Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Working with Frustrated - and Frustrating! - Students

Public Domain Image by Petr Kratochvil at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net
I have worked with literally hundreds of students, but I have never found any as frustrating, as challenging to my teaching skills as my own daughter

I write this in recovery mode from the recent -often harrowing - but ultimately satisfactory experience of coaching her for a maths exam.

To make matters more difficult for both of us we are attempting to bridge not only gaps of time,  subject matter , but also culture and language - with myself last having seen these sorts of problem 30 years ago, in English, in Australia, while she is learning it in Spanish in Costa Rica. Of course maths is maths and the operations are the same, but differences in the very basics  such as the setting out long division trebles the confusion factor and communication barrier on both sides.

There were times when she was in tears. There were times when I was very nearly likewise.

But her test is tomorrow, and we had no time to give up. So we persisted, through all the difficulties, and by the end, our family were pleasantly surprised to hear us wildly cheering each other, hugging, kissing and whooping with joy as she worked out sum after sum correctly.

Some of the strategies that DON'T work:

  • scolding or negative comments
  • repetition of the same problems using the same approach
  • getting angry
  • losing patience
  • giving up

Strategies that DO work:

  • Time out; in moments of really not communicating, we needed many short rests, to let out the negative emotions. Use rest time to talk with someone else, about something else, something nice and positive. 
  • Checking the internet for fresh ideas and supporting practice.
  • Coming back to the same problem again with a fresh perspective or from a new angle
  • Multiple examples
  • Recognition of frustration; taking time to talk about what was hard and why.
  • Noting that giving in to frustration leads to a vicious circle. the only way to win is through advanced application of PATIENCE and DETERMINATION 
  • Deep breathing. It sounds cliched, but it really worked! Counting to ten, letting it pass, and moving on. If it can't be breathed through, it's time for a five minute break.
  • Raise self-esteem by focussing positively on accomplishments and abilities. Remember the cultivation of confidence is essential for success
  • Starting AGAIN from certain ground. Going back to where we felt sure, and moving on from there, in small steps towards more complex subject matter.
  • Praise - LOUD praise for ALL acheivements, however small. WILD CHEERING and excitement as mastery levels rise. 
We are both exhausted but, finally, happy and feel confident she will get a good grade. 

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