15th June 2001 at 01:00
TEACHING MATHEMATICS TO ABLE CHILDREN. By Valsa Koshy. David Fulton. pound;15. TESDirect pound;14.50. 10 copies pound;140.

For various reasons, not all of which give us cause for pride, mathematically able children generate a range of emotions in those responsible for nurturing and teaching them. We recognise their talent and their entitlement to an appropriate curriculum, but we also recognise the limitations of our own knowledge, resources and energy.

Several recent government initiatives, such as the Gifted and Talented strand of Excellence in Cities, aspire to increase opportunities for able young mathematicians. In such a climate, the emergence of more resources to inform and support teachers is welcome. The principal focus of Valsa Koshy's book is mathematically gifted children in key stages 2 and 3, and two main features commend it.

The first is its authoritative tone - Koshy has researched, taught and run programmes for able children for many years, and the proposals in this book have been carefully thought through and tested.

The second is the balanced approach that runs through a readable text. Unequivocal statements about "what works" trivialise the complexity of teaching and learning, and the education of gifted children is no exception. Koshy's approach is to give clear pointers, but with appropriate concessions or warnings. So while she is positive about the potential of the numeracy framework to support able learers, she has concerns about the potential for boredom if the framework is followed too rigidly, and urges teachers to make time for pupils to work on extended maths tasks outside the daily dedicated hour.

Her contribution to the "enrichment versus acceleration" debate is characteristically balanced. The issue here is whether able mathematicians, having mastered the basic requirements in one area of the curriculum, should linger to develop their versatility, range and problem-solving capability with the same content (enrichment) or be moved on to another topic (acceleration).

As a recent UK Mathematics Foundation report makes clear, professional mathematicians and mathematics educators are overwhelmingly in favour of enrichment. Koshy is forthright in observing that teachers tend to adopt acceleration, but, she says, it is wise not to rule out this strategy.

Following a quick read of the early part of the book, teachers can dip into chapters on organisation, resources and opportunities.

This is an excellent companion to David Fielker's Extending Mathematical Ability (Hodder amp; Stoughton). Having been inspired by Fielker's more overtly mathematical book, turn to Koshy for guidance on the more prosaic whole-school issues that need to be addressed in making provision for the young Gauss in your class.

Tim Rowland lectures in mathematics education at Homerton College, University of Cambridge

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