Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.
Students do better in school when they know their basic facts to an automatic level. If your child has to first figure out the basic information, then that information is what occupies her working memory. For example, if asked to write an academic paragraph about owning a pet, she should be thinking about the responsibilities of pet ownership. If she is instead thinking about how to write an academic paragraph, then her efforts go into creating the correct structure instead of making the paragraph interesting.
This helps us to understand why algebra students who drill five minutes at the beginning of each period on basic math facts do better in algebra. They can use their working memory for figuring out how to solve the algebra problem instead of trying to remember what seven times eight is or what the factors of 81 might be.
There is so much material to teach in each course that teachers often do not have the time to do drill and practice of basic information. This applies in all subjects. There is a tremendous amount of vocabulary to learn in science, dates and places in history, and rules of grammar and punctuation in writing. Whatever the subject, there is a body of knowledge that is considered “basic.” Without this basic information, higher-level thinking becomes too difficult to manage. (This can also apply to skills like handwriting, keyboarding, and reading.)
Parents can be great helpers with this task. My husband tells the story about how hard it was for him to learn his multiplication facts when he was in elementary school. He said that he would sit on a stool in the kitchen while his mother made dinner each night. She would call out the facts to him over and over again until he knew them. You might think that this would be torture to a child, but my husband remembers this time as being very special. He knew that his mother had a lot to do when she got home from work, yet she spent this time helping him be better prepared for school.
Students can learn strategies to do independently, as well. A previous blog shows how to use pictures to help learn vocabulary and this printable vocabulary chart tool can be adapted for most any drill and practice activity.