I’ve been doing division for so long (as in “The chickens laid 20 eggs yesterday. There are nine of us. If we eat eggs for breakfast this morning, how many eggs can we each have?), that I’ve forgotten how many steps go into learning the division process on paper. But I’ve got a fourth-grader who has recently reminded me how difficult it is. This child has an extremely hard time staying on task, so a multi-step math problem is very difficult for her.
To help my struggling mathematician, I sat next to her as she worked her problems. She would do a step and then be completely lost as to what to do next. We repeated this over and over again and weren’t making any progress. She was completely reliant on me as to what to do next. One of my principles in homeschooling is to teach my children how to figure things out for themselves. I love being their teacher, but the truth is I am not always available when they need help, and I never will be. I try my hardest to prevent them from using that as an excuse to waste time. So, I wrote the division steps out for her on a piece of paper and had her use that. At first, she was still lost. She knew how to do each step, but she could not organize the information in her brain. So I used the principle of training to address this issue. I continued to sit next to her, but now when she got stuck, I would say, “Okay, now what is step __. She would look up at the step I had written and she would say it out loud and then do the step on paper. Soon she was able to do two steps at a time before needing help. Then when she got stuck I would ask her which step she just did. She would read the step number and the step. Then I would say, “So, now you need to do step what?” She would say the number of the step, read the step and then do it.” Now she is able to sit down and do her division with her book, her steps and a pencil. I’m available when needed, but I’m not needed often for division any more.
Click for a PDF of the Division Steps.
The trick to this is to offer full support and then gradually back off and replace your presence with visual helps. In the end, the child will have repeated the steps so many times that the process has lodged itself in their long-term memory and they will no longer need the support of the written steps.
If you think about it, this is the way we learn how to do new things even as adults. Read the manual, look at the steps, do the process a few times, and then file the manual in the back of the file cabinet never to be used again.
By the way, the Bible is a mighty good manual too when you’re stuck on what to do next. Just do me a favor – don’t ever file it in the back of the filing cabinet – if you think you’ve got it all figured out, go back to Page 1 and try again. 🙂
Until next time . . .