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Children’s attitude to learning changing

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Editor: Why are so many school leavers so mathematically illiterate? Who is responsible? Is it the teacher? Is it the learner? As a practicing classroom mathematics teacher, I feel compelled to reflect on the foregoing questions.

To those who are tempted to shift the pendulum in the direction of the learner to indicate that it is a case of too many students displaying negative attitudes towards the subject, I wish to register some level of agreement.{{more}}

Indeed, attitude is everything and everything is about attitude. I listen everyday and I hear loud and clear. Many teachers bemoan the poor response of students to homework tasks; the low incidence of students bringing the necessary materials to class; and the general tendency of students wanting quick answers to every mathematics problem. It goes without much saying that where such poor attitudes exist there will, naturally, be low attainment in mathematics.

It however appears that students generally do not enter school with such poor attitudes towards mathematics related activities. Observations suggest that the average child, before entering formal schooling, readily engages in rich mathematics related activities. It is commonplace to experience the ease with which three and four-year-olds engross themselves in activities where they are exploring patterns; matching and sorting objects or grouping and comparing objects? It is also a common thing for them to speak with much excitement about their discoveries. What then happens in the name of school mathematics that fails to nurture such enquiring minds; a most needed ingredient for meaningful mathematics learning?

I deliberately wish not to answer this last question. Instead, I pose a few more, in an effort to stimulate further reflections. Do we as teachers show to learners that we do spend time thinking through their questions before we respond? If not, to what extent do we expect our students to think through the questions they are asked? Do we deliberately ask questions that invite variation in thinking among students? If not, do we expect students to produce divergent responses that make for interesting class discussions and debates? Do we spend time planning class and homework tasks? If not, do we seriously expect our students to spend much time engaged in meaningful activities?

No conclusions intended! It is simply a matter of stimulating further reflections on mathematics teaching and learning. After all, teaching mathematics is a challenging task and anyone desirous of achieving efficiency and effectiveness in this art must endeavor to critically analyze his/her practice on a regular basis. Against this belief, whatever we do in the name of school mathematics, let us engage our students in activities that help to:

• Foster the development of confidence in their mathematics ability;

• Serve as a medium through which frustration and excitement associated with their mathematics learning can be easily communicated and

l Bring students in direct contact with strengths and limitations associated with their mathematics learning.

Above all, students need to experience our passion for teaching the subject. Indeed, mathematics is not just about the construction of knowledge. It is also a construction of attitude and beliefs, and until we can change these positively, mathematics will remain for a minority – Mc Leod (1998).

Kenneth Holder

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