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Primary school teachers are important in children's learning of mathematics, and maths anxiety development has been partly attributed to children's classroom experiences (Das & Das, 2013). Maths anxiety was explored in UK primary school teachers, with a view to understanding its development and impact. Data from four semi-structured individual interviews were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which facilitates a deeper knowledge of individuals' personal experience. Three key themes emerged: "experiencing the psychological consequences of maths anxiety", "social influences" and "the consequences of experiencing maths anxiety as a teaching professional". The findings contribute to our understanding of the influence of maths anxiety on teachers and teaching practices.
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ISSN: 1300 915X
International Online Journal of Primary Education
2021, volume 10, issue 1
Copyright © International Online Journal of Primary Education 32
MRes Psychology student, University of Derby, School of Human Sciences, Derby, UK
Dr., Head of Psychology, University of Derby, School of Human Sciences, Derby, UK
Thomas E. HUNT
Dr., University of Derby, School of Human Sciences, Derby, UK
Received: March 31, 2021
Accepted: May 14, 2021
Published: June 30, 2021
Suggested Citation:
Dove, J., Montague, J., & Hunt, T. E. (2021). An exploration of primary school teachers’ maths anxiety using interpretative
phenomenological analysis. International Online Journal of Primary Education (IOJPE), 10(1), 32-49.
This is an open access article under the CC BY 4.0 license.
Primary school teachers are important in children’s learning of mathematics, and maths anxiety development has been partly
attributed to children’s classroom experiences (Das & Das, 2013). Maths anxiety was explored in UK primary school
teachers, with a view to understanding its development and impact. Data from four semi-structured individual interviews
were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which facilitates a deeper knowledge of individuals’
personal experience. Three key themes emerged: experiencing the psychological consequences of maths anxiety, social
influences and the consequences of experiencing maths anxiety as a teaching professional”. The findings contribute to our
understanding of the influence of maths anxiety on teachers and teaching practices.
Keywords: Maths anxiety, qualitative research, primary school teachers, experience of teaching.
Maths anxiety is a negative emotional response to situations involving mathematics (henceforth
maths); it is not simply a proxy for poor maths ability but rather the fear that arises in individuals
undertaking a mathematical task, which impedes performance (Beilock, Gunderson, Ramirez, &
Levine, 2010). Indeed, there is much evidence that maths anxiety is negatively related to maths
performance (Hembree, 1990; Namkung, Peng, & Lin, 2019; Zhang, Zhao, & Kong, 2019; Barroso,
Ganley, McGraw, Geer, Hart, & Daucourt, 2021). It is associated with avoidance of effort-based
decision making (Choe, Jenifer, Rozek, Berman, & Beilock, 2019) and maths related education or
career paths (Hembree, 1990; Ahmed, 2018). It can also have serious implications within the
workplace such as inaccurate calculations of drug dosages by medical staff (Ahmed, Minnaert,
Kuyper, & van der Werf, 2012) or impaired financial planning (Beilock & Willingham, 2014). People
with maths anxiety may experience negative feelings when asked to divide up a restaurant bill or
answer a mathematical problem in front of others. Fear of being judged or looking incompetent in
front of others are the consequences of failure and can lead to unpleasant physiological reactions such
as feelings of tension, nervousness or nausea (Dowker, Sarkar, & Looi, 2016).
It is difficult to determine the causes of maths anxiety. One argument is that some people have a
genetic predisposition to develop maths anxiety. This has been seen in maths anxiety studies involving
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twins. For example,
Wang, Hart, Kovas, Lukowski, Soden, Thompson, Plomin, McLoughlin,
Bartlett, Lyons, and Petrill
(2014) studied 514 twelve-year-old twin pairs who were given a test to
assess their maths anxiety levels, a general test of anxiety, a maths problem solving test and a reading
comprehension test. A multivariate analysis revealed 40% of the variance in maths anxiety of the twin
pairs was accounted for by behavioural genetic factors and the remaining variance explained by non-
shared child-specific environmental factors. This suggests that maths anxiety may result from a
combination of negative experiences with maths and predisposing genetic risk factors associated with
maths cognition and general anxiety (Wang et al., 2014). Other work has suggested that brain activity
is associated with maths anxiety, e.g. neuroimaging studies indicate individuals with high maths
anxiety show reduced response in the posterior parietal and dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex brain
regions (which are involved in mathematical cognition) and increased responses in the right amygdala
the brain region involved in affective fearfulness and threat detection (Young, Wu, & Menon, 2012).
Psychological theories have emphasised the role of cognitive processes, e.g. that working memory of
individuals with high maths anxiety is impaired by intrusive, worrisome thoughts (Ashcraft & Krause,
2007). In particular, it is thought that high maths anxious individuals use up limited attentional
resources of the central executive component of working memory, rather than allocating their
attentional resources to the task at hand (Suárez-Pellicioni, Núñez-Peña, & Colomé, 2016). This
debilitating effects model, however, has been discussed against a deficit model whereby an early
deficit in mathematical understanding and knowledge is thought to lead to the later development of
maths anxiety (Ma & Xu, 2004). As Carey, Hill, Devine and Szucs (2016) note, it is likely that a
reciprocal model is more likely. It also seems that maths anxiety is strongly related to the way a person
rates themselves in relation to maths (Dowker, Sarkar, & Looi, 2016).
It is likely that negative or positive reactions and experiences associated with maths will influence an
individual’s self-concept. Self-concept is a global composite view of oneself: how an individual
perceives their skills and abilities they possess (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003). Self-efficacy, on the other
hand, is concerned with what individuals believe they can do with the skills and abilities they possess
(Bong & Skaalvik, 2003) and constitutes an individual’s innate belief in their ability to succeed at a
task or in a situation (Bandura, 1982). Emotional and psychological states contribute to an individual’s
self-efficacy towards their maths capabilities. Self-efficacy is influenced by an individual’s past
experience and their perceived ability to master, or not, a particular task. It is also influenced by seeing
others who they determine to be similar to themselves either succeed or fail. Social encouragement
from others also influences self-efficacy; however, positive encouragement is more difficult to impart
and therefore to influence positive self-efficacy compared with the ease it takes to undermine an
individual. Reducing the stress response and an individual’s negative tendencies that they associate
with a task or situation will also modify self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994): how an individual perceives
themselves and their abilities influences their thoughts and behaviours towards a task or situation. A
high self-concept in maths for example may lead an individual to have a positive outlook on maths and
based on their feelings towards it and their past positive experiences may lead them to consider that
they have good maths abilities. For these individuals any maths difficulties may be seen as challenges,
thus prompting a positive approach towards solving problems. On the other hand, a low maths self-
concept can lead to a focus on negative maths experiences and a low perception of one’s maths ability,
giving a negative overall view of maths and possibly prompting anxiety around it.
One of the most clearly investigated factors on maths anxiety is the relationship between gender
and maths. Although research indicates that males and females provided equal education in maths
show little or no difference in mathematical performance, females do tend to rate themselves
lower in maths ability and to express more anxiety (
Dowker, Sarkar, & Looi, 2016
). This increased
anxiety expression in females is posited to come from several sources such as exposure to gender
stereotypes and the influence of and social transmission of anxiety by female teachers who are
maths anxious (Beilock et al., 2010). Stereotypically the common assumption
in the maths domain
is that males are better at maths than females. When a relevant negative stereotype is made salient in a
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performance situation an individual may perform more negatively than perhaps their ability would
suggest, resulting in stereotype threat (Maloney, Schaeffer & Beilock, 2013); this can impact both
maths anxious males who feel they are required to uphold the positive image of male maths
superiority, and females who feel they confirm the negative stereotype.
Some researchers have suggested anxiety as resulting from a combination of factors: if a child has
cognitive issues with numerical and spatial competencies and lacks confidence, they may have a
greater predisposition to pick up the negative cues from their maths anxious teacher, leading to the
development of maths anxiety (Maloney & Beilock, 2012). Additionally, negative classroom
experiences are considered by some researchers as key factors in the development of maths anxiety.
This includes maths being taught in a rigid, non-participatory or rote fashion without full
explanation of the concepts and procedures behind the methods (Das & Das, 2013) or an
overreliance on using tests to assess maths learning as well as teacher attitudes (Hamza & Helal,
2013). Schofield (1981) found that teacher attitudes were linked to students’ performance and
attitudes towards maths. Teachers who were classified with low or middle levels of achievement
and attitude in their own maths ability maintained the lowest student performance scores with
students holding the least favourable attitudes towards maths. This was compared to teachers with
high maths achievement and a positive maths attitude whose teaching produced high achieving
students even though the students had initially had an unfavourable attitude towards maths.
Jackson and Leffingwell (1999) also researched teachers’ own attitudes towards maths as a subject
and how their
attitude towards teaching affected student performance. They found that many had
negative early school years experiences, describing negative teacher behaviours, including
hostility if they asked for help or highlighting student errors in front of the class, causing
embarrassment and humiliation. Overall, their study suggested that just 7% of their sample reported
having had only positive experiences with maths during their school years.
It is important to understand, therefore, how for some teachers a negative maths attitude might
evolve. Teachers who are anxious about their own maths ability may unwittingly impart these
negative beliefs to some of their students and therefore contribute to the development of the cycle
of maths anxiety. A negative attitude towards maths may also lead teachers to reduce their effort,
affecting their instructional behaviour, which in turn influences student attitudes. Relich, Way and
Martin (1994) suggested that a positive teacher attitude towards maths is beneficial as it helps
develop positive student attitudes; this then increases the likelihood of students investing more
time and energy in improving their own competence.
A teacher’s professional identity is a combination of their past experiences around maths, social
influences such as maths gender stereotypes as well as their knowledge, maths self-efficacy and
maths self-concept (Bennison & Goos, 2013). Research has shown that even teachers with high
levels of maths anxiety hold high efficacious beliefs about their ability to teach maths and express
confidence in their ability to be effective maths teachers (Swars, Daane, & Giesen, 2006). This
may be due to the availability of professional learning and improved pedagogical maths content
support for teachers that helps bolster their confidence in their ability to teach maths effectively.
Much of the research into maths anxiety seems to rely on questionnaires, beginning with the
Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (Richardson & Suinn, 1972), and its subsequent versions (Plake
& Parker, 1982; Alexander & Martray, 1989; Suinn & Winston, 2003). More recent scales have
been developed or modified to measure maths anxiety in populations outside of the U.S.A. (e.g.
Hunt, Clark-Carter, & Sheffield, 2011; Nunez-Pena, Suarez-Pellicioni, Guilera, &
Mercade-Carranza, 2013). Questionnaires provide useful data about maths anxiety; however,
such a measurement technique may not capture the full range of individuals’ attitudes, feelings and
experiences of maths.
To date, relatively few studies have adopted a qualitative methodology to investigate maths
anxiety. Those that have, have tended to focus on pre-service teachers. Trujillo and Hadfield
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(1999), via a series of interviews, identified commonalities between pre-service teachers in
relation to their negative emotions relating to maths, including early school and home
experiences and how they planned to overcome their maths anxiety. More recently, Uusimaki and
Nason (2004) conducted mixed-methods research to investigate pre-service teachers’ negative
beliefs and anxiety around maths. Applying thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) to interview
data, they generated three ‘school experiences’ themes: origins of negative beliefs and anxiety
about mathematics’, ‘situations causing most maths anxiety’ and ‘types of maths causing maths
anxiety’. They demonstrated that most of the pre-service teachers’ maths anxiety could be
attributed to their own primary school experiences in learning maths, such as within test situations,
having to give verbal explanations, dealing with poor teacher attitudes and difficult mathematical
content. In their quantitative element, Uusimaki and Nason (2004) ascertained the number of
participants per theme and converted the totals to percentage scores. These findings suggested that
72% of their participants attributed their negative school maths experiences to their teachers,
rather than to specific mathematical content or social factors such as family or peers. These
findings have been supported more recently within work from Bekdemir (2010), who found pre-
service teachers’ maths anxiety to be related to their own remembered negative classroom
experiences, in particular the perceived hostility and inadequacy of their teachers.
It seems, then, that teachers’ own early negative experiences in learning maths might contribute to
the development of anxiety towards maths in others. However, research has suggested that even if
teachers experience maths anxiety and have a low aptitude for maths themselves, this does not
preclude them from continuing their career as a teacher and successfully teaching
maths nor does it
negatively impact their confidence in their ability to teach maths
(Beilock et al., 2010:
Bennison &
Goos, 2013). A
qualitative approach, aimed at giving a deeper understanding of what it is like to
experience maths anxiety, can be used to develop more applicable interventions and training as well
as to help raise awareness of the impact of experiencing its potentially debilitating effects. Maths
teachers in secondary education elect to specialise in maths and therefore, we suggest, may not
exhibit as much maths anxiety as teachers in the primary education sector who are obliged to
teach mathematics as part of the curriculum. To facilitate a more in-depth understanding, the
present research utilizes the qualitative approach of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to
explore primary school teachers’ experiences and understanding of their own maths anxiety.
Analytic Approach
Teachers’ personal accounts, gained via semi-structured interviews, are analysed using
Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA, Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). IPA has been
developed through integrating ideas from philosophers such as Husserl, Heidegger,
Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Drawing on philosophical areas of
phenomenology, hermeneutics and ideography, IPA goes beyond pure description of events
exploring how individuals make sense of their experiences, such as maths anxiety, and what
meanings they attach to them. For example, IPA can give a deeper understanding of the feelings,
behavior and consequences of how a participant felt about being singled out when they were a
child to answer a maths problem in front of a class.
IPA is fundamentally ideographic researchers are committed to a detailed analysis of the
phenomenon under investigation, analysing each individual’s lived experience before moving to a
cross-case analysis illuminating convergence and divergence between individuals (Tuffour,
2017). Teachers are the experts on their own maths anxiety experiences offering an ‘insider’s’
perspective through accounts of their childhood maths encounters and the impact of those
encounters on their professional lives as primary school teachers.
The data generated are embedded in the specific contextual and socio-cultural background that
participants and researcher share (Reid, Flowers, & Larkin, 2005) and the analytic process of IPA
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is a subjective and reflective process of interpretation by the researcher of the participants’
experiences (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). The researcher actively works with these data,
balancing shared commonalities across each account and highlighting participants’ experiences
(Reid et al., 2005). It has been argued that IPA might become more descriptive than interpretative
(Truffour, 2017) therefore it is important to acknowledge the double hermeneutic of the
researcher interpreting the participants’ interpretations of their experiences.
With its focus on lived experience IPA was deemed appropriate for an exploration of the
experience of maths anxiety. This is a topic that individuals express their feelings towards it is
socially acceptable to ‘admit’ to not liking/not being good at maths (Kindermann & Skinner,
2009) therefore participants are likely to share rich and detailed information about its impact on
their lives. As discussed previously much of the research in this area has used quantitative
approaches such as surveys and questionnaires whereas insights into the experience of anxiety
about encounters with maths are limited. Taking this novel approach our overall aim was to
explore the maths anxiety experiences of primary school teachers, offering a specific focus on
increasing understanding of the psychological impact of maths anxiety on primary school teachers
and their perception of its impact upon them.
Research Design
Data were generated using semi-structured interviews and then analysed using Interpretative
Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Rather than predicting what might prevent maths anxiety, IPA
enables insight into how primary school teachers make sense of their own maths anxiety
experiences thus informing recommendations for future developments of support in the area
(Cooper, Fleischer, & Cotton, 2012).
Recruitment Strategy
Participants were recruited from a state-run mixed primary school (ages 7-11) based in a large
town in the U.K. Permission was granted to advertise in the staff room for participants who
believed they suffered with maths anxiety; thus the participant group all self-reported their maths
anxiety. All participants consented to the study and were fully debriefed. Anonymity was
guaranteed through the use of pseudonyms in all transcripts and reporting. Ethical clearance was
granted by the university research ethics board following guidelines from the British
Psychological Society (BPS) Code of Human Research Ethics (2010).
As guided within the methodological framework of IPA a small, purposive sample of primary
school teachers (Table 1, four participants) was selected for inclusion. Their homogeneity
(sharing similarities such as occupation and working environment) ensured that detailed accounts
generated during the interview yielded sufficient relevant and idiographic information (Cooper,
Fleischer, & Cotton, 2012). No age range or gender was specified.
Table 1
. Participant details
Being taught maths at school and a
dditional maths education
Tania remembers learning multiplication tables by rote, being selected to answer a maths
problem in front of the class and being sat at a desk with the teacher in the front of the class as
well as a lot of writing in exercise books rather than practical maths work. She took extra tuition
in high school to obtain a maths qualification in order to get to university and study a post-
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graduate certificate in education (PGCE). John remembers standing in front of a chalkboard at
school working out an equation in front of the class. He also remembers desks in a row and
copying from the blackboard and writing in exercise books. John hired a tutor and re-took his
maths qualification twice before he could study for his PGCE. Maria remembers working through
text books, learning multiplication tables sitting at desks and learning in a rote fashion. Maria had
no further maths education after gaining the required grade on her first attempt in order to attend
university. Kate remembers teachers standing at the front of the class with her then writing
answers in an exercise book. She also remembers being asked to answer maths problems in front
of class and its damage to her confidence. At the time of interview Kate was having extra maths
tuition as part of her newly qualified teacher (NQT) training in order to help her complete the
maths requirement of the training.
Data generation and materials
Individual face-to-face semi- structured interviews were conducted using a schedule asking 12
open-ended questions plus prompts (see Appendix). Questions were designed to address a number
of considerations. They built rapport with participants, enabling them to contemplate the topic
under discussion and elaborate on aspects that held importance for them in relation to the overall
focus of the research question. As the research question’s aim is to uncover participants’
experiences of maths anxiety the questions were open ended and framed to encourage
participants to reflect on their childhood maths experiences, their adult and professional
experiences and the type of maths support they may have received. The questions also enabled
the interviewer to maintain control of the interview without leading the participant in particular
directions (Willig, 2013). Each interview was held in a private room on school premises lasting
35 to 45 minutes and recorded using a Dictaphone. The material gathered from participants was
transcribed verbatim.
Analytic procedure
Following the recommendations by Smith and colleagues (2003; 2009), IPA processes were applied
to each transcript on a case-by-case basis. This was then followed by comparison across all the
case transcripts.
Stage one
The interviews were read repeatedly to facilitate close interaction with the data followed by initial
noting of exploratory comments. The exploratory comments consisted of descriptive, linguistic
and interpretative comments. Descriptive comments involved identifying explanations and
descriptions of events, emotional comments or key experiences described by the participants.
Linguistic comments focused on the specific use of language that participants used to describe
events and feelings. Linguistic features such as the use of metaphors, repetition, pauses, sighs or
laughter were also noted. The third stage was interpretative and involved making conceptual
comments about what the researcher believed was the participant’s overarching understanding of
what they were saying (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Table 2 outlines examples of the types
of comments with the analysis found in the transcripts.
Table 2.
Exploratory comments
Type of Comment
Analysis of comments
Original Transcript
Remembers the panic which
heightened awareness of how
children may feel when asked on
the spot questions
I just remember the panic part so
it definitely makes me more aware
of my kids
Use of ‘freak’ expresses strength
of reaction, use of ‘definitely’
reinforces action
I would definitely have a bit of a
freak out because I would have to
go over things before I taught
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Feels the advantage of having
maths anxiety makes her a more
effective teacher of maths
I do think it has an advantage
being aware I wasn’t good at
maths…..I almost find it easier to
teach maths because I feel I have a
very simple way of doing it
Stage 2
Initial themes that emerged from the exploratory analysis were identified by taking note of the
transcript and the exploratory comments (Smith, Flowers, & Larkin, 2009). Themes were
produced using a concise statement or phrase that captured and reflected the participant’s original
words that alluded to their cognitive states, thoughts and feelings as well as the researcher’s
interpretations (Table 3).
Table 3
. Developing emergent themes
Exploratory Comments
Emergent themes
Remembers the panic which
heightened awareness of how
children may feel when asked on
the spot questions
‘‘I just remember the panic part so
it definitely makes me more aware
of my kids’’
Heightened awareness
Feels the advantage of having
maths anxiety makes her a more
effective teacher of maths
I do think it has an advantage
being aware I wasn’t good at math
because when I explain maths to
kids now, I almost find it easier to
teach maths because I feel I have a
very simple way of looking at it
Recognises panic in children
If now if I have a kid that panics I
can see and know they are going to
Recognition of fear in others
Stage 3
Superordinate themes were then developed by identifying connections between the emergent
themes. Emerging themes were entered onto a list, printed and cut into separate pieces. The
themes were moved around on a piece of card (670mm x940mm) into clusters that represented
parallel or similar understandings and given a superordinate theme title that reflected the essence
of the cluster (Box 1).
Box 1.
Developing a superordinate theme
Stage 4
Once stages 1- 3 had been carried out on all transcripts, the final stage looked for patterns across all
the cases to produce a master table of themes for the group. This involved laying out the
individual themes for each participant typed in a different colour to ensure an even consideration
of each participant. Each theme was cut into single items, placed on the card to facilitate
identification of connections between the themes. As clusters of themes for the group were
emerging the passages from each transcript were reread to ensure a close reflection of the data
leading to the creation of new superordinate themes and sub themes along with extracts from the
data to illustrate them. The superordinate themes were developed based on their perceived
importance of the participant’s maths anxiety experiences. On completion, the final master table of
Heightened awareness
Recognition of fear in others
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themes for the group emerged (Table 4). The quotes that it was felt most effectively reflected
participants’ thoughts and feelings about their maths anxiety were then analysed and are presented
in the analysis section of this article.
The three master themes and their subthemes (Table 4) that emerged from the analysis are presented
with quotes from the participants and the researcher’s interpretation of the analysis.
Table 4
. Master themes for the group and their related sub-themes
Superordinate Themes
Subordinate themes
Experiencing the psychological consequences of
maths anxiety
Effects on learning and maths performance
Effect on self-efficacy
Social influences
Parents and Teachers
Peer relationships
The consequences of experiencing maths anxiety as
a teaching professional
Recognition and understanding maths anxiety in
Benefits of experiencing maths anxiety
Each superordinate theme and its related subordinate themes are presented and discussed
Experiencing the psychological consequences of maths anxiety
Throughout their accounts, participants’ experiences of maths were discussed as making them feel
anxious and affecting their learning, maths performance and mathematical self-beliefs.
Effects on learning and maths performance
Participants reflected how their childhood classroom experiences contributed to their feelings of
anxiety and how they made sense of the development of their maths anxiety.
‘I hated maths, I really hated maths and being put on the spot I absolutely hated it (sigh,
pause) You know when you are sat there and the teacher is going ‘what is 5 x 7?’ even if I
knew it, I didn’t know it when they asked me (pause) I remember just being so please
don’t ask me please don’t ask me’. I just hated having to do something really quickly in
front of people.’ (Tania).
Tania’s emphatic response, in which her strength of feeling was emphasised, reflected her tension,
apprehension and worry at being singled out to answer a maths question in front of others. She
focused on the apprehension of being selected to provide an answer rather than being able to
think about the answer to the problem itself. Her constant fear of being singled out and being
unable to answer questions appeared to reinforce her negative thoughts and feelings towards
maths, thus setting up a situation of anxiety even around fairly straightforward numerical problems.
Maria recalled how her anxiety arose from the feelings of confusion she felt when attempting to
learn new mathematical concepts but was unable to grasp the theories:
I do remember really hating it (pause) because it was just hard and fractions in
particular. I didn’t get it, they were just numbers and lines. People were giving me food
and trying to talk to me about pizzas and cakes, way over my head and it stressed me out.
As with Tania, Maria emphasised her negative emotional response with reference to a specific issue
in her case ‘fractions’. Even when people tried to illustrate them in everyday ways, such as with
food, she became stressed as she struggled to understand these attempts at clarifying new concepts,
thus linking to self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986).
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Effect on self-efficacy
Self-efficacy is concerned with the extent to which an individual believes they are able to
perform an activity (Bandura, 1986) and for these participants a shared negative self-belief in their
maths ability was evident. For some, this judgment arose from a comparison of how good they
believed they were at other subjects and the emotional attachment they attributed to them. Tania
I got an A in English because I loved it so much I think I would have been much more
disappointed if I’d got low scores in anything like that I’m just really bad with numbers
like I said before I don’t remember numbers, no we’re not friends.
Tania’s emphasis that maths was not an area she was comfortable with, alongside her perception of
her poor ability, was based on the comparison she made on her past performances in English. Her
positive self-efficacy towards English, which she ‘loved’ was contrasted with her negative
self-efficacy towards maths, which she hated’. Her rejection
and dismissal of anything positive
being linked to numbers appeared to reinforce her negative self-belief and led to her conclusion she
was ‘really bad’ at maths.
Other participants demonstrated similar feelings of negative self-efficacy towards their maths
ability, a stress that was perceived to have wider implications in terms of career choices. Maria said:
Before gaining newly qualified teaching status you have to do a maths multiple - choice.
That was a bit stressful cause I’m like ‘(gasp) oh my gosh I don’t know if I can even do it,
how can I teach it?’.
Maria’s inward expression of doubt over her performance ability became apparent in her discussion
of training to become a teacher. Her worry about having to complete the maths test influenced her
perception of her ability to teach it. Similarly, Kate was concerned about the effects of her
perceived lack of ability:
I just get worried that one day someone is going to ask me a question like subtract
something and I’m going to be like ‘umm ermm ‘ and just not be able to answer it which
as a teacher you’re expected to be like ‘yep yep that’s right’. Sometimes I feel like I’m not
quick enough (pause) it’s always been my weakest subject (pause) but I have actually not
found that in the 7 weeks that I have been here.
Kate’s internal conversation, suggesting the type of response she believed teachers are expected to
give and what she believed would be her own response, again indicates negative self-efficacy
towards maths ability. Her negative expectation suggested a belief that she was not good enough to
teach maths even though that does not seem to have been found in practice.
Bandalos, Yates and Thorndike-Christ (1995) suggest that cues from past performance
experiences can be factors that contribute to self-efficacy judgments. Some of the participants
seemed to doubt their ability to teach maths based on previous negative experiences
(McCulloch-Vinson, 2001). The lack of confidence is suggested by Klinger (2006) to be linked to
negative mathematics self-efficacy beliefs that prevailed during school years. These are then carried
on into adulthood and are supported by registering and recalling events that support this belief.
In addition to the psychological consequences of maths anxiety that were discussed in relation to
their learning, maths performance and mathematical self- beliefs, participants also referred to the
social influence of parents, teacher and peers.
Social influences
The second theme focuses on how the attitudes and behaviours of parents, teachers and peers
affected participants’ maths anxiety.
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Parents and teachers
As a child, maths homework was a key activity for all the participants but, as Tania explained, this
could become a problem:
I can remember taking maths homework home and obviously because my dad’s a teacher
and my mums a teacher I remember them trying to help me do it and I remember I’d get
so frustrated I’d say ‘no you don’t understand that’s not how we’re doing it’ (pause) it
probably was how we were doing it but because I didn’t understand it I remember having
right strops about it.
Although Tania’s parents were supportive in their attempts to help her with her
homework, their
problem-solving approaches were described as clashing with her teacher’s instructions. This
difference in approach appeared to leave her experiencing frustration and confusion which, in her
own words, led to an angry reaction. In linking her frustration and anger to her lack of
understanding of her maths homework, its difficulty became more apparent. Categorising her
parents in terms of their occupation adds emphasis to her self- perception as someone who does not
understand. Not all participants felt the same level of frustration, however. Maria, in contrast, felt
encouraged and motivated by her mother’s involvement:
My mum went and bought me books and I’d be like ‘I don’t get it’ so yeah she’d buy me
loads of stuff and be like ‘this is how you do it’. It was good ‘cause I liked working
through books and getting stars and I liked the well done I liked that I remember my
mum always saying ‘ask someone if you don’t know ask, ask what can you do, don’t just
sit there’ I remember the stern talking to so I’m assuming that I asked.
Maria’s memory of having the resources she needed and the pleasure she derived from being
rewarded suggests she associated these positive events with her maths learning experience. The
clear description of the memory of her mother demonstrating how to solve maths problems, and of
the repetition and directive tone of her words of encouragement to Maria to actively ask questions
suggests she was aware of the level of her mother’s involvement and influence on her maths
Participants also described clear memories of the pivotal part played by their teachers’ attitudes and
approaches in their maths anxiety experiences. Tania described how a teacher helped her reach a
key goal in maths:
In fact, it was when I started not to hate it so much because I had a lot of tuition from my
maths teacher at the time and erm (pause) I guess in a way it affected me in a good way, in
the beginning your scared of it, because I had to work really hard and I ended up getting a
B and was so so chuffed (pause) because I was trying to just trying to get the C and I just
worked hard.
Tania suggests that as her fear subsided, she began to feel less negative towards maths; although she
still verbalised her negative feelings the teacher’s support may have increased her motivation. Her
hesitation as she speaks suggests her careful consideration of the effort required. Similarly, her
recognition of the support she received suggests an understanding that the efforts of her teacher
helped her reach her goal.
John experienced both positive and negative teacher attitudes and his contrasting accounts suggest
this had an important influence on his approach to maths:
My middle school maths teacher, I had the same teacher all the way through I loved the
guy he was fantastic and I remember, I don’t remember many teachers names but I
remember his (pause) he would actually talk to us like a proper human and he was a very
very interesting guy and I think that maybe that made him more human.
John’s use of emotive language alongside repetition alluded to the impact of his positive
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experience with this particular teacher. The teacher’s open and encouraging approach appeared to
engage John’s interest and he began to feel comfortable in the maths learning environment. He
contrasted this experience with a different maths teacher whose attitude had a negative impact:
The teacher was very, erm (pause) she wasn’t (pause) actually she wasn’t very patient,
she was very impatient (pause) you couldn’t ask a question. I felt I couldn’t ask a question
without being shouted at.
John’s hesitation in discussing how this teacher made him feel suggests his discomfort at
remembering the teacher’s impatient and aggressive approach that seemed to discourage student
questions and created an intimidating environment. The negative cues John picked up from this
teacher’s behaviour may have highlighted maths in negative terms and possibly discouraged him
from engaging in the learning experience for fear of being reprimanded.
Parental encouragement and expressing belief in a child’s ability to learn may ensure they continue
to try even when they find things difficult, something which is likely to lead to less maths anxious
behaviour (Gunderson, Ramirez, Levine, & Beilock, 2012) and could increase mathematical
resilience (Johnston-Wilder & Lee, 2010). Schofield (1981) concluded that teacher attitudes were
directly linked to student attitude and performance in maths. In addition, as Das and Das (2013)
suggested, teachers provided a guiding and leading role in the learning environment and were
therefore highly influential in determining what happened in classrooms. Different experiences
ensued from this complexity of interaction, though teachers who cultivated a positive learning
environment encouraged children to learn and gain confidence. The opposite was true of negative
teacher behaviour and attitudes, which discouraged children and created anxiety in them (Plaisance,
As well as the impact of their teachers the participants highlighted how their interactions with their
peers also affected their maths anxiety.
Peer relationships
Peer relationships were important indicators to participants of how they compared themselves with
their colleagues with regards to their concerns around maths.
‘Once the Head gave us (a group of teachers) a SATS mental maths test cause she wanted us
to see the pressure the kids were under. My first instinct was to see what the person next to
me has written, you know like oh I’m right.’ (Tania).
John describes his experience:
When I was doing my PGSE I realised I wasn’t alone in my class of 30 people. There were
guys who were phenomenal they were real mathematicians and it’s when you start
talking to your peers you realise ‘you are actually in the same boat you’re not so confident
with it’ and I could probably get to the same answer as they guy who got there in 30
seconds it might take me 2 minutes but I will get there.
John’s personal attachment to his class suggests his feeling of connection to his peer group. His
expression of admiration of colleagues whom he considered to be mathematicians indicates an
acceptance of a range of maths skills. The ‘same boat’ metaphor suggests John’s feelings of
connection with others who experienced anxiety and reduced his feeling of isolation. Identifying
with peers seemed to help John acknowledge his strengths rather than focusing on feeling less
adequate. Being able to share experiences appeared to make him feel more comfortable in
expressing his maths anxiety.
How individuals believed they were perceived by their peers appeared to be of concern throughout
the interviews. For example, Maria said:
Sometimes when we are talking, when I’m with Tash and Gina, they are really
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mathematicians, when I talk to them it all goes a bit over my head and I wouldn’t ask
(pause) I’d just be like ‘yeah aha’ . It’s all about your relationship, (pause) Tash I’m a bit
closer to and I would be like’ I didn’t get it’ whereas in front of Gina ‘oh ok that’s great’
but have no idea.
Maria discussed how she modified her behaviour in front of her peers when discussing maths so
that they did not perceive her to have less knowledge than them. This was particularly apparent in
her description of her behaviour with different people and its link to how well she knew them. She
seemed to gain some confidence from presenting an outwardly knowledgeable image when
discussing maths, achieved by observing her
colleagues’ interactions and maintained her equal
standing in that interaction by expressing agreement. In other cases, within the data, peer interaction
was discussed as enhancing the ways in which participants viewed themselves. Kate said:
Coming straight from Uni your shown strategies for maths like multiplication grids (pause)
they didn’t know about that and I showed them the box method I was like ‘who’s seen
that?’ a few people had but some were like’ oh we’ve not seen that’ so I was like ‘yes one
point to me’.
Kate outlined a maths discussion with peers where she introduced new mathematical tools that she
had been introduced to while at university. This seemingly more knowledgeable status from
someone who was lacking in experience seemed to give Kate a boost in confidence, enhancing
her self-esteem. Her use of descriptive point scoring suggests that being able to demonstrate this
greater knowledge made her feel as if she had an advantage over her peers, thus enhancing her
self- image.
The awareness of the influence key people had on participants’ maths anxiety was a common thread
in their accounts. Research suggests that it is socially acceptable to express dislike for maths and to
have anxiety around it without it affecting social perceptions of an individual’s normal contribution
to society or feeling socially compromised (Kindermann & Skinner, 2008), and this was certainly
demonstrated by some participants. Others described comparisons with peers. Those who described
more successful peers seemed to suffer from increased anxiety and stress, an effect seen in research
where comparison to others may negatively affect self-esteem if an individual feels less able
(Klinger, 2006). In other cases, however, successful comparisons can aid in self-evaluation
(Wood, 1989), something demonstrated by participants in some circumstances. In addition to these
participants also discussed how experiencing maths anxiety was sometimes
considered of benefit to them.
The consequences of experiencing maths anxiety as a teaching professional
In some of their discussions participants highlighted advantages of having a level of personal maths
anxiety. In this theme we explore how experiencing maths anxiety was described as enabling
participants to recognise similar feelings in their own pupils and how they believed it improved
their maths teaching ability.
Recognition and understanding maths anxiety in pupils
Kate recognised behaviour in her pupils that she had exhibited as a child in maths lessons:
There are the ones that don’t put their hands up probably like I used to do, that’s when you
get picked on because you’ve not put your hand up and then you get it wrong which
knocks your confidence.
Kate related particular classroom behaviour to her own experience, interpreting not raising hands
to answer questions as maths anxious behaviour: she reasoned that the children’s fear of being
selected made them anxious. Her use of ‘picked on’ suggests she felt empathy towards pupils
exhibiting this behaviour. Recognition of anxiety and understanding its consequences enabled
participants to employ teaching strategies that encouraged children to be less maths anxious. As
Tania explained:
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You can just tell straight away, I’ve got a little boy who just sits there and if there’s a test
or you are doing something or ask him something he doesn’t know the answer, you can
tell he is just going ‘oh my God’ and he just says numbers, random numbers
and you think
‘oh’ and move onto someone else and then every time he does put his hand up I’ll ask him
because he knows and I’ll give him a chance to say.
Tania’s description of what she perceived the child may be thinking suggests she felt empathy for
him within the classroom situation, which in turn enabled her to modify her own behaviour in order
to reduce his anxiety levels. Awareness and recognition of maths anxious behaviour and
understanding its impact on a child’s learning meant participants were implementing positive
teaching practices. Maria’s example of positive teaching practice appeared also to be as a result of
her awareness of her own maths anxiety experiences:
Now as a teacher I say ‘when I was your age I didn’t get this either so it’s alright if you
don’t get it’. So I generate that sort of culture in the classroom.
Maria’s expression of understanding demonstrates her expectation that some pupils would not
understand some areas of maths. Her reflection on her own childhood experience seems to indicate
why she was motivated to cultivate an inclusive classroom environment where it was socially
acceptable to not understand maths immediately.
It has been suggested that teachers who fail to implement positive practices may actually cause
students to learn maths anxious behaviours (McCulloch-Vinson, 2001). Subtle messages may
unintentionally be given to children that can validate their opinion of being poor at maths; this, in
turn may lower motivation and performance expectation. The participants’ heightened awareness
of maths anxiety and empathy, which they all perceived as a benefit, can help build confidence and
encourage pupils to work harder to overcome maths difficulties (Beilock & Willingham, 2014).
Benefits of experiencing maths anxiety
Experiencing maths anxiety and having difficulties with it appeared to enhance Tania’s teaching
I do think it has an advantage being kind of aware that I wasn’t good at maths or that I
didn’t really get maths because when I explain maths to kids now I almost find it easier
to teach maths than I do English because I feel like I have a very simple way of looking at
Tania’s observation that she found maths almost easier to teach than English suggests she
understood the advantage of a simpler, more straightforward teaching approach, recognising the
importance of being clear when delivering maths as a subject. Her own maths learning experience
enhanced her awareness of the consequences of adopting a more flexible teaching approach
towards. The participants also recognised, from their own experiences, that as teachers their
attitudes were an important influence on children potentially developing maths anxiety. John
I’m much more patient with them and er ok you don’t understand it this way let’s think
of it another way so there’s two, three or four ways that we try and get or I try and get the
message across and er (slight pause) hand on heart I can honestly say if someone doesn’t
understand something I won’t shout, you’re not going to shout at a child because they
don’t understand and I think that is my biggest learn from my experience of maths being
at school. You know I think, I think its criminal to be impatient with a child with maths
only from my point of view you know knowing
how how I felt its em my job to then to try
and think of different ways to make them understand.
John’s use of affirmative language and his commitment to avoiding expressing irritation or
impatience with children when they are learning suggests an awareness of his importance on the
pupils’ learning. His expression that this behaviour is criminal’ alludes to the strength of his belief
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that intimidating behaviour is unacceptable and counterproductive.
Participants’ approaches to teaching, based on their own experience, indicates the advantages that
experiencing maths anxiety can bring to a maths teaching context. The role of the teacher in
developing effective teaching methods breaks the cycle of maths anxiety that might otherwise
continue (Beilock & Willingham, 2014). Being more attuned to recognising maths anxiety in their
pupils, they felt they were better equipped to make adjustments to their teaching approach and
instructional delivery.
The aim of this study was to explore the personal accounts of maths anxiety of primary school
teachers using IPA, with the specific objectives of increasing understanding of its psychological
impact by personal interaction with teachers and listening to their maths anxiety stories, their own
reflections, perceptions and interpretations of their experiences. The key findings emerging from
this study lend support to previous maths anxiety research whilst also contributing new aspects for
future investigation.
This study helped uncover possible psychological consequences of maths anxiety with the use of
IPA by highlighting details of participants’ specific childhood maths situations.
These were
organised into three key themes: ‘experiencing the psychological consequences of maths anxiety’,
‘social influences’ and ‘the consequences of experiencing maths anxiety as a teaching professional.
Situations such as feelings of worry over being singled out and being ‘picked on’ to answer
questions in front of others in class and being judged caused participants high levels of anxiety.
Also, their anxiety interfered with their learning, particularly those aspects of maths perceived to
be more difficult, such as fractions. The detailed information about past experiences and
comparisons with performances in other areas also appeared to influence their self-efficacy
judgement about not only their maths ability but also ability to teach it.
The detailed accounts connected to participants’ social relationships and the impact these had on
their maths anxiety mirrored other research findings that found positive support and
encouragement from parents and teachers resulted in maths progression and increased confidence
(Gunderson et al., 2012). However, if the social cues and observed behaviour particularly from
teachers was deemed to be critical, aggressive and unsupportive this highlighted maths negatively,
discouraged learning and resulted in increased anxiety (Schofield, 1981).
Peer relationships helped
participants feel less isolated and influenced aspects of their behaviour by either modifying it to
‘fit in’ socially or resulted in enhanced levels of self – esteem; social comparisons with peers
influenced how participants viewed themselves in relation to how they interpreted their maths
anxiety and ability within a social context (Klinger, 2006; Wood, 1989).
Finally, this study uncovered some potential consequences of experiencing maths anxiety as a
teaching professional and offers some new insights. Previous research suggests in order to prevent
maths anxiety developing, teachers need to adopt a variety of strategies: flexible teaching and
testing methods, creating positive environments to help encourage positive self- concepts,
encourage original thinking rather than learning by rote as well as being aware of teacher
behaviours and the influence they can have on pupils (Plaisance, 2009). These recommendations
mostly are based on findings from questionnaires with fixed choice responses whereas findings from
this IPA study add further contributions to the literature by giving specific information direct from
the participants’ own experiences. In addition, t
he findings showed that teachers who have
experienced maths anxiety believe it may be helpful in their teaching, echoing Trujillo and Hadfield’s
(1999) finding that maths anxious teacher wanted to be more understanding and progressive in their
teaching. In our study teachers believed that their ability to identify and respond appropriately to maths
anxious pupils
was advantageous as it enabled them to further understand how their maths anxious
pupils feel, readily recognise maths anxious behaviour, develop new teaching strategies to help
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their pupils cope with maths anxiety and be more aware of the consequences of their own
behaviour. Indeed, such a positive view of experiencing maths anxiety is associated with the
concept of mathematical resilience, e.g. perseverance despite setbacks in maths (Johnston-Wilder
& Lee, 2010); the findings presented here suggest mathematical resilience may be relevant to
teachers as well as pupils, which can be further explored in future research.
Future research could
also investigate if these positive maths anxiety consequences are supported by use of measures of
teacher effectiveness. This would have a huge impact on how and why we study maths anxiety in
preservice and in-service teaching populations.
The research reported here is one of only a few studies of maths anxiety taking a qualitative
approach and is the first to use IPA to investigate maths anxiety amongst primary school teachers.
The analysis of the data gives specific detail and a deeper understanding of primary school
teachers’ personal maths anxiety. However, some limitations should be considered. Participant
teaching experience ranged from seven weeks to 10 years; more experienced participants may be
more likely to have developed strategies for observing maths anxious behavior, not only due to
their own maths anxiety experiences but also due to overall teaching experience of recognising
children in difficulty. Heterogeneity of time spent teaching raises issues concerning disentangling
attitudes and approaches based on teaching experience from those related to experiences
pertaining to maths anxiety. This is particularly important given that length of teaching experience
has been shown to be inversely related to maths teaching anxiety (Gresham, 2018; Hunt & Sari,
2019). Although gender differences in maths anxiety were not explored in this study, previous
research into maths anxiety suggests females exhibit higher levels of maths anxiety than males
(Devine, Fawcett, Szucs, & Dowker, 2012) therefore suggesting it is worth exploring this further
across primary school teachers. Finally, the present study is confined to the specific context of
UK culture; it is important to bear in mind the context-specific challenges faced by teachers
globally, particularly in developing nations (Hunt, Simms, Cahoon, & Muwonge, 2021).
The findings from this study hold useful implications for understanding the influence of maths
anxiety on teachers and teaching practices. Participants in this study perceived their own maths as
beneficial, feeling it has helped them be more effective teachers. Highlighting the positive aspects
of a phenomenon like maths anxiety, such as effective recognition of anxiety in pupils and using
flexible teaching strategies to accommodate anxious pupils whilst still delivering the curriculum
effectively, may help encourage a more mainstream approach to dealing with maths anxiety in the
UK education system. This study also highlights the fact that teachers themselves experience maths
anxiety and complements recent work on maths teaching anxiety (Hunt & Sari, 2019). Such
awareness and recognition of the influence of teacher maths anxiety on its development in children
could contribute to teacher training in the delivery of maths, as well as improved personal support
to alleviate maths anxiety in teachers. Future research into teacher maths anxiety and whether it
impacts teacher effectiveness may also provide new information that could highlight the benefits
of experiencing maths anxiety rather than it being seen in a wholly negative light; indeed, such
experiences may be associated with greater mathematics resilience. IPA is useful for exploring
the self- reflective processes through which individuals interpret and understand their experiences
(Brocki & Wearden, 2006). Therefore, continued use of IPA analysis in future studies may help
with understanding the developmental trajectory of maths anxiety and its negative and positive
impact on maths education. Overall, increasing awareness of the existence of maths anxiety in
teachers is important for informing further research, interventions and training for student teachers
as well as improving support and training for maths anxious qualified teachers, which may in turn
impact the development of maths anxiety in the next generation of children.
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... Females (including adults and children) have greater MA than males, according to the majority of studies. For example, in the United States, Hembree in [1], Dove, Montague and Hunt, [21] in the United Kingdom, Spain, Núñez-Peña et al, in [22], and Poland, Cipora et al in [23]. ...
... Parental influence, according to Dove et al, Maloney and Haimowvitz and Dweck in [21,25,26], may mediate the development of arithmetic anxiety and have a major impact on children's performance. These include parental worries or insecurity about Mathematics, which can lead to unfavourable bias in children and the formation of preconceived notions about math as a difficult learning area. ...
... Some experts also believe that bad classroom experiences are enablers in the development of an arithmetic phobia. Dove et al in [21] suggest that this can involve Mathematics being taught in a rigorous, non-interactive, or rote manner without a complete unpacking of the concepts and procedural knowledge, or an over-reliance on exams to assess math learning and as well as teacher attitudes. Meanwhile, Maloney and Haimowvitz and Clack, in [25,27] indicate that a person's ability to use working memory is significantly reduced when they are under stress when performing math, which inhibits them from coming up with the answers to questions they could normally think of. ...
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This study employed a mixed-methods technique to examine the spectrum of mathematics anxiety levels felt and expressed by Zimbabwean students studying Ordinary level mathematics. Ninety-one pupils from forms 3 and 4 (N = 91) made up the convenient sample; of them, 41 were male and 50 were female. The instrument used was the Hopko-adapted amalgamated mathematics anxiety scale (aMAS) (2003). While focus group conversations were audio recorded and transcribed to explore in-depth, social settings and learning environments that cause anxiety, the quantitative data was analysed using SPSS, version 23.0. The key categories were then thematically classified and analysed with quantitative information. To test a hypothesis based on the data, an independent samples t-test was run to see whether males and females’ anxiety levels differed by mean. The results showed that the participants experienced significant mathematics anxiety, and many situations—including parental and social pressure, instructional methods, and learning environments—reinforce math fear. Findings also show that, society exerts significant pressure on learners due to high expectations of success in mathematics. Additionally, some teachers were viewed as fuelling the anxiety through their repertoire and that classroom environments may unintentionally cause discomfort to mathematically challenge peers. Interesting suggestions were made by respondents regarding how to help people with math anxiety. The study offers a compelling case for its relevance to teacher education, research, and instructional practice. The study also recommends conducting comparative studies as one method of comprehending the issue. Keywords: Cognitive achievement, Mathematics-anxiety, Teaching-learning, Gender issues, Social phenomena.
... In contrast, teachers' efforts to cultivate positive learning environments with caring attitudes and to provide suitable support individually (e.g. preparing challenges for fast learners) enabled students to learn mathematics happily and gain confidence in the subject (Dove et al., 2021;Pair & Dinh, 2022). Second, peer relationships were mainly linked to peer pressure caused by comparing themselves with others, different learning patterns or unequal opportunities for engaging in learning with multiple learners (e.g. ...
... The other factors presented in the studies were the school environment, such as appraisal and trust climate (Blömeke et al., 2015), and the parental factor (Dove et al., 2021). Lin (2022) and Russo et al. (2020) mentioned pre-service class teachers' mathematical knowledge, especially pedagogical content knowledge, as an influencer. ...
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The current study aimed (1) to analyse teachers’ view profiles from positive to negative based on the analysis of influencing factors and (2) to investigate the most studied concepts and methods in this context. According to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses 2020 guidelines, we conducted a comprehensive review of 25 peer-reviewed articles published between January 2010 and December 2022. Our findings show a landscape in which concepts related to mathematics teaching and learning often intersect with other domains. Nevertheless, a distinction exists in the definition of the fundamental concept, with limited attention given to mathematics learning and the role of students in contrast to the focus on mathematics teaching and the role of teachers. Our research highlights the necessity of thorough exploration of the dynamic factors that influence these views and their associated outcomes, categorised as (A) mutual consistency, (B) weak consistency, and (C) inconsistency, each providing distinct implications for support needs. Additionally, from an ontological perspective on affect, many studies overlook the notion of 'view' as a state or trait characteristic, potentially leading to inappropriate method selection. Therefore, we propose recommendations for future research, advocating for methodological precision, expanded object exploration, dynamic profiling, and the inclusion of diverse teacher categories.
... Other, qualitative work has found consistent evidence for the association between math anxiety and negative experiences with elementary school teachers. [23][24][25] Given data that suggest math anxiety exists in very young children, 19,26 it is important that early math experiences are considered when investigating current math attitudes and math anxiety. ...
... This aligns with previous findings, whereby negative math experiences form a major theme in the narratives of individuals high in math anxiety. 21,25,35 Given the evidence that many people think about previous math experiences during mathematical problem solving, 36 an individual's (negative) appraisal of taking the tests. A conversation could take place in which such incongruency could be explored to modify a student's cognitions regarding their math learning. ...
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Maths anxiety affects many people, from young children through to older adults. Whilst there has been debate concerning the developmental trajectory of maths anxiety and negative maths attitudes, little attention has been given to the role of appraisals of previous maths experiences. We surveyed 308 adults (mean age = 27.56 years, SD = 11.25) and assessed self-reported measures of maths anxiety, mathematical resilience, maths attitudes, and appraisal of previous maths experiences. As hypothesised, all variables were found to be interrelated. Maths anxiety was significantly negatively related to appraisal of previous maths experiences, mathematical resilience and maths attitudes. Moreover, appraisal of previous maths experiences was shown to mediate the relations between i) maths anxiety and maths attitudes, and ii) mathematical resilience and maths attitudes. The findings demonstrate the importance of considering current appraisals of previous maths experiences and are consistent with an interpretation account of maths anxiety. This may help inform cognitive based interventions that focus on one’s interpretation of past events to support current and future maths learning and engagement.
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Math anxiety -- negative feelings toward math -- is hypothesized to be associated with the avoidance of math-related activities such as taking math courses and pursuing STEM careers. However, there is little experimental evidence for the math anxiety-avoidance link. Such evidence is important for formulating how to break this relationship. We hypothesize that math avoidance emerges when one perceives the costs of effortful math engagement to outweigh its benefits and that this perception depends on individual differences in math anxiety. To test this hypothesis, we developed an effort-based decision-making task in which participants chose between solving easy, low-reward problems and hard, high-reward problems in both math and nonmath contexts. Higher levels of math anxiety were associated with a tendency to select easier, low-reward problems over harder, high-reward math (but not word) problems. Addressing this robust math anxiety-avoidance link has the potential to increase interest and success in STEM fields.
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This study represents the implementation of an English version of the Mathematics Teaching Anxiety Scale (MTAS), originally published in Turkey (Sari, 2014). One hundred and twenty-seven primary school teachers from across the U.K. completed the survey, including 74 qualified teachers and 53 trainees. Following item-reduction and factor analysis, the 19-item MTAS was found to have excellent internal consistency (α = .94) and has a two-factor structure. Factor one, labelled Self-Directed Mathematics Teaching Anxiety, includes 12 items pertaining to a teacher's own teaching practice and perceived ability, whereas factor two, labelled Pupil/Student-Directed Mathematics Teaching Anxiety, includes 7 items pertaining to anxiety concerning pupils/students failing assessments or not reaching curriculum/school targets. Pre-service teachers, compared to inservice teachers, self-reported significantly higher overall maths teaching anxiety. Among in-service teachers, there was a significant negative correlation between length of service and maths teaching anxiety. These findings are important in the context of retention issues in newly qualified teachers and the need to support trainees and newer teachers if they experience anxiety related to teaching maths.
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The purpose of this study was to determine if there were distinct developmental trajectories of math anxiety during adolescence and if these trajectories predicted later STEM career choice. The study also evaluated whether the trajectories varied in relation to gender and race/ethnicity. Data were drawn from Longitudinal Study of American Youth-younger cohort that consisted of 3116 nationally representative sample of 7th grade students (48% Female, 70% European American) that were followed for 7 years. The results revealed four heterogeneous math anxiety trajectory groups: consistently low (34.68%), decreasing (23.72%), increasing (21.90%), and consistently high (20.12%). Trajectories varied with regard to race/ethnicity but not gender. Membership in consistently low or decreasing trajectory predicted later STEM career choice. The findings suggest that preventive interventions may benefit from targeting math anxiety during adolescence.
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The construct of mathematics anxiety has been an important topic of study at least since the concept of 'number anxiety' was introduced by Dreger & Aiken (1957), and has received increasing attention in recent years. This paper focuses on what research has revealed about mathematics anxiety in the last 60 years, and what still remains to be learned. We discuss what mathematics anxiety is; how distinct it is from other forms of anxiety; and how it relates to attitudes to mathematics. We discuss the relationships between mathematics anxiety and mathematics performance. We describe ways in which mathematics anxiety is measured, both by questionnaires, and by physiological measures. We discuss some possible factors in mathematics anxiety, including genetics, gender, age and culture. Finally, we describe some research on treatment. We conclude with a brief discussion of what still needs to be learned.
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Abstract This study used survey data collected from two countries, Egypt and The United States of America (USA). There were 330 participants (162 males and 168 females), all of whom were undergraduate students. 169 participants were studying at Tanta University, Egypt, and 161 participants at the University of Arkansas, USA. The study aimed to investigate maths anxiety in undergraduates with different main subjects of study and across cultures. A 4x2 ANOVA was conducted to evaluate the effects of the student’s country and main subject of study (major) on math anxiety. The results of the 4x2 ANOVA indicated a significant main effect for country, a non-significant effect for major, and a non-significant interaction effect between country and major. Furthermore, the study used a two-way ANOVA between two factors (gender and country and maths anxiety). The analysis revealed a significant main effect for country, a significant effect for gender, and a non-significant interaction effect between country and gender. Key Words: maths anxiety, cross-cultural, achievement, college students, gender, majors
The purpose of this meta-analysis was to examine the relation between mathematics anxiety (MA) and mathematics performance among school-aged students, and to identify potential moderators and underlying mechanisms of such relation, including grade level, temporal relations, difficulty of mathematical tasks, dimensions of MA measures, effects on student grades, and working memory. A meta-analysis of 131 studies with 478 effect sizes was conducted. The results indicated that a significant negative correlation exist between MA and mathematics performance, r = -.34. Moderation analyses indicated that dimensions of MA, difficulty of mathematical tasks, and effects on student grades differentially affected the relation between MA and mathematics performance. MA assessed with both cognitive and affective dimensions showed a stronger negative correlation with mathematics performance compared to MA assessed with either an affective dimension only or mixed/unspecified dimensions. Advanced mathematical tasks that require multi-step processes showed a stronger negative correlation to MA compared to foundational mathematical tasks. Mathematics measures that affected/reflected student grades (e.g., final exam, students’ course grade, GPA) had a stronger negative correlation to MA than did other measures of mathematics performance that did not affect student grades (e.g., mathematics measures administered as part of research). Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.
The primary purpose of this study was to develop an abbreviated version of the Math Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS). The result was an internally consistant and reliable 25-item scale.
Inservice teachers, participants in a prior study on mathematics anxiety, were revisited to determine whether their levels of mathematics anxiety still existed and/or continued to change after 5 years teaching experience. A 98-item Likert-type survey, informal discussions, informal interviews, and questionnaire-guided narrative interviews were conducted. Date revealed that all inservice teachers still experienced some degree of mathematics anxiety (p < .001). Results have implications for teacher education programs concerning the continued professional support of teachers, measurement of mathematics anxiety levels among pre- and inservice teachers, and the determination of specific contexts in which mathematics anxiety can be interpreted and reduced.