While mathematics is often considered a hard subject, not all difficulties with the subject result from a learning difficulty. Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety when confronted by a maths problem. It is also thought that girls are more affected than boys.
Maths anxiety can be so severe “that it appears the child cannot do any maths at all, but really it is the anxiety that is the barrier, not the maths.”Judy Hornigold Understanding Maths Learning Difficulties
It can have physical effects (such as nail biting and stomach aches) as well as psychological symptoms, leading to low self-esteem and a difficulty recalling facts
In ‘From Science to Education,’ Brian Butterworth has more recently stated that “children with dyscalculia were twice as likely to have high anxiety,” which can lead to avoidance. In fact, any testing situation will raise anxiety levels. Additional information can also be found in the Cambridge University report on maths anxiety.
The trouble with anxiety is that it can disrupt working memory. Working memory is associated with learning: the ability to hold and manipulate information over short periods of time, such as in mental arithmetic. A student may perform poorly not because of a weakness in maths or working memory, but due to maths anxiety preventing them from using their brain-power efficiently.
How can you tell if you have maths anxiety?
For adults, Steve Chinn has a checklist that it free for you to access.
For checklists for other age groups, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
How can those with maths anxiety be supported?
In a classroom, maths anxiety can be supported by:
- Creating a secure class environment;
- Encouraging verbalisation of ideas;
- Giving the message that mistakes are good and part of learning;
- Revisiting concepts regularly;
- Using appropriate concrete manipulatives;
- Focusing on strategies and (understanding rather than getting the answer right);
- Avoiding timed activities;
- Encouraging collaboration;
Deep breathing and relaxation techniques are also helpful and my favourite: music and laughter.
There is further information on dyscalculia, screening for dyscalculia or for a full diagnostic assessment on this website, or please get in touch at email@example.com.