I am tutoring a student who is in an honors Algebra II class. The class is definitely advanced and the student hasn't been exposed to this kind of material. The teacher is going beyond algebra II and into calculus.

The major issue I have with the student is how incredibly lazy he is. He takes way too long to solve a problem.

The teacher normally posts a review sheet which I complete with the student. I additionally come up with several mock exams and give it to the student to complete. During the session I have trouble because as soon as he doesn't understand something, he asks me. I have tried to coach him in the right direction without giving answers, I've also flat out refused to give him answers. But in either case, if he doesn't understand it, he doesn't try anything.

For his first couple exams, he scored in the 70's. The third exam he took, he knew everything on the exam, it was very easy (by his own admission) however when he took the test, he just froze. This happens constantly. I thought this was more of a psychological thing than anything so I started making mock exams to create a similar environment for him to work in but he is always getting distracted.

On the exams, he constantly runs out of time. However on his 4th exam, he scored 28/30 which is excellent and he only got two points off for a silly error. I thought this was great progress and I was so happy. His most recent exam(the fifth one), I prepared him for about 10-15 hours total. I created multiple exams, I went through the review sheet. He got back his exam and he scored a 19/30.

I'm devastated, I don't know what more I should be doing as a tutor. It's really difficult for me to even understand what is going on.

I have also noticed that when he knows how to do a problem, he is very focused (as you would expect). However even if he understands a concept but hasn't been exposed to the specific wording or presentation of a problem, he just shuts down. I try my best to come up with questions that are similar to the review sheet however he still needs to know how to think.

I know he's in high school but I give small and simple proofs for certain things because I want him to know why and not have it be a matter of memorization.

Please help with any suggestions on what I can do moving forward and how I can best utilize my time and efforts working with my student. Thank you, any feed back is greatly appreciated!

  • $\begingroup$ Is it possible he has a learning disability which makes reading/interpreting questions more difficult for him? Were there differences in the exam styles (for example, many small questions VS bigger problems or application questions)? Maybe he is good at one type but weaker in another. $\endgroup$ – orion2112 Dec 27 '18 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ im not sure about that. i suggested asking for more time with his teacher but since he did well on the last exam, i don't know if he can use that as a reason. there weren't any differences in exam styles. the teacher typically gives 3 big questions and one or two of them have maybe 4 or 3 parts. so the exam is quite short and the points count for a lot more $\endgroup$ – user130306 Dec 27 '18 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ I think you've given the answer in your own question: "he still needs to know how to think". I think this is the most relevant sentence. Are you sure he knows what he's doing, rather than work like a robot? I don't mean "robot" like "see one exercise and do it without thinking", but rather "this kind of exercises are done like this because I know it". Is it? $\endgroup$ – FGSUZ Dec 28 '18 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ As a slightly separate point of view: I find the opening of this post a bit confusing. The student is in Algebra 2... but the teacher is going into Calculus? That seems odd. And: "The major issue I have with the student is how incredibly lazy he is. He takes way too long to solve a problem." These sentences are sequential; so, in case that is not a coincidence, I thought it important to emphasize that being "lazy" is quite different from problem-solving speed. Although describing a child as "lazy" is often, well, a lazy characterization. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Dickman Dec 28 '18 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @RustyCore That is certainly a possibility, but it's hard to say more. As Amy B mentioned in her answer, inconsistency in test results could be a sign of a learning disability. Someone with ADHD might have trouble reading longer questions and take all the information into account. Someone with dysphasia might misunderstand the question. For instance, after reading a 4-part question (a, b, c, d), a dysphasic student answered "c", thinking it was a multiple choice question. The number of diagnoses for such learning disabilities is currently seeing an increase, so I would not rule this out. $\endgroup$ – orion2112 Dec 28 '18 at 23:13

There doesn't actually seem to be any problem here. Your student sounds like a typical intelligent but unmotivated high school student who is getting along fine in school. His test grades sound like they were maybe 75%, 75%, 93%, and 63%. This averages out to about 76%. Raw scores don't mean much, but if you're intending us to assume a 90/80/70 scale, then your student is passing despite not trying very hard. There is nothing abnormal about this. High school is generally pretty easy, so it's common for smart kids to be able to pass without doing much work.

If there's a problem, perhaps the problem is that his parents are spending a lot of money for many hours of tutoring, when the only issue is that the kid simply doesn't care much.

  • $\begingroup$ That sounds correct actually. and i feel inadequate as a result because i try doing everything i can to help him but he will randomly get up and go for 45 minutes saying he's getting water but then he's playing basketball. i end up staying for 5 hours. the parents pay an insane amount of money, the kid isn't learning, and im not doing my job properly. is there a way i can correct this? what can i do to make him not lazy? $\endgroup$ – user130306 Dec 28 '18 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ and i think he wants to try hard but because he is so distracted, he cant. that's the main issue. i mean i end up staying 5-6 hours for just one day in order to prepare for a math quiz. that's ridiculous and inefficient $\endgroup$ – user130306 Dec 28 '18 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ @user130306 First, talk to the parents about the situation. If you agree with Ben Crowell, explain to them that their kid is smart but unmotivated and that this is normal. Second, the very fact that you spend hours with him to prepare for a single quiz sounds exaggerated. It might in fact be the reason why you find him lazy; he's burnt out by what he's asked to do and needs to decompress by playing some basketball. At his age (16-18?) maybe he's not ready to put as much effort into his studies as other aspects of his life, especially if math will not be required for his future. $\endgroup$ – orion2112 Dec 29 '18 at 2:36
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    $\begingroup$ Well I would love to just have us wrap up in a couple hours but I get there, he comes down after 30 minutes of me just waiting, then does maybe 30 minutes of work, gets up walks around, spends another 45 minutes doing something else etc. so while i spend 5 hours there we are not doing work for much of the time.i completely understand being burnt out but if he was able to get through the work in 2 hours i wouldn't push him past that. $\endgroup$ – user130306 Dec 29 '18 at 3:05
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    $\begingroup$ @user130306 Which is why you should tell the parents about it. Maybe he thinks that this 'routine' of being late and taking breaks is acceptable. It isn't. Unless he has unmedicated behavioral problems, this attitude sounds to me to be a real lack of respect on his part, to both you and his parents. He's wasting your time and effort as well as their money. And at this point, it sounds like the problem is not about math education, but about his personal education itself. I understand you want to help him, but a big part of that role should come from the parents. What do they say about this? $\endgroup$ – orion2112 Dec 29 '18 at 4:12

It sounds like you are frustrated by his inconsistent performance and your inability to address what he needs.

Inconsistent performance is often a sign of a learning disability. Can he be evaluated by the Dept of Education to see if he needs an IEP (individualized education plan)? In the US (not sure where you are from), they would identify his learning issues and suggest modifications including more time. You would have a better idea of what was going on and know how to address the issues.

It would also be worthwhile to discuss his inconsistent performance with his teacher and perhaps his previous math teacher.

I also suggest you talk to him about his shutting down when he is not in the middle of a problem and has already shut down. He will be more open to listening when he is not struggling with the problem. Tell him the best way to learn is to continue even when he has no idea how. Ask him to help you find strategies so you help him work through the problem.

Good luck

  • $\begingroup$ he has no problem with any other subject than math though $\endgroup$ – user130306 Dec 28 '18 at 23:23
  • $\begingroup$ There are learning disabilities specifically related to math. Of course it could be anxiety and that why I suggested you talk to him when he isn't shutting down over a problem. $\endgroup$ – Amy B Dec 29 '18 at 19:03

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