Why Remedial Math Isn’t the End of the World

Chances are pretty good that if your kid hates math, it’s because of some skill she never mastered. Even if she gets a passing grade and is promoted to the next math course, it’s true. That thing she didn’t learn properly or fully will remain that way. It will haunt her every time she has to use it to learn something new in a math class.


It will worsen over time. This is an example of what could happen with his one math skill issue. What if he has a few existing problems? Even if you only consider his one unlearned math skill, how many other issues will arise because of it?

That’s why I teach remedial math. I’ve personally seen more kids who took pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, or above struggle with their math skills. I’ve seen algebra students who didn’t know some of the harder times tables, e.g., sixes through nines. They figured that they could work through the current coursework and fake what they didn’t previously learn. They didn’t realize how much time it would cost them. Despite everything, their plans failed.

Basic math exists for a reason: all the other math relies on it. Don’t let a passing grade be a false sense of hope. Your kid passing or barely passing a course doesn’t indicate competency. It means:

  • She barely managed to pass a course she didn’t really understand.
  • He doesn’t know the subject matter like he should.
  • The next course will likely create the same experience.

If you remember all the headaches and issues that occurred, you can expect more of them.

Part of parenting includes the times when you are unable to stop your children’s pain. You care whether they are troubled. They are the ones feeling the pain. They are in the classroom suffering a 45-minute class like it’s a three-hour class. It’s repeated whenever they have quizzes, tests, midterms, and finals. The same occurs when they have to study for them.

If you know any of the following scenarios apply to your child, get help.

  1. They are the ones who are unprepared for class, i.e., no book, paper, or pencil.
  2. They fail the tests because they don’t do the homework.
  3. They don’t do the homework because they can’t learn the concepts.
  4. They can’t learn the concepts because they don’t really meet the prerequisites.
  5. That’s because of their unaddressed basic math issues.
  6. They’re in middle school or high school struggling with math.

Get them past some of the worst things about the school experience.

In my classes, they’ll be with other students who are in the same boat, not much younger students who will point fingers and ridicule them. Once they learn what they need to know, there will be no proof that they didn’t know those things all along.

Twitter: @DeidreMSimpson



How Math Makes Kids Suffer

When you meet someone who knows something, do you wonder when he or she learned it? Probably not, which is why it doesn’t matter. Every day, students beat themselves up over not knowing something they were supposed to learn long ago. Sometimes they have an all-or-nothing viewpoint, the “straight-A or F” mindset. There are plenty of other grades in between those. A “C” is quite acceptable.

Success doesn’t equate to genius. Being good at math doesn’t require figuring it out in your head like a genius, mathematician, or magician. Kids have a way of setting unreasonable goals when they feel they’re in a dilemma alone.

Do you know if your kid’s stomach ties up in knots when math is taught? What does the stress of facing math failure do to his or her health? You can imagine. That’s your precious baby. Lots of time and effort has been invested in his or her success. You know how stress makes you feel. Maybe your son or daughter doesn’t want to disappoint you yet remains stuck or doubtful. That’s a sign of willingness. Take action.

Fill in those gaps in your kid’s math knowledge. Once the skills are there, no one will know they ever weren’t. That’s the point. Math isn’t the enemy. It’s a tool.

The Point of the Arts and Developing Hobbies

Sometimes we just love a certain subject, thing, or activity. When I was in college, I was a business major. I loved my literature class. I had notes in the margins of my large textbook. The color and feel of it resonated with me. Abstract cover art was the hook. The stories were great and gave me much to analyze. Even now, it astounds me how a collection of short stories can move me. Authors I don’t recognize present unique tales and perspectives, especially across cultures. The world has plenty of writers and filmmakers, too, but I digress.

The English Contractor

I wasn’t an English major initially because my dad said the world had an excess of those. That included teachers. As a business major, I liked what was involved. It used the administrative skills that got me jobs. I imagined being an independent contractor in demand, sporting pastel suits and a briefcase. Whatever I did would succeed. What’s more, I would like it.

Math Motivation

Math had been the bane of my existence for years during K-12. Every time I found my rhythm, it wasn’t because I liked math. It was to avoid consequences. I regarded no principal or detention the way I feared my parents. School staff and faculty—not my parents—were nice, polite, and gentle. Math was another chore.

Art Bandages for Geometry

I adored high school geometry. It wasn’t like algebra. Proofs occasionally drove me crazy. They wanted me to prove the obvious. Sometimes my answers were wrong, and I couldn’t always see why. Then I took Algebra II, a haze of more mathematics than I could ever need. My painting and drawing class prevented impending insanity. Art healed better than aloe vera.

Math Genius Jokes

Once the math was under control, I got a crazy idea. Again, it was from my father. “You could be a mathematician.” He had (and still has) such high hopes for me. Being good at math could work well. I changed my major to math.

When the Faking Pays Off

As a result, I had to take precalculus. I was a sophomore. As a freshman, I barely passed trigonometry because my freedom rivaled my academic discipline. There was an unspoken old-school mantra: “Take as many math and English courses as possible.” No one told me that its success in the workforce required a major in one or both. I hated the volume of precalculus homework for two to four points per assignment.

Discipline v. Love

I don’t remember when I bought the book on mathematicians. It explained the differences between applied math and pure math. All of the people featured loved one or the other. I didn’t love math; I was just good at it. I mastered things because I learned subjects well. What was wrong with exploiting my math? Did I have the proper motivation? I eventually got rid of the book. The square peg-round hole feeling appeared whenever I browsed it.

Distractions v. Hobbies

My point is that I had varied interests during the pursuit of a degree. Those distractions could be culled into hobbies. I admire those who take a topic so seriously that they develop them. That’s despite compensation, which, for hobbies, may be zero. They can be done for the joy or satisfaction they bring. Either way, a hobby is something done for oneself.


Why There Shouldn’t Be a Stigma Regarding Do-Overs

Is repeating a grade such a bad thing? Flunking is an ugly but honest word. Being held back is a gentler truth. It still exists. It’s a temporary setback for the greater good. At some point, neither it nor the deficit will show. That’s the basic idea behind tutoring and summer school in the first place. Both options keep the student on track for promotion or graduation.


Repeating a Subject

Then there’s repeating one course. Many students sweat the months of April and May each year. “Am I going to pass?” Passing is about pride versus humiliation when there’s a lack of planning. This was true when school used to start in September as a rule. Even with an extra month in the school year provided by starting in August, it remains. Their concern abides over at least one subject late in the school year despite many advantages. The fall semester ends before late December, which allows a truly relaxed winter break. Spring break is at least a week long, maybe two in some places. There are assorted holidays within the school year that generally aren’t observed in the world of work.



As previously mentioned, of course, there’s tutoring. It’s free via the school district. Others opt to pay for the service. Tutoring can prevent repeating a course or grade. Done in second semester, it is ideal for topics taught in that time frame.

Unfortunately, there are two ways this can go. One is that it can make the difference. The other is that depending on some things, it may not.

Tutoring agencies give pretests that identify deficits. A student with fifth grade level math skills during seventh grade may not pass. It’s unlikely that he will learn two years’ worth of material in two months even with daily tutoring. It’s normally done two or three times a week to avoid dependency.

The question becomes whether to fill those gaps once and for all or aim for homework help. The former will involve a massive effort that falls short. The latter choice prolongs the suffering.


Looking Forward

If a student has several years of basic education left, repeating a course would do her a great favor. For one, it would end the revenge of knowledge gaps in the applicable subject. She could move forward into successive courses with confidence. Even with only a few years of school left, graduation and getting a job proves the goal was met. Except for college entrance exams and certain jobs, only basic math is required for adults. Remedial courses are another option.


How to Handle Grade 5 Math Homework with Grade 3 Math Skills

One of the hardest things about teaching and tutoring is the unidentified remedial student. A kid can be in Grade 5 but at the third-grade skill level. That’s a problem. It’s one thing for them to be in special education. It’s quite another when that need is unknown.


The Scenario

Let’s say the student gets tutoring for third-grade math. Since he’s a fifth grader, he’ll still be getting fifth-grade math homework. Even with tutoring, he’s still responsible for getting it done daily. This is presuming that he’s applying himself with the tutor. It won’t help him much to try studying both simultaneously. Chances are pretty good that the tutor isn’t trying to help him do that. In fact, the tutor probably wonders how the student managed Grade 4 math if he wasn’t ready.



It’s not the current teacher’s fault he’s been assigned beyond his comprehension. The tutor knows that. How did the Grade 4 teacher deal with the chasm in the student’s learning? The same could be asked about the Grade 3 teacher. These questions aren’t about finding fault with faculty. They’re about discovering the root cause.


A Shared Issue

The biggest fear is that the student won’t pass to the next grade level. With that comes social shame, peer ridicule, and humiliation. Probably no adult wants to put a kid through such academic trials. Without prevention, it will create cyclical stress every April or May. “Am I going to pass?”


Solutions and Sacrifice

The best thing is tutoring that begins at the level of comprehension. Cost and time should be distant considerations. Tutoring remedial students isn’t like tutoring a good student for a weekly test. It takes far longer. The Grade 3 skills should be reviewed. Then the Grade 4 skills should be taught when the student is ready. Following competency in that, Grade 5 skills can also be achieved. However, there is no telling how long this could take during a school year. Starting early is an advantage.


Parental Monitoring

Some schools perform a similar function with specialized attention (IEPs, etc.) and reassure parents that it works. During the next school year, the truth will be known. If the result is negative, the previous faculty are off the hook. The documented results on the reports will not be investigated or identified as lies. It happens, but it can’t be the end. That’s the time for parents to be proactive.


No Time for Quitters

Obstacles to executing this advice are typical. Many families find tutoring unaffordable. Others that qualify for free tutoring are not as cooperative as they could be. Numerous students are unwilling to make that extra effort despite its long-reaching benefits. The major sacrifice is that the assigned grade-level homework will be either undone or poorly done. Forward thinking proves that the skill deficit will eventually stop. The earlier in the student’s education this occurs, the easier it is to tolerate and overcome. Summer school is a recourse if needed. Quitting is an easy move. Fight!


How to Solve Your Kid’s Math Issues

If a student has an aversion to math, there’s a reason. Parents think it’s that the kid doesn’t “get it.” Picture an iceberg. It’s nothing compared to what’s below the surface. No one’s looking there when it comes to math hate.

The student knows what is under that water. He or she probably has flashbacks about it so often that it goes unnamed and unspecified. Therein is the mystery, aka the root cause(s). It can be more than one thing. Anybody with a problem started out with just one. It increased in number every time they were introduced to a new topic or the next math course. The parent probably doesn’t know this regardless of the type of school. Guess what? The kid is keeping it all but the vague “I hate math” to himself or herself. It’s beneath the cloud of current math assignments. The thing left unlearned is now the rock inside of a snowball becoming an avalanche.


Thinking Back

Maybe everything was fine in 1st and 2nd grade math. If so, that proves there was no math issue then.

Say the student now has an issue with math in 3rd grade, which is common. What if the kid never masters multiplication tables? Unaddressed, he or she goes to 4th grade with a hole in math knowledge. When he or she starts studying long division, that will be a big problem. Dividing 1,542 by 30 requires multiplication skills. The neglected situation will rear its ugly head during fractions. Why? They are division problems that get added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided. They will also convert to decimals and percents, which also get the same treatment. The next thing you know, they are unable to function at the assigned grade level for math. All of this happens by the age of nine or 10.

That’s how an issue returns with a vengeance.


Shortcomings of Social Promotion

Sometimes parents are unclear about the progression of school subjects. Parents may think that the next course could prove the solution for years of struggling. They really believe that the right teacher or situation will break the cycle.

Math builds on principles previously learned over time. That’s because they are foundational. Every principle or topic is the basis for another math premise. It doesn’t improve long-standing issues. Who removes the toddler from the wading pool to throw it into the ocean? It actually happens often, mathematically speaking. That’s why kids struggle with math. The old problems are never addressed or mastered before trying to teach them more math. Drowning is likely. Think of it as an infection that goes untreated. The acute becomes chronic. Antibiotics might come to mind.


Reality Check Cashing

It’s difficult to catch up a student that far behind in math.

  1. Teachers only have so much time for it. After all, they may have other students.
  2. Teaching assistants are in the same boat. They have time limits based on their job descriptions.
  3. Willing tutors need far more time than they’ll get. There’s usually an hourly limit or agency policy that prevents them from doing more, depending on the school. That’s assuming all parties are on board.
  4. Many parents don’t want to pay for tutoring. It’s a temporary expense, but…
  5. Some parents can’t afford it. Enough said…
  6. The student has to juggle math at the current grade level with the remedial topics. That’s a great deal of work they’re probably unwilling to do. Focusing on both is hard. They probably don’t want to do extra homework. It is asking a lot by that stage.


The Solutions

Math Without Pressure (Ages 13-17) is remedial math for the holes in math knowledge. It is also aimed at those who are not ready for pre-algebra yet. http://bit.ly/2vqEbB1

Pre-Algebra You Need to Know includes a remedial math refresher. It is for:

  1. Those ready for pre-algebra
  2. Preventing issues with higher math for the algebra-bound
  3. Students who have taken it before and still struggle with courses beyond that http://bit.ly/2vuFSOL



Easy Ways to Handle Algebra

Algebra is one of those issues. Students have a stigma about it. They believe the hype presented by their peers. The buildup is that algebra is hard. To kids, that means either painful or impossible, both of which could be untrue. Kids don’t think for two seconds that another kid’s defeat can’t make him an authority when they’re in the same boat. They start discrediting themselves based on someone else’s situation instead of believing in their history of successes. In other words, they made it this far, so how bad could it really be?

Changes Happen to Everyone

They let themselves be stumped by change. Between shifting hormones and peer pressure, they can be misled. Some are easily persuaded. That’s why they all have parents.

Parents are proof that difficulties eventually pass. They’re kids that made it all the way to adulthood. Despite hard lessons, disliked teachers, hateful homework, and useless courses like algebra, they thrived. Clearly, it wasn’t the end of the world.

Look for Clues

They don’t realize the similarities between new subjects and old ones. There is a pattern that they don’t see. Gifted or perceptive kids may identify it. Otherwise, it takes experience or age to reveal it. That means parents are more likely to notice the blueprint. They passed middle school and at least part of high school. They survived. As such, they fit into the scenario with knowledge they didn’t realize they possessed.

The first time a kid sees a percent symbol, what does he or she think of it? It’s a new concept. What about the first time they discover that lower case “x” is also the sign for multiplication? A third example would be how the slash in a fraction also translates to division.

Actually, algebra just looks different from the math they’ve learned up to that point. It’s not even that. In reality, it’s just introduced in an unfamiliar form. Isn’t everything that they haven’t already learned? Fear of the unknown is common in children. School is a large part of their lives.

On the Bright Side…

There is good news. The algebra they fear and magnify on a paranoid pedestal has been in their lives since the first grade. Here are some examples:

1 + __ = 5 __ – 8 = 3 2 + = 6

1. It was algebra then. It’s algebra now. It just wasn’t called algebra. Every math problem with a missing number is algebraic. That’s the truth even when it isn’t mentioned.

2. This pattern continues into third grade when multiplication and division are introduced.

2 x __ = 12

12 ÷ 2 = __

3. In fourth or fifth grade, it’s part of fractions, percents, and decimals when converting from one to another.

50% = ½ = ___

Express as a decimal.

4. “Word problem” means “real life application of algebra principles without using the term ‘algebra’.”

A yard is 37 feet wide and 21 feet long.

How much sod is needed to landscape it?

5. Area, volume, and perimeter use algebra. They are included in geometry, the course after algebra. How many times have students been given such math before middle school?

By the time students take pre-algebra, they have been exposed enough to succeed before taking Algebra I. That’s because they’ve been taking it all along. Now both you and they can relax a bit.