In the past,  I firmly stated that you should teach what you can teach a particular student or a group of students, at a given time. I believed that this was the case with teaching Robert about percents.  I analyzed possible difficulties, I planned ahead, I chose (Or so I thought.) appropriate curriculum and yet,  a small error, tiny omission lead me to a standstill and Robert to unlearning.

A few days ago, I was  preparing  new folders from Take It to your Seat series to practice with Robert previously taught skills.  As I looked through the pages of the Math workbook, I came across a section on finding the  prices of the items on sale.  That was not a topic we had previously addressed but the skill seemed useful and relatively easy to teach. It required the application of  two simple operations: subtraction and multiplication by decimal. When I, however, analyzed the possible teaching methods I couldn’t decide if it would be better to first subtract percent from 100% and then multiply, or first multiply by proper decimal and follow with subtraction.  Moreover, I was not sure if in some cases it wouldn’t be more useful to change percent into a regular fraction and replace the multiplication with  the division by a reciprocal of that fraction.  I was not sure which approach would be the easiest to apply in real life situation.

As  I looked for the support or/and inspiration in  the Unit 2 devoted to percents in Momentum Math  level G, I decided it would  make sense to skip the Take It  to Your Seat for now and introduce percents to Robert in a systematic way.  Momentum Math appeared to be a good tool for that.  I looked through lessons A to H, with the  exception of  the Lesson E, as its title suggested that it was the lesson only about  common percents: 25% and 50%.  Judging by the title, I concluded that it would be useful and easy to digest chapter. There was no reason, to look at it more carefully.

So we went: Lesson A, Lesson B, Lesson C.  No major problems.  We skipped Lesson D.  It was about comparing data, which could be done later, if at all.   We begun Lesson E.  The unpleasant surprise awaited me on the second page.   Beside the problems I was prepared to work with Robert, such as

25% of 60 =?

there were also problems I was not ready to teach Robert at this moment:

25% of  ? = 30

Had I noticed that sooner, I would have practiced or reviewed prerequisite skills or skip this lesson replacing it with my own worksheets. But I did not notice.


Robert doesn’t take lightly switching from one kind of problem to another.  He doesn’t like to feel lost. He despise being confused.

More importantly, he HATES when he cannot complete all the worksheets prepared for him for a given day.

As soon as I tried to explain to Robert that this lesson should be left for another day, Robert put both arms on the page to prevent it from being taken away.

I tried to lead Robert through the second sort of problems, but the only thing I achieved was to confuse him. As a result, he started making errors in the first category of problems.

I suggested that we skip just those few difficult problems, but Robert persistently tapped on them letting me know that this was not an option.

I cornered myself.

So I cheated.  I asked Robert to bring me a glass of water from the kitchen.  As soon as he left, I hid the three of the five pages. This scheme, unfortunately, was not a bullet proof.  In the past, for different reasons, I did the same thing only to have Robert looking indefatigably for the missing worksheets and almost always finding them. Still, there was a small chance, he would give up..

When he returned, he started searching.

After a few minutes, he found the missing pages in the binder with  worksheets prepared for the future dates. He hesitated for a second, glimpsed at me,  and…  closed the binder without taking the worksheets out.

I could not believe! How was that possible?

Did he decide that the problems were too puzzling?  Was his distaste for being in a state of confusion stronger than his need to complete the unpleasant task and thus let him conquer his obsessive compulsive behavior?

Was his effort to pretend, that he did not find those worksheets a sign that he had that evasive thing…Theory of Mind?

Or am I assuming too much?

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