Math: I can think of no other subject area that carries with it such strong feelings for parents as they talk about helping with homework.
Among parents during my parent seminars, math is the subject that generates memories and current beliefs- whether accurate or not- about lack of ability, lack of aptitude, and the assumption that this has been passed on to offspring.
“I was never any good at math.”
“I can’t help my child at home in math. It was always my worst subject.”
” She’s just like her father. Being good in math does not run in our family…”
“Math? Forget it!”
Of course not all parents feel this way but enough do to cause concern. When parents voice their perceptions, their child can adopt the same view. Despite my suggestions that parents never tell their children that they ” were never any good in math,” some do. The subject of math evokes memories of failure in many parents second only to their memories of reading aloud in class.
Students themselves express fear and lack of self-confidence about this subject more than any other when I talk to them about school success.
“I never get it.”
“It’s too hard.”
” The teacher goes too fast.”
“It’s my worst subject.”
There are also many students who love math and just can’t seem to get enough of it. Why do so many other students have such negative feelings? The more important questions is, how can we turn these feelings around? How can we help all students see math in a positive light?
I suspect that for some middle and high school students, some of the negative feelings are caused by significant gaps in their learning along the way. They are missing key steps in the sequential process that are essential building blocks to understanding new concepts. For these students, math is difficult because pieces of the puzzle are missing. Filling in the gaps is critical.
Setting the stage for success is as important as teaching and reinforcing the concepts. Attitude about math makes an enormous difference. Parents can do much to increase successful learning by conveying an upbeat, positive attitude themselves. It may seem obvious but kids are quick to pick up on subtle negative feelings. When parents imply or tell children directly that math was always hard for them or that they never any good in math, it becomes a self-fulling prophecy for their children.
One of the best ways parents can help their children in math is to convey a positive attitude. From an early age, children can hear and discover how much fun math is and how useful it is in everyday life. As temping as it may be to make negative comments about math or to downplay the value of a particular math assignment, avoid it. For any parent who may have already expressed those negative attitudes, it would be helpful to consciously express more of a “can-do” approach. In later blogs, I’ll suggest games and activities from The Teacher’s Toolbox for Differentiating Instruction- 700 Strategies, Tips, Tools and Techniques that parents can use at home to promote math skills.