Author Topic: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.  (Read 1702 times)

sjc0816

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7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« on: October 02, 2018, 03:46:19 PM »
Looking for some advice!

This is my son's first year of junior high and first year of advanced math. He tested out of 7th grade math and is in 8th.

We are only 5 weeks into the school year and he has gotten some bad test grades. It's very confusing because he breezes through the homework and I've sat down with him to go over the quizzes/tests and it's all careless mistakes. He knows how to do the math....but it's NOT translating to grades. And it's causing some major frustration and confusion with him. He even re-took a test that he got a C on the first time around and got a 59% the second time. He said he took it during his study hall but the classroom was crazy chaotic and he was really distracted.

He came home crying because he can't figure out why he's doing so poorly when he knows how to do the problems. I think the distractions plus test anxiety now (from doing poorly)....coupled with transitioning to a new school, junior high etc. are causing the issues.

I have asked him several times if he thinks he should drop down to regular math and he does not want that. Should I push for it? He has a C right now in advanced. I would like to try and arm him with some test taking tactics to maybe help with the careless errors....any suggestions on that?

I'd love to hear from anyone who has been through something similar or has advice. Thank you!

secondcor521

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2018, 04:41:02 PM »
0.  Look to see if there is a trend.  Maybe he started off with a bad test grade or two and things have improved from there.  But if the grades are level or on a downward trend, then:
1.  Teach your son how to double check his work.  There are techniques with this in math:  substitute the answer back into the equation, etc.
2.  Tell your son to slow down.  If he feels time pressure or the environment distracts, see if the teacher will let him have more time or take the tests in a quieter environment.
3.  Ask the teacher for his/her input/opinion on what's going on.
4.  Consider switching your kid to a different teacher.  He could have a bad teacher or a teacher that he just doesn't click with.  This is highly situational as to whether this is needed or would be helpful.
5.  Have your son checked for learning difficulties.  Could be mild ADHD/Aspergers/test anxiety/something else.  In most public schools they'll do quite a bit of work investigating stuff like this.

You also might glean some information if his homework grades are good and it is just his test scores are bad, or if they're all bad.  If they're all bad then maybe he doesn't really understand it and perhaps your assessment of whether he really gets it might be a mistake of confirmation bias - you want him to understand it so you're looking for signs that he gets it when he really doesn't.

AMandM

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2018, 06:45:46 PM »
I would look carefully at the difference between the environment in which he does homework (i.e., where he works correctly) and the environment in which he takes tests (where he makes mistakes). Consider
-noise level
-interruptions (does the teacher keep shushing students, or announcing "ten more minutes"?)
-time pressure
Some of these the teacher might be able to mitigate or compensate for (earplugs?).

But consider also: at home, does he have a parent or sibling keeping him on track, making sure he checks his answers, or pointing out mistakes? Could it be that the homework is over-estimating his actual understanding?

Slowing down is generally extremely helpful for careless mistakes.  We had one daughter who made a lot of them and she trained herself to go one step at a time, practically narrating each number she wrote down.  Going slow and doing fewer problems correctly resulted in about the same grade as going fast and making mistakes, but it had a much higher rate of correct to attempted. Little by little she got faster without losing the correctness rate, and her grades improved.

mm1970

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2018, 02:12:21 PM »
0.  Look to see if there is a trend.  Maybe he started off with a bad test grade or two and things have improved from there.  But if the grades are level or on a downward trend, then:
1.  Teach your son how to double check his work.  There are techniques with this in math:  substitute the answer back into the equation, etc.
2.  Tell your son to slow down.  If he feels time pressure or the environment distracts, see if the teacher will let him have more time or take the tests in a quieter environment.
3.  Ask the teacher for his/her input/opinion on what's going on.
4.  Consider switching your kid to a different teacher.  He could have a bad teacher or a teacher that he just doesn't click with.  This is highly situational as to whether this is needed or would be helpful.
5.  Have your son checked for learning difficulties.  Could be mild ADHD/Aspergers/test anxiety/something else.  In most public schools they'll do quite a bit of work investigating stuff like this.

You also might glean some information if his homework grades are good and it is just his test scores are bad, or if they're all bad.  If they're all bad then maybe he doesn't really understand it and perhaps your assessment of whether he really gets it might be a mistake of confirmation bias - you want him to understand it so you're looking for signs that he gets it when he really doesn't.
Also: head phones or earplugs? 

I am very affected by noise, so the few times I've taken tests where people were intentionally making noise, it was not good.  Our district has a math superbowl annually.  There is one particular school that is wealthy and proud of how well they do.  Well, a few years ago, my son's average school actually tied them (10th place).  Apparently, there are four students in each grade - 4th-5th-6th.  They put them at 2 tables, with 2 from each grade so you cannot cheat.  ONE of the tables had a 4th grader who was noisy and disruptive during the test, and that entire table TANKED.

Also ask if there is extra work that he can do - but I'd imagine starting with "test taking strategies" like doing the easy items first, going back to the harder ones, and how to check your work would suffice.

My 7th grader is in advanced math (this year: only 8 students!)  They don't skip 7th grade math in our school, they scrunch 7th-8th-9th into two years.  SO they just go faster.

He never used to be a very good test taker either - we had to work with him.  In 2nd grade, he took the GATE test (all students do), and he said "I finished really fast, it was easy!"  And...it's because he wasn't careful.  It took a few years of working with him - and probably by the end of 6th he was doing better.

sjc0816

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2018, 03:52:50 PM »
Thank you for these responses - they are all very helpful!

We have spent the last several days going through tests and it seems part of the problem is messy handwriting and careless errors based on that.

Distractions/anxiety are also a big problem for him. Last year, he was given a common core benchmark test in math (they give out three a year) and was barely proficient. After conferences, his teacher agreed that he could have his own table at the front of the class for the next test....and his scores were in the advanced range for that test.

I know that he doesn't want to ask for special treatment this year (if possible)....so we are going to work on relaxing and practice a lot more on clean work and double checking his work.

Sibley

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #5 on: October 05, 2018, 08:38:16 AM »
There are also strategies to help you train yourself to block out distractions, even without headphones, etc. Some of that may be helpful.

Tuskalusa

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #6 on: October 05, 2018, 09:08:11 AM »
I have a 7th grader too. He also struggles with going too fast and not double checking his work.  It’s led to lower grades than we’ve ever seenfrom a normally good student.  I think this is age appropriate, to some extent. Since your son is still getting a passing grade and he’s a year ahead, this seems like a good learning opportunity, with low consequences over the long term. If he learns to slow down and take his time now, he’ll be ready for higher level math in the future.

Bottom line, I’d probably keep him in the class, and remind him to slow down a bit. Then let him work the rest out in his own.

mm1970

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #7 on: October 05, 2018, 10:41:18 AM »
Thank you for these responses - they are all very helpful!

We have spent the last several days going through tests and it seems part of the problem is messy handwriting and careless errors based on that.

Distractions/anxiety are also a big problem for him. Last year, he was given a common core benchmark test in math (they give out three a year) and was barely proficient. After conferences, his teacher agreed that he could have his own table at the front of the class for the next test....and his scores were in the advanced range for that test.

I know that he doesn't want to ask for special treatment this year (if possible)....so we are going to work on relaxing and practice a lot more on clean work and double checking his work.
The consistently bad grade for my son all through elementary: handwriting.  So I feel you.

MaybeBabyMustache

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #8 on: October 05, 2018, 10:44:40 AM »
Have a 7th grade son in advanced math, and his number one place for failure is sloppiness/not showing his work. If you combine the two, and make a simple error in the first stage of a multi-stage problem, and don't show your work. . . your grade goes from a potential of maybe a "B" score to a "D" or "F".

Here's the framing I'm using currently with our son. Middle school is an opportunity to learn all of the skills required for high school & college. Right now, you're identifying that he does really well on homework (great!), but is challenged with classwork. That could indicate he's distracted, rushing, etc, but you can help coach him through those things so he can learn & be successful. I'd focus on skill building generally, vs just this particular class.

Good luck!

galliver

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #9 on: October 05, 2018, 12:10:43 PM »
First of all, it sounds like you're being really chill about this and sending him the right message, that by working on issues that come up we can improve them, and that the grades are an indicator of something not working in how he is studying or test-taking, not something wrong with him, his intelligence, anything like that. Props! With that, a couple approaches/strategies that came to mind that I might consider trying in your shoes:

Can you do some practice tests with him (timed) in a busy public place like a library or coffee shop? You obviously can't replicate the exact test situation but it would have some of the same elements like distractions, etc. so you can observe and diagnose what's going on. If it turns out or you suspect the thing messing with him is pressure rather than those things, maybe put chores or allowance on the line? (I'm thinking as both carrot and stick...give him something to win but also something to lose, but not in a punitive way...more like gambling?)

The other thing that comes to mind is: how does he study? I've always hated tests with a time crunch element, but I also eventually realized that being able to do something fast tends to be an indicator of knowing the topic/process well. It could be the homework is not enough problems to actually be enough practice for him for the test; if he's studying by reviewing the concepts/reading the book that may not be helping him, and doing a few more problems might.

Also, I'm no expert at this, but I've been reading a lot about meditation lately. Not in a woo-woo way, but people report that sitting even 3-5 minutes trying to focus on your breath every day can help you train yourself to bring your brain back from distracting thoughts and keep focus on a task at hand. I haven't been a regular at it but I've turned to it when my anxiety acts up and have noticed it helping sometimes.

This randomly just reminded me of one more thing: sleep!! My brain is totally scattered if I don't get enough, and I make more careless mistakes in my work, or go slow. Middle school is a weird time for sleep, but anything you can do to ensure he gets enough good sleep 2 nights before a test (motivate encourage, bribe, force, etc) will probably help. To sweeten the deal, give him a chocolate bar to have before the test; my mom always said it was good for focus and gave us one before SATs and the like ;)

PS disclaimer: Not a parent, but I've tutored, worked with 12-17yo in summer camps, and have a general interest in education. And have done a LOT of school.

ltt

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2018, 07:07:15 AM »
Four kids here, but two of my kids just aren't good test takers, never have been.  They do great on their homework, but when it comes time to take the test, well, they struggle.  I wouldn't say a "C" is struggling in advanced math.  I would consider that average and not to worry.  Oh, and I would suggest to him that he take the test in a quiet place, not study hall when it is crazy busy.   

jeninco

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #11 on: October 07, 2018, 04:22:47 PM »
Along with having him practice checking his work and slow down to write clearly, this is a good time to have him start writing out all his steps -- even the ones that he "sees" and thinks it's dumb to write out in a separate line.

Also, for checking his work, it's really great to learn some strategies that don't boil down to "just do it again and see if you get the same answer." So taking the answer and, for instance, doing the inverse operation to see if you get your starting value back is a different way to check, and also increases his understanding of what he's doing.

I also second talking with the teacher in a collaborative way. S/he may have good ideas for the kid, and it's great modeling.

You have a lot of great ideas -- good luck!

better late

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #12 on: October 07, 2018, 06:36:53 PM »
I don’t know what advanced math means in your district but there is a jump from concrete to abstract that happens with algebra. Some kids who were very strong in math skills flounder a bit with the transition, especially if the problems on the test are even just a bit more complex than the homework. (or if your child is of the mindset that the first one done is the “winner”). I would talk to the teacher to get their impression of what’s going on. Their insight could be helpful and you can get a sense of the teacher’s style/personality. See if your child is participating in class or if he is often one of the first ones to finish.

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2018, 06:52:11 PM »
Performing math calculations by hand on graph paper instead of blank paper seemed to help my sloppy-writing son.

I had to insist he write the numbers neatly inside each square and line up the columns correctly using the lines of the grid.  That kept things neat enough that he could see what he was doing and stop with the careless errors.

sjc0816

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #14 on: October 08, 2018, 12:24:13 PM »
Performing math calculations by hand on graph paper instead of blank paper seemed to help my sloppy-writing son.

I had to insist he write the numbers neatly inside each square and line up the columns correctly using the lines of the grid.  That kept things neat enough that he could see what he was doing and stop with the careless errors.

Off to buy graph paper. GREAT tip, thank you!

waltworks

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #15 on: October 08, 2018, 09:28:07 PM »
It's not a race. Bumping down to easier math now doesn't mean he won't end up as a professional statistician. Grinding through it and being miserable won't mean he will.

If *he* wants to keep grinding away at it, it's ok to really earn a C. Probably a good thing. If he's just losing his mind and miserable, different story.

Not your job to decide. Step away and let him sink or swim.

-W

singpolyma

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #16 on: October 09, 2018, 07:42:46 AM »
Agree with posters saying not to sweat the grades. Especially if the kid is having anxiety affect their ability to learn. Grades are a benchmark for the teacher to know how well the teacher is doing -- in an ideal world we wouldn't even show them to kids. The point of learning is to learn -- if he's getting the concepts and understanding the math, that's the win. The "problem" and "arithmetic" only exist to validate math understanding, but they are not the only (or best) validation tool.

sjc0816

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #17 on: October 09, 2018, 08:23:38 AM »
It's not a race. Bumping down to easier math now doesn't mean he won't end up as a professional statistician. Grinding through it and being miserable won't mean he will.

If *he* wants to keep grinding away at it, it's ok to really earn a C. Probably a good thing. If he's just losing his mind and miserable, different story.

Not your job to decide. Step away and let him sink or swim.

-W

That's what we have always done. It was his decision to take the class in the first place. We discussed the positives and negatives attached to both the advanced math and regular math and let him decide (after he passed the test). He has ZERO desire to switch classes right now so we are trying to work with him a little on some things that might help in the meantime.

sjc0816

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #18 on: October 15, 2018, 07:19:58 AM »
Just wanted to provide a quick update. My son's teacher let him re-take another quiz that he did poorly on (same material but different quiz). He took it during study hall but she let him take it in the library rather than the classroom. He got a 94% and it brought his grade up to a B. Obviously the distraction struggle is real....so we've been talking a lot about ways to tune out noise/movement (yes, movement distracts him too). Obviously he can't take all of his tests alone in the library so he will have to find ways around the distractions. His school is huge (700 kids per graduating class)....and they only have one advanced 7th grade math class so it's very large (the size of two classrooms combined)....and that doesn't help with noise/distractions.

He doesn't have this issue with any other classes but obviously this higher level math takes a higher level of concentration to avoid errors.

Anyway, I really appreciate all of the advice and we will keep working through it!

jeninco

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #19 on: October 15, 2018, 09:20:06 AM »
Just wanted to provide a quick update. My son's teacher let him re-take another quiz that he did poorly on (same material but different quiz). He took it during study hall but she let him take it in the library rather than the classroom. He got a 94% and it brought his grade up to a B. Obviously the distraction struggle is real....so we've been talking a lot about ways to tune out noise/movement (yes, movement distracts him too). Obviously he can't take all of his tests alone in the library so he will have to find ways around the distractions. His school is huge (700 kids per graduating class)....and they only have one advanced 7th grade math class so it's very large (the size of two classrooms combined)....and that doesn't help with noise/distractions.

He doesn't have this issue with any other classes but obviously this higher level math takes a higher level of concentration to avoid errors.

Anyway, I really appreciate all of the advice and we will keep working through it!

You might consider going in and discussing this with the teacher -- especially armed with this new information (about taking it in the library vs a crowded, busy classroom). She may have suggestions -- it's unlikely that this is her first time seeing students struggle to concentrate in a distracting environment. (And if it is, lucky her, she gets to learn about it from friendly parents.)

Congratulations on identifying part of the issue -- and good luck!

secondcor521

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #20 on: October 15, 2018, 11:04:00 AM »
Sounds like a public school.  You may want to read up on IEP / 504 plans which could be helpful.

mm1970

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #21 on: October 15, 2018, 12:10:24 PM »
Just wanted to provide a quick update. My son's teacher let him re-take another quiz that he did poorly on (same material but different quiz). He took it during study hall but she let him take it in the library rather than the classroom. He got a 94% and it brought his grade up to a B. Obviously the distraction struggle is real....so we've been talking a lot about ways to tune out noise/movement (yes, movement distracts him too). Obviously he can't take all of his tests alone in the library so he will have to find ways around the distractions. His school is huge (700 kids per graduating class)....and they only have one advanced 7th grade math class so it's very large (the size of two classrooms combined)....and that doesn't help with noise/distractions.

He doesn't have this issue with any other classes but obviously this higher level math takes a higher level of concentration to avoid errors.

Anyway, I really appreciate all of the advice and we will keep working through it!
Noise canceling headphones?

I agree with the IEP idea also.

Psychstache

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #22 on: October 15, 2018, 12:38:59 PM »
IEPs require students to have a qualifying disability and a need for specialized instruction. As he was able to do well with a small accommodation I doubt he would end up being eligible for or needs an IEP. You could push for an assessment, but that seems a bit extreme at this point based on the information provided.

If he has evidence of a disability, he might be eligible for a 504 plan which would codify his accommodations. If your have any documentation of an attention/executive functioning impairment? Seems like the most likely route for a plan if you want to go that route.
 
Just wanted to provide a quick update. My son's teacher let him re-take another quiz that he did poorly on (same material but different quiz). He took it during study hall but she let him take it in the library rather than the classroom. He got a 94% and it brought his grade up to a B. Obviously the distraction struggle is real....so we've been talking a lot about ways to tune out noise/movement (yes, movement distracts him too). Obviously he can't take all of his tests alone in the library so he will have to find ways around the distractions. His school is huge (700 kids per graduating class)....and they only have one advanced 7th grade math class so it's very large (the size of two classrooms combined)....and that doesn't help with noise/distractions.

He doesn't have this issue with any other classes but obviously this higher level math takes a higher level of concentration to avoid errors.

Anyway, I really appreciate all of the advice and we will keep working through it!
Noise canceling headphones?

I agree with the IEP idea also.

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sjc0816

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #23 on: October 15, 2018, 02:54:47 PM »
I really don't think he needs an IEP. I appreciate the teacher going out of her way to let him take the test in the library but we don't want that to be necessary. He had another quiz today and got 100%....so I think we are on the right track! He said he did his best to tune out all of the distractions and re-checked his work. I am SO proud of his efforts.

AMandM

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #24 on: October 15, 2018, 09:40:20 PM »
Yay for him! And yay for you and for his teacher, too! We hear so many stories of parents and teachers locked in accusatory/defensive stances, it's lovely to know some people can collaborate constructively for the pupil's benefit!

jeninco

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Re: 7th grader struggling in advanced math.
« Reply #25 on: October 16, 2018, 12:22:49 PM »
Yay for him! And yay for you and for his teacher, too! We hear so many stories of parents and teachers locked in accusatory/defensive stances, it's lovely to know some people can collaborate constructively for the pupil's benefit!

Yahoo -- great job!

This is a good moment to make my annual public service announcement: the more your student (and the teacher) see that his/her parents and the teacher are on the same side (which is the side of having reasonable and high expectations for the student) the better it is for everyone. Really! 

This can take the form of not trash-talking the teacher where your student can hear, or taking the time to go in to meet with the teacher (and student!) to brainstorm helpful ways to get everyone's needs met, to going in and working with one of the groups yourself once or twice/week, and everything in-between. Not all teachers are awesome, but it's a fairly thankless job right now, and at the very least you're modeling appropriate adult behavior.  (And if you do have to go meet with the principal, the student doesn't need to be there for adult conversations.)