Get The Facts, Strategies for Teaching Multiplication Facts


November 19, 2011 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Articles


Use of strategies to learn multiplication

All around me my college classmates started reciting the attendance list along with our distinguished English Literature professor. OK, he began every class calling out that same list of names and recording our attendance. But repetition has never been my thing (I’ll even turn off the radio rather than suffer through another rendition of that same ad that’s been running for months) so I mostly tuned this out, keeping an ear on the progress in order to respond at the correct time, but otherwise letting my mind wander in other areas of interest.

I couldn’t’ t have recited the attendance list if I had to and this was when I first truly realized that people learn in different ways. I was sitting with a group of people who all seemed to have a very different learning style from my own. For one thing, by hearing the same thing repeated over and over, they had learned it without any effort to do so. Not me. Repetition is not the most effective way for me to learn anything. This was an astonishing revelation to me. At the time I was working on a BSN in nursing, not education.

Fast forward to teaching in the public schools. I’d spent six years as an educational technician in special education, during which time I devoured research on best ways to teach skills. Eventually I made the step of earning a masters degree in special education.

Along the way, I observed that teachers seemed to expect students to learn by repetition. They assign students to write their spelling words 10 times, to fill out grids of multiplication facts, etc. Did this work for me? No. Was it working for all the children in the class? No. In fact, teachers start teaching the concept of multiplication at the end of second grade and work hard on it in third grade, only to have fourth grade teachers observe that many students still don’t know their basic facts. Maybe repetition works for fewer than we think. We are spending a tremendous amount of time and effort to teach these basic facts. There has to be a better way, and there certainly is. It’s using strategies.

Strategies can work for all students, those who just get it by repetition, and those who never will. A strategy is something you use to help you remember the correct response. Any response, any topic. It was in my graduate program that I read texts describing the use of strategies to help remember information. But it was well before that, as an educational technician, when I began researching ways to help my students learn the basic math facts, and came across various strategies for teaching them.

Many of my older students had never learned them and were unable to succeed with higher mathematics skills. The facts have to be automatic in order not to get hopelessly bogged down with middle school math.

Over the years I made notes, and designed fact worksheets to help practice the various strategies. Some of them were commonly described in different texts. Others I discovered myself, or learned from a student. Eventually I turned this into the multiplication facts book, which I offer on this website.

The practice pages are designed to be used by any age student who needs to learn the facts, nothing silly, immature, or confusing. You can easily copy pages from the book to use with groups of students. Along with the work pages, you’ll find complete instructions for teaching each strategy and a check off sheet for facts mastered so that students can visually note their fast progress.

I’ve found this program successful with students who’ve never been able to remember the facts. It has also been used in a third and a fourth grade regular education classroom successfully.

The use of  strategies guides a student in getting the correct answer every time it is called for. Eventually the strategy may be forgotten, but the answer is remembered. Have you ever had the experience of learning something wrong the first time, and then having difficulty remembering the correct response? For instance, we planted an orange-flowering quince bush. When I first tried to recall its name “osage orange” popped into my mind. Even though I know very well what an osage orange tree is, this incorrect response always seemed to pop into my mind first, before I could remember the word quince. Strategies help get the correct response the first time, so that this doesn’t happen. Math strategies prevent this sort of “around the barn” search in our brains for the correct answer. Think of it as making one strong neural pathway in the brain, rather than many weaker ones, with the learner never sure which one to follow, or always heading off in the dead-end direction first.

When you use this approach, you’ll start with strategies that teach a lot of facts easily and fast, to give students courage, and motivate them to continue. There are a few facts that are like sight words. I’ve never found a really good strategy for them. They are taught differently. I insert them between different strategy instructions, rather than leaving them for the end. This way they are learned individually or a few at a time, not as a leftover pile of confusing facts. The index gives you a good idea of the order of facts taught. Click on “View Large Image” on the “Get the Facts” web page to see it. I wish all students had the opportunity to learn facts by a strategy approach. I think it’s so much easier.