Thoughts on Times Tables

For most of January people have been talking about the new Times Tables tests being introduced into primary schools by the Government.

There has been much negative press about these, which personally I think is unwarranted.

For me there is no need for tests to put undue pressure on children, or increase anxiety – it is all about how they are presented to the children by parents and teachers. I can remember being told by my Granny (who was a maths teacher) to “go in and enjoy it” when I talked about tests and I can never remember hating maths tests. Of course I realise that some children may not particularly enjoy tests, but the “children hate tests and they make them hate maths” talk that is common is a massive stereotype and not universally backed up with any evidence. I believe a more pressing issue is the projection by teachers of their anxieties about tests onto their pupils; understandable since they are often judged these days on their pupils performances on high stakes national tests. I certainly don’t see why a new times table test will lead to children not enjoying mathematics! In addition, I feel that not expecting all children to be able to know their times table facts by the end of primary school is just symptomatic of having low expectations.

But, all of these problems are to do with how tests are interpreted or the results used, not with the tests themselves. This distinction is important to me as I always enjoyed doing tests in maths lessons – they were a time where I could just do maths as opposed to being bothered by other things. A nicely designed test is an opportunity for a child to express themselves mathematically – sadly this seems to be a rare thing…

However, I am a little unsure about each individual question having a time limit. If a student is anxious about maths then their performance in this test is likely to be an underestimate due to the anxiety getting in the way. I’ve only really just started thinking about this issue and came across this paper which is interesting reading – I will add it to the next #mathsjournalclub poll.

Apologies for the slightly rambling nature of this post – it’s more an attempt for me to put some thoughts down for myself than anything. For me fluency with multiplication facts underpins so much of later mathematics, even A-Level students who are weaker at these basic skills struggle.

As a final aside, I was discussing this with an old colleague and we think it should be known as “The Multiplication Matrix” instead of “times tables facts”.


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