Friday, January 27, 2012

following the trail

About six months back my mother-in-law voiced concerns over the speed Boo calculated her basic math facts.  A respectable concern coming from a woman who has spent most of her adult life as a Special Educator with the American Schools, teaching hundreds of students around the globe.  I thought about it for a bit.  Was Boo too slow at getting the answers?  Well, yes & no. 
When it comes to math I don't require or even encourage memorization.  I have explained this theory before so I will make it short if I can.  Knowing how & why something is, is a far better thing than simply being told what it is.  Math gets harder and real understanding becomes very important very fast.  Eventually calculating simple math looks the same as reciting simple math but the process for getting there is different.  And in math just like reading you begin to make all the connections so quickly you don't feel the work behind them.  When children study for the National Spelling Bee they learn the root languages/origins so they might use this knowledge to help correctly reconstruct words they have never heard- rogue memory is not a successful option.  It is not a matter of if rogue memorization will fail, it is a matter of when.  Whole learning lays the foundation for future abilities.
I evaluated us. Her money math is fast, her ability to tell time is fast, her accuracy with math facts ranges from 99-100% (staggering), but she is still doing the calculations at her own rate, solving not reciting the answers & sometimes it is very slow. I know my child: being 'right' is what matters to her.  I added a few dice games to encourage speed into our weeks but mostly we continued with whole learning, letting her make sure she was 'right' as we went. 
Yesterday out of the blue we hit on the idea of timed math trials.  To my surprise Boo was fascinated.  We printed off some free worksheets & she set to it.  The first run she was faster than I expected but falling in the 'needs improvement' range for the grade.  The second time she hit the norm for the grade.  The third time she finished in the 'exceeds expectations'.  All three at 100% accuracy.  "That was fun!" she said when she was done.  I couldn't agree more.  And now she likes to be 'right' and fast!
Whatever the path you have chosen to follow, it is good to listen & look around, perhaps adjust from time to time but remember if you are teaching by following you cannot be wrong. Children learn what they need when they need it.
Now, if you will excuse me, I need to look up Medieval forms of torture for my 8 yr old because while reading about the Salem Witch trials she was fascinated by the horrible methods of death the accused where sentenced to.  How did we get on the Salem Witch Trials?  From reading Little House in the Big Woods when they discussed a Puritan Sunday, and we were reading that because...follow the trail.           

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