As Year 3 and 4 begin their exciting (yes that’s correct) units on fractions, the language used around this key topic has evolved significantly from our own school days and today focuses on understanding what a fraction is by giving it meaning, rather than trying to decode an abstract code. For instance, you may notice your child referring to what we call an eighth as one out of eight equal parts and being able to eagerly show this pictorially using images or bar modelling. By unlocking the language, Year 3 are then easily able to link this to equivalence by using paper strips to find other fractions of the same size.
Equally in Year 4, the children can add and subtract simple fractions confidently. In the same way as three bananas added to four bananas is seven bananas, three eighths added to four eighths is seven eighths.
These visual representations continue in Year 5 and 6 and beyond to support multiplication and division of fractions alongside careful development of language. This is a typical Year 5 question:
No doubt, in the depths of your memory you are recalling rules about what bit multiplies by which other bit with varying successes. What if instead it was first shown and described in context:
“I have a cake that I split into seven equal parts. Two people each ate two out of the seven parts. How much of the cake did they eat?”
Working from familiar language (everybody is enthused by the mention of cake), through an image to the fractional representation suddenly gives the numbers meaning and children consistently gain success. Repeated practice from the concrete idea (the cake), to the pictorial (the diagram), to the abstract (the numerical representation) is the core of the Mastery technique. Securing these three stages enables children to then make meaning from the abstract when presented in isolation.
The language used and making meaning of it, is important in all topics. You may have seen the Year 8s in last week’s Vinelines out and about revising bearings.
This was a topic covered in lockdown for them, so to help their revision the compasses were dug out and we enjoyed the fresh air on Earth Day. Only by physically taking a bearing can the importance of the North line as a start line really be understood and the importance of always turning clockwise to know which angle to measure. By building the instructions carefully from language they recognised, “face North and turn to face the Astroturf, measure the angle you have turned” to the language presented in a standard question, “what is the bearing from where you are to the Astroturf”, they could strengthen their understanding in manageable and understandable steps. The improvement when returning to paper questions was evident to see.