Last but not least

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh looks at ways of bringing numeracy lessons to a positive conclusion

According to OFSTED - and numeracy co-ordinators agree - too often the weak point of the daily maths lessons is the "plenary" session at the end. So, with the help of numeracy consultants Lisa Wedderkop and Maggie Booth, here are some practical reminders of what can be done.

* Make sure the plenary actually happens. If the class is absorbed, it is tempting to let them go on to the end of the session.

* Take another look at the National Numeracy Strategy training materials. The plenary is covered in Book One of Guide For Your Professional Development, which came into schools about a year ago.

* Look at the CD-ROM from the DfEE called Support for Planning and Teaching Mathematics. Though it is not obvious from the list of contents, it has good material in the first "Short Term Planning Grids" folder.

* The plenary is not just "show and tell" - it can be a chance for children to discuss how they overcame problems, or patterns they discovered during investigations.

* Classroom assistants can support children in the plenary. This is useful with less able or more reticent pupils and helps teachers gain information about children they haven't been working with directly.

* Plan for the plenary. Because its focus can come from the lesson, it is tempting to assume there is no need to plan in advance. But it is best to have something ready.

* Where children have been working on different, but related tasks, the plenary is a good chance for the teacher to demonstrate the links between them.

* Use the plenary to make cross-curricular links, emphasising how the knowledge and skills acquired in the maths lesson can be applied in other subjects.

* The learning objectives for the lesson should be explained to children at the start of th activity. During the plenary, refer to the points again.

* The plenary gives you the opportunity to challenge more able pupils with carefully planned questions that will develop their learning.

* Informal assessments made during the plenary give you starting points for planning other lessons.

Keep in mind the three-fold purpose of the plenary: Feedback - assessment (including pupil self-assessment); finding problems; sorting out misunderstandings.

Reflection - summarising facts and ideas; pulling out parts that need to be remembered; going over mathematical vocabulary.

Forward planning - talking about what comes next; setting and adjusting targets; discussing homework.

* A really good plenary sends pupils away feeling positive. Try to be able to end with: "Well done everyone - that was a really good session".


A Year 12 teacher used the plenary to make links between different groups' activities and prepare children for the next lesson.

Activity: Estimate, order and compare a number of objects.

What is needed: A small collection of ordinary objects. One should weigh a kilogram. Draw pictures of the same objects and hang them from a washing line.

Whole-class introduction: Children hang the pictures in order of what they estimate their weight to be.

In groups: Children handle the objects, putting them in order of weight. Some groups use direct comparisons. Some weigh them against non-standard weights, such as marbles, so that one object may be the same as 10 marbles.

The plenary: Children see that the two different methods produce the same result. Because a kilogram weight is used, a link can be made to the next lesson about objects that weigh more or less than this.

For more information, and www.standards.dfee. gov.uknumeracy

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