What is it about fact fluency that is so challenging for some students? It’s not uncommon for students to lack automaticity with their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts into middle school and beyond. Struggles with fact fluency sometimes accompany low achievement in math, but that is not always the case. Sometimes struggling math students know their facts. Sometimes high-achieving students do not know their facts.
I am reading John Tapper’s excellent new book entitled Solving for Why: Understanding, Assessing, and Teaching Students Who Struggle with Math. Tapper devotes a section of the book to students who face challenges in short term, long term and working memory. He weighs in on the fact fluency question there.
What students need to understand are underlying mathematics concepts. Multiplicative and proportional reasoning are, for example, critical to moving on from elementary mathematics. Fact retrieval certainly facilitates learning in these areas, but the inability to retrieve facts will not prevent students from reasoning at higher levels. Knowing math facts is important, but fact retrieval is to mathematics what spelling is to literacy: we want students to be proficient at the skill, but the skill is a small part of the overall picture. If a student is able to spell but cannot write a coherent essay, the spelling does them little good. The same is true with math facts. (p. 138)
This is interesting for students, parents, and teachers to ponder. Try spending ten minutes a day or less studying math facts. Learn them in a way that reinforces conceptual understanding and is fun. Enjoy higher level, rich mathematics. Like the Fibonacci spiraling Hurricane Sandy picture above.