Students’ thinking patterns, beliefs, practices and habits, all contribute to performance and achievement, especially in maths. From the earliest stages of education, patterns established in relation to maths have a significant impact upon later performance. Students, who learn early how to reason well when doing maths, develop effective strategies to employ when they don’t know what to do, persevere when struggling with maths problems and regularly complete homework, find that these habits contribute significantly to success in maths.
A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) identified reduced confidence in, and anxiety about maths as a significant factor affecting students’ performance on international tests. Self-efficacy, an individual’s beliefs about one’s ability to achieve, is directly correlated with a student’s achievement on benchmarking tests. Carol Dweck’s research at the University of Stanford, initially conducted with students presented with increasingly difficult maths problems while examining the types of feedback and praise they received, led to development of the Growth Mindset concept, showing that personal beliefs about one’s ability and the way in which this influences how a task is approached, are significant in shaping academic results.
Sian Beilock, a University of Chicago cognitive psychologist and author of “Choke”, a book about anxiety and performance, has identified that parents who experienced maths anxiety exacerbate difficulties that students experience when trying to help their children with maths homework. It appears that intergenerational transmission of maths anxiety develops when a parent who is not confident about their own mathematical ability, tries to support their child when doing maths homework. Mark Ashcraft, at the University of Nevada, highlights that anxiety consumes a lot of working memory, an area of the brain that is required for problem solving in maths, thus limiting the individual’s capacity to reason effectively and setting up a vicious cycle of maths anxiety leading to reduced outcomes in maths, thus setting up self-fulfilling prophesies.
The OECD report further identified that students who participated in creative activities performed better in maths, providing a strong argument for students continuing to participate in a range of music, drama and art programs, whether as school-based subjects or as extracurricular activities. The amount of time devoted to maths homework was also a factor identified with higher levels of performance in maths. Undertaking just one hour of homework per week was aligned with 15% less likelihood that a student’s maths results were in the lowest range. Research conducted by the OECD indicated an optimum level of six hours per week of maths homework resulted in the greatest (70%) impact; whereas benefits after this amount of time devoted to maths homework plateaued and reduced when students did more than one hour of homework per night.
Students who develop a Growth Mindset, strategic reasoning processes and allow sufficient time to persevere with mathematical problems and work on maths at home are most likely to incrementally improve their academic achievements in maths.
© Michele Juratowitch