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Research piece

Measuring Mathematical Resilience: An application of the construct of resilience to the study of mathematics (2012)

19 Jul 2018

Mathematical resilience is a positive adaptive stance to mathematics which allows students to continue learning despite adversity.

The idea of mathematical resilience stems from the idea of psychological resilience which represents a positive response to negative stimuli. Mathematical resilience is multidimensional, with four correlated factors; value, struggle, growth and resilience.

Developing a measure for mathematical resilience will aid development of interventions to improve mathematical resilience, achievement, and quantitative literacy. The work draws on and complements the ideas of Carol Dweck, that abilities can be developed through hard work and support. 

Johnston-Wilder, Sue. 2013. “Measuring Mathematical Resilience: An Application of the Construct of Resilience to the  Study of Mathematics.” 

The study of mathematical resilience, defined as a positive, adaptive stance to mathematics, allowing students to continue learning despite adversity, represents a new approach. In the paper the four correlated factors of mathematical resilience are proposed as follows:

  1. Value: Belief that maths is a valuable subject and is worth studying 
  2. Struggle: Recognition that struggle with maths is universal, even with people who have a high level of mathematical skill 
  3. Growth: Confidence that all people can develop mathematical skills and disbelief that some are born with or without the ability to learn 
  4. Resilience: An orientation towards negative situations or difficulties in the study of mathematics that results in a positive response. 

This study tested, and confirmed, the three affective dimensions of studying mathematics, Value, Struggle, and Growth, which together form the construct of Mathematical Resilience. This represents the first time it has been rigorously defined and factor analysed - an important response to foundational discussions on mathematical resilience. 

This will be useful in future studies, including research on whether mathematical resilience is a significant predictor of mathematical achievement, what interventions can increase mathematical resilience, and whether this can be enhanced in students at risk of failure in mathematics. According to Rivera et al. (2010) the study of resilience will benefit all students, “but, most important, those at risk of academic failure”. 

National Numeracy has based the attitudinal element of its work on the concept of mathematical resilience and the elements of value, struggle (which we call ‘effort’) and growth (which we call ‘belief’), and this will continue to inform our future work. 

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