June 27, 2017

Please Nix the Tricks: Grad School Edition

I am taking a grad class on students with ADHD. I'm not loving the book (Nowhere to Hide) because it's rather chatty and there aren't many strategies that I can use so I was interested to read the articles which are supposed to supplement the book. I was excited to see one specifically about math until I started reading and was appalled it studied this book of tricks! Here's what I wrote as part of my larger essay, I hope it doesn't impact my grade to express dismay!

I was dismayed to see a study on “Memorize in Minutes” included in the articles. I appreciated that the article stated up front “we were not trying to build conceptual knowledge... we were solely concerned with the act of memorization” (Mahler, 2011, p. 5). However, I think this is a poor choice of skills to prioritize. The article did address this concern as well “some have suggested that students be given calculators or multiplication charts instead of asking them to memorize the facts. However, students with insufficient working memory already have a tendency to lose track of what they are doing, forgetting one part of a task while working on another; thus it is even more important that these particular students attain automaticity with multiplication facts” (Mahler, 2011, p. 6). I will allow this as a possibility but I am far from convinced that spending time teaching stories is more effective than any other option. In fact, “needing to translate a story made his retrieval slower than if he had memorized the numerical answers” which sounds just as bad if not worse than the distraction of picking up a calculator (Mahler, 2011, p. 7). In discussing the growth from the post test to the delayed post test the author states, “it is speculated that participants were finally using the facts in their everyday classrooms, and were now engaged in the natural practice in which they previously could not participate“ (Mahler, 2011, p. 20). This ‘natural practice’ could have been occurring from the start if these students were allowed a calculator. With no control in this study there is no way to tell if the stories are more or less effective than any other intervention strategy. I believe the intervention time would have been much better spent on teaching mathematical strategies for how to calculate new facts from ones students have memorized. To practice such strategies students could play games or solve problems that included multiplication facts to get the ‘natural practice’ that was so effective. Even focusing the intervention time on practice using a calculator or reading a multiplication chart would have been much more applicable in the long term than learning stories that do not apply to any other area of mathematics.

Mahler, J. (2011). When multiplication facts won't stick: Could a language/story approach curriculum. The Education Therapist, 32(1), 5-8, 20-21. ERIC doc. no. ED527570.


  1. Either strategy -- stories or calculator -- can strongly reinforce the "math is something you try to survive" approach too many students learn.
    I suspect several hidden agendae/assumptions here. First, we don't want to address the concepts, *period,* because we might have to recognize how deep the lack of number sense is. Second is that nasty but pervasive belief by too many that, well, most people don't really understand math anyway so we're better off getting good at tricks and using calculators.
    If there were at least oh, six *pairs* of shoes so you could see 6 x 2 being twelve, we could talk...

  2. Yes! Stories that reinforce concepts would be so much better. The article did say these kids had the concept and the goal was to increase fluency. But separating fluency from concept seems flawed.