Monday, June 16, 2008


Perhaps you have identified a few concepts that your student hasn't nailed down (maybe it's learning simple facts, or perhaps it's more complex like long division or multiplying fractions) and you have decided it's time for you to step up and try to do something. Where do you go? What do you do? Is it something you can do yourself? What if the school tells you that in a few months they will cycle back through and that perhaps your child will get it then. They tell you not to worry. Should you even try?

Yes, please try. You must
intervene and the longer you wait, the harder it will be. There are so many web sites to help now, and so many families who have gone before you. Help is all around and I urge you to start with sites and blogs, such as Kitchen Table Math so you can have support and help. Locate a few websites, if you need a little review, or even hard copies of helpful books, such as Math on Call, which will give you procedures and confidence.

Be willing to try. Then, tell your child that you know it's been hard but that "we" are going to do something now to help.

Decide on an amount of time. If it's a tutor, the time will be decided by the tutor, or by your budget. (See below on suggestions for tutors.) If it's your time, set aside a certain amount each day. Explain to your child the time requirements so that it will be clear. Stick to it.

Decide on a short range goal, one concept, that you can work on, and go for just that. Do everything to ensure that your child experiences immediate success of some sort, even if it's something small, the very first day. Success builds confidence. I assure you your child wants to feel and be successful. So make sure that your student sees that he/she has made progress that first session.

Be willing to make this a long-term commitment, if it is needed. I mean for a year, or two, maybe more. Catherine Johnson, from Kitchen Table Math worked with her child, using an entirely different textbook in the afternoons, in addition to the school assignment. If you're looking for how much she did a week in the other textbook, I'm sure she'll help and encourage you.

Your child is looking to you for help. You can do it. At least try. Many have and you will be able to. Whether you do it yourself, or whether you support a tutor. Do it.

Many times I intervened, short term, for our own children when they needed a little help. I always looked over all of their work. I did that early on in primary grades and they got used to it and accepted it. If I saw trouble, I made up some problems right then and there on the spot and watched them work. I could tell by watching where they got off the track. Once the problem areas were identified and addressed, we worked a little more, maybe several nights.
I usually had one rule: show me that you can do 5 problems correctly without any mistakes, and we will stop. What does that do? It makes them focus on all the little things you've identified and it makes them work carefully. A few days was usually all it took.

Now for tutoring: Any time I've agreed to tutor a student, I explain to the parents that I want more than one session a week. I will agree to tutor only do it if I can have a minimum of 2 times a week, but 3 is even better. Why? Well, usually, I find that some of the trouble is procedural and simple carelessness. And what good can I do if a student has one hour with me to work on correct procedures and then the rest of the week he reverts back to incorrect methods? It is said that a person has to do something about 34 times for it to become a habit. So practice becomes very important, but it takes not just practice, but the correct kind of practice, and consistency. The work must be done properly every time. So keep this in mind, whether you are the tutor, or you are considering hiring someone. I usually find that after about 6 weeks, students may not even need me anymore because they have corrected the bad habits and see the value of working with care.