The Symptom of a Greater Need 4/10

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With a focus on improving numeracy in the province of Ontario, I can’t help but write about this topic for my contribution to 10 Posts In 10 Days.  We, like every board in Ontario, are trying to develop a cohesive plan that everyone teaching mathematics can understand and implement.  I have never been involved in such an undertaking but I’m getting the feeling that there isn’t a blueprint for this kind of process.  It’s a very complicated process because improving numeracy is a very expansive goal.  Ten people might have ten different suggestions on how to do this.  Just narrowing the focus on a particular area in numeracy is a difficult task.  All students aren’t the same and they don’t all have the same teacher.  How do we know that this area needs attention?  Do we have data that supports this?  Is the data reliable?  How will we know if improvement has happened?  Are provincial test scores going to be the measuring stick?

What complicates this even further is the traditional view that so many of us have about mathematics.  It’s the view that mathematics is only about right and wrong answers and getting them quickly.  So we tend to equate mathematics with basic facts and procedures.  Why are students coming to my classroom without basic fact skills?  So we drill those basic fact skills and they seem to get better for some students for the time being but next year their teacher says the same thing…Why are students coming to my classroom without basic fact skills?  That’s because they memorized them instead of “learning” them.  Without strategies for learning basic facts, drilling has a limited effect on improving basic skills for many students.  So… should basic facts be a focus for improving numeracy or is it just the symptom of a greater need?

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