Maths groups – enriching learning

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We are trying a new way of working in maths this year. For the past 4 years, we have been teaching in sets – a large top set, slightly smaller second set, small (25ish) 3rd set and very small (10-15) bottom set. While this has produced excellent results for the high achievers, it has not been quite as successful for those near the bottom of the top set (who maybe lack confidence as they feel overshadowed by high flyers?) or for those further down the sets. Our Maths co-ordinator is currently doing the MaST training and has been doing a lot of reseach in this area, so we are now trying a new approach. At first I wasn’t sure, but the research won me over and I’m glad it did!

Here’s how it works: we are still teaching in sets – 3rd and 4th set are the same, but we now have two parallel top/second sets (I teach one of these). This is in Year 5, so the ability range is approximately 3b-4a. I am seating the children in mixed ability 4s, enabling the top achievers to act as “mentors” in a way for the children working at 3b-3a. This is for 3 days a week, when we teach skills and methods. For the other two days a week, we do problem solving and mental maths methods in our usual classes (ability range about 2c-4a).

The problems we choose are from the NRich website (which I think every teacher of maths should know about!). They are rich problems which require lots of thinking, talking and collaborative work. The children are in mixed ability 4s again, and each person in the group has a role. These roles rotate each week so the children all take turns in each position.

Facilitator – makes sure everyone is on task. Keeps things moving.

Understanding co-ordinator – checks everyone understands what is going on. Asks questions to make sure everyone is clear about the methods used.

Resource manager – responsible for fetching equipment and asking questions of the teacher. Nothing is provided to the children – if they think they need whiteboards, calculators, compasses, cubes, they have to get them!

Reporter/Recorder – keeps track of the group’s thinking and working out and feeds back at the end.

We repeatedly tell the children in these sessions that it is not just about finding the right answer – it is about the journey that you take and the maths you use to get there, and making sure everyone gets there together. It has been really great, especially for the lower ability children, who would not usually be able to access this kind of material but are able to join in and contribute in this kind of supportive environment. Research has shown that when children have experience of working in this kind of way, they are more resilient and are more likely to have a go at questions. Often in tests, lower ability children can be so daunted they will not even attempt questions – this approach aims to give them that confidence they need to just try their best.

I really enjoy these sessions – they are my favourite maths lessons of the week! I think the children really like them too. I am hopeful that our end of term tests/APP will reflect the great work that has been going on in class!

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5 responses »

  1. I have to admit that whenever I hear a teacher create a “mentoring” relationship between high ability (or high achieving) students it sends up a red flag, and here’s why:

    From research analysis by Karen Rogers, PhD and author of “Re-Forming Gifted Education”
    -the learning rate of children above 130 IQ is approximately 8 times faster than for children below 70 IQ
    -GT students are significantly more likely to retain science and mathematics content accurately when taught 2-3 times faster than “normal” class pace
    -GT students are significantly more likely to forget or mislearn science and mathematics content when they must drill and review it more than 2-3 times

  2. Interesting comment, Jeanne. The mentoring is not about “drilling” content, though, it is about children explaining a concept clearly in order that it is fully understood by the explainer as well as the explainee! It’s also about problem solving and being able to apply learning in new contexts.
    When we are working in sets, there is extension work given to the most able children in the class so they are still being challenged and stretched in that way as well. Thank you for your viewpoint!

  3. Pingback: Educator? U gotta check this out (4) | jamieportman.com/blog

  4. An interesting debate – I’ve begun to use learning partners this year and i’m a big fan. I really like how you give students particular roles. I might try these as we enter next half term. Thanks for the idea 🙂

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