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Maths

Why use Hamilton's Progressive Short Blocks?

Ruth Merttens By Ruth Merttens

Tailor Your Teaching using shorter blocks to avoid the increasingly well-evidenced disadvantages of long blocks. Explore the advantages of short blocks.

Memory

Will children in England (as opposed to Singapore or Shanghai) really remember all the content of a particular block if that topic is not re-visited for another 5 or 6 months? If the subject is peripheral, e.g. Roman numerals or correspondence problems, this may not matter. But if it is place value or an understanding of equivalent fractions then it will. Re-teaching is time-wasting and can be soul-destroying. Revisiting indubitably prevents the necessity.

Order

In maths, more than in many subjects, the order in which we teach things matters. For example, in order to teach division in Year 5, we need to have taught children fractions, so that children are able to express the remainder as a proper fraction. This means that understanding equivalent fractions is a pre-requisite skill. BUT with long blocks in Year 5, we must teach the Multiplication/Division Block before the Fractions Block because we need the knowledge of multiples and factors in order to do equivalence in fractions. And this problem is replicated twenty times in designing the maths blocks for any year group.

Of course, with a spiral curriculum, this is not an issue as you teach a spiral of skills. However, shorter blocks greatly assist us with a blocked curriculum, as it is easier to take a more skill-based approach to the order in which specific mathematical topics are covered.

Readiness

Teaching children in Year 4 this year, I observed that doing the long decimal/fractions block, we truly struggled to sustain good learning. This is partly a function of the intellectual maturity of the children. To address this, we need to introduce the subject in a short burst, so that no-one has time to get discouraged. Later in the year, we will want to re-visit it. At this point, our previous teaching will have had time to bed down, and we are likely to find children much more receptive to the learning required.

Boredom

Many teachers report that covering long blocks on proper fractions in Year 4 or even longer blocks on addition/ subtraction in Year 2, it is almost impossible to prevent both teachers and children from simply losing the will to live as the block winds interminably on. There is a certain amount of time after which it is really good to get a break with a different topic. As we know from other aspects of life – a change is as good as a rest! It livens the mind and stimulates the creative juices.

All these issues persuade us at Hamilton that the ideal person to decide the length of a specific block is the teacher. The shorter blocks enable a more tailored approach because the precise sequencing of skills means that you can confidently amend the amount of teaching according to your class's needs as you progress. We thoroughly recommend them.