Lubbock NTA Newsletter
Curriculum Spotlight: Math
Fluency with Basic Facts: It’s More than Memorization!
Think back to your elementary math classroom! If you were asked to recall specific memories from this classroom, one would most likely come to mind…the dreaded timed tests. For some of us that memory brings a rush of adrenaline; our competitive nature comes out in full force. But for others of us, perhaps the majority of us, we immediately recall a sense of anxiety and fear. These tests occurred perhaps weekly with the intention of helping us to memorize our facts and to show evidence of this memorization by solving as many facts as possible in a certain amount of time, hopefully in less time than it took the week before. But if you were asked about the effectiveness of these tests, our answers would be all over the page. The truth is… some of us are memorizers, many of us are not!
Fast forward to the present! There are children in your classroom today who are not memorizers. It does not matter how many flash cards you put in front of them, they just don’t have an immediate answer. It does not matter how many times you tell them 6 x 9 = 54, they cannot recall it when asked later. So, how do we teach these students who simply are not getting it? Sherry Parrish, in her book, Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies, defines fluency as “knowing how a number can be composed and decomposed and using that information to be flexible and efficient with solving problems” (159). Jo Boaler adds in her article, Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts, “The best way to develop fluency with numbers is to develop number sense and to work with numbers in different ways, not to blindly memorize without number sense.”
So how can we help our students develop fluency? What does this look like in the classroom? Number talks, developed by Ruth Parker and Kathy Richardson, are one of the best methods for developing number sense in our students. For example, a teacher may ask for the product of 7 x 8. If a student does not have automatic recall of this fact, they can break it down and make connections to facts they do know.
Prioritizing When the Workload Piles Up
1. Student welfare. Anything that has to do with a student's well-being eclipses other concerns. A student might be experiencing problems at home, issues with friends, anxiety, bullying, or other challenges. Taking care of kids comes first.
2. Lesson planning. Preparation is a huge component of classroom management. Spend your time developing organized lesson plans that support the learning standards for your subject/grade and account for student engagement and responsibility. Include all the necessary components: a do-now, the meat of the instruction, activities to support the instruction, plans for closure, and built-in formative assessments. Have all of the materials prepared before you execute the lesson and keep a back-up plan in mind.
3. Parent contact. As a general rule, respond to parents as soon as possible. If you can't reach them by the end of the school day, apply a 12-hour rule and respond by the next morning. When it is impossible to immediately address a parent's concerns, do your best to let the parent know you will be in touch at a mutually convenient time.
4. Administrative contact. Concerns from the administration are often connected to the first three priorities. If you tend to the first three in order, there is a good chance that any issues brought to your principal or assistant principal may resolve on their own. For example, when you receive an e-mail that says "see me about a student" and you've already been in contact with that student's parents, you are aware of issues that need attention.
5. Grading. Turnaround time on tests and writing is of the utmost importance because feedback from both summative and formative assessments informs instruction. However, grading (much like the laundry) tends to pile up if you are prioritizing the first four concerns. To avoid being buried in grading, set your own grading deadlines ahead of other deadlines (before the report cards are due!). It's helpful to set personal deadlines for each grading task, incorporating into the next lesson when you will review that particular concept or skill.
Prioritizing helps create time and space in your workday and at home. Consider using some of the reclaimed time to take care of yourself, because as Stephen Covey says, "Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have--you." Prioritizing brings a sense of balance to one of the greatest assets any student can have--an inspiring and motivated teacher!