Closing gaps in maths - a teacher's view

    Published: 16 May 2018

    Guest blog by Hailey Pearcey

    Hailey Pearcey is currently a Year 3 teacher at Knutsford Primary School. She took part in the “HfL Diminishing the Difference” project run by HfL this year.  In her guest blog, she reflects on her feelings before and during the project and the positive impact it had on her target pupils, her practice and more widely on other pupils and teachers across her school.

    Initial meeting

    When I was first told that I was taking part in the ‘Diminishing the Difference’ project for mathematics by my head teacher I wasn’t really sure what to expect or what the project would involve.  I knew the aim of the project was to reduce the attainment gap between pupil premium and non-pupil premium children but how the project would help this, I was not sure.

    For the first meeting on 2nd November 2017 with the Herts consultant and my head teacher, I was asked to bring the two case study childrens' books to the meeting along with their KS1 SATS papers.  When I was told the meeting was 3 hours long I was feeling quite apprehensive of how we would need that length of time on just 2 children.

    Strengths and barriers

    Before we even went through the books or the SATS paper we discussed at first the strengths of Child A.  I feel that identifying the strengths of the child is an invaluable tool to help them with making progress.  Every child has a strength within maths, even the weakest child.  Whether it’s being able to use the success criteria for them to have a go independently, being able to use resources to aid them or simply wanting to learn - every child has a strength.  For me this was a very positive way to start the project.  It was only then that  I was asked to identify the barriers to learning for Child A.

    Going through the maths book of Child A  was extremely refreshing and uplifting as we could see the progress that had been made since September.  Very rarely do we take the time to go back through a child’s book in detail. As teachers, we are so very limited on time. Looking through Child A’s book with Siobhan (the Herts consultant) and my head teacher became a  enjoyable and valuable experience.  It was through looking through the book that we identified gaps in the child’s learning. This process was then repeated for Child B.

    KS1 SATS papers

    We also went through the child’s KS1 Maths SAT paper.  I think most teachers are guilty of being given SATS papers at the end of the summer term, looking at the scores and identifying those who were below or at age-related expectations but again, we never have the time to go through them.  Through this experience, I have learnt that the KS1 SATS paper is an invaluable piece of evidence to show you misconceptions and gaps that a child has in their learning as this is the work that is completed independently.  It also helps to go through the SATS paper with somebody else so that you can discuss a child’s strengths and weaknesses.  I will definitely go through SATS papers in future, as despite the time it takes, it is the perfect tool to set up interventions and starter activities for September.

    Post-meeting interventions

    I was very fortunate that my head teacher was 100 percent involved in the process of this project and that she enabled me to have a dedicated time after my PPA where my class were covered for 50 minutes.  This meant that I could split my intervention time to 25 minutes each for both of the target children.

    During the initial meeting, it was identified that a barrier to learning for Child A was in their understanding of the place value of digits.  With Siobhan’s help, I tracked back to the beginning of the Year 3 ESSENTIALmaths learning sequences to identify a starting point and to provide some progression to support the intervention tasks.

    When the time came for my first intervention, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  25 minutes with one child - I wasn’t sure how it was going to go.  I started with Child B first, as it was identified that we needed to find out what this child could do independently because they heavily relied on adult support within lessons.  Our first session was building two-digit numbers with dienes.  He flew through this with a beaming smile and three-digit numbers he could do as well.  We did a couple of challenges such as 700 + c + 3 = 743 and again he could confidently do this.  Our intervention ended earlier than 25 minutes but child B left happy and full of confidence, which was great to see.

    However Child A’s first intervention did not go so smoothly.  We started to build 2-digit numbers and here I realised the extent of the gap in his learning.  We went slowly and at Child A’s pace. It was a long 30 minutes and when the intervention finished, I thought, “Wow this is going to be a long and painful process!”

    The next week’s intervention came and with child B, we moved on from building and drawing numbers using dienes.  We followed the progression in the sequence and worked on adding and subtracting 10 to 2 and 3-digit numbers.  However, with Child A we continued our second session where we left off before.  Child A slowly started to build 2-digit numbers and by midway through the lesson, he could make a number and verbalise the place value using the precise language that had been modelled.  During that session, we moved on to drawing 3-digit numbers, first building them using the dienes and verbalising the place value explicitly.  We agreed that the concrete apparatus could be represented using circles for ones, rods for tens and square for hundreds. By the end of the session he could draw and make given 2 and 3 digit numbers.  A much less stressful session and we both ended the session feeling like we had accomplished something.

    The two intervention sessions were going at different paces and I realised that I would have to quickly respond to each child and progress the learning on more rapidly or stop and provide more modelling and opportunities for practice.  I have learnt from this experience that you have to be willing to accept that some intervention sessions are going to be painful and you may leave that session feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything but with a few weeks of interventions you will see the benefit of your hard work.

    Focus of interventions

    For these interventions, I was fortunate that they fell in the autumn term when we were doing written methods for addition and subtraction.  This linked really well with the intervention that I was doing as by working on place value with both children, they could apply this to the lesson and I could ensure that the precise language was reinforced.  With Child A, he would frequently say during maths lesson time, “Is this like what we did during our maths sessions?” Or “Do I have to exchange a hundred for 10 tens like we did during our session?” Both of the targeted children were able to complete the written addition and subtraction sessions independently and confidently and I am sure that this wouldn’t have happened without the focus of place value in the interventions.

    This half-term, I have looked ahead at the learning sequences and have gone back to doubling and halving and 2,5 and 10 multiplication and division as it links in with the learning sequences. I would say to anyone doing interventions to look at your learning sequence and identify;

    What is going to stop children from being able to access this? 

    Review meeting

    Just a month after our first meeting, I met again with Siobhan and my head teacher. We discussed how the project had been going and looked at the books again to see what the children had achieved. This was a really nice experience to go through the work and see that actually, all that hard work and hair- pulling intervention had made an impact.  We also reflected on wider impacts; the observable increase in confidence for Child A and how this reflected in the presentation of his work and the positive attitude to maths learnings reflected in his enjoyment coming for intervention sessions with me.  Hearing him say, “Now I am going to be good at maths in Year 4," speaks volumes.

    I was a little bit harsh on myself in considering the impact on Child B.  The impact for Child A was massive and so evident through looking in his book, that it left me feeling that I hadn’t done such a good job with Child B as their target and strategies employed were simply about seeing what they could do independently.  But then Siobhan reminded me that if I hadn’t made that child more confident in what he could do independently, told my TA to step back and let him have a go then neither I, nor the child would realise what they were actually capable of.

    Reflecting on the project, I can see that to maximise impact you need the support of other people – senior leaders, support staff and parents have all played their part it achieving this success.  As mentioned, I told my TA that Child B had to work independently and she found this very difficult to start with and thought that I was being exceptionally mean but now reflecting she has seen the world of good that this has done to the child.  In addition, with Child B, I discussed the project and how we were trying to achieve greater independence within class so that we knew how best to meet their child’s needs.  Mum actually adopted similar strategies for working at home with him and she said that although at first it was struggle, he now responds well to this and completes his homework independently whereas before he’d be waiting for someone in his family to help him complete it.

    Going forward

    This project was a very enjoyable experience and I would recommend others to take part.  Going forward my school is adopting this across all year groups and for our pupil progress meetings, teachers are asked to bring maths books for certain children and follow a similar process.  At my school, we are very fortunate that the head teacher can see the importance of the class teacher taking interventions and allows all to have time after their PPA where the class is then covered by a Music or RE specialist. I think that it is important that teachers are given time to do their own interventions as we can change the pace of the intervention and we know in our minds where we went the end goal to be and we can link the intervention back to the learning happening every day in the classroom.

    For me personally it has definitely changed my approach to teaching.  I will try to take time to sit down and go through the books to see the progress that has been made as it does make you feel better as a teacher and allows you to see that you’re doing a really good job.  And if I am in Year 3 role again, I will 100% go through the KS1 SATS paper as I cannot explain how useful that experience was in identifying the gaps and misconceptions.

    maths calculations


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