Skip to main content

How many trips to the gym does it take before you see a difference?

One or two lessons on a subject may not be enough to get the results you are hoping for in mathematics.


I think that teachers can become frustrated or even panic when their students are not catching onto mathematical concepts as quickly as they think they should or as quickly as the book or pacing guide says they should. There appears to be a need for speed around mathematics, that does not happen with reading and writing.

Consider how long a student might be reading at a certain level before they are assessed and ready to move on. How many opportunities is a student given on a daily basis to read alone, read with a partner, be read to, talk about their reading, and write about their reading before they are considered to be ready for the next level? Consider how much attention to detail there is when considering a student’s reading life: running records, Dibels, retells, etc. 


Teachers spend often spend long stretches of time (6 weeks) within one writing unit (small moments, all about, opinion writing)?  In classrooms where students are viewed as writers, the expectations are that students will use their lives to develop content, draft pieces, revise pieces, make mistakes, and edit their work over the course of weeks. Mistakes and omissions are often viewed as opportunities to learn a new skill rather than deficits in one’s thinking.

We make allowances for students in reading and writing that we do not make in math. How might the math lives of students change if we allowed for growth over time, expected mistakes, allowed for revisions, and examined the details of our students’ mathematical thinking in order to discover new opportunities for learning?

Students need multiple opportunities to grow.

I am often asked to do demo lessons in classrooms which I love to do. It’s unfortunate, however, when that demo lesson ends up being the only lesson taught using a particular approach or on a particular topic in the classroom. The purpose of the demo lessons  is not for the students, it is for the teachers. It is an opportunity to notice, take notes, ask questions, build upon what they observed, and take their students the next level. One demonstration lesson might be entertaining, but it is not enough to move your students in the direction they need to go. Just like working out, one push up is not going to do it. You have to keep going until you get the results you want, even when it’s hard and you don’t think your up for it. You are!


Lastly, some of us have students who are raised in secure and stable environments. Students may come from homes where food, money, and housing are not a daily concern. They may live in a home with a college educated parent which research says boosts their chances for academic success. The students may participate on sporting teams where they must collaborate to win, follow directives, defer to authority figures, and be surrounded by interested and motivated adults who cheer on their efforts.

Some of us may work in schools where students do have to worry about the daily basic necessities, come from homes with parents who work multiple jobs, or maybe no parents in the home at all. Perhaps, we have students who have never had the chance to be on a team, collaborate, follow directives, and defer to  authority figures, and are surrounded by crowds who cheer them on.

I believe, (and this is just my opinion) that when you work with students who may not be given the gift of security and stability, it can take a little longer to get the academic results that you want to see in the classroom. I see a school year as a marathon. Some students come to you physically fit ready to run the race and just need a little tune up. Other students, who have not been working out may need more time, support, and encouragement in order to prepare for the big race. Don’t panic if you don’t see the results you want right away, just keep the workouts going. Make wise informed decisions, ask for help, urge students to slow down, think, and revise, and know that with hard work and perseverance almost anything is possible.