*‘Yes… absolutely… I agree… good point… please tell the DfE…!’*

Jo Boaler points out that the research out there shows unequivocally that children who have a ‘feel’ for number, use numbers flexibly, select strategies, think about numbers and generally have number sense will be high achievers in mathematics. This has little to do with quick recall of facts, however useful that may be, which in itself is such a small part of mathematics.

*learning*these facts.

Many children are put off maths for life because they were given timed tables tests or were asked to recall an addition fact quickly under the gaze of the whole class. I can still remember a maths teacher pointing at me, aged 11, and asking for a quick answer to a subtraction - the heat moving up through my face, feeling myself reddening and my mind a complete fog. I enjoy teaching maths, but I certainly didn’t enjoy learning it!

One of the seminars with the PGCE trainees last year included the use of cycle cards. Each had a card with a calculation on one side and an answer to a different calculation on the other so it made a chain or cycle around the class. The trainees were encouraged to answer as quickly as possible to beat 3 minutes to complete the cycle. We talked afterwards about the activity and many enjoyed the idea of the game, but once they were playing it they felt under pressure and found it stressful. Simple errors were made because of their concern about getting the answer wrong or being too slow.

Another thing to consider is pitching the questions so that it matches what the child has just learnt so the practice is useful. For many quick recall questions children either know it or they don’t and so they can be a little pointless – particularly for those that know the facts. Practice is fine, but not if overdone, so think about the purpose of the speed activity.

This positive climate for maths in the classroom and the idea of a growth mindset is something that Jo Boaler has written widely about. Her article and poster Setting up positive norms in math class gives seven of her favourite messages and they are definitely worth considering when thinking about the teaching and learning of maths in your classroom.