The Center for Implementing Technology in Education said, “The research on computational fluency suggests that the ability to fluently recall the answers to basic math facts is a necessary condition for attaining higher-order math skills (page 3).”
In the same article they said, “As students with math difficulty get older, they fall further and further behind their non-math-difficulty peers in the ability to recall basic math facts from memory. Further, this lack of fluency interferes with the development of higher-order mathematical thinking and problem solving (page 4).”
What can I do?
First, I believe it is important for IEP goals and specially designed instruction to reflect grade-level topics. For most students, it is not appropriate to continue spending precious instructional time on learning basic facts after the early grades. As math concepts move on, so should their specialized instruction. Within my small group setting, I can give them extra opportunities to practice and a few tricks that they can then take back to their Gen. Ed. classroom and hopefully use successfully in that setting.
Second, I can help students work around their weaknesses. One way I’ve done this is by allowing my students to use calculators more often, and to include it on IEP accommodations/modifications.
LD Online has an article, Beyond “Getting the Answer”: Calculators Help Learning Disabled Students Get the Concepts, that I use to help determine when it is appropriate for students to use calculators. “When teachers want students to engage in higher-order thinking such as a solving problems, exploring patters, conducting investigations, and working with real-world data, the use of calculators can benefit all students…”
During those types of activities, a calculator helps the student access the curriculum by removing that math-fact-barrier. Instead of stopping to add using their fingers, they press a few buttons, and can move on to the important stuff at the same speed as their peers.
Other Benefits of Calculators
The LD Online article also notes “Calculators can help learning disabled students participate in rigorous problem-solving activities that might otherwise be too frustrating for these learners.”
I can’t stress how true this really is. Until you’ve handed a struggling student a calculator, and you’ve seen the smile that spreads across their face, you won’t imagine how much of an impact this can have.
Last year I had the opportunity to see Seth Godin speak in Seattle last year. My big take-away was his call for schools to “Teach kids to solve interesting problems.”
What I like most about allowing students to use calculators is that it gives more students the opportunity to engage in those higher-level skills, which in turn will give them the skills to solve interesting problems, which in turn will lead to a better world!