Developing Fact Fluency

Milestones are so critical to our physical, mental, and social development. Learning milestones are just as crucial to our growth as full-functioning and independent adults. Recognizing and identifying primary colors, classifying foods and animals, and listing the letters of the alphabet are all important milestones in a young child’s life. Adding numbers, forming patterns and analyzing puzzles are also important steps that make up our educational foundation. These milestones are generally not taken for granted by parents and educators. In fact, many parents work hard to ensure their children have mastered these skills (some before they even begin kindergarten).

So why don’t we work as hard to make sure our students master another important milestone in their life: developing multiplication fact fluency?

One of the greatest outcries of elementary and middle school teachers across the country is “I wish my students knew their multiplication facts!” My initial reaction is why don’t they know their facts? I guess I take it for granted that students master their times tables in 3rd grade (when they should, according to the Common Core State Standards). Times tables are not fun to memorize, but allowing students to slack in this area of study only hurts them later down the road.

Have we become too liberal when it comes to our teaching methodologies and student expectations? Tom Loveless, Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, addresses this question in an article based on his research of growing math trends in the U.S., Trends in Math Achievement: The Importance of Basic Skills. In this research article, he states that, “Youngsters who have not mastered whole number arithmetic by the end of 4th grade are at risk of later becoming remedial students in mathematics.” And even though he makes this claim that threatens the educational livelihood of our students, we still see it happen. We let it happen.

Now that we’ve identified the problem and voiced it out loud, it is time to act upon it. How do we reverse the trend and ensure our students learn their facts? How do we make our students math-literate and fluent in multiplication?

I pose this question to the educators out there who see their students succeed in developing fact fluency in their classrooms each day. What are your methodologies and teaching strategies? If we are going to turn this ship around – and FAST – we must work together to find the best solutions possible for the best interests of our nation’s students.

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