Girls' Attitudes, Self-Expectations, and Performance in Math

An Annotated Bibliography

by Michelle Maraffi

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Learning and Mathematics || Women and Mathematics
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For teachers and parents who are concerned about girls' negative attitudes and expectations in the study of mathematics, who want to improve and increase girls' performance and learning in math, we offer an annotated bibliography of articles and studies designed to give teachers and parents insight into the ways in which they can improve girls' attitudes and performance in math.

In Part I, Students' Attitudes and Beliefs, many articles suggest that girls have negative attitudes and expectations for their performance in math; however, as can be seen from Part II, Teachers' Attitudes, and Part III, Parents' Attitudes, parents' and teachers' attitudes, expectations, and actions with regard to girls' performance in math affect - and have the potential to improve - girls' expectations, attitudes, and performance in math. Teachers' teaching style, such as their use of cooperative rather than competitive learning, also plays a pivotal role in girls' relationship with math. Information about the impact of teaching style on girls' attitudes and performance in math will be found in Part IV.

The four parts of this annotated bibliography include articles which give teachers and parents practical ideas that they can use to improve girls' attitudes, self-expectations, and performance in math.

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I. Students' Attitudes and Beliefs

  1. American association of University Women, Washington, DC, "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America: A Call to Action." AAUW Initiative for Educational Equity, American Association of University Women, Washington, DC, 1992.
    (To order by mail, write to: American Association of University Women Sales Office, P.O. Box 251, Annapolis Junctions, MD 20701-0251.)
    This paper shows that girls' self-esteem, confidence in their abilities, expectations for life, interest in challenging courses and rewarding careers, and pursuits in math and science decline as they get older. Teachers may contribute to girls' problems by giving them less attention or a lower quality of attention during class; therefore, teachers must be careful not to limit girls' potential in math and science by using gender-biased practices. Especially during math instruction, teachers must be sure to call on girls for answers to questions, and to give them praise when appropriate.

  2. Gill, Judith, "Shedding Some New Light on Old Truths: Student Attitudes to School in Terms of Year Level and Gender," paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA., April 4-9, 1994.
    (To order by mail, write to ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    This article indicates that middle school and high school girls have positive attitudes toward school but negative attitudes toward mathematics. It focuses on the gendering - the separation of boys and girls - of Australian schools through the study of 7th, 8th, and 10th graders in coeducational programs as well as girls-only schools. Despite some authors' belief that separating boys and girls for math improves girls' attitudes towards math, the results indicate that even when girls are taught in all -girl schools, they still have negative attitudes toward math. With regard to teachers, the paper suggests that separating boys and girls during math instruction does not improve girls' negative attitudes toward math.

  3. Hanson, Katherine, "Teaching Mathematics Effectively and Equitably to Females." Trends and Issues No. 17, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. Teachers College; Education Development Center, Inc., Newton, MA. Center for Equity and Cultural Diversity. 1992.
    (To order by mail, write to ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Box 40, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027.)
    An exploration of girls' learning styles, attitudes, and behaviors in math classes that also shows the importance of analyzing the curriculum and attitudes of teachers when attempting to understand girls' relation to math. The article attempts to discover ways to increase girls' interest and achievement in math. It concludes with 15 practical recommendations for the improvement of math education for girls.

  4. Pettitt, Lisa, "Middle School Students' Perception of Math and Science Abilities and Related Careers," paper presented at the 61st Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Indianapolis, IN, March 30-April 2, 1995.
    (To order by mail, write to: Lisa M. Pettitt, Dept. of Psychology, University of Denver, 2155 South Race St., Denver, CO 80208.)
    According to this paper, middle school students do not recognize the subjects that they must study in order to have specific careers. In a survey of 162 students about their career aspirations and their feelings about sex stereotypes in certain professional fields, students responded that society accepts many different careers for women and men. However, they tended to choose sex-stereotyped careers when filling out the survey. Girls felt that they would be capable of becoming doctors or veterinarians, but they did not want to have science-related careers as adults. Boys stated the opposite. Neither the boys nor the girls recognized the relation between the study of math and science and their future career aspirations. Because this study indicates that girls may not realize that their preferred future careers can require course work in science and math, it seems prudent for math and science teachers to discuss with students the many professional fields that require math and science.

  5. Stipek, Deborah, Granlinski, Heidi, "Gender Differences in Children's Achievement-Related Beliefs and Emotional Responses to Success and Failure in Mathematics," Journal of Educational Psychology , v. 83 n. 3 pp. 361-71, September 1991.
    This article indicates that girls have lower expectations for themselves in math than boys, and that girls believe they do not have mathematical ability.When girls do poorly in math, they attribute their poor performance to their inability to do math. This study explores the beliefs of third-graders and junior high school students (male and female). It shows that girls' beliefs begin early in their education and persist into junior high school (and probably beyond). Therefore, starting at the elementary school level, teachers need to 1) encourage girls to have higher expectations for themselves in math, and 2) offer girls alternative, positive explanations of their math performance.

  6. Swetman, Daniel, "Rural Elementary Students' Attitudes toward Mathematics," Rural Educator , v. 16 n. 3 pp. 20-22, 31 Spring 1995.
    This article shows that girls' positive attitudes towards mathematics decline as they grow older. Initially girls have more positive attitudes towards math than boys do, but as they continue in school, girls' attitudes become more negative. In order to improve girls' performance in math, teachers need to facilitate positive attitudes in girls towards math.

II. Teachers' Attitudes

  1. Clewell, Beatrice and Anderson, Bernice, "Women of Color in Mathematics, Science and Engineering: A Review of the Literature," Center for Women Policy Studies, Washington, DC., 1991.
    (To order by mail, write to: Center for Women Policy Studies, 2000 P Street, NW, Site 508, Washington, DC. 20036.)
    This article highlights the barriers middle school girls of color face in math, science, and engineering classes. Barriers include teachers, parents, and society's impact on girls' 1) attitudes and perceptions, 2) achievement and performance, 3) course enrollment and participation, and 4) career interests and aspirations. This review is particularly important because women/girls of color are often studied with regard either to gender or ethnicity, but rarely considering both, as in this study. Teachers must help girls of color bring down the barriers they face by encouraging them to 1) have positive attitudes about themselves in math, 2) enroll and participate in math and science classes, and 3) explore careers in math and science.

  2. Gutbezahl, Jennifer, "How Negative Expectancies and Attitudes Undermine Females' Math Confidence and Performance: A Review of the Literature," Information Analysis -General, 1995.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    According to this paper, parents' and teachers' expectations for girls in math have an enormous impact on girls performance in math. Girls internalize their teachers' and parents' negative expectations, which become self-fulfilling prophecies. Because girls believe that they cannot achieve in math, they do not achieve in math. Their poor performance reinforces parents and teachers' negative expectations and feeds the cycle of negative expectations and lack of achievement. Clearly, teachers' and parents' expectations for girls' performance in math must be raised if girls are to have the opportunity to achieve in math.

  3. Leach, Lisa, "Sexism in the Classroom: A Self-Quiz for Teachers," Science Scope , v. 17, n. 6, pp. 54-59, March 1994.
    This article shows teachers' critical role in girls' success in math and science. It suggests that girls' low participation and their negative attitudes towards math and science are greatly affected by teachers' attitudes. The author provides a self sexism-quiz teachers can take in order to identify specific classroom attitudes towards girls that may affect their instruction in class.

  4. Schwartz, Wendy and Hanson, Katherine, "Equal Mathematics Education for Female Students," Educational Developmental Center, Inc., Newton, MA. Center for Equity and Cultural Diversity. 1992.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Institute for Urban and Minority Education, Box 40, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027.)
    This paper indicates that teachers must consider girls' mental and physical development and the effect of their own attitudes and behaviors on girls' participation and performance in math. When girls begin to physically mature, they focus more on their bodies and less on their intellectual abilities or themselves as people. As a result, their self-esteem decreases. Girls' learning style is more cooperatively based and therefore does not mesh with the independent, non-collaborative thinking encouraged in most classrooms. Finally, this paper states that teachers unconsciously pay more attention to male students than to female students. It suggests that teachers must consider girls' developmental issues as they interact with them, by drawing female students' attention away from their bodies and focusing it on their intellectual abilities, especially in math. Teachers should pose more cooperative tasks during math instruction in order to support girls' learning style. Finally, teachers must constantly evaluate their behavior toward male and female students to insure that the attention they give students is not gender-biased.

III. Parents' Attitudes

  1. Blevins-Knabe, Belinda, and Musun-Miller, Linda, "Parental Beliefs about the Development of Preschool children's Number Skills," paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, WA, April 18-20, 1991.
    (To order by mail, write to:ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2853.)
    This paper indicates that parents' belief in girls' math ability affects girls' belief in their own math ability. A study was completed with parents of 4- and 5-year-old children about their children's number skills. Parents of boys indicated that their sons would be able to solve all math tasks sooner than parents of girls indicated that their daughters would be able to solve math tasks. The parents' beliefs about the girls could clearly be detrimental to their daughters' beliefs about math and their performance in math. Teachers, then, must encourage parents of girls to have higher expectations for their daughters.

  2. Campbell, Patricia, "Math, Science, and Your Daughter: What Can Parents Do?" Encouraging Girls in Math and Science Series, Women's Educational Equity Act Program (ED), Washington, DC. 1992.
    (To order by mail, write to: WEEA Publishing Center, EDC, 55 Chapel Street, Suite 268, Newton, MA 02160.)
    According to this brochure, parents play a crucial role in their daughters' math and science education. In its six sections, the brochure describes ways that parents can encourage their daughters in math and science. It suggests that parents talk to their daughters about the importance of math and its necessity in certain careers. In another section, the brochure encourages parents to foster positive attitudes in their daughters toward math and science. This publication would be a useful tool for teachers to use to inform parents of their ability to improve girls' attitudes and participation in math and science classes.

IV. Teaching Style

  1. Bono, Deborah, "The Impact of Cooperative Learning on Suzy and Janie's Attitudes about Math," Research Report in Virginia, 1991.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    The importance of this article lies in its statement that girls would enjoy math, increase their time on math tasks, and have positive emotional reactions to math if math were taught in a cooperative setting. The study explores the impact of cooperative learning on two sixth grade girls (one Afro-American, one Euro-American). The results show that the two girls had more positive attitudes about math when it was taught in a cooperative setting. During math instruction, then, teachers need to use cooperative learning techniques in order to foster positive attitudes toward math in their female students.

  2. Campbell, Patricia, "What Works and What Doesn't? Ways to Evaluate Programs for Girls in Math and Science Series," Women's Educational Equity Act Program (ED), Washington, DC. 1992.
    (To order by mail, write to: WEEA Publishing Center, EDC, 55 Chapel Street, Suite 268, Newton, MA 02160.)
    This brochure helps teachers evaluate their math and science programs with regard to success with girls. Seven sections suggest how programs should be evaluated, what questions should be asked of participants in the program, and what variables should be examined in pre- and post-participation tests. Some of these variables include 1) attitudes toward math and science, 2) math and science courses girls are planning to take, 3) career interests, 4) math and science activities girls do voluntarily, and 5) girls' knowledge of women in science. The brochure is a useful tool for teachers because it allows them to evaluate the success of their math instruction and classroom environment for girls' attitudes and participation in math and math-related fields.

  3. Daniels, Roberta, and Lamb, Julie, "Changing Gifted Girls' Attitudes towards Mathematics," paper presented at the Rural Education Symposium of the American Council of Rural Special Education and the National Rural Small Schools Consortium, Tucson, AZ, March 18-22, 1990.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA., 22153-2852.)
    How to help gifted girls achieve even greater heights in math. A program was initiated with academically gifted 4-7th grade girls that included activities which 1) improved self-esteem, 2) developed positive attitudes toward math, 3) dealt with problem-solving skills, 4) encouraged girls to become involved in math activities outside school, and 5) explored careers in math. After the program was over, it was found that the girls who had gone through it scored significantly higher on math aptitude tests. The program helps girls deal with emotional and developmental issues as well as improving their attitudes and performance in math. Until such a program is implemented in schools, teachers can improve gifted girls' performance in math by working with them on problem-solving skills during math instruction. Teachers can also 1) encourage girls to participate in math activities after school (such as math clubs) or outside of school (math or science fairs), and 2) discuss with girls their option of choosing careers in math.

  4. Diamond, Judy, "Sex differences in Science Museums; A Review," Curator , v. 37, n. 1, pp. 17-24, March 1994.
    This article indicates that girls need to learn math in a cooperative atmosphere and that they need to have more math and science-related experiences , since they have fewer such experiences than boys. It also states that girls are cooperative learners in math, rather than competitive learners. In order to encourage girls' performance in math, math teachers should consider a more cooperative approach (group learning) to math as well a curriculum that gives girls more experiences in math.

  5. Eccles, Jacquelynne et al., "Age and Gender Differences in Children's Self and Task Perceptions during Elementary School," Child Development , v. 64, n. 3, pp. 830-47, June 1993.
    Even at a very young age, boys and girls feel more or less competent in certain subjects. According to this study of 1st, 2nd, and 4th graders, boys tend to feel more competent in sports and math, whereas girls feel more competent in reading and music. Clearly, teachers need to raise girls' feelings of competence in math. However, teachers could also incorporate reading and music into math lessons (or incorporate math into reading and music lessons ); this would show girls that math is present in subjects in which they already feel competent.

  6. Fraser, Barry, "Research Implications for Science and Mathematics Teachers. Volume 1. Key Centre Monograph Number 5," Curtin Univ. of Tech., Perth (Australia). National Key Centre for Science and Mathematics. Australian Dept. of Education, Canberra. 1993.
    (To order by mail, write to: National Key Centre for School Science and Mathematics, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U 1987, Perth, Western Australia, Australia.)
    This paper gives examples of the strategies successful teachers use to make their math classroom environments conducive to math achievement among girls. One chapter hails the benefits of encouraging students, especially female students, to write (i.e. write about their thinking process when solving a math problem) in math classes. Others explore issues such as girls' attitudes towards math and future careers, student and teacher relationships in math and science classes, and gender equality in science classes. The paper provides teachers with strategies, such as the use of writing in math classes, to improve their classroom environments so that girls will be comfortable and encouraged to do math.

  7. Li, Anita, Adamson, Georgina, "Gifted Secondary Students' Preferred Learning Style: Cooperative, Competitive, or Individualistic?" Journal of Education of the Gifted , v. 16, n. 1, pp. 46-54, Fall 1992.
    This article shows the crucial impact that the orientation of a math classroom has on female students' involvement in and enthusiasm for math. Gifted senior high school girls prefer working in noncompetitive, individually oriented math classes, while boys prefer working in competitive, individually oriented math classes. If math classes were individually oriented but less competitive, girls would be more enthusiastic about math.

  8. McSheffrey, K., "Mathematics Experiences of Women and Girls: A Narrative Inquiry," Master's Thesis, Queen's University, 1992.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Documents service, 7420 Fullerton RD., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    This work suggests that teachers' ability to connect math to real-life situations affects female students' math experience. The narratives of 7 women and 15 girls about math experiences in school are examined. Many of the subjects cite 1) the influence of teachers' behaviors on students (teachers who made students feel important, cared for, etc...), 2) the influence of parents (their support or lack of support), 3) personal decisions regarding attitudes towards math, and 4) the attitudes of boys toward girls. Many of the stories emphasize how teachers made students feel in the classroom. Many of the women and girls state that their best math teachers were the teachers who made connections between math and real-life situations.

  9. Orenstein, Fran, "Utilization of Teacher Workshops to Enhance Early Exposure to Gender Equity and Mathematics Education for Young Girls in Preschool Settings," Ed. D. Practicum, Nova University, 1993.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    In order to prevent gender-biased behavior in the classroom, teachers must first be aware of it. This program, used with 20 preschool teachers, attempted not only to increase teachers' knowledge of gender equity, but also to encourage them to apply their knowledge in their classrooms. After the teachers participated in the program, they were more aware of gender-biased behavior in their classrooms and could begin to eliminate it and to create classroom environments in which boys and girls would have an equal opportunity to learn math.

  10. Peel, Tina et al., "SQUARE ONE TV: The Comprehensive and Problem-Solving Study. Final Report," paper presented at the Biennial Meeting at the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, WA, April 18-20, 1991.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    For teachers who like to use TV programs as part of their math classes, this study shows that Square One TV can improve boys' and girls' problem-solving skills and encourage them to have positive feelings toward math. The paper indicates that Square One encourages problem-solving skills in such a manner that children are able to transfer the skills to new problems. Success with the problems on the show elicited feelings of happiness, gladness, and pride in the students.

  11. Sanders, Jo, "Lifting the Barriers. 600 Strategies that Really Work To Increase Girls' Participation in Science, Mathematics and Computers," Non-classroom guides, 1994.
    (To order by mail, write to: J Sanders, P.O. Box 483, Port Washington, NY 11050.)
    This article gives teachers strategies for encouraging girls to be excited and involved in mathematics, science, and computers. In the Computer Equity Expert Project, 200 math, science, and computer teachers created 8 strategies to increase girls' participation in math: 1) focusing specifically on girls, 2) designing activities, 3) emphasizing usefulness, 4) highlighting the social aspect, 5) watching language for sex stereotypes, 6) eliminating biased practices, 7) spreading the word and 8) doing it all next year. The author recommends that these strategies be used in classrooms, extracurricular activities, educational policies, and outreach efforts.

  12. Telese, James, "Effects of Alternative Assessment from the Student's View," paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Atlanta, GA, April 12-16, 1993.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    According to this article, teachers' use of alternative assessment improves elementary and middle school girls' involvement in math classrooms. While in this study math ability, per se, did not change, the girls' attitudes towards classroom activities in math did improve over the year in which alternative assessment and non-traditional activities were used. Alternative assessment techniques and non-traditional activities appear to be ways to improve girls' participation and attitudes in math classes.

  13. Williams, Audrey, "Class, Race and Gender in American Education," paper presented at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the College Reading Association, Philadelphia, PA, November 3-5, 1989.
    (To order by mail, write to: ERIC Document Service, 7420 Fullerton Rd., Suite 110, Springfield, VA. 22153-2852.)
    This paper indicates that societal attitudes about race, class, and gender affect standardized tests and the traditional tools used to measure success in school. It highlights the fact that girls' grades in math and English decline as they get older, yet boys' grades improve. It also shows that Whites tend to perform better on the SATs than Afro-Americans. The paper suggests that standardized tests should not be used before the third grade because they are culturally and gender-biased. If teachers use standardized tests or tests in general, they should examine them to be sure that the wording of questions does not include societal attitudes or stereotypes about class, race, or gender. If such attitudes or stereotypes are present in the wording of questions (or otherwise), teachers should discontinue the use of such tests in their classes. Teachers must carefully examine standardized and regular, everyday tests in order to insure that their students are not being subjected to culturally or gender-biased tests.

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