Sunday, October 23, 2016

How To Help Your Child Avoid Making "Silly Mistakes"

Every October and November, I start getting phone call after phone call about math. So many parents call us because their child is struggling in math. September is sorta like the honeymoon stage for math; most of it is a review of skills, and the class always seems deceptively easy. October is about the time that the grades start to plummet, and that's when the calls start rolling in.

One thing that I hear all of the time is, "My child just makes lots of silly mistakes on tests. S/he does well on the homework, but it's like s/he bombs the tests." After doing this for 4 years now, I've come to realize that it's more than silly mistakes. 

A silly mistake is when you do something incorrectly that you almost always do correctly. You may have added something incorrectly, or mistaken a 9 for a 4, but the mistake should be out of the ordinary and easily recognizable and fixable by the student. If it's a mistake that continues to happen, or if the student does not recognize their mistake, there's something else happening.

Math is logical, follows a predictable set of steps, and makes sense. When students don't understand how the steps work together, or don't have a general roadmap of what they're doing, they make all kinds of mistakes. More often than not, it's usually something simple. The tough part, however, is getting them to remember that "lost" step. 

Let me share an example with you. Last week, I was working with a seventh grader on rational numbers. Rational numbers is a big scary math word that means any number that can be written as a fraction. This includes fractions, decimals, and integers. Are you half asleep yet?

Here's the fun part. Most students forget one step or concept during a problem that gets them all mixed up. This student was forgetting to simplify her answer, so she was being marked wrong if her answer was not in simplified form. She used to HAAAAATE fractions, so she's really proud of herself when she finishes a problem. And who am I to remind her, after every problem, that it's wrong, again? Last week, I told her that instead of me reminding her to check her answer after every problem, she was going to remind herself. We used a post-it note to cover up the next problem so that she would be forced to move the post-it, and therefore READ the post-it, before moving onto the next problem:

She liked it because she felt in control of her own work. And she EVEN told me that she liked having it because she could use it on her other homework assignments when I wasn't around to remind her. I've always loved post-it notes, but this just tops it for me.

What do you do with your post-it notes?

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