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Teaching college adults remedial mathematics: Is there a best way?

Leslie K Arriola, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This research explores the question of how best to remediate the math skills of adult college students. Two bodies of literature relating to adults and poor mathematical performance are reviewed, and a summary of one of the most influential theories of learning is presented.^ First, the literature on adult learners is reviewed to gain insight into characteristics of and assumptions about adult learners. The second body of literature explores psychological factors contributing to poor mathematical learning. Research on math anxiety, math avoidance, and women and math is reviewed, along with research on interventions implemented by colleges to help students overcome negative feelings about their ability to learn math. The third summarizes Jean Piaget's theory of intellectual development and its relevance to adult learners.^ In-depth interviews were conducted with nine "good" college instructors who teach developmental mathematics to both traditional and non-traditional undergraduates. The teachers were asked to talk about their experiences learning math, their teaching philosophies and methods, and their observations about adult mathematics students. Students in the instructors' current classes answered open-ended questions in an anonymous written survey. The surveys asked students to describe their instructor's teaching methods, their feelings about learning math since being in the class, and their beliefs about the role age plays in ability to learn math.^ The responses of the teachers and students indicate that (1) cognitive ability to do math does not change with age, (2) ability to learn basic math depends on two main factors: motivation and having a "good" teacher and, (3) good college remedial mathematics teachers are non-threatening; use a student-centered, active learning approach; stress understanding over memorization and rote computations; and focus on developing reasoning, problem solving and higher order thinking skills.^ The conclusion of the dissertation is that a Piagetian approach to teaching basic math is as applicable to older students as it is to younger learners, but that more research is needed to determine the ways in which differences, other than cognitive, between age groups can help or hinder mathematics learning. ^

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Adult education|Educational philosophy

Recommended Citation

Arriola, Leslie K, "Teaching college adults remedial mathematics: Is there a best way?" (1993). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9408249.