'Struggling with mixed attainment in maths? Pre-teaching is the answer'

4th September 2017 at 15:03
The primary curriculum demands that the majority of students move through maths at the same rate. The way to make that happen, argues Matt Curtis, is pre-teaching

One of the biggest challenges for teachers posed by the primary maths curriculum is the expectation that the majority of pupils will move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace.

All of a sudden, the days of giving different content to children who seemingly cannot access age-related objectives are a thing of the past. So how can those children be supported to ensure that they keep up with their peers?

There are, of course, a good number of commercially produced maths interventions on the market (of varying quality), but many are far from cheap and, in the current financial climate where budgets are so tight, there isn’t always the money available to spend on them.

There is, however, a low-cost solution that has worked particularly effectively for me over the past few years: pre-teaching.

A base of knowledge

The idea behind pre-teaching is a really simple one: children who are less confident at maths and who may struggle with the concepts being taught, work in a small group with an adult immediately prior to the lesson, looking at the maths they are just about to cover.

The theory is that, when they start the lesson, they feel much more confident and are able to access the learning, which allows them to move along at the same pace as the rest of the class.

But how can we make this work amid a crowded and demanding timetable?

The sessions we run usually last for around 20 minutes and they ideally need to take place just before the lesson begins. At my last school, where I first began to use this intervention, we used to have a guided reading carousel and children would go out during this time, but this wasn’t ideal as there would be times where a child would need to miss either guided reading or the maths pre-teach.

At my current school, we are lucky enough to have a 25-minute maths skills session before each maths lesson, which lends itself perfectly to pre-teaching taking place during this time.

Mixed group

Unlike most interventions, the identity of the children taking part regularly changes as I am constantly responding to how they performed in the previous maths lesson, as well as considering if any children are displaying a general lack of confidence.

In fact, I see this intervention as being particularly beneficial to those children whose biggest stumbling block to succeeding at maths is their own lack of confidence.

The added advantage of having different children leaving the classroom each day, of course, is that no single child continually misses out on the mental maths practise that we do during skills sessions, as this would be counter-productive.

Pre-teaching sessions in my school are led by a teaching assistant and, with this being the case, it is vital that there is dialogue between the teacher and TA before every session to ensure that the exact same approach is used in both pre-teaching and the lesson itself. Sometimes the children are introduced to a concept using a very similar context to what they will see in the lessons and on other occasions the exact same context is used.

It is always fascinating to then see how those children who have taken part in the intervention perform during the lesson and, in the vast majority of cases, they tend to participate much more regularly and with greater confidence than would ordinarily be the case, while the work they produce is usually of an age-appropriate standard.

The biggest tribute I can pay to pre-teaching is that last year it allowed every child who participated in it to access and move through the curriculum with the rest of the class and when you consider that I taught a mixed Year 3-4 class where Year 3s were regularly exposed to Year 4 objectives, I consider that to be a real achievement.

Matt Curtis teaches at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire.

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