Tired of your students making the same computation errors over and over?!! Here are 5 ways to help them understand, find, and correct their own errors:

1. Look for patterns. Sometimes, kids are making the same kind of mistake over and over because of a misconception. (Maybe they are subtracting 0-9 and writing ‘9’ or aren’t correctly borrowing across zeros.) Once they understand why they are making that mistake and what to do when they encounter similar situations, they will usually stop making that error after a bit of practice.

2. Model making mistakes and reward the students who spot the error and correct you. The key is to do this without telling them. When we tell kids to look for the mistakes, they usually can find them. We need to help them transition to noticing errors when they aren’t specifically attending to them.

3. Try this FREE partner activity. Students write a computation problem with an intentional error. Then, they switch papers and work to find the error. It’s fun, simple, and can be used with any kind of computation.

4. Reward accuracy, and reward students who find and correct their own errors. Make a big deal out of it, so your class knows that these things are super important. It’s important to work carefully and to check your work for mistakes. Teach them that accuracy is important and valuable. This will help with the motivation to work accurately and correct their own errors, but you’ll still need to make sure that they have the skills to be able to do that.

5. Try the reciprocal learning technique for cooperative learning. One student works on a problem while the other one coaches them. If the student has a question or gets stuck, the coach is there to help them. If they make an error, the coach can help them find it and understand why it was incorrect. The students can give each other a lot more individual attention than one teacher can give, (not that we are not still going to give individual attention, just having students coach each multiplies how much we can individualize and differentiate our instruction) and frequently, just having that one-on-one guide is the thing that is missing when students are making computation errors. Also, having to explain it to your partner means that you have to have to be able to think clearly about the problem yourself. Plus, sometimes kids can explain things to each other in ways that we adults just cannot figure out…

6. Make sure students understand the reasoning behind the algorithm, and aren’t just blindly following the steps. Students are much less likely to make errors if they understand WHY they are carrying the 1 or WHY they need to put a 0 somewhere. Working with base 10 blocks for addition and subtraction, and with arrays and groups for multiplication and division will help students understand the method behind the madness. Encourage them to use multiple strategies, visual models, equations, benchmarks, estimation, and to explain and justify their responses. It’s all about helping kids make sense of what computation means.

Happy (Computation Error-Free) Teaching!!

Christine Cadalzo

For more resources, check out these addition and subtraction lessons.