Mathematical attitudes and achievement strategies of successful mathematics learners.
Too often, discussions about Mathematics express feelings of anguish and despair; and, indeed Mathematics results in general in South Africa can be described as dismal. The Department of Education (DoE) reported that in the 2010 National Senior Certificate examinations, 52.6% of learners obtained less than 30% in Mathematics and 69.1% of learners obtained less than 40% (DoE, 2010). This implies that a very small percentage of grade 12 learners would be eligible to further their studies in the fields of Mathematics and science at tertiary level, resulting in a depletion of science and Mathematics-oriented professionals. This study explored the mathematical attitudes and achievement strategies of successful Mathematics learners to overcome the factors that might impede achievement. This study has the potential to improve practice because the findings of the study and recommendations are made implicit in the discussion. In particular this study sought to investigate the following issues: (a) What are secondary school learners' attitudes towards Mathematics? (b) In what ways are these attitudes linked to factors to which the learners attribute their achievement in Mathematics? (c) What strategies do successful Mathematics learners use to overcome the factors that they identify as impeding their performance in Mathematics? This research involved a case study approach. The study solicited both quantitative and qualitative data from the participants. The participants comprised 95 Grade 10, 11 and 12 Mathematics learners. The Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitude Scales (FSMAS) questionnaire was used to collect data from participants. The data was analysed using Attribution Theory and Achievement Theory. Two learners, who obtained more than 60% in the 2011 half-year Mathematics examination, from grades 10, 11 and 12 respectively, constituted the focus group. The focus group interview enhanced the study by clarifying the responses to the questionnaire and providing answers to the second and third research questions. The findings of the research include the following: teachers play an important role in shaping learners’ attitudes toward Mathematics; learners are anxious when asked to solve mathematical problems; parents are very encouraging of their children learning Mathematics; the importance of Mathematics for future careers exerted a significant effect on mathematical achievement; and finally the various strategies that learners employ that positively impact on their achievement in mathematics include mastery experience, motivation, private tuition and peer group teaching-learning. The final section of this dissertation discusses the implications of this study for practising Mathematics teachers and suggestions for further research in the area of affect.