Almost every day I hear from teachers whose students are struggling with memorizing the basic multiplication facts. These teachers KNOW how important multiplication is, and are committed to finding a solution, despite their lack of time and resources.
Knowing the multiplication facts is ESSENTIAL. Just ask any middle or high school teacher! These teachers are teaching topics that rely on multiplication fact knowledge, but all too often students come to higher grades lacking these basics. This results in great difficulty performing these other skills that rely on multiplication.
So why are our students struggling with basic multiplication fact mastery? Let’s discuss the reasons as well as some effective solutions that you can implement right away!
REASON #1: LESS TIME FOR THE BASICS
Today’s curriculum is overwhelming. It is jam-packed with topics and often we are “covering” them rather than diving deep simply because of a lack of time. We need to ensure that even when our math classes are focused on completely unrelated topics such as geometry or fractions, we are still practicing basic facts on a daily basis.
Basic facts can easily be integrated into your daily routine. Here are a few ideas for how you can implement this:
- Make your daily morning work math fact based. Have students solve a few equations in the morning rather than always relying on a morning message or other ELA-related task.
- Integrate basic facts into your Math Warm-Up. A couple of problem solving or other fact-based tasks can be incorporated into the start of each math class. This does not have to take any more than 3 or 4 minutes so that you still have plenty of time to focus on the other topics you are teaching that day. This Multiplication Equation of the Day booklet is a great way to incorporate math fact practice!
- Use centers or stations. When you have math stations set up in your classroom, ensure that one of those stations is always dedicated to fact review. This can include card and dice games, partner practice, or other fact-based activities.
REASON #2: TEACHING THE FACTS IN THE WRONG ORDER
When I first started teaching, I taught the multiplication facts in regular numerical order – the 1’s first, then the 2’s, then the 3’s, etc. Little did I know this was completely wrong! Teaching in regular numerical order does not make practical sense when you think about learning multiplication in a strategic way.
When you get strategic with your teaching, your students will learn more efficiently and more effectively. It also won’t feel as difficult for them! This means that motivation and success will increase! Teach the facts in a strategic order – the easiest ones first, and then slowly progress to the most difficult ones. This is the order that I suggest for teaching the facts:
- The 0’s
- The 1’s
- The 2’s
- The 5’s
- The 10’s
- The 11’s
- The 9’s
- The 4’s
- The 3’s
- The 6, 7, and 8’s
- The 12’s
The reason for this strategic order is that students are knocking out all of the easy facts first. This builds confidence, and means that when they get to the difficult facts, there are very few left to learn!
I’ve actually written an entire blog post about this suggested order of teaching. I’ve included a lot of visuals so that you can see exactly WHY you will definitely want to teach in this order! See that post HERE.
You also might be interested in downloading my FREE Suggested Order of Teaching Guide HERE.
This brings me to the commutative property…
REASON #3: LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE COMMUTATIVE PROPERTY
Often our students will look at the first factor of an equation and become intimidated if it is a factor that they struggle with. For example, the 7 times tables can be intimidating, so a fact like 7×4 might look difficult at first glance.
Our students must understand the commutative property of multiplication. It is essential that they understand that for a fact like 7×4, the product will be the same as 4×7. For this reason they could use the 4’s strategy (double the double) to solve this fact.
When students understand the commutative property of multiplication, the number of facts that they need to learn is actually cut down drastically. I talk about this more in the post that I mentioned above about the suggested order of teaching, but I just want to reiterate – by the time that students have reached the last set of facts (the 12’s), they have already learned all of the facts except for 12×12. This is because of the commutative property.
REASON #4: THE WRONG MIX OF MEMORIZATION AND STRATEGY
We know that mental math strategies are important for multiplication, but so is memorization of the facts. However, if we begin with memorization before we teach strategy, many of our students will struggle with fact retention.
We can integrate mental math strategies along with techniques for memorization, but we have to be strategic about it. Begin by teaching your students strategies for each set of facts. Allow them the time that they need to understand each strategy before moving onto a new one. Once students really UNDERSTAND the process of the multiplication strategy, then begin to incorporate memorization. Our goal is automaticity with the facts, meaning that students are solving a fact within 1-3 seconds. So for example, you might begin teaching the 2 times tables using the doubles strategy. However once students understand this strategy, you will begin to encourage automaticity, meaning that students are no longer relying so heavily on the strategy, and they just “know” the answer. I talk more about this in my Basic Multiplication and Division Live Webinar, which you can see more about HERE.
REASON #5: ASSUMING THAT THAT WE CAN TEACH STUDENTS THE SAME FACTS AND STRATEGIES AT THE SAME TIME
In a typical classroom, we have a wide range of student ability levels. When we begin to teach multiplication, this will become very apparent. Teaching multiplication as a whole class topic where students move from times table to times table at the same pace is not an effective way to teach multiplication. You will be holding some students back from their full potential, and moving others along too fast to actually grasp the strategy.
Multiplication needs to be individualized. Be sure to teach multiple strategies so that students can grab on to the one that makes the most sense for them. Allow students to move along through the facts at their own pace. For example, some students are going to catch on to the 2’s facts really quickly, while some are going to need more time. Make sure those students have the time that they need to achieve mastery. Using The Multiplication Station in your classroom is a great way to allow your students to move along at their own pace and master the facts and strategies as they go.
If you have read this far, I know that you are committed to helping your students achieve mastery with the multiplication facts. I am passionate about multiplication and I would love to help you! Here are a few links to helpful blog posts and resources that were mentioned in this article:
SELF-PACED PROGRAM FOR FACT MASTERY: The Multiplication Station
DAILY PRACTICE: Multiplication Equation of the Day Booklet
WEBINAR (40 minutes, PD certificate included): Teaching Basic Multiplication and Division for Mastery