15 January 2009

Fluency as an Educational Benchmark?

"How can you tell whether someone has truly mastered a skill? What is the measurable indicator
that a person really knows how to do something? These questions should be at the heart of every teaching decision, every observation of a child’s performance, and every evaluation we make about the success of an educational program. Yet for many educators, and certainly for most parents, answers to these questions are anything but clear. Most of us have grown up in a 'percentage correct world' where 100% correct is the best anyone can do. But is perfect accuracy the definition of mastery? Or is there another dimension that makes the difference? In fact, we see many children and adults who can perform skills and demonstrate knowledge accurately enough – given unlimited time to do so. But the real difference that we see in expert performers is that they behave fluently – both accurately and quickly, without hesitation."

The above quote was copied from this link that jh gave me on Lefty's blog in the comments section. I'd link to jh, but s/he hasn't enabled profile access. We were discussing the difference between Singapore and Everyday Mathematics. It so happens that I use both in our homeschool. I find EM much easier to teach, but not as rigorous. EM is more geared toward a large classroom and "group" work, which I usually skip.

I'm not above being cynical of the link, as I noticed some of the products listed at the bottom of the report juuuust so happen to seem to financially benefit at least one of the writers in some way. Then again, how often does someone truly BELIEVE in something, and then go develop the product they want to fit that perceived need? So, that fact alone wouldn't make me totally discount the idea that fluency, not accuracy, is a more reliable indicator of academic achievement.

If that's so, I'll have quite the difficulty teaching Emperor math in a few years alongside his brother. He is already two and a half grade levels ahead at the age of seven. I can't imagine that it would be right to let him go on just because he has demonstrated "fluency" in his subject matter. (No college would accept Mr. Jumpy at age 14, I'm thinking...) He keeps writing down answers - correct ones! - with no work shown. Meanwhile, the same work will take Elf two hours and I'll catch him counting on his fingers and asking questions of the "peanut gallery" nearby. I've recently noticed that Emperor can "scratch" with two fingers right at the moment I ask Elf a question with an answer of two. Or Emperor has neatly tucked his thumb under his chin when the answer is "four" and Elf looks over. Or, more commonly he "just can't help" yelling out the answer. It's just too tempting.

I'm solving this by sending Emperor upstairs with his GameBoy when I need Elfie math time. Poor Elf. Right now, he's finally finished with his math and he gets to colour and use his GameBoy as well. All is right with the world.


  1. I think GameBoy counts as math if it's Tetris...spatial reasoning skills and all.


  2. hey there! just stopping by to visit... boy, you have some deep thoughts shared here today :O).... I like that :O)

    especially about the RIGHTS of a CHILD.... thanks for sharing your heart and mind. I care about things like this too, but I am just not the gal who can easily wrap her mind around things like this and especially to put them in words. Although.... the biggest thing that still pops in my head as I read that post of yours is that you are against abortion.... funny, I just wrote about that (abortion / adoption) earlier today at my personal blog.

    blessing, In Him, Deanna

  3. Fluency is certainly a goal for those topics which we will interact with on a daily basis for the rest of our lives. But for other subjects, I think there is benefit to simply learning them and letting that shape who we are and how we think about the world.

    I don't like percentages/grades, I can't master everything, so I strive for learning to which I add to regularly.


  4. But tests are so much easier to grade.

    When it comes to reading, I push fluency by talking about the difference between reading words and reading a story. I think they get it.

    As for math, some of my fourth graders can't add single digit numbers, even with fingers. I'm trying to get them to memorize their facts at home (yeah, I know, the joke's on me) so that they can concentrate on the other important things.

    I've only heard of Singapore Math. How do you like it?

  5. Everyone raves about Singapore Maths.

    I have never looked into it.

    We use Spectrum Maths. I got it primarily as it was called Spectrum (though not specifiaclly designed for those on the Spectrum)

  6. Harry, I'm going to have to do a whole post on that but the short answer is I like how the information is ordered but find it takes a long time to get through the lessons to my satisfaction. :]

  7. OH DUH I just got the joke about spectrums! I oughtta have known better LOL!!!


Non-troll comments always welcome! :)