The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) in the UK has published a new report from a project funded by their Innovation Evaluation Grants. The IEE Innovation evaluations are small-scale and test the kinds of innovations that schools are interested in.
Thirty-four Year 4 classes (equivalent to grade 3 in the U.S.) took part in the evaluation of improving times table fluency, which was conducted by Underwood West Academy. A total of 876 children were included in the study.
Five groups of four or five classes were created by matching the pre-test scores on a 25-item tables test and the percentage of children in receipt of pupil premium (additional funding for schools in England, designed to help disadvantaged students). All groups had similar pre-test scores and similar percentages of children in receipt of pupil premium. Each class used a different balance of conceptual and procedural activities during times tables lessons. Conceptual activities were games that focused on the connections and patterns in tables facts, while procedural activities were games in which students practiced multiplication facts.
Students had four 15-minute times tables lessons each week, and the intervention lasted for 12 weeks. Before the intervention started, all participating students carried out a simple times tables test comprising of 25 spoken multiplication questions. The same test was repeated as a post-test.
The results of the trial showed that no one balance of practice activities was more effective than another. The report concludes that times tables may be best taught by using a balanced approach - teaching both the concepts behind them and practicing them in a range of ways with low-stakes testing.