Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Failing Primary Math: Hope For The Helpless

Last month, I met some desperate parents who were clueless as to why their kids have been failing Primary Mathematics. Their kids will be in Primary 5 and 6 next year and they have scored less than 40%; some scored less than 20%. Their stories had 2 common themes – firstly, they worry that it may be too late to help their kids and secondly, they did not know where to turn to for help.

“Is it too late? Is there still hope for my child?” a parent asks. Of course there is. Even if one’s child is in the late secondary school  years, hope is always there.The real question is – are parents, teachers and tutors giving hope to students? Are they really helping them master Math? Or are they sabotaging the process? (To find out more about this, please read my article here.)

Saying that there is hope is the easy part. The actual reality for such families may be dark and negative. Well, it need not be. Stop thinking it is the end of the world. Realise that there are many cases of students excelling in Math even after failing for many years. As for me, these are the clients I love – the helpless, the clueless and seemingly-hopeless. Their transformation from blur to confident students is a joy to experience. It makes teaching and tutoring worthwhile.

So, if your child is failing and you are stressed out by it, please stop yourself from being a broken record, playing a negative composition created out of fear of the unknown. B
e positive. Believe there is hope for a turn around. I know, I know. I have heard the story many times. You sent your child to XYZ tutor or ABC tuition centre and nothing happened. Well, don’t be surprised at all. 

If you have sent your child to a good tutor who has produced As and A-stars, and it did not work for your child, it does not mean that the tutor did a bad job. You should realise, if your child is a weak learner, that weak learners in Math require more than just tuition. They require the tutor to do more than just explain and re-explain concepts and skills. The tutor must give more than just worksheets and drilling exercises. The tutor must work to break the negative self-concept of the student and replace it with a positive I-can attitude. It therefore requires a unique teaching approach. Unfortunately, many tutors are not even aware that a unique teaching approach is required for weak learners. Hence, you should not be surprised when most tutors are unable to provide this unique tuition service.

If you are a parent of a child weak at Math and have been scouting for the right tutor with no luck, then listen carefully. There are 2 ways to solve this issue. (1)The first way is to search harder, and you find the right tutors you need. For example, I offer Breakthrough Math – a Math programme for weak learners in Math for P5, P6 and lower secondary levels (see end of this article for more details). So tutors who can help exist but you got to find them. (2) The second way is to teach your kids yourself. You become the tutor. It is not as difficult as you think. 

Step 1
The most difficult challenge when tutoring your own kids is changing your style of interaction with your kids.  If your interaction and communication styles are not productive, then be ready to change yourself. Perhaps having an honest adult giving you candid feedback on your interaction and communication styles would be a good idea. So before starting to teach your kids, you need to assess yourself and change yourself first. This may seem ironical. You may say, " I want to change my kid but I have to change first?" As a parent-tutor, you must shed your prejudice towards your child. You may think he is lazy and fully responsible for his failure, but this is where you need to discipline yourself. Stop the negativity and labelling. Shed your external naggy self and play the role of the positive tutor who injects positivity and enthusiasm to your kid. Realise that although you are teaching Math, teaching Math is not your ultimate aim. See the bigger picture. Math is only a context. Your goal is to break the negative mindset of your child.  You can do it.

Step 2
How do you start? What are your resources? All right, first of all, let’s recognise that a student at P5 or P6 who is very weak in Math has not mastered Math content of the previous levels. You may need to start teaching your child from the P3 level. Your resources? Use the school’s textbooks and activity books. Get new copies of these. In 2018, do not measure your child's Math mastery according to the school P5/6 CAs and SAs. Measure them according to what you are teaching them. If you intend to use the SA to measure their progress, use the SA2 of 2018 and compare it with the SA2 of 2017.

Try out these simple steps, and be patient. I am sure your child will improve in Math with time. 

Breakthrough Mathematics
Breakthrough Mathematics is a special Mathematics programme designed by Shaheed Salim to help weak learners excel in Math. It is recommended for students who are struggling with Math to attend the twice a week tuition programme. Alternatively, attending both the normal Mathematics programme can be supplemented by a single weekly session of Breakthrough Mathematics.

What is covered in Breakthrough Mathematics? Students who are weak at Mathematics have not mastered Mathematics concepts and skills taught in the earlier years. Therefore, Breakthrough Mathematics will not only cover current content but also content taught in earlier years.