Regenerated giants

21st September 2001 at 01:00
New Heinemann Maths - NHM4. Teaching File pound;84.99Teaching Resource Book pound;29.99. Organising and Planning Guide pound;15.99 Textbook pound;7.99. Extension Textbook

pound;3.40. Assessment Workbook pound;12.30 for eight. Assessment Photocopy masters pound;21.50 all for Year 4 Supporting Number - Activities for Teaching Assistants, Y5, Y6 pound;24.99 Complete pack pound;127.50

Heinemann Rigby Numeracy Focus for Y2.

Teaching and Learning File pound;72.50. Big Book pound;26.99 Maths Skills books 1, 2, 3 pound;8.99 for eight. Homework Book pound;14.50. Problem of the Week pound;23.50. Maths Diary pound;7.99 for eight. Games and Activity Support Sheets pound;26.75.

Maths Pyramid - materials to support more able children Y5, Y6 Teacher's Book pound;28.50Pupil Book pound;3.50 Rigby.

Once upon a time the mathematical landscape was dominated by giant schemes. They looked increasingly like dinosaurs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hilary Shuard wrote in one review: "The day of the single maths scheme is over."

All were different, according to the whims of their creators, but teachers could never get a straight answer from anyone when they asked "Which is the best?" Whichever they chose, they risked the scorn of advisers and enthusiasts for using one at all.

And indeed, the "all you need" was sometimes interpreted as meaning that they could do the teaching for you, so that children spent lessons working through pages of exercises without much idea of what they were supposed to be learning. "What are you doing today?"' met with a response such as "Page 27".

Then in rode the National Numeracy Strategy to sweep all this away, and for a moment the burning sword of the Framework seemed to have made all schemes obsolete overnight. But they were far from extinct and have come lumbering back more monolithic - and more expensive - than ever.

However, they have evolved. New Heinemann Maths (NHM) is better than its SPMG ancestor in its support for active teaching. A ring-bound Teaching File offers discussion of content and lesson plans aimed at particular objectives, indexed under Framework strands, leaving the teacher to determine programmes and timings.

Starters and suggested teaching activities are generally very good, but guidance on a purposeful plenary is weaker, often offering further practice or assessment.

NHM as a whole is well produced and considerable thought has gone into making it easy to use, though I feel strongly that, if publishers are going to produce hefty ring-bound files, they should insist on heavier wire (both Heinemann and Rigby are guilty in this regard - as are all the government agencies).

The textbook and extension book look familiar, with their pages of practice exercises, but they are better labelled and structured than pre-numeracy strategy texts and some games are included. Homework and resource sheets are included in spiral-bound copiable form.

Supporting Number from Heinemann aims to support the new breed of super teaching assistants working with lower-ability groups within the main activity of the daily maths lesson. Linkage to early objectives for each year allows flexibility and repetition of practical activities.

Some children will need activities relating to key objectives for the previous year, but that would just be a matter of using Y4 in place of Y5 where appropriate. Layouts are clear and, although some assistants will need more guidance on the maths than can be provided here, this should promote teacher-assistant discussion and planning.

Numeracy Focus is a new scheme, also based around a teacher file. Though the publisher could learn a bit from NHM as regards provision of dividers, labels and indexing, once you get to know it, the scheme has many strong points, allowing and promoting considerable teacher autonomy and flexibility.

Rigby's activities are of very high quality and the plenary is exceptionally well supported. Three lesson plans are given for each unit, with banks of alternative (or extra) activities for each part of the lesson.

As with NHM, the teacher can alter the order of units. Extension, simplification and suggestions for early finishers are included, and half-termly assessments and homework suggestions are also built in.

There is an interactive Big Book and three disposable workbooks for Y2. I generally hate these, but Rigby's are models of their kind, the best I have seen. Problem of the Week gives the opportunity to explore a problem or investigation in greater depth, allowing Using and Applying skills to come into play; a Maths Diary points the way to child-friendly self-assessment and a separate, photocopiable Homework book has more open activities than the brief suggestions included with each unit.

Maths Pyramid, Rigby's answer to supporting the development of more able children within the context of the daily mathematics lesson, allows a top group or set to be extended beyond the core class work while keeping them on the same topic as the others.

Directly related to the Framework, there are teacher's books from Reception to Y6 and pupil textbooks from Y3 upwards. This is a good idea, allowing it to be used with any maths scheme, not just Numeracy Focus.

Five teaching inputs for each unit contain an oral introduction, one or more activities and discussion points. I looked at the "difficult" topic of ratio and proportion at Y5 and Y6: it is handled very well indeed. However, unless you have a teaching assistant with your more able children you might struggle to do teaching inputs for both core and high-ability groups. This is recognised by having inputs in each unit that require different levels of teacher involvement. I am not sure how they would work in practice - but I would buy this for the quality of the ideas alone.

So - are we back in Jurassic Park? No, because these schemes represent a post-numeracy strategy transformation in thinking, reflecting that which has happened in teaching. I would still be unhappy if they succeeded in coming between teachers and the Framework itself, but nobody would be silly enough to misuse them like that . . . would they?

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