Dear Miss Sue,
I discovered your Math Mama blog about a month ago, and have been having a most enjoyable time going through the archives. I am a math tutor at a small Los Angeles community college (love it!) and am always looking for new insights and tips in conveying algebra 1 and 2 concepts. I have already got some good ideas from your site - do you know of any others?
The students I have who need the most help are older ladies who are back in college/first time who have had unpleasant math experiences in their youth. I'm a bit of a nurturer/hand-holder, so I like to break things down as simply as possible.
Thanks so much!
[I asked her permission to reply here.]
I had quite a few older women in my 10am class this semester, and I had them in mind as I thought about your question.
I think it's important to address their fears directly. I recommend Overcoming Math Anxiety, by Sheila Tobias, and Mind Over Math, by Stanley Kogelman and Joseph Warren. (I buy used copies online for $3 or $4, and sell them to students. I used to lend them out, but I lose about 10 books a year that way, so I figured selling them was more realistic.) I also recommend the audio track I created. It's a guided meditation, and I recommend they listen to it every night for a few weeks.
I think helping them lead from their strengths might be more important, though. I try to help each class become a community. Some groups take off with it, and others don't. The older students know what they want, and are ready to go with it. This particular class has become an amazing community. They come in over an hour early (we are SO lucky the classroom is empty before their class!) and study together. They have another student lead them, and even though I like getting questions in class, they feel freer to ask questions in their group. They don't accept not getting it, and will work together until they do get it.
If you tutor one-on-one, you could still help this dynamic along by introducing these students to each other. Have you heard that 'the one doing the work is the one doing the learning'? That would mean that you learn more from tutoring than they do - unless you can get them helping each other.
I asked my students what other advice I might offer you, and they said that working together was key. They talked about keeping each other going when it got tough.
Perhaps if you recommend some of your favorite online resources for them to check out, they'll discover things that excite them. Many of my students really liked watching math videos. Check out mathtv.com, khanacademy.org, and (my favorite) James Tanton's videos.
Let me know anytime your students are particularly stuck, and perhaps I (or the folks who read my blog) can help. Thanks for writing.
Anyone want to offer other advice to a tutor of older students?