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Why Students Struggle in Math

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Students in secondary schools usually have one thing in common; they are all going through their adolescent period in life. As with the physical development associated with this period, their intellectual development also goes through a change that is characterized by a progression towards abstract thinking which unfortunately does not occur in an orderly and predictable manner (Atkinson & Sturges, 2003).

As a result, a classroom can easily be comprised of students with vastly differing levels of reflection on and reasoning. Such a situation will always present difficulties for students as instruction would only cater to those who are at the expected level of development for the form level.

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The strategies assumed present may be limited or nonexistent if the student has not fully progressed from the formal operational stage which, according to (Dasen, 1994), could be as much as two-thirds of all students.

While struggling with instructional difficulties, these students are also at a stage where they relate everything presented to them in the classroom to their existence as they determine its importance.

With this knowledge in hand, it is important for teachers to be explicitly aware of their students background, personalities and learning styles so as to positively influence their students attitude towards mathematics (Atkinson & Sturges, 2003).

Additionally, it would require that teachers utilize assessment mainly to evaluate students’ understanding of concepts and procedural abilities so as to aid in effectively planning the next step of the instruction process. There is also a need to ensure that assessment methods are varied, reliable and suitable for obtaining the desired information from students relative to the objectives of the lesson/unit. The utilization of these strategies by teachers would go a long way in equipping students with the ability to proficiently operate in a mathematics classroom.

However, should these students develop a way of thinking that equates their successes or failures to reasons such as luck or an absence of mathematical ability, then the likelihood of them further enhancing their abilities to assessing how well they are doing and initiating plans to correct any problems they may be experiencing is very slim. Furthermore, these types of monitoring activities are often not taught directly, and for this reason, students’ learning and their ability to know how to learn may be impeded (Salkind, 2008).

In light of such developments, it is important for teachers to get students to be responsible for their own learning and provide a suitable environment for learning based on the idea that the acquisition of concepts and knowledge requires action and interaction with the environment. New concepts should be taught in ways that assist in capturing experiences in the memory and differentiating the instruction allows students to acquire those concepts in a way most suitable to their learning style.

Technology can greatly aid the process of mathematical exploration, and clever use of such aids can help engage students. Innovations in the design and use of such material must be encouraged so that their use makes school mathematics enjoyable, meaningful and memorable (National Council of Educational Research and Training, 2006). Research has also revealed that students’ knowledge of their own ability to learn is related to their reading ability while it has also been found to predict their comprehension performance.

Where students are unable to fully convey their thoughts and opinions effectively, or where their comprehension of the language being used in the classroom is limited, they will be unable to fully grasp fundamental concepts that are imperative for becoming mathematically proficient (Sherman, Richardson, & Yard, 2008). In mathematics, certain words from the English language hold a completely different meaning such as volume, product and difference – which can confuse students if not fully understood.

Additionally, if special terms used only in mathematics are not fully explained it will further diminish their problem solving capabilities. Precise and unambiguous use of language and rigour in formulation are important characteristics of mathematical treatment, and these constitute values to be expressed by way of mathematics education (National Council of Educational Research and Training, 2006). For this reason, there is the need to ensure that mathematics teachers are actually capable of teaching mathematics as technology, curriculum and knowledge of the content will only go so far.

Teachers must be effective communicators – both orally and in writing – with a strong command of the standard language and above-grade interpretation skills so as to detect possible problems early and address them before significant errors manifest themselves. G. Stanley Hall remarked that adolescence is a period of heightened “storm and stress” after observing the many changes occurring during that period of development. Although such a view might be an exaggeration, when taken in the context of distractions to academic development, he may have been on to something.

At this stage, students are beginning to view themselves independent of their families and a strong sense of belonging and acceptance by their peers usually overrides any academic agenda (Atkinson & Sturges, 2003). Conflicting mental distraction about issues such as race, class, sexual orientation and gender could lead to feelings of vulnerability, rebelliousness and insecurity; resulting in difficulty focusing on multistep procedures and interfere with student achievement.

Moral issues also present distractions in that students feel inclined to challenge decisions in the classroom which they may see as unfair and developing impatience with regards to the pace of change. There is a definite need for teachers to appear as unbiased, considerate and fair as they relate to all students in the classroom. Opportunities should be provided in the classroom for students to share and discuss various topics of concern among each other in a non-threatening environment.

The pursuit of their individual interest, passions and strength should also be encourage while at the same time allowing students to make decisions about their learning contributes to their moral development. The pressure placed on teachers to complete the syllabus in the allotted timeframe by some administrations would usually result in the inability of teachers to go at a pace that allows all students to grasps concepts fully before moving on. Students who fall victim to such practices end up underperforming through no fault of their own and eventually become discouraged as their efforts appear in vain.

This showcases the importance of Support from the administration in mathematics education. Time pressures and fixation with completion of the syllabus and scores on regional examinations must be lessened so as to afford teacher and students more opportunities for crucial development activities such as mathematical investigations and presentations (Nivera, 2009). This would lead to a better understand of the nature of mathematics as opposed to the mechanical learning of formulas that work only for the sake of passing an examination.

In addition to that, evaluating conceptual understanding rather than fast computational ability in the Board examinations will send a signal of intent to the entire system, and over a period of time, cause a shift in pedagogy as well. The expression “Knowledge is power” conveys the approach that should be taken in mathematics classrooms as it relates to the teacher, student and content being addressed. Professional development, affecting the beliefs, attitudes, knowledge, and practices of teachers in the school, is also crucial.

An important area of concern is the teacher’s own perception of what mathematics is, and what constitute the goals of mathematics education. Some processes are not considered to be central by most mathematics teachers, mainly because of the way they were taught and a lack of any later training on such processes. Networking of teachers so that expertise and experience can be shared will be beneficial as well as identifying and nurturing resource teachers. With regards to curriculum, Bruner once said that “A curriculum is more for teachers than it is for pupils.

If it cannot change, move, perturb, and inform teachers, it will have no effect on those whom they teach”. Such a statement holds much truth as offering a range of material to teachers that enriches their understanding of the subject, provides insights into the conceptual and historical development of the subject (National Council of Educational Research and Training, 2006). This insight into the nature of mathematics will assist in transforming their classrooms into an innovative, engaging environement for the benefit of all.


Atkinson, M., & Sturges, J. (2003). At the Turning Point: The Young Adolescent Learner. Boston: National Turning Points Center, Center for Collaborative Education. Dasen, P. (1994). Culture and cognitive development from a Piagetian perspective. In W. J. Lonner, & R. S. Malpass, Psychology and Culture. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. National Council of Educational Research and Training. (2006). Teaching of mathematics. (B. Sutar, & S. Uppal, Eds.) New Delhi: Publication Department, NCERT. Nivera, G. C. (2009). Mathematical investigation and it’s assessment: Implications for teaching and learning. The normal lights , 6 (1). Salkind, N. J. (2008). Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology (Vols. 1-2). (N. J. Salkind, Ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. Sherman, H. J., Richardson, L. I., & Yard, G. J. (2008). Teaching learners who struggle with mathematics: systematic intervention and remediation (3 illustrated ed.). New Jersey: Pearson/Merrill.

Cite this Why Students Struggle in Math

Why Students Struggle in Math. (2016, Nov 10). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/why-students-struggle-in-math/

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