## Consistency, Humour, Well planned Lessons and Plenty of Challenge.

The following is based on real events, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Today a colleague asked me: “Russell Dunbar, you teach him right? Do you find him apathetic, lazy and a bit of a disruption.” To which I replied, “No, he works really hard and is one of the top achievers and hardest workers in the class.” At first the colleague in question thought I was being sarcastic, but after my insistence for a while, and the interjection of another colleague who has been into a few of my lessons with Russell’s class he believed me. So his next question was “how have you managed that?”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. Russell is a bright lad, and for the past three or four half terms he has been a complete superstar, but if I go back to sept, he was quite a challenge to have in lessons. I’ve been trying to work our how I turned it around, in order to help my colleague have similar success.

(To give you a bit if context: Russell has just gone into year 11 (we move up at springbank). When he was in year ten I split his class and had them twice a week, now I am their sole teacher. The class is set 2 of 7 and their year group is our smallest. Their targets range from C to A. Russell was in the top set in ks3 but was moved down a couple of sets for behavioural reasons by a previous administration. He has now been moved up to mine, and is really excelling. I hope he will continue with maths at A level.)

I thought about what may have caused this. I set out my expectations and standards with the class and every time these were overlooked sanctions were enforced. It was a consistent approach. I also used a lot of praise with the class as a whole and they are all now working really well. With Russell though, and a number of the others in the class, I think that banter has played a good part. They are a class I can have a joke and a laugh with, they know they can have a joke and a laugh with me, but they also know what I expect from them and what they need to do in my lessons. The climate in the classroom during this class’s lessons tends to be fairly relaxed, but full of pupils who are working hard on quite challenging maths. They enjoy the challenge and are now quite motivated.

Consistency, humour, well planned lessons and plenty of challenge, those are the key elements I put into that class. These ingredients mixed with a superb set of pupils make their lessons the highlight of each day.

Consistency, Humour, Well planned Lessons and Plenty of Challenge.

These were the four things I suggested to my colleague to help him win Russell round. I also think that, in general, these four things will help with any class. That’s not to say I think this is the magic formula to make every lesson go amazingly well, but I think it is a good starting point.

## Lunchtime Maths!

Yesterday two colleagues and I attended a training course at another school quite a distance away. The course itself wasn’t particularly good or useful, but it did leave us with a few ideas to ponder and try as well as a few recommendations of books to read on educational research.

One of the ideas that we left with came from a throw away comment by one of the people leading the course. He said: “children want to do things. Leave some work out on the corridor and they will pick it up and do it. Try it.”

So we did. We were all free before lunch so we selected a number of maths puzzles we would normally use as lesson starters, placed them on all the tables in the canteen, took up a spot on the balcony and watched. The results were quote astonishing.

Firstly the year 8’s arrived. Many of them picked them up and started working on them, big groups congregated and started discussing them, coming up with strategies to work them out. A couple pit some in their bags for later. The groups weren’t just the ones you would expect either!

The next groups to arrive were years 9 and 10, they also were intrigued and started looking at them, less of these year groups actually took out pens to have a crack, but some did and plenty still had conversations about them. One group of boys from my year ten class, who can be quite challenging, had a long chat about one and asked me later about it.

The last year group to arrive were year 11, most of them headed straight outside to enjoy the sunshine but the ones who stayed did look at them and attempt them.

We were delighted by the way the experiment went. Hundreds of pupils were either doing, or talking about maths! What a result! We intend to try this again from time to time next year.

## Effective Group Work

Last night I attended Teachmeet South Bradford at Appleton Academy and saw some superb presentations. There was one given by Andy Sammons (@amsammons) in which he was discussing independent work. He mentioned that he gives his pupils ten “sammonspounds” per group at the start of a lesson and tells them they can buy ten minutes of his time with it, but that’s all they get. This gives the groups drive to be more independent and to save their time until they are really stuck and have devised good quality questions to ask him. You can read more about the topics Andy spoke about on his blog here) This is a great strategy and got me thinking about the ways I have tried to do group work . It reminded me of one method in particular that I have used a number of times to great success and I wanted to share it with you here.

The first time I used it was with a Y11 class in my NQT year, they all had C’s already in maths and were not very motivated to get B’s. I had taught a topic on Pythagoras and trigonometry and I wanted to do a consolidation/revision lesson on it. I set the room up for grouped tables and assigned them groups on their way into the room. I selected groups so that each of the groups were evenly matched and assigned team captains, envoys, timekeepers and finance managers. It was the captains job to take a deciding vote on any decisions, the envoy was in charge of discussing with other groups, the timekeepers were in charge of ensuring they were not running out of time and the finance manager was in charge of the “money” (in this case counters!). I gave each team a float of 20 counters.

The task itself was an exam paper question based relay, there were some really easy questions, and for each one of those the teams completed they gained 5 counters, they went up in difficulty and there was 10 counter questions, 15 counter questions and 20 counter questions. The teams were told that they could buy my help for 8 counters, or they could buy help from other teams at an agreed fee, but I gave a suggested value of 4 counters. At the end of the lesson the teams cashed up and the winning team received a prize.

This worked well with that first class, they were all shrewd with the questions and only purchased help if they really needed it, it helped with independent thinking. I have now used the set up many times (not always with the same activity) and it does work. It engages them and makes them think for themselves more. And on top of that it is fun for tem and me and some teams get really competitive!

## One year on….

This time last year I was expecting the birth of my daughter. It was her due date, although she didn’t arrive for a fortnight. Towards the end of the day I had taught my top set year 7 class about Pythagoras and wrote this blog before heading to a team meeting.

I set up the WordPress as I was really enjoying reading other teachers blogs and gaining a lot of ideas from them. I hoped that by writing my own I would be able to pass on my ideas to help others. That first post was a short one, and I didn’t write my second until December! I didn’t know how the blog would evolve or what I would post about.

One year on my posts can mostly be defined into four categories.

**Pedagogy **

Posts can be found here

These are posts about the teaching of maths, including reflections of lessons and ideas on feedback, marking, vocabulary and other such things involved in teaching the greatest subject there is.

**Resources**

Posts can be found here

There is some cross over here, but the resources section holds links and reflections on resources I have developed and/or used in lessons.

**Education Policy**

Posts can be found here

These are posts looking at the education policy in the UK and often include my ideas of how I would like to see it improved.

**Commentary**

Posts can be found here

These are post which involve my reflection on the wider life involved in schools, they include posts on school productions and other such things. Including this post that I wrote after seeing one of the most amazing productions I have ever witnessed.

I have enjoyed blogging this year, and hope to write many more as I continue to develop my own classroom practice. And for those who were wondering, the Year 7’s did manage to work it out.

## Constructing Triangles

“Constructing Triangles” is not one of my favourite topics to teach. There is the niggling fear that one of the boys may stab another (this has never happened while I’ve been teaching, but I remember it happening on more than one occasion way back in the 90’s during my own schooling!) and there is the fact that pupils seem to think that using mathematical instruments is licence to chatter more. Neither of these, however, is the reason I dislike it. I enjoy teaching some construction, I like having lessons on using compasses, giving pupils licence to create patterns with them. I like getting the class to draw scale drawings involving construction. I like teaching Loci and other applications of it. It’s specifically the triangles.

The reasons why are numerous, but they boil down to two things: “I can’t see why it is important,” and “I can’t see any creative way to hook pupils in.”

**I can’t see why it is important: **

I understand the technical skills involved are important for many jobs, such as architecture and others in the design and building industries, but the explicit construction of triangles isn’t. Pupils need to be able to draw and measure angles using a protractor, pupils need to be able to use a pair of compasses correctly and pupils need to be able to draw and measure straight lines accurately, but never, past their GCSEs will they be asked to construct a specific triangle.

**I can’t see any creative way to hook pupils in:**

I taught this yesterday to Y8 and I taught it in a similar fashion to the way I had done before, we practiced drawing angles, I gave them an ASA triangle and asked them to have a go. The more able worked it out and so I had them talk me through how to do it on the board for the rest of the class to do it then we worked a few out. I then repeated this for SAS and SSS.

The class already had the technical skills needed (i.e. to use a ruler, a protractor and a pair of compasses) and so it was about how to apply these to a triangle construction. I don’t think the lesson went brilliantly well, to be honest. By the end of it all pupils could construct all types of triangles and most of the class managed to figure out the challenge of “construct and angle of 60o” when I took away the protractors, so they all made the progress I wanted, but the lesson was a little messier than I would have liked.

I think that next time I will try to incorporate these constructions into a wider skills lesson. I find that for boys, getting them to construct a scale football pitch can be a good hook for constructions, so I need something similar that will work to hook the wider demographic. Any ideas/resources would be very much welcomed!

## Engaging with Written Feedback

During February the #blogsync topic was on engaging and motivating pupils. In school, as a department, we were looking at ways to engage pupils with written feedback and to motivate them to interact with that feedback and attempt the challenges set. I figured that these two things would dovetail nicely and the idea behind this post was formed.

Much has been written on written feedback before and if you are looking for ways to improve your own I would highly recommend reading the four posts on the topic written by Mark Miller (@GoldfishBowlMM on twitter) they can be found at http://thegoldfishbowl.edublogs.org/category/feedback/ . I would also recommend this by David Didau (@learningspy on twitter) http://learningspy.co.uk/2013/01/26/work-scrutiny-whats-the-point-of-marking-books/

Within our department we have been developing our strategy on written feedback over the last few years, and around Christmas-time one of my colleagues came up with a way to personalise feedback and set questions on a computerised from which could then be printed and used as a starter for the next lesson with the class. He also set it up to include pupil’s names via a mail merge. This would provide the pupils with feedback on their work and set them a challenge which either focused on a skill they were struggling with or set them a challenge which would push them to the next level. Our marking usually ties in to the mini assessments, so these would tie in there as well. Before this we had been using marking stickers that had a box for students to comment in on it, but this was replaced by the question. Here is a picture of the previous sticker (the size would be 1/4 of an A4 page):

And here is the new look one (A5):

I wanted to run a check on the effectiveness of the new system, so prior to switching I surveyed three of my classes with the following question:

“On a scale of 1 to 5, where one is the lowest and 5 the highest, how much does marking of books help you with your maths.”

I had all responses from 1 to 5 and the mean was 2.7 (1dp), unsurprisingly my top set year 8 had a mean of 3.5 which was much higher than the other classes.

I ran with the new idea for a term and re asked the same question. The results were slightly higher, this time the mean was 3.2 (3.9 for said year 8 class).

The data suggests that there is an overall increase in engagement with written feedback. I looked through some of the slips to see if anyone had drastically changed, and there were a few people who put 4’s that had put 2s, and a few who had jumped up one, so I asked them why they thought their perception of the helpfulness of marking had changed. There were two main answers that they all seemed to give a variant of. “Because it’s much easier to read when it’s typed,” and “There is a question to do”. During this time my HOD did a marking scrutiny and commented that my marking was much easier to read when typed, so I have taken this on board and intend to use consistently in future. Most of the team are using it now and we are going to implement it across the whole team next year to bring consistency to our marking.

I’m under no illusion that these surveys constitute *concrete proof* that the new marking strategy has improve the engagement with the written feedback in my classes, but all pupils are now answering the questions which certainly shows they are reading it. This is different to before where the higher ability pupils would write excellent comments, the lower ability pupils would write something like “thanks” and middle ability pupils would not write anything. The effects seemed to be higher on lower sets than it did on higher sets, but this could related to the fact their baseline was much lower. I hope to repeat the survey at some point next year with my classes to see how the data looks after a prolonged period of using tis marking strategy; this should give me an idea of the long term effects.

**In conclusion:**

The evidence suggests that the new strategy has increased engagement within the sample. This is because the feedback is easier to read and it includes something for pupils to attempt, rather than to just read. This is enough for me to decide to continue with the strategy.

## Observing, and cross-curricular ideas

This week has been a good one. It’s been the last real teaching week before summer, as next week is ICE week (Immersion Curriculum Enrichment week) which means we are off timetable doing a week of activities around a theme. The theme this time us the environment, and the activities look to be fun. One of my favourite bits about ICE week is the chance to do something different and hone my teaching skills in an unfamiliar situation, but more on that later.

Back to this week. We have had most of our new staff in this week, including one of the new NQTs who I am mentoring. I am looking forward to the role of mentor, and have now informally observed him twice. Already there has been a marked improvement and a response to advice, which is pleasing. I was a bit worried about observing in this capacity but the mock observations project I completed with my PE colleague earlier this year and the ITT student observations I have done definitely helped. I also gained a good insight into my own teaching by observing and there are always bits to pick up.

Also this week I completed a joint observation with my HoD on a colleague who was kind enough to volunteer. Again this was unofficial and the purpose was so she could check my ability to grade and give feedback. This was great, my confidence as an observer was boosted as she picked up on exactly the same positive points and areas for development that I did and we agreed on the grade. I also learned a lot about giving feedback and she gave me some great pointers in that respect.

There were also tons of things from the lesson that I picked up, my favourite being this: During a traffic light show me activity he put three wrong answers up. The majority of the kids chose the nearest one and some assumed they must be wrong. This was a superb discussion point and there was some real good contributions from the class. I was unsure if he had done this on purpose, so asked him afterwards. He said that he had in this instance and often does this because he did it once by accident and the results were great. I think this is a superb idea that I will use myself.

Also in Thursday I observed a new y9 science lesson. A couple of my form were in the class and have been in trouble a bit in science so I went to see how they were and offer assistance if required. The lesson was on penguins (always a winner) and cooling rates and included an experiment where the pupils were simulating the huddles emperor penguins stand in to keep warm. It was good fun and the difficulties some members of the class had with graphing made me think that as a maths department we need to embed this skill better in KS3. It also got my brain flying about cross curricular lessons with science on graphing and I hope to implement those next year.

This is one of three cross curricular projects I have in the pipeline, all of which excited me. The second is with an English colleague (@goldfishbowlMM) and involves looking at “The maths of Shakespeare”, and is very exciting. The third is once that a music colleague has suggested to me and involves trying to help improve the times tables of our pupils using the medium if hip-hop!

With these projects and mentoring an NQT, next year is looking incredibly exciting already!

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