We’ve gotten advice from math teachers to parents and from students to math teachers. But parents can also play a big role in how their kids learn math and succeed in school. So, I’ve decided to given them a chance to share their feedback with math teachers. (Besides, when I went looking for students to give me advice, parents just couldn’t help themselves!)
I’ve been on both sides of this equation, so I have lots of empathy for teachers and parents. Neither of you have easy jobs! In case it’s not clear, I wholeheartedly believe that most teachers are in the classroom because they love kids and want to make a positive difference in their lives. But we’re all human, and teachers can always strive to be better at their craft.
Help a parent out.
The language of math is different than it was when most of us learned it the first time. (For example, in subtraction many of us “borrowed.” Our kids “regroup.”) A cheat sheet or a website with information would go a long way in helping parents help their kids with understanding the concepts.
This goes double (or triple) for discovery-based math curriculum, like Investigations or Everyday Mathematics. These programs often don’t rely on the algorithms that many of us are used to using. To be fair, the curricula have parent components, but if the school or teacher doesn’t use them, parents are often left in the dark.
Know the kids.
Parents do understand that there are a lot of big stressors on teachers. Teachers are often told to do things that they wouldn’t choose to do (like teach to a test). They have large classes and short periods of time with the kids. But parents still expect teachers to know each child well. Teachers should know which kids have trouble with memorization and which ones struggle with understanding difficult concepts.
Give parents a homework estimate.
How long should students be working on an assignment? An hour? 15 minutes? Two hours? Kids work at different speeds, and parents need to know when we should be encourage our kids to pick up the pace or investigate whether our children are moving slowly because they don’t understand the concepts. And while we’re on the topic of homework, parents told me that there was no point in sending home 50 of the exact same problems. One parent said: “Hours of pointless busywork make kids hate math.”
Mean what you say and say what you mean.
This doesn’t have anything to do with classroom management, though this is good advice here, too. Parents told me about very poorly worded questions that confused their kids. “My [child with Aspergers] is very literal,” said one mom. “This sometimes means he actually answers the question correctly but not the way the teacher intended. More than once I have had to ‘correct’ his homework and say, ‘Yeah, I know what you put is accurate, but that is not what the teacher meant by the question.’” One parent suggested having someone who is not an educator look at your materials to be sure that the questions are clear.
Update your materials.
Don’t pull old worksheets from old curricula that doesn’t apply to current pedagogy. And by all means, make sure that what you’re sending home with kids is what they’re learning about in class. It’s really frustrating for parents and kids to see homework that is not jibing with classwork.
Review tests and graded assignments.
Students need to understand where they made their mistakes and why. Parents need to know where students’ gaps in understanding are. Reviewing tests also reinforces the important idea that tests are a means for assessing understanding, not a big, red stop sign for learning. But don’t let students check each other’s work. “It’s demoralizing,” said one parent.
Don’t confuse computational errors with conceptual misunderstanding.
When a student makes a common addition error, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand the concepts behind the problems.
Introduce relevant and meaningful application (word) problems.
At the beginning of this school year, my sixth-grade daughter vented about a word problem she was given for homework: Carlos eats 25 carrots at dinner, and his brother eats 47 carrots. How many carrots did they eat in all? “Who eats 47 carrots?” she wanted to know!
If you don’t know what’s relevant to your kids, ask them. Or watch a television program they may like or talk to parents or search the internet. Along with word problems, parents want financial literacy introduced early and often. These problems can be included in a variety of places within traditional curricula.
When a child isn’t succeeding, ask why.
Sometimes this is because of misbehavior, but sometimes misbehavior occurs when a child is bored or confused or just feels unconnected to the class. Some kids give up easily. And others have undiagnosed–or unaddressed–learning disabilities. Get the parents involved as quickly (and often) as possible.
Don’t write our kids off.
Some kids struggle and some kids understand the concepts right away. Parents want teachers to stick with their kid, no matter what. Parents can tell when teachers have decided that a kid isn’t worth their effort. That’s heartbreaking to parents–and students.
Not all parents want or can be intimately involved in their kids’ math education, but I think it’s fair to give each parent a chance. Just as it’s fair for parents to give teachers the benefit of the doubt.
Parents, do you have any additional advice for teachers? Teachers, do you want to respond to any of these ideas? Let’s get a good conversation going!