The Complexities of Being a Math Student: Understanding How Students Learn Math and Why Some Struggle So Much
As a school psychologist and former mathematics instructor and department chair, I know that math can be hard for some students. When I talk with parents, they share their concerns about their children's failing math grades, declining self-confidence, and increasing anxiety. They share their struggles with helping their children at home, especially when the math material goes beyond what they remember from school, when a topic is being taught in a different way from what they learned, or when their attempts to help with homework turns into a fight. What I have consistently seen is that all parents want to know how to help their children become happy and successful in mathematics.
When a student is struggling in math, the first step to figuring out how to help him/her become a successful math student is to identify the reason or reasons why he/she is struggling. In other words, what is preventing your student from learning? Learning and doing math is an intricate process, and there are number of areas which could contribute to difficulties in math. Some of these areas are outlined below:
There are many ways to gather information and identify the nature of a child's difficulties in math and the interventions that may help to address the difficulties. Your child's teacher is often a good place to start. Teachers are often able to provide insights about a child's math skills and learning behaviors, and can often make recommendations about the areas in which a child needs extra practice or instruction. Also within the school setting, a Student Success Team or Student Study Team (SST) can further help to identify causes of learning difficulties and develop an action plan. If there is suspicion of a learning disability, parents have a right to request an assessment from their school district at no cost, or they may also choose to seek an assessment from an outside provider. Finally, some children may benefit from additional academic and/or psychological support from a private practitioner to identify and address their difficulties and help them to develop their mathematical thinking skills and self-confidence.