How useful are times tables tests?

In the drive to raise standards, the National Curriculum in England has now said that children need to know their times tables to x12 by the end of Year 4 (two years earlier than in the previous National Curriculum). This, not surprisingly, has led to more testing to ensure that children can tell you that 7×8=56 and 6×9=54.

9780857476296 The Mighty Multiples Times Table Challenge Brilliant Publications

The Mighty Multiples Times Table Challenge

Professor Boaler from Stanford University recently caused a stir by saying that children found times table tests stressful and that they should be banned. This immediately caused a furore of people accusing her being against raising standards in education.

But this is misunderstanding what Prof Boaler’s research has shown (see attached article). She does not say that children shouldn’t learn their times tables. She isn’t saying that they aren’t important and fundamental building block for future study of mathematics.

What Prof Boaler is arguing against are the tests themselves. By over-emphasising times tables tests, we develop in children the wrong attitude towards maths with a “narrow and impoverished” focus on getting the right answers fast.

Prof Boaler continues: “We need to free our young people from the crippling idea that they must not fail, that they cannot mess up, that only some students can be good at maths and that success should be easy and not involve effort.”

Maths is so much more than that, and an essential life skill. Yes, we need to know if children have learned their times tables. But before we start grilling children on their times tables, we need to ensure that they’ve grasped the concept of multiplication (and its relationship to addition and division). They need to be shown concrete and abstract examples of multiplication in a variety of interesting ways. They need to be given opportunities to apply multiplication to real life situations.

That is what I love about The Mighty Multiples Times Table Challenge. It provides a fresh approach to learning times tables and will help all children to feel that they can do maths and – most importantly – that maths is fun.

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Filed under Assesssment, Mathematics

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