What Two Schools Are Doing About Teachers’ Math Anxiety

By Liana Loewus — June 24, 2015 1 min read
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"[K]ids aren’t likely to buy into doing tougher math with teachers who are inwardly hyperventilating about the subject themselves,” says a new brief from a New York City-based policy institute.

As we’ve written, researchers have found that girls taught by a female teacher with high math anxiety are more likely to endorse gender-related stereotypes about math ability. And the stronger the bias held by those girls, the worse they perform.

Staff from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School observed 60 elementary schools between 2013 and 2015 to see how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards for math was going. A new six-page brief describes how two New York City schools have used teacher training—or retraining, as it is—to overcome challenges.

At PS 26, teachers are going to workshops tailored to their own strengths and weaknesses in math. They’re also learning about Carol Dweck’s theory on “growth mindset,” which says that people who believe intelligence and skill can be improved through hard work tend to perform better than those who don’t. The teachers pass information about growth mindsets onto parents as well. (We’ve written plenty on growth vs. fixed mindsets, which have become fairly common concepts in schools.)

Teachers at PS 63 have gotten away from using textbooks, which the administrators thought they were too reliant on. Now they meet weekly to brush up on basic math skills and discuss their anxieties.

Under the common core especially, “teachers need time during the school day to relearn the math they learned as children,” says the brief, “framed to enhance understanding of underlying concepts, not just the mechanics of lining numbers up in rows and ‘carrying’ or ‘borrowing.’”

Many teachers say the common core’s focus on conceptual understanding has forced them to reconsider their teaching strategies.

While the brief is somewhat inconclusive on which practices exactly have led to reduced math anxiety among teachers (and how reduced math anxiety is measured), it does offer a glimpse into the kinds of changes schools are making to their math programs and professional development.

As always, I would love to hear comments from other practitioners in the comments section below.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.