Hold on to your hats! When teachers teach math directly — with time for practice and drill — students learn more math. That’s especially true for those with math difficulties.

However, first-grade teachers with lots of students with math difficulties use more ineffective teaching practices, such as movement, music, manipulatives and calculators, concludes a new study.

“Only teacher-directed instruction was significantly associated” with math achievement, researchers concluded.

What worked best for struggling students was “routine practice and drills (that’s right, drill and kill!),” writes Fordham’s Amber Northern. “Similarly, lots of chalkboard instruction, traditional textbook practice problems, and worksheets that went over math skills and concepts were also effective with them.”

Youngsters who struggle with math simply need their teachers to show them how to do the math and then practice themselves how to do it—a lot! Why is such instruction so hard for them to come by?

Teacher-directed instruction helped students who weren’t struggling, but they also benefited from “working on problems with several solutions, peer tutoring, and activities involving ‘real-life’ math problems,” writes Northern.

“Drill and kill” has persuaded a lot of teachers to cut down on practice time, writes Robert Pondiscio He suggests “train and gain” or possibly “try and fly.” There’s always “practice makes perfect,” but that doesn’t rhyme.

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