“All students have the ability to learn”is a notion few people can contest. Opinions about how much a student can learn, however, vary greatly. The overwhelming number of variables that can be used to support a viewpoint on the matter can validate or discredit almost any opinion. But who can argue with success!
As a special education teacher, I have witnessed firsthand that students are capable of amazing progress when given the right tools to succeed. It is my conviction that the majority of students can be highly successful academically when the correct strategies are used to help them learn.
I began to wonder a few years ago if I could get my students to master the standards general education students are expected to master. It led me to experiment with new approaches to teaching. The burning question in my heart and mind was, “How can I get my students to master the standards students are required to learn?” I believed there had to be a way. This belief led me on a journeyto look for new approaches to teaching.
I began to apply the question to the area of math. I asked myself, “How can I get students to solve multiplication problems if they don’t even know how to add?” I began to draw circles and puts dots in the circles. It made sense to me. Visually, I saw that students can use this strategy to solve any single-digit by single-digit multiplication problem. When I applied this method to my instruction, I noticed that students immediately found success. This was the beginning of a new set of ideas that changed the way I thought about instruction.
I began to use a hands-on approach to teaching. I was more concerned with getting students to be able to do math as opposed to learning math facts. At the beginning of my career as a special education teacher, I tried to get students to memorize math facts with little success. Some of my students were able to memorize some of them, but most remained stagnant. By getting students to do math, I noticed that students began to memorize them. I believe the interaction with numbers that students were getting by doing math prepared the way to assimilate math facts into their brain structures.
Once I began to give students the tools to do math, I began to relax. I knew that regardless of whether students learned their math facts or not, they were prepared to score well on tests. Instead of spending time on math facts, I spent more time doing word problems. Students were more prepared to understand the questions they were being asked. As a result, I saw student test scores soar.
I believe one of the reasons test scores rose is because students were motivated to do well. As students were able to do math, they took ownership of their learning. Learning became a team effort. An unspoken agreement seemed to be in the air. I teach you how to do math, and you apply what I teach you to do well on tests.
The results have become intoxicating. There is a motivating atmosphere in my classroom. We all want to do well. In this atmosphere there is a perception that nothing is impossible.
The purpose of this book is to share the strategies I use in my classroom to make students successful at doing math. The methods I use are simple to understand and easy to practice. They are almost too easy. I hope you will benefit from the strategies I have put into writing to help you become a more effective teacher of mathematics. Moreover, I hope the ideas presented in this book will spark new ideas that will take you to levels you never dreamed of.
I believe that if we develop strategies that are effective to get children to learn, we will produce smarter, more confident people to face the challenges set before our world. As we face this brave new world, we will need problem solvers and innovators to help us navigate through uncertain waters.
I also believe that as teachers, we can make a difference, and I know firsthand that this is true. For this reason, I sincerely hope that this book will inspire you to move beyond “good enough” to “Wow!”