A recent Monash University study has found that positive and confident primary maths teachers embrace student struggle in the classroom, prioritising inquiry-based and student-centred teaching approaches, which ultimately benefits students.
Unsurprisingly, these maths teachers more likely to be in a leadership role, seek out professional learning opportunities and stay in the profession for longer.
The study, ‘Exploring the relationship between teacher enjoyment of mathematics, their attitudes towards student struggle and instructional time amongst early years primary teachers’ was led by Dr James Russo of Monash University and Professor Janette Bobis of the University of Sydney.
They examined the relationship between primary years teachers’ enjoyment of teaching mathematics, their attitudes towards student struggle in the mathematics classroom, and the amount of time spent on teaching the subject. Participants in the study included 98 Foundation to Year 2 (5-8 years of age) teachers, the majority of whom were female.
Research shows that the confidence teachers gain from feeling positive about teaching may encourage more risk-taking in the teaching approaches they adopt.
Both teaching and learning quality in mathematics are acknowledged as greatest in classrooms where teaching methods incorporate challenging tasks that encourage high-level thinking in students.
It was theorised that teachers in the study who described higher levels of enjoyment in their teaching also described their teaching in terms of a ‘student-focused’ approach. Conversely, teachers who described negative emotions towards their teaching tended to be teacher-focused in their approach, selecting ‘safe’ strategies that would ensure content was delivered.
“Teachers are often reluctant to routinely implement cognitively challenging tasks. Researchers have suggested several reasons for this, including teachers’ attitudes towards the teaching of mathematics, their reluctance to see students struggle, and not enough time to effectively support students who are struggling,” said Dr Russo.
“Research shows that teacher and student enjoyment are related. High levels of student enjoyment tend to foster high levels of teacher enjoyment and vice versa,” he said.
While the findings of this study are specific to teachers in the early years of schooling, the researchers said it would be important to see whether the results of this study applied to other groups of teachers too.
They added that future research into teacher enjoyment and their teaching attitudes should also consider the emotional responses of students – for instance, their having a ‘lightbulb moment’ and expressing satisfaction – and teachers’ sensitivity to these emotional responses.