Grade 4 learners' anxiety during automatisation of multiplication facts in computer-assisted instructional environments
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As we live in a world that constantly involves the application of mathematical ideas and mathematical thinking, reasoning and problem solving, performances in Mathematics remain a key indicator in determining the effectiveness of school systems. With regard to the South African school system, the World Economic Forum's (WEF)'s “Global Information Technology Report - 2016" paints a bleak picture of the quality of Mathematics education in South Africa. Out of 139 countries assessed, this report ranks the quality of South Africa's Mathematics education at an alarming last place. This (last) position has not changed since 2011. One of the aims of Mathematics education in South Africa, as put forward in the National Curriculum, is for learners to “deal with any mathematical situation without being hindered by a fear of Mathematics" through “teaching and learning of Mathematics confidence and competence". Hence, concern regarding the increasing anxieties surrounding and accompanying learning and performance in Mathematics escalates. Basic computational fluency (the rapid recall or automatisation of computational facts with or without conceptual understanding) is considered a pre-requisite skill to facilitate higher-order processing in problem solving. Anxieties regarding acquiring computational fluency may therefore inhibit the optimal development in mathematical thinking, reasoning and problem solving. Against this background and in contrast with traditional classroom practices of pen-and-paper time-drilled exercises to acquire computational fluency, the study interprets (through qualitative investigation) Grade 4 learners' anxiety experiences while acquiring automaticity regarding multiplication facts in computer-assisted learning environments. By exposing a sample of Grade 4 learners alternatively to two fundamentally different learning environments ('computer drill-and-practice exercises' - CDP and 'digital game-based learning - DGBL environments'), the participants' anxiety experiences while attaining automaticity regarding multiplication facts, could be investigated. Anxiety as academic emotion was observed on a continuum of emotional manifestations, ranging from averseness (anxiety) to attractiveness (confidence) in situations where mathematical thinking and reasoning is required. In the study, this phenomenon is referred to as anxiety?confidence valence. The current study does therefore not put forward theory or advanced existing theory, but rather interprets the anxiety experiences of Grade 4 learners (if any) to understand the anxiety?confidence valence. Through these interpretations, recommendations and strategies to consider towards improving the automaticity skills regarding multiplication facts of Grade 4 learners, were put forward. The findings confirmed that CDP environments are more likely to foster feelings of anxiousness than those learning experiences in DGBL environments. In counteracting the devastating effect of over-emphasising pen-and-paper drilled exercises, (as revealed in literature) DGBL games should be favoured over and above CDP games as the latter was found to create anxiety or aggravate existing Mathematics anxieties. Furthermore, the choice of DGBL game needs to take the personality as well as the interest of individual learners into account. Therefore, the anxious and worrisome thoughts stemming from undesired methods of automatisation that may be carried well into adulthood, can be limited if not eradicated.
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