This week, we consider those pupils who need extra support with numeracy skills and explore some issues to think about when setting up an intervention programmeSupport for SENCOs

Numeracy: Interventions (part two) Out-of-class support groups often focus on literacy learning, but the acquisition of numeracy skills is also important. The Primary National Strategy Wave 3 mathematics materials offer valuable support for small group work, as do a number of published schemes. When considering interventions, the following points may be useful:

  • Research shows that planned interventions can make a substantial impact on children’s difficulties with calculation, improving their understanding and raising performance. You can make a big difference in a relatively short amount of time.
  • Short but regular interventions, involving individualised work, can result in a child being able to benefit much more effectively from the whole-class teaching that they receive.
  • It’s important to find out what specific strengths and weaknesses an individual child has and to investigate particular misconceptions and incorrect strategies. A good way of establishing this is to observe and take notes (or ask a TA to do this) during oral/mental starters in the classroom. Interventions should then be targeted towards particular difficulties.
  • Whichever materials you decide to use, they should be sufficiently flexible for the teacher to be able to adapt them. Remember to use plenty of practical activities and concrete examples before moving on to abstract operations. The table below lists some of the equipment which will be useful − in both primary and secondary settings. (From Brian Sharp’s book in the David Fulton series Meeting SEN in the Curriculum: Ma)
Equipment Some possible uses
Counting stick Number sequences, tables
Number lines For all four operations
Arrow cards Demonstrating place value
Interlocking cubes Number sequences, leading to algebra
Diene’s blocks Place value, relating numbers and decimals
Cuisenaire rods Factors, fractions, decimals, percentages; algebra
ATM Developing Number software Place value, tables, complements
Target boards Calculations
OHT fractions circles, square grids
(learning resources)
Recognising fractions, and calculating with them
Calculators – all types, including scientific, graphic Comparing calculators reveals the need
for the order of operations; calculator skills need to be explicitly taught
OHT thermometer Negative and positive numbers
ICT – spreadsheet Extended calculations, presentation of data
Money Money and decimals
Fraction tiles/poster Comparing relative sizes and equivalence of fractions
Algebra through Geometry (G. Giles/Dime) Expressing areas algebraically
Collecting like terms
OHT coordinate grids Graph drawing
OHT numbers  
Graph drawing software  
ATM shape mats Tessellations, geometric reasoning, making 3D shapes
Shape construction equipment (Polydron, Geostrips) Construction, reasoning
Compasses, rulers, protractors, etc. There are also specialist resources for children with motor difficulties. Construction, measurement
Paper − various mathematical papers Construction, reasoning
Height measures − wall scales  
OHT measuring scales  
Dynamic geometry software (eg Cabri, Geometer’s Sketchpad) Reasoning
Interlocking cubes Building shapes, exploring volume and surface area, enlargements
Small mirrors Symmetry
Balance scales, weights and modelling clay  
Various jugs of different capacities  
Clocks and timetables  
Platonic solids pack Recognising 3D shapes
A variety of very large 2D shapes (at least 30 cm high) Hide and reveal activity, where part of the shape is hidden and gradually revealed as children try to identify the shape
Dice, coins Probability
Probability pots (based on DIME probability kits) Probability
Spreadsheet/database Data handling
Mini-whiteboards, pens and wipes Rapid assessment of pupils’ understanding Calculations, diagrams
Posters In each of the topic areas, to support discussion
Games Counting, recognising numbers on dice, probability, developing strategies, shape recognition, use of coordinate grids (eg Battleships)

Calculations (eg 24 game)

  • Many local authorities provide ideas for maths activities on their websites (e.g. Essex − which also includes useful assessment and monitoring grids)
  • At the start of each activity, the teacher/TA should share the purpose of the sessions with the child to encourage reflection on, and ownership of, learning
  • Key vocabulary should be highlighted, explained and modelled throughout. (It goes without saying that adults working with groups should be confident in their use of mathematical terminology: provide them with a mathematical dictionary, or copies of the NNS vocabulary lists.)
  • Activities should, where possible, link to whole-class work.
  • Monitor and evaluate the intervention.

Be prepared to organise some training for TAs working with individuals or groups of pupils on maths activities. It’s easy for them to believe that they know and understand maths operations and strategies simply by virtue of having been in the classroom when it was taught and ‘absorbing’ it by osmosis. In reality, this doesn’t always happen efficiently enough and, as we know, to teach something really well, we have to be 100% familiar and confident with the subject matter. Assigning a less-than-competent TA to this sort of work is risking greater confusion for a child and setting him or her up to fail.

SEN News If you’re looking for resources for supporting learners with SEN in numeracy − or in any other area, you can’t do better than go to the Special Needs North exhibition next month. The event will be held at Manchester Central (formerly GMEX) on the 18-19 April. Apart from an opportunity to see materials and resources from a vast range of suppliers, this is also a chance to get friendly advice and source CPD.

There is a varied seminar programme, created by nasen, and highlights include: Rob Long, independent behaviour consultant discussing cooperative group work (19 April, 11:00-12:00); and Sue Cook, SEBDA hosting a seminar on supporting staff who work with children and young people with social and emotional behaviour difficulties (19 April, 12:30-13:30). To keep abreast of the advances being made within ICT, Special Needs North incorporates a Special Needs IT area devoted to technology. Visitors can discover a host of computer software, access devices and communication aids from some of the leading names in assistive technology as well as keep up to date with current practice and new initiatives. There will also be a programme of FREE ICT workshops available.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.