Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Back to Basics

Recently I decided that we needed to go back to basics and it was well timed because I have read that the current Government, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to make Mathematics more rigorous in primary schools. They are going to hopefully go back to more traditional methods to accomplish this!

Here is the article I am referring to: tougher Maths in primary school. The problem is that they have used ridiculous methods in the school system that have complicated things. Instead of teaching the children the basic principles, they seem to be teaching them the shortcuts. This means that they don't learn to make the shortcuts on their own terms. For example, I was taught to workout 15+33 by putting one number on top of the other and drawing a line under it and adding it together to get 48. Children today are taught to take the 10 from 15 add it to 33 to get 43 and then add the 5 on to get 48. I can do that too, but the difference is that I figured out how to do it after mastering the basics of addition. I didn't need to be taught that method. They are ONLY taught that method and not everyone's brains work that way. Then I found out that it depends on what school you attend as to the method you are taught and then it can depend on the teacher.

I wanted to be a partner in L's education when she was at school and Math homework was a nightmare! I would try and help her, not realising that she had been taught a completely different method. She would get upset and couldn't explain her method to me. I would go to the teacher for an explanation and the teacher WOULDN'T explain it to me and sent me on some wild goose chase on the internet. Finally, a couple of years later I had a teacher sit down and demonstrate ALL the methods they use in school. This now makes me realise that the other teacher didn't understand what she was having to teach. She knew it was ridiculous but she was duty bound to teach it.

I eventually took L out of school because all the school seemed to be interested in was getting her ready for major tests that are nothing to do with the child but 100% to do with how the school is teaching and performing. We had to start from scratch and so we sat and I showed her my way, and then she showed me hers. The answers came out the same but her method was more complicated than my old fashioned method.

I am a firm believer in mastering a concept thoroughly and completely before moving onto the next concept. From what I have seen in the school system today, it seems to be more about ticking boxes than ensuring mastery of concepts.

I prefer old fashioned methods with old fashioned books, like Ray's Arithmetic which do just that. You go through a series of questions to practise the skills you need to learn the concept. I think this enables one to learn to a higher standard.

I am working through the Primary Arithmetic book with M and in one question she learned three operations, addition, subtraction and multiplication. I had an abacus and the first question was 'how many counters have we here?' So I moved one bead across and she said, "One!". The next question was How many are 1 and 1? One taken away from 2 leaves how many? How many ones in 2? How many are two times 1?. We worked through a series of questions like that using the beads on the abacus so that she could see how the numbers all work together. These questions carried on with two, three, four and five. Then we stopped. That was the end of that lesson.

The next time we tackle this, we will go over some of those questions before moving on to cover other numbers. These books were written in the 1870s and were used in schools in America. They were used in one room school houses where you had everyone in one room.

I am also using another old fashioned tool for reading, the books I use are called McGuffey's Readers and again they were used in American schools. The Primer starts off with a cat, a rat, and ends with Shakespeare! The illustrations are beautiful. Take a look here: McGuffey's Eclectic Primer. This is obviously for M and not L. L is reading other books and text books because next year she is due to take two or three exams that are normally done when people are 16.

So how did we go back to basics this week? We started doing reading, writing and arithmetic and we are working on building up a routine. I also like structure and routine and feel that both are vital components to learn in order to be successful. Not everyone will share my belief system but they don't have to live in my shoes. Today after reading, writing and arithmetic were completed, we did artist study, Sandro Botticelli's painting Primavera. We also listened to music by two composers, Mozart and Bela Bartok and discussed them. We will add more on to our day as we get going but for now, we are mastering the idea of getting into a routine. This is important for M as she has never been to school and so she doesn't understand how the school day runs. Now I have to go and get my own work done now that I have seen to their work.

Now, if only they'd do something about the horrible standard of grammar and spelling that the teachers use! The Government has said that anyone who takes exams from 2013 or 2014 will have their grammar and spelling marked in the exam, that's a peculiar thing, because when I went to school, spelling, grammar and punctuation were counted in your mark. It wasn't just the content you were marked on! It's about time the education system gets back to basics and starts helping children to learn to do these things properly. I'm afraid though that a lot of teachers will have to retrain in other professions because they can't do basic spelling or arithmetic.