George Lucas Educational Foundation

To drill or not to drill

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As an intermediate elementary teacher, a very frustrating scenario is when 5th grade students do not have a fluent knowledge of 0-12 multiplication and division facts. Most of the concepts taught in 5th grade math builds on knowledge and number sense of basic multiplication facts. What is the frustrated teacher to do.... stop and drill the facts until the students know them or move ahead allowing them to rely on a calculator?

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Karl Meyer's picture
Karl Meyer
2nd Grade Teacher

Hi Charlotte,
I am a second grade teacher and feel the same way you do. We practice our addition and subtraction facts all year long. We take timed math fact tests, use flashcards, and various other activities to promote mastery of the facts. Still at the end of the year I have many students who still use their fingers and number lines to complete these facts. It is very frustrating with all the work we put in at school. Unfortunately, I feel that part of the reason students are not master some of these basic skills is due to the lack of reinforcement and practice at home with parents. I wish we could stop the rest and work on these basic skills until they are mastered, but as you know that isn't possible. Hang in there!

Bonnie McCandless's picture

Hi Charlotte and Karl,
I am currently a high school pre-service math teacher. There are so many students in my classes that have trouble with simple multiplication or division and they're 10th and 11th graders. I personally think that calculators should only be used for things that can't be done simply by hand. Like you said Charlotte, math is constantly building on previous knowledge and so if the students don't have it, it's hard for them to stay caught up. Although it's unrealistic to stop what you're currently teaching to reteach multiplication tables and drills, maybe do spend a little bit of time on it each day until it becomes easier for the students. Like Karl said, Hang in there!

Michelle Provost's picture

My district uses Everyday Math. We also have a calendar that we are supposed to follow (usually a lesson a day). Everyday Math is a looping program which means that a concept is introduced one day and may not be revisited for weeks. If a student is strong in math the program works, but for the students who struggle, I find that they fall farther and farther behind. I might have one or two students at the end of the year that have memorized addition and subtraction math facts in my second grade class. I would love to take the time to make sure that all my students have the facts memorized but there is no time to do this. Does anyone have a fast way to get students to memorize math facts?

Kelly Harrison's picture

I also use Everyday Math at my school district. I teach Kindergarten and I love this program because starting in K, they are building such a huge number sense so that in 1st and 2nd and 3rd, and so on, they will be able to do these math facts easier. Even though sometimes I feel that I am really drilling these simple numbers into their heads, I know that is what they need in order to succeed in future grades.

Michael Smith's picture

As a former HS English teacher, I can relate to your frustrations. I was often amazed at how 8th grade students could get straight A's in English and score high on district assessments in JH, but when they got to my Freshmen English class, they had no concept of the writing process, had no knowledge of grammar rules, and had no idea how to approach poetry, literature, etc. I knew that they had to have these basic skills before they would be able to progress through HS, so I stopped what we were "supposed" to do and we learned what we should have learned in JH. It was frustrating, but it was essential for them to succeed in the long run. You will never be wrong if you err on the side of doing what's best for your students.

Betsy Shrock's picture

I teach 7th grade math and run into the same trouble. I have several students we don't know their multiplication facts. I even have some students who still count on their fingers when the are adding single digit numbers. It is so frustrating when I am introducing abstract algebra concepts, and they don't know their multiplication facts. I also don't think that students should use their calculators for these. If they are allowed to, then they become calculator dependent. I think next year, I might use five or so minutes of every class to work on these facts that they should already know. If I can get them to masters these, then my job would be much easier when I am teaching difficult concepts.

Karl Meyer's picture
Karl Meyer
2nd Grade Teacher

After reading some of posts, it really sounds like the educational system really needs to focus back on mastery of the basics rather than exposure to complex and difficult subject matter. I feel that many times there is so much that I am supposed to be covering in my second grade classroom it is almost impossible. And rather than having students really master a skill, I feel they more less just being introduced to skills and concepts. The push of the curriculum is overbearing and I feel is somewhat to blame for the lack of mastering basic skills of math facts. The problem doesn't just end in math though, like Michael Smith stated above, he found issues in ability of students understanding the writing process and grammar rules. Should we be focused as teachers on the quantity of what we teach or the quality?

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