Math Anxiety Passed on From Women Teachers to Girls

Rob sent us a story about this important study:

To determine the impact of teachers’ mathematics anxiety on students, the team assessed teachers’ anxiety about math. Then, at both the beginning and end of the school year, the research team also tested the students’ level of mathematics achievement and the gender stereotypes the students held.

To assess stereotypes, the students were told gender neutral stories about students who were good at mathematics and good at reading and then asked to draw a picture of a student who was good at mathematics and one that was good at reading. Researchers were interested in examining the genders of the drawings that children produced for each story.

At the beginning of the school year, student math achievement was unrelated to teacher math anxiety in both boys and girls. By the end of the school year, however, the more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely girls, but not boys, were to endorse the view that “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading.” Girls who accepted this stereotype did significantly worse on math achievement measures at the end of the school year than girls who did not accept the stereotype and than boys overall.

Yet more evidence against the innateness of differences in maths performance. And also a really fascinating example of the way a variety of forces– gender stereotypes, something like copying of same-gender teachers, anxieties being passed down through generations– all combine to produce an important effect. For more, go here.

4 thoughts on “Math Anxiety Passed on From Women Teachers to Girls

  1. I had a really scary Catholic nun for a maths teacher. She used to slip her shoes off and educate us in bare stockings. She didn’t impart anything about gender at all, and so I find it strange that people do still think in those terms. My two most difficult subjects were biology and geography, as they involved detailed mapping of concrete areas of things. My thinking gears towards the abstract rather than towards the concrete, so I did have a lot of trouble there. Both these courses were taught by women. In terms of maths I tend to do particularly well at it if I can get into the ‘zone’ of concentrated problem solving. That doesn’t always happen, but if often does. Now, English I can do quite well at, but I found, when writing my PhD that I do have trouble multi-tasking — which is to say that if I am thinking of a complicated intellectual idea, I cannot focus at the same time on grammar and quality of expression. Those things have to come later.

    This is all just rambling to pass the time.

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