Peer Mentoring in a Mixed Ability Classroom

Last week Matific made a site visit to a primary school in Western Sydney. The class was a mixed kindergarten and Year 1 group and – as expected –  the kids had a broad spectrum of skills.

The students were seated in front of netbooks, iPads and the Interactive Whiteboard and were allocated a Matific episode to focus on their counting skills. The episode was called “Flying Flocks” and pupils were encouraged to count the birds as they fly over a rooftop. This particular level focused on skip counting by two.

As I walked past a pair of girls I noticed the girl on the left, let’s call her Anita, had a really good grasp of counting and was advancing through the episode with ease. But her friend, let’s call her Betty, was not so confident and grew flustered each time she failed to enter the correct answer. I asked the teacher if Betty could skip count and she said “no” as she moved to help another student.

I watched Betty grapple with the activity and tried to figure out what the problem was. I listened to her count and realised that after the number 12, she was lost and didn’t know the names of all of the numbers. So even though she understood the concept of counting, when she counted it sounded something like this: “Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, twelve.”

I am not a teacher but I decided to try something. I put up Betty’s hands and my hands and we used all of our fingers to count to 20. She would use her hands to count to 10 and my hands to count from 11-20. As my fingers represented the double digits, I began to test her knowledge of number names and within about five minutes I felt like she had remembered the numbers.

We went back to the “Flying Flocks” episode. Betty was doing fine until the numbers were greater than 12. I could see she was getting increasingly frustrated so I thought I would try a different approach.

I asked Anita, who was still confidently inputting the correct answers, to count the birds aloud as they flew above the roof before she typed the numbers. Then, with Anita still doing the exercise, I asked both girls to take turns counting the birds. The two girls seemed to be enjoying themselves. I then asked Betty to count on her own before Anita answered the exercise. Anita gave Betty a thumbs up every time she got the answers right.

I had spent 20 minutes with Betty in total, but by the end of that short interval, her mood improved dramatically as did her skip counting.

Often when we speak to teachers I can sense a bit of trepidation about using Matific. Some have had experiences with other maths programs, where the classroom was briefly captivate but their understanding of the topic did not improve. We like to think that we both engage and educate. In Betty’s case Matific, was a very useful assistant that helped diagnose a problem and illustrate a solution.

Anita and Betty enjoyed learning with Matific, as did the rest of the class. In fact, after the bell rang I was a victim of a human stampede, simultaneously trampled by little feet and embraced by little arms. That’s a pretty great return for showing off a program that costs classrooms nothing to use.