Why Students Struggle with Math and How You Can Help

Oct 6, 2018 by

Many students have a love hate relationship with math. For some, the concepts are clear and simple. Solving math problems is like a riddle or game that some students enjoy doing. For others, math causes stress, anxiety, and major frustration. This can also be frustrating for teachers who are responsible for helping students master these concepts. But understanding why kids struggle with math and strategies to help can make the process run more smoothly for all those involved. Read on to learn more.

Why Students Struggle

Lack of Foundation

Math is one of the subjects where one concept builds on the next. This means that if students don’t receive the proper, elementary education of basic math concepts, this disconnect will follow them through the rest of their educational careers. Students need to master the foundation of math concepts in order to successfully move forward. Basic math starts with addition and subtraction and moves upwards into multiplication and division. Then comes fractions, exponents, and more complex, higher order thinking. It’s important to identify and correct any challenges a student has early on to ensure their success in the future. Learn more here about how to make fractions easier for students to understand.

Not Enough Support or Practice

Sometimes, a mathematical foundation may not be enough. If young learners don’t have the support they need or enough practice with certain math concepts, they may not strengthen their skills enough to move forward. Support comes in many forms from inside the classroom and beyond. Teachers can help students by working in small groups, placing students with strong math skills alongside those who need extra help. Tutors, math games, and homework designed to review and reinforce certain concepts can all offer the support struggling students need. They say practice makes perfect and this is especially true when it comes to mastering math concepts. Many mathematical skills are about memory, especially multiplication facts, which are the foundation for many other concepts moving forward. Practice inside and outside the classroom will also help identify where the student is struggling. Take advantage of teachable moments and swoop in to correct missteps as they happen.

Low Self-Esteem

Unfortunately, low self-esteem is a major issue for many students. And it’s not specific to math. But when a student feels defeated, they start doubting their abilities and may even go as far as to think they are stupid or not capable of succeeding. This is one of the worst mindsets for a student to adopt. It’s important to keep the learning process positive and encouraging. If a student is visibly frustrated with a particular concept, take a break. Walk away and return to the problem later. Continually trying to hammer an idea home when a student is mentally defeated can have long lasting, negative effects. Boost a students confidence but first helping them master basic skills. Once they see they are capable, they’ll become a more confident, assured learner and be more open to tackling more complicated concepts.

How to Help Struggling Students

Here are some specific ways and strategies to help students struggling with math in the classroom.

Talk About It

Before you can choose an approach, you need to talk to the struggling student. Find out what exactly they find frustrating or difficult about math? Is there any aspect of math they enjoy? Ask them what they prefer, word problems or simple number sentences. Try to find out which math concepts they have a handle on and where exactly the lines of communication and understanding broke down along the way. This will give you a starting off point when it comes to tackling their issues and helping them get to where they need to be.

Choose a Method

Some students learn best through games and interactive, group work, while others require more individualized attention and the ability to work alone. Determine which method the struggling student works best with and focus on that. If you’re the kind of teacher who enjoys introducing overriding concepts in creative and abstract ways, just know that this may not work for struggling students. Overarching themes, when it comes to math, may be lost on certain learners. Try adopting a more focused, direct approach with these learners. The more clear you are, the easier it may be for these students to grasp basic concepts. Once they have a handle on these ideas, you can start to introduce more abstract versions of the same concepts.

Elicit the Help of Other Students

If you’re a parent, you know that sometimes, what you say to your child simply falls on deaf ears. And most often, it’s not the message that’s off the mark but instead, the delivery. And why? Because it’s coming from you, the parent. Some students work best when learning from their peers, instead of the instructor. Try pairing struggling students in small groups with other students who have mastered the current lesson. Simply listening to these students work through the problems out loud can help their struggling peers see things in a new or different way. They might better understand the other student’s approach and want to try it themselves. There’s something to be said about multi-level classrooms where struggling students are surrounded by more proficient learners.

Involve Parents in Your Efforts

You can only do so much in the classroom. If the concepts you’re teaching aren’t reinforced at home, students will lose many of the skills and abilities they’re learning. You need to have open lines of communication with the parents of struggling students. This can be through the use of a notebook or folder that goes back and forth from home to school. Write a note to the parent and have them write back. Your correspondence can include what the student is working on, the areas where they are getting tripped up, and the gains they’ve made. Make parents aware of what techniques you’re using in the classroom and if they’re working. Other communication methods include classroom meetings, phone conferences, and email correspondence. When the teacher and parent are on the same page when it comes to teaching approaches and reinforcing ideas, great things can happen.

When it comes to teaching math, make it fun! Experiment with different methods and remember, that every student learns differently. Identify the struggling students triggers and don’t forget to go back to the basics. Utilize other students with stronger skills in a particular subject and always keep the lessons positive and encouraging. Confidence goes a long way when it comes to driving math concepts home and ensuring student success.

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