Replace finger counting, don’t try to suppress it!

Don’t try to stop students from finger counting. Students count on their fingers as a strategy to figure out the answer to facts they do not recall. If they are counting on their fingers you know for a fact they don’t recall the answer. (Or they don’t trust their recall of the answer and are just checking!)

By helping students memorize the facts through daily practice in Rocket Math they will come to the point where the answer occurs to them before they finish counting on their fingers! Remember, that when practicing Rocket Math students have to be able to say the answers to the problems with no hesitation. They do it over and over as they are practicing with their partner. If they do hesitate, their partner should be correcting them, having them repeat it three times, and then back up and try it again. So our goal is to instantly know the answer to the facts.

When students recall answers to facts before they finish counting their fingers, they will NATURALLY replace finger counting with the much faster recall strategy. That is your goal rather than suppressing the only strategy some students have! And for the students who are “just checking”–i.e., they do recall the answer but they check anyway to be sure, after they check enough times almost all students will become sure and stop it. Rocket Math teaches that as well because students cannot pass the levels until they stop using their fingers, so they will learn to give up that strategy.

This is a VERY important principle for teachers to know. It is most important in the realm of classroom management. One of the most important principles of classroom management is that you should teach students what you want them to be doing in all situations rather than focusing on all the millions of things they should NOT be doing. The goal is to teach a replacement behavior that keeps them busy, that you can praise, and that gets them focused on accomplishing their goals. You teach students to track with their finger when others are reading instead of NOT: looking around the room, playing with their fingers, poking their neighbor, reading ahead in the book, tying their shoelaces, etc. You teach students to stand in a line looking at the back of the head of the student in front of them rather than NOT doing all kinds of other things. Teaching students what they should be doing also allows you to praise them for doing it. Teaching your expectations allows you to set them up for success and show them how to do the right thing. Teaching good behaviors that replace bad behaviors instead of trying to simply suppress the bad behavior is an important principle of effective teaching. Once a teacher learns to think this way they are on the road to having a happy and successful teaching career.

Teaching students to instantly recall the answers to basic math fact questions is just another example of that.

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