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Friday, February 18, 2011

Two Steps Back? Or a Big Leap Forward?

The big math update.

David has always been a "do it in your head" kinda guy. He hates to write out his work when doing math. He's cool with manipulatives, but please don't ask him to show his work on paper.

I thought this was laziness. His hand-written work does tend to be as brief as he can possibly manage. This is the entirety of his summary of a book on Ferdinand Magellan:

Magellan faced a seemingly endless strait, killer natives, mutiny, starvation, and sickness. Plus, he got killed before he could get back home. Dang those evil natives! By the way Magellan's first name was Ferdinand.

That last sentence was added after I pointed out that it needed to be at least 4-5 sentences. Did I mention that he's also a smarty-pants? {smile}

And yet, he wrote a book for NaNoWriMo. And it was pretty good. He is definitely capable of producing quality written work when he's motivated. So, I tend to put down his resistance to laziness lack of motivation.

But today I discovered something that I think is at the heart of this refusal to show his work in math, and it's not pure contrariness. (Sorry, David, I owe you an apology.)

I gave David an assessment test this morning to try to get a handle on the improvements he's made over the past several weeks and was so looking forward to being able to pat him on the back and show him his hard work was paying off.

Instead I was shocked at the number of problems he got wrong. But it was clear that most of this was due to errors stemming from his insistence on doing all the work in his head and then writing the answers down.

His response to the question of "why so many mistakes?"

The other kiddos were distracting him too much.

"But it would be so much easier for you to keep track of what you're doing if you would write out your work."

"I can't figure out how to write it down."

Silence from Mama. It never even occurred to me that he didn't know how to show his work. We've been working on problems just like these for weeks. I would show him, we would do it together, then he would do some problems on his own. Writing out the steps, then lapsing into not writing out the steps but figuring it in his head and writing out the answer. I thought he felt confident enough about the problem that he just didn't want to show his work.

He knows what he needs to figure out and how to figure out, word problems are a breeze, but what finally dawned on me was that there's apparently a disconnect between reasoning out the problem and how to write it out. He can reason it out and write the answer, but the actual computations are tripping him up and causing him to stumble.

His understanding of how to work it out is absolutely correct. He can do it. In his head!

But ask him to go to the whiteboard and show me the way to do long division, for instance? He can't do it. He can't remember how to show it. And we've been over this lesson over and over and over again, several different ways. The thoughts in his head are not translating to the steps on the paper.

I thought we had hit a wall of stubbornness, but it's really just a hill we need to climb, a challenge to overcome. He's so good at doing the math in his head it was too easy to not see the real problem.

Have you ever made an assumption about your kiddos and found out later you had totally misjudged them?

This post is linked to the Carnival of Homeschooling.


  1. I always assumed that my 14 year old was lazy about his handwriting. We finally decided that he has dysgraphia, a disconnect between the brain and the hand. He really excelled once we allowed him to start typing his work. Isn't it great when we can identify our childrens' needs and address them!

  2. God bless you, dear friend, and now that the light is ON~you can show him the WAY...HUGS!! ;-)) (I relate.)

  3. I have totally btdt with misjudging. I've actually found that when my kids seem to hit a wall with a concept, it is best to just take a break for a week or two. When we come back to it, it always seems that the light comes on and they get it, as if they never struggled with the concept to begin with.

  4. Hi, first time visiting, via the carnival.

    YES. This is my third grader. I just showed my husband a page from her math workbook and how she didn't show her work. We will work on this Monday. Hurray!


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