“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Helen Keller
Is my faith in believing that low attainers can experience greater levels of success in maths a forlorn dream?
Recently I had a very passionate (very respectful and professional) debate with some of my colleagues about whether or not the very lowest ability groups of students could ever pass the GCSE maths exams.
Each of us brought our passion for the topic, with varying levels of experience and success teaching these ‘bottom set classes. Needless to say, we all shared in the level of failure in our attempts to get these students to learn maths. No surprise here right?
It is true that many maths concepts simply elude these kids, BUT is it true that all of them will fail at getting a basic pass in GCSE, which is a grade ‘4’? Is it true that these students will never understand how to solve two-steps equations?
I don’t know, but, since the day I became a teacher, albeit naïve, to this very day, I still STRONGLY believe that ALL children can learn maths to an extent. Unless of course, they have some mental issues or dyscalculia that would prevent this.
Of course, the caveat is that it may be that they learn at a different pace or stage.
Nevertheless, after eight years in this profession, even when all around me is saying otherwise, I cannot let myself give up on this idea.
I would love to say that this enthusiasm and faith in these ‘bottom set’ classes, allowed me to get amazing results! EXCEPT, that is not the case. Only in my dreams 🙂
I accept that my level of failure with these sets of students is much greater than my level of success. And sometimes, I do want to scream from the rooftop HELP! Or ‘how can you not get this’!? I am not embarrassed by this, but I am more driven to improve my craft.
Besides, I am aware of both the progress these students make as well as their admission most times at the end of my year with them, how much my faith and belief in them has helped (some) them to try to believe in themselves and their abilities. Consequently, this caused them to work a wee bit harder in and out of lessons, to varying degrees of success.
I have been deliberately trying to learn how to teach these students in a way that helps them to learn and improve. Each time I experiment with something, I try to be more consistent to see its medium and long-term impact. I am a work in progress, but so are students who are generally considered low attainers, and the most I can do for them is to seek out the best ways to help them AND ensure that they are mainly sensing my positive belief and energy in them.
So, yes, maybe I am naive, but I am not ready to give up on this belief.
p.s. So if you have had better luck with getting low attainers to pass their GCSEs (or your country’s national end of high school exams) DO GET INTOUCH – I would love to learn the tips and tricks.
p.s.s. If you haven’t done so already, have a thorough read of the DFE’s review on the effective teaching of mathematics. While much of the review is not focused on novel ideas, I have found this document quite insightful and a very good reminder of the core elements of what a successful maths curriculum planning looks like. Definitely worth the read.
As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read and reflect with me!