Getting to grips with maths
Terezinha Nunes is a major contributor to our understanding of teaching and learning in maths. The beauty of this book is the way it offers an accessible entry to a system of logical understanding whereby the components and developmental process of children's problem-solving are made explicit. In addressing the particular learning needs of deaf children Nunes presents a concise examination of the findings of research, including her own, in an open and accessible style.
Her account of the poor mathematical attainments of deaf children acknowledges that barriers are imposed by limitations in verbal short-term memory, and by difficulties in understanding the specialised and abstract nature of mathematical language. The key factor is seen to be a lack of experience of informal mathematical learning; many deaf children miss out on activity-based manipulation of quantity which provides the basis for logical problem-solving.
The intervention programme presented in the final chapters of the book is constructed around three central principles - use visual presentation as much as possible; move from figurative (pictures of real objects) to symbolic representation (numbers tablesgraphs); and develop understanding of logical relations from the child's viewpoint.
It is important to note that this programme was not intended to provide a comprehensive curriculum, nor did it prescribe methods of delivery. It operates as an enrichment (one session a week for two terms) of the normal curriculum.
Each of the six teachers involved in the project delivered the materials in their own way. Some used British Sign Language, some oral or total communication. Others constructed their own materials which allowed the children to act out the activities on which the project materials were based.
Thus the teacher's skill and sensitivity in building language and communication around the programme must have been a key element in its success, though this is not the focus of the book.
The programme is not presented as comprehensive or definitive. Some of the proposals made by the author (for example concerning the use of graphs in representing multiplicative problems) are speculative. The intervention study, which provides the core of the book, is relatively small-scale and has no experimental control.
Nonetheless, the author convinces with her clarity, scholarship, and perhaps, above all, with her hands-on approach. Nunes is no ivory tower academic. She works directly with the children in her studies, and the insights she offers are all the more powerful as a result.
Chris Donlan is senior lecturer at the Department of Human Communication Science, University College London