We We’ve all heard it before, when it comes to understanding maths, “repetition is key!”. But… is this really the ‘key’ or is there more to improving maths fluency, particularly with primary school aged students?
Fluency in maths works through purposeful practise and not just repetition. It is about understanding mathematical concepts (not just repeating them). Fluency is needed so that a student reaches a level of confidence in completing mathematical processes. This will mean they know what to do and how to do it, without hesitation.
Fluency is the first stage of developing student’s mathematical understanding. It is made up of three elements:
- Efficiency– this implies that children do not get bogged down in too many steps or lose track of the logic of the strategy. An efficient strategy is one that the student can carry out easily. They will also be able to keep track of sub-problems and make use of other results to solve the overall maths problem.
- Accuracy– this depends on several aspects of the problem-solving process. These include careful recording, knowledge of number facts and other important number relationships. And also remembering to double-check results!
- Flexibility– this requires the knowledge of more than one approach to solving a particular kind of problem, such as two-digit multiplication. Students need to be flexible in order to choose an appropriate strategy for the numbers involved.
Children need to be fluent in both maths procedures and concepts. Children who engage in a lot of repetitive practice without actually fluently understanding what they are doing often end up forgetting those procedures!
Following fluency is mathematical reasoning. ‘Reasoning’ is when a student is thinking about the processes involved and can argue an approach. Children develop skills of reasoning to be able to look at a maths problem and critically analyse how best to solve it.
So, yes, repetition is a crucial element of learning new information. But, when it comes to improving fluency and reasoning in mathematics, it is important that skills being practiced are truly understood rather than just repeated. This will ensure your child builds strong maths foundations through primary school!
By David Carlton