Vignette #10 – Over time, a high school math teacher learns the importance of proactively communicating with parents about what they can expect from him, what is expected of their children and how they can help support the persistence needed to develop math skills at home and at school.
While Matthew Shapiro admits to having always loved math, he has grown acutely aware that many of his students (and their parents) do not share this sentiment. In fact, he finds that much of his challenge as a math teacher involves trying to get students over the fear of math that can intimidate and derail much of their learning. He shares that many students do fine with elementary and middle school math, but then struggle with the more abstract thinking that Algebra requires. Because proficiency around this more challenging math requires practice, it has been crucial for Mathew to find ways to help support student learning both in and outside of his classroom. With a range of families and abilities to support students at home, Matthew has come up with various strategies to make sure that his students and their families are aware of supports in place and how to use them. His first step in creating a successful math learning experience is to communicate his expectations just as the school year is getting underway. This comes in various forms, from communicating about the materials that students will need in class, to a “habit of mind” around success and struggle in the classroom. He makes it clear to parents that it is OK for their kids to struggle with math; in fact, this is encouraged. Matthew firmly believes that his students (and their parents) need practice with this concept of accepting struggle in order to overcome challenge. Highly aware that students work at difference paces and skill levels, he makes his expectations for homework practice clear to families, even designating a fixed time period for work and a playful “no cry” homework policy. For students who cannot finish the homework in the allotted time, who face extreme frustration, and who may need additional instruction, Matthew has built in opportunities for “extra help.” From day one he makes it clear to parents that he is available in his classroom every morning for a half hour before school starts. He also hosts a tutoring session every Monday afternoon for anyone who wants extra support or just a place to “get going” on the weekly assignments. With each assignment, Matthew makes certain to provide explicit directions and steps for how to do the problems. All of these materials are sent home in a hard copy and posted on his class website. Matthew also provides links on his website to online tutorials that students and parents may access for further instruction and practice.
In order to get his students to achieve at the high levels he expects, Mathew makes it clear to students and their families that hard work and persistence will lead to success. He also communicates that he is committed to the growth of each of his students by helping to create individual “contracts of success” that are composed based on information from the “math autobiography” assignments the students complete during the first week of school. In this writing assignment, students have the opportunity to write about their relationship and experiences with math, and how they feel about their successes and/or challenges so far. Because he has witnessed so many students (and their parents) shrug off math as something they are just “not good at,” Matthew does everything he can to dispel this explanation as a damaging myth. From posters on his walls to the speech he gives about how crucial math concepts are for success in life, Mathew takes every opportunity to encourage students to commit to the grit it takes to work through the challenges that math problems offer.
In addition to providing parents with a guide on how to positively talk about math with their teens at home, he offers materials and opportunities for parents to acknowledge and address their own fears. “Math Fair” has been a significant success in getting parents and students to come see and experiment with math materials in a celebratory and confidence boosting way. With students hosting booths to introduce their younger peers (and parents) to the concepts and materials in the year ahead, Mathew thinks that this public participation in “doing math” is a helpful way of clarifying expectations about what is on the horizon and all that is possible. One of the most popular parts of the math fair are the booths hosted by parents and community members who volunteer to talk with students about how they use math in their jobs. Matthew hopes that this future oriented focus on math will inspire parents to help support their children in choosing the more rigorous math classes available. Matthew also invites a few representatives from local colleges to be present to speak with students and parents about their expectations for what students will take for high school math in order to get into and succeed at their colleges. Finally, Mathew makes certain that each family receives a math packet the summer before the school year begins. With goals for the year clarified, and suggestions for practice and proficiency, Mathew hopes that his students will enter (and leave) his classroom with ideas of how to incorporate and practice math as an ongoing skill and interest.
- Parents Share Math Help Tips – From the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, this short resource page shares ides for how parents can best help their children succeed with math. It provides quotations from parent experiences on the following: being positive about math, communicating with your child, having high expectations, and respecting the way your child learns.
- Communicating High Expectations to Students – From TEP (Teaching Effectiveness Program), this page includes a compiled list of teacher contributed ideas that respond to the following question: How do you communicate high expectations to your students in order to encourage their success? The list is then followed by other more explanatory contributions from teachers on setting high expectations for their students.
- Describing Habits of Mind – A comprehensive article that outlines and describes “Habits of Mind” as they relate to learning and thinking.
- Khan Academy, Open Ed. Providers Evolve With Common Core – This Education Week article shares how Khan Academy is evolving by unveiling new online math resources that are tied to the Common Core State Standards. The article also shows the evolution of Khan Academy, from YouTube videos prepared by Khan to help tutor family members, to its current state of thousands of K-12 math exercises accessed by many.
- Kahn Academy – This is the direct link to Kahn Academy, for tutorials and free learning resources for K-12 math.
- High School Math: How Parents Can Help Build Skills – This short article shares tips for how parents can help their high school students with math homework and skills.