Teaching Multiple Division Strategies

This week, I have been teaching my Grade 4’s division. I have been attempting to teach multiple strategies but have been having some resistance from the kids because it seems that they have this notion that there is only one correct way to solve division problems being the “traditional algorithm”. I didn’t have the same issue with multiplication – I think because multiplication is closer to addition that division seems to subtraction? I have a group of students in my class who are very confident with the traditional algorithm, as they have learned it prior to Grade 4 (although they have varying levels of conceptual understanding as to what they are actually doing). This group is someone resistant to learning another method because they already have their strategy embedded – which I understand. My students who are newer to division seem to want to know the traditional algorithm (because they see the other students doing it or their parents have shown it to them?), instead of flexible division or other strategies that I am encouraging.

Have you come across this problem/issue before? Should I continue to encourage the variety of strategies or just focus on the traditional algorithm because this is what they want to know, and what the parents are going to teach them?

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2 comments

  1. Hi Marcie,

    Great post and common problem in the math classroom that I often encountered as a math teacher. I would try to teach all the strategies to the students only to find the students overwhelmed and wanting the security of the steps of the traditional algorithm that they can just follow. However, my mistake was thinking that I had to TEACH the division strategies to the students. I now know that the teacher is not supposed to try to teach all the strategies and hope that one of them “sticks” Most students are able to divide using their own self-invented strategies. Some may be very basic like, repeated subtraction but these students are definitely not ready to understand the complex nature of the standard algorithm. I would suggest giving the students a word problem like, “58 grade four students are having a class party in the library. If 5 students can fit at a table, how many tables are needed?” Don't even mention that it is a division problem and ask the students to solve it on chart paper in small groups and in more than one way. Hopefully the students will come up with a variety of division strategies using models, drawings, algorithms ranging from inefficient to efficient. The key thing here is that the students are answering the problem using what they know. After the students work on it, pick out 3 to 4 strategies and allow the groups to explain their solutions. Allow the class to ask questions and the groups to defend or prove their strategies. As the teacher, facilitate the discussion with probing questions and connect student work.

    The difference is subtle but impact is great. The teacher shouldn't directly teach the division strategies to the students. The teacher should allow students to solve division problems using their own strategies and use the student work to highlight different division strategies used by the class. If you want, check out my blog I wrote a post that dealt specifically with your dilemma.

    Sorry for the long comment.

    Thomas

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Thomas.I was using the BANSHO method similar to what you described. It was tough but we got through … I think all of the kids eventually ended up finding a strategy that they built through their understanding. Look forward to learning more with you.

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