Sunday, March 27, 2011

Understanding Not Understanding Maths

Hello! It's an hour later, you know....

When I was a wee nipper at primary school, I didn't understand multiplication and it's relationship to adding, because no-one told me.
Our teacher, Mrs Llewellyn, started talking about something called 'Times Tables'. I thought this was interesting and wondered if they were special pieces of furniture that you did your sums on, or something like that, as she talked about these tables in the maths lesson.
I sat at the back of the class, while everyone started chanting a very long chant:' One-six-is-six, two-sixes-are-twelve, three-sixes-are-eighteen, four-sixes-are-twenty-four': on and on it went, till in a triumphant flourish, my classmates chanted, 'TWELVE-SIXES-ARE-SEVENTY-TWO!'
I was mystified as to how they had learned this long rhythmic chant and how they remembered it.
Mrs Llewellyn didn't understand the way I put this question to her and looked at me, baffled.
As the days went on, I used to sit and blub at the back of the room, excluded from the hidden meaning and mechanism behind the eleven long multiplication chants that everyone understood apart from me.

About four or five years later, I finally worked out that in order to join in, you simply had to add, very quickly, the starting number firstly to itself, and then to the combined total, twelve times.
I thought about this quietly for days.

This is what is called 'being a slow learner'. I am still like this in many ways. I do not understand visual puns in advertisements and frequently misread sentences and misunderstand their meanings.
It is also why I cannot read music, as its logic escapes me, though, of course, I understand Logic Audio and many other computer music programmes that are to do with organising sound.

I think slow learners are frustrating to be around and can sometimes be annoying in a group; as a teacher I have learned to say things several ways to a group of students, until all of them tell me that they understand.
It takes me ages to get angry, because I can't work out the mechanics of the provocation and trace it back to its source, and by the time I have, the moment has passed. I have had to learn to be patient with my own 'stupidity' and therefore sometimes people think I am unnaturally patient with what they perceive to be their own.

Sometimes I long to scream and stamp my feet with rage, but by the time I have summoned up the energy, I can't remember what it was that made me feel like that in the first place.


Wilky of St Albans said...

Not sure about this slow learner thing - I sometimes wonder if it's just a phrase to justify trying to teach things to people that they have no interest in. Sure - I can add up, but I can't draw. Calculators exist to help in adding up - wheres my drawulator?

Helen McCookerybook said...

Ironically, perhaps, it is called paint-by-numbers and can be purchased in you local toy shop!

Helen McCookerybook said...

Excuse missing 'r'; I am a slow speller too, as Monty pointed out about a year and a half ago. I have to check my postings 72 times to make sure there are no errors.

Anonymous said...

We all have different areas that we learn/comprehend quicker than others. Malcolm does Sudoku, I like word puzzles. He can read a map, I have to turn it round to the way I am travelling. I don't think you are a slow learner, just that those were things that your brain isn't wired for. Oh - and I was very good at algebra - but solid geometry was a trial!!

Adrian said...

In the last two years at primary school we used to have intelligence tests every Monday morning – it was training for the 11+ - pupils getting to grammar made the school look good. Mrs Benjamin would mark the tests over lunchtime and then the horror of the week would occur. A number of pupils would be told to stand on their chairs. Then, in descending order, the standing pupils would be bullied/embarrassed/humiliated about their poor performance. I was always stood on my chair and was often the last standing. I remember one particular week when I got 1 question out of 20 correct. This was a ripe opportunity so another teacher, Mrs Click, was also called and she and Mrs Benjamin talked about how stupid I was – horrible – child abuse by those who should have known better.

I’m not stupid, I just had difficulties learning. Good teachers known many different methods to communicate and engage with pupils of all abilities, interests and backgrounds. They are very precious and worth more than any stadium full of bankers and business executives.

Helen McCookerybook said...

Sounds very familiar, Adrian. I was physically abused at primary school myself at the age of five: if I got things wrong, my teacher, Mrs Herdman, would hold me tightly by the shoulders and shake me until I was breathless. She did worse things to other children, which is why I didn't complain (plus fear of worse for myself). Later, I went for hypnotherapy to overcome my fear of flying (it worked) and discovered that this had had a huge effect on many things in my life. The hypnotherapist apologised for dragging up such horrible memories.
I am so sorry you had to go through such humiliation. It is perfectly obvious that you are an intelligent human being and what's more, an extremely valuable member of the community. I do hope that school children do not experience this type of behaviour from their teachers in these enlightened times!