I have a student who is very low, and I mentioned to our school's math coach today how I was hoping to get some K stuff for this student to work on because they aren't yet able to consistently draw a picture to solve a number sentence. Her answer surprised me because she said that giving him a lot of basic story problems should come before he ever sees an equation. Her rationale was that the student should be able to hear the problem (example: Suzie has 4 flowers and picks 2 more. How many does she have now?), understand what the problem is asking, and solve it using manips before they see an abstract number sentence like 4+2=__. This is because we want the students to understand what they're doing with the numbers and why they're doing it, not just memorizing equations. On some level, that makes sense to me, especially because this student can't distinguish between the plus and minus signs yet, but people always talk about how hard it is for kids to understand story problems, so I just assumed they were a "higher level skill" than solving an equation using a strategy. I am definitely going to try it with this student, but I am curious what other people's experiences have been. Do you teach story problems before you teach strategies for solving equations?

Yes. A strategy for solving word problems is draw a picture and that's the strategy we use the most. I don't have my Kinders write any equations for our daily word problems. Instead, we draw the picture and discuss if we are adding or subtracting, then write our answer. They know what an equation is when they see it, but most aren't ready to write them for word problems yet.

It depends on why the student is low. In general, yes - promote meaning via stories, tangibles, etc. before abstract, symbolic representation. One issue is that, if we focus too much on basic fact memorization and symbolic representation early on, we aren't teaching kids to think through and really comprehend what's happening. That being said, he (using the male pronoun for simplicity) could be low for various reasons. For example, he really may already comprehend basic addition, but struggle for another reason such as difficult remembering basic math facts or executive functioning issues such as attending to important details. So, it would be important to not just drop the curriculum down to K level because that's where his assessments indicate he is functioning, but to do a bit of problem-solving and figure out how the child struggles.

I do a ton of word problems. That being said, I focus on the process. First, someone (initially me, later students) reads the problem. Then we circle the numbers. Then we decide whether we will be adding or subtracting. We do this by finding our "key words or phrases" in the word problem/story problem. I have the kids underline or highlight words like "how many more," "how many in all," etc. We discuss which operation is appropriate, then we write a blank number sentence (_____ +/- ______ = ________), utilizing the correct symbol for the operation. Next, we get rid of any extraneous information. Then, we draw our pictures/make tally marks/use manipulatives to represent the problem. As we represent the numbers in order of appearance in the equation, we write the numbers in the number sentence. Next, we arrive at our correct answer, and write that in the equation. Finally, we create and write the answer to our problem: "Johnny has 12 popsicles now." It has really helped my low kiddos, all the kids love using highlighters, and my P is impressed with the engagement and the progress my babies have made! (and no, I'm not a math person, lol)

I try to teach them in unison, but sometimes teach the strategy after they struggle once, you just get much better reception that way.

I agree with your math coach. We start out the year by acting out our word problems. The kids literally get up and act them out. Then we get out manipulatives. Later in the year we play games with the + and - symbols to make sure they understand that + means to get some more and - means to take some away. It's not until very later we even do equations. (Some kids are ready to do them earlier, and during a small group math session, they will...)