In this article I discuss some general principles in helping students that are behind in math.
If you are teaching a student who struggles in math, you probably already have an idea which math topics are difficult for him or her, but knowing for sure is much better than guesswork. By testing you can be sure to find all the weak areas. This is important because mathematics builds upon earlier concepts.
You can download readymade assessment tests from a variety of sources:
Please note you're not using the tests to necessarily find out what grade level the student is in (though you can), but to pinpoint the exact areas of math that he or she needs help with. So look at the test results closely, question by question.
To find out exactly what the student does not understand, administer several tests from neighboring grade levels, or ask the student to complete problems on certain topics only in the lower level tests. Stress to the student that the test is for evaluation purposes, not for giving grades.
Once you know the topics where the student struggles, make a list of them. If there are only a few, then it is fairly easy to fill in the gaps: simply use Math Mammoth Blue Series books to address those areas.
The Blue Series books are worktexts, which means that they contain both the explanations (the "text") and the problems (the "work"). Each book deals with one area of math, such as place value, addition & subtraction, multiplication tables, multidigit multiplication, long division, measuring, clock, money, geometry, fractions, decimals, proportions, percent, integers, equations, geometry, statistics, and so on. In other words, the books are topical. They cover all the math topics in grades 18. See a full list of the books and the topics here.
The Blue Series books are sold as downloads with very affordable prices, and they are also available as printed copies. Download lots of free samples from these links, and see for yourself!
MathMammoth_Samples_Blue_Series_grades_13.zip
MathMammoth_Samples_Blue_Series_grades_48.zip
The question is more complex if the student is seriously behind. What if your child is in 7th grade but still struggling with 3rd grade topics, such as the multiplication tables?
Here's one possibility. Some of my customers have actually gone back to the very beginning — 1st or 2nd grade math — with Math Mammoth complete curriculum, and had their child work through every grade level systematically, building a very solid foundation.
Typically, an older child can cover many grade levels of elementary math in one year. Don't ask the child to do every problem, but "skim through" the lessons, concentrating on the difficult areas. One idea is to have the child complete the chapter review before studying that particular chapter, in order to discover which lessons from the chapter the child should actually study. I feel this is a good option for many children who are seriously behind.
If you use a regular math curriculum, one way is study a weak area just before the same topic in the child's regular math curriculum. For example, the child could restudy basic division (a 3rd grade topic) just before tackling long division in a 4th grade book. This approach works best if the gaps are not many.
I want to point out that if you are planning to have the student review many topics, the sequence of those topics DOES matter. Certain concepts "flow together." For example, the multiplication tables are important to master before studying basic division, factoring, or most operations with fractions.
Here are some examples where you need to study one concept before another:
addition → concept of multiplication
multiplication tables → division facts → divisibility → equivalent fractions, adding unlike fractions, simplifying fractions → factors & factoring
place value → multidigit addition, subtraction, multiplication, and long division
adding and subtracting like fractions, place value → concept of decimal numbers
decimal place value → decimal addition & subtraction
the concept of decimal numbers and of fractions → percent
the concept of fraction and of ratio → probability
Geometry, measuring, clock, money, and graphs are topics that are usually easy to incorporate into the current course of study.
This scope & sequence chart may also help you.
This is not a "yay or nay" question. With some children, it's advisable to present some new concepts while reviewing earlier ones. That can keep them motivated and not feel so behind. Obviously you cannot start a study of, say, long division if your student lags behind in the basic multiplication or division facts, but you may be able to "sprinkle in" some place value, geometry, time, money, or measuring. Geometry is an especially good area to use while reviewing old concepts, because it typically does not require many calculations.
In some cases, you may have to go back a lot and spend a significant amount of time relearning "old" topics. However, in that scenario, the "old" topics are actually "new" to the student so shouldn't feel boring to him or her. Just use your judgment.
As you can see, your approach can vary. The important thing is that you first assess the student's knowledge and make some kind of "game plan" so you can feel in control. If you have to change your plan, that's alright — in fact, that is quite normal.
Math Mammoth Blue Series worktexts that are an excellent means of reviewing or relearning forgotten topics. (A worktext means that the book contains both explanations (the "text") and problems (the "work) in the same book.)
They deal with a few topics in each book, explaining the concepts and providing varied practice, often with visual models.
The topics covered in the Blue Series range from 1st grade addition to 8th equations, and everything in between: place value, addition & subtraction facts, multiplication tables, multidigit multiplication, long division, measuring, clock, money, geometry, fractions, decimals, proportions, percent, integers, statistics, and more.
See a full list of topics & books here, with gradelevel suggestions for each book.
These books are sold both as digital downloads (very affordable) and as printed copies.
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