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Kumon Math


Q. What is the Kumon method?


Billed as the largest academic after-school program in the world, this Japanese program is in 44 countries and has more than 1,500 outlets in the United States.


It's not really a tutoring service: Kumon is a program of self-study on dozens of levels of math fundamentals. Kumon is built on the three R's: Repetition, Reinforcement, and Retention. Its main philosophy is that practice really does make perfect. The Kumon curriculum does not necessarily dovetail with what a child on any given grade level is learning in school, but the math skills that Kumon develops are of use at all grade levels as the student progresses through school. So Kumon is complementary to schooling, rather than supplementary.


In Kumon, which is year-round, a student will do thousands of pages of simple worksheets on his or her own time over the several years that the typical student attends Kumon. The parent checks the answers and then once or twice a week, the student attends a session lasting a half-hour or so at the Kumon outlet, where there is guidance and help available from an adult instructor.


But most of the work is done by the student, and that is the hallmark of Kumon: independent learning.


It was founded by Japanese teacher Toru Kumon, who developed the instructional method for his son, who was able to do calculus in sixth grade. Even though Kumon study is common among the top-ranking students in a high school class, Kumon doesn't claim to be for smart kids only. It claims to be equally helpful for remedial students as for those who need math enrichment, according to program officials.


Rather than drilling kids on the math facts or promising to "fix" a student's math deficiencies, Kumon focuses on teaching students how to approach math, using practice sheets that systematically cover all the fundamental math skills in a logical progression, slowly but surely cementing those skills in the student's academic repertoire.


While it is true that the Kumon student does thousands of math problems at home during the typical six- or seven-year involvement with Kumon, it's not really a "drill-and-kill" approach, as some educators might believe.


The philosophy behind Kumon is that students are better able to retain what they have learned if the math concepts that they study are strategically built upon one another over the weeks, months and years of an education. Math concepts should be learned systematically, in other words. They are, in Kumon.

But in most public schools today, the philosophy is "spiraling" - teaching a little bit about each math concept each year of school, returning to that particular concept over and over again over the years - but never really letting the kids gain permanence in their math knowledge base, or mastery over the individual skills.


The criticism of "whole math" with its spiraling is that the students' math knowledge is too shallow to be of use when the going gets tough, from algebra on.


Kumon locks in solid math skills through practicing every day and repeating the problems with subtle variations and very gradual advancement. The key is that the planned repetitions create "automaticity" in the student. That means the math operations are so ingrained after all that strategic practice that the student doesn't get bogged down in applying basic math to higher-level math, such as algebra and geometry.


The goal with Kumon is to have the student ready to excel in algebra by fifth grade, and to be prepared for the higher-level math on the college admissions tests which come up in the sophomore and junior year.


Kumon has added a reading component in recent years.





By Susan Darst Williams Math 13 2009



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