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The biggest failure of my educational career

Monday, October 24th, 2016

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This is what mastery can look like – and feel like!

The biggest failures of my educational career weren’t the times I bombed a test.  They were the times when I completely disconnected from my own intuition and joy and self-trust.

Looking up every single word in a Latin text in the dictionary, conjugating each verb in a chart, and then agonizing over how to piece together some sort of meaning.

Staying up late with my algebra homework, trying again and again to make my answer match the one in the back of the book, and erasing until I cried with frustration.

Practicing certain cello passages over and over but still being unable to play them with confidence, or even actually losing control of my body when I performed.

What makes me angry is that this was actually rewarded.

My teachers would hold up my Latin homework as an example of how diligent I was as a student.  

But there was no connection between what I was being told to do and what I actually needed to do to understand the material.

I’ve come to understand that many times, there is a massive disconnect between what we’re being assigned to do, and what we actually NEED to do to learn.

Now, I do this with each of my students: discern exactly what they need to do, step by step by step, in order to deeply internalize the material until it becomes part of them. 

Even if it looks nothing like their homework assignments.

I call this having a “MASTERY ORIENTATION.”

For example, one sixth grade student who I was working with was really overwhelmed with percents. 

Her teacher had given her 12 different percent formulas to memorize, and my student didn’t know when to use which one. 

We boiled it down to 4 essential formulas.  

We practiced until she really mastered each one.

She knew how to recognize which one to use.

She knew how to use it to solve for different variables.

Because of this mastery approach, percents really became one of this student’s strengths.  

When percents came back up a year later, this student intuitively created a completely original, totally mathematically valid way of doing percent change that I had never seen before – in over 10 years of teaching percents!

The most important thing here is that this student was able to reconnect with her own self-trust, joy, and intuition around math, because she had truly mastered the material.

If you’re wondering how to do this in with your own child, a really easy way for you to immediately start supporting them with developing a mastery orientation is to ask your child to create their own original problem about a specific concept.  

This really helps students feel their ownership of the concept, and it also makes it super clear whether or not they understand the topic.

And if you’d like to explore if it would be a fit for me to support your family through one of my high-level, one-on-one math mentoring programs, I’d love to connect! To get started, just click here to fill out your application.

Sending you love,

PS.  I’m super excited to be part of an expert panel on the future of math education at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford on Wed 11/16 from 6-8 pm!  If you’re in the neighborhood, I would love to have you in the audience! Get your tickets here.

Related posts:
Five steps to true math mastery
Do you wish your kid could feel like Albert Einstein?
The secret to getting straight As in math
The secret ingredients of true math mastery

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