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6th October 1995 at 01:00
SMP 11-16 AMBER SERIES. Teacher's Guide to Book A1, A2 and A3, Pounds 8.95. - 0 521 44882 4.

Book A2, Pounds 3.25. - 0 521 44883 2.

Worksheet Masters for Books A1, A2 and A3, Pounds 18.95.

- 0 521 47841 3.

Cambridge University Press SMP 11-16. Book R+, Pounds 3.35. - 0 521 45789 0.

Book R+ Teacher's Guide Pounds 4.50. - 0 521 45790 4.

Book B+, Pounds 3.80. - 0 521 45793 9.

Book B+ Teachers Guide - 0 521 45794 7.

Pounds 5.20 Cambridge University Press

Peter Wilder reviews a series for low-attaining pupils in Years 9-11.

It is encouraging that SMP 11-16 has now produced a series of books to meet the needs of those low-attaining pupils in Years 9 to 11 for whom the Green books are too hard. The books can also supplement the work of pupils who are working substantially from the Green series, but who can benefit from support in some areas. Pupils' books in the new Amber series are presented in a style that will be familiar to users of other SMP 11-16 materials, but the writers do not assume that the SMP 11-16 booklet scheme has been used in Years 7 and 8.

There will be nine Amber books, in three groups of three, with each group providing the basis for about a year's work. As befits a course of this kind, the teacher's guides are seen as an essential component. The guides give detailed classroom notes to support the teacher through each chapter. There are suggestions for teacher-led activities and discussion points, as well as ideas for support, practice and extension activities. The writers have suggested many opportunities for teachers to check the pupils' understanding of key ideas, and careful guidance is offered about how to respond to some of the difficulties pupils may have.

The teacher's guide for Book A1, A2, and A3 begins with an excellent introduction to the Amber series, with general advice on the needs of low attainers and strategies for teaching and planning. Teachers of low-attaining pupils come from a variety of backgrounds, and differ widely in confidence and experience. Many teachers, whether mathematics specialists or special needs teachers, will find much valuable advice and positive comment here about the particular needs of low attainers.

A particular danger with a well-presented series of this kind is that pupils will be left to work through it alone. This has certainly happened sometimes with other material aimed at low-attaining pupils, with undesirable consequences. However the writers are at pains to emphasise that this is not the intention of the Amber series; they stress the need for teacher involvement throughout the course to broaden pupils' experience and to provide opportunities for learning.

In terms of the national curriculum for England and Wales, Book 1 begins with ideas at level 2: Books 2 and 3 build confidence with concepts at level 3. The teacher's guide provides a planner for each book, with separate references to the latest national curriculum documents for England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Frequent links with and references to the Green series and later Amber material will help ensure pupils need not be limited by the level of material and the order in which it is presented. Appropriate formal assessment is provided through an Amber band in the SMP Graduated Assessment Profile of Mathematical Achievement.

The series has been planned for several years, and the first three books look promising.

Books R+ and B+ are intended primarily for use by pupils in Years 10 and 11, alongside the Red and Blue series respectively. They contain additional content to supplement and extend the other SMP 11-16 materials, but it is not intended that they should be worked through from beginning to end. The teacher's guides suggest how each chapter may be linked with related chapters in books in the Red and Blue series, and with Books RB+ and YR+, which were published last year.

Material in these two books completes the coverage of the national curriculum for the Blue and the Red series at appropriate levels, including reference to using computer software. At times this exhaustive coverage of the national curriculum appears almost pedantic. For example, a chapter in Book B+ looks at the classification of quadrilaterals exactly as mentioned in the programme of study for key stages 3 and 4 and in the level descriptor for level 6. It is suggested in the teacher's guide that most of the content of his particular chapter should have been met before, and I find it hard to see good educational reasons - apart from the dictates of the national curriculum - why the definitions and properties of quadrilaterals should be given this degree of attention instead of, say, exploring quadrilateral tessellations. However, this chapter does contain some interesting investigations in which pupils need to apply the definitions and properties that they have revised.

Some chapters are intended to be worked by pupils in pairs or small groups. These include encouragement for pupils to discuss important ideas. The pupils' books do not always make these discussion points clear, and it will be important for the teacher to have read the relevant section of the teacher's guide to ensure that this takes place.

Peter Wilder is senior lecturer in maths education at De Montfort University Bedford

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