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Why we ditched the daily hour of literacy and numeracy

Switching to a different schedule for literacy and maths has made for better teaching and learning, says this primary teacher

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Switching to a different schedule for literacy and maths has made for better teaching and learning, says this primary teacher

I remember the day we talked about introducing it – I walked out of the meeting thinking, “OK, we can try a carousel of activities, but it's going to be similar to you asking me to write everything from now on with my right hand instead of my left…I will try it because you've asked me to. It's going to look odd. My class and teaching assistant are going to be mightily confused. The result will not be pretty.”

However, I promised to try. 

So it was that we began our new policy: no more would we do one hour of literacy before break and one hour afterwards for maths. 

Instead: two hours of maths on a Monday and a Wednesday and two hours of literacy, on a Tuesday and a Thursday. 

How does it work? 

The logistics

The first step is to split the class into large groups of eight or nine – bear with me – to create effectively three very small classes.

Next, rearrange the tables for the three groups. Two of the activities should be mini-lessons linked to different learning objectives from the week's teaching sequence and the third table should have an independent activity in a similar vein to the first two.

The reasoning

Three activities on two days means six activities, plus a shorter maths lesson on a Friday after an extended write. 

Seven activities a week is surely better for their learning each week, rather than the usual five?

The obvious reaction to the preceding sentence will no doubt be: "More work! Ofsted are banging on about workload, you've been banging on about workload and here you are advocating more work."

So... 

I have a guided group, which is live marked. My TA has a guided group, which is live marked. A feedback slip is filled in and stuck into a feedback book, leaving me with one independent activity times 24. To read about this marking policy, see my previous Tes blog

The differentiation

I am a massive advocate of differentiating by resource. Teach the skill, present the problem and then the children use a concrete, pictorial or abstract approach to complete the task. National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) materials have mastery and mastery with greater depth activities, anyway – so it lends itself well here to stretching your most-able students.

The impact

I work with every single child every single day, as does my TA – and the students still have the opportunity to work independently twice a week. 

So more learning, more opportunities for on-the-spot assessment, but with no extra marking? 

The drawbacks

It took me about two weeks to get used to it. Sticking tight to your timings to ensure that you fit all three activities in was troublesome to begin with. However, an occasional nudge from your TA works wonders.    If a child is off on Monday, they have effectively missed "two days of maths", but a separate input from the TA – alongside those who struggled the previous lesson – and a bit of same-day intervention catches them up quickly and effectively.

For those of you who are not lucky enough to have a TA, this can still be done. Your children will be working independently already, so simply switch it to independent tasks.

Conclusion

I'm in no way saying that it's the best way to teach. However, I can that say I know my class inside out, as does my TA, more so than ever before.

Gavin Goulds is Year 1/2 class teacher and maths leader at Kennington Primary School in Preston, Lancashire. He tweets @goulds_mr

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