Math anxiety causes trouble for students as early as first grade

Many high-achieving students experience math anxiety at a young age — a problem that can follow them throughout their lives, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

In a study of first- and second-graders, Sian Beilock, professor in psychology, found that students report worry and fear about doing math as early as first grade. Most surprisingly math anxiety harmed the highest-achieving students, who typically have the most working memory,...

Worries about math can disrupt working memory, which students could otherwise use to succeed.

The team showed that a high degree of math anxiety undermined performance of otherwise successful students, placing them almost half a school year behind their less anxious peers, in terms of math achievement.

Less talented students with lower working memory were not impacted by anxiety, because they developed simpler ways of dealing with mathematics problems, such as counting on their fingers.

Fortunately, there is hope for alleviating the negative impact of math anxiety on math achievement. “When anxiety is regulated or reframed, students often see a marked increase in their math performance,” the researchers write. One way to reframe anxiety is to have students write about their worries regarding math ahead of time.

A procedure termed “expressive writing” helps students to download worries and minimizes anxiety’s effects on working memory. The researchers speculate that, for younger students, expressive picture drawing, rather than writing, may also help lessen the burden of math anxiety. Teachers can also help students reframe their approach by helping them to see exams as a challenge rather than as a threat, the researchers write. [emphasis mine]

Tags: math anxiety

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I used to worry all the time (and still do - I like A's). I did have math anxiety. I remember my math teacher in 7th grade told me to relax. He was a wonderful teacher. I thank him for his support because that made me get to where I am today. Yes, he did have me see things as a challenge.

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