The National Numeracy Strategy (NNS) makes many recommendations about the teaching of primary mathematics. Consider carefully the ways in which your placement school has responded to these. In what ways is current thinking about effective mathematics teaching being addressed?
Throughout this piece of writing I intend to show how my placement school has responded to the implementation of the National Numeracy Strategy (NNS) and its recommendations. In order to do this I will draw upon lessons I have observed as well as lessons I have taught. I will also attempt to show the pros and cons felt by all that I have come into contact with, again with regards to the recommendations of the NNS. There will also be many references to conversations that I have held with teachers and quotes from current educational thinkers.
In order for me to compile a relevant discussion as to how the NNS is used within my placement school, I feel that firstly, it is important to understand why it was introduced and, secondly, why it is seen as an important document. Written within the NNS it is stated that,
" Its purpose is to help primary and middle schools, and special schools with primary-age pupils, to set appropriately high
expectations for their pupils and understand how pupils should progress through the primary years."
(DfEE, 1999, pg2)
From the Conservative governments' point of view then, the introduction of the NNS was to be a step in the right direction towards giving the primary teachers and primary children the much-needed support and encouragement that they both required in order flourish in this subject. Unlike the National Curriculum the NNS is not a statutory document however its use is strongly advised. Its recommendations are simple; all schools should provide a planned, structured and relevant Numeracy lesson which should take between forty five minutes to one hour per day. Within this lesson the whole class will work as one large group for a certain amount of time and mental and oral work will be imperative throughout. The first five or ten minutes should include mental and oral starters to warm up the mind and the last five or ten minutes should consist of a plenary and assessment of whether or not the learning objective has been met.
It was introduced in the September of 1999 as a way of encouraging a higher attainment of grades and in a similar way to the National Literacy Strategy (NLS) before it, there will be targets that all 11 year olds should attain each year. Also provided with the framework for teaching mathematics were a wide range of resources such as number lines, number tracks, digit cards and 100 squares as well as mathematical dictionaries, number games and construction kits which are all designed so that children:
" Become less reliant on fingers and apparatus and calculate mentally." NNS (1999, pg30)
This should encourage children to try to work out mathematical equations in their head then prove it using the equipment provided. A concept recommended by the NNS, as mental arithmetic has become one of the main topics for concern.
It is now 2006, and from my further reading and experience about this topic it is apparent that there are many teachers and authors that applaud its introduction. The general consensus from the numerous authors that I chose to study was that primary school pupils, before the NNS was introduced simply worked through a Numeracy work-scheme, mostly bland text books, individually, without the crucial interaction between not only their teacher but also with the class as a whole.
Derek Haylock and Anne Cockburn are two authors that feel the NNS should not just be referred to as important' but as a,
"Major curriculum initiative in primary mathematics."
Haylock, D and Cockburn, A. (2003, Pg x) They explained that,
"The Numeracy Strategy has also encouraged teachers to take more responsibility for direct interactive teaching of their pupils, with less reliance on pupils working individually through commercial schemes." Haylock, D and Cockburn, A. (2003, Pg x)
As with any new Education Reform there are always going to be those who disagree with the change or at least have their doubts about its effectiveness, the NNS is no different. There has been much discussion recently surrounding the harshness of there being such a rigid structure of individual lessons and the termly planning with many teachers feeling restricted. Also further disappointment has been felt where the needs of lower ability children come into the discussion. As evidence that I will elaborate on later in my writings show, with there being such a structured way that lessons are carried out there is little room for slower learners to grasp the learning objective of every lesson. As one lesson has finished for one day the next day another topic may be introduced so the lower ability learners may be overlooked to a much higher extent than is thought. Of course this cannot be said for all schools but as Sue Atkinson says,
"One of the main purposes of the National Numeracy Strategy is to bring up the level of the children who are below average." Atkinson, S (1992)
With this in mind it would be a shame to see, in any school the NNS actually disabling achievement.
To further discuss this point I will refer to a mathematics lesson that I have observed at my placement school. I will firstly point out the positives and then highlight the relevance. The specific lesson that I am referring to, followed the recommendations laid out by the NNS that mental and oral starters should be used for the first part of the lesson to actively warm up the children's minds. Within the year 5 class that I observed, the children really seemed to enjoy this. The children were all joining in, learning from each other and when the bulk of the topic for that day's lesson was introduced it was obvious that their minds were set towards mathematical reasoning. Shortly after the introduction, the teaching activities began as advised specifically from the NNS Unit Plan (Appendix 1) and again the children responded well. Finally it came to the end of the lesson and their teacher was happy with a plenary of simple questions, "Did everyone understand?" and "Does anyone need help?" At this stage I know that the teacher was delighted with the class's progress as a whole and was happy to accept no response to her plenary. However, when I asked, "Did you really understand what you just learnt?" to a couple of the children that I know have lower learning abilities they replied honestly, "No I did not." Thus supporting my view earlier that having the NNS in place does not necessarily solve underlying issues.
What seems frustrating about this situation is that reading the Unit Plan as it is written, there is almost an expectation within the text of no possible way any child should fail to understand the lessons taught. That is if the text is followed word for word. With this in mind it is probably the reason why the government expected grades to rise so dramatically with its implementation. Apparently, this is impossible, as one discussion has led me to believe. A case put forward is that many teachers have to further adapt the work to suit their pupils and it is unlikely that throughout the term it is followed precisely, there is just too much to do. Some also feel as though the implementation of the NNS and NLS takes away time that should be allocated to the foundation lessons. If this is true then it must be a worrying prospect that the children will miss out on the special skills learnt in those subjects, skills such as expression through art or the ability to research taught in history. Also mentioned was that some teachers can actually begin to feel suffocated by what is expected of them, however I have no evidence to support this view. From this same teacher I was also made aware that it is handy to have a guideline for all teachers to build their lesson plans upon. Nevertheless in reality there are too many other factors such as lack of teacher's imagination in delivery or a child's lack of home help that can cause the grasping of a subject to become more difficult. This of course would then lead to repetition of lesson objectives and differentiation problems where the higher learners become bored.
Despite these views there are current educational thinkers that believe the NNS has had a huge impact on the effective teaching of Numeracy. Mike Askew has a view that is supported in the NNS and that is,
"It is our (The Effective Teachers of Numeracy Project) belief that learning mathematics is essentially a process and comes about through the sharing of ideas." Askew, M, (1998, pg3)
My placement school does embrace the idea that discussion is paramount in the learning process and is in agreement with Askew. My specific placement teacher does try as best as she can to follow the NNS as it is laid out and uses her imagination to make the lessons become more appealing. She does this by including discussion, whole class group work, differentiation and ideas that she knows the children will respond well to. The contemporary issue of Excellence and Enjoyment' allows for her to do this as it recommends that teachers take ownership of their lessons as well as be more creative and innovative. It also promotes differentiation and more importantly it wants the children to enjoy themselves.
After speaking to my placement teacher and observing this I honestly feel convinced that what is happening in this specific classroom truly reflects the aims of the NNS. After all it does state in the Staff information booklet 2003 04, (Appendix 2) that,
"All classes follow a procedure in accordance with the NNS." Chris Riley, Head teacher
To further prove this point refer to (Appendix 3) Timetables Bingo' this record of an observed lesson shows a game derived from an NNS lesson plan that she jazzed up, almost like putting the meat on the bone. The children were so enthusiastic about this game they almost forgot that they were learning, however a learning objective was met. My placement teacher is a great believer in the NNS and feels that there is plenty of room within the NNS for imaginative and creative minds to build upon its guidelines.
From her positivity when it came to the point where I had to plan my own Numeracy lesson I referred directly to the NNS. (Appendix 4) The documents in Appendix 4 are the NNS guidelines for delivery of a properties of numbers' lesson and my adapted version. The NNS directions seemed so bland to me that the idea of adding a puppet and an outer space' theme appeared much more appealing, not just for the children but also for myself. The Record of Lesson Observation that I received after delivering this lesson was highly complimentary and showed that I was exceeding standards, it also showed the classroom reality that the original NNS recommendations had been the backbone of my plan. In that situation, especially as a newcomer to teaching, I was happy that the NNS had provided me with a skeleton for the lesson that I could then add the meat to.
Again, to balance out the argument for and against the recommendations of the NNS in the primary school, I feel to mention the findings of a current thinker Peter Kelly. Kelly who is concerned with the effective teaching of mathematics speaks highly about the way that,
"The NNS has been extremely successful in schools and offers many opportunities for teachers to promote confidence and confidence with numbers and measures." Kelly, P. (2003, Pg39)
Kelly then goes on to state in that same paragraph,
"However, unless we also take steps to change children's mathematical beliefs, encouraging those that are most productive in terms of using mathematics away from the school contexts, then the opportunity for achieving deep and lasting reform will have been missed." (Kelly, P. 2003, Pg39)
With this in mind it appears that no matter what recommendations the NNS makes and whether a school implements them or not, it is down to the teacher and how they not only teach mathematics, but also how they promote mathematics in their class that really matters. There needs to be a keen eye on the slower learners to make sure that they do not fall too far behind and assessment needs to be made at suitable stages. To conclude, I feel that from the evidence I have collected there is a strong argument that, if the recommendations made by the NNS are followed with a positive and enthusiastic response, Numeracy can certainly be taught in an effective way.
Askew, M. (2003) Teaching Primary Mathematics. London: Hodder and Stoughton. Atkinson, S. (1992) Mathematics with Reason: The emergent approach to primary mathematics, London: Hodder and Stoughton. DfEE (1999) The National Numeracy Strategy: Framework for teaching mathematics from reception to year 6: Sudbury: DfEE publications. Haylock, D. (2003) Understanding Mathematics in the Lower Primary Years (2cnd Ed.) London: Paul Chapman Publishing. Kelly, P (Sep 2002) Does Numeracy in School Lead to Numeracy Out of School?' Mathematics Teaching 180. Riley, C (2003) Mersey Drive Community Primary School-Staff information Booklet 2003-04. Manchester: Mersey Drive School.