Am I doing the best for all my pupils?

I’ve been thinking about my previous post Structured Problems.  In it I considered how I make problems for my pupils easier by adding too much structure and not letting them think it out for themselves.

Yesterday I was reading a chapter from “Make It Stick” (Brown, Roediger, McDaniel) entitled Mix Up Your Practice.

It talked about Massed Practice

the practice-practice-practice that’s supposed to burn a skill into memory

and Interleaved Practice

interleaving the practice of two or more subjects or skills

The chapter concludes that massed practice leads to initial success but not long term success where as interleaved practice is tough and challenging to start with but leads to long term benefits.

So what does this mean to me as a teacher?

I generally teach maths as a linear subject – teaching one skill after another then another building in review of previous topics throughout.

When my National 5 class were learning about volume of solids, I taught them about one solid at a time then completed mixed questions. Why not introduce all volume of solid formulae at the same time and give the pupils more to think about?

I have an upper S3 class who have just learned about right angled trigonometry. They investigated the three ratios at the same time then completed practice on all three ratios at the same time – finding missing sides and angles – this involved three different types of working as well as choosing between sine, cosine and tangent. The class were very successful with this.

This leads me to reflect on my teaching strategies – when I have a more able set of pupils I give them interleaved practice and more challenging problems as I know they will embrace the challenge but when I know I have a class who find maths more difficult I lean towards massed practice to allow instant success.

Is this fair? Am I just trying to make my life easier in the short term?

My next step is to think about how to bring interleaved practice to all my pupils without scaring them off maths altogether. Any thoughts?


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