There were scribbles of cartoon characters and fashion designs on Bianca’s math notebook. Each time I asked Bianca about her math lesson for the day, she would dig into her cluttered school bag and pull out her textbook. She would then flip the pages and point to the homework or test she needed to practice for the next math class.
Bianca was a 6th grader in a private school in New York City when we met. Her mom narrated to me that she sought extra math support after school since Bianca was in 2nd grade. Despite the private weekly coaching Bianca received, her challenges in math remained unresolved. There was no formal assessment ever done on her weak mathematical conceptual understanding.
When I spoke to the Math teacher, she addressed her concern on Bianca’s passive participation in class. She was greatly concerned that she was falling behind the class curriculum and, therefore, unable to keep up with the academic demands. Math was quite challenging and it would have a great impact on her class standing before she could graduate from Middle School. There was a chance that Bianca might be retained a year if her math performance did not improve.
On the first day I worked with Bianca, I noticed that her basic math skills with number bonds were very weak. It was quite challenging to proceed with her homework because her fundamental operational skills on addition and subtraction were not in place. We spent the first 10-15 minutes mastering her number bonds and patterns, then we devoted the rest of the hour fulfilling her class requirements. After a year, her mathematical reasoning improved through our weekly practice and rigor. She eventually improved her automatic recall of number bonds and her mathematical analysis became more logical. It was evident that Bianca had gained a greater conceptual understanding of number patterns and functions.
After a year and a half, Bianca’s math teacher commented that she was slowly beginning to understand her math lessons in class. She was very pleased with Bianca’s mathematical reasoning, improvement and confidence.
I continued working with Bianca for another year with the goal of achieving a better understanding of algebraic expressions and geometry. By the end of 8th grade, Bianca was proud to graduate with the rest of her schoolmates in Middle School. She was accepted in an art school in New York City to finish the rest of her high school.
Math may still not be Bianca’s favorite subject, but it was not too late to learn the fundamental necessities in everyday life encounters.
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*Name has been changed in the story for anonymity.