21 May

Just saying Yes or really understanding?

I guess i could use some advice regarding how to gauge whether a student is taking on information. Yes I can write questions and ask for answers, but I feel sometimes I just get a smile and nod.

It can be challenging, especially with younger students to make sure they truly understand what’s going on. Sometimes students are too shy to ask questions (even in a tutoring scenario) and sometimes they are not even aware when they do not truly understand a concept. Sometimes a student will get most questions correct and this often leads to the assumption that the maths is understood. However, this is not necessarily the case, especially when student answers questions using the technique of “mindless repetition”. This kind of approach is common with algebra and arithmetic when there are lots of questions laid out in exactly the same format. Student’s often rush through them, mindlessly following the process which yields a correct solution without thinking twice about how it works.

Here are a few suggestions to gauge if your student really understands the maths:

  • Ask them to explain it back to you, as if they are the teacher and you are the student. This is engaging and can be quite fun while giving you insight into the student’s thought process so that you can see if/where they are lacking knowledge. What should they be saying as part of the explanation that they are not saying?

  • When they explain questions to you or when they are just doing a question, interrupt them and ask what they are doing and why. You should constantly be asking the student to explain his/her reasoning. They should always be able to justify what they are doing – if they can’t explain themselves then there must be a hole on comprehension. Also, encourage them to ask you the same question: “why?” This question engages the thought process and is central to learning maths.

  • When they are practicing questions, mix it up. Don’t allow the student to do 5 questions in a row which are done the exact same way (besides when first teaching the concept). Prevent the possibility that the answers are coming from mindless repetition by making consecutive questions different in style. See if you can trick the student into incorrectly following a rule instead of thinking first and recognizing how the rule would apply differently in your question.

  • Test her each tutoring session on the previous lesson’s content. Do they recall it? Understand it still? Sometimes wait until the end of the tutorial and test the student on content you learned at the beginning of that session – can they still answer the questions?

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