Math tends to be a love it or hate it subject for most kids—and adults, for that matter. Most people agree that it is an important subject, although some believe that it is only important for other people to know (people like scientists, engineers, and computer programmers). But feelings towards math vary drastically.
You might think that feelings towards math are rather unimportant; after all, math is a rational subject that is not affected at all by subjective emotions. That’s partially true. Math itself may not be affected by emotions, but the learning of math certainly is affected by emotions.
Because one of your roles as a paraprofessional is to support students’ learning of math, it’s helpful for you to know how to become aware of students’ experiences with and attitudes toward math. Here are a few tips to help you do just that:
- Get in touch with your own relationship with math. Use the Fennema-Sherman scale in this unit to help you figure out some of your own experiences with and attitudes toward math. Many paraprofessionals, and even teachers, have a negative perspective on math. Left unchecked, this negativity can and will filter through to students. Here is one website that offers some quick tips on reducing math anxiety.
- If you are working with the same students over time, find out about their experiences with and attitudes toward math. The second activity in this unit provides some helpful guidance on what types of questions to ask although the important part is simply to ask and listen.
- Use the information about your students’ relationships with math to support their learning of math. If they feel that math is something that a person is either good at or not, gently inform them that effort does pay off for anyone who is attempting to learn math. You may even want to share this short video with them. If a student feels that his or her math learning or performance is hindered by something, work together with the student and teacher to remove that obstacle, if possible. If a student appears to have a lot of math anxiety, be sensitive when working with the student and know when to back off and take a break.
Math can be beautiful, powerful, and wonderfully mysterious. However, it can be difficult for students to experience all the good and useful things that math can do when they have an unhealthy relationship with math. The good news is that a single person can help improve someone’s relationship with math. Regardless of how you feel about math, try to be that person for the students you work with! Being that person can help you improve your relationship with math as well!