At Untapped, we get a lot of questions from parents about students struggling with math. What can I do? Where’s the gap between students with and without executive function challenges? My student is frustrated, how can we move past that and make progress?
It comes down to one main point: organization. Organization in every capacity is the main solution to solving math struggles.
So many of our students can do one or two step algebra in their heads; the understanding of the math is often not the issue. The transition from one/two step algebra to 10 step algebra happens so quickly in school – it feels like it’s almost overnight! And this is where our students start to struggle. Attention to detail in math means lining up equal signs, paying attention to negatives, etc., and this is where our students struggle. One missed negative sign or messily-written number and the answer is incorrect.
Practice until it seems irrelevant. Repeat the key concepts and equations until your student can recite them in their sleep. This is where we encourage “pre-teaching” material so that when your student encounters topics in class, it’s not for the first time. Help your student build the discipline to check their work. Help them neaten their handwriting. (This is a great practice of discipline!)
Organization and discipline are the keys to this issue, but frustration is the kryptonite. When our students feel like they’re doing poorly, they often shut down as a coping mechanism. Even though they have a million resources for homework help at their fingertips (parents, teachers, mentors, the internet!), frustration kicks in when they’re making the little mistakes. They need to be reminded: they’re smart, but they need to find that discipline to check their work. Discipline is a learned skill for many of our students; it doesn’t always come naturally if they have executive functioning challenges. It’s hard for parents who don’t have executive functioning challenges themselves to grasp that discipline and organization are learned skills. If you fall into this category, remember that your student is trying and that they need your patience and support. Encourage them, latch on to what they’re doing right, and help them adjust where they’re falling short.