Books that primary teachers have found helpful in teaching maths
Read any good books lately? That’s not a question you’d automatically expect to lead to the response:
‘Yes, I have, actually. It was a book about maths teaching.’
But that’s exactly the thrust of most of the responses we got when, in a discussion on Twitter recently, we asked teachers what books had helped them do their maths-teaching job. In the space of an hour, around 40 books were mentioned. And what a variety! Some were published before John Travolta went down with Saturday Night Fever. Others barely off the printing press. Some were very subject-specific: packed with maths. Others addressed generic teaching matters but were nevertheless enjoyed and valued by maths teachers.
A few weeks later we devoted an NCETM podcast to discussion of some of the books mentioned, and on that podcast's page on our website, you can find a list of all books mentioned in the webchat and the podcast.
Among the list there are plenty of examples found useful by primary teachers, so why not have a browse through the Twitter chat or have a listen to the podcast?
To whet your appetite, though, here are three books mentioned, for different reasons, as of interest, and use, to primary teachers.
The Numberverse by Andrew Day (2014)
Recommended by Laura Tullock, deputy head at a primary school on Tyneside, and also the Teaching for Mastery Lead for the Great North Maths Hub
"It’s just a book that’s full of hidden gems and you can dip in and out and not have to read very far to get practical ideas. In the first 15 pages, I’ve got about 30 post-it notes to go back to. The tag line is How numbers are bursting out of everything and just want to have fun and what really attracted me to it, when it was suggested I read it, was that it’s all around engaging children with numbers, and strategies to make children curious about maths and enjoy maths.
"It also gives lots of tips for teachers about what to do and say when teaching a class. The bit that really resonated for me was this situation: when you pose a problem to a child and the answer that comes back doesn’t quite match the problem that was posed. The example it gives is two missing numbers that added together make ten (), and the question is: how many ways can you fill in the boxes with numbers? And a child finishes their work with . But there’s obviously more answers. The book talks about the idea of anchoring a problem, and it’s a really simple technique that’s really changed my practice. You just repeat the question to the child. You’re not saying to the child ‘go back and look at this’ and not telling the child where they’ve gone wrong. You’re simply saying to the child (in this example) ‘and how many ways can you fill in the boxes with numbers?’ And you keep repeating that, which allows the child to improve their answer, and it also stops other children in the class who might be listening going off on the wrong track. I found it a great way of building independence with children and keeping them on task with a problem."
Making Numbers by Rose Griffiths, Jenni Back and Sue Gifford (2016)
Recommended by Martyn Yeo, teacher and maths lead at an infants school in Nuneaton
"A really easy simple book, that you can just dip into., It helps you understand manipulatives in the classroom. It’s not just for the younger children. It starts off with numbers from zero to 12; then it moves up to 200 and over. If you are working in a primary school, you are able to use manipulatives throughout the school. For me it’s changed the way I’ve looked at some of the ways I teach things."
Starting Points by Banwell, Saunders and Tahta (published 1972 and 1986 - currently out of print)
Recommended by Mary Pardoe, a former teacher, now maths consultant/adviser, with more than 40 years’ experience in the world of maths teaching
"The book is not intended to be read through from start to finish…it’s a collection of starting points (to lessons or activities) and indications of a few of the roads that can be taken, which give opportunities for pupils to frame their own problems.
"The book helped me because it gave me, through the examples, lots of ideas about ways I could start lessons and the sorts of questions I could ask that would prompt pupils to come up with ideas and be creative.
"There’s one example called Counting Out and it’s about having six pupils sitting in chairs in a row, so the whole class can see what’s happening. Then any sort of counting out rhyme is chanted (e.g. one potato, two potato, three potato, four), the teacher pointing to a pupil, one by one along the line, on every stress of the rhyme. The last person that you point to, at the end of the rhyme, stands up. And keep doing the same rhyme, until there’s only one pupil still sitting down (the winner!) and you note where that person is sitting. And then you ask the class questions such as: ‘Would the same person have won if we used a different rhyme?’ Or ‘If we’d used the same rhyme, but started with a different pupil, what would have happened?’ You’re getting the pupils to conjecture. And then you can get them to begin to generalise."
Page header by Syd Wachs (adapted), some rights reserved
Book cover images used with kind permission of the publishers