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Posts Tagged as "eighth grade"

Case Study: A Rising 8th Grader Masters Her Summer Math Packet

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

When this student came to me this past June, she had been invited to take a placement test in the fall to see if she would place into an honors math class, and wanted help pacing herself on her summer math packet.

I just found out that she placed into honors, and she was so excited when she told me that she screamed on the phone! I am SO proud of her hard work and persistence!

Here’s how we made it happen:

Openness and Trust. Throughout our sessions together, this student was extremely transparent about what she did and didn’t understand. This was enormously helpful, especially because while we thought the summer math packet consisted of review only, it turned out that a ton of material was stuff that this student had never learned. Her willingness to tell me whether she was elated or frustrated–frequently with a self-deprecating sense of humor–helped us build camaraderie and also made our work together much more effective.

Which brings us to…Adjust as you go. When we realized that we had a lot of material to cover from scratch, instead of just reviewing, we adjusted the plan and decided to meet more frequently.

Break it down. The packet was extra-challenging because each page was like a tossed salad, blending problems from all different parts of the curriculum. While this is a great strategy to use when you’re reviewing material, it is not an effective way to learn something new.

So we backtracked, and my student learned one prerequisite skill at a time, practicing it thoroughly until it felt comfortable and automatic. Then, we combined these skills in more complex problems, gradually building up to problems as hard as the ones in the packet.

Practice outside of sessions. I also gave this student individualized worksheets that gave her a chance to practice and internalize the skills we were working on, with answer keys so she could check her work as she went (instead of waiting to talk to me and then finding out that she had practiced something the wrong way). This was especially important because it was the summer and she wasn’t getting a regular dose of math from a school math class.

Feedback on solo work. After building up her skills, my student worked independently on chunks of the packet at the time. This way she got comfortable with problem sets where different kinds of problems are juxtaposed on one page, just like they would presumably be on the placement test. Then, when we worked together, we would go over all of her work so she knew she was on the right track.

Which brings us to, “What did I do wrong?” At first, my student just seemed annoyed with herself when she made a mistake, but I really emphasized to her that it’s okay if you make a mistake as long as you take the time to ask yourself why and learn from it. Scrutinizing and learning from errors gradually went from being an irritating chore to just a routine and helpful part of the learning process.

Enthusiasm. More than any other student I’ve ever worked with, this one has a great appreciation for mathematics’ dramatic resonance and poetic potential. When she learned how to find the solution to a system, she said that that would be a great name for a band. Frequently she remarked that new concepts we were going over would make the premise for a great science fiction story.

Her gleeful excitement about the greater meaning of what she was learning seemed to help her take the tough stuff more in stride, because even the “annoying” math procedures were part of something that was exciting to her.

Parental backup. The best tutoring happens when everyone works together as a team, and this student’s mom was totally focused on the process of learning. She made sure that her daughter completed assignments in between sessions (especially important during the summer). She asked me thoughtful questions about the material and her daughter’s progress that showed me she herself was deeply engaged with her daughter’s math material.

Because she was so organized and also willing to re-learn math and ask questions about the parts she wasn’t sure about, she was also a great role model to her daughter. Her involvement and support was instrumental in her daughter’s success.

I was so thrilled to hear that this student had rocked her placement test and placed into honors! Hooray!

***Update: I just found out today (12/7/2011) that my student got an A for the trimester in her honors math course! I love it when students become completely self-sufficient and continue to succeed after they “graduate” from tutoring. Hooray!!

Related posts:
The Rhyme and Reason of Making Mistakes
Five fun ways to help your kid learn math this summer
Case Study: An ADHD Student Raises Her Grade from a D to an A
Case Study: Regaining Love of Math

Posts Tagged as "eighth grade"

I cried myself to sleep over math homework

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Looking back at how I responded so insensitively to my student who cried during our tutoring session, I’m stunned by my in-the-moment lack of compassion. Because… I cried myself to sleep over my algebra homework throughout most of eighth grade! It’s still vivid in my mind: sitting on my twin bed with my algebra book in my childhood bedroom, with its pink hearts and flowers wallpaper, struggling to finish my homework and crying with sheer frustration.

I loved math as much as any other subject until I hit 6th grade and was introduced to pre-algebra for the first time. Isolating for a variable, balancing an equation, the order of operations—none of this made any sense to me. I would go to my teacher for help, and he would patiently try to explain it to me, but it still didn’t make any sense. I made the same mistakes over and over and over without gaining any understanding or insight.

I have absolutely no memories of seventh grade math, but eighth grade math burns in my memory: sitting in class, trying to do the problems, approaching my teacher’s desk, asking him to explain it to me, dutifully nodding even though I still really didn’t understand, returning to my desk, and feeling overtaken by numb despair.

I’m not sure if his explanations didn’t make sense to me because he always explained everything the same way, or if he had a variety of explanations but none of them clicked with my learning style. He was a sweet, patient man, but his explanations did not help me to learn.

Now that I’m a math tutor, when I remember all those eighth grade nights, crying myself to sleep over my algebra book, I ask myself, why didn’t I think of getting a tutor? I never thought about asking anyone but my math teacher for help. I didn’t ask my friends, I didn’t ask my parents, I didn’t ask other teachers. It never even crossed my mind to try to switch to another teacher, or get another book. Why?

Maybe I wasn’t aware that these options were available. Or maybe I felt somewhere deep inside that, as a student who had a passion for learning and a capable reputation, asking for a tutor would be an admission of defeat. Or maybe it seemed “easier” to think of those nights of algebra tears as isolated incidents instead of taking on the “larger project” of trying to find a better solution for myself.

But paradoxically, I think this experience made me a better tutor. Many of the students who come to me might be completely frustrated and far behind. Maybe they don’t have anyone else they can turn to for help. Maybe they’ve never found a textbook that works with their brain. Maybe they are crying themselves to sleep over their algebra homework. Just like I did.

Related Posts:
When Persistence Isn’t Enough
The Downside of Always Telling Students To Try Harder
The Downside of Always Telling Students To Try Harder (2)
Algebra Tears

Posts Tagged as "eighth grade"

Case Study: An ADHD student raises her math grade from a D to an A

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Each ADHD student I’ve worked with has been totally unique from any other, so I always adjust my approach accordingly for each individual. But since this is a case study, here are some things that really helped this particular student.

This student first came to me the summer before ninth grade. The previous year she had struggled with focus, especially in math, and at the end of eighth grade, her math teacher had encouraged her to use the summer to review. So we started tutoring over the summer, which was perfect: tons of time, without the pressure of classroom tests or other school-year commitments.

Find the missing gaps and fill them in. Math is so cumulative that missing a single class or even spacing out for a few minutes can make a student feel totally lost! So a big part of our initial work together was retracing my student’s steps and seeing what skills were missing. Once those prerequisite skills were identified, she could master them and move forward.

Focus on conceptual understanding. A lot of students prefer to learn how to do something before learning why it works that way. However, this student craved conceptual understanding. Frequently, once the big picture became clear to her, her face would light up, and she’d exclaim excitedly. Off and running, she’d dive right into the problem, knowing exactly what to do even if I hadn’t told her first. Because this student thrived on big-picture teaching, we focused on that first in each session.

Adjust the curriculum. A easy but helpful psychological “trick”: when we started working together during the summer, we used the textbook for the upcoming year instead of using her old textbook. The material at the end of 8th grade and the beginning of 9th grade is usually the same. But she could start the year confidently, knowing that she’d already mastered the exact material that would be covered in the first few weeks of school. Also, after the school year began, when appropriate, we’d consult an alternative textbook for explanations better suited to her learning style.

In addition to our summer meetings, we continued to meet periodically during the year. After barely four months working together, I was thrilled to learn that my student earned a grade of 108 on her algebra test: 100 plus the 8 point extra credit problem. The highest grade in the class!

Related Posts:
Case Study: Confused by Math Instruction in a Foreign Language
Case Study: Regaining Love of Math
Case Study: Learning Geometry with a Spatial Disability