There’s been some well-publicized debate recently over the role of practice and drilling in math education. Some teaching experts say drilling could be the antidote to achievement gaps, while others warn it could stifle curiosity. For decades, we’ve been trying to decide whether teacher-directed instruction or student-centered activities are more helpful for students’ understanding of math concepts. Since experts can’t agree, we suggest a more balanced view.
Practice Makes Learning
As a learning resource that considers curiosity to be a type of giftedness, we have an enormous appreciation for intrinsic academic motivation and will often be the first to come to its defense. However, we also know that research has consistently proven that practice helps kids do better at math. That’s why we at FasTracKids view correctly supported drills as a powerful and essential tool in a math teacher’s toolkit. As such, they should be used intelligently, not as a replacement for teacher-directed instruction, but as a complement.
On This, We Agree
When a child has mastered a skill, we consider him or her to be fluent in that skill. In a recent piece for Psychology Today, Paul L. Morgan, Ph.D., extrapolated on a New York Times op-ed positing that all American students, but girls especially, would benefit from more drilling and practice to cement recently acquired math skills. The authors agree that understanding-centered math instruction squanders the opportunity to instill the neural patterns required for students to be successful. Morgan goes on to dispel the myth that routine practice somehow limits conceptual understanding. He echoes our view that giving kids opportunities to practice what they’ve learned in math class is merely a component of effective math instruction.
Why Drilling Works
Math is learned progressively, with each new concept building on those that came before it. To free up the brain space required to process more complex problems, students need first to learn basic math concepts, then to internalize them so they can be applied quickly and accurately. Identifying numbers, for example, is a task that takes a great deal of concentration at first, when children are very young, but that eventually takes place almost effortlessly and instantaneously. Throughout their educational careers, as kids build fluency in more complicated math functions, they gain the ability to solve ever-more-complex problems. Author Morgan credits the repetition and quick recall achieved by drilling for moving students from understanding to fluency.
Drilling & Practice with FasTracKids & EyeLevel
If, like most schools in the U.S., your child’s school isn’t offering enough opportunities to strengthen working memory in the classroom, the FasTracKids and Eye Level supplemental learning programs can help. The Eye Level Math Enrichment program provides much-needed practice and drilling, along with the constructive feedback necessary to achieve genuine fluency. The critical difference from in-classroom instruction is that Eye Level lets kids learn at their own pace. Students will perform drills and practice, but they don’t move on to new concepts until the preceding skills have been mastered.
For students who are falling behind, FasTracKids math tutors help students at all achievement levels to fully grasp mathematical concepts, improve their problem-solving abilities, and develop better study habits. The approach makes learning as fun and engaging as possible without sacrificing the effortful – at times clumsy and uncomfortable – practice that’s essential to legitimate learning. (You can read more on that in the NYT piece.) If your child has fallen behind or stopped enjoying math class, these programs can get him or her back on track.