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From Sloppy to Straight- Cleaning Up Math Work

It looked like the leaning tower of pisa made out of numbers. That's the only way I know how to describe the piece of schoolwork that my student slid across the table to me. The numbers of a multiplication problem were all slanted to the right and not aligned properly. The grade at the top of the paper was not desirable. I could see the frustration in my student's eyes and the weariness in her mother's. They both described it as "sloppy" work.

As I looked further at the assignment, I could tell that this student knew her facts and had done the multiplication correctly. The problem arose when she added her lines of multiplication at the end. Since the numbers were "sloppy" and not aligned, she did not get the correct sum.

I struggle with the word sloppy when it comes to student work. Most students that I know don't produce work that looks sloppy on purpose. In most cases, they need some type of support to help them organize their work. They do not possess the skills to keep their work aligned or organized at that moment in time, and it's my job to find ways to support them until they are able to do it on their own.

Suddenly this child who knows their stuff is getting a grade one or two grades lower than they know they can get because of this one "mistake". I knew if we cracked this one we would see results right away.

cleaning up sloppy math work

So how was I going to find a support for this student?

Shortly after I met with this student and her parents, I was riffling through my math supplies preparing for a tutoring session. And that's when I stumbled upon our solution. Can you guess what it was?

Graph paper!

Once I laid eyes on that wonderful multi-purpose paper I knew we had our solution.

Writing each number in a separate square helped my student keep her multiplication and division lined up perfectly. Once I introduced this paper, she quickly began to get correct answers on her assignments.

If you think that graph paper will help your child keep their math work neat to reduce mistakes I urge you to try it! I suggest that you collect graph paper of many different sizes and let your child test them out to see which size is comfortable for them depending on the size of their handwriting.

Graph paper is definitely not a magic cure for all math mistakes, but it did help my student take her work from the leaning tower of multiplication to straight up awesome. I am also happy to report that after working with the graph paper for a few months my student was able to transition back to lined paper and maintain her alignment!

Need graph paper to try? Check out this site for free printable graph paper of many different sizes.

Happy learning!


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