Many students get tense, anxious, or nervous when they face math problems. Besides being unpleasant, anxiety creates a negative feedback loop - when anxiety uses some attention or memory, there is less left over to handle the math they are asked to do. By acknowledging anxiety or worry students have about performing math, or taking a test, beforehand, they can "clear their mind" of those worries and leave more working attention and memory allocated to the math tasks themselves. Researchers discovered that simply writing about their feelings for as little as seven minutes before they start a math task can really boost student performance (Park et al. 2014) - after reflecting on their worries, people with high levels of anxiety perform more like those with no math anxiety!
This activity introduces the research showing a benefit of reflective writing, and then uses a modified version of the prompt from Park et al. to provide practice. Students can be given this handout ahead of time, and/or introduced to the benefits of reflective writing in class with the Powerpoint version. The activity is most effective if instructors then follow up by asking students to write reflectively for ~7 minutes before a midterm in the course. The handout “Reflective writing exam prompt” can be used on the day of the exam.
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