Three years ago I was walking across the Crawshaw School playground to have a chat with Kevin Lawson about a series of social studies courses he wanted me to take. On the way I passed a room that seemed to be rocking with exuberance. What could be happening? What was happening was Vince Wright taking a numeracy course. The excitement was palpable.
What has happened between the promise of then and the feeling of slide now? National standards happened and the heavy, stultifying hand of bureaucracy happened. It is now struggling, but as the one current potential curriculum bright spot, we must do our best to keep it afloat. This posting is seeking your views on the best way to do that.
I want to make clear that I consider the numeracy programme with its emphasis on thinking and understanding terrific in concept and quite open, even given the unpropitious current environment, to being pretty good in practice.
When Vince Wright left, I came to the same conclusion he did: national standards and the general teaching environment were bound to seriously affect numeracy. Well, they didn’t as quickly as I anticipated, that original excitement giving it impressive longevity. But it is on the slide now.
My reasons why:
- The cross-grouping cutting maths off from the rest of the class programme
- The resentment by children of the cross-grouping
- The way it prevents extending time for mathematics especially for topic maths and relating it to real life applications
- The teaching becoming more routine
- A sense of teachers not being on top of things to provide cohesion – not being able to go backward (to concepts taken) and forward (to concepts to be taken) in numeracy references
- Strategies being used in heavy-handed manner
- The lack of integration of numeracy with curriculum maths
- A severe drop in lively discussion – time pressures, you see
- The use of unmediated, downloaded teaching units
- The need for more ancillary aide help (the review office criticism of teacher aides can be interpreted as providing support for government policy in cutting back on funding for them).
Significantly, the best numeracy teaching I see now is in the stingily funded ministry remedial programme ALiM (Accelerating Learning in Mathematics) in which discussion is at the heart of the programme.
Numeracy is still there to be saved, but it won’t be without considerable difficulty.
In conclusion: It would be a great pity if, as has happened in the USA and the UK, we narrowed the focus of the numeracy programme, it would represent a backward slide to the 3Rs the right-wing wants to impose on schools.
As for the tables and algorithm debate that has been raging in the Herald;the first thing to acknowledge is that a correction was needed, but it can be easily resolved by using computers and apps. Any school that asks me to give curriculum advice is told in advance of my bent in the matter of computers: the whole class with some form of computerisation – no, intrusive; a computer suite – only following my first preference; and that is, six computers in every room. The computers then being used in for rotation for group work across the curriculum throughout the day and, in respect to mathematics, for tables and algorithms.