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Time to knock chunks out of KS2 maths, minister says

news | Published in TES magazine on 25 January, 2013 | By: Helen Ward

Rewards for using specified methods in Sats bring fresh conflict

The debate on the best way to teach children to read has long raged between rival factions, with the government making it clear that it is firmly in the pro-phonics camp. Having stoked the reading argument by introducing a phonics check for six-year-olds, ministers are now set to make primaries the arena for the next clash, this time over how to teach maths.

Under plans for revamped Sats tests, to be introduced alongside the new primary curriculum, pupils will no longer gain marks for showing their working out if they use so-called chunking and gridding techniques to find the answers to division and multiplication questions. Instead, they will be rewarded for using traditional short and long division and multiplication.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss has said that chunking and gridding are "confusing" and "time-consuming". But the announcement that certain methods will be specified in the curriculum and rewarded in key stage 2 tests has reignited the argument about how seriously the government takes its own rhetoric about teacher autonomy.

"Key stage 2 tests will be designed to reward pupils whose working shows they have used the efficient methods," said Ms Truss. "If children get the right answer, they get the marks. If they get the wrong answer but their working shows that they were using the most efficient methods, they will still be rewarded."

Her comments are the latest in support of more traditional teaching techniques and follow an announcement that calculators will be banned in KS2 Sats tests from 2014.

Chunking, also known as partial quotients, is a method of division that uses repeated subtractions (see panel). The grid method of multiplication involves expanding out the hundreds, tens and units, multiplying them separately and then adding up the results.

A 2011 Ofsted report into maths in 20 successful schools found that chunking was not popular, with feedback that the many steps involved confused pupils. But schools were keener on the grid method to introduce long multiplication, which can then be used later to multiply algebraic expressions.

Unions have expressed anger that the government is attempting to prescribe teachers' methods. Mary Bousted, general secretary of teaching union the ATL, said the move was "a gross interference in teaching and learning". She added that ministers should concentrate on taking responsibility for the education system as a whole, rather than dictating how each task was taught.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said: "This government undermines its assertions of respect and promises of autonomy at every turn. Must we now also eagerly await the health minister's insights into keyhole surgery? As primary maths is improving, one might suspect the professionals have some insight into what they're doing."

The changes are due to be introduced alongside the revised primary curriculum in 2014 and in Sats tests from 2016.

Rob Eastaway, a former president of the Mathematical Association and co-author of Maths for Mums and Dads, agreed with Ms Truss that chunking was "long-winded". "I am increasingly convinced... that it leads to a greater chance of an arithmetical mistake," he said.

But he added that giving pupils marks for showing their working out with specified techniques was also an error. "You are going to get the ridiculous situation where kids are just being taught that you may get a couple of points for writing down the sum correctly, even if you don't know how to complete it."

How chunking works

The method uses repeated multiplication with numbers that children are confident with, such as 10 and 5.

For example, if we take 597[s5]22, we know that 10x22=220, so we start by deducting 220 from 597: 597-220=377.

We still have more than 220 left over so we repeat this step: 377-220=157.

We now have 157 left over. We know that 5x22=110, so we deduct that: 157-110=47.

We now have 47 left over. We know that 2x22=44. So we do the final step: 47-44=3.

Now we add the multipliers up: 10+10+5+2=27 remainder 3.

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Comment (5)

  • Not a great fan of either chunking or grid method - especially for older primary children. However there is a place for these with pupils with SEN, younger pupils who are not "ready" for more traditional methods but can still use these in practical situations and OF COURSE....

    both these methods were introduced in the National Numeracy Strategy set up by Government - not a teacher fad at all!

    If teachers were allowed to get on with it, all these changes and changes back again would not cost the tax payer anything and, more importantly, give the children consistency in their learning.

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    25 January, 2013


  • I quite like the grid method, as do the children; it gives them a sense of safety. Even Y6 children who aren't SEN but find some of the MANY aspects of maths tricky, it gives them a safety net, a guide to follow.
    If you are a good teacher, then you will give your class/group lots of different methods of operating, surely that is the key thing here. They shouldn't be penalised for doing a longer, expanded method. They should be congratulated for using the method they are confident with.
    Better confidence in maths = better knowledge and skills with maths.

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    26 January, 2013

    Ben Waldram

  • benwaldran is right - children need to be shown a variety of strategies in order to be able to choose the method that 'makes sense' to them. The important thing is arrive at the correct answer - and to be know that it is correct. Children with sound mathematical understanding will be able to develop a sense of whether their answer is reasonable, and will use 'inverse methods' to check.
    A dyslexic child in my class worked out 36 x l0 by doubling 36 three times to find 8 x 36, and adding double 36 (i.e. 36 x 2 = 72, 72 x 2 = 144, 144 x 2 = 288, so 10 x 36 = 288 + 72 = 360). Not an efficient method, but revealed very good mathematical understanding of the concept. Other children 'just added a zero' (10 x 36 = 360) but I'm not sure this reveals the same level of understanding.

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    27 January, 2013


  • Just goes to show how out of touch the government are with the grass roots. They have absoloutely no idea what goes on in the classroom, how the vast majority of us a busting a gut to make children who simply don't have the genetic or DNA templates to jump through the progress and attainment hoops set up be Ofsted, who now say that being average is not good enough any more!

    Kinda defeats the meaning of 'average' doesn't it? It makes me so mad, that they are proposing we go back to using procedures and be awarded extra marks for doing so. What about extra marks for showing mathematical understanding and reasoning about numbers? How are children going to develop thinking skills and be the problem solvers of our future if we just give them procedures to follow without any understanding e.g. 'to multiply by ten, just add a zero' We all know the failings of that trick!

    If a child is presented with the bus stop method of 257 divided by 32 in the old fashioned way, they are not gong to be able to divide 25 by 32 , nor 257 by 32, so will be stuck and not be able to access the question at all. However if they have been taught to have a sense of number and have an understanding of many strategies that could be used, they could get there very quickly with doubling!

    Anyway , who I am to say? Im just a mere mortal of a primary school teacher!

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    29 January, 2013


  • Chunking, grid method etc. Rubbish!! Teach children their t/tables so they become fluent with number. No excuses, it's hard and sometimes boring but it needs to be done. We don't allow children to use alternative methods of spelling so why confuse them in maths. If ever a system was devised to make children innumerate This it it!

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    28 January, 2014


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