Slowly but surely;Primary;Reviews;Mathematics;Books

12th March 1999 at 00:00
NUMBER CONNECTIONS. By Rose Griffiths. Five levels: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Purple. Teacher's guide to each level, pound;9.99. Textbooks 1, 2 and 3 for each level. pound;9.99 for all three. Copymasters for each level pound;37.50. Heinemann

There can be lots of reasons for lack of success in mathematics. I suspect that a good deal of the adult population dislikes and fears maths for reasons that are not necessarily connected with the subject. Lack of confidence and motivation, poor memory, concentration and low reading ability might spring to many teachers' minds before we even consider any genuine difficulty with the maths itself.

We all have examples of children who knew some piece of maths but failed to demonstrate it in an end-of-key stage test, because they had not understood the language in which the question was expressed. Equally, there are children who struggle because of repeated absence, or because the work that is given to them is too hard. When children are learning to read, we do not immediately snatch away any book they can decode successfully, crying "You can read that! Here's a harder one". Those who have difficulty grasping abstract ideas need time to gain confidence at lower levels first, rather than always being whisked on to new topics. Any number course for children who find maths hard needs to address as many of the known difficulties as possible and present the maths in interesting contexts.

Publication of the fifth (Purple) level completes Heinemann's Number Connections by taking the structured scheme for low attainers in mathematics up to levels 34 in national curriculum terms (levels BC of mathematics 5-14). Rose Griffiths's aim is to present children having difficulties with a course that has high levels of repetition, a spiral progression that is attractive and introduces new ideas gradually, hoping to build up the confidence that so many lack.

This kind of writing is an extremely difficult exercise and balanced judgments have to be made about, for example, the level of reading demand that is appropriate for a particular mathematical level. The unskilled or unwary might be tempted to try to avoid words altogether. (That this is neither possible nor desirable is shown by a teacher who used to give linguistically minimalist oral tests to her class. "Two more than six?" she would say, being as economical with language as she possibly could. "Write down the answer. Three less than 10?" These efforts were rewarded by several children looking at her as if she were mad and writing "No" and "Yes" to the two questions above.) Rose Griffiths is too wise to fall into this trap and there is quite a lot of writing in the textbooks, though far less on the copymasters, where it is often possible to use the first question as an exemplar. The vocabulary is more restricted than the numeracy project's booklet, but of course that does not prevent teachers employing a wider range of spoken language while introducing and teaching activities.

Traditionally, most of our special educational needs effort - and budget - has gone on reading. Resources for low attainers in maths aged between seven and 11 are badly needed by teachers, special needs staff and other adults working with children. The repetition means this will not be suitable for every child, but those looking for a textbook-based support scheme that is not based on a reduction-ist, deficit model of what low attainers should be offered will find this worth a careful look.

Laurie Rousham teaches a Year 4class at Broke Hall School in Ipswich, Suffolk

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