Influences on attitudes to mathematics
Attitudes to mathematics involve students’ feelings toward mathematics, their view of their ability in mathematics, and the decisions they make in the classroom about doing mathematics. Attitudes are learned responses to external actions that are often characterised in positive or negative terms. Students respond to mathematics instruction differently. Likewise, students display varying attitudes to mathematics. This study was undertaken to investigate some of the influences that impinge on students’ attitudes to mathematics and to discuss, analyze, and assess the implications of these influences for people involved in the learning of mathematics. To execute this study, a qualitative phenomenological approach of inquiry was adopted. This approach was deemed relevant because it enabled me to learn about people’s experiences of a phenomenon by having them narrate their experiences and relay their perception of these experiences. For this reason, eleven participants were sought from different work places. These participants were at least 20 years old and had all studied mathematics to at least secondary school level. The participants responded to questions about their attitudes to mathematics and the experiences that influenced their attitudes to the subject. At the end of the interview process, their narratives were transcribed, categorised, discussed, and analysed by the researcher. The findings suggested that participants’ attitudes to mathematics appeared to have been influenced by various school practices, such as, incentive schemes, achievement messages by school leaders, and classroom placement practices. Teachers’ personal characteristics and the way they related to their students also seemed to have influenced the way participants related to the study of mathematics. Similarly, teachers’ pedagogical practices, coupled with the expectations they had of their students regarding their achievement, appeared to have influenced students’ achievement orientations. Furthermore, participants’ own motivational orientations, their belief about their mathematical ability and the reasons they gave for success and failure, appeared to have influenced their achievement and attitudes to mathematics. The presence of an extrinsic achievement goal, particularly, toward the latter part of secondary school, seemed to have motivated participants to strive for mathematical achievement. The exposure of participants to mathematical experiences at a young age by parents appeared to have helped them in mathematics in the last years of primary school through to secondary school. The value parents had for mathematics, their continuing support for their children’s achievement, and the placement of realistic expectations on their children, seemed to have played a part in helping participants to strive for mathematical competence. The problem of subjectivity and the possibility that the findings, their discussion, and analysis, could be influenced by the researcher’s beliefs and attitudes, were noted as major limitations of a phenomenological study of this nature. It was also noted that the study’s sample size of 11 participants was very small. This obviously limits the generalisation and applicability of the study’s findings.