23 Clear Signs Your Student is Struggling in Math
Math can be a difficult subject for many people at any age and level, especially if the earlier signs of struggling go unnoticed.
Whether the students in our lives are our own children or those in our classes, we always want them to excel and do the best that they can.
Here are 23 signs that your student may be having a hard time with math that could warrant some extra help and attention.
They Aren’t Meeting Major Milestones
Particularly in STEM subjects like math and science, it is absolutely critical that students meet important milestones to build a proper foundation for their education.
Early on, this could be moving on from addition and subtraction to memorizing multiplication tables. Later on, it could be understanding more complex formulas and rules.
Regardless, if a student is slipping and clearly struggling with important milestones in comparison to peers, it should be addressed immediately to ensure a strong foundation.
Missing out on the more basic concepts will absolutely continue to impact and frustrate the student later on, so these problems should be addressed right away!
Their Math Grades Don’t Match Other Class Grades
Every student has their own strengths and expectations, but if their math grades are noticeably behind their other course grades, it could be a sign that they need attention in this area.
For instance, if the child is consistently earning As in Bs on all of their other assignments but frequent Cs or lower on math assignments, it could indicate that the issue rests with the specific subject.
Even if a student is simply better at other subjects like foreign language or literature, realizing their weak spot can do wonders for helping to improve the situation.
They Repeatedly Express Their Negativity Towards the Subject
Sure, some people aren’t going to be as great at math as they are at other subject areas. And that is totally okay!
It is also normal for students to feel negatively towards attending class and taking on assignments in general since it is, in fact, work and responsibility.
However, if a student is regularly and clearly expressing a specific hatred, frustration or irritation in a specific subject area, it could indicate that it is presenting more problems and struggles than it should.
If these problems can be addressed, it will not only improve results, but also the student’s overall attitude towards the subject itself.
They Struggle to Recall Basic Concepts
When students first learn something, they may take a little while to really retain the information. Additionally, when concepts were learned a fairly long time ago, they can also take a moment to recall.
However, there is an extent to which basic, core concepts should successfully come to mind for students. If a student cannot recall simple multiplication, they will have immense difficulty entering Algebra I, for instance.
Instead of ignoring these difficulties and simply telling the student to study and work harder, it is important to realize that the struggle indicates a greater need for further attention and aid.
Their Self-Esteem Regarding Math is Low
Similarly to having animosity towards the subject, feeling an insecurity can also be an indication that excessive frustration and struggle is the case.
If a student regularly says things like, “I’m no good at math,” not only are they likely hinting towards very real struggles they are experiencing, they are also reinforcing this belief and standing in their own way.
When addressing this situation, it is important not only to make sure the student gets the help that they need but also that they are told the importance of psychology when it comes to excelling in any area.
If you say you can or you can’t, you’re probably right!
Intense Anxiety Towards Assessments
It is perfectly normal to feel a fair amount of anxiety towards tests, quizzes and other assessments. In fact, a healthy amount of concern can be beneficial by making the student take the tasks seriously!
Feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety, however, can be a sign that the student is thoroughly unconfident with the material at hand.
Plus, this anxiety can lead them to performing even more poorly than they otherwise would have by causing things like exhaustion, mental breaks and an overall negative outlook that, as mentioned, can hinder their progress.
If your student is dreading their assessments in a particularly intense manner, it may be important to sit them down and get to the root of why that may be.
They Fall Behind with More Difficult Problems
This is something that may be a more common problem amongst students since it pertains to less basic ideas and abilities.
However, it is important to recognize when students start to unravel with more complex concepts or problems.
This could be an indication that their understanding is not as thorough as originally believed or that the effort they are putting in is not where it needs to be.
When a student feels more solidly confident in the rules, equations and theories they are handling, they will be better able to apply them to the more complex portions of assessments and not be limited to a simpler level of ability and understanding.
Physical Signs of Struggle or Distress
If a student is physically counting on their fingers long past the time they should be able to abandon that aid, it could indicate that they are struggling.
Additionally, if they show physical signs of distress and anxiety like fidgeting, pulling on their hair, giving off negative body language or any other number of physical clues, it could show that they are extremely uncomfortable with the material.
It is important to not only pay attention to the way that students perform on tests or what they tell you, because oftentimes, they won’t want to verbally express their struggles and you’ll need to pay attention to their unspoken expressions.
Clear Signs of Boredom or Disinterest
Students appearing bored and disinterested could simply be a product of fatigue or lack of desire to be in an academic setting overall, but it could also be a sign of genuine and problematic apathy.
Boredom can be a sign that the student has already given up on excelling in the class, whether it be due to lack of interest or lack of understanding and success.
Rather than harshly reprimanding a student for appearing disconnected with their work, it could be more productive to talk them through where their mind is at during class and how it can be redirected to the subject at hand.
Perhaps they have outside distractions, or perhaps they are struggling and simply need a few extra boosts to get back in the realm of interest.
They Get Caught Cheating
While cheating can be a sign of moral issues regarding dishonesty and other central problems, it can also be an act of desperation.
Students are under more pressure than ever to achieve high marks and succeed in their classes, especially once they reach a high school level or higher.
If a student is caught cheating, punishments may certainly be in order. But figuring out why they needed to cheat in the first place and how to ensure that they are confident enough in the future to not do so could fix the problem on a deeper level.
They Struggle with Time Management
This is an issue that can impact a student in every area of life, not just in their math classes.
However, if it is noticeable that their issues with time management are getting in the way of proper study and homework time, it could indicate that they are falling behind and struggling more than they need to be.
Students are still learning how to organize themselves and keep on track. It’s important to intervene in a positive manner and help students learn organizational tools that will help them both now and in the future.
They Can’t Connect Math to Real-World Applications
While many of us were correct in claiming that we would never need to know calculus in our future career fields, it is at least important to recognize how math can be applied to reality.
Failing to do so can not only indicate a deeper issue in terms of genuine understanding of the concepts, it can also cause students to lose interest.
Knowing how to apply education to real life can be a huge part of keeping a subject interesting, and if a student cannot see how more technically based subjects like math are applicable in reality, it could be a sign that they are having or will have difficulty.
They Are Particularly Reluctant to do Math Homework
Homework isn’t usually fun for anyone in any subject, but showing a specific disdain for math homework can indicate that it provides a particular hassle or discomfort.
Whether you are a teacher noticing a student falling behind with homework or you are a guardian who sees this reluctance at home, it could be game-changing to talk them through their frustrations.
It can very well be that they are simply struggling with the current lessons and content, and helping to get them to a more confident place can make the homework feel much less taxing and stressful.
They Give Up Easily
Whether they give up with specific problems without much effort or they appear to have given up on success in the course all together, these are critically red flags.
If they say that they cannot do something and it is clear that they either didn’t try or didn’t experiment with different methods, it may be worth it to look into the root of this exasperation.
Sometimes, students can be lazy or disinterested. Oftentimes, though, if they are confident in their ability to complete a task, they will put much more effort into doing so.
They Struggle with Mental Math
This can be a clear warning sign at any level, whether it is young students with addition or older students with higher levels of multiplication and division.
Of course, no one should be expected to do complicated calculus in their heads, but many things should be possible to complete mentally after the fundamentals are learned.
If a student is at a level where mental addition/subtraction or multiplication/division can be reasonably expected, it could be a sign of abnormal struggle if they are falling short.
They Blame Others for Their Shortcomings
Sometimes, teachers can be a part of the problem by not teaching the material well, having unreasonable expectations or not giving enough attention to particular areas.
More often than not, though, a student blaming the teacher for “not teaching” is really just projecting their frustrations at not understanding and handling the material well.
Students who are struggling may sometimes blame others, like parents or teachers, to deflect from the more difficult reality of their own shortcomings, whether they be related to an issue with effort or with ability.
They Have Difficulty Following Steps or Instructions
Math is a pretty straightforward subject without much to interpretation. Generally, if you follow the steps and rules properly, you should be able to get the correct answer.
Other subjects like history, literature, art and so on can be a little more abstract, but math has pretty solidified and clear answers most of the time.
If a student is having difficulty properly following these steps and arriving to the correct answer or solution, it could indicate that there are some fundamental gaps in their understanding.
When this happens, it could be beneficial to really look into the problems they are having with following the instructions to see if it is a problem of focus or something more serious and foundational.
They Show Signs of Potential Learning Disabilities
While most students who are struggling are simply having a difficult time with grasping certain things, some students may actually have undiagnosed learning disabilities.
ADHD, Dyslexia and OCD are just a few of the possible instances in which a child is being hindered by a disability rather than a simpler lack of ability or interest.
As a teacher or parent, it is important to familiarize yourself with signs of common learning disabilities so a student can be examined by a professional sooner than later if they are showing signs of struggle.
They Want to Miss Class or School
Many students want to ditch class or school simply because they either want to rebel or do something they find more fun.
However, this can also be a sign of general anxiety and frustration with a subject. It is incredibly uncomfortable to spend time in an environment that brings about these negative feelings, and if a student is skipping class or leaving the room for extended periods of time, this could be why.
If you are a teacher who notices this or a parent who is informed of this, it could be time to sit the child down and evaluate what makes them want to skip class, especially if their performance is suffering as a result.
They Hide Tests or Report Cards
Many students will associate poor report cards not only with failure but also with punishment.
Many teachers will send notes home when poor grades occur and many parents will take away privileges when this happens, so it makes sense that students often try to hide the shame of lower scores.
When a student is neglecting to bring back signed report cards or bring them home at all, it could absolutely indicate that they are struggling more than whatever is deemed normal for them.
They Suddenly Refuse to Discuss Class or School
Nobody wants to dive into subject matter that makes them re-live stress, anxiety or feelings of inadequacy.
If a student is suddenly shutting down any conversations surrounding their class or school in general, it could be a sign that they are struggling more than usual.
While it is also important to not pry so much as the upset them about the topic further, it is best to not simply drop it. Figure out why they are avoiding the conversation and see where you can go from there.
They Misbehave During Class
While misbehaving could simply be a sign of outside pressure or anxiety (wanting to fit in, having a need to rebel, etc.), it could also be a way for students to distract themselves and others from a subject they feel frustration towards.
If a student is regularly goofing off or otherwise misbehaving during class, it could be a sign that they are struggling with the material (or that they will be soon).
Of course, it could also be a sign of boredom from not feeling challenged, and this is also a matter that should be addressed to optimize their performance and engagement.
They Have Trouble Eating or Sleeping
It is common for anyone to struggle with simple things like eating or sleeping during times of particular stress.
This sign could be an indication of a number of things, whether they be academic, social, personal or a combination.
However, if these symptoms correlate with lower performance in their math class, it is very possible that they are related and that the subject matter is bringing about more anxiety than you initially realized.
Struggling with any subject is frustrating for anyone, but math in particular can be really difficult to overcome if the struggle isn’t addressed.
Signs that the student in your life are struggling include:
- They aren’t meeting major milestones
- Their math grades don’t match other course grades
- They repeatedly express negative sentiments about the class
- They struggle to recall basic concepts
- Their self-esteem regarding math is low
- They feel intense anxiety towards assessments
- They fall behind with more difficult concepts
- They exhibit physical signs of struggle or distress
- There are clear signs of boredom or disinterest
- They get caught cheating
- They struggle with time management
- They can’t connect math to real-world applications
- They are particularly reluctant to do math homework
- They give up easily
- They struggle with mental math
- They blame others for their shortcomings
- They have difficulty following steps or instructions
- They show signs of potential learning disabilities
- They want to miss class or school
- They hide tests or report cards
- They suddenly refuses to discuss class or school
- They misbehave during class
- They have trouble eating or sleeping
We all want our students to excel, so it is incredibly important to look out for signs like this so we can help them to the best of our ability.
Is your student struggling with math? What are you doing to address it?
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