Sunday, April 10, 2011

Year 7 Maths : Extreme Differentiation Needed?

This post is the second in a series of reflections on my first experience of teaching a Year 7 mathematics class.

I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but it's taken me almost ten weeks to realise the extreme variation of mathematical ability in my Year 7 class. I knew there were differences across students, but underestimated just how wide that range is. What made the scales drop from my eyes? A second round of summative assessment (topic tests) and feedback from the end of term anonymous class survey. And I don't think there's anything different in my Year 7 class to any other Year 7 class in a comprehensive school.

Staggering mathematical bio-diversity in Year 7!
© David Hall Used with permission.

Here's an extract from the survey that demonstrates the challenge:

I've never seen such variation in any class I've surveyed in the past - and the student self-reported feedback matches the most recent round of test results - which ranged from 3/30 to 30/30. How devastating to self-confidence must it be to receive 3/30? I don't buy any argument this will encourage them to "try harder" - especially since "try harder" just won't help when the content and skills are so far ahead of where the student is now.

In a follow up session I explored this with the class and confirmed that the more mathematically advanced students are getting frustrated and feel like they are being treated like babies (the math is too easy), and that other students are struggling - which may explain some of the work avoidance patterns beginning emerge. Looking at primary school records (something I recommend all high school teachers do for their Year 7 students - and wish I had done earlier) revealed a vast range of difference in mathematics learning outcomes - some students have already mastered Year 7 outcomes (through tutoring?) and others are still mastering early Primary School mathematics.

Looking ahead, I'm thinking it's time to implement an SBG approach to assessment (as with my Year 8 class), but even that isn't enough: extreme differentiation is called for!  I've asked many experienced teaches for advice and here's what I'm going to try out next term:

Extreme Differentiation: Ideas for Term 2
  • Design a pre-topic diagnostic that indicates student readiness for this topic. I've come to realise I need to design my own diagnostic test - the standard "Are you ready?" diagnostics in the textbooks aren't always up to scratch!
  • Communicate the result of the pre-topic diagnostic for this topic to the student. I'm keeping in mind that a student who is not ready for, say, algebra, may well be ready for geometry.
  • Keep a copy of the pre-topic diagnostic on file. I need to be able to justify why I offered this student the option to work on different, easier material.
  • Differentiate the topic into three levels: Essentials, Development and Challenge. The Essentials level will also include material from earlier 'stages' of mathematics (ie: some primary school material).  I'm considering using an easier text book for the Essentials material.
  • Course material will contain a level indicator: one star for Essentials, two stars for Development, three stars for Challenge. Each lesson and each assessment tool will offer students material at each level.
  • Offer students the option to select the level they want to work at in the topic. I believe most students will make the appropriate choice. More advanced students will be able to skip the Essentials and go straight to Development and Challenge. Of course I'll be watching for what happens, and encourage students making the wrong choice to consider the alternatives.
  • Class summative assessments will report marks for each level the student attempted.
In the final post of this series, I'll consider the question  "Year 7: Children or Young Adults?"

1 comment:

  1. Why can't you be a teacher at my child's school! I'm told they can't trust the assessments they get from primary school (though primary school has been setting appropriate levels of work to appropriate children), and now my top end child (who completed Year 7 before the end of Year 6) receives a homework sheet with boxed questions 2+ 2, 5, 8, 11, 3, 7, etc. I have to consider correspondence (suggested by the primary school), and internet support such as maths online if they won't do something.