I have been looking for an explanation as to why my daughter, Milly, is finding maths so difficult. I mentioned in a previous blog that it came as a shock to me that, now the school has put children in maths sets, she is in the third set. Because she is such an excellent reader, has fantastic language skills, and contributes really well at school (I am saying this because her teachers have told me, not just because I am a proud mum!) I have always imagined her to be amongst the most able children. Until she brought home her first sheet of maths homework, screamed for half an hour and refused to put pencil to paper. Following her teacher’s instructions, I did the homework for her, and left a note in her book to say as much. This pattern was repeated for many weeks, until she brought home a sheet that involved counting money. Suddenly, with something real there, the penny dropped (excuse the pun) and she tackled the homework with me just there as support.
Anyway, interested as I am in child development, I have been reading around to see if there is some kind of explanation for her refusal to tackle something she finds difficult. I have noticed it in lots of areas and, though I try not to make comparissons between her and her brother, I can’t help but think that he will find life easier on account of his determination to succeed in everything both physical and mental. One thing I came across was a theory of a psychologist called Carol Dweck. She maintains that there are two ways of viewing intelligence: First, there is the entity view, which is the view that intelligence is something that cannot be changed, but is fixed at its current level. Secondly, there is the incremental view. This is the opinion that intelligence is something very changeable; something that can be developed.
According to Carol Dweck, people that hold the former view are likely to avoid things that they find difficult as to tackle and fail them would show to others that they are not clever enough. I can see the avoidance tactics in Milly – long, drawn out pauses bef ore she is brave enough to venture an answer (which is usually right!), throwing a wabbly over her homework, or (as she explained to me) always standing on the left hand side of the scales at cookery club so you get to put the ingredients in and the others have to say when it’s enough. I think back to the number of times that I have told my daughter that she is a ‘clever girl’ and wonder if this is one of the reasons that she sees getting it right as important, rather than the effort of getting there. Perhaps I should have used different language – maybe praised her good thinking or said that she is great at solving problems? But you live and learn. She is only six, so plenty of time to overcome this.
And, when I come to think of it, I’ve just as often told her brother he is a clever boy and he, as I say, is a very different character.