Since you clicked on this subject, it is possible that you or someone you love are among the 40% of Americans who report that they hate math…that’s about 132 million people who feel that way, so it’s not exactly rare! Still, what is it about math that draws this reaction?
Well, there’s good news, bad news and some very good news.
First, the good news. There’s no missing math brain cells in those 132 million people! They could be great at math with very little effort, and they would probably find it encouraging that they are smarter than they ever thought possible…if they got the right instruction.
Now the bad news. Few people get the right instruction, aimed at their specific style of learning, and much of the instruction of math in schools is not designed well. The teachers, to their credit, do the very best job they can with the curriculum they are given, but that can be a very tall order. Look at the failure of Common Core. How many students, parents, and teachers suffered through that? Too many.
So, now for the very good news.
Math is a clear, predictable process if it is presented in the right way. (Take a moment and watch the math video if you have a chance – in it you can see how a perfectly intelligent student had felt defeated for years, and then overcame that frustration in what seemed like the blink of an eye.) To put it in a nutshell, every step in math is built upon the last step, so it is not like history or science where you can just memorize the information and write it down on the test when you need it. Math is a process that you have to understand so you will be able to solve a unique problem that you have never seen before. Crazy, right?
Well, kinda sorta.
If you were crystal clear about all the processes that you needed in advance
And you had someone sit down and guide you through solving this new kind of puzzle
And you were never lost or confused because you had a guide to show you the way
And you surprised yourself with how clever you were
And you had absolutely killed it on the last 5 tests…
…then it might not seem so crazy. You might even feel like you are a genius.
Feeling like a genius is good. So let’s go with that.
This is not some wild fairy tale. This is the expected outcome.
It’s okay if you question it, if you wonder if this is for real. It is.
Come live the dream. You are smarter than you know.
Reading is not a natural process.
Humans were around for a very long time before anyone came up with the idea. It developed, little by little, over a very long period of time. Most civilizations that came up with some form of reading and writing that used characters which represented ideas, like modern day Mandarin. The only civilization that has ever come up with the idea of using symbols to represent sounds were the ancient Phonecians. That is where we get our word “phonics” and how we came about the idea of using letters to make words that we “sound out”.
So much for the history lesson. Now, about reading. Like we said, reading is not a natural process, and it turns out that English is a very difficult language when it comes to reading. Take a look at the following example using the letters “ough”.
Tough rhymes with puff.
Though rhymes with go.
Through rhymes with blue.
Thought rhymes with taut.
That doesn’t make any sense. Other languages do better. In Spanish, the letters say the same thing every time you see them. We had a Spanish speaking mom who asked why her son was having so much trouble learning to read English. She asked if he was just being lazy since it was so simple to learn to read.
So we looked at the word “no” which is the same in both languages. She knew the pronunciation.
Next, we looked at the work “now”. She was lost, and was surprised to hear that it rhymed with “how”.
Finally, we added a “k” to the front. She said, “Is it ‘kay now’?” When she found it turned back into the same pronunciation as “no” she said, “English is crazy!”
Yes, English is crazy, and it makes the process of reading that much harder to learn.
Reading is a very complex process that involves the eyes sending signals to the occipital lobe in the brain (you actually “see” in the occipital lobe, which is located, surprisingly, in the back of your head). Your brain perceives the shapes of the letters, and then has to decide what sounds those letters combine to make, then figure out what words those sounds will turn into. Finally, those words are turned into meaning in an area of the brain called Wernicke’s area. If there is any little glitch along the way, the process of reading can be derailed.
Why do we go into all this? Because many people who have struggled learning to read think that it is a lack of intelligence on their part. In short, they report that it makes them feel dumb.
Fortunately, it has nothing to do with their IQ. The process of perceiving and decoding letters is not related to intelligence, it has to do with other parts of the brain that process visual and linguistic input. It is more like being color blind – a person who does not see red or green does not think they are not smart enough to see red or green, it is just a small part of their perception that is different. Same here. 5000 years ago, before the invention of reading and writing, people with this slight difference never even knew they had it. And it made no difference.
Nowadays, the situation is reversed. It is crucial that every person gains this skill. For some students it may take longer and it may require more effort and repetition, but the value in this skill makes it imperative.
Fortunately, it can be done. And with the right techniques of instruction, it can be done painlessly. Again, it may take time, but it should be a lighthearted and playful process that ultimately ends up with the student reading fluently and with good comprehension.
For most students who take the SAT, it’s the math section that causes difficulty. We met a student who was actually a good math student but who could not get his math score out of the 500 range. He wanted to go to a top school and the score was not cutting it.
When we explained that there is actually a “back door” to most of the math problems on the SAT, he looked at us doubtfully. What could that possibly mean? It means that the test is designed very differently than normal math tests, and if you understand how they have put it together, you will know how to solve the problems much more easily, some in just a few seconds.
He studied with us for a little over 5 months, so he definitely put in the work to get the process down. Even so, he was stunned when he got his score the next time he took the test. A perfect 800 on the math section! Yes, you read that right. Not everybody that we work with gets a perfect 800, but every single student improves significantly.
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