Approaches to Teaching Maths
Research has found that learning which is not passive but active is most effective for teaching maths.
Many people say that they had negative experiences of learning maths in the past – usually at school. For someone to return to education in maths is often a huge step and can be motivated by a number of factors, such as:
If someone wants to return to learning they have probably overcome many barriers already. If someone needs to learn then they might have some anxiety.
Of course for some learners maths may be something they never had the chance to learn formally or achieve certificates in, so don’t assume that everyone has been scarred. Some people even enjoy it!
Many tutors recognise the phenomenon known as “maths anxiety”, “fear of maths” or “mathsphobia”. Students often avoid maths because of what appears to be a genuine fear of a subject they associate with worry, demoralisation and even humiliation.
Recent research from the University of Chicago identifies that people who experience anxiety about doing maths register actual pain during brain scans.
Tutors need to recognise, but not over-dramatise, the emotional baggage that some of their learners might bring to their learning.
Ask potential or new learners about their purposes in returning to learning and to ask, simply, “How did you find learning maths in the past?”
If they tell you that they had a difficult time:
It is a sad fact that, although people use a lot of maths in their daily lives, when you point this out to them they will say, “That’s just common sense.” It seems that many of us see maths as being, by definition, the “difficult stuff” that we cannot do.
Maths tutors need to have the language to describe concepts in several different ways, and make connections with learners’ existing knowledge and between different maths topics. If you’re new to tutoring numeracy/maths, it would be worth taking time to prepare yourself with a few refresher exercises for yourself. Try these challenges:
It’s possible that you won’t be familiar with some of the terms in these challenges above. If that’s the case, look them up on the internet.
Adults bring to learning a wealth of maths knowledge and experience, often without realising it. For example, in spite of a lack of skills, many people will have:
They are likely to have used a range of strategies, often successful but sometimes flawed, as they manage the numbers in their lives.
The first job of the maths tutoring is to establish what people want or need to learn. The next is to identify what they already know, understand and can do.
As with all of us, learners might have picked up misconceptions or have gaps in their knowledge. It is important to uncover these misconceptions by observing how learners approach tasks, and by asking questions to check for understanding of method.