“If you can’t do a question, move on…”

I observed a maths teacher this week and she gave her class a series of practice questions on simplifying ratios. A few minutes in, one girl put her hand up and said that she wasn’t sure how to do a question. The teacher said, making sure everyone also heard, “if you can’t do a question, just move on and do the ones you can do, and try and come back to that afterwards.”

I sat thinking about this during the observation and wondering… why?

Later in the week I taught a Year 8 lesson on Cromwell which used a series of sources, and there were 2 tasks – one, to explain what the sources perspective of Cromwell was, and two, to explain whether the author or date of the source has anything to do with it. Getting some of them to push themselves on and think about provenance.

A few minutes in a hand went up and said he wasn’t sure about a source. I said, without really thinking about it, “if you aren’t sure about a source, just move on and come back to it at the end.”

Is this the appropriate way to deal with challenge? Move on to cover a bigger volume of work, rather than stop and focus and think hard about the bit they don’t get? I think this, alongside many other examples, is a reason to stop and think about my own classroom language and what impact it has.


I’m going to run through a sequence in a lesson of mine, today, and I’m hoping a few of you teachers wouldn’t mind giving me your thoughts on which of the options, down below, you think is the correct way to proceed. Background: a mixed ability Y10 class.

Students were given the following sheet:

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And the following task…

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(I changed the instruction to not cut them out, but in fact tick off the ones which were correct which would leave them with 5 unticked. They would later check these with peers to make sure they had the right ones).

So Рread through 2 information sheets to verify which 10 statements/facts are accurate, and which 5 are not. Once done, move on to building a table which explains where there was progress and where there was continuity.

Given the mixed ability range in the class (lowest target E, highest A*), which of the following would, given this basic premise, have been your approach:

1 – Keep the resources the same – no differentiation in information sheet or content. Some students finish the first task within 5 minutes and move to the table, most finish within 10 and begin the table, some are not yet finished after 15 and not yet starting the table. Extend the activity by 5 more minutes – first group finish both tasks and wait for a couple of minutes, second group finish both tasks, third group finish first task and make start on table.

2 – Differentiate the resources so there is less writing and it is simpler/clearer where the answers lie and give these resources to a selected number of students, so the lower attaining students finish at the same time as the middle and move on to the table, higher attainers still finish a little sooner and get onto the table with more time to spare. Don’t use the extra 5 minutes.

Which of the above would be your approach? Please comment.