Project Math Access

A student who has experienced frequent failure in mathematics is unlikely to be motivated to improve his or her performance. It is probable that he or she attributes the failure to bad luck, or difficulty of the subject. The student is likely to believe that increased effort and persistence will not make any difference in the outcome, that he or she has no control over success or failure in mathematics; and to develop a stance of helplessness and passivity (Corral, 1997).

To help change this perception, instruction in actual learning strategies specific to each type of mathematical operation or concept, paired with instruction in positive "self-talk" can be effective. The student will begin to expect success instead of failure, and to see the connection between effort and success.

Depending upon the specific circumstances, one or more of the following learning strategies will help a student to master mathematics skills, and to apply those skills to solve real-life problems: use of manipulatives; estimation; simplification of problems through a separation into subunits; elimination of extraneous information; or verbalizing the problem using if-then logic.

It may be helpful for students to develop an organizer, and also a checklist of questions to aid in systematic problem solving as well as the self-checking process. The student can refer to his or her list while solving a problem, until the steps are covered without this reference. An example of an organizer is RAPS (Meltzer, 1996):

- R=READ & RAP (read problem and repeat in your own words)
- A=ART (draw a diagram or use objects to show the problem)
- P=PLAN & PREDICT (think of a plan for solving the problem and predict or estimate the answer)
- S=SYLVIA (check answer with calculator, which in this case is named Sylvia)

A checklist could include these sample questions covering typical errors:

- Are the correct numbers written in the problem?
- Are the numbers lined up correctly?
- Are the signs of operation correct?
- What is my estimated answer?
- What is the actual answer? Is it reasonable? Is it close to my estimate?

Following are some suggestions for teaching a student to think positively about mathematics:

- Model each learning or problem solving strategy (examples, as listed above, or specific to a particular curriculum or student), with a written reference, stressing the reasons it is valuable:
- Model the steps by working through a problem verbally, explaining the strategies used at each step.
- Work another problem along with the student, continuing to verbalize strategies and their value.
- Have the student work through a problem while stating the strategy steps; provide immediate corrective feedback.
- Have the student work through a problem without stating the strategy steps; provide immediate feedback.
- Next, the student will solve several problems independently.
- Finally, the student will state the strategy steps from memory, and demonstrate how they are used.
- Model the use of positive statements while working on a mathematics problem (Corral, 1997); for example:
- I can probably solve this problem because I have been successful solving problems which are very much like this one.
- If this problem seems difficult, that means I need to try harder; then I will probably be successful.
- If I work carefully, I will probably be successful.
- If I make a mistake, I will be able to find it and correct it.

Corral, N., & Antia, S. D. (1997). Self-talk: Strategies for success in mathematics. *Teaching Exceptional Children*, 29, 42-45.

Meltzer, L. J., Roditi, B. N., Haynes, D. P., Biddle, K. R., Paster, M., & Taber, S. E. (1996). *Strategies for success: Classroom teaching techniques for students with learning problems*. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.