Monday, December 11, 2006

Numeracy Teaching

I saw a presentation on Thursday which included a section which showed written mistakes that a dyslexic student might make doing written calculations.

I was struck by how rarely I come across people doing sums like this on paper. My current role includes supporting apprentices to pass Level 1 or Level 2 tests. I can only think of two of those students who regularly did calculations on paper, and one of those was one of the few dyscalculics (does that word exist?) I have come across, and he could not hold a sum in his head. Of the others, few have wanted to do calculations on paper and they have been relieved when I started to offer them alternative strategies.

Being a good FE teacher I write learning plans and lesson plans and try to code these to the Core Curriculum. Normally I support the Core Curriculum, though I strongly believe we should teach other things as well. But it is not easy to code mental arithmetic to the curriculum. There is however a whole section at the level I usually teach (N1/L1.3) about written methods. Luckily my students do not have to demonstrate that they can use efficient written methods. And why should they have to? Numeracy is about everyday maths in practical situations - the only real world place you will be presented with a sum is in a maths class.

Most maths books, maths websites, maths worksheets, numeracy worksheets, etc, etc, demonstrate numeracy skills by written methods, which renders most of them useless for teaching purposes, although they may have useful practice questions. Even the wonderful Maths the Basic Skills Curriculum Edition does this. An honourable exception is Skillswise which has good sections on mental maths.


Carol said...

To act as 'devils advocate'
As calculations get more complex it becomes more difficult to do things mentally. Learners need to be prepared for this. 'Sums' can be done using calculator or mobile phone. Many students will be preparing numerical info to present to someone else. e.g. builder making an estimate. Learners who only do things mentally are not prepared for the next stage are left behind.

Chris Jackson said...

Hi, Carol, and thanks for your comment. Certainly if they learn mental strategies only they are going to be disadvantaged in some ways. However I believe they will be much more disadvantaged if they are put off doing maths at all because they cannot cope with written maths. I have spent a lot of time with people who consistently get the numbers muddled up or confused when they try to write them in sums, and these are not people who could ever be assessed as dyslexic. It's then a relief for both of us when we give up and concentrate on mental ways only.