Guidance on using textbooks in a mixed-age classroom

Thanks to guest blogger, Caroline Clissold, for her latest blog on using textbooks in a mixed-age classroom. 

There can be numerous advantages to having mixed-age classrooms. Giving children the opportunity to spend several years with the same teacher and encouraging a spirit of co-operation in the classrooms being amongst them.
However, using a textbook for teaching the mathematics curriculum within a mixed-age class can be challenging! The variety of contexts for mixed-age classes mean that while some issues are generic there may also be additional issues which result from the way the mixed-age class has been formed. This may mean that the way of teaching for mastery using textbooks will be dependent on the context of the mixed-age class.

It is helpful to consider what it says on page 4 of the national curriculum:

'The programmes of study for mathematics are set out year-by-year for key stages 1 and 2. Schools are, however, only required to teach the relevant programme of study by the end of the key stage. Within each key stage, schools therefore have the flexibility to introduce content earlier or later than set out in the programme of study. In addition, schools can introduce key stage content during an earlier key stage, if appropriate. All schools are also required to set out their school curriculum for mathematics on a year-by-year basis and make this information available online.'

From this we can see that we have some freedom to be flexible in deciding what to teach and when. We can therefore be flexible with our use of textbooks.

Schools are expected to teach a mastery curriculum. Many schools are beginning to do this. NAMA (National Association of Mathematics Advisors) has recently published Five Myths of Mastery, which explains that there are various approaches to mastery. These vary in several ways but all have commonalities, the most important one is slowing the teaching down in order for all children to master what is being taught.

The national curriculum states that, ‘The expectation is that the majority of pupils will move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace.’ Moving children through the mathematics curriculum at broadly the same pace is challenging enough but doing this in mixed year classrooms is even more so.

One important factor of a mastery curriculum is to have the children working in mixed attainment groups. With mixed-age groups this is still important. If you don’t already, you could try mixing the whole class and group the children within their year group for any specific tasks. Alternatively you could keep the year groups separate and mix attainments within each group.

There are two main approaches to teaching mixed-age classes. One is to keep the class together wherever possible but being flexible when necessary. Another is to provide separate teaching for individual year groups. It seems like a mix of the two would be a good idea.

The national curriculum has many requirements that are similar for each year group. The table below shows what children are required to learn in number and place value in Year 3 and 4.

Year 3

Year 4

  • recognise the place value of each digit in a three-digit number (hundreds, tens, ones)

  • recognise the place value of each digit in a four-digit number (thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones)

  • compare and order numbers up to 1000

  • order and compare numbers beyond 1000

It would be sensible to teach these requirements to the whole class and then select the appropriate pages in the textbooks for the children to work through independently or in a guided group. You could do this for all the requirements that can be matched across year groups.

When the requirements can’t be matched, it may be necessary to provide input into each year group separately, allowing you to target learning to specific year groups. One year group could be continuing to practice or apply previous learning while this input takes place with the other year group. Then, when that has happened they practise while the teacher spends some time with the other year group.

When devising your own practice activities you could use the type known as ‘low threshold and high ceiling.' Using these will mean everyone in the class will have access to them at differing levels.
Two of the NCETM maths hubs, Jurassic and Cornwall and West Devon, have together undertaken an action research project which looks specifically at teaching for mastery in mixed age classrooms. You might be interested in looking at their findings and case studies. They make interesting reading and may be helpful to you if you are teaching mixed year groups.
Mixed-age classes in Rising Stars Mathematics

For schools with mixed-age classes, the Rising Stars Mathematics resources can be used to teach the same topic to the whole class. All of the units have a main focus on one of four themes:

  • Number Sense
  • Additive Reasoning
  • Multiplicative Reasoning
  • Geometric Reasoning

Similar topics are generally covered in the same unit in each year group. Therefore corresponding units from Year 1 and Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6 will work together neatly as they focus on the same themes. For example Unit 1 in all year groups across the Rising Stars Mathematics resources is focused on Number Sense, so teachers are able to focus on similar topics at a different level within mixed-age classes.
Find out more about Rising Stars Mathematics and download a free sample unit to use in the classroom.

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