Monday, November 17, 2014

Memorizing Math Facts is as Important as Knowing Letter Sounds

Imagine if a child never memorized their letter sounds, but instead had to reference a chart or use a memorization device for each sound of reading a word.  If you have ever read with a beginning reader, you know how slow the process is.  In fact, for most new readers, you spend so much time focused on sounding out those basic words, you never get to reading comprehension.  Similarly, if students never memorize their basic math facts, when they get to complex concepts like percentages, fractions, long division, Algebra and beyond, they never understand the actual concept of what is going on because they have to go back and figure out the basic “letter sounds” of math – math facts.

This is why memorizing and truly understanding math facts is so important.  Without first a good understanding of how numbers come together and second a solid memorization of facts, children will never be able to efficiently work through complex math problems.

Before students memorize facts, they need time to play around with number combinations in manipulative form.  They need to see that 7 green dots and 3 red dots make 10 in enough different ways that they “get” the idea of addition.  They need to see that 4 groups of 5 dots makes 20 in enough different ways that they “get the idea of multiplication.  This manipulation is important, but it should only be the first short step to math facts.  This is the equivalent in reading of learning that all letters make sounds and that sounds can blend together to make words.

Once students have this basic understanding, they need to start the process of memorizing math facts.  Students can memorize math facts through plenty of different types of games, through flash cards, through reciting the facts, through using fact families, or simply by drilling themselves over and over.  There’s no big trick to memorizing.  Each student will learn to memorize in a bit of a different way, but overall the most important part of memorization is practice.  Students need to practice math facts over and over – a minimum of 10 minutes a day, EVERY DAY.  This is something I always stressed to parents and students, if you practice, you memorize – except in cases of specific disabilities.  You know how you use a reading log to track daily reading – consider keeping a math fact log as well, it can be a big help.

One thing that I found as a great way to keep students practicing was to have regular “accountability quizzes” where students could show me – and themselves – that practicing helped.  These fast fact quizzes – which I have in 8 different levels – give students a way to see their growth happen.  If they are practicing, they will move through the levels.  If they are not, they will stay stuck on the same level for weeks at a time.  Eventually, they get sick of seeing their friends move on and they will begin to practice.  Once they do, they start moving through the levels too and are proud of their achievements.  I always have rewards for those who are moving up levels, generally the chance to add a new symbol to the class bar graph, or a sticker for their reward chart.

You can find these accountability quizzes at my Teachers Pay Teachers store: