Episode 41: Exploring Basic Math Fact Fluency - An Interview with Dr. Nicki, Alison, and Ann Elise



Desiree Harrison 0:00

Fluency is a concept we have talked a lot about on the podcast.


We need to keep talking about this because there are so many deep-seated core beliefs about how to best help children with addition and subtraction.


We need to move past our feelings and get into the facts.


Fluency is not about memorization. We explore in many episodes how to implement strategies to develop flexibility with numbers.


Today's episode is no different. It expands on this exploration and today's guests offer their expertise in how to set up your classroom for this exploration and journey towards basic math fact fluency.


Desiree Harrison 1:15

Cover images of the book Fluency Doesn't Just Happen.

Today on the podcast, we have the authors of the new book, Fluency Doesn't Just Happen with Addition and Subtraction! Strategies and Models for Teaching the Basic Facts.


Welcome ladies to the podcast!


Dr. Nicki Newton 1:31

Hello. I'm Dr. Nicki Newton and I'm excited to be here. I work with kids and teachers around the country and in different parts of the world.


Ann Elise Record 1:43

And, I'm Ann Elise Record. I'm an independent elementary math consultant. And I do work around the country virtually in this last pandemic.

Previously, I was a classroom teacher, as well as a math coach and specialist as well.

Thrilled to be here today!


Dr. Alison J. Mello 1:59

Yes! Thanks for having us! We're excited! And, I'm Dr. Alison Mello and I am actually an assistant superintendent in Foxboro, Mass. But my previous lives have been classroom teacher, math specialist, and math curriculum director. And I teach graduate courses to teachers and it's so much fun to do that work and collaborate with these ladies on books.


Desiree Harrison 2:19

Alright. I am so thrilled to have all of you. Because even before this book came out, I've just been, you know, really big fans, and hopefully in the future we'll be able to meet in person.


Dr. Nicki I know I've met you a few years ago and that was an absolute pleasure but just, I'm excited for this conversation today.


So this book that you all have - one of the first things that I noticed, besides the visuals, is actually in the introduction and then in the very first chapter - just setting up teachers and how it seems so intentional to help build connections, instead of keeping math in this silo, you all have done a really great job of helping teachers connect what they already know with something they might not be familiar or as comfortable with.


And, there's this idea of Dolch words - and especially elementary teachers might be familiar with that for literacy - but you all have the Dolch words of math.


So, can you please explain what that is.


Headshot of Dr. Nicki Newton
Dr. Nicki Newton

Dr. Nicki Newton 3:33

Yes. I started using that term many years ago because I was a literacy person for many years. When I first started teaching, I was a literacy person.


And, you know, Dolch words are really important because you have to know them so that you can read fluently. And, also, you teach them sequentially. So, you don't jump to, you know, list 15, if the kids don't know the words on list 1.


And, I found with math, we tend to do that.

We're like on List 15 or 16 and the kids are still trying to figure out the words on List 1.


So, it's really a metaphor meant to describe that journey, right. That you need to know 0+1 and 1+1, how to count on, and how to Make 10, before you go on to more sophisticated facts. And, in fact, you use those Dolch words to understand the stuff that you're doing with more sophisticated math later on.


So, that's why we're using that term, the Dolch words of math.



Headshot of Dr. Alison J. Mello
Dr. Alison J. Mello

Dr. Alison J. Mello 4:43

And, I always piggyback on that, Nicki, by thinking about - and I've taught older students before- and the basic facts and being proficient with them, is really the gateway to procedural fluency. And having them down, and you knowing those strategies, really allows students to decompose and recompose bigger numbers and apply those in a different context.


And when I started teaching that was a little lost on me. So that has been a big "aha" throughout my teaching career to realize that as well.


Desiree Harrison 5:12

Thank you. It's on page 4, you just have this list of addition and subtraction and you just make it really user-friendly for teachers.


And, also, on the very next page, the strategies talk, I think that that connects even more and I just wanted you all to know that I put in my notes on that page about the counting all and the counting on - I was trying to connect that to literacy too - and I put that, maybe the counting all, could be something like the sounding out all the words.


And then the counting on could be when you start to chunk words and break them up. And then the known facts as known sight words.


And I was making all these different connections to try - so that when I work with teachers, I can help them make those connections. And say - it's not this extra thing - or this unobtainable goal - it's something you're already doing, it's just with numbers instead of with letters and words.

So thank you for those, they're really helpful.



Headshot of Ann Elise Record
Ann Elise Record

Ann Elise Record 6:18

I think it's a parallel for early literacy and early numeracy. And I think for a lot of educators - they know all the intricacies of early literacy because it's a favorite topic of theirs, or there's a lot of training in the collegiate programs of all the elements of early literacy, but the more I've learned with the math - I was a 5th grade teacher for 13 years, and so I had a very steep learning curve when I became a math coach K-5- I had no idea how to teach a kindergartener about the number 5 and the quantity.


And in my grad program, in order to teach to get my Master's, the only math class I took, that they had me take, was math and literature. So, I didn't emerge with a Master's degree, certified teaching K-8, to know anymore to teach a Kindergartener about the number 8, than I did an 8th grader about slope.


You know, I just- I could get correct answers on tests, but not the conceptual understanding. And, I think the more that I've learned about the progressions through the grade levels, the more I see it as a parallel journey or the early numeracy with the early literacy. Which is fascinating - I'd never known that that was - that those connections were there.


Dr. Alison J. Mello 7:23

But Desiree's so right. If you can make that for teachers to see that it's not heavy lifting. It's already knowledge that you have and just translating it over, I think it makes the math much less intimidating for them because it can feel like a lot on their plate.


So, I think that's a really important connection and it really was intentional, so, thanks for noticing.


Desiree Harrison 7:43

Yes. And continuing on with the introduction, on page 10, you have this section called Purposeful Practice, and one piece that I've pulled out of that one section in particular, is just the quote about expecting students to progress and respecting them while they are progressing. And, that made me think - are we really respecting kids when we're pushing them along, like Dr. Nicki, you were saying just a few minutes ago, and are we respecting them when we're not helping them at their own pace or scaffolding them where they are.


And then, I was making connections- I'm on Twitter a lot - and there were some recent tweets about the 4 rights of the learner in the math classroom, and I'm learning more about that framework for equity - so making all these connections, and then coming back to this book and as- with your expertise, what are some self-monitoring and empowerment strategies that teachers can implement to ensure that students are respected along this fluency journey.


Ann Elise Record 9:00

Well, I think, my go-to, one of the most powerful things in my life, that literally changed my life, was Dr. Nicki's creation of a math running record, where she had poured over the research for 10 years and did action research as well with Alison and other colleagues across the country of talking to kids about their thinking.


I think there are a lot of assumptions that are made I think that people have defined fluency as just speed and accuracy and not known about flexibility and efficiency- so we defined fluency as speed and accuracy only and we want to assess the kids where they are, we've given them timed tests.


Which the research has shown overwhelming that that's the start of math anxiety. And I met so many adults, whether they are teachers that I work with or paraprofessionals, or even Uber drivers that I meet, who will tell me how much math traumatized them.


Like, the words they use about their journey of math growing up is traumatizing words. And, it's lasting and it affects the self-efficacy of people thinking of themselves as not math people and not able to learn the math. Which is just so unfortunate because we can change that, this different journey.


So, I think honoring the kids first is to talk to them and to find out where is their thinking. And you mentioned that trajectory of counting all, counting on- ah Baroody's research had shown that students begin by counting all - so they have both addends and they'll count both amounts starting at the number one. Then that progresses to counting on, but also counting on from the larger addend - even if it comes second, be a little more efficient.


Then you go in that world of derived strategies and very often our kids have gone from counting on, to being asked to memorize the answer, right. And so, they've missed that middle piece which is the key to flexibility and thought and the key to building number sense - of using facts we know to figure out ones we don't know. (10:42)


Resources

Ann Elise Record Free Resources

Dr. Nicki Newton's Website

Transcript in Progress

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