1) "Retest to De-stress"
Willis recommends offering the opportunity to retest, especially since math is based on foundational knowledge that must be mastered. She states that "mastery forms the basis from which students can extend their neural networks of patterns and concepts before they move to the next level." Retests provide the chance to reevaluate answers and make corrections. Willis states that she requires students to retest when they score under 85%. To address the concern that retesting permits students to be more irresponsible when preparing for a test (knowing they can retest), Willis states that there should be some accountability, such as requiring students to provide evidence that they have prepared for retests – like participating in tutoring, doing additional review, or finding examples that demonstrated how a type of problem is solved. Averaging the original test and the retest for a final grade would also help students to realize that they are accountable for that original test score, as it will be part of their final grade.
2) Demonstrate the value of math
To develop students’ interest in math (and thus lower their stress), their imaginations must be “captured.” Students need to see that math is found in places other than just the math classroom. In upper grades, Willis recommends cross-curricular planning to help students see that math can be meaningful (though the only example she gives is having students help plan how to sell tickets to help cover field trip expenses).
3) Start the year showing that you care
Willis suggests that students complete a math autobiography (I have my students do this - it's interesting to see what they share), have a class discussion, or have private conversations about previous math experiences. Try to trigger positive school memories, build a supportive class community through class discussion, and include your own experiences, as this can increase the bond with students.
4) Have students assess you
Willis identifies the following areas as areas in which her 7th grade class assessed her and gave her a report card: kindness, organization, fairness, friendliness, favoritism, knows material, funny, listens, and explains material well. Using the students' “grades” she found that listening and explaining were skills the students thought she needed to work on. She asked for more feedback and then had a colleague observe her to focus on those areas.
In summary of the chapter, the author states that when “you reopen doors that were previously closed by negative feelings, math is revealed to students as an accessible, valuable tool to help them understand, describe and have more control over the world in which they live.”