Summers are always busy it seems, but this summer I took on the additional task of tutoring a young lady who will be going into 7th grade next fall. I do not usually tutor for a lot of reasons: I don't have time, I feel uncomfortable charging parents for my time, and I always feel like the time is not worthwhile. However, since this young lady will be coming into my grade, and needs help in math, I thought maybe it would be different.
M. works hard, very hard, every single time we are together - twice a week for 45 minutes each. I see her trying. I know she wants to do the work. I know she wants to please me. But for some reason, M. has a true learning disability in math.
With a background in math as well as learning disabilities, I am more than qualified to help her overcome this struggle, on paper, but in reality, I am struggling alongside her. To be sure, we are making strides in the right direction. However, it is a 3 step forward, 2 step back process.
The thing I would like most to help M. gain this summer is number sense. Even at 12 years old, she doesn't intuitively know that given 7, you need 3 more to make 10. She must count on her fingers to add up from 8 to 12. She can count by 2's, but not by 3's or even 4's. We have drilled and worked and played games and tried various strategies to help, but some days, the numbers are there, and others, they are not.
Today, we stopped trying to work on fractions because the finding a common denominator was just too tedious. I had her write columns of mulitples of numbers on the board. 2's were great. Then on to 4's. M. could not grasp that she could simply count 2 more, and 2 more, to get the next in the sequence. Often, her next choice to write was an odd number. We tried 9's, which we have worked on since Day 1. She knows the finger trick, and she knows that the first number, the digit in the 10's place, must be 1 less than whatever we are multipying 9 by. She knows that the digits in the answer must add to 9. She knows those tricks. She can tell them to me, faithfully. But when asked to write: 9, 18, 27, 36, ..... she is lost. There is no connection there.
I feel like a fraud, a total incompetent. I can't help her the way she needs to be helped. I can keep coaching her, giving her some self confidence. I can teach her more tricks. Help her draw pictures to attack word problems. Encourage her to use the calculator to solve problems. Help her strategize as to how to eliminate choices in multiple choice questions. But, I can't FIX her.