I was trying to guide W1 through a story problem today. This kid, although a decent reader and apparently bright in several ways, is sporadically clueless. Everyone else groks what's going on, even my youngest little whiner, H. But this kid, who can read the thing himself, is just lost. The problem says A has 4 blocks and B has 3 blocks. How many all together? I remind him the key words that make this an addition problem. I help him work this through the number line. I direct his drawing of four blocks of one color and, separated by a gap, three of another. And then we get to the part where he writes the number sentence, and he acts as though he just woke up, in his hermetically sealed pod, which arrived from Alpha Centauri a thousand years ago.
He writes, "5 + 4 = 3." I suppress the urge to kill and read through the problem with him, again. Recalling, of course, that he can read it himself. I get him to point out the numbers that the problem gives. "Where'd you get five from?!" I screech at him in my head. I trace the number line activity. "See? We start at four and add three. Three jumps on the line. So the numbers in this problem are four and three. Four blocks, and three blocks." I show him the picture that he drew. I look at him, and he nods. "So..." I prompt through gritted teeth, "what are we adding?"
"Numbers," he mumbles.
After throttling him mentally, I go over it again. Finally, he has it. he writes the equation.
I breathe a sigh of relief. Another math fact pounded unwillingly into the blunted brain of a blockhead.
Until it's time to write the answer in tally marks. And W1 puts down twenty-five of them.