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Unlocking Success: Tackling Elementary Math Challenges


A student doing homework on a laptop.

Elementary math challenges are common, impacting students' foundational skills. Research highlights gaps in foundational skills, hindering overall math success. Over the past few years that I've been teaching and tutoring, I've noticed that students who have math challenges, usually have a hard time understanding basic operations, inability to read and solve word problems, and have slow math fact fluency performance.


Challenges and Solutions

  1. Basic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division pose a huge problem with students I typically teach. This is especially true when students have to solve math problems with multi-digit numbers. Granted, I work primarily with students needing assistance with addition and subtraction in math, but I would assume the same types of issues occur with multiplication and division. I usually see students who either solve using the wrong operation (adding instead of subtracting) or do not understand how to regroup and/or borrow (a common error is subtracting from the bottom number instead of the top when using the stacking method). When students are struggling with basic math operations, early intervention is key! It is advised to conduct regular assessments to track progress and to adjust strategies if needed. I love the direct instruction teaching methods when it comes to basic math operations. Not only does it teach students the ins and outs of math, but it focuses on helping students retain the information. The lessons are tailored to repeat content over and over again to pull information into long-term memory. Do you see how this is so beneficial to students who have processing delays or identified math learning disabiliteis? I've used di-content with my students and I've personally witnessed the amazing progress yielded. One direct instruction math program that I highly recommend for elementary-aged students is Funnix. I've used it, I am a consultant for the program (that's how much I love it), and it's affordable for homeschool moms, tutors, and teachers. Be sure to check it out!

  2. Solving math word problems was tricky for me to do when I was in elementary school. I had a hard time visualizing what was going on so I couldn't figure out which math operation to use for solving. I see this same type of challenge in the students I teach. (Before getting deeper into some tips and tricks for solving word problems, students have to know how to read the text. If students are struggling with reading the words within math word problems, then it isn't fair to expect them to be able to solve them. Reading intervention and accommodations are needed to help students who struggle to read because they may not have a comprehension problem, but a decoding one). Finding keywords in math word problems may help students learn which operation to use before solving.

  3. I envy those who were taught addition and subtraction math fact fluency without having to use their fingers! I didn't even know there was another way to learn math fact fluency until I started teaching direct instruction math. I vividly remember taking multiplication and division math fact fluency drills starting in the third grade, but we didn't have the same expectations for addition and subtraction math fact fluency. To this day, I still catch myself counting on my fingers sometimes when adding or subtracting! Now don't get me wrong, if this method works for a student and they can solve math problems correctly without frustration, then by all means add this method to your toolbelt! However, I have personally found students make so many errors when counting on their fingers because they haven't committed their facts to memory. I don't usually recommend drill and practice, but when it comes to math fact fluency, I highly recommend it! Repetition, repetition, repetition! The more practice students have with math fact fluency, the fewer errors they will make when they solve problems. One free website I like to use to generate math fact fluency drill worksheets is Worksheetworks. This website is amazing! I love using the basic math facts tab to generate worksheets to use for students who need additional help with math fact fluency. It's easy to use and there is no prep work! You can even limit the problems to the facts you want the student to work on!


Well, I hope these few methods and resources help your student improve in math. Remember, by recognizing and addressing math challenges early on, students can build a solid foundation in math. These tips and resources if used can help pave the way for academic success and a lifelong love for mathematics as students gain confidence in their abilities!


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