Filling in the learning gaps


In our math study group sessions, we often find ourselves reviewing lessons that the kids briefly covered in school but hadn’t absorbed. For example, one of the kids was having a hard time with long division. “This is going to take a long time,” he said. He sounded hesitant, so I offered to help him review long division while W- gave the other kids additional exercises. I shared the mnemonic that helped J- learn long division: Dracula Must Suck Blood, which reminds people to divide, multiply, subtract, and then bring down the next number. We got through double-digit division, remainders, and decimal points, although he still needs to practise until he gets division down pat.

J- has moments like that with her schoolwork, too, so it’s good that we have these study sessions. The kids had taken up algebraic expressions before, but drew blanks when I turned our straightforward price + tax exercise into an exercise along the lines of “Let’s say I want to sell a shirt for $30 after tax, which is 13%. What should the initial price be?” So we did a quick review of algebra, and we’ll do more next week.

The kids’ classroom lessons are currently focused on a simulation of real life. They have jobs, and must balance their income and their expenses. Some are entrepreneurs, and some work at companies. They’re learning about business, advertising, accounting, and communication. They’ve even filed income tax returns. The teachers (also known as the Sometimes Benevolent Force in-game) occasionally shake things up. I think it’s an interesting idea.

This integrated, real-life-focused learning does leave little time to review lessons or build a sense of mastery in basic skills, and J- sometimes has a hard time talking about the specific lessons she’s learning from the exercise. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been stepping up our involvement, tutoring J- and organizing these study groups. The teachers are doing their best, and I think the program might be more useful than a plain-vanilla-teach-to-the-textbook approach. Filling in the gaps at home is much more effective than waxing nostalgic or wringing our hands in worry.

It helps to understand that it’s normal for some things to be missed. No school is perfect, no teacher is perfect, and no student is perfect. It takes repeated exposure and practice to learn something – as I learn and re-learn myself, stretching with these projects and hobbies. =)