Seeking a balance: Helping pre-service teacher develop positive attitudes towards mathematics as they develop competency.

Year: 2012

Author: Hurst, Chris, Cooke, Audrey

Type of paper: Refereed paper



This paper reports on part of an on-going study into mathematics anxiety and competence of pre-service teachers designed to inform the comprehensive course review process at one Western Australian university. Mathematical competence of teachers continues to be an issue of great interest to mathematics educators and it is often thought of alongside the notion of mathematics anxiety. Recent research has been unable to draw clear conclusions about many aspects of the phenomena and how they might be linked. Most recently, international studies have highlighted notable differences in the standards of teacher preparation in different countries and in Australia new standards for accreditation of teacher education programs have been drafted.


Participants in the study are two small groups of pre-service teachers. The paper attempts to identify factors that may help develop positive attitudes towards mathematics as they seek to develop their competency. First, a three part questionnaire was administered in order to identify levels of mathematics anxiety. Second, a group of first year pre-service primary teachers completed a questionnaire to ascertain changes in their feelings following completion of their first mathematics education unit. Third, a small cohort of third year pre-service early childhood teachers who reported high to extreme anxiety levels participated in interviews following professional learning workshops.


Pre-service teachers from both groups reported higher levels of anxiety about cognitive and knowledge traits, this being most evident when personal knowledge had to be demonstrated, such as when working with others or planning for teaching.  Targeted professional learning and social constructivist teaching were identified as key factors in developing positive attitudes as well as the need to identify personal knowledge of mathematics as a prelude to seeking to become more competent. The 'conscious incompetence' phase of the knowledge hierarchy was seen as being important in this regard.


There are several implications for teacher education programs in general and some clear recommendations for the particular course review currently in progress. Specifically, competency testing could be postponed until pre-service teachers have had the opportunity to participate in ample professional learning and then used on an on-going basis as a monitoring tool. The issues of competence, anxiety, and antecedents of anxiety, need to be brought to the fore and pre-service teachers made more aware of their own situation with respect to them. The development and use of personal mathematics plans is seen as one way of doing this.