Building on Foundations

One recurring problem that teachers (including myself) face is that of students who do not have solid foundations on material that came before. When students do not have appropriate foundations for the course material, they do not have the same access as other students.

In my college teaching, I have encountered students who cannot multiply by 0, who cannot tell which number is larger when given two numbers involving decimal forms of fractions, who cannot tell if 0 is in an interval, who do not appropriately use equal signs, cannot seamlessly convert a decimal form of a fraction to a percentage, and so on... I have encountered many other educators who feel the same and who then try to teach both the foundation and the curriculum that they are charged with teaching.

It is very heartening to see programs and teachers who successfully fill in the gaps of these students while teaching the curriculum they are supposed to teach. I have encountered many such educators (including volunteer peer tutors). Many of our students and teachers are not, however, navigating successfully the filling in of foundation gaps and the current curriculum. In Jamaica, over 50% are not.

In my opinion, it has not been a successful strategy for too many students to leave both the filling in of foundation gaps and the teaching of current material. There must be more support given to teachers who have large proportions of their student bodies coming in without these gaps. Part of the solution is professional development which imparts strategies of programs and teachers who have successfully navigated such situations as well as the videos that we are currently working on. Another part of the solution could be students who already understand the material. Research has shown a positive effect of volunteering and tutoring other students on the academic performance of the volunteers. This is a win-win scenario for both students.

We welcome other suggestions on how to improve education, in particular math education, for the large proportion of students and teachers who are in need of support.

Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York and has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, Yeshiva University, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.