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TheAttachedMama

Math Assignments: Is this normal?

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My 5th grader (11) and my 4th grader (9) are both using Singapore 5A for math.  (Just the normal workbook.   Not the IP or CWP.)


 


Daily, they miss more than half of their problems on their math workbook assignments.    I am wondering if this is normal?   If not, what can I do to correct it?


always grade their math right away and have them fix any problems they miss.   And they typically can always fix them.  (Sometimes it takes a few attempts.)


 


 


Additional Information:


  • They understand the math.   They are just making mistakes.  (Example:   Subtracting incorrectly.   Forgetting to add the digits that they carried when multiplying.   Writing too sloppy.  Etc. etc. )
  • This is not a new problem.   This has been ongoing for years.  Looking back on their past workbooks, they are missing more than half the problems each day for YEARS.   (And then then they go back and fix until 100%.)
  • My fear is that I have done something inadvertently to cause (or allow) careless work in math.   If they are both doing the same thing, that probably means it is an instructional problem....right?   Where did I go wrong, and what can I do at this point considering we might have some deeply ingrained bad math habits.   :)
  • I don't think the problem is specific to Singapore math.   I've tried giving them worksheets from math mammoth, and the same thing happens.   
  • They even do the same thing with easier problems.   For example, I even had them go back and complete the 4th grade math mammoth review workbook just to try and get them used to not being careless with easier problems.   Daily, they still missed about half the problems and would do their math assignments twice.

My concerns:


  • Wasted instructional time:  Today, for example, my 11 year old spent about 60 minutes to do 8 long division problems (with remainder).   He got 3 of them correct.   My 9 year old got 4 of them correct.    That is less than 50%.   So we graded the page and I had them fix the incorrect problems.   They spent about another 45 mins fixing the math problems.   Because they are getting so many incorrect, they essentially have to do their math assignments twice every day.   That makes for a LOOOOOONG day for them.    (And I am only assigning 8 problems!)    I was hoping that fixing their math everyday and redoing it would eventually teach them to be careful and try their best the fist time, but that doesn't seem to be working.  (After years of trying this same approach, I think I need to try something new.)    In the past my theory has been that they just need more practice.   So I have assigned them more problems of the same type.  But the same thing just keeps happening day after day after day.
  • Future math classes:  Someday, they might need to take an outside class for math.   I am worried that poor math habits will effect their grade.   Imagine if they get a 40% on every homework assignment?

 


Any other ideas on things I can do?   


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If you think it is sloppiness, you might tell them that if they get more than 2 problems wrong, you won't mark the problems right/wrong but require them to find which ones are wrong by checking their work. This imposes a time penalty on sloppiness, making rushing less appealing. Most neurotypical kids will then learn to use that time at the beginning (careful work) instead of at the end.

 

And, no, this is not at all normal and not at all my experience. However, I am willing to change curricula what I realize that it is not a good fit for the child.

 

I need to teach math now, :-), but I dealt with a foot-dragger for a while and she's made huge progress. I can write about what worked for us this afternoon.

 

Emily

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No this is not necessarily about instruction.  If they have been missing over half for years I would want to dig in deeper right now and determine what is happening.

 

Is there any chance they have developmental vision issues that make it harder to spot these things while they are "thinking" about the math?  A child can have perfect visual acuity and still have developmental vision issues.  If they are focused on the concept and just "doing" the math and their vision is wonky developmentally they may not be getting the visual cues that indicate signs are wrong or numbers are not lined up correctly or whatever else may be causing the errors.

 

Ideas:

  • I would pull out a dry erase board and have them work a few problems in front of you, with you sitting right there.  Have them VERBALLY walk through what they are doing.  If they can explain and show their work correctly regarding several problems that they got wrong in their workbooks then you are probably right, comprehension may not be the issue at all.
  • I would copy some problems onto quad paper and have them work through the problems with you sitting right there.  Watch them.  See if having the quad paper helps them line things up correctly.  Then have them double check signs/etc. BEFORE you check the work.
  • I would create a type written check list of things they need to double check with each problem.  Type it in pretty big font, with a logical flow for what to look for.  Practice using that check list WITH them.  Do it together with 4-5 problems daily until it becomes more automatic.

If those things don't fix the issue then dig deeper.  Maybe consider backing up some and seeing if there really are some conceptual gaps that they are lagging in.  And get a vision evaluation through a reputable developmental optometrist to rule out developmental vision issues.

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Instead of having them waste your instructional time, let them waste their free time correcting their work. If they ever took an outside class, they wouldn't be correcting their work on the teacher's time, they would have to correct it on their own time.

 

Schedule math time just before a break or at the end of the day or just save corrections for the end of the day. That way it's not your time they are wasting, it is their time. Of course, this assumes they understood the work and are just making silly or sloppy mistakes.

 

Alternatively, you could make a chart where if they get, say 90% or better, on their math the first time, they get to add a star to the chart. A week's worth of stars gets them some kind of privilege like extra screen time or later bedtime on the weekend for that weekend or something like that.

 

My kids all went through a phase like that of just trying to get it done and not get it right. For some of them, making them use their free time to fix the work did the trick. For others, rewarding careful work in some small way worked better. It all just depended on the kid in question and what was most motivating to them.

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I second quad paper and working on a dry erase board.

 

I would also have them check in with you after every problem done. So if you assign 8 have them do one and come check in. If there is a mistake have them verbally troubleshoot the mistake with you and then correct. Do this for each problem. It is going to take a bunch of time at first but in the long run it will break the habit. Once they are getting the first problem correct all of the time then let them do 2 problems before checking in and working through them. Gradually build. This forces them to stop and be careful with their work and it will eventually become a habit.

 

You could also bring in manipulatives and make them solve 25% of their problems with manipulatives first. This is another way to force slow down and careful work.

Edited by nixpix5
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One of mine did this. He could talk about inside out and backwards and flop the work. He struggled with math for years and used a tutor to get through high school. I'd say he's an atypical math student.

 

If one of my otherwise more typical math students (without LDs) were doing this, I'd switch to whiteboards and make them discuss it orally as they went for every. blasted. problem. It will take a lot of time.  Either they'll get retrained properly through this process or (depending on personality) they'll get so annoyed with me they'll be determined to pay more attention. If there's marked improvement you could switch to doing just a few of the new concepts on boards regularly.

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My oldest DD was very prone to making careless mistakes. Sometimes I offer incentive: if you have 8 problems, maybe they do 1-3 and if those are correct (or worked carefully and neatly), skip #4. Repeat for 5-7 and skip #8.

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Yes it is normal around here.  I find that what helps is to have my son check his answers with me as he does them rather than waiting until the end.  That way mistakes aren't carried through the problem set.

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Since this has been going on for years, it won't change overnight.  My recommendation would be to change the way you do math.  Instead of having them do their work, then you going over it, and then having them correct it with you, I would just sit right with them from the get-go, watching them as do they each step of each problem.  The minute they made the simplest mistake, stop them and have them correct it.  You'll actually save yourself time, as you won't have any correcting to do when they're done and you won't have to monitor them correcting their work.  As a bonus, this will help them catch their mistakes much earlier and will help math be a more pleasant experience.

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Since this has been going on for years, it won't change overnight. My recommendation would be to change the way you do math. Instead of having them do their work, then you going over it, and then having them correct it with you, I would just sit right with them from the get-go, watching them as do they each step of each problem. The minute they made the simplest mistake, stop them and have them correct it. You'll actually save yourself time, as you won't have any correcting to do when they're done and you won't have to monitor them correcting their work. As a bonus, this will help them catch their mistakes much earlier and will help math be a more pleasant experience.

Agreed.

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Definitely correct as you go, but also, don't accept any work that isn't checked on paper.  If they are doing long division, next to every problem they need to either show check numbers or work it out in reverse, doing the multiplication and addition.  They need to be responsible for proving that their answers are right.

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Question - why did it take your 11 year old 60 minutes to do 8 problems in the first place?

 

I think getting 50% incorrect is unusual and worrisome, but I think taking that long to do so little work, even if they got them all correct in the end, is even more troubling.

 

Is it boredom?  Distraction?  Working memory issues?  Lack of fluency with the algorithm?  Weak handwriting?

 

Could he be feeling discouraged because it feels like math just drags on and on?  I know I would feel that way if I was routinely spending almost 2 hours a day on math.  Maybe to promote more accuracy and less dawdling you could structure his assignments as challenges he needs to meet.  For example, maybe he can stop doing problems as soon as he completes four absolutely correctly in 10 minutes.  Then you could have a list of fun math activities he could do for 20 minutes and he would be done with math for the day.

 

Wendy

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I wrote this up for someone else, seems to fit your situation:


 


Careless/inattentive errors in math can be remediated.  As a math tutor I do this with most students.  What you have to do is classify and track the errors.  Nagging a kid won't help, nor will poor grades.  You have to have the conversation that algebra requires an error rate of close to 1 in 1000, and that different people miss different things.  I for example muck up squares -- I seem to simply forget to square numbers.  So what I do is when there is a square, I write "sq" in the margin when I see it so that I am more aware of it, and I check my margins every minute to make sure I am seeing what I know I typically miss.  You need to highlight in this first conversation that this will be a lifelong effort, and that it is normal.  


 


So the process:


 


1) After the setup conversation, on the first day when you see an error, you classify it.  Is it negatives, fractions, forgetting to do the same thing to both sides etc? Then you make a tally chart somewhere, and write down the type of error you see.  As you do math over the week, you classify and track what you see.


 


2) You help the kid decide *how* they will make sure not to make that kind of error again.  It can be using the margins for a brief note like I do, it can be highlighting, it can be circling in red pen.  Doesn't matter, but the kid has to *do* something to fix that specific problem.  


 


3) You then track the error types on a daily basis with the goal of reducing different types of errors.  You will find some are more persistent than others, and with those you may need to utilize extra checking techniques.  You can even make a graph of the number of careless errors you make in a day, and watch it go down. This is very motivating.


 


I have always seen improvement with this approach.  But remember it is about ownership, and pleasure in improvement -- not nagging and worry and negative reinforcement.


 


Good Luck,


 


Ruth in NZ


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I'm curious what they each have to say about it-- have you asked each kid (separately! if they're like mine at least) what's up with all the errors? I also think they are demonstrating that they do need you at their elbows. Sometimes just a supportive presence leads to greater diligence.

 

I love a lot of the ideas above, but since we don't know your kids, ultimately it's hard to know what's going on. I'd just avoid bringing up the "going on for years", and maybe pick one week to go back and look at the number of wrong answers (and track amount of time spent) each day.

 

I do know one thing happens in my home, which is that because I can see how much my children understand conceptually, and because I loathe drill, sometimes it is hard for me to require the amount of practice that can prevent a lot of careless mistakes. Sometimes I can prefer to choose the "they're making mistakes because they're bored and this is too easy for them" explanation to the "this may be conceptually easy for them, but they still need to solidify their calculation skills so that can become more automatic even when it's easy". (Because, honestly, solidifying calculation skills is not all that mentally stimulating for any of us, and can feel like treading water, and we like progress! around here.)

 

But that's us and so it's just speculation. I mean, your kids might tell you it really is too boring for them and ask for you to give them something really challenging, and then get every single tiny detail right. They might say that love spending extra time on math every day and corrections are fun for them! Or they are hopeless about even catching their mistakes so they don't even try. Or they're struggling. Or they don't care, at all, and need some kind of incentive.

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I'm curious what they each have to say about it-- have you asked each kid (separately! if they're like mine at least) what's up with all the errors? I also think they are demonstrating that they do need you at their elbows. Sometimes just a supportive presence leads to greater diligence.

 

I love a lot of the ideas above, but since we don't know your kids, ultimately it's hard to know what's going on. I'd just avoid bringing up the "going on for years", and maybe pick one week to go back and look at the number of wrong answers (and track amount of time spent) each day.

 

I do know one thing happens in my home, which is that because I can see how much my children understand conceptually, and because I loathe drill, sometimes it is hard for me to require the amount of practice that can prevent a lot of careless mistakes. Sometimes I can prefer to choose the "they're making mistakes because they're bored and this is too easy for them" explanation to the "this may be conceptually easy for them, but they still need to solidify their calculation skills so that can become more automatic even when it's easy". (Because, honestly, solidifying calculation skills is not all that mentally stimulating for any of us, and can feel like treading water, and we like progress! around here.)

 

But that's us and so it's just speculation. I mean, your kids might tell you it really is too boring for them and ask for you to give them something really challenging, and then get every single tiny detail right. They might say that love spending extra time on math every day and corrections are fun for them! Or they are hopeless about even catching their mistakes so they don't even try. Or they're struggling. Or they don't care, at all, and need some kind of incentive.

I asked both and they both said, "I dunno".   (Not helpful at all.)

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Question - why did it take your 11 year old 60 minutes to do 8 problems in the first place?

 

I think getting 50% incorrect is unusual and worrisome, but I think taking that long to do so little work, even if they got them all correct in the end, is even more troubling.

 

Is it boredom?  Distraction?  Working memory issues?  Lack of fluency with the algorithm?  Weak handwriting?

 

Could he be feeling discouraged because it feels like math just drags on and on?  I know I would feel that way if I was routinely spending almost 2 hours a day on math.  Maybe to promote more accuracy and less dawdling you could structure his assignments as challenges he needs to meet.  For example, maybe he can stop doing problems as soon as he completes four absolutely correctly in 10 minutes.  Then you could have a list of fun math activities he could do for 20 minutes and he would be done with math for the day.

 

Wendy

 

My kids are SOOOO distractible.   That is the main issue.   Isolating them in a room with no distraction helps, but then they get lonely.   (They even get distracted when I am working "at elbow" as other suggest.  They keep trying to chat with me about things and I have to constantly redirect them.)

 

It takes them a lot longer than most kids to do all work.

 

I like your idea, but I am not sure if 4 problems would be enough practice for them.   

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My kids are SOOOO distractible.   That is the main issue.   Isolating them in a room with no distraction helps, but then they get lonely.   (They even get distracted when I am working "at elbow" as other suggest.  They keep trying to chat with me about things and I have to constantly redirect them.)

 

It takes them a lot longer than most kids to do all work.

 

I like your idea, but I am not sure if 4 problems would be enough practice for them.   

 

Well, they would only be stopping at four problems if they got them all correct.  If they struggled, then they would have to do another set.

 

Then I would do four the next day, and the next day, and every day until that type of problem came effortlessly to them.

 

To my way of thinking, that type of math is a necessary evil.  It isn't fun or interesting or challenging in a good way.  Algorithms must be mastered (AFTER 100% for sure the student fully understands the operation conceptually), but I try to avoid having whole lessons that are nothing but slogging through an algorithm.  I mix and match resources so that on any given day each student is doing something conceptual, something logic-y, something to drill facts or an algorithm, and something that relates math to real life.

 

Wendy

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Assign half the problems or even one third. Go through to make sure you have every type of problem selected and not just the easy ones. Let them know what you are doing ahead of time... Let them do the work. For each one they get wrong, they have to do a different problem of the same type, explaining each step to you as you do it. Once they are used to it, they have to do two problems of that type. It makes careless errors a lot more work than getting it right.

 

Also, I have explained to my kids that in real life, math mistakes can have dire consequences, and that maybe they haven't realized it because they have the mindset that they can just simply fix it if someone else spots the mistake. My kids have watched a documentary on the "Gimli Glider", an Air Canada plane that had to make a dangerous emergency landing in the 80's because it ran out of fuel about half way to its destination because of unit conversion and other math errors. There are lots of examples... bridges that have fallen. A library collapsed because the engineers didn't account for the weight of books, etc.

 

Sent from my SM-T530NU using Tapatalk

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My kids are SOOOO distractible.   That is the main issue.   Isolating them in a room with no distraction helps, but then they get lonely.   (They even get distracted when I am working "at elbow" as other suggest.  They keep trying to chat with me about things and I have to constantly redirect them.)

 

It takes them a lot longer than most kids to do all work.

 

I like your idea, but I am not sure if 4 problems would be enough practice for them.   

 

Oh, yay! So this doesn't sound like a math problem to me, actually. (As someone whose two daughters are very, very chatty.)

 

I found I had to tell them straight out that during math practice (and other kinds of written work), we are not just working on the skill on the piece of paper in front of them. We are working on strengthening their executive functions. And I actually gave them a list of executive functions and we worked together to identify the skills we're addressing when we do pencil-and-paper practice.

 

For them, a math worksheet might be relatively easy, but their capability for inhibition-- to inhibit thoughts not related to the work, or vocalizing these thoughts-- might be low.

 

So I'd actually just address this first and see if the math issues go away. I have a bunch of sand timers for 1, 3, 5, 10, and 15 minutes, because the visual helps us, but other timers would probably work just as well. While it's fairly common to use timers to keep kids on task, I think it's important to be clear that right now they are working on their executive skills, and you are not going to be penalizing them or rewarding them for the math they do, but rather for how well they stay attentive, focused, and on task.

 

When I'm sitting next to my kids, I find it helpful to actually be working on some kind of math of my own. When our timers run out, we stand up and stretch and don't chat but do something that refocuses us before resetting the timer. (My kids hate breathing exercises, but I find breathing exercises are helpful, so I try to come up with sneaky ways to breathe-- seeing who can blow a pencil off the table, or exhaling on the window and drawing pictures.)

 

I'm sure you've done stuff like this in the past, but I think it's important to reiterate that you can't learn focused attention by spending hours daily on math. The consequence for not being able to focus can't involve longer amounts of time spent on something-- you have to go back and start really, really small and let your kids know that's all there's going to be. And stick to it. FWIW, I've found most estimates of how much math kids should be doing at certain ages are probably for kids who are unfocused and getting distracted and who need constant parental reminders instead of learning to self-regulate themselves.

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For my kid that did this, understood the math but was careless when doing it, I would assign half the page and then for every problem he got wrong he not only had to fix it he also had to do an additional problem. This motivated him to get it right the first time.

 

I know Singapore doesn't have a lot of problems on a page, so only doing 4 problems may not seem like enough but at least doing 4 problems with full attention is going to teach them more? Maybe you could get the extra practice book and use that to have them do more work on the same concept the next day? That way they get more practice of the concept?

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My boys are both like this. But they both have ADHD. They *know* the material and the process, but they are messy, lose focus or make simple errors because they're distracted. Math can take hours if left to their own devices sometimes. If I sit next to them and "guide," they're fine. And by guide, I don't mean give any instruction, I mean guide to keep them on task. Literally, it's like this: "So what's the first thing that you need to do? Okay, now what? What's next? ... Now make sure you can read that; I can't tell if that's a 9 or a 4..." That can be the difference between 10 minutes to complete an assignment and two hours. I no longer do this with my oldest, and he is much better than he was, but there are still always a few silly errors every day.

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Thanks for asking the question! I deal with this as well.

 

I wanted to add that I think there is a difference in understanding the math and having the maturity to execute it correctly on paper. My students are fantastic during our class -- they pay attention, give me the correct answers, work problems out on the whiteboard and explain things back in a way that makes me think they get it. Then as soon as they start working on their assignment, it's almost as if their brains melt away. It truly is a wonder.

 

We also have our fair share of surface issues -- sloppy handwriting (more like resistance to handwriting), distractions, aversion to doing hard things, and general dislike of numbers and mathematics -- and I would say these things account for more than half of their errors... which means their grades are technically low but I still believe their understanding is fairly sound. So it is a balancing act between what they show they know verbally and what they write on paper.   

 

I have noticed that they always get easier math right (85% and above) more consistently on paper, which might mean that they are in over their heads right now. (But then they complain the math is boring, so go figure!) 

 

But maybe it means those surface skills need more time to develop and catch up with their math and thinking skills. Who knows -- I seem to have a thousand theories on what's going on at any given moment. Some days I am convinced we are doing it all wrong; other days I think we are miles ahead. 

 

Either way, I think my next move (along with implementing many of the ideas presented here) is to put our current book aside and pick up the prior year's book instead (same author / format). I want to focus on them getting the right answers more consistently and cleaning up all those surface problems. My thinking is that easier math = less pressure and increased ability to focus on the details. I am also hoping for increased confidence, which should lead to being able to move faster on down the line.

 

Anyway, good luck to you guys; let us know how it all works out. 

 
 
Edited by dori123

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Yes it is normal around here.  I find that what helps is to have my son check his answers with me as he does them rather than waiting until the end.  That way mistakes aren't carried through the problem set.

 

I don't think those kinds of mistakes sound like sloppiness. It seems more like the child wasn't understanding the lesson if correcting as you go fixes those mistakes throughout the rest of the lesson. 

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I don't think those kinds of mistakes sound like sloppiness. It seems more like the child wasn't understanding the lesson if correcting as you go fixes those mistakes throughout the rest of the lesson. 

 

Frequently "sloppiness" is actually a sign of working memory overload caused by learning something new.  And it can carry over to when the student is doing "review" problems that have nothing to do with the new thing.

 

Also, when you check the work as they go, even if it is due to simple sloppiness, it can serve as a reminder to tighten things up early on rather than waiting until the end.

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My kids are SOOOO distractible. That is the main issue. Isolating them in a room with no distraction helps, but then they get lonely. (They even get distracted when I am working "at elbow" as other suggest. They keep trying to chat with me about things and I have to constantly redirect them.)

 

It takes them a lot longer than most kids to do all work.

 

I like your idea, but I am not sure if 4 problems would be enough practice for them.

Distractability leads to many errors, you forget where you were and what you were doing so it’s very easy to skip steps. You miss read a number because you wrote it 5 mins ago before you were distracted and it was alittle too messy.

 

So maybe the focus should be to develop attention span and focus?

 

 

 

 

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