Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 81. Today we are looking at how to help kids get away from that feeling of “I’m Just Bad at Math!”
There are all kinds of reasons why kids struggle with math and sometimes people say things to help kids feel better about it that really end up causing more harm than good.
The book I’m Just Bad at Math! by Allison Gray is a short chapter book about a girl, Lucy, who wants to be good at math but is struggling. Struggling with timed tests at school and struggling with her homework, especially when her dad tries to help. Pages 6-8 bring us into her home where we see her parents are trying to help but their words just make Lucy feel even more defeated:
“Don’t worry,” her mom replied.
“I was never good at math either. But you are good at spelling.”
“That’s just great, Mom.” Lucy had to work hard at not rolling her eyes.
“But how is that going to help me do well on the math quiz tomorrow?” Lucy was not in a very agreeable mood.
She wanted to start off the new school year at least pretending she knew how to do math.
Dad looked up from the book he was reading. “Lucy, I have told you many times that I will help you with your math tables. Math just comes easier to boys than it does to girls.”
There’s two phrases in there that I’ve heard people say many times, thinking they are helping validate a students’ abilities:
“It’s okay. I was never good at math either.”
“Math is easier for boys than for girls.”
When a child hears these, they think that they will never be able to be good at math.
The story goes on to a happier ending, of course because all books do, and it gives us two things to help kids see that they aren’t bad at math – a lot of times kids think they are bad at math because they aren’t fast at math.
#1 – Later in the story Lucy’s teacher does something that helps Lucy see that math isn’t just about being fast at her times tables. Which is something I believe as well. Kids need to see that school math isn’t just about being fast.
#2 – Lucy does math outside of school and the problem was easier for her to figure out. When kids have math problems that are relevant to them they will persevere and solve them.
This book is a great read aloud to address the issue that some of your kiddos are thinking they are just bad at math. It can be a great kickoff to a Growth Mindset investigation and how in your classroom you will be helping them change their thinking about their math abilities.
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