How 1:1 Mathematics SHOULD be done

Peter Richardson
Nov 19, 2016 · 7 min read

Sometimes a resource or company comes along that you just have to write about and share. This is one of those times.

The company? Third Space Learning. The resource? 1:1 Mathematics for the 21st Century.

What does that mean? It means that they utilise technology to set up 1:1 with trainers from the other side of the world. This means it is cheaper for you as a school to implement. IE better value for money for the same amount of 1:1 time spent as a traditional method. But the hidden benefits make this an even more attractive proposition.

Let me set the scene. Third Space offered one child in our school 5 hours of 1:1 as a taster. I would then give them feedback on what worked well and what they could improve. I begrudgingly agreed as you really cant turn away any support for a child, especially when they are in Year 6! So I dug out a 7 year old-ish i3 Acer laptop (you know the kind, the one that has to be plugged in after 10 minutes because the battery is shot and the usb ports are a bit iffy) and grabbed an ‘old school’ mic headset (£2.99 stylee — no fancy usb stuff). We set a regular date and time and selected a child. For the sake of this post, let’s call him ‘Harry’. He was selected as he is generally up for a challenge and fairly amenable. Harry also has a mum who works as a TA in school (although that had no bearing on why we selected him. More on that later…) He has always been ‘okay’ with Maths but since the new curriculum has been introduced, he has struggled a little more and has slid off track. Not by a million miles, but enough to make you worry that with the usual boosters and Year 6 style additional work he still might not achieve the ‘magic 100’.

Harry’s teacher selected some initial objectives for him to cover during his 1:1 session. Ones that he should be able to achieve and were not too taxing for him (after all, he’s going to be speaking to someone on the other side of the world for an hour who he has never spoken to before).

So far so good. But it was the next stages I was most skeptical of. Namely technical issues and the trainer.

Before Harry could start his sessions, someone needed to spend 10 minutes over the phone doing a hardware check. I took the hit being ‘the computing guy’ in school. A UK representative from Third Space called me on my mobile, gave me a website to login to and we ran through a couple of checks. I then put the phone down and we moved to browser based communication. I have to say I was expecting lag or delay in the communication and jerky ‘nothing is on screen then suddenly everything is there’ type experience with drawings. None of this happened. Instead I could here the tech guy with absolute clarity, certainly no sign of ‘talking underwater’ at all and definitely better than on my mobile phone. Drawings that were made were appearing pretty much instantly, certainly quick enough for me to see where the drawing was coming from. There was also ease of use of the usual chat and typing functions you would expect with any ‘Online Meeting’ type package. All boded well and we were ready for Harry’s initial session.

Now being full time in the classroom I was teaching during Harry’s first session. However, his teacher had PPA during that time and wanted to see how it worked and how he got on. So after the session I asked her. Her response was that ‘it was great!’ and below is the general gist of the conversation we had:

Could you hear the trainer okay?
Yes, absolutely fine, I didn’t realise they were American.
They’re not. What about the sound quality?
Oh that was fine, Harry seemed to really enjoy it all. (I knew at this point all the speaking side of things was spot on as they would definitely have lingered on the questions asked so far if it hadn’t been)
So the trainer was alright with him?
Yes, yes they were chatting away together quite happily. (Pretty impressive)
How did the actual Maths go?
Good. Harry seemed to really understand. I think now that I know what he is doing we can give him a few harder objectives (Bearing in mind the ‘easy’ objective from today was still a Year 6 objective Harry wasn’t secure in. This really shows the teacher’s mind set shift to ‘oooo what can I give them so it can help me and I don’t have to worry about that area? Which really is the entire point!)
Okay just let them know what other objectives you want focused on. Make sure they are ones he struggles with.
Yes, will do. One thing… It’s my PPA so I could really do with….
I getcha — just put Harry in the library and leave him to get on with it (clearly both of us knew that it really could be ‘1:1’ as taking up other adults time would lessen the impact as they could be doing it themselves!)
Did Harry say anything about it?
He said he thought it was ‘great’. I tell you what, I think he got more out of it because it wasn’t with me or a TA, he liked it being across the internet. (oooo I hadn’t anticipated this one)
What? I guess they are used to the whole internet communication much more these days and it was just more natural for him?
Yes but I remember when we used to do 1:1 or when we take a Year 6 child in the spring term each Week and do some 1:1 with them and it’s all a bit rushed and they aren’t really engaged. This was different and he really took it. (I’m guessing the trainer had a lot to do with this too)
Okay that’s great, thanks

Honestly, that is pretty much the exact conversation. A few hours later our Head wanted to know how it had gone. By that time I’d also got the unexpected delight of an email outlining his progress during the session which I could also show him. I hadn’t expected that either. But it’s a great idea as then it can feed into your planning or you can tick off skills or get him to use and apply them in problems if you know exactly how it has gone. It even had a section on behaviour and engagement. IE you can show the impact the 1:1 has had (assuming Harry can then use and apply those skills independently).

A week later was his second session and both our Head and his mum wanted to ‘listen in’ for a while. As is typical, something cropped up for our Head (he is planning to drop in next week!) but Harry’s mum managed to grab 10 minutes to listen in. She obviously had a very unique perspective and one that is not usually able to be voiced in these kinds of situations. Without relaying the full conversation, she was basically really impressed. The most important part for her wasn’t that he was ‘going to get help at getting to 100’ but that her son, who has never found Maths particularly ‘natural’ was getting some additional support, which would help his confidence and help him be better at Maths and in the real world.

And that’s it! Our experience so far. So as you can see, it’s been quite difficult to give feedback on what to improve! One thing I would say is obviously the cost of the 1-to-1 is going to take a fair bit of your budget for 10–15 pupils. But it all depends on how many pupils you have who would significantly benefit from it. And being online, it is a lot more affordable than the alternatives. You could target Pupil Premium children who are in danger of being off track or are off track. Or your LAC and adopted children. Or maybe those children like Harry, who deserve to have something put in place to help them reach their potential.

A final point worth mentioning is that a cursory glance at the Third Space Learning website shows that as a teacher, you usually get to access an online ‘curriculum builder’ of 270 lesson for your 1:1 children which allows you to tick the lessons that your children need covered. Nice and simple. Nice and quick.

I will report back with a second post after Harry has finished his sessions as I’m interested to see how the trainer’s questioning, growth mindset, support and challenge has affected his progress (all key areas that Third Space trainers heavily promote in their sessions — which is handy for us as we are assimilating a growth mindset approach in our school this year).

So, if this post has whetted your appetite as much as the sessions for Harry have for me and our school, when I told Third Space I was impressed enough to write a blog post on the experience, they have given permission to have a discount for anyone interested in their programmes that start in January: pre-test gap plugging and revision in their SATs Booster or 12 weeks of a Maths Catchup Intervention. Mention “Pete’s blog” on the phone and they’ll give you £100 off the cost of tuition. Not to be sniffed at!

Disclaimer: Neither I nor my school have received any money or gift other than the stated 5 x 1 hour 1:1 sessions for the writing of this blog post.

Peter Richardson

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UK Primary School Assistant Head Teacher interested in innovation, creativity and collaboration.