The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Math Café

It is funny how certain words get used as acronyms in different settings, sometimes even within a specific field or profession. For example, in education we tend to use the word café in a variety of ways:

When it comes to parental involvement, CAFE can refer to Community and Family Engagement. (There are some schools that switch it around a call it FACE for Family and Community Engagement, though.)

In literacy, the term has been generally adopted to represent the four core elements of children’s literacy: Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding Vocabulary. (Obviously the last word there gets left off for the sake of making an easier-to-remember mnemonic.) This has usage has especially grown in popularity with the spread of the Daily Five system, which includes the Daily CAFE. (I’ve written about these before.)

One way that is starting to grow is the use of the Daily Five in mathematics. There are several different approaches out there and, to my knowledge, none has yet risen to the top as The Best Approach To Use. But there is a core that I believe all teachers will embrace. When it comes to mathematics, students need the following:

Comprehension – Do they understand what they are doing and why they are doing it?
Accuracy – Are their answers correct?
Fluency – Can they find the solutions rapidly, especially when using basic math facts?
Evaluation – Do students know how to explain whether or not their answers are reasonable?

And thus it is that I have yet another use for café in my classroom. As with all elements of teaching, it is so very important to adapt practices, policies, and procedures to the specific room. Yes, I have specific learning targets that are outlined in our state learning standards. Yes, the district provides me with curriculum guides and materials to support my teaching. But neither the standards nor the guides nor the text books are the teaching. That is what I do. The other things are just tools to assist me. So you may visit my room and see my students doing math in the morning and notice that we are working on comprehension and accuracy, then you may visit at another point in the day and see that we are working on evaluating our work, and you may visit at yet another point of the day to see that students are working on fluency. Another teacher may be doing all of these things at the same time. That is totally up to them! What you will see, in every classroom where math is being taught, are these four core elements.

Of course, I choose to place emphasis within the classroom on these different areas at different times. The beginning of the year is focused quite heavily on fluency and comprehension that moves us naturally toward accuracy. Evaluation is taught throughout the year but it is this time, when we are past the halfway point, that evaluation takes a much greater focus, even as it is tied to the other elements. I am especially focusing on the connection between what and why (comprehension) and how we know (evaluation). To do this, I am using math concepts that we have already mastered, such as the standard algorithm for multiplication. In order to help my students continue to improve their accuracy and fluency, I am giving them opportunities to practice independently, both in the classroom and at home through math homework assignments. This has the added benefit of letting some of my struggling students more time to master the concepts while letting the advanced students experiment with new strategies for solving problems and extending their learning. I love seeing my students grapple with problems and then grapple with them in different ways to see if they can come up with different ways to arrive at the same answer. It shows me that they are truly comprehending, solving with accuracy, computing with fluency, and evaluating appropriately!


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