I had a student as both a fifth- and sixth-grader, who had no confidence in himself in math. He has ADHD and could not focus long enough to get through a math problem that involved more than a quick answer he could do in his head. The first few months of fifth grade, he struggled. He hardly did any homework and would come late to school (math was the first lesson of the day). He broke many pencils as he erased and pushed too hard out of frustration. He was about two years behind in our curriculum.
Then our class began doing online math with the Khan Academy, which provides free online videos on everything from arithmetic to physics, and allows viewers to earn badges and points as they work their way through them at www.khanacademy.org.
Now he was able to get immediate feedback on his answers, and he began to want to do more, to receive the badges everyone else was getting. He loved the fact you could take hints or be shown the answer without having to look ‘dumb’ in front of the whole class. With coaching from me when he was stuck on a module, or even from other students he was comfortable talking to, he was one of the first to log on every day, the first now to ask me questions, and gained in confidence every day. Once he started taking his math education into his own hands, he wanted more.
When he was ready to apply the knowledge to real-world projects, activities, and situations, he really shone. He was finally confident enough in his skills to work collaboratively with others. Before this, he would sit back and let others do the work. He took pride in his projects, in learning more and showing me his progress. When we met each week to discuss his goals and reflections, it amazed me how articulate he was in his own learning, successes, struggles, and goals.
—Kelly Rafferty, teacher at Santa Rita School, Los Altos, California

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.