I recently shared an article on the expiration dates on certain strategies or concepts used in the classroom, and so many of you had such great comments on that article that I wanted to discuss it a bit further.

The strategy that brought the most feedback was on the Butterfly Method. While this method is very effective in raising standardized test scores, it does nothing to help the students when they move on. Today, I want to give you three tips on how to deal with it.

Tip #1 - Don’t criticize the teachers who used it.

If your students’ previous teacher used this method, don’t criticize them for what they did in their classroom. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • It undermines the students’ confidence in their teachers overall. You know that you have your students’ best interests at heart and you should also assume that about their previous teachers. They wanted their students to achieve their best, and they were trying to help them do that.
  • It undermines the student’s confidence in themselves. If you tell them that they are doing something the wrong way, they are going to be insecure and wonder what else they do that isn’t right. You don’t want your students to be nervous and insecure because then they aren’t as willing to try new things.

Tip #2 - Compliment them on what they remember.

As I have said many times, always take the time to build your students up with what they already know before trying to teach them something new.

Use what they learned in the past to connect it to the new concept. For example, if you are comparing fractions, they likely learned to use the Butterfly method to find common denominators. How can you use that to move on to more complicated ways of doing the problems?

I like to use sticks of gum. I break them up into halves and thirds and divide them among the students with a few students getting whole sticks. They then have to combine their pieces with students who have the same size as theirs to get a whole.

Show them how this is the same as the butterfly method they learned previously but can be used with much more complicated problems. You aren’t asking them to forget what they learned, but rather you are teaching them how to build on it.

Tip #3 - Drive the Vocabulary

If you just listen to your students, most of the time they will use the exact vocabulary that their previous teachers used in teaching them these methods. Once you know the vocabulary they used, you can build on it and teach them the correct mathematical terms for what they are doing.

Again, don’t undermine the teachers. I like to tell my students that the teachers used those words because the students were little, but now that they are high-schoolers or middle-schoolers, it’s time to use the bigger, more technical, terms.

You can also show them why the Butterfly method no longer works by giving them examples of negatives. Ask them where the negative goes on the butterfly. Then let them try it with three fractions and see what happens. They quickly see that it doesn’t work for the higher-level problems.

As always, I encourage you to talk to your students and help them to see how many things they’ve learned and how capable they are of learning newer, higher-level things. As you build them up, they will almost always give their best effort.

Please comment below and let me know if you struggle with this in your classroom and how you’ve overcome it.