1 classroom, 28 different levels

How can we possibly meet the needs of every single student when they are all at such different levels?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
February 13, 2019

Supporting students to reach their full potential is the number one priority for most teachers. It’s often the very reason we became teachers in the first place. We walk into our classroom on day one of term ready to give students what they need to achieve in maths, until we hit a familiar problem. How can we possibly meet the needs of every single student when they are all at such different levels? Where will we find the time needed for all of the extra work needed to provide even a basic level of individualised learning?

The spread of ability in the classroom has a huge impact on schools, teachers and of course, our students. As the demand for graduates with competencies in STEM grows, we are faced with an increasingly important challenge - how do we target every student’s point of need so we can develop more mathematically skilled graduates, without sentencing teachers to a, frankly, impossible workload?

A year of maths ahead

Students are stepping back into the classroom this term with a whole year worth of maths learning ahead of them. As their teachers, we want them all to make progress this year, no matter where they start from. Yet all too often, we know this is not the case.

The reality is that different students within the same maths class can be at very different levels. In fact, a typical Year 7 classroom has an eight year spread of ability ranging from students who struggle to count, to students who have a deep mathematical understanding and often lack challenge from aged-based content.

Figure 1: Spread of ability in a typical classroom

This wide range of levels creates an extremely challenging situation for teachers. Despite our best efforts, struggling students will not get the support they need to progress and the most advanced students won’t be stretched in their learning.

The typical trajectory

While we know that as year passes students are falling further and further behind, we often don’t measure exactly how far this is, or how these gaps will impact future learning. But by knowing a student’s current level of attainment, it is possible to calculate their likely future trajectory.

For the same cohort of students presented in Figure 1, Figure 2 shows an estimate of the curriculum level that they would reach by the end of Year 10 when following a traditional maths program.

About one quarter of these students would be below curriculum level 4 in maths when they finish Year 10. This is consistent with research showing that 22% of Australians, aged 15 years and over, are at the lowest level of numeracy skills.

At the other end of the scale, approximately 10% of students are projected to reach curriculum level 9 or higher at the completion of Year 10. Leaving the majority of students somewhere between these two extremes.

Figure 2: Student trajectories

Senior maths enrolments are at an all time low

It comes as no surprise that the number of Australian students choosing to advance into high level maths in the senior years of high school and beyond is shrinking. In fact, we’re all very aware of the dismal facts and dire predictions.

Less students studying high-level maths reduces the percentage of job-seekers able to fill jobs requiring Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths at the exact time such vacancies are growing. According to projections by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, employment is predicted to increase in professional, scientific and technical services by 14 per cent and in health care by almost by almost 20 per cent over the next five years.

A 2017 study by Wienk also reveals that the proportion of Year 12 students electing to study senior mathematics is now at a 20-year low. This is confirmed by NAPLAN, which in addition to showing a small decline in the overall number of students doing maths, reveals a more worrying trend of students reducing the difficulty of STEM subjects chosen in order to maximise their university entrance scores.

It is clear that maths skills are more essential than ever as we head towards a radically different future. For today’s students to succeed, they must be provided with educational opportunities that will give them the skills needed for the greatest chance of success in the jobs of the future.

How do we close the gap?

Improving maths achievement levels is a complex task. For teachers, the diverse learning needs of their students is a challenge compounded by the day-to-day difficulties of managing a classroom. Expecting even more work from individual teachers will not resolve this issue.

A holistic solution is needed to deliver differentiated learning, without adding to teacher workload. This idea is discussed in The Grattan Institute report, ‘Towards an adaptive education system in Australia’. Underpinning the six recommendations in that report is the understanding that teachers cannot and should not, be required to improve their practice in isolation. Instead, evidence-based guidance and resources should be available to every teacher, which gives them the time strategies and scope to create greater impact in the classroom.

Addressing the spread of ability

To address the challenges outlined above, Maths Pathway created a holistic Learning and Teaching Model that leverages technology to enable teachers to deliver personalised learning, without any extra administration. Created by teachers Justin Matthys and Richard Wilson, the Maths Pathway model has grown teacher impact so significantly that students using the model are more than doubling the amount of new mathematics they learn each year. Students who switch from a traditional maths classroom to Maths Pathway are learning maths 250% faster and early evidence also shows that more students are proceeding to advanced maths in Years 11 and 12.

As more teachers partner with Maths Pathway, the collective knowledge and practices from the teacher community continues to grow and be refined over time. The continuous measurement of student data means that the model remains at the forefront of best-practice in mathematics education and students across the country are benefitting.

Ultimately, Maths Pathway is a solution with measurable impact, capable of effecting sustainable change on a macro scale: every student, irrespective of their starting point, can experience success in mathematics, at school and beyond.

You can find out more about the Maths Pathway Learning and Teaching Model here.

If you’re interested in how Maths Pathway can improve maths education at your school, request a demo today.

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