Friday, 19 February 2010

Dispatches: Kids don't count programme

This is my first entry into the world of blogging. So, it's good to have something really topical to comment on! Did you catch the Channel 4 Dispatches programme last Monday (15 February 2010) on the problems in primary mathematics? Make sure you catch the next part on 22 February – especially since it features the brilliant Rachel Riley from Countdown! There seemed to be three main messages from the programme, which I would want to endorse.

First, did you notice that Richard Dunne made such a difference because he focused on helping children to make connections between language, symbols and practical/concrete experiences? Anyone whose read any of my books will know that this is one of the major themes of my work.

Second – oh dear – the programme exposed the ongoing problem of teachers in primary schools not really understanding well enough the maths they have to teach. I have to agree, I'm afraid. This is so important. Those in initial teacher training, whether tutors or trainees, must really give this priority. Here's a quote from the introduction to the 4th edition of Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers (available July 2010): 'The best teachers have a secure personal understanding of the structure and principles of what they are teaching.' As was said on the programme, that's not all they need, but it's absolutely essential.

Third, the programme really showed the way in which the end-of-Key-Stage 2 national tests contribute to an awful experience of learning mathematics for children in Year 6. We've got to get some more enlightened way of assessing children than this.

Did you see the programme? What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I did not see Monday's programme, but I have recently had the opportunity to attend two days of "Maths Makes Sense" training carried out by Richard Dunne.

    While Richard provided many helpful suggestions in different areas of the curriculum, I felt that the meaning and connections were not always made explicit enough, and that some aspects of calculation particularly were being taught in one highly stylised kinaesthetic approach which in itself can easily become another form of rote learning. Teaching needs to draw creatively on a wide range of concrete materials and different practical situations to enable children develop real understanding, not just reproduce one procedure. After all, that is the well-researched failing of the past which we are trying to recover from.

    Hence the biggest priority has to be to educate teachers much more fully in their own understanding of the structures of mathematics, rather than buying into alternative "schemes".

    Through TV exposure, there could be a tendency to see Dunne's scheme (as has happened with Read, Write, Inc.) as a "silver bullet", which schools may adopt uncritically. I would say where his "maths does make sense", use Richard Dunne's suggestions, but we must always maintain a professional and critical eye as well-trained and mathematically proficient teachers.

    So perhaps the best place for every aspiring and teacher to start (and for experienced teachers to revise) is by reading "Mathematics Explained ...".

    Can I also suggest a further book to get teachers thinking about how they use that understanding to develop their capacity to make connections and deal with contingencies in children's learning: "Developing Primary Mathematics Teaching" by Rowland, Turner, Thwaites and Huckstep. (And no, Sage are not paying me to write this!)