Does practice really make perfect?
Practice makes perfect only if you practice beyond the point of perfection. And I love that because that's the title of a wonderful article I saw by my favorite cognitive scientist, Daniel T. Willingham. Willingham says, practice makes perfect, but only if you practice beyond the point of perfection. How will your children know the four foundational tables that will set them up for arithmetic and quantitative reasoning? The answer is practice beyond the point of perfection.
That sounds really tough, doesn't it? I hear parents say, "Oh, you know, they work so hard. And there's so much homework, you know." Let me talk about why it's so important to know the tables with automaticity or automatically. And then I'll talk about how you get there. Okay. Why is it so important for children to know their tables with this type of automaticity? Why is it so important by the end of third grade for them to know their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables without blinking? Because when children are learning to do problems in math, or thinking mathematically, they can't do two things at one time: they can't struggle with arithmetic and reasoning at the same time. Their minds need to be freed up to reason, but that is only possible if they already know arithmetical operations unconsciously.
Let's put it this way: If your children are reading a sentence, and they're trying to sound out the words or trying to figure out what the words mean, or they're trying to pronounce the words, how effective do you think that reading comprehension is going to be? Not effective because instead of trying to understand what the text is saying, they're still trying to figure out how to say the words and what the words mean. And so that lack of fluency, of phonetic fluency of knowing how words should sound becomes a barrier to comprehension because you can't read a sentence and understand it if you're still struggling with how to pronounce the words and what the words mean. So your brain is trying to do too many things at one time. This is why our children struggle with math and reading.
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Rev. Vieira is a former high school master teacher, and the founder and president of ScholarSkills Learning Center.