One student received an ‘E’ at the end of semester reports. We were all in a bit of shock because she had been improving immensely– her understanding as well as problem solving skills, especially when making things visual for herself. I can’t help but feel responsible. What has been letting her down most are gaps in basics–equation solving, etc. So I have started giving her quite a bit of hw on some basic Yr 8 equations (she is in year 10) and designated a little more than usual time during the sessions for this. We have also looked at test strategy although I don’t think this is as much of an issue. What more can I do to help bring her up to where we all think she is capable of being?
If she didn’t do well in her test and it was a very poor result then she obviously didn’t improve that much. While it is important to take some of the responsibility and treat the situation seriously, laying blame will not help her improve. A proactive approach and perhaps a change in tutoring strategy are probably required. Here are some important considerations:
- INDEPENDENCE: Does she rely on you to solve all her problems? Perhaps she seems to do fine when you are around but can’t manage on her own without that psychological support? Does she always leave questions to ask you instead of figuring them out herself – even if you know that she was capable of figuring it out? Does she ask you questions that she couldn’t do and it turns out that they were mostly silly mistakes that she could have figured out? Maths tutoring should aim to create independent learners. Success in maths is about fiddling with the maths and teaching yourself how to figure it out and solve your own problems. It takes struggle and effort and thought. What measures are in place to create this habit?
- ALGEBRA: Algebra cannot be considered “a gap in knowledge” because it is not knowledge in the same way as other topics, say, trigonometry. You can do algebra without knowing trigonometry but you can’t do trigonometry (or any other topic) without knowing algebra. While you may need to start at the year 8 level, this is not enough. Many tutors force their students way ahead in algebra – it is really the language of mathematics. If she wants to do really well in year 10 math, aim for her algebra to be at a year 11 level. Perhaps start with year 8 as you mentioned and move up; every tutorial you should be setting algebra homework until she “speaks algebra”. While true improvement in algebra takes ages, the results are dramatic since a student will be able to worry just about the “new maths” in each topic without making algebraic mistakes that only serve to confuse them about the new maths.
- EXAM PREAPARATION: What did she do to prepare for the exams? Did she revise ALL her work? Was there a proper plan in place to cover everything? Did she ultimately know the content well enough to teach it to someone else? Did she actually plan to do well in the exam and set proper goals or was she just hoping to “do ok” and pass? Did she do practice exam papers? Did she do them under timed conditions with some sort of pressure built into the exam? Exam technique is crucial and it can only be developed in actual exams and to an extent in realistic exam simulations.
- EXAM ANALYSIS: Have you actually looked through her exams to compare mistakes to previous tests? Maybe there is something you missed? Are the mistakes mostly silly mistakes? Algebraic mistakes? How many mistakes occurred because she actually didn’t know the content? Did she finish the exam on time?