Math CentralQuandaries & Queries


Question from Gerald:

We have a 6th grade student who can solve math problem successfully without showing her work. The teacher thinks it is not fair that she doesn't show her work and the other have to and do. What sort of classroom accommodation(s) would you recommend for this type of student. It would seem to be a popular problem since there are many student who think more global than sequential.


You might not like my answer. I don't think the student should be accommodated. There is an overall educational benefit to being able to present a well thought out, logical, technical explanation that someone else can follow. It is an important life skill. It is learned in math class, but few people ever seem to think of it as a learning outcome of mathematics. It is false to believe that mathematics is simply about computing the correct answer. I can understand how doing that might become the focus of instruction, but I think it is not beneficial to students.

The student will benefit later on in her school work from starting to learn to explain clearly now. The time will come when she can't solve the problems in her head. The ability to communicate her reasoning clearly, in writing, needs to be developed over a long period of time. It is a developmental process (like mathematics). I think similar reasoning applies to verbal communication skills. Developing these skills will also help her communication in the context of other courses too. Otherwise, when the day comes that she needs them, she will be behind if she does not have them.

I also think that if the student shows interest in mathematics, and doing it makes her happy, she could be offered some (math) enrichment activities for additional stimulation.

Best wishes,


I want to add to Victoria's response by saying that in some situations the teacher can ask the student for a verbal explanation of her reasoning. Hopefully this will cause the student to solidify the reasoning she has used. Then the student should be required to communicate this reasoning in writing.


Obviously, I have never spoken to the teacher,but I doubt if [s]he thinks it is "not fair". Rather, I imagine that [s]he knows that that while an intuitive approach without showing work may serve the student well at this level, it will not continue to work as she progresses. Also, communicating mathematics is a big part of doing it.

Being able to do Grade 6 math questions without writing down intermediate steps is not a disability or handicap. Neither is a [distaste for/preference for not] writing down those steps (unless it were a symptom of ADHD, dyslexia, or something like that, which you did not suggest.) Therefore, I don't think the question of "accommodation" arises in the usual sense.

What is important is that somebody should explain to an obviously bright young lady that while she has considerable skill at one aspect of mathematics, she is neglecting another part that she will also need. Obviously, it would be good for her (and the class in general) if the teacher is not assigning so many easy repetitive questions that she is cutting corners just to relieve the tedium. In her particular case, it sounds as if she is ready for harder questions - when she will find showing her work necessary and natural.

Good luck!

About Math Central


Math Central is supported by the University of Regina and The Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences.
Quandaries & Queries page Home page University of Regina PIMS