Learned helplessness is something we want to avoid at all costs. How we interact and work with students and the language we use can help combat learned helplessness and encourage student confidence and independence. This post shares math strategies for helping students with math practice (independent work at school or homework).
The next two sections provide suggestions for language and questioning techniques that we can use when supporting students as they work independently.
The sections are divided into two categories:
- If a Student is Stuck on a Problem
- If a Student is Asking You To Confirm or Check His/Her Work
If a Student is Stuck on a Problem
If a student is stuck on a problem, try some of these questions to activate their prior knowledge and get them thinking:
- What have you done in class that could help you solve this?
- Do you have any notes or reference that you can use?
- What do you think your first step should be?
- What is the problem asking you to do?
- What does this problem remind you of?
- What do you want to try first?
- What would you do if the numbers were smaller?
- Let me read the problem and you retell it in your own words.
The purpose of asking the above questions is to get the students to reflect on what they already know, to reflect on what can help them, and to help them activate that prior knowledge. This will help them begin to realize that they need to see what they already know and use that before asking for help.
Depending on the student and the math task, the questions above may be all you need to help the students get going with their work. But, that may not always be enough.
Sometimes you will find that students don’t have an entry point for a problem and reflecting on their previous knowledge may not work. In this case I recommend the following strategies (choose the one that work best for your students and the situations):
- Point the student to a math tool or reference that will support them.
- Collaboratively solve the problem together, getting as much input from the student as possible while you are solving. The student should still be doing the majority of the work with you guiding and supporting them. Do not do the work for them. Have the student refer to your collaborative work as he or she completes similar problems.
If a Student Requests That You Check or Confirm Their Work
If the Answer is Correct:
- Can you show me another way to solve this?
- How can we double check your answer?
- Does your answer make sense?
If the Answer is Not Correct:
- Talk me through the steps that you took to get your answer.
- Explain to me how you got your answer.
- Does this make sense?
- How can we check this?
*The purpose of asking the above questions is to get the students to reflect on their work and hopefully realize their own mistakes.
*If the students still don’t catch their mistakes, point out a specific section for the student to double check.
*If they are still stuck, say “Let’s work on this together.” The students must be involved in the corrections. Do not take their pencils and make the corrections. One option is to work the math problem out together on a marker board and then have the students copy the collaborative work onto their paper.
Download a FREE Printable Version
These questions and math strategies also work well when you have volunteers, student teachers, or parents who are able helping students with math in the classroom, at home, or in an afterschool setting.
Click here or on the image below to download a free printable version of the questions shared on this post. You will find two versions: one that is for a classroom setting and one more suitable for sending home with parents.
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