What Parents Often Ask Us
My child completes all of their homework and scores 100% on it but does poorly on tests and quizzes. What should I do?
Unfortunately, scoring high on homework doesn’t really mean anything. Why? Below are 3 crucial differences between tests and homework. These are the reasons why your child may score 100% on homework and still fail math tests.
1. Level of difficulty.This is a plague in the school system. Teachers tend to assign random, often not-too-challenging problems for homework yet give students difficult problems on tests, that they simply aren’t prepared for. Somehow, students are expected to bridge the gap. To “figure it out.” It’s the equivalent of expecting a driver to race a car, because they learned how to drive down the street – it’s ridiculous. This approach comes from complete lack of understanding of how learning works – students need to be gradually moved from basic problems, to intermediate to advanced. Different types of problems have different levels of complexity. Students need to learn those levels and practice problems from all levels of difficulty. Every level has their own unique challenges. At the highest level, your child will face advanced fundamentals that aren’t present at a basic level, and have nothing to do with the actual concept they’re currently learning.
2. The circumstances.Your child can do homework on their own, with their notes and textbook open to look up solutions, facetime their friends for help, while watching netflix and sipping on hot chocolate. No stress, no pressure. Tests are opposite. Your child will have to solve problems under time pressure. They won’t be allowed to use their notes or textbook. If, on top of that, the problems on the test are different from the ones in homework, the situation becomes very difficult. Add to that the social pressure to do well, friends leaving the classroom earlier and you get the picture.
3. The way it is graded.Did your child really finish their homework? There is 3 types of homework styles your child’s teacher may be using: “correct”, “complete” or “understood” Here is what they are. correct – when your child gets the right answer to all of the problems. complete – when your child fills up the page with their solutions (not necessarily correct or even relevant). understood – when your child completed the homework, analyzed the problems they solved incorrectly, fixed their mistakes and solved similar problems to ensure their understanding. Which type of homework do you think is the most effective? Which type of homework do you think is used at school? If your answer to the first question was the “understood” type – you’re right. The actual learning happens AFTER your child gets their homework back. Yet, teachers usually use the “correct” or “complete” type.
Why is the “complete” type a complete waste of time?Because teachers mark homework complete or incomplete, without actually checking the content of students’ solutions. Students, of course, realize that so they simply fill out the page with what seems to make sense. In that case, your child may as well not do homework at all because it’s a complete waste of time. Even if they make mistakes, they won’t know about them, let alone learn from them!
Why is “correct” type a waste of time?Because the process is missing the most important part: LEARNING. Your child needs to analyze the problems they missed and correct them AND THEN solve similar problems to solidify their understanding. That’s where the actual learning happens! If your child doesn’t correct their mistakes, they simply reinforce bad habits.
Why is “understood” type the most effective?The last type is the one we, at Learn Vibrant, believe in and practice. That’s why our students progress and get amazing results. The students solve problems, they learn how to analyze their mistakes and think critically about what they do, they learn how to correct their mistakes, and reinforce good habits by solving more problems of the same type. We also review with them any secondary concepts they are struggling with. After that, we follow up with the 2nd round, where the students solve similar problems. As a result, they are equipped with the practical understanding and confidence they gained from the analysis of their own mistakes. In other words, they don’t just know the problems. They can actually solve them. And they can confidently tackle the difficulties they will face along the way. They know what to expect, they know the obstacles they have faced and they’re ready to overcome them. That’s the most effective type of practice that you won’t, unfortunately, see at your child’s school.
My child understands everything in class but can’t complete their homework. Why?
Reason 1: They don’t really understand what they’re covering in class – they passively follow along.Your child’s classroom is likely a passive environment. The teacher shows the formulas on the board and maybe solves a couple examples. Students copy the solutions to their notes. The teacher hands out homework. The end. In other words, your child learns nothing in class. There are giant gaps to be bridged between watching someone solve problems, understanding the steps, and being able to solve even the exact same problem on your own.
Reason 2: Homework is different from what they’re covering in class.We have heard stories from parents of many high school and middle schoolers in the Bay Area. About teachers only covering the simple examples, leaving everything else for the students to figure out on their own because “there isn’t enough time.” Teachers refusing to answer questions and telling students to ask other students for help. Teachers assigning homework on the material they didn’t cover because they weren’t present. Substitute teachers giving out worksheets and homework on the material students haven’t learned. Your child may have fallen victim to that.
Reason 3: Concepts are shown but not explainedA lot of times students learn in class by passively following along and watching the teacher solve problems. That’s not how learning works and we cannot expect your child to actually progress this way. Yet, that’s exactly what happens in many schools in the Bay Area. Your child needs to gain a practical understanding – understand how to use the math tools to solve problems. Passive understanding – memorizing the formulas and watching others solve problems – isn’t enough. Your child needs to learn how to analyze problems step by step, learn where these steps come from, how they form a logical flow leading them from the given information, through the use of math tools, to the final result. This understanding only comes from experiential learning.
My child hates math. How can I change the way they see math?
Why does your child hate math?Because they don’t understand math, because they’re frustrated, overwhelmed and tired of it. Because every time they try to do math, they are confused. Because math makes them feel inadequate, maybe even stupid. Because over the weeks, months or even years, they have tried many different approaches. Maybe they have tried asking questions, just to get answers that didn’t make sense. They have tried tutors, with no results. They have tried reading the textbook, just to get more confused. They have tried staying up at night, just to get nothing done and be even more tired. They might feel that they’re disappointing you, disappointing their teachers and disappointing themselves. They likely believe they just can’t do math, they’re not math people, and everything they do seems to prove that, over and over again.
What do you think is the underlying idea?Your child doesn’t hate math – they hate the way math makes them feel when they don’t understand it. Now, just to be clear, there are students who actually dislike math overall and are not interested in it even after they get good at it. However, this is a small percentage of students. Most students want to do well and excel at math even if it isn’t one of their favorite subjects. Moreover, interestingly, even the students who dislike math, can get good at it.
What will happen when your teenager starts getting math?We have worked with many teenagers who used to hate math. It’s not hard to believe since a lot of parents come to us when their children are struggling, failing tests, crying because of math or sacrificing sleep because of math. These kids need clarity. They need to see that math is not a magical skill. It’s a skill they can learn. These same teenagers get motivated the moment they see that math is predictable and logical. They can follow step by step methods and get the same results many of their friends get. Your child needs to realize that math is not this random subject they can never get. Instead, it’s a science they can learn – and be good at. The moment your child understands the steps and starts successfully following them, that’s the moment they realize “Wow, I can actually do this.” That’s the moment your child starts believing in their abilities to do math.
How to make math non-threatening, pleasant, interesting and even fun?
Make making mistakes ok.
Your child has been conditioned by the school system to fear making mistakes. Mistakes mean lower grades, lower scores, embarrassment.
When your child makes mistakes at school, their classmates may laugh at them. Making mistakes is considered bad, making mistakes means being less-than, unprepared, stupid.
In reality, there is no success without mistakes. Learning means making mistakes. Taking action means making mistakes. Mistakes are stepping stones to all great achievements.
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”
— Stephen McCranie
Help your child change their mindset about mistakes by asking them everyday what mistakes they made, what they learned from them, how they can avoid making the same mistakes next time and what they can do better from now on.
Reinforce the growth mindset.
Growth mindset is the belief that an individual can learn and succeed at anything they want to, if they put sufficient amount of effort and energy into it. As opposed to the fixed mindset, which says that a person is either good at something or they aren’t, no matter what they do.
Help your child understand that learning requires time and effort. Given sufficient amount of effort and time, your child can and will learn, improve in and master any skill.
It doesn’t have to be a long time, either. The right approach, direction or help can yield immediate results.
Make math clear and predictable.
Clarity breeds confidence.
When your child doesn’t know what to do and how to start, they get frustrated.
They feel powerless and hopeless when they make random mistakes that they don’t understand. It feels like they’re banging their head against the wall. Everything seems random and out of control.
You child needs a clear, structured, predictable path to follow.
They need to understand all the steps and practice following them.
They need to learn how to trouble shoot their mistakes, so that they can fix them and prevent them from happening again! This way, they will stop feeling hopeless and frustrated. At that point, they will be on a clear, straight path to skyrocketing their skills and results.
Make math interesting.
We have heard many of our students say that “math is actually fun when you really understand it”.
However, homework and repetitive practice can make math boring and dull.
To keep it interesting, focus only on the problems your child doesn’t get. Mix in difference types of problems and increase the difficulty level only after your child masters the previous one. Cover 2-3 concepts at a time, to give your child variety.
For the most difficult concepts, cover different angles and approaches to show your child how the elements connect.
Engage them in brainstorming and exploring without judgement of being right or wrong.
Ask open-ended questions.
Guide your child through the process instead of giving them answers.
If the answer is incorrect, guide them through the solution to find the mistake.
Use the moments of doubt or confusion to help them brainstorm and explore. Encourage them to think about the problems without being afraid of being wrong. Show them special cases and unusual problems.
How can my teenager improve their focus?
Define success: create a short to-do list of 5-7 items.
A short to-do list will help your child focus on specific tasks. It will also help them see that homework is manageable.
“Study polynomials” sounds vague and confusing.
“Understand 3 example problems” sounds straight-forward and quick. Finishing those 5-7 items from the list will be considered a success.
Turn off notifications. Put phone into airplane mode. Teenagers don’t realize how distracting social media is.
Notifications and messages cause in our brains the same dopamine release as cocaine. The difference is, social media is legal and cocaine isn’t.
Be the proponent of eliminating social media in your home, during focus sessions. Help your child understand how important it is and help them stick to it.
Work in 10-minute bursts of focus.
Staying focused for even 30 minutes is difficult. For anyone.
Your teenager doesn’t have to stay focused for hours at a time.
Start small and expand.
Help your child do 10 or even 5 minute focus bursts. But make sure your child actually does work during that time.
Have the essential items readily available.
Your child is about to study, BUT they forgot the homework sheet. And where are the pencils? And the laptop battery is about to die… and so on.
Help your teenager have all of the essential items ready so that they can actually sit down and focus for 10 minutes without having to look for anything.