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Topic: upper middle schoolers that haven't yet mastered multiplication facts


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Subject:   RE: upper middle schoolers that haven't yet mastered multiplication facts
Author: reese
Date: Jan 27 2005
I've watched these posts with great interest. I'm sympathetic to what Ihor is
saying for the following reason. While practice is important, there is little
doubt in my mind that there is more going on than just the need for practice. As
Geri said, they've been drilled for a long time. More is not necessarily
better.

Forgive a brief digression.
Last year I asked students in my pre-service class to find two people that
they new, one who they felt was strong in mathematics and another who they
thought struggled. I asked them to interview these people about their
experiences in math and to write short math biographies.

Their papers revealed a couple common themes: teachers and tests. Regardless of
whether people were strong in math or said they couldn't do it at all, the
reason was a teacher or a test. For the successful, their strong memory was of a
teacher who helped them and they finally got it, or a test that validated their
success. For those who had rejected math, there was a test or a teacher that
made them feel humiliated or incompetent.

So, if I'm presented with a set of middle school students who are deficient in
something that I think is a basic skill that they should have, what do I do?
Whatever it is, I want to try to become the teacher moves them toward success.
Not the one that further exacerbates the humiliation they probably feel because
they're already behind. And it's a dangerous place because I will no doubt
convey to them that "hey, you should know this already!" by the urgency with
which I drill and insist. Perhaps that will work for some, who will thank me
later. Perhaps for all. But I see so many kids (and adults) who just reject
mathematics because they believe they haven't been successful and that it's just
a tool to weed them out.

I'm guessing that those kids can learn their facts. Most normal kids can, with
enough practice and desire. The problem I see, is that if they don't know it by
now, there are other things going on. Like a sense of failure and the natural
desire to reject what has rejected you. Drill could be the right thing. But it
could also be rubbing their face in an already powerful sense of inadequacy.


My own daughter did not learn her multiplaction tables until 6th grade. There
were other mathematics that she could do, and I downplayed the importance of
memorization until I felt we could push her to "just learn it!" and she'd be ok.


I guess by all this, I'm trying to say that I think there is professional
judgment involved here. Knowing the students, knowing yourself, knowing the
mathematical goals. That said, I think you're more likely to succeed if you have
the kind of skepticism about drill and practice that Ihor and Geri have.

George




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