Tips we could do without

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Considering all the articles and leader comments you have included in recent editions of The TES which, by their very nature, were obviously critical of the mathematical attainments of our pupils in comparison to those on the continent, the publication of the "teacher's tip" sent in by Sandra Woodman, beggars belief ("Pass it on", TES, June 21). If that sort of process is thought to be an example of good practice, then it is no wonder we are two or three years behind the Swiss, German and Taiwanese.

First, that sum (25 + 16) and sums like it, should not be done with paper and pencil but mentally. Second, our continental friends believe that calculating in columns (upright maths as one child called it) harms number understanding, facility and competence. The contributor made a point of saying that "this makes it clear which digit goes where". What she is doing is encouraging children to look at the digits as opposed to looking at the numbers. On the continent all such sums (and in the current key stage 2 national tests) are written horizontally in order to encourage (and develop) a more sensible approach.

With respect to the sum in question, our continental friends would expect their pupils to say 25 + 10 is 35; 35 + 6 is 41. And I would expect our pupils to do likewise. But in the present climate I suspect I would be called a "progressive" and Ms Woodman's approach as good old traditional practice. All the evidence seems to be that it is the emphasis on "upright" calculations done with paper and pencil that has put us two or three years behind other countries. Will we never learn?

PETER CRITCHLEY

Fen Road

Pakenham

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

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