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Posts Tagged as "failure"

Five Steps to True Mastery

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Have you ever taken a math test you felt completely confident about, only to find out that you bombed it and you weren’t prepared at all?

Trust me, you’re not alone. But why does this happen so frequently?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And this is what I’ve realized.

True mastery takes more than one step. But I’ve never seen these steps discussed before like this.

And I definitely didn’t hear about this when I was in math classes growing up!

This is what I had to figure out all by myself, and now do in all of my one-on-one work with my own clients.

Let me break it down for you:

1. The first level of mastery: you can follow along passively when someone else is explaining a concept to you or demonstrating how to do a technique.

You aren’t actively participating, you’re just observing and listening, and what they’re saying makes sense.

2. The second level of mastery: you can do problems interactively with someone else.

You are actively participating as they walk you through the steps of the problem and you do it together.

3. The third level of mastery: you successfully complete a similar problem type completely independently and get the answer correct – and you understand why – without any guidance or corrections from someone else.

4. The fourth level of mastery:
you consistently get the answer right on enough similar problems that the concepts get internalized and the process becomes automated.

You have the track record that shows you that you really are prepared to go in and do this successfully on a quiz, test, or exam.

5. BONUS: The fifth level of mastery: you understand the concept and technique so well that you can easily and confidently teach someone else how to do it. When you get to this level, you know that you’ve REALLY got it!

Until you get to the point where you have at least “level four mastery” and consistently get the answer correct on problems of a similar type (and understand why), you aren’t really prepared.

For example, a student will passively understand someone else’s demonstration and think, “Great! I got it! I am ready to rock this test!” However, that is only level 1 mastery. Just because you can follow along with someone’s demonstration of how to bake muffins from scratch doesn’t mean your own muffins will taste good. Watching someone else do it is ONLY the first step.

Another place where major problems can happen is when students think, “Great! I did two of these problem types correctly and I understand them. I am ready to get an A!” That is like getting the basketball in the net twice and thinking that you’re ready to win the next game. It takes consistent training and practice to get consistent results.

Do you wish you knew exactly to do to get consistently awesome results in math?

Are you tired of doing everything you know to help your daughter or son prepare for math tests, only to experience soul-crushing defeat time after time?

Are you ready to invest in high-level, one-on-one, super-customized support that is not typical tutoring?

Then click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to explore whether or not the way I work would be a good fit for you!

I can’t wait to connect!

Related posts:
On Optimal Challenge
Need to remember something important? Breaking news!
“It’s eraser time!” (And other math mantras)
“Interesting,” not “Complicated” (Math Mantras Part 2)

Posts Tagged as "failure"

What to do when you get a disappointing math test grade

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Recently, one of my students shared with me she’d gotten a disappointing test grade. At first, instead of analyzing what went wrong and figuring out what she could do differently, she started blaming her teacher, saying she didn’t know what was going to be on the test, and started panicking, trying to calculate how the disappointing grade would affect her overall grade.

I thought this was so interesting, because this student has a completely different mindset when it comes to her passion of musical theater. We talked through what would happen if she made a mistake at a big audition, like missing a high note.

She laughed and she said, “Well, I wouldn’t blame the pianist for sneezing and then singing the wrong note because I was matching the pitch of his sneeze! I would figure out why I missed the note, and ask for help from my singing teacher so I could be more accurate next time!”

Somehow, she knew exactly how to adjust her approach with musical theater, and we talked about how to transfer that over to her math mastery process.

So let me share this exact same process with you – what to do and NOT to do when you’ve gotten a disappointing math test, so you won’t get stuck and can keep moving forward and creating what you want in your life.

1. Don’t despair.
Even if you feel like you got EVERYTHING wrong, there is hope. It just means there are things you haven’t learned yet, and if you work on them, you will improve. I’m serious!

2. Don’t internalize the failure.
A lot of times, when you get a crappy grade on a math test, it’s easy to think, “I will never get this,” “I am not a math person,” or “I guess I just don’t have a ‘math’ brain.” I know, because I used to have those thoughts all the time myself. Somehow getting a bad grade becomes like part of your identity! Even if everything feels completely, utterly impossible, remember, math is something EVERYONE can learn. It’s all about breaking it down and practicing.

3. Don’t give up.
A failure is only a true failure if you don’t use it as an opportunity to learn.

4. Don’t blame others for what happened.
It’s really easy when you get a test back to think, “Well, my teacher didn’t tell me THAT was going to be on the test,” or, “I didn’t know the test was going to be THAT day,” or whatever it is. But when you blame others, you completely give away your power to someone else.


5. Take personal responsibility for what happened. When you take personal responsibility, you have the power to change your life. If you are willing to look at what actions you took and choices you made, you can change them and get a different result next time.

(Note: I know this can seem so hard, even ridiculous, to say, “Yes, I’M taking responsibility for the fact that I don’t get this.” I used to REALLY struggle with this. So maybe just try it as an experiment. Being willing to take more and more responsibility for the results of my choices has created so much change in my life. Even though I really resisted this initially.)

(And, taking personal responsibility can be as simple as admitting to yourself, “Yes, I do need help with this, and I’m willing to ask for it.)

6. Ask yourself what went wrong. Did you not know what was going to be on the test? Did you forget to study?

7. Ask yourself what you can do differently next time.
Can you ask your teacher for a list of topics to study? Can you write the test date into your planner, or put it into your phone? What will remind you to study?

8. Make a different choice.
Decide to ask your teacher for topics, and then do so. Write the test date into your planner. Create a reminder to study, and then study!

9. Ask for help.
If you are doing everything you can and you’re still not getting the results you want, ask for help! You don’t have to do this alone!

Do you wish someone could help walk you through this process and help you learn the parts that are confusing to you in a way that is fun and makes total sense? Are you tired of getting disappointing test results? Are you willing to invest in high-level support?

Then I invite you to apply for my one-on-one math tutoring programs!

Just click here to get started with your special application. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I’m excited to receive your application!

Sending you love,

Related posts:
It’s eraser time! (and other math mantras)
How to make it safe for kids to fail
Failure is not the enemy
The rhyme and reason of making mistakes

Posts Tagged as "failure"

The Rhyme and Reason of making mistakes

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

“It has been a long trip,” said Milo, climbing onto the couch where the princesses sat; “but we would have been here much sooner if I hadn’t made so many mistakes. I’m afraid it’s all my fault.”

“You must never feel bad about making mistakes,” explained Reason quietly, “as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

Princess Reason in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; illustration by Jules Feiffer

I’ve recently been working with a student who frequently beats herself up for making mistakes. Today I paraphrased this quote to her and explained that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn something from them. She listened, but I wasn’t sure if it had sunk in.

Later in the session, *I* made a mistake, and I jokingly berated myself about it. She matter-of-factly responded: “it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn from it,” and smiled at me.

That’s when you know they get it. When they tell you what you told them.

Related Posts:
Failure is not the enemy
How to help kids be okay with things being hard
Is multi-sensory learning hardwired into our humanity?
How to make it safe for kids to fail

Posts Tagged as "failure"

On seriously owning your mistakes

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

From The Week:

[Jim] Joyce, a veteran major league baseball umpire, last week mistakenly called a runner safe on a close play at first base on what should have been the final out, therefore costing Detroit Tigers hurler Armando Galarraga a perfect game.

Over 135 season and tens of thousands of major league games, only 20 times has a pitcher retired 27 straight batters without a walk, a hit, or an error. Joyce’s blown call denying Galarraga that 27th out, therefore, caused a national uproar.

To his credit, Joyce freely admitted after viewing the videotape that he should have called the runner out, and sought out the 28-year-old Galarraga to apologize. Clearly shaken, Joyce told reporters, “I just cost the kid a perfect game. It was the most important call of my life.” Galarraga hugged Joyce and told him to forget it. “Everybody’s human,” he said.

I was so moved by this that I cried. Mistakes are essential to learning, and we need to make it safe for kids to make mistakes so that they can learn. But we live in a world where it is so rare for anyone to publicly admit they made a mistake. Most public figures, instead of owning their failures, minimize or deny them. To see two public figures handle this huge mistake with such dignity and compassion really inspired me.

Related Posts:
Failure is not the enemy
Power of Praise (1)

Posts Tagged as "failure"

Failure is not the enemy

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

A few years ago, I was tutoring a ninth grader who was struggling in her geometry class. Her teacher’s teaching style didn’t mesh with her own learning style, and she also had a lot of test anxiety, so even when she began to master the material, it wasn’t yet showing through on her tests.

As we worked together, I observed my student slowly replacing her overwhelmedness with genuine interest and enjoyment. She started tackling difficult proofs, and her eyes would light up with excitement and understanding when all the pieces fit together. We were a few months into the long-term project of slowly building up her understanding when her dad made a decision, without my input, to pull her out of her geometry class because she was “in danger of failing.”

Even though my student understood the material, she got so nervous on the tests that if you just looked at her test scores it looked like she couldn’t do geometry. But she could! She consistently did it perfectly, by herself, in our tutoring sessions! When we reviewed her tests, the material made sense to her once she was outside the testing environment. And I was confident that she could pull up her grades if we continued working together.

In the sessions before her dad switched her math classes, I asked my student what she wanted to do. She told me that her choice would be to switch to another geometry class at the same level, but just with a different teacher. But for whatever reason, she didn’t perceive this option as being available to her—I’m not sure if it was a scheduling issue, a political issue, convenience, parental pressure, or something else.

What her dad decided to do was switch her into a “problem solving” class. My student and I met one last time after she switched into this class. Her book made me want to cry—it was a bunch of reasoning problems about things like Corey the Camel carrying bananas across the desert. (I’m serious. It really had problems featuring Corey the Camel.) The material was basically elementary-school level—no algebra, no geometry. Just simple word problems. Maybe the geometry class was 15% too hard for her, but this “problem-solving” class was about 100% too easy for her.

After that session, I did something I’d never done before. I wrote an email to the dad, explaining as diplomatically as possible and at great length that I really didn’t think this new class was appropriate for his daughter. I explained how much his daughter loved working on Geometry and was learning a lot even if she wasn’t yet testing well. And I expressed my concern that this class would limit her in the future, since basic algebra and geometry were prerequisites for so many other disciplines.

I wrote, wouldn’t it be better for her to take geometry and learn some geometry, even if she got a “failing” grade, than for her to take a class where she would learn nothing at all?

Her father’s response was vituperative. How dare I suggest that he allow his child to “fail!” And I never saw either of them again. I honestly don’t know how I could have handled this differently, but my heart still breaks for that student.

In comparison, another student’s family handled the perceived threat of failure very differently. I was working with a ninth grader who was struggling with Algebra 2 because her elementary school had failed to teach her basics like long division (she was supposed to “figure it out for herself”.) I believe when we started working together she was failing the class.

I was extremely proud of how hard this student worked, and she finished the year with either a low B or a high C. At the end of the year, her algebra 2 teacher suggested that she consider voluntarily repeating the class, just to strengthen her skills before moving on to more advanced math.

My student chose to repeat the class, even though she felt at least a little bit embarrassed to be the only sophomore in that class full of freshmen (at least I figured this was the case since she joked about it). She chose to learn instead of to look good. And her parents supported her. I was so impressed with her integrity.

By the end of her second time through algebra 2, the material that had brought her to tears the previous year did not phase her at all. But I think about the other family,
and how they didn’t want to let their daughter fail. Did that student ever get another chance to love geometry? Was she stuck in remedial math classes for the rest of high school? What did she did she do for her math requirements in college? I wish I knew. I hope she got another chance, instead of internalizing a message that she “couldn’t do math.”

Why do we protect our kids from failure, even to the detriment of their own learning?

Related Posts:
I cried myself to sleep over my algebra homework
Algebra Tears
“I Think I See A Mathematician!”

Posts Tagged as "failure"

Power of Praise (1)

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Po Bronson’s awesome New York Magazine article, The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids, reports on psychologist Carol Dweck, who has been researching the effect of praise on students for ten years. In a series of experiments with 400 fifth-graders, research assistants gave students a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles.

When the students finished, they were given their score and a single line of praise: either “you must be smart at this,” or “you must have tried really hard.” In the second round of tests, students could either pick an easy test like the first one, or a harder test. Ninety percent of those praised for their effort picked the harder one. The majority of students praised for their intelligence picked the easier one.

Here’s where it gets really crazy. In a third round, all students were given a very difficult test designed for students a grade ahead of them. Everyone failed. The students who were praised for their innate intelligence were “sweating and miserable” and assumed that because they couldn’t figure out the puzzles, they weren’t smart after all. The students who were praised for their effort just tried harder, and “many of them remarked, unprovoked, ‘This is my favorite test.’”

Dweck had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

I feel like I’m already extremely sensitive to every word I say to my students. I would never say anything to imply that they weren’t capable of doing something. In my experience, students respond extremely well to the praise and encouragement that I give them, and I believe it helps them feel more confident and relaxed about the learning process. A lot of my praise is pretty general: “Awesome!” “You got it!” “Good work!” “Great!”, right after they do something correctly or finish a problem. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few “You’re so smart!”s or “You’re good at this!”s slipped in there.

Would that be so bad? By the time my students have come to me, they’ve probably gotten a lot of negative feedback on their math abilities, be it objective or subjective. And they probably have a lot of negative self-talk. If someone’s convinced that they’re “bad at math,” is it really wrong to indicate that they have natural ability at some point?

However, reading about this research is causing me to examine my entire attitude toward praise. Remembering one particular incident really makes me cringe. I had a student who had told me in the past that he loved Latin. He was struggling in school, and I wanted to encourage him. I remembered that in Boston, in addition to the high demand for math tutors, there was also a really high demand for Latin tutors, since a lot of middle and high schools require Latin.

I mentioned this to him in the context of, “You’re good at Latin, maybe you’d enjoy tutoring people in it, and you could make a ton of money,” and he responded, “I never said that I was good at Latin. I said that I liked Latin.” I felt like the worst tutor in the universe. I thought I was encouraging him, but actually, I was praising an “innate capability” he himself didn’t believe he possessed. I wish I could take back what I had said.

Followup: This same research on praise is discussed in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman‘s amazing new book, NurtureShock, which I recommend you read in its entirety!

Related Posts:
Power of Praise (2)
Power of Praise (3)
Praise and Intrinsic Motivation–An Answer?