What about students who can’t pass in 6 tries?

A teacher writes:

Help! I’m feeling bogged down in Rocket Math. I have some students who have been working on the same sheet for over 10 times and are no closer to passing. What am I doing wrong?

Dr. Don answers:

The problem could be one of several things.  You have to diagnose what it could be.  I am assuming you have students practicing orally in pairs, with answer keys, for at least two minutes per partner every day (as shown in the picture above).  I am assuming you already have students, who do not pass, take home the sheet on which they didn’t pass and finish it as homework and practice with someone at home.  The extra practice session at home each day can be a big help and the students should be motivated to do that.   If this is the case and you still have a problem, below are two possible things that may be needed.

(#1) Need to improve practicing procedures.  Pick one of the students who is stuck and be that student’s partner while they practice orally.  Make sure they are saying the whole problem and the answer aloud so you can hear what they are saying.  Correct even any hesitations, not just errors.  Correct the student by saying the correct problem and answer, having them repeat the correct problem and the answer three times, then back up three problems and move forward again.

Diagnosis.  If, after practicing with you, the student does much better on the one minute timing and passes or nearly passes (this is what I usually found) then you know the problem is poor practicing procedures.  If your work with the student makes no difference (they don’t do better on the one-minute timing) and they seem equally slow on all the problems then it is not practicing procedures at fault.  Try #2

Solution:  Monitor your students closely during oral practice to see if they are all following the correct practice procedures.  If you have quite a few students who aren’t practicing well you may need to re-teach your class how to practice.  [Note: Even if they know how to do it but aren’t doing it right, treat it as if they just don’t know how to to do it correctly.]  Stop them and re-do the modeling of how to practice and how to correct for several days before allowing them to practice again.  If your students haven’t been practicing the right way, they won’t be passing frequently, and they will be unmotivated.  You have to get them practicing the right way so they can be successful and so they can be motivated by their success.

Solution:  If you have poor practicing with only a handful of students you might assign them to more responsible partners and explain to them that they need to practice correctly. During oral practice monitor them more carefully the next few days to be sure they are practicing better and passing more frequently.

(#2) Need to review test problems also.  The problems practiced around the outside are the recently introduced facts.  The problems inside the test box are an even mix of all the problems taught so far.  If there has been a break for a week or more, or if the student has been stuck for a couple of weeks, the student may have forgotten some of the facts from earlier and may need a review of the test problems.

Diagnosis.  Have the student practice orally on the test problems inside the box with you.  If the student hesitates on several of the problems that aren’t on the outside practice, then the student needs to review the test items.

Solution. If you have this problem with quite a few students (for example after Christmas break) then have the whole class do this solution.  For the next three or four days, after practicing around the outside, instead of taking the 1 minute test in writing, have students practice the test problems orally with each other.  Use the same procedures as during the practice—two minutes with answer keys for the test, saying the problem and the answer aloud, correction procedures for hesitations, correct by saying the problem and answer three times, then going back—then switch roles.   Do this for three or four days and then give the one-minute test.   Just about everyone should pass at that point.

Solution.  If you have this problem with a handful of students, find a time during the day for them to practice the test problems orally in pairs.  If the practice occurs before doing Rocket Math so much the better, but it will work if done after as well.  They should keep doing this until they pass a couple of levels within six days.

If neither the first or the second solutions seem to work, write to me again and I’ll give you some more ideas.

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