The story of D—

Mr. AB writes about a fifth-grader with fetal alcohol syndrome who tackled multiplication with the help of a computer program in D— Triumphant and D— Resilient. After earning a 70 percent on a math test — up from 12 percent at the start of the year — D— couldn’t replicate his success, Mr. AB writes.

In discovering the possibility to succeed, D— simultaneously found the pressure to do so. People were watching, people were paying attention, and D— couldn’t handle that. Week after week, I watched him start the test and, two or three minutes in, start to think he was going to fail and begin to tear up. Soon he was looking at me, looking at the principal, and sobbing instead of finishing the test.

But division brought new hope.

Over and over again, I had him write complete division problems and tried to help him see that it was just the opposite of multiplication. About a week ago he got it. Every day this week, ten times a day, he came rushing up to me with news that twenty-seven divided by three is nine. On the playground, before school, or during class I heard that nine divided by three is three. D— has begun to believe in himself again.

. . . I’ve also realized that there is a greater lesson for D— in these tests than math. Life is filled with stress and pressure, if D— is to find any sort of independent existence, he will need to learn to deal with them.

One commenter, also a teacher, thinks D— will remember the weeks of frustration, not the day he won the math T-shirt. She also criticizes “drill and kill.” Mr. AB believes students need fluency in math facts to learn higher math.

About Joanne


  1. Interesting article about fetal alcohol syndrome.

  2. Sad that educators get so involved in pushing that anti-learning advertising slogan – “drill and kill”. Maybe we should fix it.

    “Drill and skill”!

    “Drill – and kill ignorance”!

    You drill a basic skill until it is automatic. Then move on.

    More accurately, you cycle through increasingly challenging drills, of varying and interesting types, noting which students are not succeeding at the simpler versions and singling them out for special instruction.

    When you get to the point where the function being drilled is automatic, you go for speed rather than accuracy. Actually you rock back and forth to inccrease the speed and accuracy of “automatic”.

    There is an art to the process. Perhaps an actual educator could find that there is creativity and experience involved in knowing what drilling to do when. If they weren’t too busy whining about having to do work.

  3. Reality Czech says:

    This is the sort of repetitive activity which looks ideal for automation.  Put the students in front of computers, let software assign the problems, check the answers and perform the analysis on the speed and the types of errors.

    Maybe use psychology.  Generate a face on the screen looking the student in the eye.  Use a webcam to make certain that the student is watching the screen, and flag the teacher if they aren’t paying attention.

    Rewards:  Face gets angry-looking if the student fails to participate, face morphs uglier if the student does badly, face morphs more beautiful if the student does well.