# Differentiation in Maths

Discussion in 'Primary' started by MathsWhizz91, Nov 29, 2015.

1. ### MathsWhizz91New commenter

Just wondered how other primary schools are dealing with differentiation in maths. I am head of maths in my school, which has recently employed a few new members of staff.
I am trying to create a consistent whole-school approach to differentiating. We set our children into sets, and are still expected to differentiate 3 ways within our set. I am trying to ensure that staff aren't putting their children into fixed groups for maths as the topics obviously change all the time.

My approach for staff is to give the children an AfL task just before their main task, so that the teachers can assess which group the children should access in that lesson. E.g. a teacher may put 3 questions on the board after the main input of the lesson, the children then spend 5/10 minutes answering them on whiteboards. The children that get 3 correct are in X group, 1/2 in Y group and 0/1 in Z group, etc. At least that way, the children are not in pre-determined groups and they remain fluid for each and every lesson.
To combat teachers having obviously top/bottom groups (whales/plankton scenario!), I have asked staff if we can all have the same named groups across the school: Pythagoras, Newton and Euler groups. That way, after the AfL task, the teacher can say: which mathematician are you going to be today? Rather than, you're on this table etc....
What do you think? How are you dealing with differentiation in maths?

Thanks

2. ### mystery10Occasional commenter

How is your setting done? And how does the differentiation you describe fit or not fit with the yearly programmes for maths suggested in the national curriculum document?

3. ### missrturnerOccasional commenter

I've found that using the Rising Stars Maths books for the year group I'm in really helps with differentiating questions, it will show the topic aimed at Year 2 for example then have 1, 2, 3 questions which are aimed at the three different abilities. They're on Amazon quite cheap, perhaps that may help as all teachers would be setting the questions in the same way etc?

Your idea of the three mathematicians consistently used throughout the school and the fluency between sets is inspiring. What a fantastic attitude to maths you are creating within your school.

4. ### summlardNew commenter

I have "steps". Each lesson is differentiated 5 ways (steps). Step 3 being aimed at the middles/age expected levels. Then each child chooses what they are comfortable with. Most pick correctly, the odd few that don't just get a reminder I just say "try step 2 first" or "I really think you should be doing step 4 not 2!" Etc.

5. ### summlardNew commenter

On another note, I don't understand why we must try and hide abilities within classes. Children know who is better at things than others and as long as they are encouraged to be proud of their own abilities and encouraged to work hard, I don't see why they can't possibly know who is the top group etc.

6. ### teacup71Occasional commenter

Wow
This all sounds really complicated. However if it works for you then great.
We have year group grids and teach from the grid they are working on. There are extensions for each group.
I actually only have three groups this year. The group still working at year 5. The group entering year 6 and then the more able who are developing objectives in more depth.
We do regular assessments and the children fit into these groups across the board in Number. Obviously we will look at groups again when go onto another area.

7. ### cally1980Established commenter

Any teacher worth their salt should be able to assess the understanding of the children within the main input session. Having pre-task tasks and set amounts to determine groupings seems unnecessary to me. When you allow for OMS, main input & pre-task, not to mention responding to previous next step comments, how long will they actually have to complete the activity?

8. ### MathsWhizz91New commenter

The reason for the method is due to the fact that we have quite a few NQTs/International teachers/Secondary to primary teachers this year, and therefore there are a few issues with differentiating in maths. I thought this method is a good way of training teachers to differentiate within the lesson, rather than having 3 fixed groups with their tasks already prescribed to them before they have even set foot in the classroom etc.
In relation to timings, we have about 1hour and 10 minutes for maths each day; we spend 5/10 doing a transition task and then straight into main input for about 20/30 minutes, then 30/40 minutes on the task (including the pre-task).

9. ### TEA2111Established commenter

I would find this approach rather prescriptive. I would hope that as a qualified professional, I would have the freedom (trusted enough?) to decide how I assessed/ named my groupings,... in my lessons. I plan 3 differentiated activities (Step 1,2,3), and allow the children to decide whether they want to begin on Step 1 or Step 2. They are not allowed to progress to the next step without evidence that they have 'mastered' the step they are on. Hope this makes sense.

10. ### cally1980Established commenter

I do hard, rock hard and super rock hard but with the same principles!

11. ### frustumStar commenter

Is it necessary to do the AfL task every lesson? I imagine that usually you'll be doing a week's work on a topic, so it might well be possible to sort them on Monday for the topic. Some adjustment might be needed during the week, but it's probably easier to make those adjustments than to spot every lesson who has ended up on the wrong activity.

TEA2111 likes this.

Consistent whole school approach - why???

I differentiate when appropriate, I whole class teach when appropriate, I split them 5 ways, 3 ways 2 ways - depending on what is needed.
Consistent approach = straightjacket and means the truly inspirational lesson is lost in the process.

OP's reasoning - quite a few teachers who need support/training in it - are you differentiating for the teachers? The teacher who doesn't need support and training - are they going to be compelled to teach in this prescriptive manner?

I will keep quiet on my thoughts on being told what I have to call my groupings (for fear of being banned from the site).

13. ### nick909Star commenter

I don't ability group at all. One form entry, Year Six, so a wide range of abilities.

The children sit in mixed ability 'learning partners'. As above, I give out three levels of challenge, plus a 'mastery' type question or two. All this is usually on one piece of paper (makes photocopying a dream!), with the children being able to self-select their level of challenge. They can still support each other in their learning partners even if they're working on a different level of challenge. They can move up or down the level of challenge during the lesson as they need to.

This is my second year of doing this and I can definitely say that progress has improved dramatically. Plus it takes me five minutes to prepare the lesson, rather than spending ages photcopying and trimming different work and I haven't got any time wasted in the lesson with people moving around all the time. Winner.

14. ### MathsWhizz91New commenter

So... I have tweaked it with my class and I think I have now found a good fit.
I give the whole class input and then ask all the children to complete a task that is the expected level for my set. If they found this hard, then they can have a supporting task, if they found it easy, then they can have a more challenging task etc.
I know it sounds obvious... but I am currently trying to move away from an idea that has been set out from before I started at the school, which was: the children should be put into ability sets, and then 3 clear ways of differentiating within each set. Recently, some have felt like they have been forced into differentiating for the sake of it and it is causing confusion amongst new members of staff, so I am just trying to re-jig things so that it doesn't feel that way in the future.
I think having 3 different tasks available if they are needed is the way forward, but focussing on the main expected task for the majority.

Has anyone else, who set their children, found it difficult differentiating with the new maths curriculum as every child needs to be at the same expected stage by the end of the year? My school is a large school- 6 classes in year 6, and hopefully you can understand my position a bit more, as this meant that the year 6 teachers have been sometimes trying to differentiate a single objective 18 ways, just for the sake of it...

missrturner likes this.
15. ### squirrel9367New commenter

I do similar to Nick909. I have two year groups in my class but I don't ability set. The children have a 'working partner' on their table so if I want them to work with a similar ability they can. Otherwise they are mixed year groups and ability. I give them a number of activities but not always the same - some maths investigations they all do the same activity with extension for those that need it.Other lessons they have a choice of activity. I call the activities one star two star three star challenges etc Children choose their level of challenge and can move up or down as they feel they need to - or sometimes I encourage a particular choice. They like it. In my last school I taught a bottom set for maths (although I am anti-setting, I had to as the school did). By doing a choice of challenge the lowest children in that set were really motivated and many made 4 sub-levels progress in a year. When I need a group to teach I have a bench by the board that they sit at with whiteboards or I move them round to have a table. Sometimes I do teach the year groups separately - e.g. this week we have been covering multiplication and it was obvious there was a huge divide in what they had covered so at the start of the week I separated them and did different teaching. They are now mixing again as some of the year 3s learning has accelerated past some year 4s. I do think they key has to be flexibility so you can respond to the needs of the class and the children.

16. ### caterpillartobutterflyStar commenter

Which is what you now need to enable all your teachers to do. They have to have the flexibility to teach their class in the way that suits them and their class.

Working in a larger school means you are likely to have a huge variety of excellent, good, mediocre, rubbish approaches. You have to value what other people do and not just tell them to do it your way because it works for your class and you've tweaked it to make a good fit.

Maybe suggest people simply move to allowing children to choose their task based on how well they have understood the input. That's it. That is all you want from them, so that is all your prescribe.
Some will do what you do, some will sort it out differently.
Some will call the levels names, some will give them colours, some levels, some zones.
Some will do a task before grouping, some just the input, some just give the LO.
It matters not a jot so long as they are differentiating the work and it is flexible.

rouxx likes this.

All good @caterpillartobutterfly except the last little bit - differentiation - not always needed or the best way to do something. Teachers seem to be very hung up on differentiation to the exclusion of using the best teaching method.

Setting an exploration task - self differentiation - outcome - teacher questioning to individuals to elicit higher concepts - teacher direction as to where to go next according to whether you think they can take the next step.
Teaching a brand new skill - start them off at the same point until you have worked out who has actually understood or you will quickly find that some say they have understood, but either have gaps in understanding or a 'fatal' misconception.
Skills practice - if you are setting 6 classes then I would expect the range in each set not to be that huge.
18 ways of differentiation for one objective - nuts.

We have five classes but only two sets - higher set x 2 and then core/support x3. Second year of running it this way and the children who previously struggled have people to help them and work to grasp the concepts, without the worry of the fast number cruncher who terrifies the life out of them. Also in your higher sets you get a few of the really good ones in each set, so the cruisers are sort of 'forced' to up their game.

Obviously, we need to differentiate within sets - but it is fairly easily done with a task that simplifies the main objective, but I tend to only give it to those children if they are finding the main task way beyond them. It certainly isn't used every lesson and actually it is often created at the end of a previous session when it becomes clear what exactly is needed. There is always an extension activity as well and I do find that one is used far more frequently, so spend more time preparing that in advance of the week. The higher set only tends to differentiate two ways and does an 'emergency call' to the other set if they have a child who needs additional support. Advantage with the parallel setting as well - we have three teachers to help think of three tasks!