Overcoming Learning Lags: Math

Many of our students returned to in-person learning after having a remote or hybrid learning situation since March 2020. At Green Ivy Educational Consulting, we’ve noted increased anxiety and stress around math (particularly upper level math), writing, and world languages including Spanish, French, and Mandarin. This is the second in a three part series of strategies to support students as they navigate this school year.

Although learning lags have increased across all subjects, we’ve seen an especially significant increase in the number of students who need help reviewing core math concepts. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to build mastery in math — the key is patient, regular review.

We have seen these strategies work effectively in our office over the last twenty years, and even more so over the last twenty months. We hope that they provide some stress relief and a sense of control!

  1. Communicate With Your Teacher

Knowing when and how to ask for help can make life much easier. Be transparent with your math teacher about questions and concerns, and be a regular visitor at office hours if that is an option. Some teachers will recommend specific chapters to review, walk you through sample problems in-person, or even assign extra homework that they think will help polish up rusty skills. 

If you’re unsure how to open the conversation, consider these conversation starters:

“I’ve been struggling with x, y, and z. Can you help me figure out how to get back on track?”

“I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged about my test results. Based on what you’ve seen, what subjects or types of problems do I need to practice more?”

“I know what I’m struggling with, but I don’t know how to improve. Can we talk about what concepts from previous years I need to brush up on?”

According to a recent survey, a majority of math teachers believe that asking for clarification and guidance is a crucial part of mastering mathematical concepts. Your teachers will welcome your questions!

  1. Use Online Resources

Don’t be afraid to find supplementary resources on the internet to help boost your understanding. Sites like Khan Academy offer excellent tutorial videos and well-paced practice problems, and it’s easy to search up the specific concepts that you need to review. 

Independent YouTube content creators also produce high-quality instructional videos, including PreMath and The Organic Chemistry Tutor

We recommend pausing the video before the instructor walks you through the steps of example problems. Trying out the problems yourself is a good way of building active recall. In other words, wrestling actively with challenging problems is a better way of building understanding than simply reviewing notes and lectures.

  1. Find Study Partners

Working with a focused friend or study group can help you stay motivated and get support. Research shows that collaborative learning can boost learning outcomes and increase your sense of levels of enjoyment while studying. You and your study partners can complete homework assignments together, offering guidance when one of you gets stuck. 

We suggest finding a reliable workspace that allows you and your partner(s) to spread out your materials and reference each others’ work. Communicate with your study partners at the beginning of each week to decide on the best times to meet up.

Note: be conscious of distractions in group study sessions. We know it can potentially be harder to stay on task when sitting in the same room with friends. At the beginning of a study session, let your partner(s) know that you would like to focus on math for a set amount of time, and that you’d love to chat and catch up afterward. 

  1. Know Your Textbook

Many students don’t recognize the value of physical or digital textbooks. Remember that a math textbook can be full of detailed explanations, worked-out examples, practice problems, and chapter reviews. It can be extremely helpful to look through your grades, note which section quizzes or chapter tests you’ve struggled the most with, and return to those chapters in the textbook. Most textbooks include answer keys, so it is easy to check work for understanding. 

  1. Redo Old Homework and Quizzes

Redoing past homework assignments and assessments allows you to focus your studying on content likely to appear on your final exam (if your school has a finals week). Start by getting organized: assemble all old quizzes and tests in one place, and try to re-do at least one assessment per week. During finals season, identify the hardest homework assignments from the past semester and review them at your own pace until you feel confident enough to answer similar questions on a cumulative test.

There are lots of tools at your disposal to get caught up, address learning lags, and to feel confident in your current math course. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and remember that consistent, daily practice can gradually move your understanding in the right direction.

What other strategies have you been using to improve your math skills? We’d love to hear about what has worked well for you!

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