Early Numeracy

EARLY NUMERACY: Assessment for Teaching and Intervention. By Robert J. Wright, Jim Martland and Ann K. Stafford. Paul Chapman. pound;15.99.

This is an ambitious book about an ambitious project. It offers a detailed description of some aspects of Mathematics Recovery, a programme first developed in Australia, and later trialled in the UK and the US, to help children in the first year or two of schooling who fall behind in the development of numerical concepts and manipulation skills.

The programme involves a detailed, individualised assessment interview for each child, which is analysed by a specially trained teacher. The teacher then devises a one-to-one programme, which lasts on average for some 40 sessions of about 30 minutes each. Many children show significant improvements.

There is a heavy emphasis in Mathematics Recovery on encouraging children to count, forwards and backwards, in ones and in 10s. This is the foundation of many of the calculation strategies that constitute "the primary and most important aspect of the learning framework in number" on which the programme is based.

Counting is clearly effective for those children for whom sequencing, and a serial, analytical approach to number, is appropriate. For children wh think holistically, however, seeing a whole "four", perhaps as a row or an array of dots rather than as the result of a counting strategy, it may be less appropriate. The limited material on spatial patterns offered in the Learning Framework could be of interest here, but teachers might want to supplement this, for example with Eva Grauberg's more spatial approach to number concepts in her book, Elementary Mathematics and Language Difficulties (1998).

Introducing the Mathematics Recovery programme, the authors state that "our task is to enable you, the reader, to have access to the full programme". However, it is clear that "the full programme", involving as it does a detailed strategy for assessment and instruction with a strong focus on the professional development of teachers, cannot be conveyed in a book of under 200 pages.

Teachers who are considering adopting the programme might do well to start with this book - but any serious attempt to employ the methods and theoretical constructs of Mathematics Recovery would certainly not end there. A far greater commitment of time, effort and money would be required.

Tandi Clausen-May is a senior research officer at the National Foundation for Educational Research, Slough

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