Math is the most common subject to stump kids on their homework. When your learner asks for help, hopefully there are some well-meaning individuals there to assist. There are office hours, math labs, parents and siblings and other relatives, and tutors ranging from free volunteers to pricey specialty instructors. And then maybe there’s YOU, dear parent or tutor.
Unfortunately, it is very easy, with the best of intentions, for you to inadvertently become a crutch for your learner. When they come to you with questions, it is important that you assist in a way that fosters independence and confidence and NOT dependence on outside help. This is the difference between what we at Math For Keeps call Systematic Reminding and Haphazard Reminding. We want to be doing the former, not the latter.
Here’s an example: You witness that your student got stuck because they didn’t remember the rule for dividing fractions. You can tell them that dividing a fraction is the same as multiplying by its reciprocal. They’ve probably heard this before, maybe even 50 times since it was first introduced to them. And you can tell them 50 more times as their tutor or parent, just as it comes up- which it will.
But if instead of doing that, you told them, then you quizzed them on it 10 minutes later, then 30 minutes later, then 3 days later, then once a week for 2 months, and then made sure it was in regular use over the next year, then you have taken that ONE telling, and parlayed it into what feels like intuitive knowledge, rather than a memorized rule.
Rather than being passively–haphazardly–reminded 50 MORE times and still not knowing it, your learner will have been systematically reminded in a way that gets the skill into their muscle memory. The “work” required will be subtle and won’t feel difficult, because you’re never letting the skill get too far off their radar before practicing it with them again.
Even though YOU know that there was a method to the reminding, the feeling around the skill will be that it organically arrived at the place where it feels intuitive.
THEN, if you want to take it to the next level, you can talk about why this rule works. Being able to do something, with an intuitive-like feeling, gives the student a vocabulary and skill-base for being able to talk about, discover and understand the reasons behind the “rule” or “trick”. That’s when it really gets fun.