## The Homework Doc

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I have received the following questions many times over my 50 years while teaching gifted children:

“Why does my child do so well on math testing and perform so poorly on math word problems?”

“Why can my child’s reading speed be 85 wpm, but his oral comprehension is horrible?”

“Why does my child do so well on math testing and perform so poorly on math word problems?”

This question is so timely. Today I was going over math word problems with a home schooled second and third grader. Each of them made the same mistake. The problem stated,

“Gorad counted the pets in his neighborhood. He counted 23 cats, 74 dogs, 2 birds,                and 1 guinea pig. How many pets did he count?”

Each of their answers were wrong, so I asked them to read the problem aloud. As they read it aloud, they realized, in an aha moment, that they had forgotten to add the 1 guinea pig. It wasn’t until they read it aloud that they even saw the last item, because it was on the next line of the page. This is a very common mistake, because we do not read accurately when reading silently.

The rules  for reading word problems never fail students:

1. Read the questions three times aloud or in your head three times focusing on each word. Use your finger to make sure you are reading every word. The first read is to get familiar with the  problem.

The second read is to identify the question being asked. (Many students answer a question that is not asked because they jump to conclusions. It’s their brain’s desire to keep active, so this actively can be too slow, but necessary for the brain to focus on what’s important.)

The third read is to collect and highlight the data and the key operation words needed to answer the question. Ei The words “together,” “total,” “combined” indicate the addition operation. The words “put into equal groups,” and “divided equally: are division words. “Equal groups of’ indicates multiplication and “left” is a subtraction operation word.

Using the highlighted data, perform the operations indicated by the words in the problem.

Reread the question and check to see if all data is used and the operation performed matches the words used in the question.

Place the answer in a sentence form. Using the question as a guide, take the key words and begin your sentence with those words to guarantee the correct question is answered. In the example above, the students’ answers were “Gerod counted 100 pets in his neighborhood.”

I remember a second grade student who loved reading the Harry Potter books. He would devour them. He could read most the words, but when asked about the story line he would miss it. As he was reading, he was creating his own story about what the thought was happening in the book. He missed every comprehension question, but that did not stop his enjoyment of the book.

My own granddaughter was at grade level at the time when she was in second grade. She was not equipped to read this series, but all the older children in the carpool were talking about the book, so she insisted on getting it. She is much older now and has reread the series. Her comment was, “Wow, this book is much different than when I read it in second grade.” She was reading words but not the story. This is very common. I wouldn’t stop them from the enjoyment of reading, but I would also work on passages that require they learn how to read for comprehension purposes.

Reading for pleasure and reading for comprehension are two different skills. To perform well on tests students need to focus on questions asked, not what they assume is the answer.

The following story will provide an example of what I mean:

I had spent a month working with children to answer questions with a complete sentence using the exact words in the questions to keep them focused on the question. I issued an assignment that required students to use the topic and concluding sentences and support them with at least three-four supporting details. One student approached me,  because I had marked her answer incorrect. I trained students to ask for clarification so they knew why they did not get the points on a test. This third grader stated, “I think you graded my paper wrong. I wrote a great topic sentence, offered you five supporting details, I varied my sentence starts, and I concluded the paragraph with a solid concluding sentence.”

When she returned from reading the question aloud, she said, “I didn’t answer the question asked.” I gave her the opportunity to write another paragraph that would answer the question.

To help students become better readers for testing purposes, especially for students who can devour a book in two days, I ask that they do the following before answering any question:

1. Relax and have confidence that even if you don’t think you know the answer right away, it will come by following the rest of the steps.
2. Read it aloud or in their mind at least three times. Ask the teacher if you can leave the room to read the question aloud.
3. As they read, identify words that must be understood in order to answer the question. May times students will guess what new vocabulary words are used in the question resulting is missing the question. It is perfectly okay to ask the meaning of words unless they are words that are being tested.
4. Ask the teacher for the meaning of the word, so the question makes sense.
5. Highlight the key words. These are the words that tell your pencil what to do. For instance in the question: “Name the three small items the Kwakiutl made from cedar.” Three tells how many, small indicates size, Kwakiutl indicates who, and cedar tells what from.
6. Once the key terms are highlighted, the beginning of the answer can begin by using the words. I.e. Name the three small items the Kwakiutl made from cedar.
7. Now write the sentence: The three small items the Kwakiutl made from cedar were masks, hooks, and bags.
9. If the question still is blocking the student, have them skip it and come back to it. Sometimes the answers to one question can be found in another. The brain also needs time to find the answers. It has so much information to weed through because it is always taking in information that could be a future answer without us even realizing it. I have often been known to say, “I don’t know where that answer came from, but it sounds good.” My brain is continually filtering out information at a conscious level, so I can focus, but it is also allowing a lot of information into my brain at the subconscious level. When I relax, the brain goes searching. It wants to find answers and won’t stop until we tell it to with negative self-talk.
10. If they have moved into the stress response, all answers will be blocked until the student has allowed the blood to return to the brain. During stressed moments, the blood flows to the legs. Skipping a question and coming back to it while saying, “I know this answer, I’ll come back to it,” will reduce the stress and allow the blood to flow freely and that provides fuel for the body to continue the search for the answer. Worrying about getting the problem wrong will actually result in what they are worried about. Worry stops flow.

“My child’s reading speed is 85 wpm, so why does he have horrible oral oral comprehension?”

When children are aware that this can happen to them, they will take the advice of stopping to think about what they read before moving onto the next paragraph. Taking time to reflect will improve comprehension. Their comprehension will improve when they reflect often. With deep material I will reflect after each sentence. When reading a book, it’s important to reflect before turning the page. The brain consolidates what was read on a page so it is ready to take in new information when the page is turned.