Ian Sugarman looks at the latest stages of Longman Primary Maths and discusses its approach to progression and differentiation. A crucial decision for a publisher of a new mathematics scheme is how to organise the material to cater for progression. Longman has decided to stick with the conventional year by year programme. This is fine, providing that the need for differentiation is honestly confronted, for, even at Year 2, most classes have children with very differing needs.
A major (and "fatal") attraction of commercial schemes has been their facility for applying the "do the next page" principle. The evidence of large-scale mismatch of task to pupil has been well documented. However, the authors claim that "differentiation is ensured through open tasks and by using the Maths Links". Open tasks are to be found, apparently, in the Teaching Focus sections, in the Workbooks and on the Number Skills Activity Cards.
I would question this claim. The Number Cards consist almost entirely of sum questions allowing one answer. Similarly, the Workbooks overwhelmingly consist of closed, not open tasks. Some of the "Circus tasks" within each Teaching Unit do offer a more open challenge of the sort described in the non-statutory guidance, but my impression is that there is a serious imbalance in the scheme which puts the onus on the Maths Links.
Each of the eight units of work focuses on an area of Number plus something drawn from the rest of the maths curriculum (ShapeSpace, Measures, Handling Data). Within each unit, Maths Links indicates where both earlier and later work can be found in the scheme which relates to the teaching focus. This is a helpful and indeed essential feature. But I am left wondering whether publishers ought really to consider whether it might not be more helpful for teachers to understand progression if key areas were organised in single units rather than split up, often on a somewhat arbitrary basis, between year groups.
My own experience leads me to believe that it is more important for teachers to become aware of the lines of progression in, for example, the teaching of place value, or fractions, or properties of shape, for them to be able to make their own judgements about the pitch of work and the level of challenge for groups of children than to encourage them to make false generalisations about the similar needs of children born in the same year.
My concern is for the development of pupils' problem solving and investigatory strategies using this material. At this early stage, it seems vital that teachers intervene appropriately to help children become systematic and think things through. Yet the more open "circus of activities" are described as "low-guidance activities" (presumably freeing teachers to mark the many pages of sums). The section in the Year 3 Handbook called "Extended Investigations and Problems" contains many familiar tasks with great potential, but provides minimal guidance to the teacher wondering how best to help pupils develop Ma1 ways of working. One omission really intrigues me Q in the whole of Years 2 and 3 I failed to find any investigative work with pattern blocks, a favourite item of equipment with children and teachers in most schools I work with.
The scheme does offer a wider selection of ways of engaging pupils in the handling of small numbers, in pursuit of that important feeling for number, but Year 2 teachers would be advised to begin teaching place value well before the designated stage in the programme (during the summer term), partly because many children are ready for it earlier than this and the timing of SATs would also seem to demand it.
A component of the scheme which teachers already attempting to offer a more open and inspiring curriculum would find useful is the Assessment books, a collection of SAT-looking question pages with helpful diagnostic advice.
Although there is a clearly defined aim in the scheme to provide for regular mental work consistent with the national curriculum's view that mental methods should be what pupils resort to first, Longman Primary Maths has retained a commitment to the idea that calculating the difference between a pair of two- digit numbers requires the practising of a standardised written routine, applied indiscriminately. Do the authors really expect pupils to have no regard for the actual numbers when they calculate, for example, to treat 19 just as they would 34? The time has surely come for new maths schemes to resolve this ambivalent attitude towards mental strategies and written routines.
Ian Sugarman is advisory teacher for primary mathematics for Shropshire