I am no maths guru, I don’t have all the answers and I’m more than aware there are some cracking maths blogs out there to look at. However, this is one way I teach maths occasionally that works well. (Both Ofsted and the Local Authority liked this form of differentiation and commented on its worth recently. Feb ’14)
Most maths groups/sets will have small sets within them; you might have a set where the levels range from 3C to 3A but even in such a tight range, there will be children who find maths easier/trickier than others. This needs to be differentiated properly and not just in case Ofsted come in!
I currently have 29 Y3 in my maths set and I organise the children into 4 groups: circles, triangles, squares and hexagons – basically, the more sides the shape has, the better they are at maths (or higher the level).
It is really important though that we don’t pigeonhole these children, just because Sam is in the hexagons group and is brilliant at number, doesn’t mean he is going to succeed as highly when we look at shape and space. Equally so for Beth who is visually spot on and understands shape and nets really well – she just can’t grasp number bonds and multiplication tables. This is a system I have used in all year groups in KS2, it’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s my RAG system. Red, Amber and Green (see photo).
Once I have taught the children the method and am confident they are ready to show their learning in their books, they crack on with this in their books. I don’t say that circles you must work on red, hexagons you must work on green – that caps their learning. I once observed a lesson where one child was working in a text book and asked to continue onto the next page (this is so wrong, it’s untrue) and the teacher said: no, you’re blue group, you’re doing page 14. Horror show! That child has been labelled and capped and demoralised and probably still hates maths to this day! Rather, I let the children choose to work at the level (colour) they are comfortable with. If they want to challenge themselves and have a go at the next colour, excellent. My class know that I am not interested in the answer, it is the understanding that is key (I sometimes give them questions with the answers and get them to prove how I got them…)
What is amazing is that children will work where they need to – if they are struggling, they start at red. If they think they want to work independently but need to move at a slower pace or with support, they focus on amber, even if only for the first two questions. They are honest and open about their needs, what they can do and what they have learnt (or need to do to improve learning).
You can’t use this style with every aspect of maths obviously, but it works with a lot of them – mostly number. I always finish with an application or Star Question to see if they can apply what they have learnt. Normally: secure and extension – again, they choose which one they want to try.
Not difficult; simple and very effective.
*All names have been created to protect the innocent.