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Strategies to enable students to 'catch up' on areas of particular weakness?

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by mature_maths_trainee, Mar 17, 2012.

  1. mature_maths_trainee

    mature_maths_trainee New commenter

    [partly inspired by the 'Back to Basics' thread]

    Can I share some evolving thoughts to see if others concur, or see major problems?....

    I think I'm being rather ineffective in helping students 'catch up' in their areas of weakness, and am looking for ways to improve this next year. Currently (especially say with new Yr7 classes, and in common with other local colleagues), I've just followed the 'topic' based SoW and discovered students varying degrees of strength/weakness in the topic at the beginning by some AfL. And have then tried to differentiate the work according to each students ability. But each student has spent basically the same amount of time (say 3 or 5 lessons) studying each topic, and progressed as well as they could in that time.
    Sometimes I've identified particular areas of weakness for a student, and put it as a 'target' for them to improve (e.g. times tables, or a written multiplication methods, or...). But I'm aware that over the coming months I've then given the student almost no personalised time to actually pursue their own target. I sort of expect them to improve by magic, or by self-study at home, or...
    I've realised that by setting these sort of targets, but then giving them no real priority, I'm actually undermining the whole process of target setting. No wonder some students don't take them too seriously.
    Clearly I want to improve things.
    So I'm looking to provide increasingly personalised lessons by allowing /requiring students to study (their own, targetted) different topics at the same time. For example, and as a minimum, rather than giving everyone being given (albeit differentiated) homework on the topic of 'simplifying expressions', I might ask each student to work on their own 'target' area for improvement. I might also be able to do this in some lessons too - say 30 mins a week where students work on a wide range of very different topics - addressing their own particular weaknesses.
    If there's a few students in the class who (essentially) have no such weaknesses, then I can give them enrichment or non-SoW mathematics work to pursue.
    This obviously requires some degree of 'independent working' by the students - but (arguably) that's to be encouraged more in any case. It also might cause me more work in 'lesson planning', becuase I'll need to find resources/activities for several (or many) different activities in the space of a single lesson. [But, given that I'd only be setting catch-up work on the absolutely core concepts and methods, it's easy to find such resources and I use them frequently in any case].

    I've realised that the main reason I haven't done this before isn't because of (potentially) 'more work', but because of a strong desire to 'conform' to the SoW and others methods of teaching.
    Another key aspect of this 'plan' is for students' success (in catching up) to be very visible to them. I want them to be positively motivated to address their areas of weakness rather than (what I feel many do at the moment) is 'cover them up' through fear that they are one of the few in their class that can't do that particular skill. To help with this, I'm thinking of using the 'ThatQuiz' website that has highly-configurable, self-marking online tests (with opportunity to show some very good 'workings out') so that students can dramatically see their improvement in scores [either in their accuracy of results, or in their speed of calculating results - either of which IMO are good indicators of learning].
    One other aspect of this that I like is that it encourages all students to focus on attaining their own targets (and thus improving), rather than incessantly comparing themselves to other students (and becoming enthusiastic about the topics in which they are 'good', and unenthusiastic in topics in which they are 'weak').
    [I've some other thoughts about how to keep electronic, personalised 'APP-type' records for each student, so that areas of weakness are extremely visible. But this is only worth pursuing if I actually implement some strategies to help students 'fill their gaps' in knowledge].
    With further advances in ICT in the coming years, I feel this is great way forward. It seems *so* much better than the simple assignation of levels (e.g. 4b) and the near meaningless 'target' for a student to achieve '5c' or whatever by the year end.

    Thoughts? I'm sure it's being tried, or has been tried, by someone already.
  2. I have tried this with Khan Academy and MyMaths and it doesn't really work how you would suppose it could. I have found a much better way of getting all kids to the same place. Your idea is a fantastic idea, but the sheer amount of work that you'd have to put in differentiating all resources and making sure every person had a personalised curriculum would be very difficult. You need to change the paradigms in your classroom.

    Do you have the pupils working in groups? Do you encourage pupils to help each other on weak areas? Do you mark homework with a score and grade or not mark it and just give feedback? Do you allow pupils to write feedback for each other during lessons? Do you allow time for pupils to act upon feedback? Do you have a system to stop pupils being off task by saying 'I don't understand the feedback'?

    I have thought about this a lot and I have began to put it all into practice. Feedback is dependant on the time between mistake and correction - pupils working in structured groups is key here, even if we slow down the highest achievers it allows them to develop their abilty to explain their thinking and also their communication skills.

    Homework - don't put a score on it, it basically means any feedback is most often ignored, give them the answers with the homework, this allows them to work backwards and self-evaluate immediately, it also take away your need to mark out of 20, but now you can concentrate on the feedback.

    Feedback - when you give it, allow 10 minutes in the next lesson for all pupils to work on their own feedback, let them decide how to work on it, the star pupils can work as leaders for the pupils that are not doing too well, give them traffic light cards so the more able pupils can work with them. Bring in 'rate my feedback' - the pupils score the feedback 1, 2 or 3 - 1; I understand it and am acting upon it now, 2; I think I understand it and I will try and act upon it, 3; I don't understand it and I need a lot of help.

    Good luck!
  3. mature_maths_trainee

    mature_maths_trainee New commenter

    Thanks to both of you for your thoughts and experiences on this. I do some of the above, but not everything (especially, not grouping students into groups so that the 'best' can help the 'weakest'). There's usually too many other constraints/requirements on seating plans to aim for that too (or that's I have felt, until now).

    [I've seen Khan, and used MyMaths, but don't like MyMaths too much. It's okay for 'diversity', but the homework assessments are far too short to really assess compentence].
    On homework grading, I rarely give 'marks' - only written feedback and comments. And then, after they've read my comment and reviewed their work, I get the students to write a short comment back to *me* to say whether they've understood, and accept my comments. I'm open to the fact that I may have made a mistake in one of my comments to them (e.g. why is there a missing piece of classwork there, when they had good reason to omit it). Many students don't initially like not getting a 'mark' (because they are so used to it), but after a while I think they take much more notice of the comments than they ever did of the 'marks'.

    In the last few days, I'm actually going a bit of a different direction with this idea (or at least, taking a practical first step). I'm think of starting Year 7's with a series of online, self-marking tests that cover (what I regard as) the real fundamentals of Maths needed in order to properly access most school's KS3 SoW. i.e. a serious attempt to accurately and effeciently identify all core weaknesses (as we know, even students at 'Level 5' needn't necessarily be able to use a ruler quickly and accurately to measure the length of an object). My online, self-marking tests are intended to assess all such skills, and hence quickly indentify all significant weaknesses amongst students.
    At least I'll then have a very early, and accurate idea as to where key weaknesses lie (for each student). [Creating pie charts to show what % of the class can (say) use a Protractor quickly and accurately, or understand BIDMAS, or,... will then be very easy].
    I hope to share this stuff very soon, and hope you'll be constructively critical again. :)

  4. Hi MMT, all of your ideas so far sound really good so you are definitely on the right track. I agree with a lot of the other posts but just wanted to add some things that we do in my school.
    I was concerned about the exact same thing as you so a few years ago we introduced what we call 'progress booklets' these contain exampes of questions for each main topic at different levels that build up what we call a learning wall(each question being a brick etc), The pupils get 10-15 minutes every week to work on their progress booklets. they try the questions and if they are correct they then colour in the 'brick'. At certain times they will be encouraged to look for any weakness in their 'walls' i,e. an uncoloured brick (a target in teacher speak) and they should work on this to fill the gaps and try to complete their walls. The pupils like it when they can see a whole learning wall coloured in. It is a nice visual way of pupils seeing their own progress. We got the levelled questions from kangaroo maths.

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