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Mixed Ability - Maths

(11 Posts)
StemAndLeaf Wed 25-Jan-17 20:46:30

I've recently taken over a Year 10 Foundation class, which normally wouldn't concern me at all. The reason I am stressed is that they are far more mixed ability than I am used to - they aren't set, which means that I've got students who are targeted strong 5s in Year 11, as well as students who currently lack the most basic numeracy.
I've not been in this situation before, and as a new teacher, I feel incredibly out of my depth. I know there are a lot of schools where this works really successfully, but currently the time I'm spending on effective differentiation is unsustainable. Any top tips would be hugely, hugely welcome and appreciated!

noblegiraffe Wed 25-Jan-17 21:16:08

No, this doesn't work successfully in lots of schools, most set for maths by GCSE.

Have you got a teaching assistant and access to ipads/laptops?
I'd get some kids watching corbettmaths/hegarty maths videos with headphones while the TA works with another group giving input while you teach the third and try to rotate groups.

TheFallenMadonna Wed 25-Jan-17 21:20:32

I have mixed ability groupso. Tiny groups mind you, but even with only 6 it's a headache.

StemAndLeaf Wed 25-Jan-17 21:23:35


Yeah, I know. Have been trying to put a positive spin on it (feel like I'm drowning with workload at the moment) but there's only so much I can do!
I have neither an LSA nor any technology, other than the very occasional possibility of booking a computer room.

noblegiraffe Wed 25-Jan-17 21:29:39

Blimey you've been shafted haven't you. What do other teachers at the school do? How many are in the group?

StemAndLeaf Wed 25-Jan-17 21:35:37

It's surprisingly reassuring to hear other people think we've been stitched up. Staffing issues have meant that a combination of SLT/HoD have decided that mixed ability is the future and we need to roll with it, despite no additional training/support/resources etc.
As for what the rest of my department are doing - no-one is happy and everyone is resigned to the fact that results/progress will be poor. These changes have only just been implemented, so everyone is still finding their feet somewhat. Got 23 in the class.

noblegiraffe Wed 25-Jan-17 21:54:59

If HOD is in favour, then HOD needs to lead the way with demonstrating how this can work. Ask to observe HOD to get hints on how to implement this disastrous strategy. As a new teacher you should be allowed time to observe other teachers anyway, so they can hardly refuse.

SLT are idiots, btw. Mixed ability can work for other subjects where you can differentiate by outcome, it is incredibly hard for maths where you differentiate by question, and it is usually done by using open-ended tasks which would be pointless to attempt starting this late in the GCSE. The major advocate of mixed ability teaching in maths is Jo Boaler, and there are suspicions that she made up/fiddled her data, so the evidence isn't great.

Book the computer room as often as you can, hopefully(!) it is one also with classroom desks so that you can have some working on the computer while you teach the others. If they are compliant hardworking types I would also try some 'flipped' learning where the brighter ones watch some videos at home to learn stuff then you help them when they need it doing worksheets in the lesson. You need to get some kids working while you teach the others. Numeracy ninja sheets are good for 5 minutes silent working, and these would probably be useful for most students in the group.

The problem with mixed ability teaching is that it relies on kids working independently a lot, and a foundation group usually need a lot of support and input.

Are they near finishing the syllabus? (The level 5 ones I mean)

noblegiraffe Wed 25-Jan-17 21:58:46

Also, as horrible as this might sound, this late in the day I would focus more on the kids who could get a level 4/5, as those grades will really make a difference to them if they get them. The others will have to resit in sixth form regardless, and working really hard with a low ability kid to get them from a grade 1 to a 2 (unlikely given how much progress that would represent in 5 months versus how much progress they've made in their school career) isn't going to make as much difference (yes, I know progress 8, but this is about the class, not the school who are shit).

StemAndLeaf Wed 25-Jan-17 22:13:43

HoD is fairly new to the job - she is currently showing little evidence of being an effective leader, and so morale is not great. Will push to have observation time of her though, so thank-you for that!
The class are absolutely not independent/hard-working etc. etc. (Behaviour issues were another reason for these recently implemented changes). We are getting there, but there are a lot of troublesome boys who require a lot of teacher support to make sure their behaviour is good, but those boys are also the stronger mathematically in that group. It's a real balancing act at the moment.

I'm slowly introducing more flipped learning - but I've a fairly high proportion of the students who don't complete any homework (which is sanctioned), so that's not without its difficulties.

Currently nowhere near finishing the syllabus! Our SOW means I'll be teaching more or less right up to the exam.

StemAndLeaf Wed 25-Jan-17 22:14:47

Just worth clarifying - currently year 10, not 11. Still got sone time.

noblegiraffe Wed 25-Jan-17 22:32:45

Ah sorry, I read the bit about targeted 5s in Y11 and got Y11 stuck in my head! I'm teaching a Y11 foundation group who are targeted at 5s and it's hard enough teaching them when they're all roughly at the same level.

I would look through the SOW and see which topics could be realistically taught to the whole class with differentiated questions and support (e.g. Best buys, basic algebra, fractions, prime factors, angles) stuff that the whole class could attempt (transformations, loci, shape stuff, calculator work like using the fraction button, money calculations) then the stuff that is only going to be accessible to the brightest - quadratics, simultaneous equations, trig(!), complex volume and surface area) and come up with different approaches for each. Remember that two thirds of the papers are calculator allowed so get them using calculators where numeracy is causing an issue.

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