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I'm a mathematics and physics tutor. I have a student in grade 9 who is very weak in the scientific subjects and she's been weak since 2 or 3 years even though she always had tutors.

At first I thought she only have some gaps to bridge but the main problem turned out to be psychological. She is constantly criticized from her teachers, her friends and even her parents and she treated as if she have a lower level, as if she doesn't have logic, as if she can't do what the rest of the class is doing. Now, after 2 or 3 years of such cumulative influence, she's very convinced that she can never be good in these subjects. I talked to her a couple of times, she's totally convinced that she can never get more than the average (I know she can easily). For the last 2 weeks, every time she have a test in a scientific subject she gets sick. I thought it was a coincidence but after skipping 4 tests due to sickness, I knew that her psychological state is producing the negative biological effects. She says that she's not afraid of taking tests but on the other hand I know she has some psychological problems with tests.

How should I deal with her?

  • Should I create an environment similar to the atmosphere of the test at her school? If yes, should I be acting as her friendly tutor or as her strict teacher at school while she's doing the sample test? Is this idea useful or that when she begin the test at her school, she'll forget whatever I did with her?
  • She can't concentrate when she's working with a group of students even worse in class. Should I be ok with her working in private with me and not understanding anything in class (at her school) or should I be constantly pushing her to get used to working in large groups?
  • How can I boost her self-confidence? She very comfortable with me and she said that I'm the best teacher she had in many years but how can I convince her that her grades will increase as a result of increasing her self-confidence and not the other way around (that is she shouldn't wait to get high grades to gain self-confidence)?

Thank you

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This is an interesting question, but it is a bit too specific for our site (hence several people are voting to close). Can you reframe it as a general question about teaching or students? – Jeromy Anglim Nov 23 '13 at 1:24
As for everything, this problem must be fixed at its source. Find those who criticize her and force them to give her back her confidence. – user2534 Nov 23 '13 at 2:21
@user2534 I can't be with her 24h/24h. I spoke to her parents to not compare her with her sister but I can't force her friends and teachers. – whatever Nov 23 '13 at 11:19

Hm, tricky. To be told you are stupid over and over makes you stupid. I believe this is often a learned thing; a vicious circle. It is also about people around her not being able to change their view of her. This is entirely human, but certainly detrimental to many children. And grown-ups.

I think I would not force her to work in groups, not put emphasis the grades. Since the problem is deeper, I believe it is self-worth and she has years of training in "i am hopelessly dumb". The chances are; it is asynchronous learning, and a learning environment very badly suited for her. Grades is a measure that is overwhelming, and even good grades may not really bring her satisfaction or convince her she is not stupid.

As you say, you cannot be with her 24-7, and forcing others around her to change is a Sisyphusian struggle. Nor can you play her therapist. I have been in a somewhat similar situation. One possibillity you might explore is this:

There is a chance (since you say you are convinced that she can easily do better) that she suspects there are complexities that are not there, that she does not understand. This is much better formulated:

I often thought I was really stupid because I couldn't understand why teachers taught things that I thought were obvious. I thought that other children were smarter because they saw complexities that I now know never existed. Instead of realizing that I had grasped the concepts quickly or knew them already, I thought I was missing some subtle point that confused others and I was too dense to see it.

(from here: )

This will often result in bad grades: "I do not understand this stuff, but that is because I am stupid (not because I try to connect things on a larger scale".

I am not saying she is gifted; but rather than think tests, exams, learn-to-work-in-groups, it might well be worth exploring this. Assuming she is not actually below average; asyncronous learning is probably part of the answer. "Divergent thinking", a different way of seeing the world might be part of it.

Slightly aside, you could try to give her this

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..oh, and grades are often a little arbitrary, even in science subject; she might have seen through that. – Benteh Nov 24 '13 at 15:34
I realise that I did not include references; I will try to amend this, when/if I get your views on my above answer. – Benteh Nov 25 '13 at 12:51
She's not a gifted student; she's average or a little higher. Her main problems are (1) the very low self-confidence which are reflected sometimes in her overreactions and (2) the gap she have in mathematics and physics. I can see this easily as she got a good grade on the chapter that doesn't have much prerequisites and got 2/20 on geometry. I'm seeking a way to deal with her (help her, boost her self-confidence) stronger than just talking because she's sick of people talking again and again to her. – whatever Nov 26 '13 at 20:52
As someone said above, the question might be a little too specific/personal for this site as such, it is hard to give advice. Talking to her will certainly not do much good; hence my suggestion of dragonbox. Just an experiment. If that could teach her algebra in a couple of hours, than maybe it will help her see that she can. I would also suggest looking into asynchronous learning. – Benteh Nov 26 '13 at 23:14
Oh, and what I find interesting is that you seem to have a problem in a way exactly opposite of me. I have a student with little problem with science and math, but she at sea in the other end… – Benteh Nov 27 '13 at 13:37

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