Today, we’ll be diving into a topic that sparks debate amongst students and parents alike: should students have to show their work when solving math problems? Some people are strong advocates for it, while others believe it can slow progress down. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of students showing their work, to help you decide what’s best for your student.
As you can see, there are reasonable arguments on both sides.
I used to be in the camp of requiring all work to be shown since that’s what was required of me. However, that changed when I started tutoring a student from Brazil named Gio. Gio could do an incredible amount of computations quickly in his head. I kept asking him to write his steps down because that’s what I was used to, but I quickly realized that all I was doing was frustrating him and slowing him down. So I asked him how he was able to do so much of it in his head. He told me that in his math classes in Brazil, mental math was the standard, and students used and practiced it often. It was really eye-opening. So at that moment, I shifted.
Here’s what I do in my house now. If my son is doing mental math well, and consistently getting problems correct, I do not require him to write down all of his work. I want to sharpen his mental math skills and free up his time to focus on the harder concepts we’re learning. Let’s be clear though, this is a privilege he has had to earn. If he begins to make too many errors, then he is required to show me the step-by-step process. This repetition should help slow him down and hopefully decrease his errors.
When I ask many parents why they think it’s important that their students show their work, I often simply hear “Because I had to!” My response to that answer is to go a little deeper. If you think showing work will help your student, then require it. But if they can demonstrate to you that the mental math techniques you’ve been teaching them are working, consider they can be successful without writing it all down.
As always, I believe we can always find the answers we’re seeking from others in the community, so please feel free to share what works best in your home or classroom.
Nicole the Math Lady