I had always been against mixed attainment teaching in maths.
I understood the pros of mixed attainment teaching in terms of labelling and expectations, and was also against having bottom sets in maths departments. In my experience, it’s usually the non-specialist maths teachers that end with these groups, which is ironic as they need the most specialist teaching! I could not see how mixed attainment teaching would benefit the higher attaining students though. And it would require so much scaffolding to support those that were not as strong mathematically as the others.
In September, like many other secondary schools, we started to teach years 7 and 8 in tutor groups to keep bubbles as small as possible. Year 9 are taught in their MFL groups so some classes for maths are mixed higher and foundation. A lot of thought went into this so that students did not lose out. We are fortunate to have a strong maths team of specialists, but I have worked in schools where this is definitely not the case. We found out before the summer holidays that this was going to be “the plan” so I decided I would make the most of this opportunity to teach mixed attainment maths effectively. I knew I had a lot of research and planning to do!
I started with a quick Tweet as EduTwitter has never let me down before. I was inundated with responses telling me to speak to Helen Hindle and look at the mixed attainment maths website. As lots of other maths teachers were in the same position as me, at the time Helen was planning a webinar to support teachers who were new to mixed attainment maths teaching and were keen to adopt her style.
The webinar was brilliant and well worth a watch if you weren’t there. Helen talked about unit and lesson design and structure. I planned to use Helen’s lessons straight away and started adapting them. I included more explanation as I knew (due to covid) I would have to teach from the front and small group teaching would be difficult. I swapped some tasks with some of my own and others from around the internet I had used previously.
This style of mixed attainment teaching certainly requires a lot of training, both for me and my students! With most of my classes I’m now on my third or fourth mixed attainment unit, and I’ve planned some units myself now too.
I have created an extension booklet for each topic I’ve taught so far too. These are made up of questions from a variety of sources such as Don Steward’s blog, Maths Venns and Open Middle. These ensure that there is plenty of challenge for students that have already been able to highlight most of the learning journey.
Creating a unit from scratch is a challenge. I've stuck very closely to Helen's model of lessons as I have found it to work thus far for my style of teaching too. Any prerequisite topics must be taken into account to plan the learning journey or progress map. It’s difficult to ensure the increments are gradual enough to support students but that there is also enough challenge at the top end. I’ve found this the hardest part of planning. Sourcing resources hasn’t been too bad - I’ve tried to aim for a minimum of four tasks per lesson (and three or four objectives covered). I’ve mostly included resources that I’ve used from around the internet or ones I’ve made previously, but occasionally have had to design something new so it fits just right.
Teaching from the front has been different for nearly every teacher I’ve spoken to. Teaching mixed attainment from the front is just as challenging - checking students are on the right task for them means I have to ask students to tell me which task they’re working on and show me their learning journeys. I don’t do this for everyone, just a handful of students in each lesson. Unfortunately some students would rather take the easy way out rather than progressing on their learning journey, but the majority are relishing the opportunity to choose the correct task for them. Most also love being able to highlight another objective on their learning journey as they become more confident.
Students’ progress last half term wasn’t bad. No, really. I’ve been surprisingly impressed. I’ve had good words from students and colleagues on lessons taught and resources produced. I still need a lot more practice! And I still haven’t decided whether I’ll want to teach mixed attainment maths post-coronavirus. But for now, I’m happy that I’m doing the best I can for these students.
The mixed attainment resources I have created can be found here.