“Science? Are you pretty good at science?”
“No kidding, you like art class? Are you a drawer or a painter?”
“Mostly drawing. I’m better at drawing than painting.”
“How do you feel about your math homework when you know what you’re doing?” I query.
“Well, I guess I like doing it if it’s easy.”
“So you’re telling me that if I make all the math feel that easy, you’d like it quite a bit?”
“Yeah, I mean it’d be okay. I guess I’d like it.”
If you start to notice that your child is developing a defeatist attitude toward mathematics, I would recommend three things:
1. Make sure that they are in a math class that they can truly be successful in.
2. Find a way to get them a win.
For a lot of students who have fallen behind in math classes, the correlation between effort and achievement is often depressingly low. Kids will work their tails off if they feel like there’s a chance to be successful, but when they don’t feel like their effort corresponds to achievement, then they are as quick as any rational adult to throw in the towel. Playing math games, doing logic puzzles, or attending math nights at local schools are great ways to give kids a positive association with mathematics and to give them a “brain reset,” to show them that their mental effort (which I lovingly refer to as funstration) pays off. Showing a student a trick or teaching them a new method that really, really works, is a foolproof way to build confidence and get the train back on the tracks.
3. Get them help.