Math Is Too Hard!

Most homeschool families have at least one student who either doesn’t like math or finds it more challenging. It’s just “one of those things.” Unfortunately, math skills are such a source of contention, both for parents and students that we often just toss our hands up and think that there isn’t going to be an answer to our woes in this area. The reality of it is this, though. Math will come easier to some students than to others, but math can be mastered. It will take time and an open-minded approach to curricula, but one tool can be easy to incorporate into any homeschool curricula, but is sadly often left out of the process.

The primary reason that students seem to spiral out of control in math is that they continue to make the same mistakes over and over again without getting any “intervention.” By doing this, they don’t allow themselves to come to an awareness of the execution problem they are having, and therefore, they reinforce the same bad habits over and over again, making them not only bad habits, but subconscious “systems” that are hard to break.

Instead, if we allow our homeschool students to figure out what they might be doing wrong along the way – gaining immediate feedback – they can break the pattern of bad habits and begin to reshape the way they think about their process. This isn’t only true for math, but math is the predominate area where application of this system can be quickly applied.

No matter what homeschool curricula you are using, what if you changed up the way you did math just a bit? Instead of having students do 30 problems in math or more, and then allowing them to get validation of correct versus incorrect answers at the end of their assignment, what if you allowed your student to get an immediate answer for each problem as soon as it was complete. If a problem is correct, your student can move on. If not, your student would be required to stop, identify the source of their problem, do a “Critique,” and then they can move on. Doing this will allow your student to get an awareness of what they have done wrong immediately for the purpose of correcting that habit right then and there.

The trick to the Critique is that it is not terribly time consuming, but that it forces the student to see what they have done wrong so that they don’t repeat that step or build on a bad habit. However, it should be “tedious” enough that the idea of doing a critique is not a lot of fun so students will pay enough attention while doing their work that they will be sure to apply good habits, not bad ones, and execute properly each time.

Over time, this process will do a couple of things. It will help students to identify their unique weaknesses with regards to things or processes that trip them up, and it will allow them to proactively take steps to avoid those traps. It will also focus their attentions more acutely on the work before them. (So many students, homeschooled and otherwise, have said that they made a math mistake because they, “just weren’t thinking.”) And finally, it will develop a series of good habits over time that will lead to improved confidence and skill in math.

For a free copy of one possible Critique System, click here. But by all means, if you are not teaching math with a tool to correct for the bad habits, begin doing so now and see if your child’s math skills don’t begin to improve as they work to reinforce the good habits and eliminate the bad ones as they work!

Mrs. Camille Rodriquez is a wife and mother, with experience as a pastor’s wife for more than a decade and as a homeschool mom for almost 20 years. Visit her website at National Homeschool Academy.

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4 Responses to “Math Is Too Hard!”

  1. Thanks for the article! As a math teacher, tutor and homeschooling mom, there is definite value in immediate feedback. Why have students work 20 problems only then to find out they are all right or all wrong? One of the biggest problems I find with children learning math is to focus on the memorization of procedures rather than to focus on developing a genuine understanding of the concept. It’s vital for the teacher (aka mom) to be able to recognize misconceptions quickly and adjust the presentation of the material. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been teaching fractions and have had to draw pizzas, get out the fraction rods, get out our child’s play cake, and numerous other tactics before it clicks. Working on a problem by problem basis as you suggest provides the opportunity to increase dialogue between teacher and student ultimately resulting in a more positive and successful math experience.

  2. Karen Newell says:

    You have also demonstrated the value of one-on-one education. You can help your student right at the point of misunderstanding if you can correct his or her work after one or two problems. Having a student do 20 problems they already understand; or doing 20 problems wrong, can be an inefficient use of the student’s time and energy.

  3. Sue – if you click on the link in the article, it will open up a website page. Look for the “Click here” phrase next to the bold and red “Critique System” description. Once you click on that phrase, it will open up a Microsoft Word Document for you to print out and use for your review. Enjoy!

  4. Sue J. says:

    Thank you for the article, though! I tutor developmental (pre-college level) math at a community college, and so many students have ingrained “just get me to the answer” thought patterns and painfully low expectations for understanding. They don’t know what it feels like to “get” math. That works sometimes in math classes where you do a unit and move on and never mix things up, but in any practical math class (for the 2-year programs) or college math class, you’ve got to know when to do what as well as how. Calculators are great tools, but they don’t tell you which buttons to press, and real problems aren’t written out in calculator symbols.
    However, it’s not clear how to get the critique system once I click.