Fluency is created by the brain by building new synaptic pathways when making a new association (ie, 6 x 8 = 48, or 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10). These pathways are strengthened through repetition. The idea of computational fluency, then, is having the brain create new pathways and moving students away from inefficient methods (counting on fingers to add, skip-counting for multiplication, etc). That is why you can have middle schoolers, high schoolers, or even adults who have trouble with their times tables– the synaptic pathways were never corrected as a child.
There are five keys to developing fluency:
Repetition of common facts or procedures (i.e. solving equations, long division). This critical for strengthening those neural pathways. The saying, “Use it or lose it” is correct!
+ Time Constraints
Time constraints force the student way from slow, inefficient methods. Counting on fingers or skip-counting for multiplication just takes too long. Students who spend too much mental energy on simple addition or multiplication will not have the energy to spend on multi-step or more process-oriented problems.
+ Immediate (or near-immediate) feedback
To build correct pathways in their brain, students need to know they have a correct answer! If half the time the student answers 7×8=56 and the other half of the time 7×8 = 54, and never find out if they are correct until the next day, how will they every strengthen those pathways?
+ Allow for failure
Just as it is important to know you get a correct answer, it is just as important to know when you get an incorrect answer! How may times has a coach said (and as a former coach myself, agree with the statement) “We learned more from this loss…”. Knowing (immediately) that an answer is incorrect will weaken and effectively ‘kill’ incorrect associations in the brain.
+ Gradual Increases in Difficulty
Moving too fast in difficulty will discourage children from moving forward. A person does not learn to ski and then try a double-black diamond slope! However, never moving off basic facts will never get that child to move forward in their learning.
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