Friday, 13 July 2012

Ten Hours with Erica - Recommendations

Some recommendations for schools, teachers, parents and students who are struggling with maths at KS2 and beyond.

1.  Don’t give up.
Erica had been offered interventions and support in maths before but they hadn’t worked.  There are two reasons why previous interventions may not have worked but a future one might.  Firstly it may be because the student has too much else to cope with or isn’t in the right frame of mind at the time the intervention is offered so they can’t take advantage of it.  Secondly it may be because the intervention offered is not the right type of intervention (the next points should offer some insights into why this might be the case).

2. Go right back to basics.
Does the student actually know their numbers?  Do they know and understand their number bonds to 10 and to 100?  Do they have the core vocabulary for mathematics?  Do they understand base 10?  Do they properly understand what addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are?  There are many more questions than these which need to be carefully asked and explored.  ‘The Dyscalculia Assessment’ by Jane Emerson is an excellent step-by-step guide which explains how to assess a student’s grasp of the fundamental structures in mathematics so that the precise difficulties they have can be identified and addressed.

3. Build the confidence bubble.
Sometimes an intervention is offered which gives the student confidence with their maths when and only when they are working with the adult who provides the intervention.  It is crucial that from the very beginning I expected Erica to work on her maths when I was not with her.  Having established that expectation with a single topic I then built it across wider topics before carefully managing the step where she started to do math in her classroom with her usual class teacher that she clearly understood.  Once I was confident a new norm has been established in school Erica stopped needing me.  I hope to stay in touch with her and will offer her support again if she needs it but it is important to notice that I did not withdraw when I felt I had covered all the topics Erica needs, I withdrew when I felt her confidence with maths was fixed and that she was ready to make full and effective use of her normal lesson time again. 

4.  Challenge the student.
Even though we went back to basics in maths I didn’t spoon feed Erica.  I listened to her and helped her express what she was thinking and explained how her thinking linked to other ideas in maths.  After the first couple of sessions I relentlessly told her silly wrong answers to try to force her to challenge me and to recognise and defend her own point of view.  I told her precisely what I was doing and why (because her confidence had been so damaged she’d stopped trusting her own opinion and we needed to sort that out) but she still found it incredibly hard to think that she might be right and I might be wrong.

5. Use real objects and visual structures.
We usually had cubes to count, fraction pizzas to build, flat or solid shapes and so on in front of us and if we didn’t then we would draw sketches to help us ‘see’ what we were doing.  These visual aids are extremely important tools for communication.  Erica was used to struggling and failing to explain what she was thinking and having her own thought suffocated by an explanation from someone who was thinking through the same problem differently.  With real objects to play with I was able to build her confidence and her belief that she could explain her own thoughts and be understood and that she would be able to follow explanations offered by others which she’d failed to follow when they’d been abstract.


  1. Once again, excellent. You have to get back to the starting point of the misunderstanding, and move the child on from there. This is so much better than the previous government's formulaic approach to tackling problems, and teachers need to be trained to do this.

  2. Thanks John.

    I was trained understand the importance of this type of approach want to learn to do this (mainly through the direct inspiration of the ways in which the teachers who inspired me worked) and I try to help the trainee teachers I work with to understand the importance of the understanding here being part of their toolkit. But class teaching which utilises this thinking is a lot more complicated than this and it's very hard to make class teaching methods that start from the child Ofstedproof.