The Construct of Mathematical Resilience

Lee, Clare and Johnston-Wilder, Sue (2017). The Construct of Mathematical Resilience. In: Xolocotzin Eligio, Ulises ed. Understanding Emotions in Mathematical Thinking and Learning. Elsevier, pp. 269–291.



Current educational research has developed a number of constructs, such as mathematics avoidance, mathematics anxiety, and learned helplessness, each of which focuses on negative aspects and consequences associated with learning mathematics. The literature surrounding these constructs offers ideas and suggestions for treatment once a problem has developed, but it typically does not concentrate explicitly on ways in which mathematics can be learned that do not result in the growth of such negative constructs. We have found that a pragmatic argument can be made for delineation of a positive construct that would enable learners to develop a positive stance toward mathematics. We call this construct "mathematical resilience" (Johnston-Wilder & Lee, 2010a).

Resilience exists in wider psychological literature as a concept to describe the phenomenon of how some young people avoid negative consequences and succeed despite significant adversity. As we developed and worked with the construct of mathematical resilience, we found that four aspects were important and pragmatically worthwhile to focus on. We will explain the four aspects in detail below. Alongside this discussion, we will give some examples of resilient approaches and teaching strategies, together with some evidence for regarding the four aspects as important. Mathematical resilience shares many characteristics with such constructs as self-efficacy, optimism, motivation, and confidence and we will go on to show how each of these relates to mathematical resilience.

The construct of mathematical resilience allows learners to manage and protect themselves from unhelpful emotions that may arise when mathematics becomes difficult to learn. Resilient learners know that while learning mathematics requires struggle, appropriate support can be found and positive emotions that come from success can be experienced. Teaching for mathematical resilience enables learners to use mathematics effectively and to acquire new mathematical skills when needed, to empower their day to day lives and careers. Learners of any age can develop the resilience they need to approach mathematics safely. All learners can learn mathematics in ways that do not cause them to develop negative traits.

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