Time to reflect;Primary;Maths Year 2000;Books

1st October 1999 at 01:00
ISSUES IN TEACHING NUMERACY IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS. Edited by Ian Thompson. Open University Press pound;14.99.

Everyone involved in primary maths education in England has the Numeracy Strategy on their mind. This collection of 16 papers from leading researchers and policy advisers in Britain and the Netherlands offers a timely opportunity to step back and reflect on how we came to be here, what research underpins the strategy and how our approaches compare with those in at least one neighbouring educational community.

The range of authors and issues covered is broad and the styles varied. None the less, all sections are topical and directly related to immediate concerns in British classrooms. In the early part, Margaret Brown, David Reynolds and Anita Straker provide complementary contextual backgrounds to the strategy. These sit alongside an introductory account of the Dutch Realistic Mathematics Education (RME) project, which has been evolving since 1970 and has interesting parallels and contrasts with British concerns.

Section two provides summaries of recent research projects. Three stand out. An exercise funded by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority compares primary mathematics textbooks from England, often unfavourably, with examples from France, Hungary and Singapore.

As well as highlighting important messages for authors and publishers, the findings should alert teachers to the risks of relying too heavily on popular schemes. Ruth Merttens provides detailed guidance to schools seeking to encourage parental involvement in their children's mathematical learning. And in a summary of his research into what makes an effective teacher of numeracy, Mike Askew reminds us that, unless we address teachers' fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning, strategies that rely on tackling organisation, teaching styles and curriculum content are not going to be fully effective.

Two illuminating chapters look at the potential and perils of designing test questions, and warn about the need for care if we are to be sure we are testing what we think we are testing.

These are followed by a series of contributions on numeracy teaching, which may be the most potent part of the book. They are broadly in tune with, and help reinforce, guidance in the recent QCA booklets distributed to schools in support of the strategy. Here again, a Dutch perspective, on the use of the blank number line, provides revealing insights into the development of pupils' thinking and questions some of the assumptions that underpin the British approach (see Patti Barber, below).

Other chapters deal with perennial concerns - using and applying mathematics, using computer software in the mathematics classroom and the role of calculators.

One of the book's strengths is that research evidence is always based firmly in the classroom. The writing is accessible and, for once, we have an academic publication which will be as useful to heads and maths co-ordinators in school as to researchers and theoreticians.

Linton Waters

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