Although it is indeed difficult to overcome a math problem, there are many remedies that can be used to help students succeed. Before getting to any specific math instruction, however, you should work at overcoming any math anxiety the student may have. This is a real problem. The students who are poor at math have a real fear of it. Reading can cause anxiety in children, but math anxiety seems to take over their entire world, and when doing math, fear is their major emotion. It is first important to work on this fear by taking the pressure away. So what if you fail a test? The world won’t end. Look, you’re doing great on multiplication, etc. Praise, praise, praise when the student does something right. Patience is important as well. After working on the anxiety aspect, move on to specific skills that help the student succeed.

First, find out the student’s ability level, regardless of grade level. Start instruction and practice at that level. Even if the student is in the 6th grade and is performing math at a 2nd grade level, it is vitally important to start at the 2nd grade level. Math is sequential, and one building block must be in place before the next one is put down. Next, work on visual processing skills and eye/hand coordination. This helps the student place and align problems on the paper properly so that the correct answer can be attained. One of the biggest problems found in students is the inability to line up math problems. It is as though the red margin line on the left doesn’t even exist to them! Keeping columns lined up neatly for proper computation is another problem, and both can be remedied easily enough. Spatial and perceptual skills training helps in this area.

You should start a math tutoring session with activity using brain integration activities with numbers. If the student is weak in visual memory (and usually these kids are), spend time on visual memory and recall activities. These activities help the brain cross over to the left hemisphere, since math is a left hemisphere activity.

Finally, when doing actual math instruction, it is recommended that you do the following activities to ensure for math success:

1. Use blank paper with no lines – this eliminates distractions on the student’s part. Lines and other markings on paper will take the student’s eyes to places other than math, and this is not good.

2. Model the process step by step very slowly in color on the blank paper. Show the student what to do using a different color for every step of the process. When you change steps, you change color. This helps the student “switch gears” while doing the multi-step processes.

3. After showing the student what to do, have the student practice the math problem. Once again, the student will be using color to do the steps, using a different color for each step.

4. Have the student practice several times in color on the blank paper. If the student makes a mistake, simply redirect him and have him keep practicing. Praise any correct steps. You may need to show the student the correct step several times. Be sure you have the student practice immediately after the steps are modeled.

5. Have the student verbalize the steps as he writes them. Telling you the process will help him remember it.

6. Give the student immediate feedback. Don’t wait for the next day to tell him what he did wrong or right.

7. Only work on one small skill at a time. You don’t want to show the student how to do all fractions in one day. Start with adding and subtracting fractions with a like denominator.

Other tools to help students succeed in math are:

1. The card game Blink or the card game Speed. Both help the student process more than one thing at a time.

2. Writing and practicing math facts in some kind of a gooey substance or a substance with texture, such as sand.

3. Visual memory games. The student is shown a series of shapes, numbers, or figures for a few seconds. They are then taken away and the student copies them on paper from memory.

Math is difficult for a student who is right brain dominant. You can help these students access the left hemisphere of the brain so that math success can be met.

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We have been educators for more than 30 years [my husband will retire next year]. We are very impressed with Lisa Harp; her methodologies are unique and very effective. I have already used some of her “tricks of the trade” with my most challenged students. Her stuff works!

Lisa, where in the world do you get these great teaching techniques?