Dumb is in the Past: Times Tables Coaches

This is a post for anyone who is running Times Tables Rock Stars in their school and is thinking about ways to support the students to achieve the target of being able to recall any times tables fact in under 3 seconds.

To support the main body of students (i.e. those where the initial baseline showed that they know their tables in – on average – under 6 seconds a question), we use a subscription to www.ttrockstars.com, TTRS itself (the paper-based version, with all the attendant hype), rolling numbers (videos to follow of our own students – we practise as a whole-year group three times a week), a support booklet to offer advice to parents who wanted to help at home, practice for homework on Sumdog and a calculation-focused SOW for the first third of Year 7.

However, a problem we had with last year’s first attempt at TTRS was that the very weakest students didn’t improve enough to allow them to access maths lessons with the speed and accuracy that they need. Our main strategy to support them – that is, the 20 students who showed up on the baseline as having the slowest times – is TTRS coaches.

TTRS coaches are Y8 and Y9 students who are assigned to 1-3 Y7 students and meet with them once a week to teach/encourage/lead games/praise/set targets and generally act as a positive role model. Pleasingly, there is a good range in the coaches’ mathematical backgrounds – many are students who started Y7 with very low confidence or who were very weak at their tables a year ago. In their applications, a commonly cited reason for applying was either to help other students see that they, too, could improve or to help themselves to maintain the gains they’d made last year. The only frustration is that the coaches are mostly girls, despite being a school that has a high proportion of boys, so we will have to think about how we market it next year.

The coaches had training for 3 weeks after school, where we looked at questions and scenarios such as:

– What does it mean to be ‘bad’ or ‘good’ at your tables?

– Why is it important to be fast and accurate with times (and division) tables?

– Why might a student arrive in Y7 and be very slow or inaccurate with their tables?

– How might students feel when they often make mistakes?

– What sort of praise is helpful (effort-focused) or unhelpful (praising intelligence)?

– What are realistic targets?

– How do you respond if they tell you they think they are stupid or are ‘no good’ at a table?

– Why might a student be very shy, or very unfocused?

– How do you respond if they are very shy, or very unfocused?

We also planned things such as programmes for different tables and checking progress, appropriate celebrations and rewards (e.g. a certificate for reaching a milestone, or having special stickers for students’ planners) and exciting games and activities. Importantly, we also picked colours for their TTRS Coach badges.

It has now been running for a week, and it has been one of the most delightful and painfully cute things I have ever seen.

1. A Y7 told his coach that he is ‘really dumb’ at the 9x tables.

Response from coach: *places his hand on the student’s shoulder* “Dumb is in the past. You can make yourself clever in the future.”

2. “It’s really stressful being a coach. You explain, they don’t get it, and then you don’t know what to do.” (bahahahahahahaha) (obviously we did then discuss strategies to support his student)

3. (weakest* student in Y7, who works one-to-one with his coach) “I love it. It’s so much fun. [Coach] and I are going to change it to an hour now because I’m learning so much.”

4. “I’ve designed a game. We roll a dice for a times table. If they don’t get it right in 4 seconds, you have to roll the Dice of Doom. These are the forfeits: 1-say the 3xtables and do a chicken dance; 2-say the 11xtables in a funny voice; 3-say the 10xtables whilst doing a disco dance; 4-say the 9xtables in under 10 seconds; 5-say the 5xtables backwards; 6-your partner chooses.”

5. “It’s so much fun being a coach. I can already see [student] is improving.”

6. “Miss, I’ve made a lesson plan for coaching with [student]. Does it look ok?” (It looked amazing – an A4 page of ideas and rationale. And highlighter. So much highlighter).

A few coaches have now had two sessions and are already very autonomous and confident in what they’re doing (with lots of them doing quite different things depending on their students’ needs).

Of course, this post couldn’t be complete without gratuitous photos:

I don’t know yet what difference it will make to the progress those Y7s make in their tables this year, but it’s wonderful to see how enthusiastically the Y8/9 students have been throwing themselves into it and how seriously they’ve taken the ‘role model’ aspect of it. If you have tried any strategies of your own to support the weakest students with their mental maths, I would love to hear about it.