Do you remember who taught you how to ride a bike? Did that person simply place you on the seat of the bike and tell you to soar downhill? Probably not. Very likely, you began your training by learning to balance on two wheels or maybe you starting with training wheels. Perhaps you progressed to pedaling in the grassy part of your yard or the park. Some people, although very few, might have been naturals and hopped on their bikes to ride straight away. Undoubtedly, there were a few skinned knees along the way.
As with any skill, there are steps to follow toward mastery – a vertical transgression of moving from the basics to more intense skills or from training wheels to wheelies. In mathematics, these basic skills are often overlooked or not focused on enough in the early years of a child’s education. Consequently, it is not surprising that many older students may struggle with multistep mathematical problems.
To address this unbalance, Lane Holmes, a mathematical instructional coach at Georgia Cyber Academy, suggested that a group of online teachers watch a video clip from the “Questioning My Metacognition” YouTube channel. The clip focuses on the progression of division from 3rd-6th grade and on the skills mastery needed to solve division problems effectively.
Upon viewing the video clip, many teachers had legitimate questions, such as, “Is it reasonable for fifth graders who have most likely never received the necessary conceptual understanding to be able to “catch up” to where they should be?”
In other words, can we, as teachers, move backwards to reteach skills that might have been previously skipped for students?
Holmes clarified to the group of teachers that students must be able to determine what is most efficient when problem solving. In layman’s terms, if parents or teachers tell students that repeated subtraction with small numbers takes too much time and that there is a more efficient way, we are taking ownership of the learning instead of the student.
Understanding the vertical progression of mathematics is really important in the conceptual development of everyone’s understanding. Students have to make sense of the mathematics based on mastery. Holmes reassures teachers and parents, “It is difficult for parents to understand why the CRA (Concrete, Representation, Abstract) model is so very important to mathematic understanding for students. Especially when this progression of teaching math was not part of the curriculum when they were growing up. As an instructional coach, my goal is to push forward and work with parents to explain how valuable the progression is for all students.”
To address students’ lack of foundation without having them falling further behind is not a simple task. Teachers and parents must work together to continue reviewing basic concepts. This can be done through interventions such as small group instruction, individual help sessions, math games, and more. The first step is to address the lack of balance and then work together to help students reach their individual academic goals. Holmes explains that students’ learning must be scaffolded, a process in which teachers model or demonstrate how to solve a problem, and then step back, offering support as needed, to mastery of grade level standard.
Some students develop at a different rate than others. The problem is the difficulty in moving those students who are ready forward and reviewing with those who still need extra time. Nonetheless, we can agree that the skill of balancing must precede popping wheelies.