“Karmin, all of the work we did this summer prepared me for class!” Lucy exclaimed excited as we started our weekly tutoring session.
“Awesome, that is why I am here to support you,” I replied.
“Yeah, in the past it was only the smart students who answered the questions in class but now it is, you know, people like me,” my student replied sheepishly.
A knowing smile crept into my eyes as I replied, “Lucy, you are the smart student. You have always been smart. However, you have been working incredibly hard over the last couple of years and it is paying off.”
Several emotions danced across Lucy’s face: the shock and realization that she is a mathematician, coupled with immense pride. This is why I teach. It is the joy of having a student who was once struggling find solid footing in academia. In truth, this conversation is only the tip of the iceberg of Lucy’s growth. Over the last year, I have been working with Lucy on study habits, organizational skills, and a heavy focus on mathematical concepts. What has emerged is a young lady that is becoming organized and prepared for academia.
One evening last year, Lucy described her struggle to prepare for Spanish tests and asked if I could help her study. While I am not fluent in Spanish, nor am I a Spanish teacher, I told Lucy and her parents that I would be happy to discuss study skills that would be applicable to Lucy’s Spanish test. We discussed similarities and differences in how a student would prepare for a Spanish test versus a math test. A similarity is that in math we practice problems that would be similar on a test such as using orders of operations and in Spanish she could write similar sentences using vocabulary and specific verbs. The difference Lucy explained was that there was a lot of vocabulary and there were certain words that were eluding her. I said we could use flashcards to help her connect the ideas. I explained that writing ideas by hand is more powerful than typing on Quizlet or on another online app because of the mental work involved. In fact, Cindi May wrote in Scientific American,
“What drives this paradoxical finding? Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning. Writing by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, and students cannot possibly write down every word in a lecture. Instead, they listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information. Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention. By contrast, when typing students can easily produce a written record of the lecture without processing its meaning, as faster typing speeds allow students to transcribe a lecture word for word without devoting much thought to the content.”
Lucy went on to write out notecards and then we did some exercises that helped her memorize the vocabulary. We filtered out words she that easily retained and kept the more stubborn words that would not stick. The following week when I saw Lucy she was overwhelmed with excitement because she had scored in the 95th percentile which was the highest grade she had received to date in that class.
This summer Lucy had assigned reading. As July was coming to an end and August neared, Lucy was concerned about completing the two books she had left before school started. She was both overwhelmed and scattered between the two texts. Together Lucy and I worked on a calendar and broke the books and accompanying writing assignment into smaller chunks that would allow her to get through the assignments before school started with ease. During those last weeks of summer tutoring, Lucy had the plan we designed on her desk and had check-marks on completed assignments. One week she told me she was behind by a day because she had a sleepover but wasn’t worried about it because she had planned for extra time that afternoon to complete. After the initial plan was designed, Lucy was able to take control of her own schedule and make adjustments necessary to still have summer fun but complete her work in a timely manner.
What has emerged over the years of working with Lucy is a student who is not just a better mathematician but a better student overall. When Mathletes and Bookworms Tutors work with students, we are always working on a single subject but we strive to create responsible, engaged, motivated problem solvers. Not only do we want our students to strive in the subject matter we are working on, but also take the skills we teach and apply them to other facets of their life. Building academic confidence also builds social confidence. Having students understand that math is hard but that they can do hard things also allows them to stand up and do the right thing socially. What we strive to do in our sessions is meet the whole child where they are and help them find their wings. Lucy is finding her wings and I am excited to watch her take flight.
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