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How Accelerating Reluctant Math Learners Can Turn Things Around

Posted by on 11:34 pm in Hot News | Comments Off on How Accelerating Reluctant Math Learners Can Turn Things Around

Consider a time when you were completely lost in class – had no idea what the teacher was explaining. But everyone around you seemed to be getting it. Frustration welled – perhaps even some tears. What did your peers have that you didn’t?  Prior knowledge.

Accelerating (rather than remediating) struggling math students may feel counter to our instincts. We may be of the belief that if we could just fix every gap in their past, they’d do better in math. In reality, closing gaps out of context is hard to do. A student might be learning fractions for the millionth time in a remedial setting and then not be applying them in their regular class. And let’s face it: the last thing a struggling math student probably wants to do is more worksheets…or click on a computer screen. Plus, there’s no time to teach the new standards while reteaching all of the old ones.

We largely learn new information by attaching it to things we already know. When the background knowledge is missing, it’s tough to learn.

Enter Acceleration, the process of strategically laying critical prior knowledge in the paths of students just in time for new learning. In short, we start certain students ahead of others on new concepts, plugging critical prerequisite skills, introducing vocabulary, and dipping our toes in the new concepts.  But we remediate JUST what students will be using in class this unit, not every single thing they never got.

Consider potential benefits of acceleration:

  • Adding one standard deviation of background knowledge can boost a student from the 50th to 75% percentile. (Marzano, 2004)
  • Prior knowledge outweighs IQ and learning styles in importance to learning. (Hattie & Yates, 2014)
  • Prior knowledge speeds up learning and efficiency of working memory. (Hirsch, 2003)
  • Self-efficacy can increase.  Imaging walking into a classroom and already knowing a little something about the new concept!

Math in the Fast Lane is built for every classroom, including acceleration.  TIP charts with pictures of the new vocabulary, scaffolding devices for just about every prerequisite skill students may have forgotten (or never grasped,) hands-on sorts, cubes, cooperative learning techniques, differentiated problems, high interest activities – you name it!

Students can experience success in math again!  By starting them a little early, they get just enough prior knowledge to shoot their hands into the air, “Hey, I know something about this!”

Want tips for implementing an acceleration program? Contact us at support@mathinfastlane.com.  Oh – and the first chapter of Learning in the Fast Lane is on implementing acceleration – it’s from ASCD (2014).

So, if you are looking for ways to help students who’ve kinda given up on math, consider moving them forward, rather than the old remedial backward model.  Because the main gauge for how well math support is working is, “How are they doing in math today?”


Hattie & Yates, (2014).  Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn, Routledge.

Hirsch, E.D. Jr. (2003, Spring).  “Reaching Comprehension Requires Knowledge of Words and the World,”   American Educator.

Marzano, R. (2004).  Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, ASCD.