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Why is it important for pupils to know their level in Mathematics?

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by bigkid, Feb 20, 2011.

  1. bigkid

    bigkid New commenter

    I've thought and read about this quite a lot and I am none the wiser. I understand that pupils need to know:
    <ol>[*]What they can and cannot do correctly[*]Where they need to improve[*]How to become better mathematicians</ol>What I don't understand if why an observer would have a problem with it if they ask a pupil what level they are and the pupil doesn't know. In terms of what a pupil can and cannot do and what a pupils strengths and weaknesses are levels are a fairly meaningless construct that convey virtually no useful information at all. Surely it is far more important for a pupil to know their mathematical strengths and weaknesses and where they need to improve than it is for them to know that they are level 5c (or whatever).
    I find that focusing too much on assessment and levels is detrimental to pupils in several ways.
    Firstly pupils seem to be more risk averse and dependent on me the more they care about what level they are. Their willingness to attempt to do a question that is challenging or that they are sure of the correct method/approach decreases the more the care about their level. This is for me particularly noticable in pupils that are bright.They also won't attempt any question that takes more than 2 seconds to answer without significant support and badgering.
    Secondly when tasks are given a level pupils care far more about the level than the feedback on how to improve.How meaningful is it to a pupil if they know they are level 4? What does it tell them about what they need to do to improve? They will know whether or not they are on track to meet their target level but they probably won't know what they need to do to improve to meet their targets. This is particularly true as they seem to have little interest in descriptive targets (level is all important).
    Thirdly their level often seems to be a reflection of how well they have been previously spoonfed rather than a reflection of their ability to understand or do mathematics. Ask pupils a question in a different context to the one they are familiar with or a question requiring several different topics without the scaffolding SATs and gcse questions usually provide for pupils and observe the results. Ask them to do an investigative task requiring some thought but minimal mathematics even. Some pupils are completely lost and unwilling/unable to attempt the question without help. Other pupils that are the same level will attempt the question using a range of different strategies that may or not be successful. This is surely a far better measure of the mathematician than the levels (which might well be the same).
    So do OFSTED demand that pupils know what level they are? Would it be a big deal if an inspector asked a pupil what level they are and they didn't know? I've been through several inspections and none of my pupils have ever been asked. Has anyone had an inspector ask their pupils what level they are in Maths?
  2. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    I've never known an inspector ask ( been " done " 9 times now).
    I think pupils need to know what they need to do to improve.
    My daughter's ( outstanding) school tells them
    their levels. I hate it. It's fine for her she's doing well, but she has friends who are 2 levels behind and are being told by their teacher that they have to go into the bottom group because they're not meeting their target levels. Fgs, they're 8 and 9. It's madness.
  3. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    If the school has the kids streamed at that age, then the kids will very quickly figure out which group is which, no matter what anybody does or does not tell them.
    Should the kids be streamed at that age is another question altogether.
  4. bigkid

    bigkid New commenter

    Thanks Curlygirly. Two of my colleagues have had bad observations and been criticised because when SLT asked their pupils what level they were the pupil said they didn't know (which may or may not be the case). We were told that an OFSTED inspector would crucify the department if this happened during an inspection. As a result making sure the pupils know their levels is now department policy and their current level must be written on their books/folders and updated several times per year.
    The problem is that the basic premise of the scheme of work I have written is that it's focus is on independent learning, skilling pupils in deconstructing questions, planning, problem solving and mathematical thinking and not on levels. In fact the plan was to remove all reference to levels from the pupils work and focus on things like effort, quality and coherence of working out, depth of mathematical thinking and things that will actually make the pupils better mathematicians. It's my belief that for this to work pupils need to believe that levels are not really important (for the reasons described above). I think that if we do this then the pupils levels will go up and their chances of GCSE and A level success will go up too.
    I feel like this decision has completely scuppered what I have planned for no good reason. If the school geniunely believes that pupils knowing their levels and increasing those levels is so important then we might as well go back to spoonfeeding. Spoonfeeding is easier to plan and deliver and far less risky in terms of behaviour management.
    It's no coincidence that our ks3 results are always far far better than our GCSE results which are in turn far better than our A level results. It's because most of our pupils are so spoonfed across the board that they have no ability to figure anything out for themselves and give up the second anything is "hard". I thought that the abolition of the SATs gave us an opportunity to do something about this in KS3. Sadly it appears the spoonfeeding will continue in KS3 which will likely mean the annual fire fighting to get many year 11 pupils who can't do maths decent grades will also continue indefinitely
  5. DM

    DM New commenter

    If their level is changing several times per year, something is going badly awry.
  6. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    I know that they're aware, I remember knowing at that age (and younger) who the less able kids were. It doesn't make it right. My 9 year old was having a chat the other day and telling me that her friend was upset because she's only a 2a and my daughter and her friend are 4as. It's ludicrous.
    AFAICS as long as children know what they need to do to move on they don't need to know a number and sublevel.
  7. Its all a load of garbage IMO.
    Telling a kid what level a task is in the lesson is good in terms of motivation/reality check but to constantly tell pupils what level they are is just a refelction of how wrong our current education system is.
    Its like getting a fat man off a couch 20 times in an hour to stand on scales and then just telling him to sit down again. You are btter off hauling him onto a treadmill and cracking on with the work.
  8. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    It's also a myth. I've been "done" done personally under the new regime 3 times ( we were part of the pilot at my last school and had a full inspection at no notice in the summer before the framework came in, in my current school we've had a full sub inspection and a full inspection). At no point in the process has any ofsted inspector asked the pupils if they know their levels (even in the subject inspections which are very,very rigorous). They've been asked if they know their targets, yes, and how they need to improve, But not their levels.

    I also work with schools causing concern, in NTI and SM, none of those schools have been asked under the new framework,either in the full inspection or the follow up HMI - I'd add that for one school I'm working with in SM, maths has been highlighted as a weakness.

    The new guidance for inspectors is quite clear on assessment (as of January 2011)

    Assessment to support learning
    ? Are there any significant differences in the learning of different groups of pupils, or of any individuals?
    ? Are pupils involved in assessing their own learning and progress?
    ? Do pupils know what they are learning and why?
    ? Do pupils have targets and do they understand what they mean/what to do to achieve them

    These are available for all to view on the oftsed website. Any decent HOD or member of SLT should be looking at these fairly regularly to keep abreast of current guidance. It stops the whole rumour and urban myth culture.

    Tell your HOD to have a look there. it states quite clearly that pupils should have targets and know how to achieve them. Levels are not mentioned anywhere in the document. This is the most up to date guidance and it's what your inspectors will use.
  9. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    Apologies for the formatting on the ofsted guidance, it seems that safari doesn't like it when I use ofsted guidance as a direct quote!
  10. This happens all the time at secondary. Students are required to be able to quote their levels for inspection. It was a key thing which was checked through the endless book monitoring systems.
    Essentially the quality of inspectors varies massively. When I started teaching the maths specialist inspectors were well respected and very sociable. The top ones (Kath Cross & John Hibbs) were popular and respected speakers. Others I met on courses and had long conversations with. They had all worked through the 70s and 80s when a wide variety of teaching styles were embraced so they had versatile experience
    The inspectors coming through since that lot retired don't have this experience. They are the ones who've passed the inspections system, so they've usually worked in decent schools which respond well to 'obvious' teaching. They don't know what they're looking for, let alone are they able to see it in more complex situations. So whatever the framework, they just don't seem to be up to the job.
    Instead they rely on very naive measures which can easily be gauged from their interactions with students and their books.
    It's a huge problem. What's saddest as I chat to teachers who've been through it is that they often take the blame themselves and it has a heavy effect on their confidence and their teaching. What's most shocking is that Ofsted themselves have no insight into this and are not taking advice from any other agencies as to the very practical changes which would greatly improve this situation.
  11. bigkid

    bigkid New commenter

    The "updated" level might be the same as the previous level but writing the "updated" level (even if it is the same as the previous level) shows evidence of something for OFSTED.

  12. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    Check out the guidance I posted Bigkid, this is the most up to date guidance which inspectors are using.
    It'll be useful for your HOD. If you get a "rogue" inspector, you can refer them back to the guidance. Any decent HOD or head would do so.
  13. DM

    DM New commenter

    No it doesn't. Your SMT is living in the past anyway. The current question that will be posed to students will be "Do you feel challenged in your lesson?" What would your students answer to that?
  14. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    The guidance is changing all
    the time. That's why it's essential for hods and slt to keep visiting the website and keeping abreast of current developments. I'm no fan of ofsted but I keep the website in my favourites. My motto is "know thine enemy".
    I'm hoping I won't be done again for ages but it helps me when I'm working in schools in NTI and SM to be able to give accurate, up to date guidance.
  15. DM

    DM New commenter

  16. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    Good link DM. No mention of pupils being able to say what level they are.
  17. bigkid

    bigkid New commenter

    I'm glad to hear that. It's a far more sensible, worthwhile question.
    Varies from lesson to lesson. At the moment "This work is bare hard and the teacher don't help you enough" is what I got from the last pupil voice activity I did.
    Thanks everyone. I feel quite reassured.
    Now I just need to convince SLT, my HOD and the rest of the department that I'm right.

  18. anon2799

    anon2799 New commenter

    Hand them copies of the guidance, with the relevant sections highlighted. They can't argue with that.
    Good luck!
  19. i agree, i think this is the best way.
  20. My school had some intervention work from the LA last year and having the pupils know their levels was a major issue. Every department was made to have a sheet in the front of exercise books with spaces so pupils could update their levels three times per year. Utterly pointless.

    Sensible advice about HoDs regularly checking up on the guidance but what a sad reflection on the current state of education that this is a necessary part of their jobs.

    In terms of setting targets/letting pupils know what they need to do to improve, this has been something that APP has helped us with. The 'level' aspect of APP has been less useful since our SLT even insisted on split grades. I think we have just about managed to convince them that the APP results give rather more useful information for both pupils and staff.

    I enjoyed Betamale's comment about getting someone off the sofa ten times, my thoughts exactly. Sadly, people have build careers on the back off all the data and monitoring process, and often people who have little or no understanding of data or its uses.

    I think the target culture springs largely from the humanities subjects where it's relatively straightforward to give an over-arching target to move to the next level, something like 'write using paragraphs', or use 'point, example, analysis'. in maths moving to the next level might involve the mastery of many different topics and as such we can't write down any one thing to help a pupil progress to the next level.

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