Why should math instructors
care about affective issues?
Affect and cognition are inextricably intertwined in learning processes (Bandura 1989; Basch 1976; Csikszentmihalyi 1990; Hidi and Baird 1986; Iran-Nejad,
1987; Lazarus 1984; Meyers and Cohen 1990; Romiszowski 1989; Zajonc 1980, 1984).
The learning of mathematical and scientific concepts is more than a cognitive process. Learning is highly charged with feeling, aroused by and directed towards not just
people, but also values and ideals. Nevertheless, in schools and universities, for
the most part, math and science is portrayed as a rational, analytical and non-emotive
area of the curriculum, and math/science teachers, texts and curricular documents
commonly present images of math/science and scientists that embody a sense of emotional
aloofness (Nieswandt, 2007).
- Bloom (1976) has argued that as much as 25% of students’ academic success is determined by what he referred to as affective or nonacademic
characteristics. Examples of these factors include such things as students’ attitudes; motivation;
level of self confidence in an education setting; degree to which students are willing
to do academic work, degree to which students associate and feel connected with other
students, university personnel, and the institution as a whole; and the degree to
which a student is willing to seek help. (Sedlack as cited by Boylan, 2009). Sedlack
(2004) argues that the weaker a student's cognitive skills, the more important other affective factors
in student success.
- Inherent in successful programs is continuous student engagement and interaction with
faculty and advisors, both of which allow students to develop a professional relationship
and feel a sense of connectedness with faculty and the institution as a whole. A student’s relationship and interaction with the faculty can be the single biggest
in increasing student retention (Brown & Rivas, 1993; Kramer, 2000; McPhee, 1990; Tinto 1990).
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989) and the National Research Council
(1989) have encouraged math educators to incorporate affective factors with cognitive factors in mathematics teaching and learning.
Affects exert a decisive influence on learning and on how pupils perceive and value
mathematics, as well as on their own view of themselves as learners. At the same time, they constitute
a key element influencing their behavior (Gil, 2003).
- Just as learners can regulate their cognition, they can also regulate their motivation and affect. Regulation of motivation and affect would include attempts to regulate various motivational
topics such as goal orientation (purpose for doing task), self-efficacy (judgments
of competence to perform a task), perception of task difficulty, task value beliefs
(beliefs about the importance and relevance of doing a task), and personal interest.
Besides these important motivational beliefs, students can attempt to control their
affect and emotions through the use of various coping strategies that help them deal
with negative affect such as fear and anxiety (Boekaerts, 1993; Niemvirta, 2000).
- These motivational self-regulatory strategies include attempts to control self-efficacy through the use
of positive self-talk (e.g. “I know I can do this task,” Bandura, 1997). Students can attempt to increase
their extrinsic motivation for the task by promising themselves extrinsic rewards or making certain positive
activities contingent on completing an academic task. (Kuhl, 1984).
- In the traditional classroom, the instructor controls most of the aspects of the tasks
and context. Therefore, there may be little opportunity for students to engage in
contextual control and regulation. However, in a more student-centered classroom, students evaluated on tasks. These types of classrooms are asked to do much more actual control and regulation of the academic tasks and classroom climate and structure. They are often asked to
design their own projects and experiments, work together in collaborative or cooperative
groups, design how their groups will collect data or perform the task, and even work
with their teacher to determine how they will be obviously offer a great deal more
autonomy and responsibility to the students and they provide multiple opportunities
for contextual learning and regulation (Pintrich, 2004).