@SPorterEdu

Teaching, Learning & Research

Posts tagged ‘Education’

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!

Artwork by Hugh MacLeod (Gaping Void) and Bob Marshall - www.rafamontoya.com

Artwork by Hugh MacLeod (Gaping Void) and Bob Marshall – http://www.rafamontoya.com

Reading

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)

Key Words 

Make a high scoring Maths word

Make a high scoring Maths word (thanks @tombrush1982)

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;

  • Returning to key words in later lessons (useful when “Cold Calling” – see Teach Like a Champion Technique 22 – Doug Lemov)
  • Using the words in mini spelling tests
  • Creating word-searches (occasionally)
  • 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.

(see “The essential guide to lesson planning” by Dr Leila Walker for further hints and tips)

Problem Solving

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:

Solution can be found at www.ukmt.org.uk

 

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…)

In conclusion

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;

Helping learners with weak literacy in PE

Improving literacy in PE

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.

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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.

Watch this space…

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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…

2013 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!)
  7. 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.
  8. 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…
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).
  12. 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!).
  13. 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)

  1. 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…
  2. Weekends & Half Term – I must stop, gather my thoughts, breath and relax (must remember number 1!).
  3. Time ManagementThis is my first blog and pretty much covers what I’m thinking “How-much-time-do-you-need?“.
  4. Homework – Be consistent in setting it for all of my classes.  I must try #takeawayhomework with at least one of my classes.  This is one of the great #100ideas by @TeacherToolkit – still reading)
  5. Speaking – I know that I come across as calm, collected individual but I want (and need) to be a truly confident speaker…I was always a quiet child!
  6. Primary Schools – As part of the NCETM research project, I have been paired up with a primary school in Bristol and we will share teaching experiences as well as visit each other.
  7. Students – Continue helping/guiding them on their journey to being amazing.
  8. Read – I want to read more!
  9. TV – watch less of it.
  10. Bicycle – I have a beautiful bike, I love riding it and need to make sure I either get out on the roads or use that BKool Trainer that I bought last year.
  11. Teach Meet – Attend my first Teach Meet
  12. Twitter & Blogging – I must not give up.
  13. Paper – Make more shapes
  14. Christmas 2014 – Be prepared.
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Yes, that’s right; How much time do you need?  Not how much time do you want or think you should have but how much time do you actually need?

I often hear colleagues talking about not having enough time to get the job done.  I’m guilty too!  Moan, nag, blah, blah…I have to do this…and they want me to do that…and…and… blaaaaah.   How many little jobs  could I have completed in the time it took me to stop and complain about a lack of time?

As I was saying… how much time do you need?  My time management skills need improving but I realise that I need a good work/life balance too.  Sometimes I think about what I do on a regular basis and how to best plan my time.  As a consequence, I can get bogged down…

  • attend one or two meetings of some description
  • conduct lesson observations
  • give feedback
  • mentor NQT’s
  • coach colleagues
  • ‘facilitate’ network nights
  • lead CPD
  • do a bit of shared planning
  • teach Mathematics
  • run workshops with fellow SLE’s (Specialist Leaders of Education)
  • work with students in the Maths Support Club after school
  • ‘chat’ with students in the corridors during break , lunch and after school (a very important part of my job!)
  • research and read up on Teaching &Learning literature as part of my role as a Lead Practitioner
  • and the usual bits and pieces that every teacher does

Once I’ve completed majority of the aforementioned tasks, it’s usually time to relax; have some dinner, maybe watch some escapist nonsense on the television.

So what’s the solution?  Get better at saying no?  Stop making lists that never get completed?  Don’t check emails?  This is not really feasible.  I don’t have the solution but here are a few ideas that might help you along the way.

Self Help Books; Get suggestions from colleagues, as you will find that quite a few of these publications are filled with what some would call “common sense”.  I recommend “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.

Non-Contact Time;  If you have a heavy teaching timetable, use your non-contact time efficiently.  Book a meeting with yourself!  Make sure the meeting title states what you need to in that time (e.g. Write Y10 reports; observe PGCE student).  I know it seems obvious – “efficiently” I say.  I know that I could could cut down on the staffroom visits, general procrastination – you know what I mean.

Lunch time;  Fortunate enough to have a 40, 50 or even 60 minutes lunch break?  I would question whether you need the entire lunch break to socialise and eat your lunch (Okay, so I’m being harsh.  Some people need the entire lunch break).  If you are really short for time, why not use half of this time to prepare resources, write some praise postcards or even mark a few books.

Before or After school; You don’t have any meetings booked and there’s no CPD tonight.  Come in a little earlier or stay a little later (do not do both) so that you can schedule a bit of lesson planning, marking or simply read that thing that you have to read!

Other Peoples Time; Members of SLT, Heads of Department and individuals in similar positions have the luxury of delegating tasks if they so choose.  I would like to think that I can call on colleagues to help me out if I’m really struggling, however, I’m still pondering sideways and upward delegation…not sure how I feel about this.

At Home?!  Remember your Work/Life balance and the fact that you need to charge your batteries.  Let’s be realistic, all teachers work from home at some point in their career, on a regular basis and most likely every week or weekend.  If you have young children wait until they are in bed before you do any last minute work.  Don’t have kids?  Go out with friends or get a hobby (next term, I will take my own advice!)

Well, it seems as if I have actually taken my own advice and have found a new hobby.  Although I am old school, I still feel new to teaching and this is my first journey into/onto the “blogosphere”….this is the problem with being a Maths teacher; Sphere? I’m starting to think about round things and circles and that time I went to a Chinese restaurant where I had a square Nasi-Goreng Parcel on a circular plate and I wanted to set a question up for my students, so I…

I think I’ll save that one for another day!

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