Children struggle with maths for many different reasons. If we, as teachers, can identify exactly where the problem lies and then address it, barriers can be overcome resulting in confident young mathematicians. I've attempted to categorise the types of problems in maths and then identify possible solutions to these problems.

Self-confidence, self-esteem or self-belief can be improved by:

  • Praise and encouragement
  • Setting of small achievable tasks
  • Involving the pupil in class discussions through differentiated questioning
  • Emphasising pupils’ successes against their own previous level of achievement
  • Encouraging the pupil to the best of their own ability

Gaps in mathematical learning can be reduced by:

  • Regularly revisiting topics
  • Revising work from the year below
  • Plenty of opportunity for over-learning
  • Consolidating learning in a particular area
  • Using concrete materials

Areas of weakness or gaps in their knowledge can be identified and addressed by:

  • Appropriate diagnostic testing and individual discussion with the pupil
  • Taking into account the pupils’ individual learning style
  • Teaching the pupils’ in a way that they can best understand

Encouraging extra effort in areas of weakness can be achieved by:

  • Tracking back to a level that the pupil can easily achieve and then building very small steps so that perseverance can be seen to be successful
  • Rewarding efforts
  • Using one to one teaching (for extra input)
  • Building on the successes (of the previous year)

Speed of working can be improved by:

  • Identifying the reason for the slow working
  • Encouraging the completion of more questions each lesson
  • Rewarding speed with an enjoyable activity (not more numeracy!)

The presentation and organisation of work can be improved by:

  • Encouraging the correct formation of numbers
  • Encouraging the heading of work in order to make revision easier
  • Using specifically designed worksheets in early years to reduce the necessity for written work
  • Encouraging pupils to record Ma1 by organised setting out of diagrams and tables
  • Giving exemplars of good practice and the reasons for such organisation

Mathematical communication can be improved by:

  • Involving pupils in class discussions with open-ended questions wherever possible
  • Asking pupils to explain their method when solving a problem
  • Encouraging pupils to write down as many calculations as necessary to show their answers

Self-checking of work can be encouraged by:

  • Encouraging pupils to solve a problem in one way and to check using a different method
  • Using a calculator to check a mental calculation and vice versa
  • Using estimating skills to check if an answer is reasonable

Estimating skills can be improved by:

  • Using mental arithmetic facts which they find easy to remember i.e. = Rounding up or down to 10’s or 100’s, doubling once or twice etc

Application of mathematical knowledge in problem solving can be encouraged by:

  • Asking pupils to make up a number story, to check they understand where to use a particular calculation
  • Asking pupils to do a practical task to reinforce a newly learned topic
  • Encouraging the pupils to develop their own strategies for solving problems requiring more than one step
  • Giving pupils frameworks to support their problem solving sequence

Mental arithmetic skills can be improved by:

  • Regular practice
  • Group discussion as to how different individuals reached the correct answer so that those who were unable to attempt a question may be able to do so next time
  • Encouraging estimating skills to check an answer is reasonable

Concentration can be improved by:

  • Rewarding sustained effort
  • Encouraging slightly longer periods of time on tasks
  • Breaking the lesson up into periods of short activity so that concentration can be sustained for the full length of each small task
  • Placing the pupil within the class to reduce distraction
  • The removal of any superfluous equipment from the desk to reduce distractions

More independence in written work and study can be encouraged by:

  • Setting tasks which can be achieved by the pupil without any intervention, especially in homework tasks
  • Making the work accessible to the pupil
  • Encouraging Ma1 work right from the beginning and rewarding them for their efforts regardless of how they reached their answers

Sequential thinking can be improved by:

  • Encouraging pupils to attempt a task and then vocalise each step. This helps to break down and reinforce the steps involved
  • Listening to others describing their methods will help them to try and break down their own methods

Self-organisational skills can be promoted by:

  • Giving out checklists of the correct materials and equipment for a task to encourage self-checking
  • Checking that pupils understand instructions given to them about their work
  • Asking pupils to repeat or reframe instructions if necessary

Co-operative working can be promoted by:

  • Providing opportunities for working in pairs or groups
  • Encouraging them to show consideration for other pupil’s ideas and efforts

Suitable strategies for recalling basic number facts can be developed by:

  • Frequent mental arithmetic exercises where pupils can assess their own score for signs of improvements
  • Regular revision of basic number work
  • Employing and practising methods that can be quickly implemented before starting

Calculators can be taught to be used appropriately and accurately by:

  • Devoting specific teaching time to developing calculator skills
  • Using a calculator to check estimated sums in order to check reasonableness of answers

In addition to these areas, we can also use the skills and strengths of the learner in other curriculum areas to support numeracy acquisition.


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