Fluency Without Fear

Thank you to Kip Clarke of Alvie Primary for recommending this fantastic paper by Jo Boaler for Stanford University:

Fluency Without Fear

Fluency Without Fear

This research shows the damage that can be caused by focusing on memorisation and rote learning of facts without conceptual understanding. Although we do want children to remember number facts confidently, this must come from a deep understanding of number, number structure and relationships. By developing strong number sense, children begin to develop flexible thinking, reasoning skills and mental strategies and don’t have to rely only on their memorisation of certain facts.

This idea of the importance of conceptual understanding, and a balance of knowledge and strategy is a core concept of the Highland Numeracy Progression. It is so important to remember that learning facts is only ONE PART of developing mental agility, and to strive to provide rich and meaningful learning experiences that allow children to develop creative thinking skills through interaction with numbers in a wide range of contexts.


We can help develop children’s number sense through use of visual and concrete materials, and provide experiences that promote recall of facts through games that are fun and challenging. There are great examples of this in this paper:

Fluecy Without Fear 1

Look on the games and resources pages for lots of ideas for fun ways to consolidate facts, develop subitising and activities to help build connections with numbers and patterns.

On the Basic Facts page there are links to quizzes and graphs, but it is vital that these are used in a safe and nurturing learning environment, as a change to self assess and check progress of knowledge of a particular set of facts, NOT as a test or source of anxiety for children. These should also be used alongside games and use of visual materials, and seen as one small part of our learning within a balance of developing thinking and strategies. The dialogue with learners about their understanding of facts, and developing self evaluation skills are the key aims of the quizzes and graphs.

“Research tells us that the best mathematics classrooms are those in which students learn number facts and number sense through engaging activities that focus on mathematical understanding rather than rote memorization.”

It would be great to hear your comments on this paper, as well as your thoughts on ways you help develop number sense in your classroom!





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1 Response to Fluency Without Fear

  1. Miriam MacDonald says:

    This is a very helpful piece of research explaining the link between the importance of making sure all developmental steps for all pupils are met. Hopefully this will help colleagues understand why just because we’ve “taught” it, doesn’t means pupils have “learned” it.

    Thanks Kip and Kirsten!


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