3 Reasons Kids Struggle With Math And Our Ways To Help

We recently read a blog post titled “3 Reasons Kids Struggle With Math And How To Help.” We’re taking a stab at putting a “QWERTY spin” on the points raised.

Point 1: Math Can Be Unforgiving When Students Do Not Seek Help

Indeed, it can. A good deal of mathematics education requires that students master certain concepts in order that new concepts can be understood. Unlike some other subjects where “not getting” a particular point has little or no impact on a student’s ability to understand the next one, much of math learning is metaphorically equivalent to building a brick wall; mislay one brick and the consequences for the wall can be disastrous.

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There are several things that can be done to ensure that students build “strong walls” (extending the metaphor further).

  1. Check to see if your student’s math homework is being graded for correctness, or only for completion. Correctness is a much higher bar and one that we believe should be the standard.
  2. Check to see whether your student’s teacher has a mandatory “re-do” policy that requires students to correct quiz and test errors. Some of the most powerful learning occurs when a student reviews mistakes shortly after making them and then, has to correct errors.
  3. Teach your student to advocate for him/herself. In our work with students, we emphasize that the right to an education comes with a responsibility to doggedly pursue it. If a concept is not understood, the student should proceed to seek understanding. That can only come if the student views “not getting it” as an opportunity to seek understanding, rather than being “not smart.” When it come stop education, “selfishness,” for lack of a better word, is a virtue.

Point 2. If You Don’t Understand Terms, You’ll Get Lost

Language matters. Math is a subject whose mastery is predicated on precision. Math textbooks are written using an economy of words and rely heavily on the precise vocabulary of the subject. The greatest education in math that this author ever received was to be forced to learn to read a math textbook.

That’s why we teach our students that they should not rely exclusively on the their teachers to completely explicate concepts in math. Students will encounter teachers in their lives whose teaching styles may not play to their learning strengths. Being able to read a math textbook is the greatest defense against that; being able to do that depends heavily on mathematical vocabulary.

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  1. Check to see whether your child’s math class has a component that grades based on mathematical vocabulary mastery.
  2. Ask your child’s math teacher how s/he checks to see how math vocabulary mastery is being checked. Memorizing terms is not enough. Students must be able to understand the words’ meaning and context.

Point 3. Students Don’t Practice

Don’t confuse familiarity with mastery. Just don’t. Time and time again when helping students to prepare for an exam, we witness them responding to inquiries about particular topics with things like “I get that” or “That was easy” and then watching them conclude that they are prepared. Wrong. Wrong. WRONG!

Mastery of math requires practice – just like a sport or mastering a musical instrument does. One doesn’t simply “watch a video” on soccer or playing a piece to master it. Those disciplines require repetition so that muscle memory and other aspects of automaticity can be built. So too is it with math.

Repetition builds pattern recognition so that when a teacher decides to “throw a curveball” on a test by asking a question that isn’t identical to something given in the homework, the student responds by recognizing the elements and what to do with them, rather than retreating to the safety of “We never had that kind of a problem in the homework.”

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  1. Make sure that your student understands that “reviewing the notes” is only the first step in preparing for an exam or quiz. S/he must actually DO problems to prepare.
  2. Have your student challenge him/herself while preparing for an exam by practicing some of the unassigned problems, including some of the harder problems
  3. Ask your child if his/her teacher includes any homework problems that ask questions like “What would happen in the previous problem if XXXXX were to change?”

We agree with the original article’s takeaways:

Help your kids practice math. Research basic concepts online. Enlist the help of teachers or tutors when necessary.

We’d love to hear back from you!

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