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How can we reduce maths anxiety?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by TES_Rosaline, May 15, 2019.

  1. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    "I hate maths", "I can’t do it" or "I’m not good with numbers" are some of the common things that people say about their numeracy skills especially when they have to put them to the test, but what can be done to address the issue and help pupils to improve their maths?

    ‘In March, new research revealed that maths anxiety could be fuelling a numeracy skills crisis – one in ten children in the UK suffers from “despair and rage” when learning maths and 33 per cent of 15- to 16-year-olds reported they got very tense when they had to complete maths homework.

    Maths anxiety is clearly widespread and has a significant impact later in life, with poor numeracy levels linked to everything from lower lifetime earnings to poor mental health. Fear of maths-related situations can also affect learning as a whole. This can mean less effective learning patterns on stem subjects in secondary and further education and can even affect vocational choices later in life.’

    Jill Cornish is the editorial director of Primary Maths, and Derry Richardson is the head of professional development, Oxford University Press.

    What are your views and what do you think needs to be done to tackle the issue?

  2. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    By all means keep GCSE as a "gold standard" (or maybe "slightly chipped gilded standard") for 16+, but encourage and celebrate lesser qualifications (entry level, functional maths, number and measure certificates etc.) as stepping stones for those who struggle.
    In my non-mainstream environment, we can use these qualifications to great effect.
    JohnJCazorla likes this.
  3. grumbleweed

    grumbleweed Lead commenter

    Sadly I don't think maths is always taught very well from a relatively early age. Too many assumptions are made about parents' understanding of modern approaches leaving parents feeling unable to help their children.
    When my grandson was in year one, he constantly came home with worksheets that my daughter didn't understand what he had to do. She had never seen part part whole for example. No explanation was ever given. I persuaded her to never buy a workbook but to carry on doing all the lovely things she does, cook, go shopping ( working out change etc), play games ( monopoly being his favourite), and despite never using a workbook, he's doing well. But, now in year 4, he is constantly told he is 'not allowed' to occasionally use objects, fingers or pictures but has to recall. This is really damaging for children who occasionally lack confidence, and will switch off childen who are still struggling conceptually. Crikey there are times when I use my fingers, and I'm pretty good at maths!.

    This really doesn't help and sadly this push towards the abstract at an earlier age (see the current thread on early years as an example) is not helping.

    The issue really is that maths is seen as some kind of secret language only accessible to a few. It isn't, maths should be accessible to all, but we have to build confidence for the very young, and we have to make it accessible to parents so that they can believe they can support their children at home in everyday ways. We also have to support teaching of maths for those teachers who are less confident.
    border_walker likes this.
  4. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    grumbleweed, you said "Sadly I don't think maths is always taught very well from a relatively early age." I couldn't agree more.

    While voluntarily giving some one-to-one support to adults working towards Functional Skills Level 2 I soon realised that their difficulty in making relatively straightforward calculations stemmed from the fact that they did not know maths tables. 8 x 6 = ??? Not a clue. Without a calculator they were stuffed.

    From my own experience I remember that certainly by the age of about 8 the majority of my class had memorised all tables up to 12 x 12 . Do you (or anyone else) know what the situation is these days regarding the learning/memorising of maths tables? Knowing them is a priceless asset.
    BetterNow likes this.
  5. Jamvic

    Jamvic Senior commenter

    Stop calling it ‘maths anxiety’ as if it were some kind of medical disorder.
    gainly and BetterNow like this.
  6. BetterNow

    BetterNow Occasional commenter

    Some schools think 'harder' = 'challenging' = 'better'

    I’ve lost count of the times I’ve gone into schools (supply) and the work left has been too hard for the children (under the banner of 'high expectations').

    Teach children what they need. Harder does not mean better. Challenge does not mean 'too hard'.

    Get the basics right (and I mean real basics really and truly comfortably right) at primary and the rest will follow.

    Trying to teach too hard concepts to children does nothing more than turn all but the most able off maths and fuel anxiety.
  7. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I think one of the best changes would be to reduce the number of students who are entered for exams where they are not expected to get more than half of the marks. That is very demoralising, and of course they're going to feel rubbish. But the way the exams and the grade boundaries work, that's what happens at GCSE. And because schools know that they'll get the best results by pushing those kids through to attempt the higher tier, they have to push them on through KS3 faster than might be good for them.

    I suspect employers would rather have a GCSE that says "this student is 90% competent at the basics" than 30% competence on a bigger syllabus.
    gainly likes this.
  8. grumbleweed

    grumbleweed Lead commenter

    I believe the year 4 times table test is statutory from next year(perhaps other can confirm this).
    But, just memorising facts doesn't really solve the problem either. I worked in Africa for a number of years and the students often referred to maths as magic, because what they had learned was endless 'rules' and facts that didn't 'sit' on anything. So just being to recite the 5 times table ( perhaps even to a tune) is meaningless if you don't have the conceptual understanding of what it means, and how to get to the answer if you can't recall it, from other things you do know.
    That's why I firmly believe we move on to abstract representation too soon for some children, and once they feel a bit left behind, the gap gets bigger, the anxiety(if it is that) gets worse and children start to believe they are no good at maths because they don't understand the rules. It really is the house with a few huge gaps in the foundations.
  9. gainly

    gainly Senior commenter

    They would be eminently qualified to be schools minister.
  10. SparkMaths

    SparkMaths New commenter

    One observation I have is the psychological impact of testing on the students.

    The best most rigourous data would be something like giving students a GCSE paper every half term throughout their time at the school, with the expectation being that they start off getting a low % and see their progression towards a high % in Y11.This is also the best way to make a Y7 student think they are bad at maths because of the low % they are getting and destroy their confidence.

    Are some schools doing this? Yes they are. Often it's a cut up GCSE paper to match topics taught and it's probably less than six times a year instead lining up with whole school data drops, it's close enough though.

    So the students in the lower sets get their test paper back with 0-20% and they learn they are terrible at the subject and give up, so then there's no progression and they get those low scores year after year which reinforces their belief that they are stupid. The top sets don't have this problem so much as a top set Y7 will be able to do pretty well on a Foundation paper.

    So how can we reduce maths anxiety? Have less exams. Design test papers so that all students get between 40% and 70%, perhaps even more I don't know what the ideal percentage would be. 40% is the pass grade at University and roughly what you need for a decent grade off the GCSE paper.

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