Math fact fluency is often considered to be a quick and accurate recall of facts. However, it’s important to note that fast and accurate does not mean that a student is fluent.
Fact fluency is about much more than speed and accuracy. When a student is truly fluent, he is accurate, flexible, efficient, and uses appropriate strategies.
Let’s discuss each one of these so that we really understand what fluency means.
Accuracy means the correct answer.
Efficiency refers to a quick recall of a fact. Typically, we look for recall within 1-3 seconds; however, a recall may take longer with more advanced thinking strategies.
In my opinion, this is the most important indicator of fluency, but it is often the one that gets the least amount of attention. Flexibility means that students are comfortable thinking about a problem in more than one way and can build connections and relationships between facts. For example, a student might show flexibility if he understood that to solve 8×6, he could use 4×6 and then double it. Using the CRA Model (Concrete Representational Abstract) is essential for helping students visualize math so that they can become flexible thinkers.
APPROPRIATE STRATEGY USE
Appropriate strategy use means that the student selects a strategy that makes sense for the problem.
The tendency to see fluency ONLY as quick and accurate recall results in many of our students’ failure. It creates gaps in students’ understanding that can hinder them as they progress through school. Rather than math becoming an exploration, it becomes a monotonous, seemingly irrelevant routine of memorization.
I want to leave you with an excerpt from Jo Boaler’s Fluency Without Fear article. If you haven’t read it, please do!
Sometimes we promote the idea of fluency as only fast and accurate without even realizing it. It’s important to reflect on our teaching practices. What are we reinforcing? Do we allow students the thinking time they need to choose appropriate strategies and use them? Do we implement routines such as Number Talks that will enable our students to share and reflect on strategies? Are we allowing ample time with concrete materials so that our students have the chance to build that flexible understanding?
Let’s make sure that our students have the opportunity to explore math rather than memorize it!