I find it interesting that at parties it is quite common to hear someone say; “I was never good at Maths.” It seems there is no embarrassment associated with this statement at all. It would be highly unlikely, though, that somebody would be comfortable admitting they are illiterate.
I often wonder why it is that we assume that everyone should be able to read and write, while it seems entirely acceptable that many people should have poor Maths skills. This interesting article from the New York Times suggests this is because we “think of math ability as something we’re born with, as if there’s a “math gene” that either you inherit or you don’t.”
Looking from a different perspective, because Maths is seen as being so challenging, it is my experience that when students do make progress in this subject (particularly if they have struggled in the past) their confidence in general receives an enormous boost.
There is no doubt that literacy and numeracy lay the cornerstones for the core foundational skills that students need. Confidence in Maths also often opens doors to opportunities that students might not have previously considered.
Can all children be good at Maths?
It is my belief that all children have the potential to perform well in Maths, but this, of course, depends on a range of considerations.
In addition to factors such as consistency and an awareness of how well each child is really grasping concepts being presented, the actual teaching of the subject obviously needs to employ the right approach. Unfortunately, at present there is a lot of debate as to what this actually is. The Australian curriculum progresses through its metamorphosis and NAPLAN receives more and more criticism.
It seems to me, from my experience, that the key to children becoming successful at school within the current system is still (in principle, at least) fairly simple. As confidence in Maths stems from having a solid foundation, the only way to have a real impact on performance is to find out where a child is at and then build on this knowledge.
What does it take to see success?
It is no longer enough to get students to sit in their rooms (or behind a desk at school) and rote-learn subject matter. Maths can make sense, but only if each component builds from what the previous one hinted at.
Of the hundreds of students I have had the pleasure of teaching, each one made progress and many excelled. The most rewarding aspect, for me, though, is not just the academic improvement, but the change in attitude that I often see once confidence is regained. So, upon reflection, I would say; “Yes, being great at Maths really is important. It’s also entirely achievable!”