As the school year came to an end, final tests were administered, and grades were calculated. You worked hard all year, but as you closed the book on each subject, you kept pushing off math because you knew what was coming. Math was a complete disaster!
It would be easy to get wrapped up in the disappointment of an unproductive math year, continue to avoid the problem, or even just blame it on the curriculum. However, that won’t actually solve the problem; it could just compound it. Instead, set aside your frustration and guilt, and approach the issue analytically with this simple system: evaluate, identify, decide, plan, and act.
Evaluate your student’s skills.
Grades are an effective tool to get a snapshot of progress, but they don’t provide deep insights. Therefore, you need to take an honest and thorough look at what they have learned and retained. Most curricula have placement tests or final tests that can be utilized. When administering these types of evaluations, don’t just place the test in front of them, set a timer, and walk away. Sit with them and watch how they solve the problems. Let them ask questions if they need clarification, but don’t do the work for them. If they get stuck and can’t solve a problem, assure them that there is no pressure, you’re just gaining an understanding of where they are.
By watching how they solve problems, you may gain interesting insights. How much work is mental? Can they write the problem out? Do they solve problems in a systematic way? Is their work legible? Can they work multiple problems of the same kind correctly or do they struggle with the more difficult problems? When they encounter a problem they can’t work, is it because of gaps from previous years, or are these gaps from this year? These insights can help you understand not only what was learned but show you where to focus your efforts.
Identify what went right and wrong with last year’s approach.
Your knee jerk reaction to a disastrous math year might be to toss the curriculum, but that isn’t always what caused the problem. The two main areas to analyze are instruction and practice. Was instruction regular? Were you prepared? What format was used: digital, videos, or print?
Was practice frequent and consistent? Was the student’s work checked in a timely manner? What time of day did they work on math? Where did they work on math? Were there too many distractions? This is a good opportunity to ask your child for their feedback. Remember, this is not to place blame or guilt, but to identify what needs to be adjusted so that progress can be made next year.
Decide how to move forward.
You have several options: review before moving on, repeat the entire course, move on but backfill as necessary, do math over the summer, take a break, or hire some help. Any of these options could also be accompanied by using the same curriculum, using a new curriculum, or adding supplemental resources.
A review could include using the grades you have to identify what lessons need to be repeated. For example, if your child got anything lower than a 80% on a test, review that lesson. An entire course may need to be repeated if the evaluation showed a number of lacking skills. Moving on and back filling as needed can be an acceptable option if there were only a couple of skills that were weak. Summer school can help you to catch up, but it can also be a good opportunity to just keep skills sharp.
Finally, there is no shame in seeking help from a tutor. Tutors can do more than just take over instruction. They can help by doing the evaluation, helping you identify areas of weakness, and even helping you make decisions on how to move forward.
Make a realistic plan.
This is the fun part! What homeschool parent doesn’t like planning the year with planners and colored pens? It’s almost as satisfying as seeing the brown truck rolling up the driveway with fresh curriculum inside. But before you ruin your new planner, keep reading.
Set realistic goals like prioritizing math each day. Work on math first if that fits your student’s best learning time. Block math time off on your calendar and don’t schedule other events or activities during that time. Complete a lesson or chapter every week or some other set period of time. Much of your plan will depend on which curriculum you plan to use, and many of them have a system for how much to do each day. Just remember that you are the boss. You get to decide what is realistic for your particular student at this time of their life.
Buy the curriculum or dust off last year’s books. Prepare yourself for instruction by reading through the curriculum. Pick up the phone, call the tutor, and pay for the first month or enroll in the online course if that is what you decided to do. Make your reward chart or set appointments with your accountability partner. Block off math time in your calendar. When the first day of math comes, put pencil to paper and start working problems. The old saying applies: There is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
You aren’t a failure.
Evaluate, identify, decide, plan, and act—this system is an analytical approach to reclaiming a year of math that might seem to be down the drain. But more importantly, it is an approach that will help you build a plan of action to be successful for the upcoming year. Even if this year was a disaster, you aren’t a failure. Establishing new habits is a challenging thing to do, but you are capable. After all, you are already a parent called by God to do this crazy thing called homeschooling. He will equip you with what you need when you need it.