Helping isn't always helpful

Working after school with a pupil...

Me: How many of these [10cm lengths] would you need to make a 30cm length?
Pupil: 3
Me: Ah okay, so back to the problem, how many would you need for 300cm?
Pupil: [with a "got it now!" tone of voice] would it be 30?
Me: [with a slightly questioning tone of voice] What makes you say that?
Pupil [utterly deflated] I don't know, I don't think I understand.
Me: Really? You sounded quite confident before. 
... we spiralled around and back to the same problem, and the pupil eventually went with 30 and told me how they had got it.

Me: before, when I asked why you thought it was 30, with a tone of voice that maybe seemed like I disagreed, you went to pieces a bit didn't you, even though you really thought you knew why it was 30. I wonder why that happened.
Pupil: [pause as tears well up in eyes] I think it's because when my Mum helps with me with my maths she gets frustrated with me if I don't get it straight away - like she thinks I'm stupid.

I won't share the rest of the conversation. I hope I managed to avoid making things worse at least.

I don't have a moral to this tale. It was just a very poignant moment - one that will, I know, stay with me for a long time.


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