A dad came in this week to talk about his struggling 8 year old, Anna, who just started third grade.  Anna has reading fluency issues, with particular difficulty managing words that are “low frequency.”  Even in this early part of the school year Anna is welling up with tears feeling that she is dumb.  She is starting to break down each night during homework.

A recent worksheet gives us a glimpse into why Anna feels the way she does:

                Find each missing number.  Solve for n.  Identify the property.

1.      6 + 5 = n, 5 + 6 = n

a. n = 11, Commutative Property of Addition

b. n = 11, Associative Property of Addition

c. n =   2,  Commutative Property of Addition

d. n = 24, Associative Property of Addition

2.       4 +  (3 +3)  = n, (4 + 3) + 3 = n

a. n  = 10, Commutative Property of Addition

b. n  = 10, Associative Property of Addition

c. n  =   6,  Associative Property of Addition

d. n  =   7  Commutative Property of Addition


On and on it went –  a  drab, dry slab of problems (about 20 of them), that looked more like a typical 11th grader’s algebra.

This is a far cry from problems such as, “There were twelve ducks on the pond and five flew away.  How many were left?” which is about where I thought beginning struggling third graders were in their development.

Beside the fact that Anna had no ability to read the text above, she had little to no understanding of what the problems meant (neither did I, by the way).  There was a big “-12” at the top of Anna’s page.  That was it.  There was no other feedback – no supportive comments, such as “Let’s go over this together.”  Just a “-12.”

Man, it can be tough out there in child land.

That’s the “commutative property” of childhood.