It’s that time of year again when leaders, educators, families, and students head back into the classroom bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for a chance to “reset” after the past few long years. Our students need us more than ever. Now is the perfect time to ensure you kick off the year by building deep relationships with families and proactively ensuring that they are partners alongside us, especially when it comes to math, a subject that is known to be off-putting to many adults.
Recently, a study was conducted that assessed parents’ math anxiety and the impacts on their involvement in children’s math learning (Oh, Barger, & Pomerantz, 2022). The results and my analysis can be used to start this year off by positioning yourself, and students’ families, for success.
There were two key findings from the study:
- The more parents exhibited anxiety around math, the more their involvement was controlling.
Controlling behaviors they observed were things like:
- leading children to a particular method or answer
- telling final answers and showing solutions
- correcting a child’s answer when not requested
- taking over and hindering their child from engaging in the task
- punishing or rewarding to get correct answers
These behaviors are different from more constructive or autonomy-supportive behaviors such as:
- giving ample wait time
- treating a child as an equal or leader
- providing positive feedback, including support and encouragement when child struggled or got frustrated
- asking guiding (not leading) questions or providing hints only when asked by the child for support.
2. Parents whose involvement was more controlling had stronger links to students whose math achievement was lower. This was especially true if the child was already struggling in math. Now, it’s important to note that this one study cannot be generalizable as it took place in the midwestern part of the United States, it has a small sample size, and there are many other outside factors that could contribute to low achievement. But it does give us some evidence that we didn’t have before.
Now is the perfect time to ensure you kick off the year by building deep relationships with families and proactively ensuring that they are partners alongside us.
What this means to me is that how we partner with parents is crucial. Starting the year off with these three “musts” may help you foster better home-school support in mathematics:
- Provide families clarity of their role in their child’s math learning so they know how involved to be and, more importantly, what being involved looks like. As we’ve seen from the research, there is a potential for parents whose involvement is more controlling to foreshadow poorer math achievement among struggling learners.
- Help families overcome their math anxiety within the realm of parenting. Notice how I didn’t say just overcome math anxiety. It’s not our role to undo years and years of parents’ misconceptions of math or experienced-based fears.
What I do believe is our job and will have a stronger impact is to help parents overcome the anxieties they have about seeing their child struggling with math (perhaps like they did). We need to help them understand that we do not expect them to sit with their children every night and get problems correct – that we actually value wrong answers more because they show us what their child needs more help with and allows us to do better jobs.
We need them to know that we do not expect them (nor want them!) to teach their child math strategies – we want that to be left up to the classroom teachers for consistency. We need them to see that their help is more constructive and productive when they are encouraging their youngster – by praising their efforts and behaviors as opposed to praising correct answers, speed, or what they perceive as innate intelligence (i.e., “I saw you getting frustrated and instead of giving up, you kept trying. I’m proud of you for persevering and you should be proud of yourself.”). Praising behaviors and effort gives children more useful and specific feedback.
What I do believe is our job and will have a stronger impact is to help parents overcome the anxieties they have about seeing their child struggling with math.
3. Create opportunities for parents to feel helpful, intelligent, confident, and familiar with the math we teach today. In our book, Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders, my co-author and I call these “Parents’ Four Core Wants.” These “wants” describe what families in hundreds of interviews told us they want related to math: They want to… (a) be able to feel like they can help their child; (b) appear intelligent and smart in front of their own youth; (c) have confidence that what they are doing is best for the child; and (d) feel familiar so they can communicate with their own child about what they are learning.
So, how are you going to start this year off strong? Will you send home a letter that outlines your (or the school’s) expectations of families’ involvement in math like this one? Will you send home a beginning of the year survey for families like this one to get to know your families? Will you model a brief mathematical instructional routine at your Back to School Night so families can experience what math class looks and feels like for their children?
Whatever you do, be sure you partner with families.
To learn more about how and what to communicate with families, including access to sample surveys and letters, and other ideas and best practices for partnering with parents, caregivers, and families around elementary school math, be sure to check out Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Leaders and Educators, currently on sale for 20% off at Corwin.com using code CM20!
Oh, D. D., Barger, M. M., & Pomerantz, E. M. (2022, August 11). Parents’ Math Anxiety and Their Controlling and Autonomy-Supportive Involvement in Children’s Math Learning: Implications for Children’s Math Achievement. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0001422.