What Parents Need To Know: The Educational Therapist’s Approach to Math Remediation
By David Berg, E.T.
Founder/Director of the Making Math Real Institute
Creator of the Making Math Real Multisensory Structured Methodologies in Mathematics, K-12
“I’m dumb in math!” “I’m never going to use this stuff,” Math is stupid!” “I HATE MATH!” More heartfelt sentiments have probably never been expressed. Students who struggle in math, especially now during this phase of inappropriate acceleration we see in the schools, experience undue stress and anxiety on a daily basis. These students have the sense that they are as smart as their peers, but their frustration is compounded because others seem to get it “faster and better.” It is important to note that students who struggle in math are as smart as their classmates, but typically, they lack the underlying development that supports their ability to make and retain essential connections in math.
The successful remediation for the learning disabled or the learning different student of any age requires:
- understanding and identifying the precise cognitive development that supports math learning
- assessment to determine what development is already in place and which areas need further development
- incremental, systematic, multisensory structured methods to integrate that development within
every lesson and activity
- comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the state standards at every grade level
- ongoing communication with classroom teacher/school and the home to monitor all progress
- familiarity with a wide range of math text used in public and private schools and the specific content covered in standardized tests
- a safe, therapeutic environment for the student (it does not feel like school) to receive prescriptive activities of appropriate challenge that directly address the goals and objectives determined through rigorous assessment and subsequent remediation plan
Students who have experienced academic wounding in math need authentic experiences of success before they will begin to break down their personal myth of preconceived failure. The student who hides his head under his hood or exclaims, “This is BORING!” is usually saying “I hate this repeated feeling of not being successful, and I don’t ever want to have to feel it again.” Therefore, establishing genuine rapport is essential because these students need to feel they have nothing to prove, they are fine the way they are: there is nothing broken that requires fixing, and they have the intelligence to be successful.
Through repeated experiences of success, students start to believe in themselves again. They begin to trust in their own sense of connected thinking. The trust is tenuous at first, and there need to be consistent successes for it to continue to grow until culminating in students becoming independent and self-confident learners. While students are developing greater self-esteem and confidence, they tend to connect deeply with the therapist and the educational safety of the therapeutic office before they feel completely safe in their respective classrooms. However, it is crucial to the success of the therapeutic process that students do not experience ongoing failure at school. Unfortunately, the prevalence of inappropriately accelerated curriculum and text, untenably rapid instruction that emphasizes coverage over content, and limited understanding of learning diversity issues, is making the successful remediation of struggling students unnecessarily difficult. It is therefore critical that the educational therapist establish and maintain effective ongoing communication between the three principal stakeholders: therapist, school, and family. Working together as a team is an ongoing organic dance that requires patience and perseverance, but is the most essential element for successful remediation.