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What to do when your kid makes a math mistake

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

In my work with my students, it’s really essential to me to also create a relaxed, playful environment. 

And a big part of this is how I handle it when students make mistakes.  I create a growth-oriented environment by asking very specific questions which support their mastery process.

Here are four simple ways that you can also respond to your kid’s mistakes in a positive way that will really support their long-term mastery. 

1.  Don’t be afraid to let your kid know that they did something wrong when you’re working through math together.   When we’re learning, it’s super important to get feedback as to whether or not we’re on the right track or off the rails!

Keep it lighthearted and matter-of-fact.  It’s no big deal.  There is no sense of failure or punishment.  You’re just giving them feedback – it is just information.

A lot of times I will say, “Actually, no” if a student makes a mistake, or just say, “No,” with a smile.

You can also use a question to direct them to re-do a step.  Like if you see them write out “7+7=15,” you can say, “What is 7+7?”  I probably use this one the most of all.

2.  If they don’t know they made a mistake, or you’re not sure if they know there was a mistake, ask them to find the mistake.  Invite them to locate it.

I prefer to use the specific wording, “Where’s the mistake?”  Or, “OK, where’s the mistake?” as opposed to “Can you find the mistake?”  (I wouldn’t be asking them if I didn’t believe they could.)  

3.  If they know they made a mistake, ask them, “What’s the mistake?” to invite them to tell you exactly what it was.   Invite them to analyze it.

Routinely analyzing one’s mistakes helps you raise your awareness and increase your odds of not making the same mistake next time.

A lot of times a kid will exclaim, “Oh, I understand what I did wrong!!” once you’ve started to re-do a problem that they originally did incorrectly, and this question is a great way to invite them to really break down exactly what happened.

4.  Don’t be afraid to talk about your kid’s mistakes on tests and quizzes.

Research has shown that if we don’t talk to kids about their mistakes and failures, kids internalize the message that they have done something so shameful it can’t even be spoken about.  (Even though this usually is just an unintentional byproduct of adults not knowing what to say, or not wanting to “make the kid feel bad.”)

If the student hasn’t already been asked to do this for school, you can invite them to analyze their errors by making a log where they identify the error, analyze why it happened, and correct it.  Just like analyzing it verbally, this really gives the student the opportunity to reflect, increase their awareness, and not make the same mistake next time.

One of my students, who loved doing this, and gave this process the playful name “Mistakes Log Blog.” 

And just be sure to keep it lighthearted – it’s not a chore or a punishment, it’s just an opportunity for further insight and growth.

If talking to your kid about their math mistakes seems overwhelming, just start using one of these steps to begin.  As long as you’re lighthearted and matter-of-fact, you’ll be helping your kid develop their capacity to reflect and analyze and think critically about their own work, with is a major life meta-skill that goes way beyond math!

Are you afraid that your kid’s math mistakes are going to close doors for them down the line and prevent them from living their dreams?  Are you tired of trying to handle this alone?  Are you ready to receive high-level one-on-one support? 

Then I invite you to apply for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. To begin your application, just click here.

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special, complimentary appointment to talk about what’s going on in your kid’s math situation, and explore whether or not the way I work would make sense for your family! 

I’m excited to hear from you!

Sending you love,
REBECCA

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