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New times tables testing - balance it with a multiplication game

Tuesday, 5 January 2016
Plans to test 11 year olds on multiplication tables on-screen, against the clock, with instant scores were announced this week – Happy New Year!  This is probably a decent time to balance this testing news with some more enjoyable maths, so here is a free multiplication game to download and print to put some fun into practising times tables. 
Nicky Morgan has announced that an on-screen examination will be piloted by 3000 students in 80 schools this summer before becoming part of the end of KS2 tests in 2017.  It is the first time that technology has been used in NC testing.

There were some interesting underlying assumptions in some of the things she said:

 “…we are introducing a new check to ensure that all pupils know their times tables by age 11.” 
This assumes that children will only learn their tables if they are tested – if only it was that easy.  Children are already tested as part of the end of Key Stage tests, so why should new tests make a difference?
Perhaps it is implying that teachers will only teach times tables if schools are tested. I visit many schools and all the teachers regularly teach multiplication facts using a variety of methods for learning tables. From using models and images such as arrays, objects for counting in groups, understanding the relationship with repeated addition and looking for patterns, through to various methods of quick recall of table facts, including chanting, singing and rote learning of key facts. I think there has certainly been more emphasis on it in the past 10 years than in my early teaching in the 1980s.
"The tests will be against the clock and scored instantly."
Of course we want children to be able to recall tables facts quickly. However putting anyone, including children, on the spot to answer any question instantly can make us falter – as politicians know to their own embarrassment when asked multiplication questions in interviews. If children saw this ‘test’ as a fun on-screen challenge to retake regularly to improve their own score, this would remove that potential for it to become a stressful single chance event.
It is worth reading this TES article, with Jo Boaler, professor of maths education at Stanford University talking about anxiety and testing times tables.
By scoring against the clock only one element of multiplication is tested – quick recall of facts. What about the understanding and concepts of multiplication? That may be tested elsewhere but this places quick recall as more important than understanding. Having a good memory and being able to learn and recall tables is not the same as being a good mathematician.
“ They (the tests) will help teachers recognise those pupils at risk of falling behind and allow us to target those areas where children aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed.”
Well – where to start! Yes that would be great if the test was used as part of assessment for learning to help focus on the areas children have yet to grasp. However if this is a tool for that, then don’t use it as part of the end of KS2 testing – with less than a term for teachers to ‘target’ those areas. Instead allow the test to be used in Y4 or Y5, then the final attempt in Y6 can go towards the end of KS2 result.
It assumes that teachers have no idea about how well their pupils know their tables and that without this test they will not know. Teachers constantly observe and assess the knowledge and understanding of each child in all areas of maths, including recall of tables facts. My biggest objection is to the emotive language of ‘children that aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed.’ Teaching is a vocation, our whole aim is for all our children succeed. What is meant by this?
Anyway, the tests are with us and we will just have to keep doing our best to make sure the children know their tables by Y4 if possible, and certainly by Y6. Keep the balance of testing and learning right by making maths enjoyable and non-threatening in the classroom - so have fun with the multiplication game.

Children think they're playing - teachers know they're learning!

Lots of practise can help improve the quick recall of mulitplcation facts. By using a game, children will want to play again and again, enjoy their maths and without realising learn their times tables. 

We might not be able to remove the anxiety around testing, but we can ensure children get lots of positive maths experiences. 

Tables Track Maths Game

Download, print on card and laminate to have an instant durable table top game that you can use again and again. 

This game is part of a set of Broadbent Maths Table Top Games Y5-6

There are 10 board games in each of three sets for Y1-2, Y3-4 and Y5-6.  

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