St Brigids School: ALiM report

Number of
Initial stage
Final stage
Time in
4 4 students - stage 1 4 students - stage 5 4x45mins weekly
10 weeks
Proportions, ratios, fractions
2 2 students - stage 3 2 students - stage 5/6    

School and student profile

St Brigids is a decile 9 Catholic Full Primary school.
We are in the unusual position of having as many as 35 percent of our students being Filipino along with a range of other Asian nationalities. This means we do have a high percentage of ESOL students which necessitates an extensive ESOL support programme.

The students involved in this project cover a cross section which is representative of our school population in general. There are six students in total with four girls and two boys. Of those six, two identify as Maori, two as Asian and two as New Zealand European. Two of the six students are also receiving literacy assistance concurrently with the ALiM project.

Programme summary

This project ran for a total of ten weeks. It began in the third week of term 3 and ended in the second week of term 4. This allowed me to get eight full weeks teaching with the students as well as fitting in both pre and post testing. Week 1 was spent undertaking a range of testing to ascertain the exact needs of the students. Weeks 2 through 9 (weeks 3 to 9 of term 3, and weeks 1 and 2 of term 4) were spent in small group work with the students. This consisted of 4 afternoon sessions per week. Each session was 45 minutes long and was followed immediately by a ten minute reflection time for me as a teacher. The final week was again spent in group and individual testing.

Student achievement results

Two main types of data were collected to monitor student achievement results across the project.

Firstly there was the Diagnostic Interview. The key result to note from this data is that the students have made significant progress in proportions and ratios and in fractions, which was the biggest area of need, and the main focus for the teaching programme during the project. However, progress is not limited to that as all students made some progress in basic facts, place value, multiplication and many of them also in addition and subtraction.

The main information I would like to draw your attention to from this data is the size of the shift the students made in proportions and ratios and in fractions, with all students making either a three or four stage gain in these areas!

The other form of data used for monitoring was the Progressive Achievement Tests. Initially the students completed a year 3 PAT and then at the end of the project they completed a year 4 PAT. Here we find five of the six students scoring a stanine 6 in their age appropriate year 4 PAT which is a significant improvement over the results from the beginning of the year and pleasing progress from the year 3 PAT at the beginning of the project.

Aside from this quantifiable data an area of significant shift that I noted was in the students’ confidence in maths. While initially many would have said to you that they ‘sucked’ in maths, and clearly felt that most of it was beyond their ability, by the end of the project I was hearing comments like this each time we worked together; “I can do that”, “that’s easy”, “pick me, I know how to do that”. I feel that this shift in itself was worth the whole time and effort. To see these children take such huge strides in their confidence in this subject means that they now approach new learning with an “I can do it” attitude, rather than a “this is too hard for me” type attitude. This of course makes a huge difference to how well they learn and how much of that learning is sustained.

Key pieces of advice

At the outset here I think it is important to say that the three aspects of pedagogy I focused on were:

  • assessment for learning
  • building on students' thinking
  • arranging for learning.

These three aspects really dominated the way I approached this project.

Assessment for learning:
Using the PAT and Diagnostic Interview data I was able to focus really closely on the area of the student’s greatest need. Initially I thought that this would be place value and so was preparing to start there. However, the Diagnostic Interview revealed a huge gap with all students across the areas of fractions and proportions and ratios. This highlighted for me again the need to get the best possible data before I start teaching to ensure I am teaching to their need, not my perception of their need.

In an ongoing sense, the formative assessment that I was doing every day as I worked with the students, allowed me to specifically target each individual lesson at an identified point of need. This was helped greatly by the ten minute reflection time that I disciplined myself to take immediately after I finished each session with the children.

Building on students' thinking:

The reflection time also meant that I was building on the students’ thinking each time I worked with them because I had recorded key pieces of their thinking during that reflection time. This meant that rather than them having to ‘change gear’ or ‘catch up’ with what we were doing each day it directly built on the place we had finished the previous day.

Perhaps that is best explained by giving you a sense of how each lesson went. After taking the time to observe some Reading Recovery work and looking at how it worked, I deliberately structured each lesson on a similar basis. So we began each day with a warm up which was always activating prior knowledge and so began with a task at which all the children could be successful. This was followed by a review of what we had been working on the previous day, both to assure myself that they had indeed learnt it and to focus them back into what we were doing. I found on some occasions that this was as far as I got with the teaching section as they needed more time with the previous day's learning to ensure it was consolidated. If they were solid with the previous day's learning then we would go on and spend about 20 minutes on new learning, which built directly on the previous day's learning. Finally this was followed by a game that specifically targeted the area of learning we were focusing on. I have attached a sample copy of a daily timetable to give you an example. This format was used in virtually every lesson. I believe that both the format and the consistency of the format assisted these students in making the progress which they did.

The final aspect of pedagogy is the

‘Arranging for learning’ which was really important to the success of this project. The time that I had available after each session meant that after my reflection time I was immediately able to plan the next lesson and had the time to find and make the resources necessary to make the next lesson a success. Having the opportunity to make new games specific to the focus of a lesson was really helpful as there is not the time to do that on a daily basis in the busy lives of teachers.

So to some advice for others:
I suggest that you consider adopting the style of lesson format that I used with this group. I know that you do not necessarily have 45 minutes per group for maths but if you shortened each section and used the game as a follow-up activity I think you would find this helpful for those who are struggling with maths.

Secondly, I became aware of how important repeated exposure to the same concept is for these students. With this group you cannot just teach it and move on. They need to come back to the same concept again and again. So expect to spend two or three main new teaching sessions developing the one concept or strategy. Then revisit that concept or strategy in your review and warm up time frequently.

Thirdly, I would say small steps. Do not expect these students to take on a whole idea in one hit. They do not easily transpose learning from one thing to another. For example just because they can partition numbers for use with addition does not mean that they can partition numbers for use with subtraction. You not only need to teach how to use partitioning with subtraction but you have to go back and teach partitioning again with specific emphasis on subtraction.

Another thing which I tried that I think was quite successful was having a parent afternoon tea. I invited all the parents to afternoon tea in the final week of term 3, so we had been going for six weeks by then. During this time I modelled a lesson with the children so that the parents got a really good idea of what we were doing. I had made up a pack of six games for each child to take home over the holidays, so I went over how each of those games worked with the parents so that they felt confident to play them with their children. The feedback I got was that they all played at least some of the games during the two week break.

A final thought is that these children generally do not enjoy maths because they have achieved little success in this subject, so maths must be made fun for them and it must be in little achievable chunks so that they experience success. They will not care if the success is a tiny fraction of what others can do, they will simply be boosted by their own success. Games are therefore vital, as is doing things a bit differently. We spent several maths sessions outside with large pieces of chalk drawing and writing fractions on the concrete. They loved it! And because they were enjoying it they retained much more of the learning.

My final thoughts

Being involved in this project has been an exciting journey for me. I have really enjoyed seeing the joy on these children’s faces as they achieved success.

A final important note

This project has been so successful in boosting the achievement of these struggling students that Kay, our principal, has decided to run this for a term again next year with a new group of year 4 students.

Much of what I have learnt and tried has flowed over into my classroom programme and I believe is helping to boost the achievement of all the children in my class.

Planning Format Example

Maths Intervention Plan
Date: Friday 13th August Group: Year 4 Key Focus:
Fractions of a whole & fractions of a set.
  Activities Resources Required
Warm Up Doubles & Halves Race Race sheets
Review How many different ways can you make 1 whole using your fraction pieces? Fractions pieces
Main Teaching Fraction Circles: How many in each? Fraction circles sheets, scissors, felt pens, counters
Game Fraction Dominos Fraction Dominos