As my six-year-old daughter, Rayni, gets older and progresses in her educational journey, I am encountering a new challenge that is helping me better relate to my students’ parents. I used to wonder why I sometimes found that parents and I were on different pages, and now that Rayni is in school, it is much easier for me to understand how a simple misunderstanding has the potential to hinder the invaluable partnership between parent and teacher.
My goal in creating this post is to help parents and teachers build stronger connections so they are able to seamlessly support student success.
#1: There’s a reason behind the “new way” of teaching math.
Today, many math teachers are using a newer version of rigorous standards; in Florida, they are known as the Florida standards. Change often comes with struggles, and they have all undoubtedly been asked why we would stray from what has “worked in the past” and require students solve problems in seemingly harder ways.
The answer is simple – our world is changing.
As technology continues to drive us forward, there is less emphasis being placed on memorization and more emphasis being placed on application. The goal of every teacher is to prepare students for college and career, and, in doing that, we must keep in mind that today’s workforce is expected to look at problems creatively and bring together multiple skills to offer a variety of solutions.
If you are struggling with this concept, I suggest allowing your student to play the role of the teacher at home. Let them teach you about this “new way” of learning math and ask them questions.
Instead of saying, “Why would anyone solve this way?” try one of these questions:
“What are the benefits of solving this way?”
“How does this way help you understand the problem?”
“Is there another way that you could explain this technique to me?”
Change is constant, and if open to it, your child will have a much greater chance of success.
#2: Allow and expect mistakes.
As hard as it is to see our children struggle or become frustrated, I believe it is important to provide a low-stakes learning environment – at home and in the classroom – that will allow them to experiment with different ideas, even if it means making mistakes. Mistakes serve an important purpose when students are able to reflect on them and learn from what they did wrong.
Doing homework together is an excellent opportunity to make mistakes purposeful. Allow your child to work through a problem without narrating each step. Rather than saying your child is right or wrong, try asking probing questions. Take a look at the following example:
The answer here is not correct, but instead of pointing out what was done wrong and “teaching” how to find the answer correctly, I would suggest asking questions similar to the ones below. This will encourage your child to identify where he/she went wrong and connect how it can be used to figure out the correct answer.
- Wow! You really put in a lot of work into this problem! Let’s check it out. Tell me, why did you choose to add all of the side lengths?
- Were there any action words in the problem that helped give you direction on what to do? What does that word mean?
- I see you got ___. So if I’m understanding your work correctly, you are saying that b equals ___. How do you know that that is reasonable?
- Let’s go back to before you did all of this work. Just looking at the size of the side lengths and the numbers that go with them, what would be a reasonable estimate or guess for what b could represent? What do you think about 30? What do you think about 1?
- How does 30 centimeters of ribbon come into play in this problem?
- I’m so proud of how you are persevering through this problem! Now that you’ve worked it out again and you’ve come up with a new answer, how can we check this answer to make absolutely sure that it’s correct?
You will find that by turning this mistake into a conversation rather than a traditional lesson, you both will be less frustrated and more aware of the misunderstandings at play in your child’s mind.
#3: Change how you praise your child.
One of the most difficult changes I have had to make as a teacher and as a parent has been to stop telling my children that they’re “smart.” Research has shown that when we praise intelligence instead of the process or effort made by a child, we can actually hurt their progress. Praising their intelligence creates a focus on being smart and can make students feel pressure to “look” smart in front of their peers. Instead, the focus needs to be on the things our children can control, such as the amount of effort is put into a project.
In doing this, for both my child and my students, I have found that it can serve as great motivation to increasing effort and even discover new strengths. Rather than praising your child’s intelligence, show how much you value effort and appreciate the way he/she perseveres when faced with challenges.