We often think about pretests for content. We ask students what they know and use that information to guide our instruction. We also grumble about standardized tests not capturing things we care about (and I agree). One of the things that I care most about is my students’ attitudes and dispositions toward mathematics (or affection for mathematics). Many students learn to dislike mathematics as early as kindergarten. For some, it is that they feel as though they are not good at it. For others it may be because they don’t see the utility of mathematics or find it boring. As a teacher, I care deeply about students’ affection for mathematics, so like other things I care about (like content), I make a point to measure students’ affection for mathematics to see whether I am impacting this important aspect of their mathematical education.
The beginning of the school year is the perfect time for a “pretest” or initial reading of students’ affection for mathematics. I typically have my students share a picture that embodies their feelings toward mathematics and ask them to explain why they chose the picture. Below are some samples that my students have chosen in the past. I also share my own picture (top left below) and explain that mathematics is creative and fun and joyful for me (so I choose a picture to illustrate that feeling).
You might instead ask students to share an emoji that fits their attitude toward mathematics. Throughout the year, you might check in to see how their feelings shift. As students feel better about mathematics, they tend to do better and are more likely to continue on to higher level mathematics. You may find a number of your students start off with bad feelings or a lack of affection for mathematics. In that case, you know you have some work to do this year! Bring in their interests to the classroom. Help motivate why they might learn something by explaining how it is used in this course and beyond (it doesn’t have to be real world connections because not everything has clear real world implications and that is okay!). The important thing is that if you care about how students feel about mathematics, you should try to understand where your students are and make it a goal to improve their relationship to mathematics. As a bonus, you can share this data with your administrators and fellow teachers as another measure that everyone should care about in addition to content scores.
So who’s with me? This year let’s make it a point to care about and foster our students’ feelings about mathematics by measuring their affection for mathematics.