Wheaton Montessori News
Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently released a report following their study of math anxiety in primary and secondary students. [https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/290514] Their findings illustrate interesting characteristics of children who experience math anxiety, and suggest a potential connection to interactions with teachers and parents. The interview-based study included 2,700 children in primary and secondary school in the United Kingdom and Italy.
Four general themes emerged from the research:
The approach and structure of Montessori classrooms is already so different from that of conventional settings; this may serve as a benefit to students learning about math. As educators it is critical, however, to be open to new research and dedicated to creating an environment that will nurture our students and their learning in the best ways possible.
We might question: why are girls experiencing greater levels of math anxiety? It could be beneficial to pay close attention to the girls in our classes and be ready to intervene when markers of anxiety appear.
The children in the study expressed frustration as a result of comparisons with peers. Montessori strives to create an educational environment that downplays competition and focuses instead on intrinsic motivation. Not asking students to take tests, not giving grades, and not having a sticker chart on the wall that displays who has memorized their multiplication facts can all help with this.
In Montessori schools we recognize that learning is not a steady, linear progression, nor is it the same for different children. Students work through a series of materials at their own pace; teachers teach small groups or individuals and reteach as necessary, for as long as necessary, without any pressure to move along a predetermined pace.
From Mrs. Jonelis, the Math Specialist for our Adolescent Community: “I think the use of materials to convey math concepts concretely rather than abstractly plays a huge part in the benefit of math in a Montessori environment as well! Not to mention the endless possibilities to learn from peers – removing the ‘Of course the teacher gets it, but I don’t’ mentality.”
It can be challenging at times to compete among schools that take on more traditional methods. Montessori schools can feel obligated to offer standardized testing and homework. It may behoove us to recall the success Montessori has had for over a century without tests or homework. Most importantly, even while finding a balance, we need to keep our children’s development in the forefront of our decision-making. One question to ask while implementing something new might be, “Is this new structure affecting our students’ attitudes toward math?”
Of course, as children get older we have a responsibility to prepare them for whatever setting they will transition into. How might we do this without compromising our ideals? How can we present homework and testing to Montessori adolescents in such a way that they understand what will be expected of them, while continuing to support them in a supportive and non-competitive learning environment?
More research needs to be done to determine how parents can help stave off negative feelings about mathematics. We have a few ideas to share:
It will be interesting to see what future research learns about math anxiety in children and how we, as adults, might support them further.
Have you ever dealt with math anxiety? What do you think might have made your experience different?
As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions, ideas, or to schedule a tour.