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(VI) The Role of Intervention Psychology in the Delivery of Math 102F/103F/104F

"I simply expect people to be really, really good at what they do. With me, it’s not a girl thing or a guy thing: it’s a performance thing. Period. I give my players all the confidence they can handle and guess what? They usually rise to the top. But when they screw up, I hit ‘em right between the eyes. Remember the old Westerns when they’d leave the back door at the bar open so they could escape if things turned bad? Well, I don’t let my players leave the back door open. You’ve got to find a way out the front door in my program. None of this 'I was sick,' or 'I didn’t get what I needed.' I don’t want to hear it. Be resourceful."

- Geno Auriemma, 47, women’s basketball coach, University of Connecticut, U.S.A., taken from Where Pride Still Matters (Brooks, 2002)

In The Little Book of Coaching, Blanchard and Shula similarly speak about being conviction-driven. They maintain that "beliefs and convictions provide the boundaries and direction that people want and need in order to perform well," and that "inadequate beliefs are setups for inadequate performance" (2001, pp. 12-13).

Though many students with math difficulties may be labeled as below-average learners, we believe differently at the Mathematics Learning Centre. Most students who have trouble with math are very capable learners in other areas. These students, for some reason, haven’t learned mathematics to the level they need, and so we try to understand that from the perspective of curricula issues, issues in cognitive psychology, or issues in intervention psychology. What educators often fail to realize is that the students perceive these other issues as pressing and sometimes more engulfing than skills development per se. In our experience, the associated impediments often pose the most difficult didactic challenges.

Our students must frequently be helped to deal with cognitive/emotional problems. Four such problems occur sufficiently often to mandate preparing staff to deal with them in a manner that promotes self-reliance and mutual respect. First, our students tend to perform more poorly in high school (grade point average of 70.4, 1990 to 1998 cohorts) than other university students (grade point average of 77.6) (May, Rabinowitz and Mantyka, 2002, pp. 33-35). This substantial high school grade point difference reflects ability, skill, and motivation differences in the two populations. Thus, it is not surprising that many of our students must be taught study skills along with the realization that their actions largely determine what and whether they learn. Second, some of our students enter university believing that they are skilled at mathematics, having never received a high school mathematics grade below 70. When informed that they must complete two or more semesters of remedial mathematics, they react with disbelief and hostility, often blaming us. Third and fourth, still other students enter university with either great mathematical anxiety or a conviction that they are incapable of learning mathematics. In an attempt to increase self-esteem and reduce mathematical anxiety, considerable effort is expended to insure that these students are successful at the beginning of their program with us.

In all these situations, we acknowledge that there is an explanatory factor to account for the educational outcome, but we do not absolve the student from having to take responsibility for turning it around. Beyond the initial acknowledgement of causality, we want the students to “be resourceful” and we will more than match their resourcefulness and commitment to achieving better educational outcomes.

With all this extraordinary support we give the students at the Mathematics Learning Centre, we believe we can demand the highest standards of performance from them, just as Geno Auriemma demands from her players. We are prepared to provide this support to our students but we expect them to take responsibility for their own learning. There are no part marks. Answers are right or wrong and a copying error makes an answer wrong. A pass usually requires more than 80% of the answers to be correct, and these pass standards are applied to each content section of a test. Every module test contains sections embodying pure skills and sections that are all word problems and all sections must be passed.

There is no back door out of our program either. This is because we know our program works. We have massive data sets to attest to the success our students have after they complete our program. Just as Don Shula can point to a perfect season with the Miami Dolphins in 1972, so too can we point to the graphs posted on our bulletin board and say to our students, "trust us – it works."

High School Grade Point Averages
First-Year English Grade Point Averages

- taken from The Math Plague, 2007, pp. 94-97.

For more detail, please see May, Rabinowitz and Mantyka, 2002, pp. 19-20.