Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

Get your free copy of 5 Tips You Must Know to Stop Freaking Out About Math!

Call me free of charge to discuss your situation, and we'll see if I can help.


Triangle Suitcase: Rebecca Zook's Blog About Learning rssfeed

Topic: case studies

Case Study: Confused by Math Instruction in a Foreign Language

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

One of my favorite success stories is a student who came to me as a fourth grader. She was extremely confused about math because her first three years of elementary school were at a French language school. Not only was math taught in French, which was not her first language, but the math instructors were also really bad. Also, she would get emotional about math—sometimes she’d get so upset that she would freeze up.

We started with a lot of math drill, reviewing arithmetic concepts that were unclear from years of math instruction in French. Then we moved on to mixing that with a review of what she was working on in class. We worked very slowly, and at the end of every page or every problem I would give her a high five and a special sticker. (Now, after all I’ve learned about rewards and motivation, I might not give her a sticker every single time.)

Another helpful strategy was paying attention to her emotions of frustration and anxiety, and modeling how to handle them. When she got frustrated or anxious, I would stay calm, just like I hoped she’d learn to stay calm in the face of a challenge.

One day she got really upset about some things in her life that were stressing her out, and I could tell she needed a break. (I was trying to build on what I’d learned from working with another student who broke down during tutoring once.) So we packed up our work and spent the rest of the session leisurely exploring the beautiful library where we met for tutoring.

Very gradually, things improved to the point where she even told me that she “loved” certain kinds of problems. This made me so proud of her! It was amazing to see her going from feeling scared and confused about math to actually being comfortable and delighted with it. Overall, I think what worked for her was just personalized and caring attention with a stress-free vibe.

Related Posts:

Case Study: Regaining Love of Math
Case Study: Learning Geometry with a Spatial Disability

Topic: case studies

Case Study: Regaining Love of Math

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

A student came to me this past spring with an unusual proposition. She wanted tutoring because she felt that she’d lost her love of math and she wanted to regain it. (Also, she was already earning Bs in school, but she wanted to learn math without so much stress.) What a really cool reason to seek tutoring! Plus, I was excited to work with a student who was already intrinsically motivated.

Since every student is different, I wasn’t sure until we started working together what would help her regain her love of math. She was already very organized and would come to each session with a plan for what she wanted to discuss.

It quickly became apparent that she really just needed some time one-on-one to go over the things she had questions about. The way that her classroom teacher explained things wasn’t always the way that made the most intuitive sense to her. (This isn’t unusual, considering that every single human has a unique way of approaching their own learning).

Another thing that worked was introducing alternative ways of thinking about particular math concepts. This student was great at evaluating what options worked best for her. She’d explain which approaches made total sense and which ones really didn’t help her. She’d also use her synaesthesia to create her own mnemonic devices.

This student would tackle tough problems with gusto. Once, after she cracked a particularly challenging problem, I drew a star with shining rays next to her final answer to show how proud I was. We jokingly named it “The Star of Vanquishment”—vanquishing seemingly impossible problems! This became a running joke. We’d draw it when we felt like we needed inspiration to get through something unfamiliar, or to celebrate when we solved a tough problem.

My student’s school year ended later than any other schools in the area. I was concerned because before I’d committed to working with her, I’d made plans to be out of town for a music festival during her final exams. So she was one of the first students to test-drive my online tutoring technology with me.

During our final session online, she told me that her past three quiz grades had been an 100, an 103, and a 93—“but the 93 was the highest grade in the class on that quiz.” I was so proud of her!

Most importantly, it seemed from her confident and enthusiastic attitude that she had regained her love of math, or at least was well on her way. Overall, I think the “secret ingredient” here was just supporting her and personalizing her instruction in a relaxed and encouraging environment.

Related Posts: Case Study: Learning Geometry with a Spatial Disability
Case Study: Confused by Math Instruction In a Foreign Language

Topic: case studies

Case Study: Learning Geometry with a Spatial Disability

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

One of my favorite success stories was a star hockey player who was failing geometry because he had a spatial disability. For many people, geometry is very intuitive because of the diagrams, but for this student, reading diagrams was extra difficult.

One of the first things I tried with this student was using erasable colored pencils to label different parts of the diagram in different colors. I hoped the different colors would help him distinguish different parts of the diagram, un-jumble them, and process the information better. But he didn’t seem to be into the colored pencils, so we stopped using them after a while.

However, I knew he must have excellent kinesthetic-spatial intelligence in order to be such an awesome hockey player. I mean, he specialized in creating and responding to vectors on ice, right? So I tried to talk with him about visualizing things in motion. I would tear up pieces of notebook paper and create animated versions of the diagrams by moving the pieces of paper around.

In the end, I think the teaching strategy that helped him the most was just really breaking down the geometry diagrams. I realized that he was missing a lot of crucial information about how to interpret diagrams that most teachers probably never explain, most likely because it seems so “obvious.”

For example, someone without a spatial disability would look at a diagram of a triangle and just infer that if a number is tucked inside an angle, then it is the measure of that angle. Similarly, it would be easy for them to intuit that if a number is next to a line, then it’s the measure of that line.

But because of his disability, these things weren’t obvious to my student, and no one had ever explained them to him before. So we filled in the missing pieces. We broke down the different parts of those diagrams so he’d know exactly what to look for and which numbers affected which part.

The awesome part is that after a couple months, he went from failing to getting As and Bs!

Related Posts:
Case Study: Regaining Love of Math
Case Study: Confused by Math Instruction in a Foreign Language