Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fact Fluency??

How do you move students toward independence in math?
One way that I work to help students become independent mathematicians is by increasing fact fluency.  I do this mostly through the use of games and concrete materials. Using games makes the learning fun and decreases the anxiety often associated with timed tests.
There are tons of free math games available on TPT and other websites.  These can be easily incorporated into your math block or even added to indoor recess games.  That's kind of a sneaky way to encourage working on math, but it's an option.

The use of flash cards and timed tests has been debated for some time now.  I am not against using flash cards, but I think they should be used in a certain way.  Students should have the option to use concrete materials such as ten frames when working on addition or subtraction facts.  Also, I think students should have to explain their thinking if the fact recall is not automatic.  For example, when a student sees 5+5 she automatically says 10 because she has had enough experiences with this problem for it to become quickly recalled.  But when she sees 5+7, she pauses.  She might then say, "I know that 5+5=10 so 5 +7 is just 2 more than that.  So 5+7=12."  That shows that she does have some number sense and is able to use it to solve other problems.
Timed tests often create such an anxiety in students that they are unable to complete the test, or they make frequent mistakes in their computation.  I don't want students to have math anxiety as it negatively impacts their view of math overall.  My goal is always to move students toward independence.  If I want them to be able to solve a variety of math related problems, I need to foster the kind of thinking that will enable them to stick with a problem.  Timed tests don't do that.
I feel like the root of fact fluency is really a strong number sense.  When students have enough experiences with solving a variety of math problems, they develop stronger number sense.  Facts become automatic because of the repetition of solving them.  These "automatic" facts become building blocks for new facts.

As an elementary math teacher, I struggle with how to best meet my students' needs.  I know there are students in my class who do not have a strong number sense.  These students can often be seen counting on their fingers for even the simplest computation problem.  Yet, I have to keep moving forward with the second grade content which includes addition and subtraction with regrouping.  I feel guilty asking students to work on these types of problems. I always allow these students to use concrete materials and place value mats to solve the problems.  At least this gives them tools that will hopefully increase their number sense in the end.  I also have these students play math games that require them to use addition and subtraction.
I don't really know the solution to the flash card timed test debate.  I think it will continue as long as we have students who are struggling.  I think I will struggle, too.  Am I really doing what's best for my students?  I think of a quote I have heard from Maya Angelou.  I don't know it verbatim, but the gist of it is that you do what you think is best for the time being.  When you know better, you will do better.
One source of information that has influenced my thinking is a website called Youcubed.  It's fee to join and has some great articles and resources.  There is an article called "Fluency Without Fear" by Jo Boaler.  You might want to check it out.

How do you address the flash card/timed test debate in your classroom?

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