One of the most common queries we get about Functional Skills maths at Levels 1 and 2 is about the level of language in the assessments and how much literacy is needed to achieve this. An initial piece of research that was carried out looked to unpick this and see if the problem could be narrowed down. What was interesting to discover was when practitioners were questioned about this, it became more obvious that the barriers to success lay not in literacy skills but in the problem-solving skills of the learners. There is little vocabulary in a maths assessment that a learner would not understand, especially as they can have access to a dictionary or bilingual dictionary. The issue is more one of the learners working out what to do.
Therefore, what can we do to improve the problem-solving skills of our learners? Let’s start by looking at a common learner mistake.
Here we have a Level 1 learner attempting a non-calculator question:
We can see they have achieved two out of the four possible marks. They started towards finding the answer but stopped at the halfway point. In this case, it appears they did not realise that they needed to add the information they had created (running costs) to the original price. This is one of the more common mistakes. In this process, the learner has understood the majority of the problem but has not actually answered the correct question.
How do we support learners improving their problem-solving abilities?
In a situation like the above the learner would benefit from some scaffolding in their classroom environment. With the above question, the tutor could support the learner’s problem-solving skills by breaking the question down into smaller steps. The original question is “Which type of car is better value?” We can replace this with the following steps/questions.
- What are the running costs for five years for a diesel car?
- What is the overall cost of a diesel car over five years?
- What is the overall cost of a petrol car over five years?
- Which type of car is better value?
By scaffolding the question in such a way, the learner is being taken through the problem-solving steps needed to answer the questions. Many learners would benefit from this approach before attempting questions without the support. As time goes on the scaffolding can be reduced, but it would benefit the learners if they still looked at their approach and broke it down into the different stage to ensure that they are answering the question fully as they progress with this area of learning and development.
In order to be able to fully support centres and learners Pearson will be carrying out customer research over the next few months to look at the way Functional Skills maths is delivered and what we can do to support that delivery and support learners.
We are currently in discussion and planning mode with both internal and external partners to bring together a range of research activities in the coming months to address Level 1 maths.
This will involve:
- Talking directly to learners about their views
- Developing a training package for practitioners with support from centres
- Carrying out a survey of post 16 educators on the issues around post 16 maths delivery.
- Organising a symposium of experts to discuss the issues that are being faced and approaches to improve it
- Podcasts with specialists in the delivery of Functional Skills maths
Full feedback from all of this research will then be made available in the summer of 2022. I look forward to sharing this with you and working with you on the journey.
Chris Briggs - Sector Manager Post 16 English and Maths