In my thinking, it’s best if parents are not expected to help students with their math. My students’ #1 need is to learn how to learn. Here are some fantastic ways a parent can help without understanding anything about math:
- Assignments: Parents can help by going over the assignment sheet every night. That, of course, assumes that the teacher has posted the assignments online in an easily accessible spot. A student may say, “I left it at school.” A wise parent can sympathize and say, “That’s rough, but a little extra practice won’t hurt. Let’s get started.” The student is unlikely to leave it at school again soon. With today’s technology, there should be no reason why a parent cannot help a student understand what homework has been assigned and when it is due. It takes a lot of emotional maturity to set aside preferred activities to work on homework. We want our students to be responsible, but there are other ways to learn those character traits without failing core classes.
- Checking answers: It really surprised me, going into teaching, how few students check their answers when answers are provided. Students spend many years in math classes practicing making mistakes (wrong answers). It has become progressively worse over the years. They miss so many learning opportunities where they should be saying, “Why is my answer wrong?” and getting help with their particular issue. Instead, they tend to imagine ways they might get the right answer (in their own minds). The confusion snowballs from there. I use Khan Academy for much of my students’ homework; but when they have to use a book or a worksheet, parents can help by comparing answers provided with homework completed. They can let the teacher know the student is lost. It is the teacher’s job to figure out how to fix it. However, one of the toughest parts of a math teacher’s job is figuring out who faked understanding and who forgot. Parents make great co-detectives.
- Coaching video and online homework: Some students may multi-task their way through a video and then throw their hands up. They may need a parent to help them focus, pause, and rewind. Parents can notice when a student is just clicking and not really thinking through questions. Parents can also lend emotional support by reminding their students of other resources a teacher may provide for help when the student is frustrated.
- Mastery Quizzes or Standards-Based Grading: The way I structure grading is to put key skills in mastery quizzes. That way it is entirely possible to move on with a D and survive at the next level. Parents can help by watching for mastery quizzes in the grade portal and ensuring students get the help they need to master related skills. They can also hold students accountable for getting around to re-quizzing outside of class. Of course, I would like every student to have an A, but my D students can still survive. Whatever the key skill deficiencies are, students who do not pass their mastery quizzes can make up for lost time by watching recommended online videos and working additional practice problems. From the research I have read and my own observations, the most important skill in all of math is working with fractions. Without strong fraction skills, rational functions are impossible, rational exponents are intimidating, and partial fractions are out of reach. Mastery quizzes that can be retaken provide incentive for students to master fraction skills without spending much time on them in class.
Parents are busy these days, too. They may be working 3 jobs to keep food on the table. I would never judge a parent as not caring about our students. Many of them have time but are intimidated by the whole educational system. When we convey simple ways to get involved, parents can provide support that makes the difference between a student who gives up and a student who becomes successful for the first time in their life. Let’s make those connections and double our strength in lifting all students to their potential.