Changing This One Word Can Help Your Struggling Math Student
A new article was published on Time.com citing the work of Jo Boaler, a Stanford Math Researcher. I ADORE this article because it helps us tackle ONE word that holds us back. Let’s talk about this article and how you can adjust your vocab to make a huge impact on your child.
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Adrianne: Hey guys it’s Adrianne from Math For Middles or MFM we like to call it. So excited to be joining you today. I am just on fire. So on Friday evening, my buddy sent me this link and said, “Oh my gosh, did you see this?” On Time.com they had just published an article about learning differences from Joe Bowler and about how so much of the way we think about learning disabilities is incorrect. It’s so incorrect. So I wanted to talk to you today about how changing just one word, one word in the way you describe your struggling math student can make lasting changes. So I’m gonna read directly from little pieces from the article and discuss those more with you. So at the very beginning, she just hits the ground running and she says about five decades ago, scientists believed that our brains were fixed. Either at birth or by the time we were adolescents. This led to the schooling approach that now fills schools. Identifying learning disabilities, providing accommodations, and working with student’s strengths. And you might be thinking, yeah, that sounds about right. Because that’s what’s going on.
Adrianne: Recently though, the scientific world has found that this may be wrong. And that even students diagnosed with learning disabilities may develop the brain pathways they need through careful teaching. So that’s our word. Disabilities. They talked about that. We’re gonna swap it out for difference. Really what’s going on here is your child has a learning difference. It’s completely different, right? Their brain is wired different. And if schools are not acknowledging that, instead, they’re still operating by this old mantra five decades ago. That it’s fixed, your brain is fixed, and we’re just gonna help with this little problem you’re having. And that is completely wrong. It’s more about the difference that your child is experiencing through the way their brain is wired.
Adrianne: So Joe Bowler goes on to say mathematics is our specialty. And we are frequently frustrated to see the narrow ways of mathematics is taught in many schools. Teachers show methods, and students reproduce them. And when schools emphasize a narrow way of thinking, students who think more broadly turn away from the subject. Now that’s all of our dyslexic students. They’re really good at big picture thinking. And math is all details to them. And it is the most frustrating experience. They don’t want anything to do with it. And so when schools emphasize a narrow way of thinking, students who think more broadly turn away from the subject, become labeled as having a disability. Students come to believe they are not a math person. And that they are completely incapable.
Adrianne: So let’s talk about this not a math person. I think it’s pretty funny. Most of my friends say that oh, I’m not a person. You must be an amazing math person. No, actually that’s not even why I do the work that I do. It’s not because I love math. It’s because I love the students, I like the way that they’re wired differently. I think they’re super fun, really cool people. Math just happens to be the subject that I have chosen to work with these students. I would have picked this demographic no matter what. This kind of student no matter what. Because I think they’re fascinating. Not because I’m a math person, I can do math, but there’s definitely times, and my students will tell you this again and again. I struggle. There’s some days that I completely struggle. And I’m having a hard day. I say circle when I meant square, or I write a six when I meant to write a nine. It’s crazy how the brain works and those kinds of things could definitely make me think I’m not a math person.
Adrianne: But yet I know that that’s not true. It was just a moment. I can be a math person when I choose to be. And so can you. And so I was thinking about how we as adults do that a lot too, I know I’m completely guilty of this. Here’s the one that I like to say. I’m not a writing person. I’m not good at writing, so therefore I’m not gonna work at it. And what Joe is pointing out in this article is that that’s not true. The brain is completely moldable, it’s capable of change at all ages. So the fact is, I can learn how to do writing, I can learn how to do it better. It’s about learning how to do it in a way that makes sense to my brain. And I’ve taken classes, and I’ve gotten help with that, and I think I’ve grown leaps and bounds compared to five years ago with my writing. And so we need to think about that and challenge some of the beliefs that we have as adults. I’m not a fill in the blank person. I’m not a speaking, public speaker person. I’m not a writer, I’m not a math, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not. When the reality is, you just haven’t chosen to decide to attack that, to learn how to do that skill the way that your brain is wired.
Adrianne: And so that’s a really fascinating thing. So I would encourage you to maybe challenge some of those things, and chase after learning how to do some of those things that you claim you’re not good at. But let’s go back to the math part. The other thing Joe said in our article was, there are many problems with the procedural approach to mathematics that emphasizes memorization of methods, instead of deep understand. And I hear this all the time from students. When they first come to find us, they’re always frustrated. I can’t seem to do my math facts. I can’t seem to remember the steps. It all just disappears. I think I’ve got it, and then the next day it’s gone. It’s like the 50 first dates, that’s their experience, right? The 50 first dates, that movie where she’s got brain damage and she forgets her whole day. That’s how they feel about math, because they don’t have strong memorization skills.
Adrianne: So going back to the article, why is it some students are not good memorizers, and these students do not have less mathematical capability or potential, and often they are students who think creatively and visually, have strong reasoning and logic, and who could contribute greatly to the discipline of mathematics. Sadly, such students are not valued in memorization type classrooms. And they quickly get the idea that they are not a math person, which changes their learning from that point out. So again, we have to drill it into our kids, you have a learning difference. You prefer the visual, all of our students say that here. Everyone prefers the visual, and if math is done visually, they can do the math. I get so passionate about this. I get so crazy. So we really have to work to change the way we’re teaching mathematics. And that’s our mission here at Math For Middles. Yes we’re starting with just our students, but our goal ultimately is to go out and teach more teachers about how to do this in all levels of math, even the crazy abstract Algebra 2, Precalculus can be done in a visual way and it can open a lot of doors for students that otherwise have felt like they’re not a math person.
Adrianne: So Dr. Bowler goes on to say we work to change those ideas and teach mathematics in a way that recognizes and values all the ways of being mathematical, including making conjectures, problem solving, communicating, reasoning, drawing, modeling, making connections, and using multiple representations. And that’s what we do here at Math For Middles. That is exactly what we do. We start with the C, concrete. Then we move to representational, the pictures. Then we move to the abstract just numbers. And any time we butt up against a moment where it’s too hard or they’re not understanding, we go backwards, and go back to the concrete. That’s how we do it. And that’s the way math should be taught at all levels for all kinds of learners.
Adrianne: At the end of the article, this is like the mic drop for me. All of the recommendations for the teaching that parents have been told their child who has been labeled learning disabled, but it really, learning difference, all of the ways that they’ve recommended she should be taught, or the student should be taught, and would really help her to see content and ideas in different ways and to engage with multiple media and methods to avoid disconnected facts or to find ways to connect them, this is where the mom says it just seems like good teaching for all students. Perhaps we shouldn’t even call it special education. There’s a better name out there. It’s good education. Boom you guys. That is so true. I just get crazy excited about it. That is exactly the mantra that we feel. This is what everyone should be doing in math education. This is how we should be teaching.
Adrianne: So I hope you’ll keep following me here on Math For Middles. We have a lot to offer. We’re here for the long haul, we’re gonna help you, the parents, the kids, we’re also going after the teachers in the future here soon, and we’re gonna help everyone get on board. That multisensory math is the only method needed to teach mathematics. All right, if you’ve got questions for me, drop them in the comments below. I’m gonna link to that article, because I think you’re gonna love it. And we’ll talk again soon.
Owner of Math for Middles
I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles. I’ve tutored students for over ten years. When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family. Interested in working with me? Connect with me here.