It's Here! 5 Ways to Win at Fact Fluency


1. Make sure kiddos understand what they're doing.
Do kiddos already have conceptual understanding? Do they know WHY 8 + 7 is 15? Or for older kiddos: why 8 x 4 is 32? Do they know what it looks like? Have they had an opportunity to move manipulatives around and experience addition (or the other operations)? Without that conceptual knowledge, those math facts are going to take a much longer time to 'stick'. After kiddos have an understanding of operations, they're ready to tackle developing fluency.


2. Don't rely on computer-based programs as a means to increase kiddos' math fact fluency. 

I remember several years ago, my building purchased a site license for a math fact fluency program....we were all instructed to use it for both our fact fluency and assessment. The program seemed awesome...it was engaging, it was adaptive and moved with each child's success, and it was even instructional! Not just games and tests, it also 'taught' new facts. It was supposed to be a win-win: capitalize on kiddos' interest in online games/activities, improve fact fluency, and free up instructional time. In reality? Yeah....not so much. After some time, we all came to realize that kiddos
just weren't making the gains that we'd hoped. They didn't even seem to be doing as well as they had before the program was implemented!

What went wrong? Well, turns out that online programs are just not effective.  Yep. Studies show good 'ole flashcards are more effective than online programs. Who woulda thought? We use fact triangles in our building. They work the same as traditional flash cards, with the added benefit of illustrating the fact family. Knowing fact families is so powerful. Like my kiddos say, as they make a triangle with their fingers....if you know addition, you know the subtraction fact. Same for multiplication....if you know multiplication, you know division. LOVE that they can make that connection, and it's all due to the using those fact triangles.



3. Sustained practice? Think again.
Short, sporadic practice sessions are the way to go! Kiddos cannot focus on practicing math facts for more than 4-5 minutes. After that, you've lost them. You can do multiple practice sessions a day, but keep them short. 3-4 minutes is good!


4. A Little Goes a Long Way 
Resist the urge to jump in with both feet and give kiddos ALL.THE.FACTS. Be very deliberate and intentional in the way and the progression that facts are introduced for kiddos to master. In this case, a little goes a long way. The goal is automaticity. If kiddos have too many facts to learn at one time, they naturally fall back on  calculating the answer rather than working toward
memorization. Only after the first set of facts have been mastered should new ones be added.

At the same time, those facts that have been mastered need to stay in the rotation. A couple things are going on here: kiddos are still practicing the known facts (we don't want to get rusty!), they're experiencing a level of success as they encounter the new facts in the rotation, and they're becoming faster and faster with those known facts!

The fact tests I use in my classroom are set up to maximize this.....we start out with +1's for example, and after a kiddo has mastered those facts we move on to the +0's. But guess what? Those +1's still show up! And it continues on like that all the way through. At the end, when we're on that +9's test, facts from any of the other tests pop up.

5. Track Progress & Celebrate Success 
Tracking learning and progress toward goals is empowering! Studies show that when kiddos have that opportunity, they build intrinsic motivation, and perform better. In my classroom, we graph progress on each level. They can see how close they are, and how much closer they've gotten with each attempt....it's exciting to see how their graph inches up (or speeds!) toward to top of that graph!

We also chart progress toward mastering ALL of the facts.....+0's through +10's. I think this piece may be even more powerful than tracking progress for each level of the facts.

Each kiddo gets an addition chart. The first thing we do is talk about facts and the inverses. So....really, we only need to learn HALF of the facts on the chart! We also learn that when we pass a level, +4's for instance, we get to shade in both the horizontal +4's and the vertical +4's. Wow! That chart gets shaded in pretty fast! It's nice to actually see that you only have so many facts left.....rather than 'all.the.rest.of.the.facts' looming out there somewhere which we still have to master.

And don't forget to celebrate!! As I hand back tests before they go off to graph and chart, I announce those who have gotten 100% on their tests. Everyone claps and cheers...the best way to celebrate ever! Of course, we all know that setting a date by which we need to have mastered facts adds an element of urgency. My class works together to set a date by which we'll attempt to have all the facts mastered. I plan a movie for that day complete with snacks....which really makes the celebration more exciting!