## Teaching Math Fact Fluency | 6 Signs Your Class Is Failing

High-stakes state tests do not directly test fluency on math facts, although they should.  Your students can become bogged down in deriving basic facts during state testing.  When that happens they will be unable to demonstrate the higher-level math skills they have been learning.  You may have a math fact fluency problem, depressing your math achievement scores, but not even know it.  Here are six things to look for–to evaluate for yourself.

## 1) Finger counting during math testing shows a fact fluency problem

Students who are counting on their fingers (see above) during math testing are a definitive sign of a math fact fluency problem.  Finger counting is a bad sign in grades 3 and above, where they should have mastered math facts.  Students who don’t know the facts, need to use crutches to derive the answers to math facts.  Crutches make doing simple calculations take a long time to complete anything.  Your students may perform poorly on state tests just because they won’t complete the test for lack of time.

## 2) Students who lack math fact fluency need times tables available

When students in grades 3 or 4 and up have to do multiplication, they either have to know their facts or have a crutch.  If you see times tables on student desks that shows that the students need these crutches, and therefore do not know the basic multiplication facts.  Student folders sometimes come with these on the inside.  Some teachers put up a large poster of the multiplication facts–even though students find it nearly impossible to use from their seats.  Others provide laminated cards to the students which appear suddenly when students are set to do their “math work.”  When you see those times tables being used by more than a couple of students during math, you can tell you have a fluency problem.

## 3) Students who lack math fact fluency don’t participate in math lessons

Good teachers work to engage the class.  One good way, while working a problem for the class, is to ask the class for the answers to math facts.  Watching a lesson you may be able to spot a class that lacks fact fluency.  For example, imagine you watch the teacher demonstrating this problem.

Class, we begin this problem by multiplying nine times four.  What’s nine times four, everybody?”  [Only a couple of students answer.]  Yes, 36.  Now we write down the six and carry the 3 tens up to the tens place.  Next, we multiply nine times six.  What’s nine times six, everybody?”  [After a long silence, one student answers.] Yes, 54.  And we add the three to the 54, what do we get?  [Several students call out the answer.] Yes, 57.  That’s what we write down.

That interchange tells you there’s a math facts problem in this class.  When the problem is very easy, like 54+3 you get a good response.  When the fact is a “hard” one, you get silence and then one student answering.  Medium facts get minimal response.  This is a class that does not know their math facts.

## 4) Over-reliance on calculators signals a lack of math fact fluency

There are two kinds of over-reliance on calculators you may see in classrooms.  In the first kind, you see students who do not know facts using calculators to tell them the answer to single-digit facts they should have memorized.  Using calculators for single-digit facts is terribly slow and inefficient–and not what they are designed to do.  You can see this over-reliance on calculators when observing in a classroom.

The second kind of problem is harder to spot. Using calculators without knowing math facts instantly can be dangerous.  It is easy to make a data entry error, AKA a typo.  When a user does that, they’re assumed to know math facts well enough to know when the answer is wrong, as in the example pictured here.  A student who doesn’t know that 5 times 8 is 40 and therefore knows that 521 times 8 has to be more than 4,000 will accept the answer displayed on the calculator.  Accepting incorrect answers from the calculator is a sign that students do not have an adequate mastery of facts.

## 5) Avoidance behaviors in math signal a lack of math fact fluency

Having to count out facts or look each fact up in a table is very slow and onerous.  Students come to hate slogging through math computation that is so hard for them.  Conversely, students who know facts instantly, hop right into assignments to get them done.  Students like going fast doing math problems, just like they run for the joy of it on the playground.  How do you know there is a fluency problem in the classroom?  Students who lack fluency start avoiding getting started on computation work by getting water or sharpening pencils or just taking a break first.

## 6) Really slow computation during math lessons is due to a lack of math fact fluency

Good math teachers assign, within their lessons, a few math computation problems to do independently and then be checked as a group.  If students know math facts they can do a few problems in a minute or two.  Students who do not know math facts may take ten minutes or more to do the same mini-assignment.  Students who are done and waiting with nothing to do, begin talking and distracting the others.  When there’s that big of a discrepancy between the first and the last student to do a few problems, there is a fact fluency problem in the class.

## To be sure–give school-wide 1-minute tests of math fact fluency

If you see hints that your school may have a math fact fluency problem, it isn’t hard to know for sure.  It only takes a couple of minutes.  You can have everyone in the school take written 1-minute tests of math facts pretty easily.  However, you’ll also need to evaluate how fast students can write.  Students can’t answer math fact problems any faster than they write.  You cannot expect a student who can write only 25 answers in a minute to answer 40 problems in a minute. Conversely, a student who can write 40 answers in a minute is not fluent with math facts if he answers only 30 problems in a minute.

You need a test of writing speed as well as a chart to evaluate their performance and the tests for the four main operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  Print these out for free at this link.  But basically, a student who cannot answer math facts at 75% of the rate at which they can write, needs intervention.

Teaching math fact fluency is necessary, of course, for fluent computation. Math fact fluency is also required for understanding and manipulating fractions. Find out more ways of successfully teaching math fact fluency to your students and why this skill is essential.

If you would like the free use of use the Rocket Math Online Game to assess for fluency, please contact Dr. Don at don@rocketmath.com.

## How to do (compute) multi-step division problems

After becoming fluent with division facts, the best way for students to retain the knowledge of those facts is by doing division computation.  If students have not been taught division computation, this program breaks it down into small, easy-to-learn steps that are numbered in a teaching sequence that leaves nothing to chance.

## Assessment to find which skill to teach first

There is an assessment available so you can test and see where to begin instruction. Find where the student first starts having troubles and begin teaching there.

## Skills in this Learning Track

Note that the number for each skill gives the grade level as well as indicating the teaching sequence.  Skill 3b is a 3rd grade skill and after skill 3c is learned the next in the sequence is skill 4a.  The sequence of skills is drawn from M. Stein, D. Kinder, J. Silbert, and D. W. Carnine, (2006) Designing Effective Mathematics Instruction: A Direct Instruction Approach (4th Edition) Pearson Education: Columbus, OH.

(3b) Dividing 1-digit divisor and quotient with remainder.

(3c) Division equation with ÷ sign; facts with no remainder

(4a) 1-digit divisor; 2- or 3-digit dividend, 2-digit quotient; no remainder.

(4b) 1-digit divisor; 2- or 3-digit dividend, 2-digit quotient; remainder.

(4c) 1-digit divisor; 2- or 3-digit dividend, 2-digit quotient with zero; remainder.

### not yet completed levels–to be developed upon demand–ask Dr. Don

(4d) 1-digit divisor; 3- or 4-digit dividend, 3-digit quotient.

(4e) 1-digit divisor; 3- or 4-digit dividend, 3-digit quotient with zero.

(4f) 1-digit divisor; 4- or 5-digit dividend, 4-digit quotient.

(4g) Rounding to the nearest ten.

(4h) 2-digit divisor; 1- or 2-digit quotient, all estimation yields correct quotient.

(4i) 2-digit divisor with incorrect estimated quotients.

## How to teach this Learning Track

For each skill there is a suggested Teaching Script giving the teacher/tutor/parent consistent (across all the skills we use the same explanation) language of instruction on how to do the skill.  The script helps walk the student through the computation process.  For the teacher, in addition to the script, there are answer keys for the five worksheets provided for each skill.

Each worksheet is composed of two parts.  The top has examples of the skill being learned that can be worked by following the script.  After working through those examples with the teacher the student is then asked to work some review problems that are already known.  The student is asked to do as many as possible in 3 minutes—a kind of sprint.  If all is well the student should be able to do all the problems or nearly all of them, but finishing is not required.  Three minutes of review is sufficient for one day.

There are five worksheets for each skill.  Gradually as the student learns the skill the teacher/tutor/parent can provide progressively less help and the student should be able to do the problems without any guidance by the end of the five worksheets.  There are suggestions for how to give less help in the teaching scripts.

## Teach how to do (compute) multi-step multiplication problems

After becoming fluent with multiplication facts, the best way for students to retain the knowledge of those facts is by doing multiplication computation.  If students have not been taught multiplication computation, this program breaks it down into small, easy-to-learn steps that are numbered in a teaching sequence that leaves nothing to chance.

## Assess to find where to begin instruction

Included in the Learning Track is an assessment to help you find out where to start instruction in the sequence. Test the student and begin teaching with the first skill on which they have difficulty.

## Skills taught in this Learning Track

Note that the number for each skill gives the grade level as well as indicating the teaching sequence.  Skill 3b is a 3rd grade skill and after skill 3e is learned the next in the sequence is skill 4a.  The sequence of skills is drawn from M. Stein, D. Kinder, J. Silbert, and D. W. Carnine, (2006) Designing Effective Mathematics Instruction: A Direct Instruction Approach (4th Edition) Pearson Education: Columbus, OH.

(3b) Multiplying 1-digit times 2-digit; no renaming

(3c) Multiplying 1-digit times 2-digit; carrying

(3d) Multiplying 1-digit times 2-digit, written horizontally.

(3e) Reading and writing thousands numbers, using commas.

(4a) Multiplying 1-digit times 3-digit

(4b) Multiplying 1-digit times 3-digit; zero in tens column

(4c) Multiplying 1 digit times 3 digit, written horizontally

(4d) Multiplying 2-digits times 2-digits.

(4e) Multiplying 2-digits times 3-digits.

(5a) Multiplying 3-digits times 3-digits.

(5b) Multiplying 3-digits times 3-digits; zero in tens column of multiplier.

## How to teach this Learning Track

For each skill there is a suggested Teaching Script giving the teacher/tutor/parent consistent (across all the skills we use the same explanation) language of instruction on how to do the skill.  The script helps walk the student through the computation process.  For the teacher, in addition to the script, there are answer keys for the five worksheets provided for each skill.

Each worksheet is composed of two parts.  The top has examples of the skill being learned that can be worked by following the script.  After working through those examples with the teacher the student is then asked to work some review problems of addition problems that are already known.  The student is asked to do as many as possible in 3 minutes—a kind of sprint.  If all is well the student should be able to do all the problems or nearly all of them, but finishing is not required.  Three minutes of review is sufficient for one day.

There are five worksheets for each skill.  Gradually as the student learns the skill the teacher/tutor/parent can provide progressively less help and the student should be able to do the problems without any guidance by the end of the five worksheets.  There are suggestions for how to give less help in the teaching scripts.

## Teach how to do (compute) multi-step subtraction problems

After becoming fluent with subtraction facts, the best way for students to retain the knowledge of those facts is by doing subtraction computation.  If students have not been taught subtraction computation, Subtraction–Learning Computation breaks it down into 18 small, easy-to-learn steps that are numbered in a teaching sequence that leaves nothing to chance.

## Find out where to begin instruction

Even better the instructional materials include an assessment of all the skills in subtraction computation in order, so you can test the knowledge of the student(s) before beginning instruction to see where to start. You can use this assessment to find very specific “holes” in student skills and then have the exact problems and explanation to fill that hole.

## Skills taught in this Learning Track

Note that the number for each skill gives the grade level as well as indicating the teaching sequence.  Skill 3b is a 3rd grade skill and after skill 3g is learned the next in the sequence, skill 4a is best taught in fourth grade.  Minor changes have been made, but for the most part, the sequence of skills is drawn from M. Stein, D. Kinder, J. Silbert, and D. W. Carnine, (2006) Designing Effective Mathematics Instruction: A Direct Instruction Approach (4th Edition) Pearson Education: Columbus, OH.

(1b) Subtract from 2 digits; no renaming.

(2a) Subtract from 2digits; renaming required.

(2b) Subtract from 3 digits; borrow from 10s.

(3a) Subtract from 3 digits; borrow from 100s.

(3b) Subtract from 3 digits; borrow either place.

(3c) Subtract tens minus one facts.

(3d) Subtract from 3 digits; zero in 10s; borrow 10s or 100s.

(3e) Read and write thousands numbers, use commas.

(3f) Subtract from 4 digits; borrow from 1000s.

(3g) Subtract from 4 digits; borrow once or more.

(4a) Subtract from 4 digits; zero in 10s or 100s column

(4b) Subtract from 4 digits; zero in 10s column, 1 in 100s.

(4c) Subtract hundreds minus one facts.

(4d) Subtract from 4 digits; zero in 10s and 100s column.

(4e) Subtract 1, 2, or 3 digits from 1,000.

(4f) Subtract 5 and 6 digits with borrowing.

(5a) Subtract thousands minus one facts.

(5b) Subtract from a number with four zeroes.

## How to teach this Learning Track

For each skill there is a suggested Teaching Script giving the teacher/tutor/parent consistent (across all the skills we use the same explanation) language of instruction on how to do the skill.  My favorite part is the rule students are taught for when to borrow (often confusing for students): Bigger bottom borrows.  Simple, easy-to-remember and consistently correct.  The script helps walk the student through the computation process.  For the teacher, in addition to the script, there are answer keys for the five worksheets provided for each skill.

Each worksheet is composed of two parts.  The top has examples of the skill being learned that can be worked by following the script.  After working through those examples with the teacher the student is then asked to work some review problems of addition problems that are already known.  The student is asked to do as many as possible in 3 minutes—a kind of sprint.  If all is well the student should be able to do all the problems or nearly all of them, but finishing is not required.  Three minutes of review is sufficient for one day.

There are five worksheets for each skill.  Gradually as the student learns the skill the teacher/tutor/parent can provide progressively less help and the student should be able to do the problems without any guidance by the end of the five worksheets.  There are suggestions for how to give less help in the teaching scripts.

## How to do (compute) multi-step addition problems

After becoming fluent with addition facts, the best way for students to retain the knowledge of those facts is by doing addition computation.  If students have not been taught addition computation, this program breaks it down into small, easy-to-learn steps that are numbered in a teaching sequence that leaves nothing to chance.

## Easily assess where to begin instruction

An assessment is provided to test each of the skills in the sequence below. They go in order. Test the student and begin teaching wherever the student begins to have difficulty.

## Skills taught in this Learning Track

Note that the number for each skill gives the grade level as well as indicating the teaching sequence.  Skill 2a is a 2nd grade skill and after skill 2f is learned the next in the sequence is skill 3a.  The sequence of skills is drawn from M. Stein, D. Kinder, J. Silbert, and D. W. Carnine, (2006) Designing Effective Mathematics Instruction: A Direct Instruction Approach (4th Edition) Pearson Education: Columbus, OH.

(1b) Adding 1-, or 2-digit numbers; no renaming

(2b-c) Adding 3-digit numbers; no renaming

(2c) Adding 3-digits to 1 or more digits; no renaming

(2d) Adding three 1- or 2-digit numbers; no renaming

(2e) Adding two 2-digit numbers, renaming 1s to 10s

(2f) Adding 3-digit numbers, renaming 1s to 10s

(3a) Adding a 1-digit number to a teen number, under 20

(3b) Adding two 2- or 3-digit numbers; renaming 10s to 100s

(3c) Adding 3-digit numbers; renaming twice

(3d) Adding three 2-digit numbers; renaming sums under 20

(3e) Adding four multi-digit numbers; renaming, sums under 20

(4a) Adding a 1-digit number to a teen number, over 20

(4b) Adding three 2-digit numbers, sums over 20

(4c) Adding four or five multi-digit numbers, sums over 20

## How to teach this Learning Track

For each skill there is a suggested Teaching Script giving the teacher/tutor/parent consistent (across all the skills we use the same explanation) language of instruction on how to do the skill.  The script helps walk the student through the computation process.  For the teacher, in addition to the script, there are answer keys for the five worksheets provided for each skill.

Each worksheet is composed of two parts.  The top has examples of the skill being learned that can be worked by following the script.  After working through those examples with the teacher the student is then asked to work some review problems of addition problems that are already known.  The student is asked to do as many as possible in 3 minutes—a kind of sprint.  If all is well the student should be able to do all the problems or nearly all of them, but finishing is not required.  Three minutes of review is sufficient for one day.

There are five worksheets for each skill.  Gradually as the student learns the skill the teacher/tutor/parent can provide progressively less help and the student should be able to do the problems without any guidance by the end of the five worksheets.  There are suggestions for how to give less help in the teaching scripts.

## Why learn in Fact Families?

Fact Families are another way to learn multiplication and division facts, or to review them once learned. 2 x 1, 1 x 2, 2 ÷ 1, and 2 ÷ 2 make up such a family.  Fact families are divided into two parts.  This is the first part and includes facts up to 4 x 5 = 20.  The second part goes on from 21 with 7 x 3 = 21 and larger facts.

## How do students learn?

Students practice orally with a partner, reading and answering the facts going around the outside of the sheet.  The partner has the answer key.  Then the two students switch roles.  After practice everyone takes a one minute test on the facts in the box–which are only the facts learned up to this level.  Each student has individual goals based on writing speed, but no one can pass a level if there are any errors.   You must give the special Writing Speed Test to set individual goals for your students.

Students should be able to pass a level in a week, if they practice the right way.   Below you can see the sequence of facts that will be learned in the Mult & Division Fact Families to 20 program.  The program uses the four forms–that can be found in the forms and information drawer.

The most succinct way to be introduced to this program is this 8 minute video.

## Fact Families make an excellent review

If students have learned the 0 to 9s multiplication and division facts, this makes an excellent review.  Students will find this first part very easy, but the second part will really help them build up their fluency.

## Why learn in Fact Families?

Fact Families are another way to learn multiplication and division facts, or to review them once learned. 7 x 3, 3 x 7, 21 ÷ 7, and 21 ÷ 3 make up such a family.  Fact families are divided into two Learning Tracks.  This Learning Track is the second one, which goes on from 21 with 7 x 3 = 21 and larger facts.

## How do students learn?

Students practice orally with a partner, reading and answering the facts going around the outside of the sheet.  The partner has the answer key.  Then the two students switch roles.  After practice everyone takes a one-minute test on the facts in the box–which are only the facts learned up to this level.  Each student has individual goals based on writing speed, but no one can pass a level if there are any errors.   You must give the special Writing Speed Test to set individual goals for your students.

Students should be able to pass a level in a week, if they practice the right way.   Below you can see the sequence of facts that will be learned in the Mult & Division Fact Families from 21 program.  The program uses the four forms–that can be found in the forms and information drawer.

The most succinct way to be introduced to this program are these three videos.

## After 0-9s addition facts are learned, these are next.

These are the basic single digit Subtraction facts 0 through 9s. Each of the 26 levels, A through Z, introduces two facts and their reverses.  You can see in the picture above of Set E, I have outlined the new facts in red.

## How do students learn these facts?

Students practice orally with a partner, reading and answering the facts going around the outside of the sheet.  The partner has the answer key.  Then the two students switch roles.  After practice everyone takes a one-minute test on the facts in the box–which are only the facts learned up to this level.  Each student has individual goals based on writing speed, but no one can pass a level if there are any errors.   You must give the special Writing Speed Test to set individual goals for your students.

Students should be able to pass a level in a week, if they practice the right way.   Below you can see the sequence of facts that will be learned in the Subtraction 0-9s program.  The program uses the four forms–that can be found in the forms and information drawer.

The most succinct way to be introduced to this program is this 8-minute video.

## What do students learn in this Learning Track?

Students commit to memory the single digit Multiplication facts 0 through 9s. Each of the 26 levels, A through Z, introduces two facts and their reverses.  You can see in the picture above of Set C, we have outlined the four new facts in red. The facts taught and the sequence in which they are learned are shown below.

## How do students learn these facts?

Students practice orally with a partner, reading and answering the facts going around the outside of the sheet.  The partner has the answer key.  Then the two students switch roles.  After practice everyone takes a one-minute test on the facts in the box–which are only the facts learned up to this level.  Each student has individual goals based on writing speed, but no one can pass a level if there are any errors.   You must give the special Writing Speed Test to set individual goals for your students.

Students should be able to pass a level in a week, if they practice the right way.   To the right you can see the sequence of facts that will be learned in the Multiplication 1s-9s program.  The program uses the four forms–that can be found in the forms and information drawer.

The most succinct way to be introduced to this program is this 8-minute video.

## What do students learn in the Identifying Fractions Learning Track?

Identifying Fractions is a Learning Track to ensure that students have a firm and correct understanding of fractions.  This will prepare them well for all subsequent work in fractions.

Students will learn the essential rule about what the numerator and denominator mean, although they won’t be working with those terms.  They just learn through examples, practiced over and over.  The numerator, called simply the number on the top, tells how many parts are shaded.  The denominator, simply called the number on the bottom, indicates the number of parts in a whole.  If a whole is not divided into parts, it is a whole number.

## Learning proper and improper fractions and mixed numbers.

Right from the beginning of Set A students will encounter improper fractions and mixed numbers. (See the illustration above).  They will see examples of every fraction first at the top of the page before they are asked to identify it on their own. You see that students see the fraction, see the words for how we say it and they see the fraction they are to write.

Unlike other Rocket Math programs, the test and the practice items are the same.  Of course, the students have a page without the answers, while their partner holds the answer key. Students practice by saying aloud to their partner the fractions shown in the test.  Then they take the test on those same items but write the answer.

## Halves, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, eighths, tenths, and twelfths.

The fractions that students become familiar with include, halves, thirds, quarters, fifths, sixths, eighths, tenths and twelfths.  They see improper fractions and mixed number with every denominator.  In the beginning with the smaller denominators students see a variety of shapes for each denominator, so they learn that the identity of a fraction only has to do with the number of parts in a whole, not the shape of the display.  You can see thirds as cubes and as circles and as rectangles in the examples to the right.

When students are eventually introduced to eighths, tenths and twelfths we don’t want to slow them down by having to laboriously count the number of parts in each figure.

• Eighths are always displayed as two sets of four rectangles on top of each other.
• Tenths are displayed as two columns of five blocks with little numbers in them.
• Twelfths are always displayed as three sets of four rectangles on each other.

Students should notice these conventions so they can quickly identify the number of parts in those figures without having to count them.

## Be sure to do the Identifying Fractions writing speed test.

Identifying fractions has its own writing speed test, to be sure that student goals are individualized to their writing speed.  By the time students complete Set Z in this program they will have a strong understanding of fractions and they will be fluent.  There are even 2-minute timings you can give every week or two for them to chart their progress as they get faster.  This is a great program for students of any grade from second grade on up who have finished the basics for their grade level.  It will really put them in good shape when dealing with fractions in later years.