Turning the tables on multiplication (Part 1)
I usually write about technology in education but when I’m not doing that, I’m a teaching principal of a primary school. One of the things that has baffled me is how to help children learn their multiplication tables. I cringe every time I hear someone say that the only way is to learn them off by heart. Unfortunately I hear it a lot.
When I was in school, I learned stuff off by heart through fear. My main memory of being in primary school is seeing a 6th class boy standing at the end of a line with a number on a piece of paper above his head showing how many spellings he’d got right that year. There were also 2 kids with a much higher number above their head at the other end of the hall. Gah! I could even name them! I don’t remember what class I was in or any of the 20-odd children in between those 3 kids, but I remember not wanting to be the boy at the end of the line with his head down. Hence I learned my spellings off by heart.
In fairness, this was acceptable behaviourist teaching methodologies back then. I know my primary school wouldn’t dream of doing this today. Anyway, luckily I was good at learning things off by heart back then. I didn’t live in a visual world.
Today children live in a very different world to us. It’s not better or worse. It’s just different. Most children don’t learn things off by heart anymore. So one of the greatest challenges to teachers is how to get kids to learn basic things that we used to learn off by heart – namely spellings and tables.
Spelling tests on Fridays are thankfully decreasing (though probably not fast enough) as they are getting more and more bad PR. Work by Brendan Culligan has also influenced the way we think about spellings. We have also learned about the progression of spellers from nonsense spellers to first initial spellers to phonic spellers onto fluent spellers. In fact, teachers are gettings less and less concerned about “correct” spellings and more and more concerned about building knowledge so that spellings can improve.
Unfortunately with tables, 4 x 5 is always 20 and nothing can change that. This is why so many teachers, educationalists and others feel there is simply no alternative but to learn tables off by heart. There are a number of strategies that are popular, e.g. the 9 times tables can be learned using a finger trick (see a later post). There is also a book which gives the numbers characteristics. For example 6 x 8 = 48 is learned through knowing Chicks on skates make Fort E Cake, which I think is more confusing than anything. However, despite the great strategies out there – what is the strategy for 6×8 or 3×7?
I’m going to be writing a set of articles, which I hope will help teachers to help children learn tables more effectively. I’m no expert but I have found some great ways that have got children well on the way to “knowing” their tables. The final piece in my jigsaw came about only last week. However, I know there will be many more “final pieces” as I learn more. I hope people will contribute to these articles with ideas they might have to tackle the 121 number facts.