My Middle-Schooler Struggles With Math

By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator


My daughter is an A student, but for some reason no matter how much she

studies math and practices, she struggles in this subject. Sometimes I think it is the teacher because it is hard for me to believe that someone so bright can have difficulties in only one subject. She doesn't like math because the more she studies, the more she gets low grades and it is very discouraging and frustrating for her. How can I help her to overcome her frustration with math? Please help.


It is not uncommon for students to have talents in one area and not in another. That's a fact of life. Your daughter might have a natural talent for writing and the arts, and these subjects come easily to her. Her language arts or social studies teachers might also bring out the best in her in these subjects because of the combination of their personalities coupled with your daughter's love for these subjects.

Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University, developed what is called "Gardner's Intelligences" in 1983. He states that there are eight domains of intelligence:

  • Linguistic intelligence ("word smart")
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
  • Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
  • Musical intelligence ("music smart")
  • Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
  • Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
  • Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

Dr. Gardner believes that all people have some amount of each intelligence within them, but that they are more gifted in one or a combination of intelligences. Students with linguistic and logical-mathematical talents typically get the attention in the traditional classroom.

His view is that educators should appeal to the intelligence strengths of all students when doing their lesson planning and teaching. In this way, students will get more from their classroom experiences because teachers have taken into account the way in which each student learns best.

What does this mean for your daughter? It means that she might be gifted in a combination of intelligences that doesn't necessarily include math. So for her to improve in this intelligence that does not come naturally to her, she might need additional support. I would suggest the following:

  • Meet with the teacher. Ask the teacher if there are alternative ways in which she can learn a concept. Clearly, the way in which the teacher presents it is not working for her. Ask if she could get a copy of a classmate's notes, partner with a classmate during class to help understand a concept, access a Web site the teacher suggests, or use an alternate textbook to complement the classroom text.
  • Find a tutor.  Ask your daughter's math teacher to recommend a tutor. You can also look in a local community newspaper or ask other parents to recommend one. A tutor can provide the one-on-one instruction your daughter might need to further the work of classroom content. If you find a tutor whom your daughter connects with, it can open many doors. The tutor can explain concepts in a new way that will help her understand what her teacher is trying to explain. We have all struggled to understand something new at sometime in our lives. Having another person explain it in a different way can unlock the mystery.

You have not stated if this is the first time your daughter is having trouble with math or if she has had difficulty in the past. If this is a new problem, it might be the teacher's delivery, as you stated, so a tutor might help explain a concept in a way that she understands. As she attends class, the other pieces might fall into place if she conceptually grasps a particular unit's focus.

Also, know that as kids advance in the grades, (and this is certainly true for math) the material gets more challenging. This may be contributing to your daughter's problem as she struggles to learn many new concepts, skills and principles. And in an advanced math class, teachers often speed up the pace. All the more reason to get help early before she falls too far behind.

I strongly believe in a tutor as I have used one for my seventh-grade daughter. She sounds like your daughter in that she consistently earns good grades, is on high honors each quarter, and works quite hard. Math is a difficult subject for her, and as she works with her tutor, he uncovers information in a different way that helps her see through the fog. Sometimes working with a classmate also helps. This extra support has been invaluable for her performance in the class and her self-esteem.

Kathy Glass, a former middle school teacher, is an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction. She wrote Curriculum Design for Writing Instruction: Creating Standards-Based Lesson Plans and Rubrics (© 2005, Corwin Press) and Curriculum Mapping: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Curriculum Year Overviews. Currently she is writing a book with Carol Tomlinson and other authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model. She can be contacted through her Web site.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.