In our maths meeting this week we continued to wrestle with mixed ability teaching.
Maths is made up of many skills, not just the ability to carry out procedures. No student is good at all skills, and every student is good at some skills.
While we all (think we) believe this, we have to self-critically reflect to ensure that any lurking biases do not surface. Some examples:
- In a lesson this week we spent the first half an hour using talk to investigate exponential graphs, finding the odd one out, connecting graphs to possible scenarios. I signaled the transition from group talk task to individual worksheet task by saying “Now let’s do some maths!”. Even though I might want to think that the talk task is as valuable as the worksheet, something weird is going on.
- We were talking about our mixed ability Yr7 classes. “I know it is mixed, but I clearly have the top ones” someone said. If we truly believe that maths is a composite of many skills, then this statement is meaningless – top at what?
- “I can’t do this, I am an English teacher!” snorted someone in a workshop I was running this week. She (presumably) believes in the buzzwordy growth mindset, at least when it comes to students…
Sometimes a focus on language can seem like a shallow nod to political correctness. While training I heard “low-attaining pupils” when the tone and context implied that the speaker really meant “thick kids”. Changing language without changing deep-rooted attitudes is useless. However, a shift from referring to students generally as “highers” and “lowers” (common language in primary) to a richer picture of each student’s individual highs and lows seems like a possible way forwards.