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The Fast Way to Teach ALL my Times Tables - for Boys

The experience of facing the times tables is something most people recall vividly. For some, it fills with dread. For most it brings back memories of struggling with lists of answers, some harder than others. And for very few are those memories pleasant. Yet we far less easily recall the struggles we went through learning some of our other childhood skills.

I am going to suggest that perhaps this is because, with our times tables, we went about learning them in an unnecessarily painful and difficult way.

As you read this article, bear in mind there is a very subtle difference between memorizing and remembering tables.

Notes

Note 1

When learning the times tables by rote, plain parrot-fashion repetition only taps into the oral experience. This is far less powerful for most people than things that we experience visually. For this reason, pictures can often be used to support rote-learning especially if the mind is able to recall a strong visual image that clearly hooks the multiplication problem to the answer.

Also, be aware of why many people consider the times tables to be limited to 12 x 12 when, in this decimal era the number 12 seems a rather strange limit. But this goes back to the days of counting in dozens (e.g. 12 inches in a foot) when an English shilling was worth 12 pennies.

Taking these ideas into account may lead to different conclusions when considering the times tables for children or specifically boys and girls.

Note 2

To be clear, you need to define what you mean by 'fast':

Are you hoping to minimize the amount of time required per lesson, the overall amount of study time needed to complete the process, a shorter number of days, weeks or years, or the total time required to become suitably competent with the times tables.

See here for more information about how to take this into account kids, teens and adults.

Note 3

These notes are as relevant for boys as for anyone else but many people expect boys to be more comfortable with their numeracy skills than girls, although this is an ill-founded expectation. It can however lead to degree of embarrassment or even humiliation for any boys who fall short and struggle with the times tables.

The Fast Way to Teach ALL my Times Tables - for Boys

Study Multiplication

Many teachers regard the responsibility of learning the times tables as something the student simply has to do, normally in their own time e.g. as a homework assignment. Then the teacher will use teaching time to test their students; to make sure they've completed their assignment. This is not teaching, but testing; and it is often embarrassing or even humiliating for students who have difficulty memorizing those lists of times tables answers.

A far better approach, more in line with the expected role of a teacher, would be to actually teach students mental multiplication skill, which they could of course practice as a homework assignment. In the process of helping students develop such skills, the teacher would test as part of coaching that skill. This approach is far less threatening to students.

In recent years, many people have challenged how appropriate it is to attempt to learn the times tables up to 12x12. Some prefer to limit the learning objective to 10x10 often citing decimalization as the reason for this, without speaking out the truth which underlies their motivation, being a preference to dumb-down the learning objective as it is then easier to accomplish.

On the other hand, those who value the ability to multiply (typically those who are comfortable themselves and often fail to see the problem through other people's eyes) suggest raising the bar to empower students with skills based on enlarging the times tables to cover up to 20x20 or even 100x100. This kind of goal cries out for a skill-based approach, rather than memorization of number facts.

Study Ideas

When rote-learning the times tables by rote, parrot-fashion repetition can be greatly supported by the use of rhyme or song. This helps the learner tap into their musical/rhythmic intelligence rather than depending entirely on the verbal/linguistic aspects of repetition. To experience this, try memorizing a news story word for word and then compare how difficult that is with learning the words to a nursery rhyme or song. The rhythm itself, and the rhyming words, and the tune of a song all play their part in carrying you through the recall process.

Even with the use of rhyme and song, however, the question remains as to whether rote learning of the times tables is really the best way forward, compared with developing the skill of effective mental multiplication.

Teaching Ideas