Friday, November 4, 2011

Basic Facts Every Day!

When we look at all the different topics that need to be covered every day, it's easy to see how basic facts can slip through the cracks.  In an effort to avoid this, some teachers block out 20 or 30 minutes one day a week to work on facts.  This seems like a good idea, but for too many students it misses the critical window of rehearsal effectiveness.

We know from psychology research that memorization is much more likely to happen if the facts are rehearsed every 24 to 48 hours.  In fact, it turns out that shorter, more frequent rehearsal sessions are significantly more effective than longer, less frequent practice activities.

So the question is, how can teachers ensure that their students are getting daily basic facts practice?  
  1. The daily practice has to happen in the classroom.  It's a given that only some students will have the consistency and parent involvement at home to ensure daily practice.  
  2. Build in 5 to 10 minutes as a daily routine.  If you do a daily calendar or rug time, you've already got a daily routine system.  Including basic facts practice during this routine could be very powerful -- although you might have to let go of some other part(s) of your rug time.  It's all a matter of priorities -- and basic facts fluency and part-whole thinking need to be at the top of the math priority list!
  3. Incorporate basic fact choral response activities into transition times, such as lining up for recess or refocusing students as they are waiting to walk back into the classroom after lunch.  If you notice your students are finding a few facts particularly troublesome, you can do quick comparisons and choral responses for those few facts several times a day during small breaks in the action.

The second important insight from psychology research is that the daily memorization practice needs to be focused consistently on a small number of facts until they are mastered.  So if you are working with your class on Goal 2 facts, then you want your daily practice time to focus primarily on this chunk of facts.  

The third factor in making facts memorization time effective is that students need immediate feedback -- within a second or two -- each time they practice a fact.  Choral responses provide immediate feedback, although they don't guarantee that every student is actually engaged in the rehearsal process.  

Another rehearsal strategy that provides immediate feedback is what many students like to call "tents" ... pairs practice tents.  The idea with these tents is that two students can work together with the folded tent, one saying the number bond ("2 + 5 makes 7") while the other looks on the reverse side to verify the correct answer.  That person can nod or say "yes" if the answer is correct, or say "try again" if the answer is incorrect.  Teachers say that students really enjoy this form of practice, and it turns out that both students are learning at the same time!  (Click here for addition/subtraction tents and here for multiplication/division tents.)