Overcoming the Difficulties Relating to an Insecure and Unconfident Maths Student - Dec '17

By Ariane Mercurius-Taylor, MTA and TTA Board Director

Getting a child to ‘get it’ can be difficult.

A few months ago I had a student who was referred to me via a local authority. He was a Looked After Child and needed help with his Maths GCSE. I was told that he had received tuition previously but did not make any progress and that different strategies would be needed to help this student raise his attainment.

‘Of course!’ I responded eagerly.

It wasn’t until I was sat face to face with this student that I realised the enormity of the task that lay ahead for both of us!

My first course of action was to identify the areas of weakness that this child had so I contacted the school and asked for his progress reports and also went through a few general maths questions so that I could assess what level he was at….we had a lot of work to do in a short space of allocated time!

Initially we attempted to grasp his challenging topics in the traditional way – grasp the subject using revision books and then answer practice questions and example past paper questions to solidify his knowledge. It didn’t quite work with this student.

Then we tried the ‘you teach me’ method where he guided me through what he understood and the steps he took to get there. In the first instance he got it, but then methods just didn’t stick!
Above it all, I realised that although there were gaps in this student’s knowledge, his confidence and assertiveness were at rock bottom. Unfortunately, every time he answered a question incorrectly I could visibly see his confidence being knocked out of him bit by bit which then led to this nonchalant attitude that was contradictory to learning. I certainly did not want this young boy to associate learning with this awful feeling.

Perhaps a chat would help….for a moment I took off my tutor hat and put my mentor hat on.
‘What do you think the problem here is? How do you think we can solve this? What would you like to achieve?’ It was evident that this student was eager to learn, wanted to pass his GCSEs but had difficulties retaining information because he felt that the questions were not relatable.


My student had dreams of becoming a business man, a car salesman to be specific, and wanted to own a huge house with a swimming pool. His interests were football.

Our next topics were the averages (mean, mode, median and range), frequency tables and area/perimeter/volume.

With my student’s dreams, interests and the GCSE Maths syllabus in mind, I created questions that simulated what he could relate to. They included the tasks a self-employed car salesman/business man would need to carry out; how to create football league tables and calculate the corresponding averages; and how to calculate how much paint is needed for the outside of his grand house.

My student instantly ‘got it’!

It’s these times that I absolutely treasure being a Private Tutor, times when I can look back and see our hard team work paying off and confidence creeping back in.

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