There is no magic formula – it takes time, practice and hard work …but weaker children will never get there… doing less or going more slowly… or not doing it at all.
In my experience, it can take some a full year or more of SAMSON before the penny drops and start to see real confidence and success. (For example, a P7 child in 2017 was assessed as 78 for developed ability yet 145 for mental maths after three years of Samson work).
With differentiation there are basically two options…
Option 1…traditionally the temptation has been to take poorer children out and make work easier. Individual completion of work becomes the priority - like a factory production model …where work is given and completed in line with the teacher’s perceived need to individualise instruction.
For example, children tend to complete tasks like filling in numbers… with little evidence of any real learning taking place (and there is little evidence that this approach works or has worked in the past). The weaker children tend to do less and go slower so the gap either widens or remains. As Bart Simpson famously said, ‘Hang on, I’m behind already? How will I catch up if I do less and go slower?’
My experience is that poorer or weaker children need more support, time and practice.
Option 2… therefore is to try something different…for children to get the same opportunity and social justice … get more time with extra sessions and more teaching and more support if necessary. This involves a change of teacher mind set with the need to be patient, not to panic and to ‘play the long game’. Reassure them they will get there and… provide the extra support, extra deliberate practice and extra time they are going to need: the end of a level and the end of P7 become the key milestones.
SAMSON will be tough in the short term for some children (and teachers!) but in the long term, they will grow in confidence. They are not going to walk away after three sessions and suddenly be brilliant at maths. For poorer children it can take a year or more with just one technique but the SAMSON approach means they do not miss out. It is however incredibly satisfying when all the children get there and suddenly start to get success and feel more confident. Do not panic…stick to a long term plan. It is tough, make no mistake about it. For example, it is not called the takeaway tightrope for no reason!
Two different approaches for a weaker group
The first option for a weaker group who need more time is to make sure they get the teaching input…but their follow up tasks could be simplified. For example:
75 + 58…just get the number bond (5 + 8)
81 – 67…just get from 67 to 70 (3)
156 – 78...just get from 78 to 100 (22)
Crucially, they remain with the whole class for the follow up group marking, questioning and discussion.
A second option is a deliberate step by step practice: for example, they do a strip sheet together with a teacher or classroom assistant, jotting down each question step by step…81 – 67 = 3/11 = 14…with no need to record times or scores. Sheets go in the bin.