Mathematics Frustration and Teacher Messages for Coping-Support: Examining Classroom and Social-Cognitive Processes
Jamaal Matthews

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Montclair State University

Primary Discipline

Educational Psychology
How will this ever be important for me in the real world?” It is the inevitable question that arises in almost every middle school math classroom. Valuing mathematics is essential for math efficacy, performance, and choice across the secondary years and beyond. However, scholars know relatively little about how adolescents come to value math or see the importance of it for their personal lives. This is particularly unclear among historically marginalized youth. The current study attempts to understand this issue through examining how classroom social interactions and adolescent cognition interact to inform how students identify with mathematics. As many urban adolescents often have difficulty understanding the relevance of math for their daily lives, teachers have entrée into providing cultural validation and coping-support messages for students to help them negotiate their cultural values with their math identity.Within a sample of four 6th grade math classrooms in the urban northeast United States, I hypothesize that math teachers’ use of student informal knowledge, sensitivity to student culture, encouragement for critical thinking, and provision of coping-support messages will positively relate to students’ identification with mathematics (i.e., math identity), conceptualized as valuing math, math efficacy, and a sense of belongingness in math class. However, there are core shifts in early adolescent thinking that are directly tied to social consciousness, meaning-making, and identity formation. These cognitive shifts, such as developing meta-cognition, abstract reasoning, and multi-dimensional thinking may account for whether adolescents adhere to the socialization messages of teachers and how effectively they internalize these messages to negotiate their own values. Thus, the timing and depth of these changes during adolescence may not only help explain whether a student can handle abstract mathematical content but more importantly whether the student can process the value of the content for their own lives. This latter cognitive process is sufficiently complex compared to the former but is also the real substance of valuing math and developing a personal ownership of it. This is markedly important for marginalized adolescents who contend with social stigma and broader societal messages that math is personally irrelevant, impractical, and an area of cultural deficiency. This study utilizes a combination of survey methodology, semi-structured interviews, and computerized cognitive assessments to address these aims.
About Jamaal Matthews
Jamaal S. Matthews (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is an assistant professor in educational psychology at Montclair State University in New Jersey. His program of research examines the interplay between student self-beliefs and achievement motivation, and how the socio-cultural context, gender, and race shape academic identities over time. During adolescence, identity can serve as a catalyst for motivated academic engagement, as well as predict how students respond when they encounter the natural frustrations and challenges associated with deep learning. Born and raised in Harlem, Dr. Matthews’ research interests are grounded in his experiences as a middle school math teacher in NYC public schools. His research also has powerful implications for counseling and out-of-school youth interventions, as evidenced through his youth mentorship program, T.H.R.E.A.D.S (Truth, Honor, Respect, Education and Development of Self) which promotes positive youth development for urban middle school boys in a ten week after-school format. Dr. Matthews is also a recipient of multiple national awards, including outstanding dissertation awards from the American Psychological Association and ProQuest.

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