(Note: This post is a part of a series. For an introduction and index, see Teaching Times Tables)
Before I gave the first times tables test, I wanted to get my students used to working under the pressure of time. Culturally, Africans are very relaxed about time schedules. I have been here almost 5 months now, yet I have never seen anyone in a rush to get anywhere. You simply arrive when you arrive. While that easygoing attitude is probably healthy to have in general, (good for the heart, maybe?), it is a big hindrance on a timed test.
I was also worried about the writing speed of my students. From my experience in model school (and stories from other volunteers) I knew up front that many of my students would have a hard time writing fast. I wanted to measure their raw writing speed so I could make reasonable speed requirements on their times table tests.
So, I had my students write as many numbers as they could in two minutes. They would start with the number one, and count as high as they could. My students loved it, and became quite competitive.
The second day they did this exercise, both my eighth graders and ninth graders could write an average of 39 numbers per minute. The slowest writer clocked in at 25 npm, the fastest at 51 npm. Try it yourself to see where you fall.
We did this exercise a number of times, and the students made small gains in their speed (on the order of 5 npm for most). I told them how every great skill arises from small gains just like these. Some researchers even argue that the greatest musicians, footballers, scientists, etc. are not necessarily “special people”, but they have just put in the time required to become great (see this, for example).
I wasn’t sure if my little speech was actually connecting with my students, so instead we chanted “The more you practice, the faster you can move. The more you practice, the better you become”. The chant seemed much more effective at driving the point home, so I opened each class with it for the next couple days.
I felt like I had a won small victory when I overheard a student chanting it to himself after an especially successful after-school study session a couple of weeks later.