During a meeting last week, my Headteacher discussed changing the way we approach the teaching of maths to better utilise the skills of our Teaching Assistants. We abandoned the 3-part lesson approach a long time ago in favour of more flexibility, but for some, length of carpet time can still be an issue. Children are expected to be engaged for long periods of time, when some (or many) of the questions asked aren’t pitched at their level. So, it was proposed that we try using our TAs for the whole of the lesson, rather than having them sitting with one or two children while we talk at the children for 25 minutes.

The idea was that the TAs would take a group of children out from the start of the lesson to teach new concepts or reinforce old ones and then work with them on a task. Another group would work with the teacher straight away on the carpet, being taught at their level and then go off to do a task. A third group would begin at their tables, consolidating previous work or doing an investigation, and then come to the carpet to be taught something new once the previous group had finished their discussion.

This raised a few questions and issues for me. The pace of the lesson would need to be pretty fast: the first group with me wouldn’t be able to stay on the carpet for any great length of time, as there would be others waiting. I don’t think this would cause too much of an issue for me: I like to think my lessons are usually pretty pacey and we don’t spend long talking on the carpet, but even so, the pressure is on! Also, my “ability groups” within my maths groups are completely fluid: each day, the children decide which level of work is most appropriate to them in order to pose the right level of challenge. It took a while to train them to be Purple Learners, but I think we’re there now. This fluidity could pose a real challenge to this way of working. If I could say that “table 1 are my lower ability group, today they’ll be starting on the carpet with me,” then a rota would be easy to create to ensure that everyone started with me, started at their tables and worked with a TA each week. Sadly, my class wouldn’t be that straightforward. So, I had to devise some kind of system.

This is what I came up with.

Each lesson, I’m going to put a summary up on the whiteboard at the beginning of the lesson like the image above.

As the children come into the class, they decide which group they think they belong in. So that I know who goes in which group, they will then stick their name onto a laminated sheet (the names all start “on the carpet” – they just need to move them if they are working with a TA or starting at their tables). They all file past this as they collect their whiteboards when they come in, so there’s no extra time wasted. Today, the children were fairly accurate in their choices, although I did have to move one or two as I knew they were going for the easy option! It was crazily chaotic in my classroom, there were children all over the place doing written calculations, solving word problems and using Learnpads, but they were all engaged. There was flexibility between the groups: when the “pink” group were entirely confident, they could be extended to move on to the harder activities. Because I had already prepared the grid for tomorrow’s lesson, I was able to share it with the children today. Interestingly, no-one felt they would need the “pink” work and half felt they would be ready to start on “green”, so this evening, I have re-planned the lesson to raise the level of challenge for everyone.

I don’t know if this system will work, if I can keep up the level of organisation and planning that is needed to make it work, and if it (or I!) can survive the days when I unexpectedly don’t have a TA, but I’m giving it ago for a while. I was exhausted by 10.10 this morning – it felt like lunchtime with all the flitting around I did, but I know it will get easier and smoother the more I do it. I’m liking the idea so far… we shall see how it goes!

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