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‘Student-led’ maths class benefits a range of ability groups

Student-led maths class benefits a range of ability groups

Nilam Patel, mathematics curriculum leader at Canons High School, describes the improvements in progress as well as enjoyment and engagement resulting from personalised learning

It’s a problem every maths teacher will recognise, more regularly if they teach mixed attainment secondary school classes: Lesson 1, multiplying and dividing decimals by powers of 10; Lesson 2, multiplying decimals by decimals (for which fully grasping Lesson 1 is an essential prerequisite). A proportion of the class have not understood or fully mastered Lesson 1, so what do you do next lesson? Teach Lesson 2 and do your best to support those students that still haven’t mastered the prerequisite, knowing that they are probably starting to experience cognitive overload? Or continue lesson 1, providing more extension work for students that have already mastered it (and successfully completed the extension activity last lesson) knowing full well they will likely be under-challenged?

For how many lessons do you have to battle through this decision? In a classroom full of students with a variety of prior knowledge who all learn at varying paces, you are left with two grim choices. On the one hand, students that don’t master in the time limit set fall further and further behind, becoming disengaged with the subject. On the other hand, students learn at a pace which bores them. Seems like a lose-lose situation, especially in schools that do not have the scope to block and set classes.

At Canons High School, we believe we may have found the solution. Last year, I wrote an extended article describing a personalised learning programme which we have developed and are trialling. In short, it transforms the teacher-led classroom into a dynamic student-led learning environment which functions in the style of a workshop. Students learn at a pace and difficulty level which is right for them. Here is a video we made for our year 7 parents describing how it works.

It is the pre-assessment that allows the teacher to set work for students at the right difficulty level. The progressive nature of the learning also means students can learn at a pace which suits them, picking up their learning from wherever they got to at the end of the previous lesson.

We initially trialled this programme with three year 7 classes (phase 1) and ran it as an action research project to monitor its impact along the way. As a result of its initial success, we rolled it out to five classes (phase 2) in the next year 7 cohort; and this year we have rolled it out to the whole new year 7 cohort of students (phase 3).

We have to date implemented soft data analysis utilising student and staff surveys, focus groups and interviews as well as data analysis of student assessments for phases 1 and 2. In my previous article I discussed the outcomes from the phase 1 research, mentioning the positive impact on outcomes such as:

  • enjoyment
  • engagement
  • pupils working together
  • pupils showing resilience
  • homework completion
  • significant differences in progress at the end of a fractions, decimals and percentages unit for the vast majority of our students, particularly students at the higher performance end.

As expected, the softer outcomes were apparent also from the phase 2 research. Furthermore and surprisingly, the phase 1 data analysis after two years of learning using this programme also showed positive impact on overall maths progress (using end of year national curriculum tests) for the vast majority of our students:

  • Mid-ability groups showed a difference of +1 national curriculum sub-level, significance two-tailed t value 0.1
  • High-ability groups showed a difference of almost +2 national curriculum sub-levels, significance two-tailed t value 0.4
  • High-ability girls group showed difference of almost +3 national curriculum sub-levels, significance two-tailed t value of 0.002.

Note: these are all indicative figures

We are of course thrilled with the impact it is having on progress, but even more happy about how it is changing students’ perspectives about mathematics and removing the stigma that maths does not need to have. Increasingly more students now speak about their mathematics in an optimistic manner. A common theme from student reactions is reflected in this student’s comment: “I didn’t like maths in the past but since we have done personalised learning it has changed my mind and now it’s my favourite subject.”

Others drew on aspects of growth mindset, such as: “It is a fun way to learn maths in my mind because every child is working at their own strengths and weakness so they learn a good amount bit by bit. With whole class work it kind of pressures me to answer more questions which can stress me sometimes.”

We hope to continue developing this programme so students can begin their GCSE mathematics studies equipped with learning skills that will see them meet their full potential.

If this blog interested you and you wish to learn more about this programme, we are holding two open days, detailed on the flyer below (free to attend and we will reimburse cover costs). Please contact npatel2@canons.harrow.sch.uk to book or for more information.

View Flyer

This programme is changing students’ perspectives about mathematics and removing the stigma that maths does not need to have


Read More: The first article about personalised maths learning at Canons High School was published in Issue 10 of the SSAT Journal, available to all members in the Exchange


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