What is maths anxiety?
“I hate maths!” is not an uncommon sentiment to hear in any classroom. However, studies have shown that maths anxiety is a real condition that goes far beyond pupils simply not enjoying working with numbers.
Defined by Mark Ashcraft as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance” in 2002, maths anxiety is still having an impact on children today, with over 2 million children struggling with it as of 2012.
It has been claimed that maths anxiety has a direct effect on pupil performance, and brain scans of children in America have shown that some children feel the same fear when faced with sums that a person with a phobia would feel when confronted with a snake or spider.
Why do pupils have maths anxiety?
Multiple factors can contribute to pupils developing maths anxiety. Parental and teacher attitudes to maths can rub off on children, either in a positive or negative manner, and cultural stereotypes such as girls not being as good at maths as their male classmates, are likely to have an effect. Bad experiences, such as previously being reprimanded for answering questions incorrectly or the need for a specific answer in maths, allowing no room for leeway unlike more subjective curriculum areas like English, could also have an impact.
What can be done about maths anxiety?
Firstly, it is vital for teachers to identify when children are facing maths anxiety. There are multiple indicators of this, such as the pupil appearing panicked, exhibiting a lack of confidence or being reluctant to even attempt to answer questions.
It is important to encourage pupils to relax when it comes to maths, as feeling anxious could cause them to answer questions incorrectly which in turn may intensify their fear in the future. Taking maths problems slowly and encouraging pupils to break questions down section by section can also be beneficial, as can using techniques to make maths fun and putting an emphasis on helping pupils to develop understanding rather than merely obtaining the correct answer.
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