Three Tips for Math Tutors

Math can be a tricky subject. I myself never considered myself a “math person.” As math became more complex in 6th grade, I started struggling. Then in 7th grade, I started in honors Pre-Algebra and it was all downhill from there. Most of the algebraic concepts flew completely over my head and it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school taking Algebra II that everything I was supposed to learn in Pre-Algebra and Algebra started to “click” with me.

There are many students out there who are struggling in math as I did in school. Math is difficult, but it is also tricky. For the most part there is only one right answer, and if you don’t know how to get to that point, you can become very frustrated. Sometimes there are no right answers in math, which is even more confusing. I know that I could have benefited from having a math tutor in school.

Here are three tips for math tutors to help them, help students in need:

1)      Provide Guidance for Your Student

A math tutor should be there to help guide a student through the problem solving process to help him or her reach a solution. The tutor should avoid doing the problems for the student, as the student will not fully understand how they got to the answer, and misses out on learning how to solve the problem. Instead of pointing out the answer, the tutor should walk through the problem with the student and help find exactly where the student has made or an error or is becoming lost or confused. This will help both of you develop an understanding if the student his having conceptual issues or if it has more to do with the problem solving process.

2)      Help The Student Manage Anxiety

Because I struggled so much in math in school I had to stay after class 3-4 times a week. Some of my teachers were fantastic for extra help and realized that I wanted to do well in the class; I just wasn’t getting enough out of the 45 minute period and needed some extra help. Others I couldn’t connect with and felt “stupid” around. I remember one time a teacher got so frustrated with me as I couldn’t find an answer and he started to yell “You just did it, the answer is right there,” but I still didn’t see it.

As a math tutor you want to avoid from telling a student that “this is easy” or becoming frustrated if the student doesn’t understand right away. Most likely a student who isn’t performing well in class will have some form of anxiety around the subject. Be patient and encouraging with your student. A calming approach can help the student better manage their stress and fear of the subject.

3)      Provide Tricks and Shortcuts to Learning Concepts

I remember when taking Algebra in 8th grade that the teacher spent a whole period teaching how to simplify radicals, and none of us understood a word she was saying. However the next day she gave us an analogy. She put the square root of 8 up on the board and told us to simplify. We simplified the 8 into a 4 and a 2.

Then she told us simplify the 4 which left us with two 2s. She then gave us the idea that numbers are paired get to “go on a date” and get to leave the house. So the two 2s from the 4 got to leave the “house” (i.e. the radical sign) and the other 2 stayed inside. This one little trick helped the entire class learn the concept much easier. Try to identify short cuts, or rules such as PEMDAS that will help the student better understand the material so they can learn in their own way.


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