Breaking Barriers To Math
Written By John Bragelman, Super Tutor with Enhanced Prep
For the past ten years, I have asked my high school and college students to write a ‘mathematics autobiography’, detailing their experiences with mathematics over their academic careers. Many share a similar narrative – I loved math until I got to middle school; now I hate it. This point in the K-12 curriculum marks a shift from arithmetic to algebra. When you hear people share their beliefs about math, how they might hate it or struggle with it, what they usually mean is that they hate or struggle with algebra.
I share this because a student’s beliefs about mathematics are as important to their continued success as their understanding of mathematics. When I hear a student does not like math, I spend time learning their story, understanding what it is about mathematics the student doesn’t like, and why they do not like it. When parents ask me about this, I offer several pieces of advice, depending on their situations.
- If your child is new to algebra, it is almost expected that they will struggle with the abstract nature of it. Be prepared to find additional support for your child, particularly with a tutor or teacher who focuses on algebra. As algebra is the foundation for later math courses, additional support now will ensure future success in their academic careers.
- If your student is newly struggling with math despite a history of success in it, it is worth digging into the cause more deeply. There are many potential ones – the type of curriculum, the teaching method, peers, the time of the class, other classes, extra-curricular, or more. Perhaps the support your child needs is someone to help them navigate new pressures that are resulting in poor math performance.
- Last, be particularly aware that difficulties with math also coincide with math anxiety. Young people can quickly turn anxieties about math into an identity – I am bad at math. It is so pervasive that national mathematics organizations include teaching productive beliefs about mathematics in their standards. If your child talks about stress with math, they may not be struggling with the mathematics itself but the anxieties that accompany it. Perhaps the support your child needs is someone to help them understand anxiety, its triggers, and coping strategies.
If you notice your student struggling in math, or vocalizing a dislike for the subject, there is a good chance their problem does not lie with Math itself. At Enhanced Prep, our tutors are skilled in helping your child break down the barriers that are impeding their goals for success.