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What’s working in my classroom at the moment?

Two things have led to me writing this post.  Firstly I attended the excellent seminar last night organised by Teacher Development Trust and Teach First on The role of lesson observation in England’s schools and secondly I read a blog by Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison).

At last night’s event Professor Coe (@profcoe) spoke in detail about evidence on how (un)reliable lesson observations actually are (for more info see here).  During the presentation he showed this slide:

CEM Lesson Observation 13Jan14

From this research the most alarming part is the quality (low) of instructional support. Professor Coe spoke about the support teachers get at the beginning of their careers and how the focus is often on classroom organisation (behaviour management) and emotional support.  Both aspects being easier to identify in a classroom.  This started me thinking about my own practice when working with other teachers, especially those new to the profession.  I do a lot of coaching which means I generally work in a way to explore what the teacher prefers as opposed to me recommending a certain approach.

As we know teaching is a complex job and to break down exactly how and why I teach students topics such fractions or equations as I do would be difficult as the knowledge I have of my students plays a big part in my planning.  What I have learnt over the last 10 years is not easily imparted because if I’m honest I don’t think I’m exactly sure.  A while back I read the American Educational Research Journal titled “The Influence of Teachers’ Knowledge on Student Learning in Middle-School Physical Science Classrooms.” you can read more about it here although I’m afraid I can’t find the research article. The gist of it was both students and teachers sat the same multiple choice test. The only difference being that the teachers had to also circle the most common wrong answers students would give.  The results showed that students of the teachers who knew the common mistakes showed the most improvement.

This changed not just my own teaching but also how I work with teachers.  When discussing plans I ask them what they think the common errors would be and how they will address these.  I also like David Didau’s (@learningspy) ‘break the plan’ (read about it here).  If they have thought about what could go wrong they should be more prepared.  I also recommend some of Doug Lemov’s techniques such as to practice before you ‘go live’. But is this good enough to improve instructional support?

Secondly I then read this post by Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison) – things that make you go hmmmm... He concludes with how ‘There seems to be a growing number of teachers who are seizing the profession back by doing what we know works best in the classroom and encouraging others to do likewise – based on experience and research based evidence’. This got me thinking about what my current practice is and whether it is based on research based evidence.

I have always been a reflective practitioner and have done small action research projects with my classes but do I really know what works best?

So I thought I would write about what is working in my classroom at present:

  • Make the implicit explicit  – when I model how to answer a maths problem I verbalise all the thoughts in my head. I can’t quite believe how long it has taken me to realise how important this is.  Did I previously think my students were mind readers? Was I unlucky not to be told to do this in the early stages of teaching?
  • I train my students to ask 3 questions before asking anyone for help:

‘What information has been given in the question (which is important/of use)?’

‘what are you being asked to find?’

‘What knowledge do you have that will help you work it out & how will you go about this?’

Part of the training involves me asking ‘what question am I going to ask you?’ ( I stole this from John Mason). The ultimate aim is for them to only ask me questions which they genuinely need help with.

  • Give time to struggle – allowing students the time to struggle with a maths problem is vital. If they become dependent on asking for help too quickly they miss the opportunity to make sense of their new knowledge.  Encouraging a growth mindset and resilience is key.
  • See the thread of learning – If students understand how facts link together rather than in isolation their memory works better and avoids cognitive overload. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Daniel Willingham’s ‘Why students hate school’ to further my understanding of cognitive science.

In a few years time will I be blogging about my current practice as something that makes me go hmmmm…


First Blog – Flipped learning in my classroom

I finally decided to try it.  I’d read plenty of blogs but never been fully convinced.  How could I balance discovery based learning along side the video text book that flipped learning seemed to offer?  I’m passionate about students becoming confident with mathematics and believing they can go on to explore other aspects within and beyond the curriculum.  Sadly this doesn’t happen anywhere near enough and I seem to find myself in front of a class where at least one student has been tutored and can spout a formula they don’t really understand.

So why the change of heart? I was introduced to which seemed a simple way to get students started. Secondly @DaveAshtonCPD has created an excellent document detailing ways to handle flipped learning. I decided to give it a go with trigonometry.  First I would spend a lesson with 9×1 looking at the sides of a right angled triangle and the relationship between them for a given angle.  I knew there were a few students in the class who had come across trigonometry before but at no point in the lesson was it mentioned.  For homework they were asked to watch one of @hegartymaths videos –

I planned the next lesson with caution. I couldn’t be certain how many would really have watched it so I needed a back up. The starter was a question they couldn’t have answered without watching the video. Surprisingly (for me) the atmosphere in the room was full of energy with lots of discussion about which trigometric ratio to use and a concensus was reached on the correct answer.  Next they had to discuss in pairs 3 things they had learnt from the video. A few had chosen to take notes but not many. Of the 30 students only three hadn’t watched it and two of those had been absent the previous lesson. I put these students together so that I could hlep them directly but next time I might chose to pair them up with others who had studied the video.  Each table of 6 were given a variety of questions to answer (they could chose the level of challenge).  As we have white boards all around the room students were able to write their answers up once they were sure. This allowed others to question or challenge anything they were unsure of.

As I observed their work during the lesson I was pleasantly surprised by the level of work the class produced.  Quieter students demonstrated an increased level of confidence by tackling the more challenging questions and became much more vocal when discussing their working out.  One of the weaker students who worked from the easiest through to medium challenge turned to me and said ‘I can do this miss’ with a big smile on his face. The two highest achieving students explained how the first lesson had ‘helped make the theory from the video make sense’. Another said he’d need to go back to the video and rewatch as it seemed really complicated although he was able to answer a variety of questions in class.

Would I do it again?  Without question but not every week. I think the planning was key as I’d been able to set the flipped learning at just the right point.  I think my class learnt a lot but just as importantly I learnt a lot about my class today.