Math and Happiness, Part III: Can “non-math” people have a thriving experience learning math?

*In this series, we’re exploring the intersection of learning and the emotional toll and rollercoasters that often accompany the process. In our first two parts we explored the Zone of Proximal Development and rules to maximize learning in your ZPD. In this article, we explore how students can succeed even when their ZPD isn’t in line with what they’re learning in the classroom. *

In public education, currently, it seems students have two options: they either 1) learn at the school’s pace, or 2) end up having a less than happy, thriving experience in math. Sadly, most fall into the latter camp, because the school’s pace really doesn’t work for that many students (at least not without a different approach for practicing skills to mastery).

Students learn at different paces. If practice-to-mastery methods were introduced earlier, we could probably equalize better, but as it is, the further along you get in age, the more likely you will be in a class full of 15+ other kids all at DRAMATICALLY different levels.

With the work I do, if I get a student early enough, I can make sure they’re ready for each class as it happens. The more likely scenario however is parents have no idea just how behind their students are until after the student is multiple grade levels behind. The pain point gets loud enough long after the “ideal” time to fix it. This doesn’t mean it’s not fixable. For many students, remediation can still happen in time for them to get on grade level. Then there are students who, even though ENTIRELY capable of learning math at their own pace, will not catch up with the school’s pace. In this scenario, for students in public school, it is so easy for everyone involved to feel defeated. Parents, students, teachers alike are all operating under the assumption that because the student is not learning math at the school’s whirlwind pace which has been pushing them along before they are ready for years, that the student is condemned to struggle and to be perpetually behind and to probably not really learn math at all. This is all with a student who might ABSOLUTELY BE LEARNING MATH. What if “behind” didn’t even have to be a notion? Already, some students don’t go as far in math as others, and that’s fine, but what if those who didn’t go as far STILL LEARNED MATH, and still loved it? Of course, this is totally possible in public education, with a bit of overhauling. And meanwhile, what can we do to help these students not lose their inspiration?

Summary: Happy is most important! My whole method was developed on the premise that MOST of us (both “math-minded” and not) will end up frustrated by math trying to learn it with the minimal practice that is offered in the classroom. And not just the kind of healthy frustration that comes as a natural part of learning, but a very defeating kind that makes us feel inept. This is not fair. EVERYONE deserves to have a rewarding experience learning math. I aim with my practice-method to give that to my students, regardless of what they’re getting in the classroom. So while it may feel discouraging– those of you for whom your brain’s timeline is different than your school’s timeline– I hope that overall the message I am sending is ENCOURAGING. The people I work with are FANTASTIC students. They work hard, they’re enthusiastic, they show up ready to learn, they WILL get this stuff, on the timeline that is perfect for their brains. My job, with the help of parents– we all work as a team– is to make sure that when this timeline is different from the school’s, as it sometimes is, that they don’t feel defeated. That if their enthusiasm for learning takes a hit, they know the reason and bounce back.

<– Want to know more? Read this series from the beginning!