Below are the general responses to the questions posed – I recap the questions and the views are generalised notes from talking to a range of teachers from nursery, through Key Stage 1 and 2. I provide the detailed breakdown of two colleagues from Years 3 and 4.
Throughout these you can see that fractions is a huge, varied and tricky concept to think about, teach and learn. I have found that, throughout my teaching career, children have always found fractions hard, although there are a core of children who grasp it quickly, these are the exception rather than the rule.
It is clear that a hands-on, physical approach is needed at the beginning of fractions work – indeed practical maths was a key talking point of all the teachers throughout the Primary phase. But also, I feel that language is a huge barrier to children’s learning. The language of fractions is often misused throughout life and if they don’t have a solid understanding in the first place, their will only serve to cloud the issue further. Another difficult aspect is the link with division – children who don’t know their multiplication and division facts can’t begin to develop their ideas of fractions
So, how can we bring all these parts together to make up one cohesive whole?!
I think it’s a case of reviewing the way it is taught throughout the Primary Phase. Children have to encounter teachers who are confident in approaching fractions and the subject needs to be taught consistently, removing areas of conflict and making sure that each part of their learning isn’t conflicting with another area. If it is to be taught alone, then it needs to be done until that child grasps that particular stage of learning. My belief however, is that is must feature in each part of mathematics – there can always be a question relating to fractions in whatever is taught. This may help to break some of the barriers to learning that exist – I currently feel that children are very negative towards them.
One key to learning is children’s difficulty with fraction language. Maybe teachers are trying to make too many jumps at the same time, moving too quickly. Maybe this is down to pressures from the curriculum. It is often better to avoid comparisons. For instance, when focussing on halves, it would be better to focus on and describe objects or models that are either halves or not halves, rather than giving objects other labels (much in the same way that children find it easier to learn that bricks are heavy and feathers are not heavy rather than comparing them as heavy and light. Floating and sinking is another example, it is easier to get children to understand things that float and things that don’t float BEFORE investigating things that sink – it’s too confusing).