Improving students’ maths attainment is a huge focus for many schools and in recent years there has been a growing trend for schools to run maths interventions with groups of struggling students to make this happen.
Intervention programmes can take many different forms. Choosing, planning and delivering one can be incredibly complex, because of the simple fact that no two students with mathematical difficulties are the same.
In a 2009 report, Ofsted concluded that there was no single effective intervention programme but that success was more likely to be determined by how well pupils were targeted, assessed and monitored and how the overall programme was managed within the schools.
So, how can you do this well? While studying for my Masters in Teaching at the Institute of Education I carried out action research on a maths intervention programme I designed and implemented at my previous school. Below are some of the key points I learnt from the process, which will hopefully support others in planning and implementing an effective maths intervention.
1. It’s not always about extra hours
An intervention doesn’t have to mean more teaching hours. In most schools, maths already has one of the highest allocations of teaching hours – usually matched with English. So, instead of doing yet another "booster" lesson, look into why the students are underachieving. Could it be poor basic numeracy, poor working-memory, poor attendance, issues with the teacher-student relationship or maths exam anxiety? This information should drive your intervention planning.
2. Diagnose individual difficulties
Once the students are selected for an intervention, it is important to find out their individual strengths and weaknesses. Maths is an incredibly broad subject requiring many different component skills. Every maths student is on a different learning journey and the intervention should target their individual difficulties.
Ways to diagnose maths difficulties include written or online assessments, discussions with the student or their maths teacher and lesson observations.
3. Take student feedback on board
Student engagement in an intervention is essential if the intervention is to be successful. When a student is selected, explain to them why they are doing it and how the intervention will work. And more importantly, ask them for feedback throughout the intervention process. If the students don’t think the intervention is working, it definitely isn’t. They will also be more engaged if they feel involved in the process.
4. Think about using technology
There have been major advances in educational technology with adaptive computer-based and online educational systems that record student’s work and modify the presentation of learning material dependent on the student’s performance. These programmes can adapt to the specific needs of the students supporting personalised learning, while also minimising the time needed for extra teacher input. The potential for this is dependent on your school’s budget. Programmes such as Hegarty Maths have features that make it possible to set work targeted to the specific needs of the students.
5. Get parents involved
Informing parents of the aims and details of the intervention can increase the possibility of success because they can reinforce these aims at home. This could be done by sending letters or emails home or through holding informal information evenings or mornings to get disengaged parents on board. Parental engagement can have a hugely positive impact on children’s learning and is crucial to the success of interventions.
Susan Okereke is a secondary maths teacher in Bermondsey and is a NCETM professional development lead. She tweets at @DoTheMathsThing