Building relationships with students can be a difficult task. Some years, you hit the jackpot and find that you are assigned that perfect class. What happens when you don’t get that class? What do you do then? Even worse, just imagine you are the third teacher the class has had in that academic year and it’s only January! (yup, that has happened to me).
When I started teaching (many years ago), I spent my NQT year doing maternity cover at three different schools. Consequently, this has given me the confidence to go into a new class and build relationships quickly. In this short post I will impart some of the different approaches that I’ve taken and direct you to further sources of note (blogs, podcasts, etc.)
As a colleague of mine once said in a staff briefing;
True; I’m simply putting a few reminders out there and organising my thoughts so that I have a reference point when coaching and mentoring.
Say “Hi” – Or “Good morning”, “Good afternoon” or even a “Good day!”. When you pass a student on a stairwell, when you are out doing lunch duty or when you enter a meeting with the student and a parent/carer.
Some students like the ‘fist bump’ others love a ‘high five’..woo! Students are human too.
Smile and invite – Always invite the students into the classroom. It can be tricky when you do not have your own classroom but get the students into the habit of waiting outside if possible.
Names – It’s an obvious one and very simple (note that I did not say it’s easy) but learn your students’ names, maybe even give them a unique greeting (Coach has different handshake for each team player). How would you feel if someone kept calling you the wrong name? I’ve been called Miss Portal, Miss Potter…
Be positive and give praise – Find a reason to praise students; good posture, nice writing, great response. Make them feel good. Watch the short 7 minute TedTalk by Rita Pierson “Every Kid Needs a Champion” and also look at this Positive Framing video clip (1 min 7 secs). I just love the phrasing;
…you are showing me excellence right now, I’m really proud of you!
Be different – Every now and then, do something different. It will be a surprise for the students and could be the making of a memorable lesson. Having read the blog of @jamessturtevant I know he sometimes links his outfits to his lessons! (Listen to James’ Connecting with Students podcast on Talks with Teachers). You could share a photo, a story, a food item…this is one of those great stories that I have shared where I took an adventure bike ride and there was this really steep hill. I didn’t have much water left in my bottle and all I could see was a narrowing lane with lots a trees; a forest some might say. I was scared but felt the need to take a selfie and then…
Be passionate – If you are not interested in your subject, why should your students show an interest? Be passionate! Show them why yours, is the best subject to learn. (Definitely on point with this @AdamWilliamsRFA – that was a great CPD session!)
Don’t apologise – Do not be ‘Sorry but this isn’t going to be very interesting today; we just need to learn this” or “I know it’s Friday period 6 but…”. DO NOT apologise for teaching your subject.
Be firm but fair – You need to be consistent with your students. Don’t change your rules from day-to-day or week-to-week. Nor should you have favourites as this will undoubtedly lead to problems. Listen to James’ talk at around 6mins 30secs, here he discusses how he dealt with a group of standoffish students – Connecting with Students.
Listen – Really listen to your students. You will find that by listening, you find out more about their successes and pick up on any problems that they may have. Planning something of interest to them, in your lesson is providing students with evidence that you have listened and that you are interested in them.
Build relationships with non-teaching staff too! – It’s worth it for you and for your students. I will not repeat the detail as this article says it all Building Relationships Campus-Wide
I can not guarantee that these will all work for you in your school but I’m just saying that at different times, the above have worked for me. Albiet with different students and across different schools but they have worked. Use your personality, quirky traits or hobbies to start building relationships.
How can I engage learners? What can I do to make my lessons more interesting? What resources can I use to challenge my classes? How will this lesson link with what they already know and what I’m going to teach them next time? I’m sure questions similar to these (and more!) pop into your minds when planning lessons and searching for inspiration. How can we answer these questions quickly when planning? There has to be an easy way.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in a number of schools over the past few years and have found that their Schemes Of Work (SOW) have affected my approach to planning. It has affected how I plan lessons at my home school and it can affect the advice that I give to NQT’s and other members of staff when they are planning their lessons (this is in my capacity as a Specialist Leader of Education – SLE).
Teachers can be constrained by SOW and as a result the quality of lessons and the level of engagement can drop. So how can we resolve this problem of lacking creativity, needing inspiration, engaging our students?
“You’re creative, how would you teach the topic of…”
This is a question that I am asked on a regular basis. I am an SLE with a local teaching school and a Lead Practitioner for Mathematics in my home school but my creativity sometimes stems from others (teachers at schools that I support and my relatively new twitter network of educationalists) – I mean, why reinvent the wheel.
Like others, I am sometimes limited by the ‘topics’ I teach and really have to root around to find a hook or a story to interest my young audience. Imagine you are a student and you are told “this week we will be learning how to find the area of basic and compound/composite shapes”. I don’t know about you but it wouldn’t fill me with joy and I enjoy Mathematics! There are ways to make this interesting but if you were an NQT faced with teaching this topic, a SOW stating Area & Perimeter is not all that inspiring.
On the flip side, imagine being given a question (or a problem) and being told “you will learn some techniques to help you answer this question by the end of the lesson or the end of the week”. This, would get me interested in pretty much any subject. “What am I going to learn?”, “What is this about?”, “How can that be right?”
Just teach them what they need to know.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when we need to just teach the required content instead of getting students to ‘derive Mathematical formula’, make ‘scientific discoveries’ or ‘search for historical facts’ on their own. These are the times when you, as a teacher, need to find that hook, find that something to draw them in so that they really remember your lesson. I mean, if they can remember psychological case studies, functions of an operating system for computing exams or any aspect of a topic that you have taught them, ready for recall, you my friend, have done an amazing job.
Now some of you will be saying that this all sounds very nice but should we really be changing our lessons with each teaching of the topic to make them more ‘jaw-dropping’? Hold that thought for a moment…
When attending a Maths Hub meeting just this month, I got into a discussion with a Head of Teaching and Learning and a representative from the NCETM and we spoke of teachers who change what they are teaching from one year to the next. The point being made was that…
…we shouldn’t change things too much as we are not teaching the same students each year. It’s always going to be new to that class.
Agreed…but we do need to tweak these lessons to make them even more engaging and jaw-dropping (if that’s at all possible!)
This idea of teaching students only what they need to know may seem, dare I say, tedious. However, we need these ‘standard‘ lessons intertwined with the ‘all singing and all dancing‘ ones. Why?
Because the out and out information giving lessons, allow students to grasp the fundamentals of the topic whilst perfecting their note taking and learning skills.
Because the lessons of exploration and intrigue give teachers to opportunity to wow their audience, allow students to develop resilience and hone their problem solving skills.
Working with other subject areas (…are you mad?!)
This cross curricular malarkey is often spoken of and many see this as a great idea, whilst some see it as a sort of elusive wizardry. There is often the opportunity to link lessons or at least align parts of the SOW across subject areas, but this is rarely done.
This year, I have had quite a few conversations with a Science teacher whom I share some students with. The majority of my year 9 Mathematics set is in his Science class. It began with us discussing strategies for improving behaviour for learning but then led to us talking about the topics that we were teaching. Quite coincidentally, I was teaching substitution and he was teaching the class how to use a formula that week – bonus! The long and short of this was, my lesson on substitution was made easier because the students were able to ‘teach me’ the Pressure Formula and I was able to lead a lesson with a memorable hook (Ice Road Truckers – thank you @AlexJFirth – he has other such lessons on TES e.g. X-Men Selective Breeding). The lesson was great! The students had the opportunity to consolidate what they had learned in Science and feel good about their work in Mathematics too. There were even some amazing presentations from group; even the quiet ones.
Another cross curricular link, inspired by @MrDayMaths was that of the Penrose Triangle. We had Year 7 students draw the Penrose Triangle on Isometric paper as part of their Mathematics lesson. With hindsight this could have been extended into Art and Technology; What other impossible constructions can we draw? Is it even possible to build this impossible construction? Take a moment and consider the consolidation of learning taking place, over the days and weeks. The possibilities for cross curricular links, team teaching and learning are endless…
“When will I ever use Algebra?”
Firstly, I would advise that a teacher doesn’t start the series of lesson by saying, “…today we will learn Algebra; the x’s and y’s…” or worse still, the a’s and b’s; “…a is for how many apples we have and b is for how many bananas, bugs, balls…” please don’t. This leads to problems when teaching some students in year 10 and year 11, oh and this drives us teachers of Mathematics crazy! Instead, consider introducing a problem by why of a question or real life scenario. It will take a bit of preparation but will be well worth it.
The following is borrowed from an American school, where the teachers (D., & K. O’Connor) are introducing Algebra to 11 year olds. This is an excellent example of introducing a topic by why of a problem and drawing out what the students already know. It is also a challenge for many students in that age bracket;
You are a professional basketball team’s (WNBA or NBA) leading foul shooter. You make an average of 50 foul shots per season. Your manager has been presented with two contract scenarios for your season bonus. One is a flat bonus for each player (B = $5000). The other is given in the form of an algebraic equation, B = $3000 + $100(x), where x is # of foul shots made in the season. Your manager claims he can’t do math and is freaked out by seeing the letter in an equation. Because he doesn’t understand the algebraic equation, he is not sure which scenario earns you more money. Since he is intimidated to discuss the formula with the letter, he plans to go into your negotiation to accept the flat bonus. He wants to know if this is OK with you.
This is just the start of a problem that runs over two weeks (click here for details of the full project; Intro to Algebraic Thinking – Patterns & Variables). It involves the use of Sports, Mathematics and English to clearly communicate the best option for the W/NBA player to earn more money. Students need to justify their answer to the aforementioned problem in different ways:
and graphical representation
Even if students are not sports fans, it is an accessible problem, it engages most, enables the teacher to stretch the more able and allows for a slightly different take on what most students see as a confusing/boring topic. A learner tends to be engaged in interesting lessons and as such, these interesting lessons should sprout from a creative and inspirational scheme of work.
With the changes to the new curriculum and more emphasis on students being able to apply their learned skills, we need to look at what we can do to improve our SOW. We must ensure that it is fit for purpose, that it contains well thought out (& planned) links with other subject areas and is full of resources that stretch and challenge all students. Most importantly, it has to be a document that inspires us as teachers, to deliver the best lesson that we can teach.
It’s all well and good having a massive SOW for each year group but don’t let the pages and pages of words, limit the lessons that your teachers plan and deliver. If you are really struggling for ideas, have a look on the internet, attend Teachmeets, visit other schools, enlist a consultant, speak to someone at your local teaching school. I would suggest the first port of call always being a conversation with a colleague. Speak to your trusty and enthusiastic PGCE students (&/or NQTs) who have come out of university with fresh ideas and ‘new’ resources that they may have acquired on recent placements. They may have an amazing set of resources that you haven’t seen before.
So yes, get that long term plan sorted, make sure your scheme of work is clear and give your teachers the opportunity to be creative. It will be hard work but you will not be disappointed with the results.
Teachers of numeracy and Mathematics, if you need a scheme of work or ways to improve your own, take a look at Kennys Pouch. It’s free, covers KS1 to KS5 and has links to suggested activities for many topics.
This post has come about further to me making improvements in my own teaching practice. Do not expect an exhaustive list of approaches that you can try; that is not what this post is about. This is a reflection of an ongoing piece of work that can be applied to any subject area but here it has been done with reference to Mathematics.
The project that got me thinking
As part of my role as a Specialist Leader in Education (SLE), I had the opportunity to work with other teachers (Primary & secondary) on a Mathematics project. The aim of the project was to identify ways in which we (Maths teachers) could support students in the transition from Primary to Secondary; a difficult stage for many. We met, we talked and we shared our thoughts on how best to support students through this transition. Over the course of six months, our focus shifted more and more towards book work. There was something happening with the students work between the time they left primary and the few months later when they joined their secondary schools. Some students, whose work was always very tidy, suddenly lost that beautiful presentation, the layout became odd and at times, the Mathematics presented to teachers was “mathematically incorrect” (Prof. Ros Sutherland University of Bristol).
An aspect of the project involved all of us pairing up and visiting each others school to observe teaching, to speak with students and to look at books. As I teach in a secondary school and all of the support that I provide as an SLE is with secondary schools, I was paired with a primary school and it was a fantastic experience (Knowle Park Primary School – this is content enough for another blog so I shall not digress!).
The students’ books certainly had an impact on me. The majority were consistently tidy, there was formative feedback, students had assessed their own work, it was well presented and (…wait for it…) the work had been marked regularly; on a daily basis. This immediately got me thinking ‘when did these teachers find the time to mark each book, every single day?‘ and then I thought ‘why can’t we do this at secondary schools? what is the limiting factor? is there a limiting factor?‘
How often do you mark your books?
Okay, I’m going to take a step back for a moment. I’ve been teaching for few years now and have seen different ways of marking applied to students’ work. Furthermore, there is little sympathy for Maths teachers if they dare moan about marking. I’ve heard many a teacher say;
Oh you’ve got it easy. It’s just a case of ticking the answer to let them know if it’s right or wrong. It’s just numbers and there’s not really much to mark, is there?!
(If you do not teach Maths, please go and have a look at the books of students in your Maths colleagues’ classrooms…you may well be surprised).
Up until last year, I used to work in a school where students checked their own answers (or completed peer assessment) each lesson as there was a ‘no marking policy’ for students books; this was and still is an Outstanding school. In contrast, I now work at a school where there is a marking policy and the frequency of marking varies from subject to subject (and most likely from teacher to teacher).
I should have been providing formative feedback when marking and this should have been happening bi-weekly. My students knew this, I knew this, my Head of Department (HoD) knew this and the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) who would routinely conduct a book scrutiny, certainly knew this. The majority of staff in the Maths department could do this, so why couldn’t I keep up? Why was I the black sheep of the Maths department? (no pun intended. If you’re reading this you’ve obviously seen my profile picture) Was it due to the fact that for years I didn’t have to do this style of marking? Was it down to having a particularly heavy workload with me taking on two new roles and moving to a new school all at the same time?
I’m still not entirely sure why I couldn’t mark books effectively but a combination of the above and my dislike of marking, certainly hindered my progress in this aspect of my teaching practice. Things got bad when I had two students from my year 9 class ask me when I was going to mark their books. Then I felt doubly awful because students in my year 10 class asked what I thought of a particular piece of work they had completed in their books; I later saw that it was amazing, it was a week old and I hadn’t even seen the results of their hard work in their books! I felt like a bad mum to my little ones
I didn’t like this and having been a student myself (some time ago), I know I would not have accepted this; something had to change.
How do you mark your books?
I spoke to other members of the Maths department to identify what they were doing and how long it took. I even spoke to teachers out of my department to see if there was anything that they were doing that I could apply to my marking – nothing different here.
It took me a long time and a lot of messing about but I tried a few things;
Marking in green pen – a big no, no. Students use green pens to respond to your comments; use red.
White feedback sheets – This was no good as students wouldn’t always notice the sheets in their books and as such were not spending any time reading formative feedback nor assessing their work.
Yellow or Green feedback sheet – better because students could see them and no that they had to respond/assess their work.
P+ P- Px – improved the presentation of the work but content was really being marked.
RAG123 – The usual Red, Amber, Green rating which is quick to do.
Taking this a step further I looked over some of my books for inspiration. The Lazy Teachers Handbook by Jim Smith has an entire chapter dedicated to marking (Marking RIP! The Lazy Teacher Shows you How) and reminded me of some basics but these were things that I was already doing and some were taking ages. e.g. planning appropriate work for marking, being consistent, using symbols, getting students to peer assess first and so on.
Inside the black box by Black & Wiliam looks at formative assessment and although seemingly obvious, it clarified my thinking on marking and got me headed in the right direction;
Feedback to any pupil should be about the particular qualities of his or her work, with advice on what he or she can do to improve and should avoid comparisons with other pupils
Furthermore, so that assessment is meaningful to the student and productive, they state that;
…pupils should be trained in self-assessment so that they can understand the main purposes of their learning and thereby grasp what they need to do to achieve.
This training to which Black & Wiliam refer, is that consistency of approach, not continually trying new things with a class (I am guilty of this!). Students, (like so many teachers who are not leading lessons in mathematics) assume as I said earlier, that marking in Maths is a case of a tick here and a cross there and that’s it. If it was that simple, how could students learn to improve upon what they have already done? If the answer is wrong and there is only a cross on the page to signify the error, that student may not spot where they have made a mistake. As such, the formative dialogue is still required and I would argue that the increased frequency of this dialogue, gives us Maths teachers a better chance of identifying misconceptions and getting students out of bad habits quickly.
So what have I done? What’s working for me?
The solution for me and my classes is a combination of a formative feedback sheet and the RAG123 rating (Red, Amber, Green 1, 2, 3); thanks @listerkev. Full details of how to use #RAG123 can be found here and a video showing RAG123 in action can be viewed here.
At the end of each lesson (no more than 2-3 minutes), each student looks at their work and decides what their rating was for the lesson using the criteria below:
e.g. G1 – I tried really hard today and I am confident enough to explain it to someone else; G3 – I tried really hard today and I really struggled with this – HELP!; R2 – I wasn’t really trying today but I understand most of this…and so on.
Encouraging students to leave comments with their ratings is tricky with some classes however, some have taken to doing this. They seem to be more comfortable doing this as they know that feedback is pretty much unique for each of them. It is a perfect approach to marking for me, as I can see what my students have done, I can help students better understand any areas that they ‘didn’t get‘ in class and direct them to the correct level of work for the next lesson. Subsequently, this approach better informs my planning as I am aware of when to move on, extend time on a topic or try a different method.
There are a considerable number of examples of this style of marking on the internet (do a quick search or click here for results on Twitter). Here are a few examples of the quick RAG123 marking (I will add further photographs of my students work on my return to school in term 6).
In conclusion…a work in progress
To conclude, I have to say that I am a happy bunny. I am able to sit down at the end of each day and mark the books of every student that I have taught. My students are happy with the way I am marking their books and they are pleased with the regularity.
I was dubious at the start of this little experiment because I thought students might over/under estimate their level of understanding. Furthermore, I thought they were all going to put ‘Green’ for effort but I am pleased to say that my students have been honest and are getting better at effectively assessing work. It has certainly helped with the presentation of the work and the concentration (and behaviour) of some students – they know I will see their work in detail later that day.
This may sound very cheesy but I am proud of the turn around I have made in this part of my teaching practice and I am very proud of the improvements that I have seen in my students work…
There were ten workshops and I led one of them with Tom Leahy (@MrTLeahy a fellow Maths teacher). The idea for running our workshop on Differentiated Homework came about due to us considering the differentiated lesson. “We differentiate in lessons so we should differentiate homework…right?” Right!
How can we as teachers insist upon differentiating our classwork and feel justified in giving the entire class the same piece of homework? It can become boring for the more able, consistently annoying for those who are finding the work challenging and it can be boring for the teacher too! To an outsider, it may seem strange that we are not differentiating homework, so what’s happening? Why are we all giving our students the same homework? Let’s consider the “Why? How? & What?” of this homework scenario…
On paper – Will the students (claim to) lose their paper work?
On-line – Do students have access to the internet at home or at school?
What are the next steps?
How can you maintain this level of homework?
How much effort are you putting in when setting and marking the homework?
How can you ensure that your students learn from the homework and not end up with lots of pretty displays? What level of feedback/marking is the most effective (#Takeawayhmk – how can you fairly assess the homework…see Marking #TakeawayHmk part 1; part 2 coming soom.)
Another aspect of homework to consider is how you talk about homework to your students. Some teachers refer to this as practice as opposed to homeworkand as such, this can affect the quality and quantity of homework that is received. For a slightly different perspective, watch this video clip of Rick Wormeli talking about Homework vs. Practice.
ConclusionThis workshop was a challenge to prepare but fun to run and differentiated homework will be an ongoing project for me. I intend to trial more approaches to differentiated homework (see Marking #TakeawayHmk) but in the meantime I will try to convince other teachers to do the same. With this in mind, I expect differentiated homework to be a way that students can experience an appropriate level of challenge in their work outside of the classroom…practice or homework; what ever you choose to call it!
Why did I decide to do a micro-presentation about an ordinary pack of playing cards at the Never Stop Learning Hub Teach Meet last week? (which, if you missed it, was an amazing event!) Well, similar to other educators, my motivation was a student.
A few years back, I had a student who was adamant that they could not multiply numbers (well, they said “I’m rubbish at Maths and I’m no good at timesing” which I occasionally hear…when did saying “times” become the norm? I digress…). I wanted to find a way to help without the student feeling singled out AND I didn’t have loads of money to spend on resources. An ordinary pack of playing cards was the solution.
I instructed the student to remove the aces, picture cards and all of the number tens. Then we sat down in Maths Club and started practising…
5 Hearts x 3 Clubs = 15
9 Spades x 2 Diamonds = 18
6 Clubs x 4 Spades = 24
…until we got through the pack of cards. When we got to the end, we shuffled the cards and started again. Not knowing what combination of cards would come up next, made both of us concentrate. As we got through the pack of cards a third or fourth time, there was an immediate improvement; it worked!
Ever since that afternoon, I use playing cards with students who really struggle with multiplication (most households have a pack). I tell them to practice at home with their families, in front of the TV with their friends or on their own.
Playing cards in lessons
At the Never Stop Learning Hub Teach Meet I made a quick demonstration of what I’ve discussed above, with some rather large playing cards and the help of two handsome assistants (the inspirational @MrOCallaghanEdu and the motivational @ActionJackson – thank you gents!).
As this was not a Maths event, I had to make sure that I had an Ace up my sleeve, some way of showing that playing cards could be used for more than arithmetic and probability in Mathematics lessons. I showed the audience how they could use playing cards in MFL lessons…
…so, I say to the audience “…get the students to pick a card, for example, the 9 of Hearts and tell your student to say what they see or get them to make a sentence that includes that item.” Easy! It doesn’t take long to set up a grid like the one above, it’s just a matter of finding the right images. The beauty of this is that you can use this grid across different subjects and key stages (e.g. Science, Psychology, Geography, Physical Education and so on)
So that was it. That was my 5 minutes of fame…pow! amazing!
Don’t reinvent the wheel…Ideas for using playing cards in lessons
So instead of wasting time making lots of resources, adapt my blank grid, use one of the resources below or just search the internet. Don’t bother buying new cards, just collect any old packs that you find; even if one or two cards are missing…it really doesn’t matter.
I hope you enjoy the resources and consider trying playing cards in your lessons this week. If you find or make any resources for playing cards in lessons (any subject), please share this with me, via the comments below or on Twitter #PlayingCardLesson. Thanks for reading.
At the moment, I have to say that I really like #TakeAwayHmk (@TeacherToolkit). A colleague and I are in the process of trialling this at our school and in a few days, we expect to receive some amazing pieces of work. This post is the first of two and for that reason, it’s a relatively short one.
The Why, How and What of homework.
Why do I set homework? So that my students can consolidate learning, prepare for lessons, check understanding…
How do I set homework? Dependent upon the topic it might be a piece of on-line homework, it may be a question to ponder in readiness for a class discussion or it may even be a traditional worksheet! Our homework policy requires that Maths homework is set weekly and like many teachers, I try my best!
What are the outcomes? A selection of homework ranging from a scrap of paper with some answers to some beautifully presented pieces with worked solutions.
Consider #TakeAwayHmk and the possible rise in the quantity and quality of homework that a teacher receives. Some students will produce animations, others 3D models and some may even produce a really neat set of revision cards or a booklet. So how do I fairly assess this work? I need a plan!
Now this is where it gets interesting. I’ve had the lesson with my class and have collected all 32 pieces of homework. I’m poised for the epic session of marking…
Do I give one mark for each key word?
Should I mark down poor spelling?
Is the quantity an issue? (Will a student get a higher mark because they’ve produced more work)
Should I award a particularly able student top marks for a piece of work that is very good but not challenging enough for them?
Conversely, should I award marks to a student who I know has tried really hard but has not quite produced the goods?
What do I do?
I’m interested in finding out how teachers assess the #TakeAwayHmk that they have set. So my question to you is this; How are you marking your #takeawayhmk?
If you or a colleague use #TakeAwayHmk, it would be great if could leave a comment with what you do or send me a direct message via Twitter @sporteredu . Either way, thanks for reading and please look out for #TakeAwayHmk Pt 2; The meat on the bones! By then, I will have presented at a TeachMeet, conducted some more research and will have had many discussions with teachers; definitely more meat!
Writing in Mathematics as opposed to Literacy in Mathematics, is my focus here. This post is not a rant but instead a reflection on my expectations of students work. Recently, I was observed with a particularly able Mathematics class and as a result, an area that I need to work on is feedback and bookwork; ensuring that my students writing is good or better! My aim is to share my thoughts and search out ways of improving writing in my lessons as well as the lessons of those teachers who I support in my home school and in the wider setting of our learning federation. “You write like a toddler!” Sounds like a comment that a student would teasingly say to a fellow student, right? Wrong! These were the actual words that fell from a colleagues mouth (or should I say, crashed into the room) and still reverberate in my ears today! This response was given after a year 11 student bravely went up to the board to label a set of axes. My first thought was this, ‘give the kid a break!’ and the second was ‘does it really matter as we can all read it?’. I know that I would not have made this statement, even if that was what I was thinking but does this mean that I have low standards? Has my level of tolerance changed since working with children? Are my expectations of writing lower because I teach Maths and not English? I’m going to consider this and and break down my thoughts for you. Research – Students thoughts on writing Some students struggle to write and I’ve witnessed pages in Maths lessons where the writing is oversized or ridiculously small. “What is the research evidence on writing?” by the Department for Education is a good read and looks at whole school approaches, intervention and gender differences too. The following table is from this report. The fourth item was of particular interest to me as a teacher of Mathematics “A pupil who writes well gets better marks than someone that doesn’t“. I tell students that the examiners don’t know them and that they need to ensure that their writing is clear but they don’t all listen. I’m starting to think that they do listen and they just can’t help themselves; this is their best writing. But should I or an examiner be marking them down for the way that they form their ‘a’ or their ‘9’? I hate to say it but it is going to happen if the work is not legible. Do you really hold your pen like that? I’ve seen students holding their pens as though they were in the midst of hollowing out a pumpkin or stirring a bowl of soup but they are still able to write legibly. So does it really matter how you hold your writing implement? Having thought about it over the past few days, I’d say yes. I say it matters because this may lead to problems and injuries with these students hands, arms (and posture) and could lead to students not being able to sit through the marathon exams (1 hour and 30 minutes or more, of diehard writing). Poor writing technique has got to be similar to the effects of having poor posture, which most of us correct in students “don’t slouch”, “try to sit up straight”, “…don’t bend like that or you will hurt your back!”. I can’t remember saying “don’t grip your pen so tightly!”, or “make sure you thumb is lined up with you forearm”, to a student. Should I, as a teacher of Mathematics be looking out for these things or even making students aware by mentioning this to them? To be honest I don’t know. If you are interested, RJBlain provides photographs and details of what you should look out for.
I remember having handwriting lessons when I was at junior school but nothing at secondary. I imagine it’s the same now (primary teachers please correct me if I’m wrong), where students are taught how to hold a pen in KS2 but by KS3 if they have not mastered it, not much time (if any) is allocated to this skill. If you have students (or your own child) that struggle to hold a pen/pencil comfortably and you don’t know how to help, visit Draw Your World. They have useful information on what to do as well as tools to help improve writing. ModellingWhen I first started teaching, one of the things that really let me down was my board work; it was a mess! Whatever, I was thinking and deemed important for students to get into their books, I would add to the board …”don’t forget to put this down too”. I remember clearly when things changed. My university mentor (an amazing lady and educationalist; Laurinda Brown) had visited me at one of my placements to observe a lesson. We were reviewing the lesson and she asked me to get a few books. I didn’t see where she was going with this until I looked at the books and then looked up at the board…you guessed it. The students had copied the board to their books and it was not good. Consequently, I regularly step back from the board to ensure my work looks tidy and on occasion will sketch out what I intend to write if I’m using two boards (whiteboard and projected images). By ensuring that my board work looks good, I expect my students to follow my lead, but my recent observation flagged this. How can I get my students to write better and make their work more presentable? Should I really push for all students to have the same style of writing? Some primary schools insist on students taking one square per digit / letter in their Maths books.
Each digit and letter needs to be two squares high please, anything else is unacceptable…I will be checking and measuring this with a ruler!
I will continue to request and expect a high standard of layout and presentation from my students but I may have to steal/photocopy a few pages of work to display as exemplars. Hopefully this will prompt other students to get their work to a similar high quality. So to conclude…Practice makes perfect; students need to write daily. I will make writing an integral part of my lessons and persevere when the class moans and groans “…but Miss, this is a Maths lesson NOT an English lesson!”. I need to practice (or should that be practise with an s?) my writing on paper and guarantee that when I give any written feedback in my students book, it is legible, even when I am tired.
Wish me luck in my next observation; I expect my students books to be…
This post was inspired by “What’s the best way to teach vocabulary?” written by @Mr_Bunker_Edu. I’m procrastinating whilst marking books and this post made me think about how I introduce key words to my students in Mathematics. For the purpose of reflection, I’m just going to think out loud on this one, so please excuse my, not so perfect writing style.
The more words my students can read and understand, the more complex and challenging texts they can access
The above quote is taken directly from the aforementioned post and I feel it applies across the board, albeit Maths, English, Science, PE or any subject. Some folks would question the need for students to understand complex words in Maths because Maths is all about numbers right?! Wrong; we use words too!
In every Maths lesson I get students to read their answers to the class, read questions / statements to each other and expand on what the previous person has said – one of my favourite things to do! This helps to remind me of a students ability to read whilst allowing me to gauge the level of differentiated task/activity that a particular student should be working on. It also provides an opportunity for students to lose their inhibitions in class and gain the support of their peers. Generally speaking, students don’t laugh at their peers if they can not pronounce a new word, they will actually say it for them, help them out. Reading together, part of a question at a time, can really focus learning too.
If we think about this in the context of an exam question, the problem becomes apparent. If a student is able to read and understand the examination question, they will know what the examiner is asking and they have a good chance of actually answering the question; as opposed to laying out a short waffling sentence and a string of numbers in the hope that some combination will be correct. This may seem like common sense as many students can read the examination questions but unfortunately, they hit a hurdle when it comes to understanding and interpreting the questions.
The same is true of any classroom textbook. Some books are more suited to students with a higher reading age and others have much less text, more pictures/diagrams and simple questions. Key words tend to be highlighted, in bold and usually in a box somewhere on the page (not all Maths textbooks have a glossary).
If students struggle to read, then they have very little hope of interpreting the question, knowing what the examiner is asking them to do. So, with my teacher of Mathematics hat on, how can I help my students to understand the question? How can I help them to interpret this problem? They need to understand what words mean. And, they really need to understand that some words sound the same but have a slightly different spelling (e.g Compliment and Complement)
In Mathematics lessons at our school, key words are introduced with the learning objectives and returned to throughout the lesson.
I have had conversations with staff at different schools, who think that this form of mild immersion leads to students knowing and understanding new key words but this is superficial. Having the words displayed on the board and around the classroom is excellent, but can tend to become a form of wallpaper; the students see the words but they do not think about the meaning of the words. Displaying key words is useful in the short term, but can be useless in the long term unless they are reinforced and regularly revisited
I have found that the following works well for me and my current classes;
Having a Q&A session or plenary to check understanding
Encouraging students to use these key words when making their own questions, as part of assessments.
The above, can lead to a greater depth of understanding, both in terms of the key word and in terms of subject knowledge. These methods may not necessarily work for all teachers nor for all classes. However, these methods can work for students who have weak literacy skills.
This is the part of Mathematics that you either love or hate, can do or are simply scared of. If (you or) your students’ numeracy skills, ability to manipulate numbers / equations, level of reading and understanding is excellent, then you are in a position to tackle some of the most challenging problems (www.Brilliant.org). Take a look at this problem from the UK Intermediate Maths Challenge 2013 which is aimed at students in years 9 to 11:
Irrespective of the Mathematics involved, you will notice that if you do not understand or know the words congruent, trapezium, parallel, diagonal or ratio, you are already experiencing problems. Even if you are able to ‘do the Maths’ (simplify a ratio or express the shaded section as a fraction), with a limited vocabulary, you will struggle. Can you see what I mean?
Soooo, problem solving, the higher level work in Mathematics, the Gold or Platinum level of worksheets, is only really accessible to students whose reading and comprehension is very good. Is that really right? I can’t say with 100% certainty that this is true but I have noticed that the students I have taught who struggle with problem solving nearly always need the problem broken down. This is where those long weekends come in handy…ah yes, the time we have to devise a set of worksheets with more clues for some and less clues for others; differentiation! (This is another discussion that will simply run and run…)
All teachers need to find ways to support each other when helping students to be the best that they can be. In English or History for example, a student could be asked to “…draw a graph showing the mood or intensity of the story as it proceeds” (pg 97 Dr L Walker) to incorporate numeracy.
In PE a student may be asked to complete written work using connectives and sentence openers to guide them;
With all of this in mind, I’m thinking about the ways in which I can support my colleagues in the English department in broadening the vocabulary of our students. For starters, I need to increase my vocabulary and understanding of words, as well as give the students the opportunity to do more writing in Mathematics. Next week I’ll get students to be creative and write a short story using key words in an attempt to help them remember and understand. I think I’ll even get them to write numbers as words instead of digits, because they need to (and it often comes up in exams!)
It’s one thing to have a little song to help students remember a formula but we, as teachers need to consider looking at the etymology of words every now and then. We should also try to find a few more interesting stories to keep them hooked, help them understand and ultimately expand their vocabulary.
If you have any quirky (or not so quirky) ways of introducing and helping students understand key words in your lessons, please share. I’m always keen to try something new.
As Lead Practitioner, part of my remit is to share resources/ideas and generally help raise standards of Teaching and Learning in the Mathematics department (ultimately, I’d like to do this school wide but hey ho…one step at a time).
I’ve been toying with the idea of having a check list for students in lower ability classes and when it was mentioned at our last Maths meeting, the team seemed to like the idea. Not just for lower ability but for all classes; laminate, stick on tables in Maths classrooms, the usual stuff. This is something that we are looking to do to help our students be responsible for their attitude to learning (ATL) and ensure they remain focused in lessons.
Below is a draft, version 1, the bones of the idea (I promise I will make it pretty!)…
To have an outstanding lesson, I need to;
Get my Maths equipment ready (including my planner)
Complete the starter (if I’m stuck I need to ask someone near me)
Listen carefully to instructions
Write the TWWL and the date (underline them)
Copy important notes and highlight key words
Attempt all parts of the question (get involved in the activity/task)
Check that my answers make sense
Keep listening for any new instructions
Ask questions (this will show that you are listening and thinking!)
Review my work (or review my friends work)
It would be great to know if anyone is already doing this (or something similar) and what impact this is having. I think it is something that can be used across subjects and not simply limited to Mathematics. I will update this post once the check list has been trialled and I will share what has happened in our classrooms in the New Year.
There have been some great #Nuture1314 posts by English, PE and History teachers, but I’ve not seen many by the Mathematicians. This is my second blog and I’m a Maths teacher and hopefully, this will be one of many. I’ve got to say that it’s not been as easy as I thought. Here it is…
New Year – New school, students, colleagues, job role and responsibility. Pow! Hit the ground running? Understatement. I have been busy every day but it’s been rewarding.
Students – Even though I have been one of many Maths teachers for most of my classes (since I started in January 2013), I have gained the trust of my students. It’s been up and down at times but they know that I care, they know that I’m fair and best of all (as far as they are concerned), I’m prepared to have a sing and a laugh.
Gaining accreditation as a Specialist Leader of Education (some of my colleagues laughed and thought I was mad to want to take a position of responsibility with no payment). It has been hard work but I’ve enjoyed it. There have been a lot of opportunities to work with teachers from other schools and in other subject areas – this has helped me grow as an individual and as a teacher.
Starting a new job as a Lead Practitioner in Mathematics in a new school. This was a little scary as I knew what was expected but was still struggling to get my head around what to do on day 1. Having to hit the ground running and share ways of improving Teaching & Learning, has been a challenge. I’m getting better but I can see where I need to improve.
Working outside of my comfort zone (well, outside of the Cabot Learning Federation). I was nervous, I didn’t know anyone but I ‘performed’ well. I’ve run workshops before and since, but I’ve always presented to Secondary School Mathematics Teachers. Researching and delivering a workshop on Behaviour for Learning to Primary & Secondary Teachers and across varied subject areas actually wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.
Workshops for the CLF – Led three different workshops in one day (with the support of my Principal, a Vice Principal and a Head of Science, I did it!)
Getting involved in a research project. At the back end of 2013 I got involved in a research project funded by the NCETM. It’s been good finding out what differences there are between the teaching of Mathematics in Secondary Schools as opposed to what my colleagues are currently doing in Primary.
Never Stop Learning – @MrOCallaghanEdu asked me if I wanted to work with a team of Pedagogy Leaders and I said yes. It’s his baby, his brand and a great idea. I can’t wait for the Genius Cafe and the Teach Meet in 2014 @NSLHub. Thanks for introducing me to Twitter and Blogging…
Twitter – I kept saying that I’d look into it and I am glad I have. It’s been good to share and obtain tips from other like minded individuals. It has provided some great links to resources, blogs and more.
Blogging – I can’t say that I had planned to do it but it has made me think carefully about my views, what I want to say and not what others think I should be saying. I just want to keep writing…yup, I know, it doesn’t sound like a comment a Maths teacher would make.
Coaching & Mentoring – Amidst the myriad of tasks, I am an NQT mentor and a coach for a PGCE student (via a Teaching School). There have been tears, a firm word here and there and some advice that has been passed along but I think that my two young ladies are doing an amazing job (I’m just their sounding board and little tweaker).
Smiling and saying hello – This has been a habit of mine for some time now but it’s not something that everyone does. It’s been good bringing a little cheer to someone’s day and besides, most people can’t resist smiling back (try it!).
Husband – Okay, so this is the one that is the most important. He’s still here, still supportive and my best friend! We can even talk Maths together and he’s not a Maths teacher…now that’s grand!
14 Hopes (including a few promises to myself)
Husband – Spend more quality time with the chap…yes I know dear, just one more lesson to plan, just need to finish marking these tests then I’ll be ready…
Weekends & Half Term – I must stop, gather my thoughts, breath and relax (must remember number 1!).