There was a question on the most recent Math test that really annoyed me. We have been working on story problems and I do like the emphasis on problem solving this offers. It’s important to help kids learn skills to figure things out. We have been using drawing and charting strategies to answer the question “What’s the situation?” then we’ve been asking ourselves what a “reasonable answer” might look like. Will the answer be bigger or smaller than this number? How do you know? A big pink sign hangs at the front of the classroom reminding students that “We are problem solvers!” and I’ve been trying to instill in them the belief that they can figure out a problem, even if it takes a few tries.
But, this question was annoying. The circumstances of the story problem were not familiar enough. The wording was convoluted and required a grasp of the language that the majority of my students do not yet have; that, I’d argue, the majority of second graders do not have. Knowing the question was there, I tried to frame some similar questions for our practice together. We applied our strategies – drew pictures, labeled the beginning, middle and end, and wrote an equation to help us find the answer. When we walked through it together, they did OK, but if I gave them a problem to struggle with on their own, less than a handful were able to get it. I was banging my head against the wall. So were the other members of my teaching team.
Then, in an unrelated project of looking back through some papers in preparation for a meeting, I found my answer. Why didn’t they get it? Because they’re second graders.
I’m all for high standards. I fully believe in helping our kids become critical thinkers who can tackle tough problems. But I also believe that timing is a factor. Let’s give the kids the gift of time for their brains to develop. Let’s stop asking 2nd graders to act like 4th graders. Let’s recognize that they are kids.