How Do You Tutor A Child Who Is Struggling IN Math?

It can be very difficult to tutor a child who struggles with math because both you and the student may find yourselves getting frustrated. Causes for math problems can be academic, social, emotional or physical. Each will have different approaches to tutoring. Some of the most common problems and a few suggested ways of working with them are offered below.

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Helping Children Who Have Problems Learning Math

Possible Causes

Social, emotional and physical causes for learning difficulties may be best addressed with physicians or counselors who specialize in these areas. Sometimes the problems are simply caused because a child's brain develops more slowly and time will be the primary factor in solving the problem. Some of the most common causes for other math-learning difficulties are:

  1. Missing Number Facts - The child has been hurried on to the next 'step' in learning math when he hasn't yet mastered the first step.

  2. Calculation Problems - Sometimes a child will understand the math concepts that have been presented, but have difficulties in solving the problems. Causes may be misreading the +, -, x or ÷ signs, messy handwriting or poor organization (e.g., not keeping numbers in proper columns).

  3. Concepts vs. Reality - Math concepts may seem too abstract for some children, making it difficult for them to connect math to real life. At times, this can be as basic as not connecting the definition of a right triangle with what a right triangle looks like.

  4. Connecting Numbers and Quantities - Even math-savvy adults can have problems wrapping their mind around very large numbers. Sometimes children have the same problem with small numbers.

  5. Math Terminology - When math vocabulary terms are encountered only in math class, some children will have difficulty remembering or understanding them.

  6. Perceptual Comprehension - Sometimes a child will be unable to visualize the concepts presented in math class. She may not be able to translate the concept of a cone that has been presented on paper to what it really is in 3-D.

Teaching Math to Overcome Learning Obstacles

Below are many possible techniques for teaching math to struggling students. Choose the one that best addresses the needs of your child. Remember that frequent and consistent practice can often be the best way for kids to internalize the information they've learned in school and from you.

Math Facts
Be certain the student learned the basic facts for addition, subtraction and multiplication. Rote memory may be included in this process, but songs, rhythmic movements and other devices for aiding memory can be a great help. For some children, physical movement, such as pacing, can also help them remember the material.
It's easy to give children math terms; it's more difficult to be sure they understand them. To help students recognize what procedures to use, connect key words such as 'product' with the associated procedure (multiplication).
Multiple Approaches
Children have different modes of learning (visual, audio and tactile) and each child may learn some concepts in one mode and other concepts in another. As a result, use multiple approaches to teach math concepts. Visuals, demonstrations, interactive exercises, stories, games as well as songs are all good activities to include.
Teach Problem-Solving Strategies
Students may feel more confident if they know a variety of problem-solving strategies. When tutoring a child teach a few of these techniques, such as mnemonics, retelling story problems in the child's own words or drawing pictures of a math problem.
Multi-Step Problems
Children who struggle with math will likely need very concrete steps for solving problems that require more than one step. They'll need to learn how to separate and define each of the steps, determine which order to perform them and then carry out each one before going on to the next.
As the child works through problems, it's very important to consistently point out what they're doing right, make suggestions for what they could do differently and give encouragement and praise for their good efforts. Children will know, however, if the praise matches the reality, so judicious wording of the praise is necessary.
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