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Maths symbols are a foreign language

* Helen Barnes hits the nail on the head when she observes that many children find maths difficult because it is the aspect of school in which they are likely to experience failure earliest.

She also notes that our approach to teaching maths is often less flexible than the way we teach reading. But in text there is a large amount of redundancy so the child can fail to recognise a few words but still understand most of the passage. In maths there is no redundancy, so failure to master component skills has more serious implications.

As well as Helen Barnes' plea for time to let new concepts "bed in", may I add a plea for teachers to check regularly that new concepts have been assimilated and new procedures adequately practised. Left unidentified, gaps in understanding soon undermine self-confidence leading to the familiar lament: "I'm no good at maths, Miss."

Dr Chris Singleton

Senior lecturer in educational psychology, University of Hull

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