Sunday, August 19, 2012

Math Anxiety

#msSunFun There are two books I read this summer that were very interesting and helped me form a set of goals for the coming school year:  Learning to Love Math:  Teaching Strategies That Change Student Attitudes and Get Results by Judy Willis and Accessible Mathematics:  10 Instructional Shifts That Raise Student Achievement by Steven Leinwand

In the first book the author discusses the importance of reversing negative attitudes about math as a critical step toward learning. "If your students are anxious during math class, information entering their brains is less likely to reach the conscious thinking and long-term memory parts of the prefrontal cortex, and learning will not take place. . . . Under stressful conditions, emotion is dominant over cognition, and the rational-thinking PFC has limited influence on behavior, focus, memory, and problem solving" (pg. 10). The book gives lots of suggestions for helping students overcome math anxiety and learn to love math. One of my goals this year is to give special attention and focus to any student who has struggled with math in the past and exhibits math anxiety when they come to math class. For example, one thing that has bothered me in the past is returning tests and quizzes to students with low scores with a big ugly stamp on the front requesting a parent signature. It feels like adding insult to injury when the student hurriedly turns the test over on their desk or hides it in their binder.

This year I want to do things differently.  If I feel like I need to make the parent aware of the test or quiz score, I am going to send an e-mail. (Note: all grades are available to view by students and parents on our school grading software.) But more importantly I am going to request a short individual conference with the student to discuss the grade and together form a plan for improvement. Hopefully these individual conversations will help me understand whatever is preventing the student from mastering the material and will help me make adjustments throughout the year.

I like all the ideas in the second book. I am going to try to do all 10 of the instructional shifts mentioned in the book. Here is a copy of the list from the front cover of the book:

1) Incorporate ongoing cumulative review into every day's lesson
2) Adapt what we know works in our reading programs and apply it to mathematics instruction (focus on explanations and don't stop with one word or numerical answers to problems).
3) Use multiple representations of mathematical entities.
4) Create language-rich classroom routines.
5) Take every available opportunity to support the development of number sense.
6) Build from graphs, charts, and tables.
7) Tie the math to such questions as: "How big?" "How much?" "How far?" to increase the natural use of measurment throught the curriculum.
8) Minimize what is no longer important.

9) Embed the mathematics in realistic problems and real-world contexts.
10) Make "Why?" "How do you know?" "Can you explain?" classroom mantras.

One idea I have for working on these instructional shifts is to make a poster for each unit covered in class. These posters will include vocabulary and key concepts and will highlight the most important information covered in class and included in the interactive student notebooks. I have some wall space around the room that is very high and difficult to reach. I am planning to bring a small ladder to school so that after we finish each unit I can hang the posters so that they form a border at the top of the wall around the room. Hopefully these posters will be a continual reminder of what we have covered so far and how much they have learned!


  1. Sara - I skimmed the 10 shifts book ... like how you are creating a print rich environment with reminders of previous learning. I'm thinking about putting the questions in #10 above (and others) on sentence strips above my white board ... sentence stems to prompt student thinking.

    1. That's a great idea! I think I will do that too! Mostly to remind myself to ask those questions every day in class.

  2. The Accessible book sounds really interesting. I am going to check it out! Thanks for the tip!

  3. Sara, Can I come to your math class? It sounds fun just from reading your blog.

  4. I love the Accessible Math Book. I had to read it summer of '11 as part of being on our district K-12 math review committee. I actually got to hear him speak last May. Very cool guy! I will have to check out the first book you mentioned. It's so important for kids to not think they suck at math!

    1. I just learned from dy/dan that Steven Leinwand is a canidate for NCTM president in the 2012 election. From the NCTM website: "If your individual membership is current as of August 10, 2012, you will be eligible to vote in this year’s election, which begins in September 2012. But you must make sure your e-mail address is up-to-date."