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Let's Talk About Math Facts & Fluency with Ann Elise Record

I recently had the amazing opportunity to connect with Ann Elise Record and asked if she'd share her passion and specialty via guest blog post. She said, yes! I cannot say enough about much I admire and respect Ann Elise and the important work she is doing for elementary math educators. You can learn more about her on her website. Without further ado... here's Ann Elise Record...


By Ann Elise Record

About eight years ago, I was leaving my 5th grade classroom and was going to be pioneering a new role in our district as a Math Coach K-5. My world began to open up as I embarked on my own in-depth journey of learning about early numeracy. I truly had no idea the expertise needed to facilitate learning journeys of our youngest students. I felt an urgency to share what I was learning with my teachers and serendipitously attended a webinar by one of my favorite math educators, Dr. Nicki Newton, on her creation of a Math Running Record. I instantly knew that I had an assessment tool (which is free!) that not only incorporated and codified early numeracy research, but also provided data that we could use to provide instructional responses for our students. Dr Nicki Newton calls them the GPS of fact fluency. We are able to see exactly where super slowdowns, inaccuracies, or inefficient strategies are happening so that we know where to begin exploring number relationships with the students and help them move forward on their math journeys.

Over the last eight years both as a Math Coach and now an independent consultant who provides trainings on Math Running Records, I have seen them change the math climates in schools and districts as all stakeholders redefine fluency to be more than speed and accuracy, but also flexibility and efficiency. Previously math phobic primary grade-level teachers have shared that math has become their favorite subject to teach! Most powerfully, the very same strategies that are explored with basic facts are then naturally extended to larger numbers and even fractions and decimals down the road so conceptual understanding of core content is deepened as well. I’d love to share a bit about them in this post as well as share some resources on where you can join us on the path of creating positive math journeys for all of our students.

Beginning to learn math facts

Students’ math fact journeys begin when our students are in the counting phase of reasoning. So, when asked to add two amounts, they will use objects or fingers to show both of the amounts and then begin counting them all beginning at 1. Then, students develop the understanding of groups. They begin to “count on” starting with the first amount and counting up the other addend. A big step at this stage is recognizing the efficiency of counting on from the larger addend. Traditionally, at this point, many students are then asked to memorize the math facts using games and activities with all their facts. Unfortunately for many, they aren’t able to memorize the facts, so they continue counting on and thus are only in a counting phase of reasoning. This is actually extended to their work typically when working with multi-digit computation if they are using algorithms.

What is Fluency?

When teachers are expected to report out to parents on the progress of their students on mastering their math facts, often the students are given timed tests, because fluency has been narrowly defined as speed and accuracy. There are many issues with this, not the least of which is that it has repeatedly been shown to be the start of math anxiety. There are many long-lasting effects on self-efficacy throughout students’ lives. Fluency is so much more than speed and accuracy. It includes flexibility and efficiency as well. The more we provide opportunities for students to flexibly work with numbers and use derived facts to help them solve the ones they don’t know, the more their number sense will develop and their speed and accuracy will naturally improve as well. Additionally, they will be moving from using counting strategies into additive reasoning and then into multiplicative reasoning.

Using Math Running Records to Determine Starting Points and Growth

But where do we start with our students who have been identified as being “behind”? After 14 years of poring over the math fact research, as well as her own action research, Dr. Nicki has developed a math interview that provides us data on all 4 aspects of fact fluency: accuracy, flexibility, efficiency, and relative speed (although the students have no idea we are keeping track of the time it takes to say an answer). With an interview protocol for each operation, the Math Running Record allows us to zoom in on exactly which set of facts are causing super slowdown, inaccuracies, or inefficient strategies and then to determine where the students are on the levels of strategies such as counting, mentally using counting strategies, using derived facts, or having mastery with understanding.

Benefits of a Math Running Record

Armed with the asset-minded information gained during the interview, we can then provide targeted explorations and activities that will meet the students where they are and help move them forward. The huge bonus to this is that not only will students be mastering their math facts, but they will be developing a foundation of strategic thought that can then be applied to the content expectations of their grade level. If you want to learn more, the free Math Running Record recording sheets can be downloaded at I also facilitate the Facebook group called Math Running Records with hours of content and support available to you. Here’s a video of me administering an addition interview with an adorable first grader. Here’s another video showing you the adorable reaction 2nd grader had when realizing she didn’t have to use counting to solve a subtraction problem. And yet another video that shows how the same strategies used for basic facts can extend to grade level content.

Frequently, I’m asked about the time it takes to administer the assessment and whether there is enough time to meet with each student. After gently encouraging a reflection on how much time is currently dedicated to assessing students' reading abilities, I share that it should take about 10 minutes to meet with a student on one operation. I would suggest that we don’t have time not to do these assessments. Too often, timed tests are used to determine those students who are “good” at math which is entirely not true. There are many students who are not quick thinkers, but instead take their time to explore strategies and connections. There are also many students who can recite their multiplication facts who have no conceptual understanding of multiplication. When I ask those students who have given all the math facts accurately and speedily 4 x 17, many of them don’t even attempt an answer. Instead, they tell me that they haven’t learned that one yet. I had yet another 5th grade student who, when I asked him 9 x 5, took forever to tell me 45. When I asked him how he figured that out, he said that he knows half of 9 is 4.5 and that times 10 is 45. Whoa! He wouldn’t have passed a timed test, yet he was doing that level of sophisticated thinking. I would never have known if I hadn’t talked to him about this thinking.

Now What?

Dr. Nicki Newton says that fluency doesn’t just happen, it’s a well-planned journey which is why we called our book Fluency Doesn’t Just Happen with addition and subtraction. . Dr. Nicki Newton, Dr. Alison Mello, and I are hoping our book adds to the conversation on fluency and the importance of exploring the strategies and number relationships in concrete, pictorial, and abstract ways. We are finalizing our second book on fluency with multiplication and division! Stay tuned!

I was interviewed on the Learning Through Math podcast all about Math Running Records if you would like to learn more. I have also created a fluency padlet full of explanatory videos, resources, and links to lots of free websites with fabulous activities and games. You can access it at I send out a newsletter once or twice a month which you can subscribe to on my website. Please feel free to reach out at any time. I’m always happy to talk math with anyone at any time! You can email me at There’s truly nothing elementary about teaching elementary math!

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