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Positive emotions during maths lessons lead to higher grades

31 March 2010

The emotions that pupils experience during maths lessons can have an important effect on their performance. Pupils who are confident and enjoy the subject achieve higher grades. This is according to research carried out by educational theorist Wondimu Ahmed. He studied the emotions of first-year secondary school pupils during maths lessons. Ahmed will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 8 April 2010.

The emotions that pupils experience during their lessons are partly influenced by their confidence in their own mathematical abilities, as well as how important they consider the subject to be. ‘Pupils who have more confidence in their mathematical abilities and pupils who consider maths to be a valuable and interesting subject experience more positive emotions. This leads to better performance and the use of learning strategies’.


Ahmed’s research has shown that the first-year pupils’ positive emotions decrease over the course of the year. At the same time, their negative emotions increase, particularly those related to boredom. ‘The further they advance in the school year, the more bored the pupils become during maths. A possible explanation for this is that at the beginning of the year, a lot of the material that is familiar from primary school is repeated, in order to make the transition from primary to secondary education easier. When the pupils are then confronted with new material later in the year, they lose self-confidence and possibly their interest in maths’.

The teacher’s role

Teachers can play a part in raising the pupils’ positive emotions and consequently positively influence their performance, says Ahmed. ‘Teachers can raise pupils’ self-confidence by giving them tasks at various levels. A gradual increase in the level of difficulty gives pupils more confidence. Consistently difficult tasks lead to frustration’.

Importance of maths

Pupils’ achievements can also be improved by making clear how important mathematics is in higher education and later careers, says Ahmed. ‘In the Netherlands, children are required by law to go to school. First-year pupils don’t yet see the importance of maths. That is a problem. Teachers can change this by giving them relevant tasks and linking maths with practical applications. For example: How much paint do you need to paint a wall white? This makes the subject matter more interesting and increases the value that students give the subject’.

Support from teachers

The social support that pupils receive from their classmates, parents or teachers also influences their mathematical achievements. Pupils who feel more support have more self-confidence and perform better. ‘The teacher’s role is the most important in this case’, says Ahmed. ‘Pupils who find their teacher supportive have more self-confidence. Teachers must provide a safe learning environment’.

Support from parents

Parents can also positively influence their children's achievements. ‘It would perhaps be a good idea for parents to emphasize the importance of maths. They should not put pressure on their children, but they can, for example, show a lot of interest in their children’s maths results. When a child’s results are less good, they can make clear that the child is not in it alone and that there is someone to help him or her’.

Curriculum Vitae

Wondimu Ahmed (Ethiopia, 1977) studied Theory of Education in Groningen and did his PhD research at the Groningen Institute for Educational Research at the University of Groningen. His thesis is entitled Expectancy-value antecedents and cognitive consequences of students’ emotions in mathematics. Ahmed’s supervisors were Prof. M.P.C. van der Werf and Prof. A.E.M.G. Minnaert. His co-promoter is Dr. H. Kuyper. Wondimu Ahmed is currently working as a University lecturer at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences.

Note for the press

Contact: Wondimu Ahmed: phone +31503636638

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.29 p.m.

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