Eighteen ways to get your message across effectively

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Basic skills tutors are often thrown in the deep end. Janet Swinney offers some tips on teaching numeracy to adults

1 Develop a programme of work based on learners' needs, interests and aspirations. Refer to the adult core curriculum for guidance, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Develop learning plans for them that match the relevant scenario.

2 Take time to find out how they visualise shapes, quantities, numbers and numerical operations. Where learners have acute difficulty, figure out exercises to help them steadily develop their mental powers. Make these a regular feature of lessons.

3 Check whether learners are prone to "maths panic" - where the ability to visualise or calculate evaporates under pressure. If you spot this, you must work out strategies to help them overcome anxiety.

4 Have lots of real-life resources for learners. There's nothing more insulting for an adult than having to work with stuff that is patently not the real thing.

5 Avoid too many desk-bound activities. Some questions are best understood when presented visually, giving people opportunities to walk around and explore them.

6 Think carefully about what resources to acquire or developfor visually impaired students , or those whose preferred learning style is tactile.

7 Encourage group investigation and problem-solving. This helps them develop the language of mathematical thinking (and applies equally well whether they're deaf or hearing).

8 Acknowledge the learning students bring from other cultures. Some societies have neat methods for counting on the fingers, for example. These might interest learners from other cultures, including our own.

9 Likewise, acknowledge the contributions other cultures have made to the development of mathematical thought. The Indian mathematician Aryabhatt calculated the Earth's movement round its axis in AD 400, for example.

10 Use maths puzzles, games and investigations to help learners appreciate that numbers are not random phenomena but are part of a system with its own internal relationships.

11 Spend time each lesson looking at figures in the news headlines. They are a powerful stimuli for debate.

12 Encourage learners to identify patterns in society and numbers. "Social investigation" helps link mathematical enquiry, communication skills and research skills. Such activities can improve literacy and numeracy.

13 Familiarise yourself with how maths problems crop up in trades such as building where job estimates must be done there and then on site. Make sure the work you do reflects your vocational students' reality.

14 Allow learners time to consolidate new learning before moving on.

15 Help learners see where they make mistakes or fail to spot solutions.

16 Set ground-rules for how learners work together so that the less confident do not feel overwhelmed or vulnerable.

17 Remember you are working in frontier country. You have to be inventive to find solutions to learners' difficulties.

18 Remember, your thoughtfulness, empathy and willingness to develop your own mathematical understanding are your students'best resources.

Maths tips and tricks

* You will find loads of resources to help you run a numeracy taster session that will be fun on at www.curiousmath.com

* Multiplication methods in different cultures - intriguing methods can be found on http:mathforum.orgdr.math

* Numbers in everything is a website created by Niace and is rich in ideas: httpwww.niace.org.ukalwnumbersineverythingideas.htm

* Help with taster sessions showing how to use a spreadsheet for household management can be found using www.moneymatterstome.co.uk

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