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Coaching for Mathematical Resilience

This project builds on the research and practice under-pinning Mathematical Resilience as a means of addressing maths anxiety prevalent in the UK and other developed nations. Attainment in maths remains an acute problem throughout the UK and is fundamental to progression through further and higher education into professional STEM careers. It is also fundamental to the success of all learners in compulsory education and training, and under-pins STEM-related jobs at every level.

Part of the solution we envisage to maths anxiety is to develop a workforce of skilled coaches who know how to help learners with emotional and cognitive self-regulation whilst studying mathematics (Newman, 2002).

This work has grown from an initial project with The Progression Trust, ASDAN and the Association of Training Providers in Coventry and Warwickshire, to develop courses at levels 1 and 2. Working with influencers of young people to develop coaching skills training designed to overcome disengagement with mathematics, the initial prject provided training to coaches based in local training provider organisations.

With additional funding, the work was extended to learners who had chosen A-levels in order to avoid mathematics and to learners required to re-sit GCSE mathematics after multiple failures.

There are conference papers that discuss our project in further detail.

This paper introduces the construct 'mathematical resilience' as a positive stance towards mathematics that enables learners to develop approaches to mathematical learning which enable help them to overcome barriers and setbacks. The work described here is focused on developing coaches who can work beside learners, helping them to think about and use resilient learning ideas when facing difficulties in mathematics. Coaches develop a culture of ‘can do’ mathematics which works to counter the prevalent culture of mathematics helplessness and mathematics anxiety in the general population when faced with mathematical ideas. The coaches are not required to know the answer, but rather to know ways that might yield an understanding of the mathematical ideas involved and thus lead to an answer.
This paper discusses the outcomes of a pilot course (April to June 2013) designed to develop ‘coaches for mathematical resilience’. The course recruited 11 participants who regularly work with apprentices, both young and more mature, in a work-based environment and who are required to learn and use mathematics as part of their on-going training. They became part of the course due to recognition of their own lack of knowledge about how to overcome deep- seated antipathy to mathematics in themselves and in those with whom they work.

This paper discusses the outcomes of the second level part of the pilot course (September to November 2013) designed to develop ‘coaches for mathematical resilience’, equipped to work with learners who have a mathematics tutor. The 10 participants, who regularly work with apprentices, from a range of age groups, in a work-based environment continued with this second part of the programme.
The data confirms that once an individual has begun to develop their own personal mathematical resilience, worked through their own anxieties and negative stance towards mathematics in a safe and collaborative environment, they can then successfully learn to coach learners of mathematics, helping them to become resilient in turn. They become able to help those learners to find or develop the resources and skills to overcome their own barriers to learning mathematics and to manage any anxiety that may be engendered. Importantly, when the coach learns not to take any responsibility for the mathematics, but rather to focus on the learning skills and well-being of the learner, the learner outcomes are improved.

This paper discusses the outcomes of the same course for a group of 5 school students (Sept to Nov 2014), who volunteered to become ‘peer coaches for mathematical resilience’ in school. The course provided a safe and collaborative working environment in which the school students learned to manage their own reactions to mathematical ideas, to explore choices and to reflect on how to support someone else to find the resources to overcome their own barriers to learning mathematics.

The course was versioned for school students in year 12, students who had repeatedly failed to achieve the required grade in GCSE mathematics, and who were now preparing to retake the examination yet again. This short course, which ran from September to November 2014, was focused on helping students to overcome affective barriers and develop more resilient strategies for working with mathematical ideas, rather than on memorising mathematics content. The 17 students had been given very strong direction by the school to attend this course; they were told that if they attended and subsequently failed GCSE mathematics again, they would have shown they were making the effort and future opportunities would be approved for them to re-sit, however if they did not attend and failed again, they would be asked to leave the school.
The course aimed to develop students’ mathematical resilience, so that they could more effectively support one another when facing difficulties in mathematics. This work developed a culture of ‘can do’ mathematics to counter the prevalent culture of mathematics helplessness, failure and mathematics anxiety. Participants learned to consider and manage their own reactions to mathematical ideas, to explore choices and to reflect on how to support themselves and each other to overcome their barriers to learning mathematics.

For further information about this project contact Sue Johnston-Wilder:
Readers may also be interested to read about related work with parents and with teachers.

Overcoming Mathematical Helplessness and Developing Mathematical Resilience in Parents: An Illustrative Case Study
Teaching for Mathematical Resilience
Promoting Mathematics Resilience Conference