Be Brave, education, Humour, Rants, Raves

Children should memorize their times tables (and other duh! moments in teaching)


The Globe and Mail’s editorial this weekend praised the governments of Ontario and Alberta for making the memorization of the multiplication tables part of the school curriculum.

And well they should.

As I have mentioned many times in this old blog of mine, I am not a fan of  “homework”; however, when I taught grades 4 and 5, I always sent the kids home with multiplication tables at the beginning of the year. I told them that if they could memorize their facts (up to 9×9) their lives would be sooooo much easier and happier that it would more than make up for the time they spent playing flash cards with mom or being quizzed by dad in the car. Once you know your multiplication facts, you know your division facts. Some kids need to spend extra time committing their addition and subtraction facts to memory (especially subtraction…this is often difficult for kids), but it’s worth it.

Students who don’t have their facts down by late elementary often struggle with all the other math concepts. You may know how to find the area of rectangle, but if you can’t multiply the two numbers that make up length by width quickly and accurately, you aren’t going to be able to solve the problem.

Once you have your basic facts locked away in the big file cabinet in your mind, you can move on to doing actual fun math things, like making graphs about who likes baseball vs. hockey (kids love that stuff) .  If you are still using your fingers to subtract seven from 15, it is going to take you a long time to figure out any multi-step math problems.

Of course I think it’s important for kids to understand what it means to multiply and divide and add and subtract. And, as teachers, we teach that. We start teaching that in pre-school and kindergarten with pictures and songs and hands on materials. Parents teach it every time they give their child an allowence or let them count the change in mom’s change purse.

But for pete’s sake.

6×7 = 42. It did when I was a kid. It did when you were a kid. It does now and it will continue to do so in the future.

No one needs to discover that or figure that out. Thank you. That’s been done. No need to reinvent the wheel.

Now…what is 8×4? 6×3? 5+2?


math 2Important exception to the rule: Everyone learns differently. With lots of practice and repetition, most kids will be able to memorize their facts. BUT some kids can’t memorize their facts due to problems with their working memory or a learning disability or the fact that they just learn differently. If you have tried and tried and tried to help your child memorize their facts but to no avail and now everyone is miserable and dissolves into tears every time the term ‘math’ is mentioned, invest in a nice slim calculator and teach your child how to work it quickly and accurately. Remediate until remediation has been proven ineffective and then compensate.







Six is not the new sixteen

What's wrong with you, baby? How come you can't read yet? How will you ever get a job?!
What’s wrong with you, baby? How come you can’t read yet? How will you ever get a job?!

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Whenever I read doom and gloom stories, lamenting the reading scores of six-year-olds, I feel sad. When did six become the new sixteen? When did we start worrying about job prospects and future options for kids who still sleep with a nightlight?

Imagine you are six years old. You like running around aimlessly with your friends and playing video games and snuggling with your cat. School is OK, but reading is hard. Maybe your brain scrambles the letters, so you’re not seeing what the other kids see. Or maybe you can’t stay focused long enough to figure out what the words mean. You don’t really know what’s going on except that your parents keep bugging you to “pay attention” and you have to read with that “special teacher” who helps you and a few other kids.

Now, imagine you worked your little butt off for the whole year and your reading got a lot better. All of a sudden, you can read real books, some of them all by yourself. You’re feeling pretty good. You did all of the work your teacher asked you to do, but guess what? It still wasn’t enough to make all those grown-ups happy because you didn’t pass the “test” at the end of the year.

Well, gosh darn it. You tried your best and you did get better. How come it wasn’t enough?

Maybe it’s because you’re only 6 and you need more than one year of extra help. Maybe you spent most of this year learning how to tie your shoes and be a good friend and count to 10. Maybe your brain is just working slower on reading because it’s working overtime learning something else. Or maybe, just maybe, you have a learning disability, which means reading is going to be hard for you…maybe for awhile, maybe always.

An opinion piece by Paul Bennett in Saturday’s paper proclaimed Nova Scotia’s new literacy program Succeeding in Reading a failure. He said the assessments for the end of Year 1 (year 1 of a 3-year program, mind you) showed that 44 per cent of these grade 1 students failed to meet the expected standard for achievement. Ergo, the education system has once again failed these poor children.

Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

There is another way you could look at those numbers. Hmmm…what could that be? Oh, let’s see now. One hundred take away 44…carry the one…uh…56. That means 56 per cent of the children met the standards.

More than half…in the first year…of a brand-new three-year-program.

That’s starting to sound a bit better, isn’t it?

Here’s a novel idea: what if we started looking at test results differently?

Call me crazy but what if, instead of comparing widely different kids to each other, we compared them to themselves? What if we based their successes on their individual achievements?

Well, the critics will grumble, that’s not the way the real world works. These children are going to have to compete with people from all over the world to get jobs! They need to be competitive. 

Yes, yes. I agree. They will have to compete for jobs…in 15-20 years! Right now, no one is fighting them for the job of making their bed.

I want to know how many of these children became better readers over the course of the year. Based on my experience working with struggling readers, I would guess that almost every single child improved. Of course not all to the same extent, but some may have had farther to travel. These successes should be celebrated, not lamented.

Each individual result needs to be looked at, so we can see what each individual child needs in order to continue improving in the years to come. Tossing all of the results into one big melting pot and saying: Well, only this many kids passed the test, so therefore the entire program is a bust, is silly and irresponsible.

All kids learn differently, at their own pace. And they all need different things to be successful. How about we focus on that for change?