How Development of Wider Skills Can Improve Learners

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  • Topic: Question, Square number, Square root
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  • Published : March 2, 2013
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When assessing the functional skills of 13-16 year olds with behaviour and learning difficulties at my school. Initial assessments of literacy and numeracy SATS marks were a level 1 (which is comparable with a 6 year old in primary school). Most of my pupils’ arithmetic (especially addition and subtraction), knowledge of timetables, and concepts relating to practical use of time and money were significantly higher. Yet these pupils could not answer these types of questions when presented in an exam paper. Poor command of the English language meant they never fully understood the question they were reading.

One 15 year old pupil resorted to writing “CBA”, (can’t be arsed) on a KS1 SATS question on the area of a rectangle and refused to finish the second half of the paper. He would rather pretend, doing the paper was waste of his time, than an accurate test of his knowledge.

After the exam I quickly established that he did not know what the words perimeter and area meant. So I agreed that the paper was not an accurate test of his knowledge and said, let do something different. “Can you work out how much paint you would need to buy to paint the walls of the classroom?” I explained how to work out paint needed for 1 wall and he was able to work out the surface area of the classroom walls. I then asked him, would you paint the glass on the windows?

He asked for his worksheet back then correctly subtracted the areas of the windows and the door from the total. I then asked him, how much skirting board would you need for the room, he correctly deducted the width of the door from the total and realised the skirting boards would be present under the window.

I looked at the paper and laughed, saying you were right; the maths paper is not an accurate test of your maths knowledge, since the questions you just answered were a lot harder than the one you were asked.

I then picked another question, about how many rides a boy at the fairground would be able to go on for £10.00, again it was a question he got wrong, but I rephrased the question in words he could understand and he gave me the correct answer, he even added how much change he would have left over and decided to tell me a story about, the last time he was at the fairground and the fight his mates got into.

I then did the same for another three questions that he initially got wrong and each time he got the correct answer, because he could now understand what was being asked of him. By the time I got to the third question he made a comment about how the KS1 SATS paper was a poor test, which is why he wrote CBA on it.

I said you did really well today and I will be sending a letter home to your parents about how hard you worked and the kind of questions you got correct. The following day, when reviewing his individual learning plan, we had a discussion about why he kept getting certain types of questions wrong and concluded that based on his individual needs the skills he needed to acquire, was for me to teach him how to re-word the sentences into mathematical statement / equations.

So for a whole week, the maths lessons consisted of him, practising and building his skills in this context, by the end of the process there was a marked improvement in his confidence at having a go at maths questions he did not understand, he was far more willing to attempt to decode the mathematical terms present in the sentences, consequently he was answering questions that he would have given up on. In the summative assessment at the end of the term he sat a KS1 SATS paper, the development of his literacy skills meant (on a SATS paper) he was able to achieve three sub-levels progress in one term.

Mental Arithmetic
One of my pupils said he was terrible at his time tables, I said I can teach you four tricks that it make you seem like a genius, the last one you won’t find in any maths book, because it’s my own secret trick. I told him most pupils who get...
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