Recently a teacher shared with me a math mat she had created listing a huge variety of addition strategies (thanks, Doreen M.!) Now, the idea of such a strategy mat is not brand new. Indeed, many such mats are circulating on Pintrest and other sites.
What delighted me about Doreen and her mat was not the uniqueness of the mat, but how she was using it. Doreen told the story of having given the mats to her students after they, as a class, had talked about each of the strategies. The math problem-solving lesson was structured with the students being given a block of time to solve the day’s problem using as many strategies as possible. Doreen hoped the students would use the strategy mat to prompt their thinking as they were solving word problems.
However, Doreen observed that the students rarely referred to the mats during their actual problem solving work. The students basically ignored the mats, even those who particularly needed the scaffolding.
Her response to this was to have the students do some metacognition regarding the strategies they had actually used in their personal solutions – but to do this once they were done solving the problem. Each student already had a laminated copy of the mat, but now she gave each student a marking pen. Students were asked to look over their work, and each time they noticed that they had used a particular strategy on the mat (e.g., breaking down a number into smaller parts or using doubles), they marked it on their own mat.
This, then, become the “norm” when doing problem solving. Over time, the students in the class became much more aware of which strategies they were using as well as the ones they weren’t using. This metacognitive thinking provided a great starting place for discussions when sharing solutions for the particular problem of the day.
So I invite you to try the adding strategy mat with your students. But more than that, I hope you will also try Doreen’s method of having your students do some “thinking about their thinking.” There is great power in metacognition!