When maths is easy

‘We rarely have to think in maths lessons, it is quite relaxing.’

One of the jobs I have had in the past is ‘Town-wide gifted and talented coordinator’. My job was to work with teachers and students across the town to ensure provision for the more able students, across all subjects, was as good as we could make it.  I was in a very fortunate position to be able to undertake a lot of training, which I was able to disseminate across the schools, and to meet some very able mathematicians who became less bored and frustrated in their maths lessons following interventions we put in place.

Obviously we aim to provide for all our students equally. Whether or not you believe that our more able mathematicians are not well catered for, here are some quotes from able mathematicians across my town who I have interviewed:

  • ‘We rarely have to think in maths lessons, it is quite relaxing.’
  • ‘My teacher makes me do the exercise that the rest of the class do even though I already know how to do the work.’
  • ‘My teacher gives me what he calls “extension work” but it is just the same work with slightly harder numbers, it isn’t harder work.’
  • ‘I mess about in lessons because it is too boring otherwise.’
  • ‘My teacher insists I use her method even when I don’t think it is the most efficient method. She hasn’t got time to listen to my methods because she is busy helping those who don’t understand.’
  • ‘It is frustrating having to do so much practice of basic maths and so little hard stuff.’
  • ‘In group work I would rather be with people of similar ability so we can do harder work.’

I find it worrying that our able mathematicians were saying that they find maths lessons relaxing and they rarely have to think.  Does that worry you?

Some questions we should perhaps ask ourselves:

  • To what extent is the work we give our students individualised or designed for the most able in a group?
  • Do exercises allow for variation in the quality of thinking, or do able students merely finish more quickly than the rest of the class?
  • Do we expect able students to work through questions 1 to 10, which present no challenge, before they are permitted to do the truly challenging task that is question 11?
  • Do we always set differentiated homework?
  • Do tasks really present new challenges or just ‘more of the same’?
  • To what extent do we use whole class methods and how do they challenge the able student?
  • How often do we offer suggestions for further reading that utilise vocabulary or concepts well above the levels used in whole class teaching?

In an ideal world we would be diligently providing for our more able all of the time, alongside all the others in the class. In reality this is sometimes a challenge.

Look out for my next blog post which will give some ideas for things you can do to extend your more able mathematicians.

Kind regards,

Debbie Barton

Debbie BartonDebbie Barton is a teacher, examiner and maths consultant with over 20 years’ experience. She’s written a number of books including Complete Mathematics for Cambridge Secondary 1. She also worked as a Gifted and Talented trainer and is passionate about ensuring able students are challenged with exciting mathematical stimulus.