Which aspects of “the Lazy Teacher’s Handbook” would develop learning (and teaching) in Mathematics?

An Action Research project by Julie Silk (Mathematics)

Reading time: 6 minutes

Objective:

To develop a range of teaching techniques that focus on less teacher and more pupil work and activity.

Background:

“The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook” is a great name to attract any teacher, who, like me, would like to do some research but is not sure where to start. Being lazy quite appealed and as there was a small group of us who could share the reading I felt this was even better. We split the book into sections, went away, read our bits, came back and reported on the parts we really liked and what we fancied trying. Our group was made up of four Maths teachers, a Science teacher and a Music teacher.

Throughout the research time we met up regularly to discuss ideas we had tried and how this had impacted on learning. This often led on to others trying the same technique with either a different aged class or in a different subject area.

By the time we were to present our findings we were in a position to do this in a “lazy way”. During the 30 minute presentation to colleagues we only spoke 3 sentences to explain each task they did and to answer questions at the end. They, however, did lots!

Context:

The “lazy” part of the title is actually a little misleading as most teachers would expect. The lazy part is what the teacher actually does in the classroom and how by doing less in the classroom the pupils actually do a lot more. Planning is key and FOCUS is the biggest change that I noticed in my practice.

Actions:

Since September there have been a number of suggestions from the handbook that I have tried, most of which will become ingrained in my teaching. I have listed below the strategies/activities/changes I have made and the impact I have seen:

‘No standing at the photocopier photocopying’

Reducing the time (and the cost) I spent photocopying was the first idea I really liked. Why do they need a worksheet? What’s wrong with putting it on the board and they work from there? By going from a worksheet to a presentation also meant that I could think about differentiation on one slide which started the pupils making more challenging choices (and they really did, they didn’t want to do ‘core’ if some of the others were ‘experts’). At the end of the lesson I wasn’t throwing away a lot of paper, or even worse, trying to store it for further use, or much worse, having exercise books that looked like scrap books with a hundred bits of paper glued in.

‘Move from What to Why’

A slight change from what are I/they DOING to WHY am I/they, had by far the biggest impact on my lessons. I have removed all time fillers; no longer will a word search feature in my classroom. I am not there to entertain them or perform a solo act. This is their learning; they need to be actively involved at all times.

‘Don’t do it if they can’

The hardest part of not doing things if they can, is actually stopping myself from speaking or doing. It comes as second nature after the years I have been teaching to put out books, hand out equipment and, even at times, saying the answers for them. Stepping back and waiting or asking them to do something to help requires self-training. Also, not repeating their answer with an improvement but asking them for the improvement.

‘Silent time/ question asking restrictions’

Having definite time for not speaking works really well as long as a time limit has been placed on this activity. For example; “Look at the questions on the board, you may not speak for 2 minutes. Either answer the questions or write down what is hindering you from answering the questions”. This is then followed by the ones who couldn’t start asking the others for stepping stones. Giving pupils a series of questions but telling them they can only ask you for help once promotes peer assistance. They will ask a friend or even volunteer help to others rather than use up my help on the same question as someone else.

‘Feel good Friday phone call’

This is an extension of a ‘5 positive to 1 negative comment’ policy.  To start with I would select three pupils from a class and phone home at the end of the week. The pupils were told at the start of the week it was their turn and then their attitude and effort decided the conversation I had with their parent. After two terms I switched to only making positive calls or sending postcards to the best in the class each week. Word very quickly got around and pupils wanted to know who got the contact home.

‘What do you want to mark?’

Focus on WHAT you want to mark, explain it carefully to the pupils, and ignore everything else. What actually can the pupils mark themselves, what are they getting out of the marking you are doing? Pupils actually learn more from immediate feedback and that requires them checking the answers leaving you free to do the more meaty stuff that will move them forward. They are also good at knowing what they need to do next if trained up from the start, after all they are the ones who got stuck, went wrong or coped with all the extension work.

‘Know it, share it’

Know it share it. For a while now I have had as my extension task, ‘Teach this to someone else’. I explain to the pupils that there are four stages to learning maths

  1. Try it
  2. Do it all correctly
  3. Master it
  4. Teach it to someone

I firmly believe that this will secure learning and promote understanding.

Conclusions

A lot of the suggestions in the book I had already tried or had embedded in my teaching, without really realising it. Having read the book it reminded me of many things I do automatically or had done and should do again. The new ideas I have trialed and loved are going to be used again this year but this time with all of my classes.

Next steps

As a Head of Faculty I am going to share all ideas discussed with the faculty and make them part of our ethos (along with the recommendations of the other three Maths teachers who also undertook this research).  At this rate we may be the” laziest” department in the school…but with the hardest working pupils, I do hope so!

Sources /references

“The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook” by Jim Smith, Crown Publishing

Featured image: ‘Cat’ by katya-guseva0 on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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