Prepare your students for the Multiplication Tables Check (MTC)

Posted in
May 4, 2024

How to prepare for the MTC and still build deep understanding and fluency

The controversial UK national curriculum Multiplication Tables check (MTC) has been with us for 5 years, and the debate about the controversial approach has never gone away. We’re here to support you preparing your students for the test, while still delivering deep understanding and fluency.

We’ve seen this scenario unfold before.

When the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program was introduced in the United States in 2001, its goal was noble: to enhance student achievement. It aimed to achieve this by holding schools accountable for their performance through standardized testing. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Over time, the focus on test scores led to teaching strategies tailored specifically to the test, narrowing the curriculum, and putting increased pressure on educators to prioritize test preparation over comprehensive learning experiences.

Reasons to be wary

As a result, the educational journey often shifted its focus solely on meeting testing benchmarks rather than nurturing critical thinking, creativity, and a well-rounded education. This shift ultimately compromised the effectiveness and integrity of the educational system, undermining the program’s original intentions.

We’ve witnessed similar instances where well-intentioned systems resulted in unforeseen negative consequences. It’s crucial that we prevent the Multiplication Tables Check (MTC) from becoming another cautionary tale alongside the NCLB debacle.

So, how do we accomplish that?

Firstly, let’s understand what the MTC is and why it’s here.

The Multiplication Tables Check (MTC) is a national curriculum test in the United Kingdom, introduced relatively recently as part of educational reforms in England, which took effect in September 2014. Its purpose is to evaluate primary school students’ fluency in recalling multiplication facts up to 12×12.

The concept of the MTC emerged as part of a broader initiative to elevate standards in mathematics education and ensure students develop robust numeracy skills early in their academic journey. The decision to implement the MTC was driven by concerns regarding students’ proficiency in basic mathematical operations, particularly multiplication, and the perceived necessity to address any gaps in their knowledge.

How does the MTC work?

The MTC was officially rolled out in primary schools in England during the 2019-2020 academic year, with the inaugural assessments conducted in June 2020 for Year 4 students (typically aged 8-9). This check is conducted online and comprises 25 multiple-choice questions, testing students’ ability to swiftly and accurately recall multiplication facts ranging from 2×2 to 12×12 within a specified time frame.

The introduction of the MTC sparked debates among educators and parents.

Critics raised concerns about the potential adverse effects of high-stakes testing on students’ well-being and questioned the effectiveness of evaluating mathematical fluency through a timed, multiple-choice format. However, advocates of the MTC argue that it offers valuable insights into students’ mathematical fluency, identifies areas for curriculum improvement, and encourages schools to prioritize teaching essential numeracy skills.

While the debate persists, teachers must prepare their students for the MTC in a manner that aligns with the test’s objectives without over-relying on rote learning.

So, how can we effectively prepare our students for the MTC?

Preparing students for the Multiplication Tables Check (MTC) is a multifaceted undertaking that necessitates a thorough understanding of procedural fluency. To ensure students proficiently tackle multiplication facts, it’s essential to anchor their learning in conceptual understanding while fostering automaticity and efficiency in recall.

Esteemed researchers such as Jennifer Bay-Williams and John San Giovanni emphasize that procedural fluency encompasses flexibility, efficiency, and accuracy, all while integrating reasoning. This entails students not merely memorizing facts but comprehending the underlying concepts behind mathematical operations.

How to prepare for the MTC

A balanced approach that amalgamates conceptual understanding with strategic practice is paramount. Here are some guiding principles for teachers preparing their students for the MTC:

Build Automaticity Through Strategy:

Instead of fixating solely on rote memorization, engage students in decision-making roles where they must discern the most efficient strategies for solving multiplication problems. Encourage the gradual development of automaticity through reasoning and strategy, eschewing an emphasis on speed from the outset.

Make Connections to Existing Knowledge:

Assist students in forging connections between multiplication facts and their pre-existing knowledge. Employ techniques like “thin slicing” or problem strings to facilitate a robust learning experience that links new content to students’ existing understanding. By scaffolding their learning in this manner, students can cultivate a deeper grasp of multiplication concepts.

Practice Little and Often:

Offer students frequent opportunities for practice, eschewing lengthy, infrequent practice sessions. Incorporate brief, daily exercises of mental processes into your classroom routine. This “little and often” approach enables students to reinforce their learning and transfer their skills to various contexts more effectively.

Foster a Safe Risk-Taking Environment:

Cultivate a classroom culture that champions and celebrates risk-taking. Value students’ thinking, effort, progress, and creativity over merely arriving at the correct answer. Steer clear of activities that evoke shame or fear, such as timed tests or public score charts. Instead, prioritize creating a mathematical environment where students feel emboldened to explore, err, and learn from their mistakes.

Provide Differentiated Support:

Acknowledge that students may progress toward procedural fluency at varying rates. Extend tailored support to meet the unique needs of each student, whether through additional practice opportunities, targeted interventions, or differentiated instruction. By furnishing bespoke support, you can ensure that all students have the chance to cultivate procedural fluency at their own pace.

Building confidence and fluency

By implementing these strategies, educators can empower students to confront the MTC with confidence and fluency. By nurturing a profound understanding of multiplication concepts and affording opportunities for strategic practice, teachers can bolster their students’ proficiency, equipping them to excel not only in the MTC but also beyond.

For an example of how you can prepare your students for both success in the MTC and the cultivation of multiplicative fluency in the long run, keep an eye out for our MTC Bootcamp program.

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