinct language which is best understood amongst themselves (Passolunghi, & Costa, 2019). They are capable of reducing math anxiety in their peers because they have a better understanding of them.
Math anxiety is a real challenge to students, parents and teachers. The nervousness specifically hinders the values and confidence students place in mathematics. The consequences of math anxiety are long lasting. People have different reasons for being nervous about math. Even so, many learners hate math because of the misconception that the concepts are undoable. With such attitude, students set themselves up for failure because they stop attempting to succeed. It is important for teachers to understand the causes of math anxiety and the best remedies to the phenomenon. Math is an important subject, and all learners need to succeed in it.
- Datta, D. (2018). Transforming Math Anxiety to Math Agility. Page Publishing Inc.
- Passolunghi, M. C., & Costa, H. M. (2019). Working Memory and Mathematical Learning. In International Handbook of Mathematical Learning Difficulties (pp. 407-421). Springer, Cham.
- Ramirez, G., Shaw, S. T., & Maloney, E. A. (2018). Math anxiety: Past research, promising interventions, and a new interpretation framework. Educational Psychologist, 1-20.
- Wang, Z., Shakeshaft, N., Schofield, K., & Malanchini, M. (2018). Anxiety is not enough to drive me away: A latent profile analysis on math anxiety and math motivation. PloS one, 13(2), e0192072.