The Mother of Fluency

Thursday, March 30, 2017 / 4 comments

Teachers all over are beginning to freak out about now.  Winter is coming.  Testing is coming (Note to self: must stop watching Game of Thrones).  I've heard it across the district, kids don't know their facts. They are in fourth and fifth grade and are still using their fingers.  Obviously, the answer to this major speed bump (cough cough) is practice in the shape of a timed test.  What is it about the timed test that will help our students become more fluent?  What does fluent even mean?  Oh yeah, the California math framework spells it out for us.
What jumps out at you?  There's a lot that jumps out at me.  "culminations of progressions of learning, often spanning several grades... conceptual understanding, thoughtful practice, support, reasonably fast and accurate, does not slow down or derail the problem solver... Procedural fluency requires skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently, and appropriately.  Developing fluency in each grade may involve a mixture of knowing some answers, knowing some answers from patterns, and knowing some answers through the use of strategies."
So if the standards are telling us that in order to be fluent, kids need to be flexible, accurate, efficient, and appropriate, what the heck does that even mean for our instruction? Not to mention, how does running copies from mathdrills.com help us achieve that goal?  How do we teach kids to be fluent?  What are the best practices???  A great question from my good friend Katie: If we don't use timed tests, how do we monitor our students' fluency?  Which lead me to my next question... What are we really monitoring with timed tests anyway?  How is using assessments such as these helping us toward our goal of knowing some answers, using patterns, and using strategies?
In my own humble opinion here, I think what is happening is that teachers don't want to let go of one thing until we have another to hold onto.  A question I have for myself is, how do we help teachers develop enough confidence in better instructional practices that they would be willing to let go of not the old, but really in this case, the harmful?  I have some thoughts... but I am more interested in yours.
So where do we go?  What do we do?  One of the best answers I know of is Number Talks.  We as teachers, cannot afford to say that we don't have time for Number Talks, I don't care what grade you teach.  In my head, I figure you either pay for it in the beginning or the end.  Isn't it usually cheaper in the beginning?
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