A Method to My Mad Minutes
Test anxiety seems to be the theme of the week for me. While I've been wondering how to ease my students' feelings of test anxiety on the New York State English Language Arts exam and next week's math test, I've been dealing with the same problem on a smaller, daily basis.
While I generally approach mathematics in the most inquiry-based, differentiated fashion I can, I also try to couple that with good old rote memorization. That means a daily "Mad Minute" at the start of each math lesson. The students have a minute to complete 30 math facts without skipping any. The idea is to build fluency. Once my students memorize these basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, they'll have an invaluable foundation for all their future math. Right now we're practicing multiplication.
The goal is to emphasize growth over performance. The students are supposed to focus on improvement, not competition with one another. It's supposed to be a fun, quick, and simple way to develop their fundamental math skills. Too bad several of my students are having problems with either the fun, quick, or simple part, and some students are having trouble with all three.
A couple of my students just freeze up. In spite of being given a myriad of strategies (skip counting, repeated addition...) and their ability to solve multiplication number stories, they just freeze up completely. Doesn't matter if the first fact is 3 x 2 or 6 x 0, they fail. Then there's the number of students who just copy off their neighbors. Among these students, and the rest of the class, there are the students who refuse to practice their facts at home, and so are showing zero growth.
So what's the solution? This is a proven method (Proven where? Good question.) to develop students computational fluency, but the majority of students in my class don't seem to be reaping the benefits. Should I scrap it altogether? I don't want my students moving on to fourth grade adding or subtracting using their fingers, or unable to multiply quickly. Should I get rid of the time limit? That would sort of defeat the purpose of the whole exercise.
For now, I'm trying to review multiplication strategies and to give the students some time to practice their multiplication with partners right before the test. On top of that I'm giving the students two minutes instead of one. Will these slight modifications yield results? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.