Why use a math attitude survey?
When your students enter your classroom this fall, it’s likely that a very large elephant will follow each of them into the room. That’s a lot of elephants in one room! The source of all this overcrowding? Negative beliefs and attitudes about math.
Our students come to us disliking or distrusting math for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, many of our students hear their parents speak negatively about math at home. Students may have a history of poor performance in math. Their experiences with math instruction may have been less than engaging. They may not understand the need for math or it doesn’t make sense to them. Whatever their reasons, it’s difficult for learning to occur in the presence of such overwhelming negative vibes. Just like we pre-assess our students to determine their understanding of concepts, such as place value or multiplication, so we know the best entry point for new instruction, it’s equally important that we uncover the attitudes our students have about learning math.
Research in the past decade or so have underscored the connection between mindset and learning. We now know that people display either a fixed or growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe that ability is fixed and their efforts are not likely to impact their success. You are either good at math or not, and nothing is going to change that. A growth mindset, on the other hand, focuses more on effort and the belief that ability is not fixed. Struggle is good, because it means I’m learning. I may not be good at math yet, but if I keep working hard I can be. Research studies have indicated that a student’s mindset is actually more important to success than innate ability.
In addition to the research on mindset, recent brain research tells us that when we struggle and make mistakes, our brains actually grow. How exciting is that for students to hear? It’s time to teach our students that making mistakes is not only okay, but it’s actually fuel for the brain. That faster is not better, and that what’s important is the process, not the answer.
Using the math attitude survey
There is, of course, a right way and a wrong way to administer an attitude survey.
First, find a survey that measures the attitudes and beliefs that are important to you. If you Google “math surveys for elementary students” you will find links to a wide variety of surveys. I wanted a survey that was easy to administer, would be useful for all grade levels (I remediate K-5), and one that would allow me to collect quantifiable data for beginning- and end-of-year comparisons. After looking at a number of different instruments, I decided that none really fit my purposes, so I created my own. I developed a “scoring guide” so I will be able to collect and compare beginning- and end-of-year data. I can use the same survey for even my youngest students by administering it using an interview process. This will give me consistent data across all grade levels. I think it will be interesting to see how beginning attitudes about math differ from Kindergarten through 5th grade.
When you administer the survey, you have to make your students feel at ease and clearly communicate the purpose. Assure students that this is not a test, that there are no right or wrong answers, and that it’s not for a grade. Let them know that the purpose of the survey is to help you create an environment that will make them feel comfortable and successful with math instruction in your classroom.
Finally, you have to think carefully about changes you must make to your classroom environment and instruction to impact student beliefs and turn the ship around. Not an easy task. My personal professional development goal this year is helping my students develop a growth mindset, so I am studying growth mindset and brain research and working to incorporate lessons on both into my instruction. It also requires how we ourselves think and talk about math. My plan is to administer the survey at the end of the year so I can measure the success of the changes to my instruction and classroom. Hopefully, I’ll see improvement not only in their attitudes, but also their performance.
If you’d like to give my survey a try, click here to grab your copy. There is both a print and a digital version. If you use it, I hope you’ll come back to this post and comment on your results!