Instead of Telling Our Kids to Slow Down

If I believed what the my child’s principal & his former teachers imply, I’d think my middle child has a learning deficiency!  But thank God I’ve been teaching since 1998.  I’ve tutored since 1993 (well actually since elementary when I’d help the other kids with their math).  Anyway, is anyone else going through this common core fiasco?  I’ve sat countless hours with my child explaining math and he doesn’t always get it.  One thing is this:  he’s only being taught one method.  And that method is HARD!  AND SLOOOOOOOOW!  To the point that it almost literally causes me pain to help him at home. I admit it, y’all.  I’ll throw a fit and walk away.  Then have to come back and apologize and try again.  You’d think that 5th grade math was used to hang the sun in the ding dang sky!!!  Why are they teaching our children math theory (“for deeper understanding” I’ve been told) instead of focusing on drilling in the facts which will allow them to be able to compute those problems which require “deeper understanding”??!?!  Let me calm down…WOOOOSAAAAAAAHHHHHHH…still not calm, but I’m pressing on with this post.

The human brain is a funny thing.  If it’s used to going a certain pace, making it slow way down can be torture! Imagine someone asking you to WRITE DOWN instructions on how to tie your shoes.  You’d just have a time doing that, right?  It may not sound like a big deal, but think about it.  Not just explaining the process, but will everyone agree with the method.  I mean you have the bunny ear method, the bear goes around the tree method, the double bunny ear method, the cool YouTube version where you stick the aglet (the plastic at the ends of the shoelace) in the top hole method.  God only knows how many methods there are to do the same thing.  Therein lies my point.  We are streamlining learning when some kids learn in many different ways.  And different methods work for different kids.  So why torture their little brains by making them LEARN just one “right” way?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I teach math.  Every. Day.  Especially if you count the stalkers who email me all times of the day and night (the students with a 97 average scared they won’t get an A-creepy little people who I fear will have a nervous breakdown before they even land a job).  I make it a habit to teach math problems in multiple ways in my classes.  I tell my students to only focus on the method that works for them.  I don’t make my learn it one particular way.  There are some cases, however (usually where a formula is involved) where they absolutely have to use that method.  But that’s not usually the case.  And for those who’ve taught in elementary & middle school, you know there’s more than one way to skin the math problem cat.

Kids are different.  The kids I teach are mostly freshmen.  They’re from different schools, had different teachers (with different teaching methods, skill levels, restrictions), from different age groups, etc.  But my child shares most of the same issues that the freshmen I teach do.  He came from private school to middle school.  They weren’t allowed to talk, move or anything in private school.  They were very rigorous and his grades were quite good.  Then he went to public school.  That’s when some major changes took place.

There was a big issue.  He had a teacher that would keep telling him to slow down.  I wish she’d never let those words come out of her mouth.  By that time, because he’d been in private school, he’d been programmed to be obedient to his teacher no matter what.  But that obedience has been detrimental.  He slowed down too much.  I know she meant well.  She wanted him to slow down so he wouldn’t make careless mistakes.  But his self confidence was ruined by that.  He would over analyze each step.  He became afraid to make a mistake and scared to ask for help.  She was a yeller.  Yeah.  So you could imagine how that would make a child feel powerless.  And at home, he wasn’t telling us the entire scenario.  So we took away privileges, gave lectures about behavior and focused & pushed him harder to do what she said.  We pushed him to slow down.  What we really did was push him right into a corner.  Well, a trap really.

The next school year the teacher said he was doing his work too slow.  His grades suffered.  For the past year he’d been programmed to slow down, doubt his work, not expect help & if he asked, he’d get yelled at.  He still hasn’t quite recovered from it.  My husband, other parents & even I have considered home schooling him.  Our work schedules unfortunately won’t allow.  But it’s something that keeps crossing my mind.  Anyway, enough talking about this.  I’ve become quite sad & don’t want to relive this.  I just wanted to give you some background on what we’ve experienced.  Let me help you if your child is a speeder like mine used to be.

Instead of telling them to slow down when they’re doing their work, have them do a few things:

  • Check their answers before saying they’re finished.  Make checking part of the assignment.
  • Explain why their steps are correct.
  • Explain why their answer is accurate.
  • Have them do the problem again on a clean sheet of paper (don’t let them look at the first one) to see if it’s their method is incorrect or a simple calculation error.
  • Have them do it until they get it right.

The last suggestion may seem awful, but I’ll just go ahead and admit it.  I am a speeder.  That’s why I can sympathize with (and sometimes borderline enable) my son.  One thing that annoys speeders is unnecessary repetition (spinning their wheels and no change in scenery-the reason why I didn’t join the track team when I was invited by the coach himself).  If your child is like this, don’t fret.  Use it to your advantage.  They’ll do almost anything to move on to the next thing.  And that’s when you explain:

When you get it right, you can move on. 

If you get it right the first time, you never have to do this problem again.

When I was school age, that was my light bulb!  What?  All I have to do is make sure I get it right?  Shoot, why didn’t you say so in the first place?  I will either slow myself down or go back and check my work.  I don’t want to see this problem again.  I don’t want to hear you tell me it’s wrong again.  I’ll ask you how to make it right so we don’t have this conversation again.  Ever.

This may work for some children.  But don’t think there won’t be a backlash (the eyeroll, big sigh, stomp, head bang on the table, whatever you let them get away with to express their frustration).  Be patient.  Stick to your guns.  This may be just the strategy you need to help your speeder excel without crushing their acceleration.  On the bright side, my middle child is still quick.  He still makes me feel some kind of dumb (with Bachelor’s & Master’s Degree in Math in hand) on the regular.  He still is super creative & wildly imaginative.  But he’s nowhere near the same when it comes to his studies.  He’s still moving too slow.  His teachers still don’t get it even when I explain it.  But forget them.  We are his family & we have his back no matter what.  Now to find him an advocate at his school who doesn’t try to railroad him into some special ed program.  But I digress again…

The secret to getting your child back on course is this:  really super boost their self esteem.  Encourage their socks off.  I don’t care how small the victory.  Celebrate them.  Reward them for the period in the right place, when they carry the one correctly, they finally put their funky socks in the hamper.  Gas their heads up!  The world can try to crush our children, but we cannot let it.  When they hear from us how wonderful & beautiful they are, they won’t buy the world’s crap!  (there’s that word again)  Many of my students who’d taken the same course 2-3 times have the same thing to say.   They were successful because they finally realized that THEY COULD DO IT!  But no one had told them they could.  We can do this, guys.  We can turn the school system around.  We can undergird our kids to the point that the system will think they did it.  Who cares who gets the credit.  I’m here for the kids.  Their success is in our hands.  Failure is not an option.  But let’s redefine what failure is.  Failure is a lack of regard for who, what & how are kids were made.  Let’s not fail them!

I hope this helps, guys.  Feel free to ask questions.  Let me know what you do to help your “speeders”.  And if your kiddo needs math help, I’m here!



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