Getting back on track in primary maths – tracking back to build up

Published: 18 May 2021

The task of getting children ‘back on track’ can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. However, I think it’s important to consider whether the way in which we do this is actually vastly different to what we would normally do.

Yes, tracking back needs to be carefully considered, taking into account any missed or shaky learning. Yes, we need to identify children’s starting points and build from a place of security. And yes, we need to use our assessment for learning to react in the moment and inform planning going forward. Hasn’t this always been what a good teacher does?

This Year 5 teacher from Bedwell Primary School, Herts, shares his journey with HfL Back on Track so far…

As a Year 5 teacher with a very challenging cohort, including many children with SEND, the “building from” column in the Back on Track planning was crucial. Through using this and with support from a Teaching and Learning Adviser, we have been able to consider how to secure learning and enable children to become more independent. I had noticed that pupils were often able to remember (or half-remember) formal written strategies and we used this as a starting point.

Through knowing the key priorities, we were able to plan a sequence of learning to focus on gaps in conceptual understanding and to connect representations, allowing application of knowledge.

We built in very small steps and considered the focus of learning at each point, securing gaps wherever possible.  When we built up from Year 3 learning about written subtraction (3LS9), we particularly focused on:

1. Developing a more secure part whole understanding

We explicitly and repeatedly connected the parts of the formal subtraction calculation to part whole models such as cherry diagrams and bar models.

2. Developing a better understanding of the base 10 number system: the equality of 1 ten and 10 ones and 1 hundred and 10 tens

We used the games and language frames to focus on seeing and understanding what was happening at the regroup.

And we evaluated when we would need to regroup by considering the numbers involved carefully.  Children were encouraged to keep asking themselves, “do we need to regroup?”

3. Developing explicit connections between models of subtraction and language

We used precise language to describe the part whole model and also thought about extracting and completing the appropriate calculation from worded problems.

By the end of the sequence, pupils were much more secure in their understanding of formal written subtraction and especially what was happening at the regroup and hopefully will be therefore more likely to retain this understanding.

In addition, key gaps around place value and part whole understanding have been addressed. These are key not only to this learning but more widely across mathematics. Pupils have become more able to work independently and connect representations, now making more secure links to the language of subtraction, allowing greater application.

In planning our next sequence, we saw how we were able to continue to build on securing these key areas. We also planned fluency sessions to support retention and further connections from what we had achieved so far. I feel like we are making real progress and the children are feeling it too!

There’s a powerful message here about knowing your children, knowing their gaps and knowing the maths… to track right back as far as is needed to build from a place of security. Thank you to Bedwell Primary School for sharing.

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