It has been said that we tend to remember bad experiences more clearly than good ones. This is absolutely true in my own experience of learning times tables.
Let’s go back to 1980, when I began my education journey at a tiny village school in North Yorkshire. At age 5, I was already a confident reader and always scored full marks in my weekly spelling test. However, learning my times tables was a completely different story. Every Friday, a group of three children had to chant a different times table in front of the class and my turn was coming… Palms sweating, heart pounding and legs shaking I edged my way to the front. My rendition of the three times tables appeared to reduce my classmates into fits of helpless giggles. Confused, I looked down and realised, in horror, that my skirt was tucked into my favourite pink Bugs Bunny knickers, which were now on full show! My times table anxiety had meant I’d needed a quick dash to the loo pre lesson… The shame and humiliation live with me to this day.
What did I take from this experience? That I would never put a child on the spot when it came to learning multiplication sums. Not ever. Fortunately, we have moved on from that rote way of learning and schools now adopt a number of “friendlier” strategies to encourage their students to learn their multiplication facts. Having said that, back in the “old days” we weren’t formally tested on this as children are now.
Since 2019, all state-funded maintained schools and academies have been required to administer an online multiplication tables check (MTC) to students in Year 4. Prior to this, there was no formal measure as to whether children had learned their tables or not. The test is carried out in June and children have about five minutes to answer 25 questions. It tests children’s ability to recall their tables up to 12 × 12. The 1 times table is not included (apart from in the practice questions) and there is a particular focus on the 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12 times tables. The National Curriculum states that pupils should be taught to recall the multiplication tables up to and including 12 × 12 by the end of Year 4 and the purpose of the MTC is to determine whether pupils can recall their times tables fluently, which is deemed essential for future success in mathematics. There is no threshold or pass mark and individual school results will not be published in performance tables at least. One may ask, why test children in Year 4? I believe it is because the results will allow schools to identify children who are struggling in this area, enabling them to provide additional support before they take their SATS in Year 6.
As a teacher, I know only too well how important times table recall is for students. These facts are the building blocks of maths and studies have shown that the earlier children understand their times tables, the better they become at maths. For instance, once you know that 2 x 4 = 8, you also recognise that 20 x 40 = 800 and even 0.2 x 0.4 = 0.8. We use times table recall in most areas of maths, including fractions, decimals and percentages plus area and problem solving. E.g. To solve three quarters of 24, we need to know that 24 ÷ 4 = 6 and 6 x 3= 18
To put it bluntly – there is no escaping them! In my experience, children with a solid grasp find maths much easier and repetition is the way forward. The Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist, Dr Eric Kandel, discovered that repeated stimulus and repetition help us to remember things. For this reason, the best way of learning times tables is little and often.
I was teaching in Year 4 the first year of the MTC and my class lacked confidence in this area initially. Deciding that improving their skills would have a positive impact on their overall maths attainment, we played times tables games every morning for ten minutes. Before long, every single child in that class knew those tables inside out and back to front, with the favourites being Multiplication Mash Up and Daily 10. The best part? Many of the children, who found maths reasoning problematic, were brilliant at recall and seeing their increased confidence and self-belief was incredible. I suspect your child may use TT Rockstars at school and whilst this does work well, I have found that the novelty can wear off quite quickly.
Quite simply, if your child suffers from a lack of confidence in maths, help them to learn their tables. It will have an immediate and extremely positive impact on their confidence and attainment. We don’t all learn in the same way, so it is important to try lots of strategies for size and keep it fresh and new. Here are some additional tried and tested resources that we use in our maths lessons at GBA:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiR8hqJeQsw brilliant for younger children and gets them moving too!
https://www.topmarks.co.uk/maths-games/hit-the-button a free app for tablets also available
Click on the picture to watch our free lesson on the nine times table.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any further advice and do share any effective resources you have discovered too.