'I went to the Mixed Attainment Conference in Sheffield because something was missing. Approaching the end of my eighth year of teaching and in my fourth school, I know I love teaching Mathematics but my teaching jigsaw felt incomplete. I have always taught pupils in sets but have grown increasingly concerned with the lengthening tail of disaffection and underachievement. Is this due to societal problems or is something wrong with our practice? When I discovered that my children’s prospective Primary School set pupils in Mathematics from the age of seven, I thought I might have discovered an answer. At the same time, an old friend, Zebedee Friedman, posted an advert for the Mixed Attainment Conference in Sheffield. I knew that, if it was something that Zeb was involved with, it was bound to be good. As I read more about Mixed Attainment, I started to question my practice. How can it be right to deny groups of students access to parts of the Mathematics curriculum, particularly when those parts are often the richer, less procedurally focussed elements that actually give a much better representation of the maths I enjoy so much?
The conference was exactly what I had hoped for. Helen Hindle of mixedattainmentmaths.com had brought together a range of inspirational teachers and educators, each with fascinating insights into the Mixed Attainment approach. Mixed Attainment seems scary to someone who has only ever taught in sets. How will the top end students be stretched? What about those with specific learning difficulties? What happens when students reach KS4? How can I persuade my department that Mixed Attainment is right for us? Workshops that introduced Learning Journeys, Low Floor High Ceiling tasks, Inquiry maths and much more, provided tools and suggestions to help answer these questions. Refreshingly, these were current and former teachers offering guidance and support and not pretending to have a definitive one-size fits all method. The overriding message I took from each of the four workshops I attended, was the importance of collaboration. Creating properly differentiated, engaging tasks takes time, but by working together, it is possible to create resources that ensure that all students are both challenged and supported. Spending time with like-minded colleagues, who shared a belief that something in the system is wrong when we are prepared to prejudge the potential of children as young as 7, was incredibly refreshing. I would say it felt like I had completed the puzzle.'
Thoughts on the conference by @rhib83
This conference has completely opened my eyes to what proper mixed attainment teaching looks like and the endless opportunities it provides for students. In an uneasy position of changing over to mixed attainment classes from September, I found the sessions to be both inspirational and exciting and it was delivered in a very supportive environment. I'm excited and raring to go for September, full of ideas thanks to Helen and her team. See you all at the next one!
Thoughts on the conference - by Martin Jones
I knew it would happen – turn up without a pen, just like my students. In the first workshop a kind colleague lends me a spare pen for the day. We get stuck into Mike Ollerton’s activity on using a rotating arm to plot the coordinates of its endpoint for angles between 10 and 90 degrees. What do we notice, what patterns are emerging, what questions occur? Now I recall what it is like being part of a group, trying to keep up. I’m relying on my new found colleague to help me recognise where I’ve put the decimal point in the wrong place and to reassure me I’m on the right track.
Surprising us – and himself – with a blank power-point slide, Mike mentions Postman and Weingartner’s book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”. (The quote that Mike was thinking about which is followed by a blank page in the book, was...
'Suppose all the syllabi and curricula and textbooks in the schools disappeared. Suppose all of the standardized tests - city wide, state-wide and national were lost. In other words, suppose that the common material impeding innovation in the schools simply did not exist. Then suppose that you decided to turn this 'catastrophe' into an opportunity to increase the relevance of schools. What would you do?'
Must go back and read it again. Published 1969.
Next, off to an Inquiry lesson with Andrew Blair. A simple but challenging “prompt” about matchsticks forming rectangles. What do we notice, what questions do we want to ask? Now, the pivotal moment for the teacher: which way do we take the lesson? Let the participants nominate their preferred route from a given structure of enquiring mathematically; how to take the whole class forward is the question. We are guided to look for more examples, my colleague from Bratislava notices triangle numbers are popping up, we conjecture, we play with some algebra, someone graphs a couple of equations on her phone using Desmos (“this app is changing my life”, she lets us know in an aside), we start to see what’s happening, we run out of time. There must be a nice proof lurking behind this surprising result...
Lunch in the Peace Gardens in Sheffield city centre. A cosmopolitan community enjoying the sunshine and splashing around in the fountains. Conversation about the Mastery programme and its relationship with mixed attainment teaching.
Post-lunch, grid algebra with Tom Francome. Trepidation at having to take my turn and do some simple arithmetic on the screen; so this is how my students feel when I invite them to the front of the class! Not as easy as I thought… Memorably, Tom says, the biggest benefit from mixed attainment teaching is teachers working together. And he recommends reading Dave Hewitt’s paper “Arbitrary and Necessary” – it will change the way you view what you do.
Final session: Helen Hindle runs a lesson her way, us evaluating the resources. Learning journeys, starter tasks, self-assessment. When do you do your teaching, how do students respond to this style of learning, how do you change the culture of the classroom? Lots of interesting discussion with those doing mixed attainment teaching, those implementing, and those like me wanting to believe and trying to find ways to make it happen.
An uplifting day, a reassuring day, lots of good people doing lots of good things. As Hilary Povey said in the opening session (I paraphrase): Hope, in an era of change; imagine… a world in which mathematicians are made not born.
Thoughts on the conference by Laura Brown
I started the day thinking 'but we're expecting weaker students to be part of a conversation where they won't even understand half the words', and left thinking 'but if we don't expose them to those conversations how do we expect them to develop that vocabulary and understanding?'.
I came looking for ideas for one class and left to do more research into mixed ability teaching with an idea to introduce it in Year 7 in 2018. I've got a lot of work to do...
We've tried some mixed(ish) groups before - it didn't go well. This weekend I learned why:
- staff need to be on board
- there needs to be a high level of collaboration
- we didn't have a bank of rich learning / low floor, high ceiling tasks which are obviously key to making this style of teaching a success.
Mark Horley's session in particular gave me such an insight into what mixed ability teaching can and should be like.
I'm even going to join twitter so I can follow the updates on the #mixedattainmentmaths feed!
Many thanks to all the team for such an inspiring, thought provoking day!
Now to convince my team....