Hints for Helping Students with Math Work

How do I encourage students to be independent and high-endurance learners?

 This document is designed to provide some guidelines and some simple techniques for helping students with math work.  The ultimate goal of these techniques is to build our students’ math independence,confidence, and perseverance.

1) Encourage healthy habits of mind:

Self-help: Before you provide any assistance, remind students to take out and read through class notes or related class materials.

Reading carefully: Have the student read the problem slowly out-loud.  After they read, ask them to underline key words.

Meta-cognition(self-talk): Encourage students to ask themselves:

  • “What do I need to find out?”
  • “What do I know?”  “What information does the problem provide?”
  • “What strategy can I start with?” (e.g., drawing, list, table…)

Perseverance:Don’t let students leave things blank.  Even if he or she can’t figure out a problem, ask them to write:

  • “I need to find out…”
  • “I know that…” (the facts of the problem)
  • Try a strategy.

Empowerment: Make sure to give sufficient wait time; students need to be given a chance to do the thinking work and to express it themselves, before receiving any coaching.

2) Build a positive attitude about their ability to learn math.

  • Praise perseverance and technique; we want students to believe that they can get better at math.
  • Don’t tell students that you were “no good at math” or feed the myth that some students are good at math and others aren’t. Similarly, don’t undermine their confidence by telling students that “this is so easy.”

3) If you feel like you need to teach the student…

  • Don’t give students answers!    Students grow by wrestling with the material themselves.
  • Don’t give short-cuts.  Students may need to go the long way for a while, in order to develop their mathematical thinking, and then take advantage of short cuts.
  • Refer to class notes and materials as you help the student; the consistency of similar language and methods helps develop understanding.

 4) School assignments should take about 30 minutes…

  • If this is consistently not the case, please let your child’s teacher know.