The Development of the Numeracy Apprehension Scale for Children Aged 4-7 Years: Qualitative Exploration of Associated Factors and Quantitative Testing
AffiliationUniversity of Derby
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AbstractPrevious psychological literature has shown mathematics anxiety in older populations to have an association with many factors, including an adverse effect on task performance. However, the origins of mathematics anxiety have, until recently, received limited attention. It is now accepted that this anxiety is rooted within the early educational years, but research has not explored the associated factors in the first formal years of schooling. Based on previous focus groups with children aged 4-7 years, ‘numeracy apprehension’ is suggested in this body of work, as the foundation phase of negative emotions and experiences, in which mathematics anxiety can develop. Building on this research, the first piece of research utilized 2 interviews and 5 focus groups to obtain insight from parents (n=7), teachers (n=9) and mathematics experts (n=2), to explore how children experience numeracy and their observations of children’s attitudes and responses. Thematic and content analysis uncovered a range of factors that characterised children’s numeracy experiences. These included: stigma and peer comparisons; the difficulty of numeracy and persistent failure; a low sense of ability; feelings of inadequacy; peer evaluation; transference of teacher anxieties; the right or wrong nature of numeracy; parental influences; dependence on peers; avoidance and children being aware of a hierarchy based on numeracy performance. Key themes reflected the focus group findings of children aged 4-7 years. This contributed to an item pool for study 2, to produce a first iteration of the Numeracy Apprehension Scale (NAS) that described day-to-day numeracy lesson situations. This 44-item measure was implemented with 307 children aged 4-7 years, across 4 schools in the U.K. Exploratory factor analysis led to a 26-item iteration of the NAS, with a 2-factor structure of Prospective Numeracy Task Apprehension and On-line Number Apprehension, which related to, for example, observation and evaluation anxiety, worry and teacher anxiety. The results suggested that mathematics anxiety may stem from the initial development of numeracy apprehension and is based on consistent negative experiences throughout an educational career. The 26-item iteration of the NAS was further validated in study 3 with 163 children aged 4-7 years, across 2 schools in the U.K. The construct validity of the scale was tested by comparing scale scores against numeracy performance on a numeracy task to determine whether a relationship between scale and numeracy task scores was evident. Exploratory factor analysis was again conducted and resulted in the current 19-item iteration of the NAS that related to a single factor of On-line Number Apprehension. This related to the experience of an entire numeracy lesson, from first walking in to completing a task and was associated with, for example, explaining an answer to the teacher, making mistakes and getting work wrong. A significant negative correlation was observed between the NAS and numeracy performance scores, suggesting that apprehensive children demonstrate a performance deficit early in education and that the NAS has the potential to be a reliable assessment of children’s numeracy apprehension. This empirical reinforces that the early years of education are the origins of mathematics anxiety, in the form of numeracy apprehension.
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