Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Getting to the Real Issue About the Math Procrastination

A core concept in my parenting journey has been about getting to the core issue. In a nutshell the problem at hand or the negative behavior is always tied to something deeper. You cannot fix the situation until the core issue is identified and dealt with.

Repeated procrastination has real roots that are not simply laziness. Usually it is tied to perfectionism and the fear of failure. It is easier to push it off than to do it and perhaps not do it as well as you wish you could. It is easier to do the work when facing a deadline and when time runs out you can blame the clock or your tiredness or something else. "If I only had more time I could have done better!" Yet the pattern is repeated again and again.

My older son was really angry and upset about his Algebra II course. It made no sense to me. All he was doing was review. This was the very beginning of the course and the curriculum contained short videos, some just two minutes long in which a pre-algebra or Algebra I concept was reviewed quickly. At first I said, "Just do the work! What are you complaining about?". After days of that and realizing he was not even doing the work and was lying about it (after I checked his progress on the website) I confronted him. I asked what was the problem?

My son said he felt stupid and he couldn't do the work. I asked what was wrong since this was review. Having homeschooled forever and not always using traditional curriculums it dawned on me he may not understand the concept of review and its aim and goal. I had to explain it was a quick skimming of the old material that he already learned. He remained adamant that he was dumb and couldn't do it.

I probed and asked if he rememberd it all. He said no. I said that was normal, since he had not used Algebra I in three months (over the summer). He didn't believe me. I said everyone forgets the math operations if they don't use them at least once a week if not several times a week. I explained the review is to quickly go over old concepts and then he is to practice them a few times to refresh his memory. He said he understood after the review and didn't need more practice but the whole problem was he was beating himself up about not having instant recall of every single concept off the top of his head before the review had even begun.

My son really didn't believe me. He thought I was making it up to appease him as I was his mom. I had to have my husband explain it. I had to have two smart professional adults we are acquainted with explain the concept. Now my son gets it. My son still struggles with not liking the idea of not remembering every single thing he learns and not having the ability to do rapid recall of everything. He somehow thought that every single fact he ever learned in his life would be "on the tip of his tongue" or whatever the brain-equivalent of that is.

Negative self-talk and negative self-judgement are bad and dangerous. Even the best teacher, the kindest teacher, and the best intentioned teacher cannot teach a student who is internally beating themself up. The student winds up shutting down and they can't learn. This applies to all students, not just those with learning disabilities, but I suspect that LD kids are more harsh with themselves with feelings of incompetence and low self-esteem.

Real learning takes hard work and it is true that not all students are willing to do the work or at least not in the same quantities their teachers and parents give them. Some procrastination and dreading the work is normal, as is some laziness and some slacking. All students deal with these issues and LD kids struggle even more. Helping students realize what the goal is and why they are being asked to do things can help ("we review the math concepts in the fall because no one did math over the summer and everyone needs refreshers, it is normal for our brains to forget what we have not recently used").

Homeschooling can be so difficult as we are both the parent and the teacher. We are both the loving mom and the taskmaster teacher with aims and goals who needs to push and prod our offspring students.

1 comment:

Xa Lynn said...

I am running into a weird (to me) consequence of homeschooling (vs public schooling) here, too - my oldest daughter goes into that same "I must be stupid" mode whenever she misses a math question - this despite her averaging 95% over the first half of the course! She has no one to compare herself to, and so she assumes that she must answer every single question correctly in order to be "good at math" rather than accepting that everyone makes mistakes occasionally, and really, she makes fewer than most. I have the hardest time dealing with her emotional fits over this because to me they seem utterly unreasonable, since I have a basis for comparison. Just telling her that her performance is more than acceptable, etc., doesn't seem to be getting the message through...