Recounting mathematical experiences: Using Memory Work to explore the development of confidence in mathematics

Year: 1998

Author: O'Regan, Kerry, Ingleton, Christine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

It seems paradoxical that mathematics is constructed as an objective, emotion-free discipline, yet mathematics engenders strong negative emotions among many learners. Emotions play a significant part in the learning process. In relation to the learning of mathematics, the focus in the literature is on the emotion of anxiety. This has largely been investigated from the perspective of psychology, with the use of psychometric tests, particularly the MARS (Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale). The focus of this social-constructionist study is on the interactions that construct both emotion and learning in a social setting. In exploring the experiences of prospective and current teachers at primary, secondary and tertiary levels at two South Australian universities, strong emotions were found to pervade mathematics learning in experiences from early primary schooling to tertiary level. In some mathematics classrooms, public shaming for being wrong has been a common form of socialisation and control, diminishing confidence and arousing fear. We conclude that the interrelationships between pride and shame, and success and failure, in mathematics classrooms (and others) are associated with levels of threat and confidence that dispose students to act in certain ways towards mathematics.