Listen to Penny interview by P. Shuttleworth
bbc Radio Shropshire
I was the invisible child at school, the quiet one at the back off the classroom, the one labelled as stupid and lazy, told that I wouldn’t achieve much. However I knew that just because I didn’t understand things didn’t mean that I wasn’t interested and I refused to accept or believe the labels, (it wasn’t until the end of my time in senior school, aged sixteen, that I was finally diagnosed as dyslexic).
I would spend hours trying to learn times tables and spellings for the weekly Friday test, the reason I would always fail these was that my mind would go blank and I would worry more about how little time was left, so the answers just would not come.
I went through senior school in much the same way, closing down my ‘maths brain’ and trying to find a career as far away from maths as possible. I left school having failed my maths CSE (ungraded) and set off to do a BTEC in Clothing at Art College. On my first day a tutor breezed in and singled me and two others out with the words “you failed your maths exam, so you have to do a two hours maths class after college every Monday.” Maths was inescapable! As a theatrical milliner I found myself constantly working with numbers, converting inches into metric, working with circumference and measurements, maths followed me everywhere! But still I couldn’t master times tables.
It wasn’t till I had children and tried not to project a “I can’t do maths” attitude that things changed. My middle son was struggling with his two times table when he asked me,
“Where’s the table?”
“This is the table,” I replied pointing to the list.
“It doesn’t look like a table to me,” he said. “Can we draw one?” As we did, we were amazed to see the answer numbers lining themselves up into visual patterns, both me and my son were suddenly able to see times tables in a simple and clear way and more importantly we had found a key to learning and remembering them!
So to sum up, I am what most people would call a maths ‘numpty’ but I can understand from my own experience why lots of children struggle - particularly with multiplication and division and why so many children these days are closing down their ‘math’s brain.’ I’ve come to realise that the most important thing is to bring back a confidence and simple enjoyment of numbers. Working with visual patterns, then with repetition and positive associations to numbers, I have been lucky to see many struggling children move forwards with a growing sense of what it is possible for them to start to achieve.
Illustrations by Rosie Brooks