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Child Development Research
Volume 2012, Article ID 170310, 12 pages
Research Article

Primary School Age Students' Spontaneous Comments about Math Reveal Emerging Dispositions Linked to Later Mathematics Achievement

1Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA
2Johns Hopkins University School of Education, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
3Department of Educational Foundations, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, P.O. Box 1002, Millersville, PA 17551, USA
4Department of Psychology, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7123, USA

Received 12 June 2012; Revised 10 August 2012; Accepted 10 August 2012

Academic Editor: Ann Dowker

Copyright © 2012 Michèle M. M. Mazzocco et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


To longitudinally explore children's developing beliefs towards mathematics, we asked 207 children to define “math” and “reading” at grades 2 and 3 and coded for spontaneous references to likability or difficulty of math (or reading) in their definitions. We found that children attributed more difficulty to math than to reading despite their relatively neutral comments on the likability of either subject. Children described math and reading with comparable degrees of specificity, but girls' definitions were more specific than boys'. Relative to their peers, children with mathematics learning disability (MLD) provided less specific definitions overall, were more likely to describe math as more difficult than reading, and were more likely to show a decrease in likability ratings of math (but not reading) from grades 2 to 3. Grade 2 ratings predicted math ability at grade 3, more so than predictors from grade 3. These findings, although based on informal analyses not intended to substitute for validated assessments of disposition, support the notions that distinct aspects of dispositions towards math emerge in early childhood, are revealed through casual discourse, and are predictive of later math achievement outcomes. This further supports current interests in developing formal measures of academic disposition in early childhood.