Some kids have lovely handwriting. (Actually, I’ve never really witnessed it myself in our house, but the rumors have circulated for so many years that I’m inclined to believe such children do indeed exist.) For these children, writing is a process they enjoy– the grace of the loops, the cleanness of the letters, the straightness of the lines. Writing seems to be almost calming to them. These same kids tend to take their writing skills directly into their math lessons, dutifully copying down their math problems in a neat and orderly fashion. (Feel the straight columns)

Then…there are the others – the ones I’m far more familiar with. These are the scribblers, the hurriers, the I-can’t-wait-to-go-out-and-play-ers. These kids write out math problems on a page that winds up looking as if some great tragedy hovered over the surface and rained down havoc on the computations below. The erasure marks are huge, sometimes leaving gaping wounds in the pitiable paper. The pencil didn’t just write on the page, it engraved into it, so heavy are the marks. And if there are any columns at all on those addition problems, you’d have a hard time finding them. The contentious digits in the ones place suddenly thinks they’re a member of the tens family, another number has leaned so heavily as to jump two place values and several of the hundreds places have gone missing completely.

For the last two days, we talked about what to do with a child who takes forever doing their math. But today we’re facing a problem that is almost completely the opposite. Today’s child may rush through the process so quickly that little is legible, even less is correct and nothing is learned.

What’s to be done? For some of our Sizzlers, this is a very difficult problem. It’s hard to help a child who rushes through their math in too big of hurry, or who struggles with neatness.

The goal is to get them to look at the problem purposefully. Here are a few ideas to try.

**COLOR CODED OPERATIONS** Kids sometimes rush through their work so quickly that they aren’t fully taking in all the elements of the problems they’re being asked to solve. Figure out what it is that your child often misses and create a color-coded solution If your Sizzler often thinks everything is an addition problem and doesn’t notice when a subtraction sign has been inserted, have them start ever problem by boxing in all + signs with a green marker and all – signs with a red one. This slows down how they look and forces them to make a clear distinction between operations. Once they’re into multiplication and division, choose two new colors and continue the practice. Some kids don’t read directions but instead rush off to do the problems, sometimes missing a key piece of instruction that renders everything wrong. For these kids, have them underline the instructions, reading them out loud as they do. Then have them box in the one word that is the most critical piece of that instruction. Sometimes there isn’t a clear single word that is worthy of underlining, but there is great value in having them look for one and choosing the most likely candidate. It forces them to read for content.

**CHECKING AT EVERY TURN** When my youngest was learning long division, she often forgot the steps involved. Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring Down. For a time we set up a small white board in front of her. We put letters on the board to represent the steps involved– D (for Divide), M (for Multiply), S (for subtract) and BD (for Bring Down). As she worked through a long division problem, she would cross out a step that had been completed. After she finished the problem, we checked it together and then put a new set of letters on the board for the next problem.

Later, she was able to just write a D,M,S, BD right on her paper next to the problem she was working on. Eventually, she didn’t need the reminder at all.

**SAYING IT OUT LOUD** By having your child read the instructions and the problems out loud, their brain is required to engage more thoroughly and focus on the problem in front of them. Teach them how to narrate their work at an early age. It’s a tool that is useful useful pretty much forever.

It might go like this. I am beginning a math problem. The directions are “Add together the fractions to find the correct answer.” 1 2/3 plus 2 5/7 = what? First I’ll add my whole numbers. 1 + 2 is . . .3. But I still have these two fractions left to deal with. 2/3 plus 5/7. I’m going to have to make the denominators the same for this to work. So I need a number that 3 and 7 can both go into evenly.

You get the idea. It’s hard to skip steps when you are speaking them out loud. The added benefit is, if you are listening, you may finally understand just why they’ve been misunderstanding common denominators or whatever else they’ve been getting stuck on.

**WHITE BOARD STRIKES AGAIN** The white board seems to come in handy quite a bit. In this case, having your student write down the problem that you tell them verbally will require that they pay attention to its components in a way they would not have if simply viewed in their workbook.

**HANDLING NUMBERS** Give your child some numbers and operation signs they can literally handle. You can even make a simple set out of 3×5 cards. Now instruct your child to set up the math problem first with these basic math manipulatives. It’s a simple step, but it forces them to slow down and actually SEE the problem before they begin to solve it. In our house, we even did this for algebra. Out of heavy paper, I created numbers, parenthesis, addition/subtraction/multiplication & division signs, as well as a little box that stood for “N” (as in the unknown number. . .remember? Solve for “N”?) It worked just as well at this level of math as it did for basic addition.

**THE STUDENT TEACHES THE TEACHER** Some kids are just dying to be in charge. They’d love to be the teacher, even if only temporarily. So let them. Have them explain a section to you as though you are just learning. Tell them you’ll follow their directions, but. . .promise them that at some point you will make a mistake. It’s their job to catch it.

**PROVIDE BOUNDARIES** If your child has a hard time keeping their columns straight, the answer may be as simple as a piece of ruled writing paper turned sideways. The faint blue lines provide just enough of a visual guide to keep some order in their columns. This gives your child linear guides and may be all they need. But if a stronger set of boundaries is needed, get some graph paper. Here the structure is maintained up and down the columns AND across the rows. It’s hard to mess up with such clear boxed in areas. Graph paper can be obtained in various sizes, so make sure you select one that is appropriate for your child’s educational level. In other words, those tight little boxes found high school graph paper would require too much fine motor skill to be used comfortably by your kindergartner. Get bigger boxes.

**AN ERROR’S LOG** My husband studied some pretty advanced mathematics in college and found it useful to create an error’s log. When he made a mistake, he wrote it down in a small notebook. He gave it a heading so that he could easily find it again. For example, perhaps Missed Step in Quadrilateral Equations. Then he’d briefly note the error. When he next worked on similar problems, he would first look through his log to remind him of his most common mistakes in the past. This was a simple reminder that often alleviated a repeat performance of those errors in his next efforts.

I still feel the title. . .”Error’s Log” is not only rather dull and perfunctory, but a tad negative as well. Keeping documentation of all my mistakes is uncomfortable on the face of it. You might want to give your log a more playful name. If it’s going to be a book of things we’ve found but want to avoid next time, how about. . .

- Snakes in the Grass
- Land Mines Locators
- Pothole Mapping

That’s it for today. We hope you found something new to try. AND. . .as always, we hope you’ll share YOUR ideas with us so we can share them with all of Sizzle Bop. Do you have a great way to motivate your Sizzler through his math lesson? If so, this is the week to share. Let us know.

November 21, 2012 at 12:08 am |

Really enjoying Math-In-Motion Mondays–I look forward to reading each one when it comes! My son is a perfect example of this week–he whips through a math assignment, but skips steps on the way. He’ll love the Student Teaches the Teacher especially. Thanks for the ideas!