Must students say math facts in a certain order?

It is actually more important than you might think, that students practice by reading facts in a consistent way.

Rachel asks:
Hi Don,
After using Rocket Math for a week, I have a question. My daughter often reverses the order of the numbers when reading off the facts (i.e. 1+5 when it’s really 5+1). Of course, this doesn’t affect the answer in addition, but I wondered if I should correct her? She sometimes does it upwards of 50% of the time. Anyway, I just wondered if I should be concerned about her reversing the numbers, and if so what I should do about it.   Thanks, Rachel

Dr. Don answers:

If I were still running a school I would be offering you a teaching job right now! What a good question! So your daughter is doing something that most people do, which is trying to simplify the task and ignore the difference in the order. Because 5+2 and 2+5 are both 7 why not just think of them as the same thing?***

However, there is a risk. If a student always says “five plus two is seven” and never says it the other way around they will not have the jingle-like memory of “Two plus five is…seven” in their brain. Then when they encounter 2 + 5 and read it aloud to themselves the answer won’t pop into mind automatically. They would probably puzzle a second, realize it is the same as 5+2 and then know the answer is seven, but it won’t be automatic. [That by the way is what I’m trying to illustrate in the picture above, which isn’t Rachel’s daughter!] We want that automatic answer to pop into mind, unbidden, without having to think about it. In other words, we want it so that when your daughter says to herself, “Two plus five is…” the answer “seven” pops into her mind without having to think about it.

Whew, this is a lot of rationale, but I know you can follow me. This means that you want to treat reading the problem in the wrong order as an error. When she reads the problem in the wrong order (says “Two plus five is seven” when the problem reads 5+2) correct by saying the problem in the correct order with the answer. You say, “Five plus two is seven.” This, by the way is why our correction procedure is for the checker to say the whole problem and the answer, so the checker can correct the order of reading the problem without causing confusion. Then have her repeat it three times and go back three problems.

She of course, will tell you, “But, it’s the same!” Just reply with, “You have to say it the way it is written.” You can tell her I said so!

PS. When you get to multiplication, this gets even more tricky, because there’s a good case to be made for reading multiplication fact problems up, because that’s how we say them when we are doing multi-digit multiplication problems. But that is a whole other blog!

***Interestingly, when doing the Rocket Math app, the learner/player is presented with both facts in the same set–mixed between the two as they are being learning. When I am playing the app, I find I can’t remember if I got both of those to answer or just one. Although the app gives both, I just put them together in my mind to make it easier, and don’t even notice the order.

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