Teaching math with a mathematics disorder

Discussion in 'Special Education' started by crazycatlady80, Apr 29, 2015.

  1. crazycatlady80

    crazycatlady80 Rookie

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    As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm enrolling in a Special Education Internship Program at a local university in the Los Angeles area. Right now, I'm completing the field service requirement, which is required as part of the application process. The main reason why I want to teach special education is that I was a special ed student myself. For better and for worse, it had an extreme impact on me and I want to give back. At the time, I had a variety of issues, which I still have, but adapted after a lot of hard work. The only problem that I still have, at least according to my last assessment done three years ago, is a "mathematics disorder." My reading, verbal, and writing skills were in the 90 percentile, but math (and skills that usually go along with it) were extremely low, some scores were even in the single digits.

    Luckily, I've found ways to adapt. I am very good with a calculator and never do my own taxes. :) However, I am EXTREMELY nervous about teaching the subject. I feel like the blind leading the blind. The teacher that is supervising my field service requirement (my own elementary special education teacher who has remained a good friend all these years) says that I will learn more as a I teach and not to worry. She showed me Touch Math, which I think is pure genius. Still, I froze when a kid struggled with 13-9. I just didn't know the answer. I got out the blocks and answered it that way. It worked. Any other suggestions?
     
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  3. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Not being able to do math is a huge problem for a teacher--we do math all the time. How many copies do I need if I'm printing something four to a page and I have 247 students? What numbers should I count off by if I want my class of 39 to be in groups of 4?

    Not being able to do math without a calculator is rough, but not being able to teach math to children who are trying to learn math? I just don't understand how that would work. I don't think it possibly could. I'm honestly not sure if this is an issue you will be able to work around. I would not love it if my child's teacher couldn't figure out 13-9 without a calculator.
     
  4. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    :thumb:

    I tried before to post something similar, but I deleted it because I couldn't word it as well as you did. Thank you for saying what I was unable to say.
     
  5. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    I hate to say this, but I don't think you should teach math with a mathematics disorder. Unfortunately, elementary school teachers need to be comfortable with all of the subjects that they are teaching.

    I do think that you would be quite successful teaching another subject. Have you thought about getting certified to teach English or Social Studies?
     
  6. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    I agree, but these problems could be solved with a calculator. It isn't as convenient, but there are workarounds. As long as the OP is not teaching math at any level, I have no problem and I don't think this should stop him/her from becoming a teacher.
     
  7. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I agree with you that it wouldn't be as problematic for someone who teaches something other than math to be successful as a teacher. The subject of this thread, though, is "Teaching math with a mathematics disorder", so it sounds like the OP wants to actually teach math. Without knowing more information, I just don't think that I could support that given the circumstances described here.
     
  8. justwanttoteach

    justwanttoteach Cohort

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    hold the phone guys.....like all of us this young lady has struggles in a particular subject, the easy answer is to say "just don't teach math" I don't think she wanted the easy answer.as I read the initial post she clearly indicated that this was something she would work on. Will it be easy? No! But then again the things we want and value the most typically aren't easy.

    Like this young lady I struggled a great deal with math. I was scared to death about teaching math because I knew how I struggled as a student. I soon realized that I could do math with the more I practiced. I teach math to sped students all the time now and i teach it regularly. (You get better with practice) Before we turn this student away from her would be career of teacher I think we should ask ourselves are we 100%confident in everything we teach every skill we teach...all the time....has there ever been a question your student asked and you didn't know the answer to...or had to google or ask someone else?? I know I have been stumped by student questions.


    In all honesty it's impossible to know everything about every topic...so stop trying....we all have subjects we feel most comfortable. For me it's history and English. Do keep practicing..,you have learned over the years how to cope and adapt with this issue in years before. I have every but of confidence you will here also. It's going to take a lot of hard work..goodluck
     
  9. crazycatlady80

    crazycatlady80 Rookie

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    Thank you for your honest comments. I do appreciate it. I don't think having a mathematics disorder disqualifies me from teaching math. In my book, that is the same as saying someone with dyslexia shouldn't teach reading. Like everything else I have done in my life, I am sure I will be able to get through this problem and find ways to work around it. Since I've only been in a classroom for two days, I'm trying to figure out how. So far I've discovered having an answer key helps. If I have that, I can do it fine. It is also good to know that huge chunk of people can't do math either, including a lot of teachers.

    I want to teach Special Education. That is where I feel I belong. I can relate to those students, because I know exactly what it feels like to be in that position. If the math continues to be a problem, I'm open to teaching Special Education at a secondary school where the amount of math I need to teach is far less.
     
  10. Jerseygirlteach

    Jerseygirlteach Groupie

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    I don't think that having a mathematics disorder disqualifies you from teaching math, but I do think that you need to be able to know your subject matter to teach it. If you can find a way to overcome your disability through practice and other strategies, that's fine. If you continue to struggle with basic math, I think you should consider sticking to teaching other subjects.
     
  11. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I don't think that your comparisons are fair. The OP said that she (or he?) can't calculate 13-9 without a calculator. That goes beyond "struggling". It's also very basic in terms of the whole field of Mathematics, so it's not really like she just doesn't know everything having to do with math--she seems to not know the most basic, foundational stuff, the same stuff that she is going to have to teach students. She is going to have to teach them how to find the answer, without using a calculator, to a problem that she herself can't find the answer to. How is that possible? In all honesty it sounds like I would be if I had to teach Japanese without knowing Japanese, even though I had a copy of the translation in front of me. How in the heck would that work?

    I'm not at all suggesting that the OP should give up on her dreams. I am just recommending that the OP be honest with herself about her own talents and gifts. Math may not be among those talents and gifts, but there are likely many others that could mean a much more suitable teaching placement.
     
  12. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    I have two main thoughts come to mind when reading this:

    1.) It'd be a great opportunity when you have that moment where you're not sure to be able to do an authentic think-aloud of the strategies and/or tools you are thinking of using to help solve a problem you couldn't figure out in your head.

    2.) That being said, a big portion of teaching kids is not just within the pre-planned instruction, but in reacting to errors they make (you might need to be able to do some quick math in your head to understand how they may have got to that answer) and in answering questions that pop up in their minds as they are working or engaging in your instruction. While I plan out a general idea for what I'm going to teach, I'm having to make quick adjustments and do quick calculations left and right - I'm sure dozens of times during each math block.

    I highly agree with Caesar's second paragraph. I know I'm not that well-versed in history, so teaching history in high school would simply not be a great idea, even though I could probably fumble my way through it and/or look up answers to questions students ask by using the internet.
     
  13. crazycatlady80

    crazycatlady80 Rookie

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    I am the OP. I am a she as illustrated by my name.

    Let me clarify - I can calculate 13-9 without a calculator. I just don't know answer off the top of my head and takes me a bit longer to compute than the average person. Also, despite not knowing "the most basic, foundational stuff" in math as well several other learning disabilites, I managed to graduate from high school with honors, obtain my BA, two MAs, and be accepted into a top PhD program, but decided against it, because I wanted to teach Special Education at the elementary or secondary level. I want to help children who, like myself, struggled in school and teach them that with a lot of extra work, they can succeed. Additionally, I passed the math exam required to graduate from high school as well as three years of advanced math. I've also passed the CBEST and the GRE (scored in the 60th percentile in math). In other words, I do have a mathematics disorder, but it has never held me back. I can do it, but it is a lot more difficult for me. At the same time, I do appreciate your honest opinion and I would be lying if I've hadn't had the same thoughts myself. I will continue to practice, but, if it doesn't work out, I will teach Special Education at the secondary level.
     
  14. LouiseB

    LouiseB Cohort

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    Congrats on all your degrees.

    I teach special education at the junior high level. I teach 4th grade math and 5th grade math as well as tutor those in the regular 7th grade math classroom. At my school, those in secondary special education need to tutor those in high school Algebra. You will encounter math as many students struggle with that area.

    I had a person who was in an education program come to my classroom to observe. She had told me that she had been in special education. Part of her observation with me was to teach a class. The time of day she was in my classroom was during the time I taught 4th grade math. I tried to find a very simple lesson for her to teach. As she taught it, I could tell that she really hadn't practiced the problems and couldn't explain to the students how to do the skill. That was just one of many other issues I encountered with her that I felt would not make her a good teacher regardless of being in special education.

    Best of luck with your endeavor!
     
  15. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Perhaps I am misunderstanding things, but it seems to me like these two statements are contradictory. In any case, the scenario you presented in your first post is pretty different from the one you describe in your last. I think that if you had shared that additional information from the get-go, I might have responded differently.

    In any event, I'm sorry that you may be feeling defensive. You should do what you want to do. It is my opinion, however, that any teacher who is teaching foundation math skills should have those skills nailed inside and out. If that describes you, great. If it doesn't, then I recommend you consider a different type of position. Honestly I don't know if that describes you or not; I am more than a little confused. You don't have to take my recommendation into account, of course. Please understand that it's coming from a helpful place, though, even if it might not be what you want to hear.
     
  16. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    crazycatlady, do I surmise correctly that that the assessment to which you first alluded is a psychological instrument that's designed to measure the nature and scope of various possible disabilities in mathematical processing, and that you have a specific deficit in retrieving basic math facts?

    Caesar, much less research has been done on mathematical disability than on reading disability, but it's clear both that one recognized type of math disability has to do with retrieving basic math facts and that that is far from the only possible disability (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2742419/ and the less formal but helpful discussion of math disability subtypes at http://www.ldonline.org/article/5896/).

    Given what crazycatlady has revealed, I'm highly impressed at her passing CBEST and doing decently on GRE: those scores are consistent with a good set of coping skills and, more importantly, the ability to think mathematically (which is not at all the same thing as being able to rattle off 13-9). Experience suggests that a significant number of people who know their math facts fail CBEST because, once beyond the times tables, they just don't get how math works. Of the two, the one I'd much rather see in the classroom is the one who can think mathematically.
     
  17. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    I'm not sure that teaching secondary special education would have any less math than elementary special education, unless you are referring to a life skills classroom. Although, I would presume that even that type of classroom would have some basic math instruction required.

    I agree that it's hard to get a clear picture on your abilities, as your statements are somewhat contradictory. I do think that not being able to recall math facts quickly will be a detriment. This is true not only when you are teaching math but, as was mentioned above, even when you are trying to determine things like dividing your class or gathering the proper number of supplies, copies, etc.

    However, assuming you are strong enough in the basics, your struggles with math might even lead to you being a better teacher than someone who "gets it" easily. I struggled in teaching basic kindergarten and first grade level math skills greatly in the beginning because I just didn't know how to break down the skills. Things like counting objects and subitizing just come naturally to me now, as an adult of course, and I don't remember how I learned them as a child. I guess my teacher education program didn't really touch on some of these basic things, so it was difficult for me to break down those things into subskills that I could teach students. Perhaps your difficulties, past or present, will lead to you knowing how to predict barriers to success and how to best break down skills for students.

    Use your field experience as an opportunity to find out if having a math disability inhibits your ability to teach math. It is does, then consider whether or not pursuing a teaching career that involves teaching math is really the best path for you.
     
  18. crazycatlady80

    crazycatlady80 Rookie

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    The test was a psychological assessment evaluating learning disabilities. The psychologist just wrote that I have a mathematics disorder, nothing specific. If you look back at the individual test results it shows that I have extremely poor calculation skills. However, in fluency and applied problems, I'm at around an eighth grade level. It isn't high, but not super low either. So, based on TeacherGroupie's info, I'm guessing that it is a deficit in retrieving basic facts. I understand the concepts behind math. It is just the execution of it that is the problem.

    Thanks for the information. The disability has always been difficult to describe to people. Like you said, there is far less research on math disabilities than reading. With the CBEST and GRE, I studied my ass off, so it didn't come natural in the slightest.
     
  19. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    There have been other threads concerning teacher candidates who need accommodations/modifications i:rolleyes:n teaching content areas. Bottom line, effective teachers KNOW THEIR STUFF or can figure it out quickly. You may very well be able to offer multiple strategies for negotiating through math because thats what you've needed to do...on the other hand, you potentially (most likely) will have students in your class who can sleep through the lesson, do the math, and need enrichment opportunities. Schools are looking to hire candidates who are confidently knowledgeable of how to teach the core content areas. Good luck to you.:love:
     
  20. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    In a regular classroom, I'd agree with this, without a doubt. However, the OP is saying that she wants to teach special ed. It's unlikely, although not entirely impossible, that she'll be teaching math to students who need enrichment in a special education classroom.
     
  21. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    But one should be able to be nimble, flexible and adept at pulling multiple strategies to reach learners regardless of their developmental level....and that is what those who are hiring are looking for.
     
  22. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    Oh, I fully agree with that. Just pointing out that the OP probably won't be faced with implementing enrichment activities for students who are bored in her classroom.
     
  23. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Maybe not enrichment in the traditional sense, but sped kids need not only the 'baics', but also to be taught critical thinking skills...
    And consider that many sped teachers push into classrooms where thinking on ones toes is necessary to keep up with the ace of instruction demanded by CCSS.
     
  24. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    Sure, as I said, I agree with you in the general sense.

    In regards to the OP, I'm not sure that having a math disability necessarily means that she is incapable of teaching critical thinking skills or thinking on her feet. In fact, I think teaching the basic skills could be even more difficult for her than teaching critical thinking skills. Typically, people with learning disabilities have average to high IQs (and are, therefore, fully capable of critical thinking skills) but struggle significantly with the basic skills in a specific area, in this case math fact recall, it seems. It also seems that she is willing to look for a position for which she is best suited, whether that means pushing in or pulling out - or something else altogether.

    So, I'm of the opinion, OP, that, as long as you are honest with yourself regarding your abilities, you could potentially find a teaching position that would be appropriate for you. There may be some positions out there that you should definitely not consider appropriate for you, depending on the content taught, but the same can be said for the majority of us. However, having a math disability in and of itself does not mean that you should not consider teaching as a career.
     
  25. Special-t

    Special-t Enthusiast

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    If you scored 60th percentile on the GRE, you should be fine. That shows you have decent critical thinking skills along with strong math skills. I scored lower and I tutor SPED Algebra 1, 2 and Geometry. I too scored 90th percentile in ELA (as I think you mentioned earlier that you did). I started out teaching SPED ELA in secondary, which was my dream job. My degree is in English, so it was a good fit. When my school needed to fill the SPED math position, I took the job because no one else wanted it. I was VERY nervous at first, but honestly now, after three years, I would not change back to ELA. I think I'm a successful math teacher because I need to break down the problems as a learner and then reteach. And sometimes, in Algebra 2, my students and I enjoy learning new concepts together. I model how learning challenging material can be fun. It is an adventure :) An earlier post mentioned that you need to be able to spot a students errors - you will catch on to that quickly. It's like analyzing a text, which you can do well. Also, your ELA skills would be a real bonus in math because of the common core literacy standards.

    Definitely consider secondary where the positions are often departmentalized. You might really enjoy ELA/social studies ... but don't be afraid of teaching math.
     
  26. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Claiming that dyscalculia (in this case, slow retrieval of math facts) disqualifies a person from ever teaching math is a bit like claiming that dyslexia disqualifies a person from ever teaching English/language arts.
     
  27. crazycatlady80

    crazycatlady80 Rookie

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    I don't have the strongest skills when it comes to Algebra or Geometry, although I do find it easier than basic math. I just know how to work my a$$ off when it comes to that subject. I prepped for that test for almost six months and met with a tutor every other week. I also had accommodations, including extra time, use of a calculator, and my own private room. In my opinion, a learning disability doesn't mean you can't do something. It just means that you need to work harder and use certain tools (i.e. extra time, calculator) in order to complete the task.
     
  28. bros

    bros Phenom

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    What test was performed? Have you considered having a full neuropsychological evaluation? What was the actual diagnosis code?
     
  29. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I would strongly suggest un-remediated dyslexia is a reason that a person should not be teaching. If the ELA teacher can't read a passage in the normal range of fluency, comprehend it, analyze it and help students with I do not believe the dyslexic teacher is the right candidate to teach students.

    This is my opinion. I know there will be those who disagree, but having known dyslexic ELA teachers who couldn't correct certain types of classwork and struggled with reading in the classroom, I do see how that teacher could never be a competent in the content area as someone who didn't have dyslexia. (That is not saying that that teacher isn't more competent than some people. It is not an all or nothing proposition. But all else being equal, I don't believe academic disabilities are a plus to teaching students.)
     
  30. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    I think there's a difference between not knowing the the occasional answer versus not being confident in the material that you are teaching. I can honestly say that I am 100% confident in the material that I am teaching. Earlier in my career, I came across topics that I hadn't seen in a while, but I made sure I was 100% confident in the material before teaching it. And I would expect the same of ANY teacher.
     
  31. crazycatlady80

    crazycatlady80 Rookie

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    My test was done with a psychologist. I can't remember the diagnostic code, but mathematics disability is in DSM. I also have a stack of IEPS and other psychological assessments dating back to the age of three saying the same thing.

    Saying someone shouldn't teach something, because of a disability is just plain old-fashioned discrimination, something that I believe, as special education teachers, we should be fighting against. It has been my experience that most adults with learning disabilities know their strengths and weaknesses. Kids always don't, but adults do. Let the individual decide what they can or can't do instead of their disability.
     
  32. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I don't necessarily agree. Sometimes our abilities (and disabilities) make us better suited for some tasks than others. If a person can't swim, he shouldn't be a swim coach. If a person can't sing, she shouldn't be the choir director. I don't think I'm completely off-base here.
     
  33. bros

    bros Phenom

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    Were you diagnosed with Mathematics Based Learning Disability, Not Otherwise Specified?

    Just wondering.

    Just so you know, I am also disabled.
     
  34. amakaye

    amakaye Enthusiast

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    :agreed:
     
  35. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    It is precisely BECAUSE a diagnosis of dyslexia covers a range of discrepancies in performance that a blanket ban on dyslexic teachers is inappropriate. Dyslexia of the basic letters-won't-stay-still sort is not ipso facto incompatible with ability to comprehend text. Similarly, it seems to me that the OP is Exhibit A in defense of the proposition that inability to retrieve basic operation arithmetic facts automatically - a type of dyscalculia - does not equate to inability to think mathematically or to set up problems. I'm therefore making the analogous argument on her behalf.
     
  36. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Not off-base, but at some risk of oversimplifying. For one thing, the analogy is inexact: a person who swims without being able to reflect on the process and articulate it is likely to be hampered as a swim coach, and an operatic diva can certainly sing but may be utterly unsuited by temperament and training to direct a gospel choir (or a school choir, for that matter). For another, it's not the case that the OP can't do math, or she wouldn't have passed CBEST. For a third, there's a difference between being a math teacher (like, for instance, mm or Mike) and being a person who can teach some math (like the majority of the elementary-ed teachers on A to Z), and since the OP's intentions are to teach special ed, I think we can be assured that she's headed for the latter category.
     
  37. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    I see where you are coming from.

    My analogies weren't meant to be all-inclusive or to suggest that the opposite must be true (that a person who can swim can also coach swimming, for example). It was meant to address the issue at the simplest and most foundational level: if a person is unable to do a particular thing, it stands to reason that the person would be similarly unable to teach the thing. I was responding directly to the OP's most recent comments that it amounts to discrimination to tell someone not to teach if they have a disability. I wasn't specifically addressing the exact situation regarding the OP and math, but more generally regarding all teachers and all topics.

    I think that we, all of us, need to be honest about what we can and cannot do. I don't believe that it's enough to want to be able to do a thing or to try really hard at doing a thing if we can't actually do the thing; we have to be able to successfully do a thing. Yes, it's okay to be able to do a thing with supports and whatnot, as long as they are reasonable given the unique constraints we experience as teachers. Ultimately, still, we have to be able to do the things we are teaching. Plain and simple.

    I'm still confused about the OP's situation, but with the additional information it seems that the OP will be just fine. I think that the OP painted an inaccurate picture in the original post and then added additional information that changed the terms of the scenario in a dramatic way. I think that it would have been better to have included the information about the GRE and whatnot from the get-go, but there's nothing to be done about that now.
     
  38. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    But the OP is talking about teaching at the very level where her disability is the worst. She isn't talking about teaching algebra, geometry, and pre-calc (which I would also say that I wouldn't want someone who isn't testing in the top 20% or so teaching those subjects either). So, if her big problem is with math calculations and recall and can't do it. She shouldn't be teaching it.

    Again, my opinion.
     
  39. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Apr 30, 2015

    She did not say if the OP had accommodations. There is a big difference between taking a test with accommodations than without. OP said she can perform calculation if given enough time. The problem with teaching math is that if recall is so bad that it is disordered, it will interfere with teaching the subject matter and helping students. My issue isn't so much that she couldn't explain math, which OP probably could, but she couldn't be efficient as a teacher and recognize problems students are having in an efficient and accurate manner.
     
  40. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Apr 30, 2015

    I disagree vigorously, a2z.

    First, for fluency with math facts, once the principles are clear, children can practice in pairs with flash cards (which, by the way, typically have the correct answer on the other side), do drills with worksheets, or play computer games: none of those necessitates the participation of the teacher. In fact, I'm not sure I can think of a way in which teachers regularly and intentionally model fact FLUENCY, all by itself, for their students.

    Second, I submit that what learners of any age need MODELED to them regularly, more than mere fluency with math facts, is problem-solving, which requires perseverance and the ability to bring all available resources - including the question itself - to bear on finding the answer. The OP's anecdote about demonstrating 13-9 evinces problem-solving and the knack of using available resources.
     
  41. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Apr 30, 2015

    Not sure why you picked up on math fact fluency and went with it as your argument. I was not talking about getting students to be fluent at math facts but the fact that teachers need to efficient and accurate in order to help struggling students with math.

    There are many ways why teachers have to fluently know facts. A struggling student who is subtracting multi-digit numbers or multiplying multi-digit numbers (to name just two of many) doesn't need a teacher who can't look at the work the student is doing and immediately see the mistake or while going step-by-step with a student not know what the answer to the step should be without needing a lot of time to figure it out or use a calculator.

    I was going to not respond anymore, but I felt I had to since you focused solely on fluency of facts for students and that was not what I was talking about at all. In fact, I didn't even consider that a problem for the OP to work with students for the reasons you gave.
     

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