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How to... Stop pupils from slipping through the gaps

Are your pupils goldfish or coasters? A maths teacher shares her strategies for helping three types of learners who may not be reaching their potential.

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Are your pupils goldfish or coasters? A maths teacher shares her strategies for helping three types of learners who may not be reaching their potential.

No matter how vigilant you are, a pupil is bound to fall through the mesh of your assessment web every now and then. There are some learners who are more likely than others to slip through the cracks, but how do you spot these pupils and catch them before it is too late?

My department and I have identified three types of learners that you should be on the lookout for and offered some advice for helping each one in time.

  1. Coasters The “coaster” is familiar to us all. To identify them, our first port of call should be assessment models such as cognitive abilities test indicators and Fischer Family Trust models, as well as teacher tracking from year to year. Be on the prowl for those students who are doing “fine” but whose predictors suggest that they have a lot more to give. Once they are identified, intervene with differentiation and push these students with extension work. This will drive them out of their comfort zone and into deeper waters where they can really learn to swim.  
  2. Algorithmatisers The “algorithmatiser” loves to follow the steps, knows them well and can replicate them with almost negligible effort. But, if pressed about why this method works, they will just repeat the method itself parrot-fashion as a supposed explanation. And when given a different example, they cannot adjust the approach to suit the problem. In the maths classroom, these students need us to widen the scope of the type of work we do beyond practice to problem solving. If we continue to teach the process and not the concept, students are bound to develop these problems. This applies to other subjects as well. We must allow students to discover the principles themselves and to develop their own strategies. They should be given opportunities to reason, justify, explain, argue and debate. We need to step back from instruction to become facilitators and let the students become the experts.  
  3. Goldfish The “goldfish” seems fully engaged during the learning experience and yet looks at you blankly when you revisit a topic, as if they’ve never encountered it before. Given the recent expansion of the curriculum – both in terms of its depth and its variety – it is perhaps not surprising that goldfish are becoming more common in our classrooms. Help these students by building consolidation points into your curriculum plan, which will also provide you with useful opportunities to identify the culprits and intervene. Like language learning, maths requires fluency: if you only rehearse the present tense, then you never master the others

Ronnie Ebanks is head of maths at St George’s British International School in Rome.

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