Why do so many Teachers take Antidepressants?

Teachers are tired and stressed! And it stresses me that there’s nothing I can do about it. Isn’t there something that can be done?

For the most part I really like and support the Common Core mathematics standards. But how can teachers provide the new rigorous curriculum in ways that are most effective when they are having to stop every 4 or 5 days to give some kind of test? No, I’m not talking about a ‘test’ on the unit they may be teaching. I’m talking about the benchmark tests, the Writing test, the mock Writing test, the CRCTs, the mock CRCTs, pre tests, post tests, screening and monitoring tests, STAR tests, etc. These are just the ones I know of and it makes me tense just typing them. I’ve been told by numerous teachers that they give some form of mandatory testing about 40 days in the school year! If students go to school 180 days then they spend almost 25% of their ‘learning’ time testing.

CL6271

Why are students being tested so much? Because someone somewhere decided that all students should score at a certain level on a certain test on a certain day, regardless of anything else that may influence their results. Are you kidding me? What if her parents got into a fight that morning? What if he had to stay up late to take care of his little sister because his mom was working until midnight? What if she freezes up on tests simply because that’s all she’s heard about since the first day of school? What if his mother is fighting breast cancer? What if she has attention problems and needs to regroup every 20 minutes but must remain still and quiet for an hour straight? What if he was born at 24 weeks instead of 39 weeks? What if she was already 3 years behind before she got to this class? What if he didn’t have anything to eat for dinner last night and got to school too late to eat breakfast? My niece almost chewed a hole in her mouth the week of testing her last year in public school – all because of one test that someone thought should be the be all and end all of education!!

Some of you may be cheering while others of you may be thinking “Doesn’t she believe that all children can learn mathematics?” Duh, of course I believe ALL students can learn mathematics – but not the exact same amount at the exact same time of every other child their age. How many adults can do that? What made someone who ‘can’t teach’ powerful enough to ‘pass laws about teaching’? We’re creating students who hate school as early as 6 years old simply because they feel and suffer the stress that the teachers feel and suffer. Five year-olds are not even taking naps in kindergarten any more. Did you all know that? When I was five kindergarten was an option. Now if a child doesn’t go to preschool for at least one year, they are considered behind when they enter kindergarten. How can a child – a kid – be behind academically at five years old?! Something is wrong with our priorities in this country. Why not let children climb trees, ride their bicycles, play imaginary things like baby dolls or cops and robbers, play on swing sets in the backyard, play football with the neighbor kids? Instead they’re spending 8 hours a day from the time they are 3 in most cases in some form of organized learning.

So, how does all of this affect teachers? Teachers are being judged on their performance based on how their students do on the one test on that one special day. I know what the ‘guidelines’ say. Student performance is only a portion of a teacher’s performance report. Yet teachers are being treated as if these scores are the only thing that matters. They are given pacing guides (often written by someone who doesn’t understand the content) that they must stay within at least a day or two. This truly doesn’t make any sense. Many schools group students based on their levels of performance – low (special ed, EIP, etc); high (gifted, over achievers); and regular (the leftovers) – regardless of what the research says about grouping. But that’s the topic of another blog later. How can a teacher with all of the ‘lower performing’ students in one classroom possibly stay at the same place on the same pacing guide with the other classrooms? They can’t. But they’re still expected to.

And all of that is just the pressure of testing. Teachers are also expected to CYA. If you don’t know what the acronym stands for ask a teacher. If their students don’t score well on a benchmark test (again often written by someone who doesn’t understand the content), they have to complete documents justifying why and a plan for what the teacher is going to do to get that student(s) caught up. In most instances they have to do their own scoring of all of these tests I mentioned earlier. They have to fill out paperwork for all of their students with an IEP or a 504 plan (my number may be wrong). They have to make accommodations for all students who legally require one.

Teachers have to be at work 8.5 hours a day 5 days a week. I know what non teachers think – “yeah but they only have to do it for 190 days.” Bull! Actually for the last couple of years they had to do the same amount of everything in even less days because they were furloughed. Furlough to a teacher just means “work without pay”. Rarely are teachers ONLY at school for 8.5 hours a day. Many come to school an hour early because that’s the only time they can get things accomplished. Even more stay late – for tutoring (without extra pay), for IEP meetings, for RTI meetings, for faculty meetings, for parent teacher conferences. And then on some of these days they are expected to come back to school at 6 for a PTO meeting, or open house, or academic night, or math bowl, or fall festival, or some club or sport that they have been bullied into leading. Then what used to be called “work days” when I was a student are now called “professional development” days. This means that teachers are supposed to be in some kind of class in which they are learning ways become a better teacher – when all they really want is time to change a bulletin board or type up those standards they are required to post, or clean the student desks because many schools don’t even have someone who keeps students’ desks or the board clean. AND most of them work during those 11 weeks of summer ‘vacation’, fall ‘vacation’, Christmas ‘vacation’, Spring ‘vacation’ getting their rooms ready for fall, grading papers, writing lessons, etc.

Now because of the wonderful world of technology they get emails all day long from their administrators, system leaders, grade level chairs, subject lead teachers, content coaches, or parents. Probably only 5% of those emails are positive and thanking the teachers for what they are doing or have done. Most of them include reminders of something that they must do, or complete, or turn in, or go to. Parents complain about what the teacher is not doing for their child, or because they got a note home that was worded in a way that they found offensive.

In order for any teacher to successfully do ALL that is expected of them they would no more than 12 children in their classroom. Yet, due to financial constraints their classroom sizes are becoming unbelievably large.

Are you tired and stressed yet? I am. I can guarantee you that my blood pressure is higher now than when I first started this blog. Have you noticed that nowhere have I mentioned that these teachers are parents of their own, have aging parents they are taking care of, do volunteer work, go to graduate school, have health problems (mostly caused by stress), are single parents who are working a second job because they aren’t getting enough child support and make too much to get government assistance, are active church members, or Lord forbid – have a hobby?

I guess this all explains why I have seen 6 teachers cry in the past week. Most teachers have not even been able to finish reading this post because they simply don’t have enough time. So that means that those of you who had the time to stick with it needs to figure out what we can do as a nation to change things.

Yet, as an individual there is something you can do. Love and appreciate teachers. Tell them thank you. Show them kindness. Send them cards. Consider what their day may have been like before you criticize something that they have written or said. Pray for them.

(Disclaimer: I realize that everything I have written will not be considered politically correct by some. Sorry.)

How can Teachers use ZPD to Help Students Climb?

What is ZPD? Education has so many acronyms you almost need a designated webpage just to define them all. The ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD) is a term used by psychologist Lev Vygotsky to describe the distance between what a person can do and what they cannot do on their own (Robyn’s translation). Consider the bull’s eye diagram below and the way I interpret the idea of ZPD.

ZPD1

The center circle is what a child can do by herself. The middle ring is called the Zone of Proximal Development. This is where a child can learn but will need some help. The outer ring is currently out of reach for this child. And if you consider moving from the inside circle towards the larger ring, one must pass a mathematical wall or any other kind of wall (discussed in the previous blog).

Ok, so what? Well, let’s say that a child is being asked to practice the subtraction algorithm with regrouping over and over. If this concept is one that this child can do by herself (in the center circle) then the practice will help this child become more adept at correctly solving these types of subtraction problems. [Does this mean the child understands subtraction? This will be saved for a later post.] When a child practices what is within that center circle, the concept will eventually become automatic. Children are happy within this circle of comfort. Teachers are happy when their students are within this circle. And to be honest, teachers as students are happy when they are within this circle. But we are not born with everything we need to know and understand in life inside that circle.

What if a different child is being asked to practice the subtraction algorithm with regrouping over and over and this concept is not inside their center circle? They are faced with a wall and have 3 choices: Stop (and wreak havoc in the classroom); go around it to just get by (which means that they probably practice all of the problems but make numerous errors and do a pretty good job of solidifying their version of the algorithm inside the little circle); or they can start climbing over the wall with the help of others.

This is where the teacher role (and parent role) is so important. So the teacher is careful to not assign practice too soon; and the parent is careful to not ‘teach the way I learned it’ too soon. The teacher must know at all times what her students truly understand and what they need help with. This doesn’t mean that the help has to come from the teacher. Students can learn from each other and create knowledge together. In order for this to happen the teacher needs to provide numerous opportunities for her students to develop an understanding of what subtraction really means. (This is why the new standards have moved the subtraction algorithm to the 4th grade – so they have time to hang out in the ZPD with their peers for a while until that wall is no longer a wall.)

As I mentioned in my last blog, there are many walls I would have never climbed by myself. Being in that center ring is uncomfortable. We are raised in a society to be independent and do everything by ourselves. About as soon as a child begins to speak, he/she also begins to say “I do myself”. We need to teach our students (and ourselves) that it’s ok to be uncomfortable and it’s ok to need others.

Teachers seem to be afraid to make students uncomfortable – maybe for fear of students whining, or of parents calling to complain, or of simply moving out of their own comfort zone by pushing their students out of theirs. Teachers (and parents), if your children are NOT having trouble with mathematics, that’s when the teacher is NOT doing what she/he should do. The only time a child should be in a comfortable place is when he/she is doing meaningful practice of a concept they already understand. They are just practicing until they can do it automatically.

And what’s in the outer ring? Probably the idea of multiplication as a way to add large groups of the same amount, or rational expressions, or quadratics equations…

ZPD

Guess what happens when students spend time together in the ZPD developing understanding together. What was in the ZPD for the child will move to the center circle and something that used to be completely out of reach before moves into the ZPD (this is what I have labeled as ZPD 2).

With a thoughtful and intentional teacher, mathematics students will begin to see walls as a bump, not a skyscraper. They will develop the belief that they will eventually cross that hurdle. It will probably involve working and talking with their peers. It might involve reading what someone else has written. It might involve the student asking questions. But they know that whatever they are struggling with now will eventually become comfortable.

So I will close with my question from the last post: Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable? Are you comfortable with making others uncomfortable?

As you can probably tell ‘making others uncomfortable’ has been moved from my Zone of Proximal Development to my center circle of comfort.

Learning to be Comfortable with being Uncomfortable

(If you are reading this blog first, you might want to stop and read the one published before this one. Also, I have a disclaimer to add to yesterday’s blog. Although God provided for the Israelite children when they whined and complained, we know from later chapters that this was not always his response.)

My experience has been that most teachers go into education because they want to help students learn. Yet, as stated in the previous blog, we live in a society where we avoid making others uncomfortable at all costs.

The ‘best’ math class I ever had in college was Introduction to Higher Mathematics – a proof class. We had no homework, no tests and no final. As long as you participated in class adequately you got an A. We all loved it…until I discovered that I was actually supposed to learn how to mathematically prove something and I would be expected to do so in every math class that followed. I liked the easy path and did not complain about it while I was in the class. But you can bet I complained in each of the subsequent mathematics classes. I did not have the necessary foundation upon which to build future understanding.

I am quite sure that many of you can relate to “lacking the necessary foundation upon which to build future understanding” when it comes to mathematics. It is my belief that everyone will hit a wall at some point when it comes to understanding mathematics. The only question is when the wall will show up. Even full time mathematicians may spend years trying to understand a piece of mathematics that’s just beyond their reach.

When faced with the mathematical wall you have 3 choices – stop, go around it, or climb over it. Those who stop are the ones who develop self-helplessness, fear math, hate math, and/or avoid lifelong dreams because of math. Those who go around the wall are those who choose the easy way out – either intentionally or unintentionally. These are the people who seem to do well in mathematics. They are not afraid of it; as a matter of fact, they might even like it because they feel successful. I was this type of person. When I hit a wall I found success at just paying close attention to the rules that the teacher was giving. I knew that if I tried to follow the patterns just as the teacher had, then I would be able to get around that wall. The last group of people is those who choose to climb over the wall. Just like there are some people who are born with an athletic desire, there are those who are born with a desire to understand the relationships between mathematical concepts. I was not born into this group.

I believe people can learn to make a different choice. I have a family member who was the stopper. She was able to go around some walls, but always dreaded the next wall and rarely believed that she could get around it. As an adult she was faced with a dilemma – stay stopped in front of a mathematical wall called ‘The Test’ or she could choose to try to climb over the wall and follow in the career that she felt called into. She chose to climb, developed the understanding necessary to scale that wall and ‘The Test’ no longer stood between her and her dreams.

I am an example of the person who always walked around the mathematical walls until I arrived in graduate school. It was at UGA when I discovered that I would not make it through the PhD program by walking around mathematical walls. I was going to have to climb over some of them and boy were they hard to climb. I quickly learned that I couldn’t climb by myself, I needed help. We would spend hours (and sometimes hours and hours more) working together to understand a concept and guess what would happen when we found ourselves on the other side of the wall? We would rejoice! We would high five. We had worked hard, fallen, gotten scrapes, and sometimes even fights but we would always end rejoicing together. Then we would take a deep breath, start again and moan when it was time to climb another wall, but we didn’t stop. Mathematically I have stopped climbing walls but I have gotten so much better at understanding the relationships within mathematics in the early grades that I can pretty much leap over the old walls without much effort.

My cousin and I had a reason to try to conquer these mathematical walls; we had a long term goal that required us to. Young children usually do not have those long term goals to motivate them to try to climb over mathematical walls. In many cases these same children are also in classrooms of teachers who mean well but who try their best to protect their students from struggle, from discomfort, from frustration, and unknowingly from understanding.

This blog has become much longer than I thought. I have not completed my thoughts, but I need to stop. Look for the next blog where I continue my thoughts on discomfort and understanding…

Protecting Others From Discomfort – Is it Wise?

This is an idea that has danced around in my mind (and heart) for about 3 months now. It seems that everywhere I turn something causes me to contemplate the question “Is it wise to protect others from discomfort?” One thing I have determined is that this question can apply to so many areas of life – a parent protecting a child, a teacher protecting a student, God protecting his children, friend protecting a friend, benefactor protecting the recipient, etc… My blog began as a result of this question burning in my mind; yet, I couldn’t put anything in writing. It wasn’t until I typed the list of situations to which this question can apply that I realized why the words were just out of reach. I couldn’t separate my thoughts; the list above just separated them for me. (Hang with me; if you don’t already see how this idea applies to teaching mathematics to everyone, you will.)

Protecting others is a natural instinct for me. I never thought much about it, but in retrospect I think I thought it un-Christian NOT to help when I saw a need. I guess it was this summer as a participant in a mission trip that I began to question this ‘help without thinking’ reaction to every need I saw. I was required to read a book “When Helping Hurts”. I won’t go into the details but I now admit that in many instances when I thought I was ‘helping’ someone, I was actually ‘protecting’ someone from discomfort. How is someone going to learn to make the necessary adjustments in their budget if regular living expenses are being paid by other(s)? How is an alcoholic ever going to realize he/she needs help if others keep making excuses for the addiction? How is a college student to make wise choices living out on their own if they were never allowed to make their own choices while living at home? How is a student going to feel like he/she can succeed if always protected from failure? How can a person realize their need for a Savior in Christ, if we unknowingly become their savior and protect them from consequences and discomfort?

Yesterday in church the pastor continued his series in Exodus. I’ve heard this story numerous times. The children of Israel had just crossed the Red Sea on dry land and watched the Egyptians drown. They stopped on the other side of the river and sang a song of praise to God. Yet, in the very same chapter (Exodus 15), they began to complain – about bitter water, about being hungry, about having no water. And each time after their complaint God lovingly and miraculously provided for their needs (Exodus 15:22-17:7). Every time I have read/heard this story my thought was why were they so stupid? And why did God give them what they wanted each time?

Yesterday I found the answers. The Israelites were so stupid simply because they were human, just like we are. The other thing I learned was profound. My pastor said that God could have provided sweet water, abundant food, and abundant water for the Israelites and ‘protected’ them from the discomfort of drinking bitter water, being hungry, and being thirsty. Instead he allowed those discomforts to exist in order for his children to learn. They needed to learn that there is something more important than food and water and it could only come from God. He was teaching them to Hear, Trust, and Obey (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

Think about what you have read so far and see how you can apply it – to your life, especially to teaching, and particularly to teaching mathematics. I’ll be back tomorrow. (The strategy series will continue later.)

Part 2 of ‘using strategies based on properties of operations’…

In my last post I assigned two problems for you to solve mentally and then think about the properties being used in your strategy.

Compensation or Friendly Numbers        58 + 36

To solve this problem mentally using the strategy of compensation, I chose to make one of the given addends into a friendly number to work with in my head. I know that I can add 60 in my head much easier than I can a 58. So I’m going to move 2 from the 36 over to the 58 and now my problem is 60 + 34 which is 94. Easy, huh?

Now let’s investigate why this works. First I have 58 + 36 = 58 + (2 + 34). I have simply decomposed 36 into 2 and 34, knowing that I need the 2 in order to make a friendly number. Now using the associative property of addition, I add the 2 to the 58 instead of the 34. (58 + 2) + 34 = 60 + 34 = 94.

Breaking apart into Place Value                 158 + 221

I probably don’t do this problem exactly as the strategy calls for, because to me it makes more sense to not break apart the first number. I know that the answer is 379. How? In my head I look at 221 = 200 + 20 + 1. Then I add the 200 to the 158 and get 358. Next I add the 20 to 358 and get 378 and finally I add 1 to 378 to get 379.

What properties of addition did I use? I’m not even really sure. I guess it could be called the associative property of addition. 158 + 221 = {[(158 + 200) + 20] + 1} = 379. If you have any other idea(s) please share them. I really just used what I knew about place value to solve this problem. If you look back at those Common Core mathematics standards, you’ll notice that students are supposed to solve problems based on their understanding of place value and the properties…

Let’s look at some of the subtraction strategies next. So your next assignment is the following:

335 – 219                             413-135

Remember to see if you can determine what mathematical properties, place value understandings, or relational understandings you are using to mentally solve these problems. Go back and try to solve the problems a second time using a different mental strategy. I’ll be back in a couple of days.

For Teachers’ Eyes Only

Throughout the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards for Mathematics in K-5 you read the phrase “based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; as well as multiplication and division”. What does this mean?

Let me provide a context to which we can all relate. Most all of us were taught “THE” properties in one to two days each year we were in school. There was one page in the book that described each property – commutative, associative, distributive, identity – and provided one to two examples of each. Then on the next page in the book we were given numerous examples and then we had to record what property was being presented in each example. Not only was it boring, but rarely did we see a purpose.

So when I taught 6th grade I decided to make it more ‘exciting’. I typed up a list of examples, cut them apart, handed one out to each student then had them walk to the designated part of the room for that property. Yes, students may have enjoyed it a bit more, but they did not really make any connections between what they were ‘matching’ and the other problems they did in mathematics the other 178 days of the school year.

I recently taught a workshop on how Number Talks help students develop understanding of these properties. I stumbled a bit on the first time of presenting this idea, but improved with practice and additional thought.

Doubles/Near Doubles    999+999

I honestly do not know what 999+999 is without thinking about it. But I can determine it rather easily. 999 is really close to 1000 and I automatically know that 1000 + 1000 is 2000. So now I know that 999 + 999 is 1,998. Wait a minute, how did that happen?

999 + 999 = 999 + (1 – 1) + 999 + (1 – 1)  Behind the scenes I added a ‘zero’ to each 999         without changing the value of the problem. This can be done because zero is the Identity Element of Addition. Zero does not change the identity of any number that it is added to.

999 + 999 = (999 + 1) – 1 + (999 + 1) – 1 This is where I said, “I know that 1000 and 1000 is 2000.” But what went on behind the scenes? After I added the 0 to each 999 in the form of (1-1) I then moved my parenthesis to add in a different order, using the associative property of addition.

999 + 999 = 1000 -1 + 1000 – 1 = 1000 + 1000 – (1 + 1) There are two properties that I used to write this equation string. I swapped the first -1 with the second 1000 using what is called the commutative property of addition. Then I should have been left with -1 -1. Where did            – (1 + 1) come from? I could have thought in my head “2000 minus 1 is 1999 and then minus 1 again is 1998.” But I actually thought in my head “2000 minus 2 is 1998”. I was using the distributive property of multiplication over addition. If you can remember back to algebra the negative is to be distributed to each term within the parenthesis – ( 1 + 1 ) = -1 -1.

In this one simple problem I used 4 mathematical properties ‘behind the scenes’. Why do I keep putting it like that? Teachers need to know what is ‘allowed’ and ‘not allowed’ so that they can assess on the spot whether a student is using a mathematically valid strategy. Yet, the students do not necessarily need to know the names of these properties depending on their level of understanding.

So when a student talks through the problem like I did originally, they have in fact used the CCGPS for their grade level that says students should use strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; multiplication and division. I have discovered that the difficulty associated with these particular standards is that teachers may not always recognize unspoken properties. I hope that this series of conversations will be helpful.

I stated that I do not believe that students need to know the names of these properties; however, when a student changes a problem by switching the placement of two numbers the teacher should ask why they did that and does it change the value of the problem, why or why not? After this ‘switching of numbers’ becomes so commonplace in the classroom then the teacher can introduce the official name of commutative property of addition (or multiplication). I know that tacking on ‘of addition’ or ‘of multiplication’ is time consuming but if you consistently use the whole name of the property once it’s introduced at some point one of your students is going to ask, “Is there a commutative property of subtraction?” What a beautiful question! Respond with, “That’s an excellent question. Talk with your neighbor about this question and see if you can determine if there is such a property and be able to explain why and why not?”

I will continue to discuss some of the Number Talk properties in following posts. But in the meantime, you have homework.

Solve the following problems mentally and record your thinking. Then go back and look at your recorded thinking and see if you can determine how you used strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; multiplication and division.

a. 58 + 36     b. 158 + 221    

I’ll assign some subtraction problems next time.

Timed Tests – Are they Helpful?

Before I get into how I really feel about timed tests, I must share my confessions. I started teaching 6th grade mathematics in the early 1990’s. My students did not know their multiplication facts. (I hear this comment still today from 3rd-12th grade teachers!) So I gave a timed multiplication test every Thursday. There were 34 problems on the test and each one was worth 3 points. So if you answered all of them correctly, you could earn a 102. The students would typically have anywhere from 2 to 3 minutes. I never told them how long I actually gave them, they were just told that they had 2 minutes. I did NOTHING between each Thursday to help my students develop an understanding of multiplication either. (It was not in my standards.) So week after week I had the same students scoring 102 and couldn’t wait for the next Thursday. I had another group of students scoring a 42 every week and they acted like they could have cared less about the test. Then there was the third group of students scoring between 78 and 90 each week. They walked into class each Thursday with sweaty hands and some even sick on their stomachs. And for the most part, no one moved out of the range of scores I just provided.

I began teaching in January that year and replaced a teacher who retired in December. She had the reputation of being a great disciplinarian. For you teachers reading this, you know what that means…she had all of the ‘hard to manage’ kids on her team. That may have been a good plan in the past, but placing a brand new teacher in the same position was not very kind. I was either writing students up or writing assignments for them while they were in In School Suspension (ISS). Our team kept getting notices from the ISS teacher stating that we weren’t sending enough to keep them busy. So if they had any ‘free’ time, the ISS teacher just assigned a page or two out of the dictionary for the students to copy. Ugh! Are you kidding me? So I decided if the students were going to copy something it would be something that would benefit me. : ) I began sending a sheet of written out multiplication facts and had my students copy that during their ‘free’ time.

It didn’t take long to discover that those students started scoring higher on their multiplication tests each Thursday. About that same time the parents of the ’42 group’ were calling and complaining. So I came up with an idea. For every complete set of multiplication facts a student turned in, he/she would earn up to 10 points to be added to their lowest multiplication test (a set consisted of the twos-twelves). No one could raise their score above a 100. That was reserved for those who correctly answered all 34 problems on the first try. Yes, scores began to rise dramatically.

I’ve read research that supports timed tests as long as you are doing something to help the students improve in between the tests. (I have an idea of the source of that information, but I’m afraid to put it here without being certain.) The scores should not ‘hurt’ the students’ grades and the student should be encouraged to better their score, not necessarily to score a 100. I’ve also read research that says if you hear, say, do and write something you are way more likely to remember it. So all I had done was add the ‘write’ component.

Although I experienced success with my methods at that time, I now question my motives. My main goal was for my students to learn their multiplication facts – and most of them did. But the students who had scores improve on the timed multiplication test did not improve their scores on anything else they completed for me. I was not teaching for understanding. I now realize that my motives were focused on short term goals and not what was best for the students in the long run.

Since my early years of teaching I’ve read more research – the kind that goes against timed test. http://joboaler.com/timed-tests-and-the-development-of-math-anxiety/ is a wonderful example of this and she even provides links to the research that supports her article. Timed tests can (and does in many cases) create or contribute to a hatred of mathematics. It took a while for this to sink in to my thick head because ‘I had seen the success in my own classroom’. Once I began thinking about the logic, my own beliefs started to change.

Timed ‘test’ does not have to exclusively mean a test; it could be the use of flashcards, or the class game ‘Around the World’. Consider the kids who already know their facts. Are they learning anything by using flash cards, playing “Around the World” or taking a timed test? This is just a waste of time for them.

Now consider the kids who simply do not know their facts. What will the timed tests, flash cards and playing ‘Around the World’ do for them? My guess is that they will act out, become angry, develop greater self helplessness in mathematics, and learn to ‘not care’. I’ve seen this happen. All of those outcomes are the only way many of those students know how to cope with disappointment, embarrassment, and frustration.

Next consider the kids who are middle of the road when it comes to knowing their facts. They know the basics but flounder when it comes to the 6, 7, 8’s. The ones they may know this week they don’t know next week and vice versa. They’re the ones who get all worked up over the timed tests, because right now they still care. During ‘Around the World’ they aren’t hearing the facts that are given by the other students, they are just sitting there praying for the teacher to call out an easy fact when it gets to them; or better yet, they’re praying for a fire drill or for class time to run out. Some of these students may learn more math facts as a result of the negative pressure, but others just begin to move into the frustrated, angry, depressed, “I don’t care anymore” category.

So let’s recap the scenario above regarding timed tests, flashcards, and ‘Around the World’. Who benefited? Only the few in the middle group who actually used the negative pressure to cause them to try harder. For everyone else it was a waste of time and more specifically even detrimental to many.

So am I saying that students should not learn their math facts? Of course not! I know that life mathematically is a whole lot easier if you know your addition and multiplication facts. But students should be learning their facts with understanding. For example, they can learn their facts through the use of Number Talks and Cognitively Guided Instruction.

Did I open a can of worms today?