This post has nothing to do with something new and brilliant I’ve discovered about helping students learn their multiplication facts. Instead, it is about my learning. About a year ago, I wrote this post: Times (x) they are a changing . . . . It was a reflection on how and why I stopped doing timed multiplication drills. Back then, I learned from my students about what they needed. We began to work on our facts in a different way and I was excited about what I saw.
In no way did I throw the baby out with the bathwater. I still believe children benefit from knowing their multiplication facts. Especially if they know them “by heart” so the answer to 7 x 8 is as easily retrieved as a birth date. This allows them to use these facts easily and quickly as they work on more complex problems in the intermediate grades.
But one year later, what am I thinking? Watching my students approach their daily practice with multiplication facts, I remain absolutely convinced that timed drills are not the way to go. Why?
*The stress of “being timed” just completely shuts some learners down before they even begin.
*Timed drills have a “test like” vibe and everything gets quiet. The “talking through thinking” stops and often, so does the thinking.
*Timed drills highlight what you already know as a teacher. Some kids learn their facts almost instantly, some learn them with lots of memory work and some struggle no matter what. So why create a situation that highlights this? It doesn’t highlight learning.
*Creating a situation where memorization is the only route to success means not everyone has success
What do I do instead?
*We spend a lot of time on the concept of multiplication. The symbol x is taught as “groups of” so we would read this math sentence 2 x 4 as 2 groups of 4. We draw pictures. We work with manipulatives. We play games. We build and draw arrays (with blocks, graph paper, rows and dots) We solve problems (using pictures or blocks, etc)
* We then move on to learning that there are strategies to answering multiplication questions – this comes from our observations, discussion and the patterns we notice as we go. I never teach “tricks” at this stage like “just add a 0 to the other number when you multiply by 10” I let students figure it out themselves so that the “trick” is connected to the concept. Not so it replaces it. It sounds something like this: Student A says, “I was counting by tens to solve these problems (4 x 10 and 7 x 10) but then I noticed that all of the questions that are groups of 10 always end in a 0.” Student B concurs, “Yes! It’s kind of like because you are counting down the 100s chart at the end part where you are skip counting by 10s. So you can just put a 0 on the end of the other number.” Another child listens to this and looks confused. Student A and B get out blocks or the hundreds chart and show them with skip counting. They try out a few more and boom, they have a strategy that now works for them. And, they all understand because they have made meaning together.
*While we continue using multiplication to solve problems and even move onto division concepts, we do a daily practice sheet that contains 16 multiplication questions. Students move through these sheets at their own pace. They can talk. They can ask for support. Some work with a partner. Some get out blocks and build arrays. Some skip count on their fingers. Some do what they know first and then add on another group i.e. “I know 5 x 6 is 30 so 6 x6 is 30 +6)
What is happening in the room that wasn’t back in the days of timed drills?
*Self talk. I often hear a child talking through the questions
*Talking together and building knowledge
*Discovering strategies and sharing them
*Time and space to think
*Confidence and competence develop together
*And multiplication facts begin to become known facts. For some it is many. For others, just a few. Some children are working on learning the 6s and 7s. Others are working with 2s and 5s. Others know them all fairly well and get sheets with a variety of questions to practice. When they feel ready, they tell me they want to move on. Often it just clicks and a child ralizes that they “just know” many facts and they get very excited to learn more. The exciting thing is when they move on to a new set of facts and recognize that they already know many of them!
*Everyone is making progress and multiplication is something we feel confident about!
So fellow primary teachers, how do you deal with learning multiplication facts? Would love to hear how things work in your room.