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Art of Conversation

In: Other Topics

Submitted By mikejuly
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Nine Ways
How do we help floundering students who lack basic math concepts?
Marilyn Burns aul, a 4th grader, was struggling to learn multiplication. Paul’s teacher was concerned that he typically worked very slowly in math and “didn’t get much done.” I agreed to see whether I could figure out the nature of Paul’s difficulty. Here’s how our conversation began:

P

MARILYN: Can you tell me something you know about multiplication? PAUL: [Thinks, then responds] 6 x 8 is 48. MARILYN: Do you know how much 6 x 9 is? PAUL: I don’t know that one. I didn’t learn it yet. MARILYN: Can you figure it out some way? PAUL: [Sits silently for a moment and then shakes his head.] MARILYN: How did you learn 6 x 8? PAUL: [Brightens and grins] It’s easy—goin’ fishing, got no bait, 6 x 8 is 48.

connects to addition. Paul wasn’t the only student in this class who was floundering. Through talking with teachers and drawing on my own teaching experience, I’ve realized that in every class a handful of students are at serious risk of failure in mathematics and aren’t being adequately served by the instruction offered. What should we do for such students?
Grappling with Interventions My exchange with Paul reminded me of three issues that are essential to teaching mathematics: I It’s important to help students make connections among mathematical ideas so they do not see these ideas as disconnected facts. (Paul saw each multiplication fact as a separate piece of information to memorize.) I It’s important to build students’ new understandings on the foundation of their prior learning. (Paul did not make use of what he knew about addition to figure products.) I It’s important to remember that students’ correct answers, without accompanying explanations of how they reason, are not sufficient for judging mathematical understanding. (Paul’s initial correct answer about the product

As I talked with...

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