by Melissa Miller, first grade teacher at Franklin Elementary School and 2019 Tennessee Teacher of the Year
Is it possible to find a balance between building and monitoring fluency in math facts and tracking growth using timed tests? Could I apply what I knew to be true in helping children become more successful readers to helping them become more successful in math?
Guided by my desire to close the gap between addition and subtraction fluency for my first graders, I began reading articles, researching best practices, and digging deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of each of my students. Finding ways to help students acquire and retain fact fluency has been a topic of research since I began teaching, and what I learned has led to significant, consistent fluency growth in my students. Driven to offer a greater challenge to students working far above grade level and find stronger remediation to foster growth for students below benchmark – all while encouraging goal setting and celebrating growth at all levels – I have developed structures that help all of my students succeed.
Strategy-based instruction: I developed a specific, color-coded, strategy-based instruction and assessment model of teaching fact fluency strategies in addition, while focusing more on subtraction strategies to close the gap. I named a strategy for each fact and anchored them to other facts to make the connection between addition and subtraction. For example, we named the zero property “Red,” and the doubles and halves facts “Blue.” Students practiced the strategies concretely using a variety of tools, and I began monitoring weekly progress, graphing results, and involving students in self-reflective goal setting. By giving more specific strategy-based instruction, students increased their fluency and enthusiasm to demonstrate knowledge.
Goal Setting: I strive to encourage children to be reflective and challenge their own beliefs in what they think they can accomplish. I implemented the use of self-assessment by encouraging the children to be honest and reflective about where they were in their own mathematical understanding. Because of the safe environment and positive culture of the classroom, each student felt comfortable sharing. Students demonstrated, as in reading and writing, how to reflect upon where they were and set a goal for where they wanted to be. Students learned to evaluate success in relation to the strategies they applied. They witnessed the results of setting goals and implementing a plan to reach their goals, and their fact fluency and confidence soared.
Progress Monitoring: Because of the gains I experienced using running records in reading, I chose to use Math Facts Running Records (MFRR). Creating an individualized assessment for math gave me information to monitor the use of strategies by each student. Students tracked and graphed their growth weekly and set individual goals based on their self-assessed strength and weakness. They celebrated their own growth and the growth of others, and this helped to push students in a safe yet challenging way. Students at all levels at least doubled their rates in facts per minute. As I learned about these students and from these experiences, this type of assessment allowed me to hear their individual thinking and made their thinking visible.
Teamwork: We need to explore, implement, and refine practices together to achieve our goals. The collaboration of our grade level and school teams to share ideas, learn from each other, and work to achieve a common goal defines learning for all. Inviting parents along for this journey was important as well. Our team held learning nights, provided materials families needed at home, and created home practice packets, which allowed us to work together to teach new strategies for learning facts that went far beyond flashcards. We were able to take the best of all that we studied to create something new that challenged teachers and students to set goals, reach goals, and then set new goals.
If you are interested in learning more about math facts running records, Dr. Nicki Newton wrote the book we used for our book study, Math Running Records in Action (K-5), and has a wonderful blog. Hannah Braun also has a blog on math facts running records and some ready-to-go assessments for addition/subtraction and multiplication/division. Whether you teach elementary, middle, or high school kids, the principles of strong instruction, goal setting, assessment, and collaboration hold true.
Serving as a leader and a learner, I strive to give every child, every chance, every day to feel and become successful. Every day we are commissioned to teach, to empower, to challenge, to fill in the gaps, to ignite passion, and to change the world!