Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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Posts Tagged as "self-expression"

Case Study: A 5th grader goes from believing “math doesn’t like me” to singing and dancing about math while wearing her purple tutu

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

When this fifth grade student first came to me, her mom told me, “My daughter is joyful about everything in her life – except for math.” This student was so anxious and uncertain about math that she refused to do her homework unless she was literally sitting next to her mom. She would tell her mom, “math doesn’t like me.”

This put a lot of pressure and stress on her mom, who was doing everything she could to try to help her daughter succeed at math, but she felt like she she was failing her daughter and being a “bad mother” because she couldn’t find a solution. The mom felt anxious picking her daughter up from school because she wasn’t sure whether or not her daughter would have a math temper tantrum. And even though when her daughter would express her feelings of math inadequacy, she was really just asking for help, it was so stressful for the mom that the mom sometimes would react with frustration just because she was so worn down from the seemingly endless math stress.

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I started working with this student towards the end of her fifth grade school year. Because this student loves to dance and sing and has a great passion for musical theater, I started teaching her math songs to help her remember different concepts and formulas. We also really focused on filling in the gaps and building a strong foundation.

Midway through the summer, this student started spontaneously singing her math problems! She would make up these little operas about all the different math operations she was doing – as well as songs just about math concepts in general, with sophisticated lyrics that showed she really got the concepts. She would even come to some of her sessions wearing her purple tutu. I was overjoyed to see her expressing herself so confidently and creatively with math, even with her outfits. At the same time, her mom and I also weren’t yet sure how this would transfer to the classroom.

Her first day back at school, her first middle school math class of 6th grade, the teacher asked a question, and my student just couldn’t help herself – she shouted out, “It’s because of the commutative property!” It turned out that no one else in her class – even the students she thought of as being very strong mathematicians – had even heard of the commutative property before! This was a huge boost to my student’s confidence and enjoyment!

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Since her first day back at school as a sixth grader, she has consistently made 90s or 100s on every single math test and quiz she’s taken – except for one! On this test, she got an 88%, and what is so interesting is that this absolutely didn’t defeat her.

When she talked about it with her mom, the focus was just about making sure to get the test back from the teacher, so we could go over what she didn’t understand in our tutoring sessions and learn from it. In some ways this was an even bigger victory than the tests where she scored higher, because it showed how much her mindset had shifted. We could see her resilience in how she dealt with a lower grade, and how her attitude had shifted to “I’ll get it, because I know I can get it.”

Just as important, the mom’s experience has shifted dramatically now that she isn’t the one who is helping her daughter with math. She shared with me that when she comes home from work, it’s easy for her energy to be fully engaged with her daughter because it isn’t sapped by worrying about helping her with her math homework right away. She can just decompress and regroup and be energized and be a good parent. And her daughter has become so much more independent that the mom can be reading a book in another room while her daughter is doing her homework on her own!

How did we create this totally awesome math transformation? Let me tell you all about it!

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1. Positive, relaxed environment. We fostered an environment of trust and camaraderie. Our work together is committed and also relaxed; this student is totally free to make mistakes, ask questions, or go over whatever it is she needs to go over, no matter what.

2. Dealing with math feelings.
When this student is overjoyed, anxious, or heartbroken, we deal with it together head-on. There was one session very early on where she (quite understandably) cried because she was so disappointed and frustrated with a recent grade. Instead of squelching this or ending the session, we just talked it out, making a safe space for her to feel, express, and release her frustration and disappointment. Other times she was so happy with what she was learning and accomplishing that she would dance and sing with glee and pride!

3. Consciously fostering a “growth mindset” with math. This student has an awesome “growth mindset” when it comes to her work in musical theater. She will audition over and over again for the same Broadway show, and instead of getting discouraged if she hasn’t gotten a part yet, she is just really excited about the process and the experience.

At the same time, there have been periods where she has really expressed more of a “fixed mindset” about math – “you have it or you don’t,” and being worried that she wasn’t one of the ones who “had it.” We deliberately take time to talk about this together and draw parallels with her work in the theater so that she can pull that already-existing growth mindset into her math.

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For example, just this week, this student expressed both concern and hope about a state-wide test she was taking the next day. She wanted to score high enough to be selected for state and national math events, and she was also worried that there would be stuff on the test that she didn’t know because she wasn’t in the “honors level class.”

We discussed at length how it’s like if she went to an audition and they asked her to play the bagpipes and do a Scottish accent, she wouldn’t beat herself up for not already knowing how to do those things – after the audition, she would just ask her teachers and coaches to help her learn, if that’s something she was interested in being able to do. Then she shared her philosophy of auditioning, which is that “it’s not just about the part, it’s about the experience, and if you’re not focused on the part, it will just naturally happen.” We drew direct parallels with what she tells herself during her auditions and what she can tell herself during her math tests.


4. Self-expression.
In the context of a supportive environment of trust where all of our work is super individualized, this student started to express herself more and more, whether it was singing the math songs she’d learned, making up her own original math songs, singing herself through the math problem she was working on, wearing her purple tutu, or decorating her problems with hot pink drawings (some of which are included in this very blog post)! Seeing her experience math as a vehicle of self-expression is absolutely encouraged, because it’s a huge sign that the student is getting way more comfortable and also really internalizing the material at a deeper level.

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5. Support is normalized. Just like this student didn’t stop taking voice lessons or going to dance class once she started getting parts in musicals, math support that fosters her autonomy is now just part of her normal routine. Instead of saying, “Well, now her grades are higher, she’s done with math mentoring,” this student and her parents have recommitted to receiving support so that she can just continue to grow her math abilities and confidence more and more, and that her family can experience an even deeper experience of harmony around math.

I am so, so proud of this student, and how her persistence, vulnerability, and commitment has created such true mastery, confidence, and JOY with her math!

Are you tired of feeling like a bad parent because even though you’re doing everything you can to help your kid with math, it isn’t working?

Does it break your heart to see your own purple-tutu-wearing kid have meltdowns about math?

Are you ready to invest in high-level support?

Just 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 get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related Posts:
Case Study: A Rising 8th grader masters her summer math packet
Case study: A seventh grader goes from “I don’t get it” to getting 100 percents
Case Study: an ADHD student goes from a D to an A
I just can’t keep this a secret any longer

Posts Tagged as "self-expression"

I just can’t keep this a secret any longer

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

For a long time, I’ve been hinting at this… or feeling like it was expressed already… but it’s time for me to just come out and say it, loud and proud.

I am not a typical tutor.

What I do is not typical tutoring.

My results are not typical.

My students are not typical.

In fact, I’m coming to realize that what I do is SOO different from typical tutoring that I’ve realized it’s almost confusing when people use one word, “tutoring,” to describe typical tutoring and what I do.

So it’s time for me to really be clear about how the way I work is different, and how my students receive an experience that is completely different from typical tutoring.

Because I’ve recently heard some parents describe their other tutoring experiences, and it’s so different from how I work, I am almost flabbergasted.

Here’s what I am NOT about.

Kids have told me about working with tutors who just had them memorize and regurgitate a bunch of steps. Then the kid would just forget the steps as soon as they didn’t need to use them (like three days later), because they never actually understood what they meant. This is not how I work. I am not about “just getting you through it.”

I’ve had parents describe working with tutors who would literally say, “I managed to find the answer, but I can’t explain why.” That is not what I’m about. My intention is always to have YOU be able to get to the answer, AND clearly understand why.

I’ve heard about tutors who just made sure that the kid got their homework done. This is not how I operate. Our sessions focus on developing and retaining the skills you need to complete their homework on your own. We will work on very similar problems so you are really prepared to do your homework solo. If you only practice those problems collaboratively, you won’t feel secure and confident on your tests and quizzes when I’m not there.

I’ve heard about tutoring which is just about doing worksheet after worksheet after worksheet, in silence. I know that this approach works for some kids – but that is not how I roll. Our sessions are dynamic and totally customized to you.

I know that some tutoring is just a recapitulation of what is happening in the classroom. But if that’s already not working for you, why do more of what ISN’T working? My sessions are completely individualized to each specific student, even if the way they need to the approach the material is really different from how it’s being taught in the classroom.

And I’m also not just about grades or getting kids into an honors or AP class. I’ve seen it happen time after time that good grades are just a natural byproduct of truly understanding the material. When you focus on mastery, the grades just gradually happen on their own. And if you get a grade that is not as high as you want or expect, it’s just an indication that there was some gap in your understanding that we can address together.

I am not about ad hoc support or being a bandaid. I know that some students receive tutoring inconsistently in big lumps, like four hours the night before an exam. My experience is that this does not create lasting change, and it does create a lot of drama and stress. Math is like working out – something you need to do consistently if you want to see results.

Finally, I am absolutely NOT about tutoring as a way of encouraging dependency. Some schools have told me that they are concerned that if kids receive tutoring, they will be dependent on their tutor “getting them through it,” the kid will hold up the class because they are so confused, and then the kid will barely scrape by. That is not the way that I work. Students who work with me experience genuine mastery, make a positive contribution to their math classes at school with their confidence, preparation, and creativity, and earn grades that reflect their deep understanding and ownership of the material.

OK. Phew!!!! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest about what I’m NOT about, let me tell you what I AM about.

Mastery. What I care about is MASTERY, and my work is about the mastery process. Like an elite tennis coach or an elite cello teacher, we focus on mastering the skills of math, increment by increment, to create permanent, transformational, holistic math fluency.

Individualization.
I am constantly customizing what we are doing and what I am saying to the individual student in every single nanosecond. We find ways of approaching the material that make sense with how YOU think. We keep you in the “sweet spot” where you are challenged and growing, but what we’re practicing doesn’t make you bored (it’s too easy) or anxious (it’s too hard).

Emotional Environment. We work in an atmosphere of trust and camaraderie. Our sessions are lighthearted and filled with commitment, mutual respect, and let me just come out and say it, love! Laughter is typical. Singing and dancing is encouraged!

Consistent Mentoring Relationship.
We work within the context of a long-term, consistent mentoring relationship where we both commit to your organic, aligned math transformation. Even though I am the tutor and you are the student, we come to the table with deep respect for each other and the understanding that we both have important things to contribute to our process. We work in an apprenticeship model where the student’s self-expression and intellectual contributions are nourished and valued – even if, in the current moment, they feel totally overwhelmed and helpless!

Empathy. I can feel if a student is frustrated, overwhelmed, or elated, and adjust my approach accordingly.

Emotional Reality. I explicitly address the emotional challenges of math. Even though emotions are basically NEVER addressed or even mentioned in most academic math contexts, I have found that the reason why people give up on math is because of how they FEEL. So it is essential that we address math feelings as an intrinsic part of the mastery process. If a student has a panic attack in class, breaks down and cries, or is feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, we talk about it, honor the feelings instead of suppressing or ignoring them, and develop strategies to help them become resilient no matter what emotions come up.

Individuality is encouraged.
It has been my experience that our greatest contributions and breakthroughs happen when we are being completely ourselves. All my students are encouraged to express their individuality during our work together, whether that means jumping up and down with excitement, making up original math songs, taking a quick break to jump or dance, feeling free to move around throughout the session if they are highly kinesthetic, or even just wearing their favorite purple tutu to our sessions.

It is a vehicle. At its core, what I offer is actually not really about math at all. It is actually about learning how how to overcome the seemingly insurmountable, and we just happen to use math as a vehicle to do that.

Support is normative. Since we’re all in a continuous process of refining our skills and expanding into our own personal genius, it is normal to continue to receive top-level support even after you start to excel. After Lindsey Vonn wins a skiing medal, she doesn’t stop training. Once you make CEO, you don’t stop receiving executive coaching and tell yourself, “I’ve actually got this down.” When you are a prima ballerina, you don’t stop rehearsing with your master teacher. The kinds of students I work with want to keep receiving mentoring and experiencing this one-on-one mastery process because they want to continue to do their best and keep learning, even after they start to initially do well. Because it’s about continuous growth and expansion, there is no limit to the potential of the process.

My clients have told me that working with me is like working with a life coach, or seeing a great psychologist. One family even coined a new word for their sessions with me – instead of calling it tutoring, they call it “Zookuring.”

But no matter what you call what we do, once you realize that you can go from hating math because it’s so confusing, to loving math and experiencing it as a source of joy and strength – “no one can take it away from you,” to quote a parent whose kid experienced this very transformation. And this experience of autonomy and self-efficacy in the face of a massive challenge has a huge positive impact on what students believe they are capable of, and ultimately, what they actually accomplish during their time on this earth.

Are you tired of “typical tutoring” that doesn’t address the underlying issues? Are you discouraged by support that doesn’t take into account what your kid actually needs to understand how math actually works? Are you ready to experience the kind of joyful, individualized transformation I’ve just described?

Then just 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 get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I’m excited to receive your completed application!

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related posts:
Failure is not the enemy
On being yourself while doing math
How to help kids be okay with things being hard
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement
What I learned on the streets of Paris…and in a Dutch grocery store