Why Students Struggle in Math

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Factors that Contribute to Difficulties that Students Face in Mathematics Classrooms

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. 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...
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