Math anxiety has gotten lots of attention over the years. A recent study from the University of Chicago takes a close look at math anxiety in early elementary school students and draws an interesting conclusion -- high-achieving students, about half of whom have math anxiety, fare worse than anxious low-achieving math students. Their fears usurp working memory, where much of the calculating for arithmetic should take place. Low-achieving students, who tend to have less working memory to begin with, often rely on workarounds such as counting on fingers, which means their performance doesn't suffer as much from anxiety. Successful students with math anxiety typically fall about a half year behind their less-anxious classmates. We're encouraged by the study's finding that having students write, or in the case of the younger grades, draw pictures, to express their arithmetic fears can free up working memory.
-- Susan Douglas