Tuesday, April 10, 2012

43% in maths!

It’s April 2012 and the results are in ! My darling nephew has got 43% in maths which has, I am sure, left his parents devastated. I am sad too but I am more concerned about my sweetheart getting psychologically damaged by his marks….I hope he does not become an anxious, mathematics fearing mess who starts thinking he is ‘useless’ because he got 40+ in maths.
His scores in other subjects are okay i.e. in the 70s in physics and chemistry and 80s in biology , 60s & 70s in English, geography, history and so on. My advice to his parents is this.
Don’t pressurize him to do well in maths by making statements like  “You did not work hard enough. You watched too much television. You played too much. You sleep too much. You take life too easy. You do not care about your future. Your friends did so well. What is your problem? Maybe it’s our fault that we give you too much and spoil you too much. If we were stricter, you would have done better. Maybe we should hit you with a broom instead of giving you all these luxuries”.
 Analyze why he got low marks.
He’s in 8th grade, going to 9th.  Try to get the paper from the school and find out why he lost marks.
1) Has he not understood the question? Does he not know the steps to answer? Has he not understood? Is it careless mistakes due to attention problems and carelessness? Is it poor working memory and he does not remember all the steps? Is it poor conceptual understanding of the problems?
2) Once you identify his weaknesses, try to strengthen the weaknesses, during the summer holidays. Make sure he has understood all the stuff in 8th grade maths. Getting a score of 40 in 8th grade and getting promoted to 9th grade, definitely sets him up for bigger failure in 9th grade…. if nothing is done to ensure his understanding of 8th grade maths is complete.
3) Make him practice, the sums until he has understood fully and gained fluency i.e. speed and accuracy. Working out the problems should be automatic to him…it will be automatic only if he has practiced it a lot.
4) Make mathematics fun in whatever way possible…if you cannot make it intrinsically interesting or rewarding, then, offer him rewards for completion. Make sure he gets the rewards even for attempting maths, even for getting one step right…that way, he gets a constant stream of rewards, which will keep his motivation to do maths aroused. Of course, the reward should be something he wants; also keep changing the reward so he does not get bored with a particular reward.
5) Make him think aloud when he solves the problems and listen to the solving. Then you can identify, what he has misunderstood and correct his understanding immediately. The main problem is that feedback is not given to a student and so students never know WHY  their answer is  wrong. Unless, the teacher gets into the brain of a student and understands HOW the student has arrived at an erroneous answer, he will not understand why the student got the answer wrong. There is no point in giving the student the correct answer. Give the student, your analysis of why and where and how the student went wrong. Once he understands why his answer is wrong, he will get rid of that way of solving the problem and learn the correct way of understanding and solving the problem.
6) Praise him for all other achievements of his. Do not focus only on his maths low marks. Let him play and have fun and enjoy summer holidays too.
I know that you guys are not familiar with maths…i.e. you last did academic maths about 30 years ago when you were in grade 12.
 I know and deeply appreciate what a struggle it is for you, with your non-mathematical backgrounds to teach maths of high school level to your kid. You have been immersed in the medical field which is your profession and the only maths in your life is juggling your house budget.
 I know how much you struggle to study high school maths yourself, before you teach your kid. But remember, your kid is luckier than the kids in villages, without good school teachers, your kid is luckier than the kids of low literate parents who can neither help their kids with their studies nor hire tutors.

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