Is this a trick? A joke? Wishful thinking?

No, I am completely serious about this. My decades in education have taught me this one inescapable truth: If a student is not learning the way we are teaching her, we must try other strategies.

At this time of the school year, for students who have not been successful, the one thing we know for certain is that something about the ways we are teaching them is not connecting with their preferred "style" of taking in information, nor do they feel competent about the way we are asking them to show what they have learned.

The simple solution is to offer other teaching methods and/or different types of expected "products."

For example, if a fifth-grade student cannot fluently compute required multiplication facts in his head, his assessments in math are probably unsuccessful. One simple solution, called finger multiplication will give him a helpful tool to use forever for successfully remembering these facts.

On YouTube, you can find videos that demonstrate this method. Students can learn, in less than one week, how to do the number facts for the sixes to the 10s, and then there are other tricks for other number combinations. I'm not kidding.

Remember this mantra: If they are not learning, which includes getting passing grades, the way you are teaching them, the smart choice is to try teaching them the way they learn. And it doesn’t even matter if you believe these methods will work. Just try them with a few students, and let me know the outcomes.

To illustrate, first I will explain "finger multiplication" in words, which will appeal to those of you who love written step-by-step directions. If that approach doesn't work for you, I offer another method that allows you to actually try it yourself.

I'm sure you will understand my motive for doing it that way. If you find the first method you try to be confusing, you'll probably have better luck with the second method, and vice versa. For this process, find videos on YouTube demonstrate this method for people who prefer to learn by doing.


Self-selected pairs of students work together, starting with printing the numerals 6-10 directly on to their fingers. Both pinkies are 6, ring fingers are 7, middle fingers are 8, the pointers are 9, and the thumbs are 10. As kids write the numbers on the tips of their fingers, there will be much laughter, and that's part of the magic.

Demonstrate 8 times 7, while partners follow along. Stand in front of the class and place your hands out in front of you, with your palms facing your body. Take the 8 on either hand (middle finger) and touch it to the 7 (ring finger) on the other hand.

Count the touching fingers and those below as "tens." There are five fingers, so we count aloud "10, 20, 30, 40, 50." Keep the touching fingers together until the entire process is complete for the two designated numbers.

Next look at the fingers above the touching fingers and multiply the fingers on one hand by the number of fingers on the other hand. One hand has three fingers up and the other has two. Multiplying 3 times 2 equals 6.

So the answer to 8x7 is 50 and 6, which equals 56. Leave 6x6 and 6x7 until the all other facts have been demonstrated as there is an extra step involving "carrying." This method works every time for some kids, and since students can take their fingers with them into a testing situation, you know that becoming fluent with finger multiplication will provide a welcome aid to kids who have not mastered their facts.

Search YouTube for other tricks for the ones to fives and for the 11s through the 15s ... or even beyond.

Some of you may be in a power struggle with middle or high school students who have failed to turn any written work for a long time, but can still ace any required assessment. The amazing Catch-22 is that some teachers will not allow this student's assessment grades to be counted until he submits the missing work even though that work was assigned to help students demonstrate mastery on the assessments.

If some students can achieve that mastery without actually doing the "prep work," so be it. And if this option is open to all students, kids will think it's fair.

You may have been told that you must use certain methods with your students. But at this time of the year, everyone's attention is on achievement test scores. When you can demonstrate that a formerly unsuccessful student is becoming more productive, administrators and teaching coaches start cheering.

The field-tested strategies in this article have an amazing history of sudden effectiveness. What do you have to lose?

If a student is failing badly, the one thing you know for certain is that your present methods are not working the way they should for these kids. It's much safer to switch to methods that have a demonstrated history of helping students prove they know the content.

The major reason why smart kids resist doing the grade-level work is that they have already mastered much of it already and do not see the sense of having to do the related written work about that content.

One highly successful alternate strategy is to allow students to examine the material that will be taught next so they can experience the designated assessment ahead of the actual instruction. This is for any student who wants to demonstrate how much he already knows. Show students which examples in the set will be used as a voluntary pretest because they are the most difficult part of the entire practice set.