11: Addressing avoidance behaviours in mathematics classes

Students who are underachieving in mathematics often exhibit behaviours that range from attempting to disappear off the teacher’s radar to creating major distractions from the task at hand. These behaviours include:

  • silence or non-participation
  • piggybacking or reflecting back others’ answers to questions
  • random guessing when asked to volunteer a response
  • distracting other people within the group.

Most of these students show low levels of confidence when participating in discussion, asking questions, or sharing ideas. They may have worked in classes where sharing ideas was not a priority or where strong students dominated the talk, or they may be anxious about being wrong.

This resource helps teachers to identify some reasons for behaviours that inhibit participation and provides some strategies to engage these learners and so increase their achievement in mathematics.

Why is this important?

These behaviours are only symptoms, so it is important to try and understand the causes behind them. Students who are passive or disengaged are not participating and therefore not learning. Because mathematical talk is fundamental to constructing mathematical understanding, it is important to identify barriers to participation and to employ strategies that break these down.

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