I'm a Reading teacher now. But I have more than seven years of teaching some of the strongest and weakest kids in Math, and in those years, I learned some very important things!
Don't assume you know why kids struggle.
I had a pretty good idea that multiplication fluency might be a big part of this, but I wasn't prepared for the tears, as student after student shared with me and this small group about being made to feel foolish or dumb in elementary school because they didn't learn their facts. I was touched by their willingness to share something so clearly painful. This was about way more than multiplication facts.
Make your room a SAFE SPACE where kids can learn. We're teachers, we get that. But I am zealous in my attempts to keep my room a private space for these students. They're already embarrassed enough. I noticed that when other kids came in to borrow iPads or laptops, these students got awfully quiet. Taking their cues, when a student knocks on the door now, I say, "Ok, everyone, take a break." We resume working as soon as the door is closed again.
Use every method you can think of. Kids learn differently and they need ample opportunity to practice. We write facts down on paper, or on white boards, or on post-it notes that we put up on the walls, so they can slap them as they practice. We play Kaboom!, Fast Facts, Not-So-Silent Ball and we sing, chant, and rap.
Encourage collaboration. I was thrilled with how quickly students went to work, helping each other, and practicing their facts together. I think they realized they all could get beyond this stumbling block. And they wanted it for their classmates as well.
Expect to do some cajoling. I was stunned when a boy admitted he was afraid to come up to be quizzed by me. He was so sure he wouldn't succeed. I sat and watched as another boy did everything but drag him up to me. So I started off gently with him. I had to. And he was successful. The look on his face!
But it started again the next time around. This boy was so scarred by his earlier experiences that three years later, he's still afraid he won't succeed. He's getting there, slowly but surely! The reassurance he needs is unlike that of any other student in the room. That's just where he is and I need to honor that.
I just can't get over the giggling. It stuns me every time. This little effort, taking place every day from 2:30 to 3:10 in my room, is making kids feel like they can be successful. We're moving from tears to smiles.
And folks, it doesn't get better than that!
Special thanks to
for her fun numbers!