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Changing Girl’s Attitude Towards Mathematics.

Jancan Limo, Education Consultant

26 March 2019

If you are teaching mathematics in a girls’ school or in a mixed school, you are most likely to agree with me that it is challenging. I have taught in both and from experience, I guarantee you that it requires creativity and more effort to sail through. Majority of the girls have a negative attitude towards the subject. Most of them will confess that Mathematics is not so dear to them, in fact, they will not say that they hate it but Mathematics hates them. I might sight several reasons but most of it is purely on mindset. The idea that Mathematics is for boys has brooded in them until it has become a reality for some of them. How can we resuscitate this observation?

 

Majority of the girls have a negative attitude towards the subject. Most of them will confess that Mathematics is not so dear to them, in fact, they will not say that they hate it but Mathematics hatess them.

Photograph from Unsplash

 

I am sure that we have some teachers who have been successful in making girls perform exemplary well in the subject. If you have been trying several strategies and none is proving to work, I suggest that you try considering what I’m about to discuss. One thing I promise you, it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to give you immediate results. It requires resilience, determination and optimism. If you have none of these, then I suggest you go shopping. They are necessary.

The strategy is about convincing them that they can be able to work out problems. It is not just about telling them but showing them how simple math can be. To drive this point home, they need to be the ones proving it. Start revision by very simple sums that they can easily score in Section A topic by topic. This might call for you asking them to tell you the questions that they are sure to score and set for them a formative assessment on the areas.

I used to ask the students, sampling from the varied abilities, to pick three questions they can comfortably handle. We’d look at the questions together in class, then tell them that I would set a random assessment of maybe 5 questions that I will randomly pick from the list of the three students who gave three questions each. I limited the sample space so that they can be certain that it will come in the RAT.

What I realized is that they had to revise the questions several times before they actually come in exams. They worked hard on the examples given and by the time the RAT was done, they scored better. Sometimes, I could get 100% from all students. In the process they worked very hard to prove to me that they have mastered my random selection and I was not going to pin them down. Doing this repeatedly in areas they could handle gave them confidence little by little. The more they score highly, the more they explored other areas. Gradually, introduce advanced concepts in areas they have mastered without them realizing. It requires patience and a lot of time to succeed in this.

I tried the same strategy for Section B and the result was not different from the previous. This time around I picked on two questions randomly from students. We then revised the two questions in class together and gave them more examples that are similar to the ones that we have revised with a promise that I will pick two questions from the examples and give them a RAT after a day or two during lunch hour. They worked very hard to score during the test.

 

One particular girl, who had convinced herself that nothing was ever going to change her performance, surprised me. After several sessions of going through what they already know without surprising them, she mastered the topic of linear motion. During the first midterm exams, since I introduced the revision style, a question on the linear motion was in the exam. The person who was supervising exam told me that the girl took 15 minutes only and handed over her paper and left. She had answered only 1 question in Section B. She scored everything in the question. Asking her why she did that, she confidently told me that she improved her performance from previously zero in opener exams to 10 in midterm exams. What else did she need?

For this to be successful, the teacher has to go the extra mile. You have to be interested in what your students are interested in so that you can reach out to them. It is about understanding them and being patient enough to witness them grow. The common mistake we make is to stand on the teachers’ level and expect to pull students to our level. We ought to go to the students’ level and walk with them up the ladder. It involves inserting yourself in the mind of the students and feeling the struggle they are going through.

 

There is a principle that was once used by Saint Don Bosco and is used in Salesian institutions, that strive to be loved by the young. If they know you care about them then they will care about you. And when they start caring, act a victim, act worried, act undecided and tell them you really don’t know how best to help them. Speaking to them on your concern for them will make them take action to assist you in the mission of assisting them. In the end, it is they who will benefit.

 

“The strategy is about convincing them that they can be able to work out problems. It is not just about telling them but showing them how simple Math can be.”

I tried this handling a given class for two years. It was not easy I often felt like giving up. I became more of a student than a teacher. I started reacting to the students and not students reacting to me. I saw the performance little by little improve. It chewed my mind, it took a lot of my time but at the end, I recorded the best ever performance in Mathematics since the inception of that school in their KCSE. I encourage you to try it.

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