Strategies  to enhance independent learning in Mathematics for Key Stage 4 Students

A CPD Project by Elena Oates (Mathematics)

1.    Details of project.

The idea behind these three short projects, was to promote and enhance the independent  learning skills of key stage 4 students in anticipation of their GCSE exams and as preparation for  further education. Three strategies were chosen and tested throughout the Faculty in order to compare the effectiveness against key groups (Boys, Disadvantaged and Grade 4/5 borderline)

These projects were;

  1. The introduction of Personal Learning Checklists (PLC’s) after every assessment (both in class and formal).
  2. Key Stage 4 course files with lessons focusing on exam technique.
  3. The set up and introduction of a faculty google site.

2.    Personal learning checklists

The introduction of ‘Personal Learning Checklists’ is not a revolutionary concept but brings the onus for the  improvement of skills back to the student. After each assessment, the students were given a topic breakdown of each question and instructed to traffic light the checklist in response to the outcome of their work.

The initial set up of this for the teacher is minimal as those who were creating the assessment put this together.

The impact of this on the student differed from group to group.  Boys who were motivated to do well benefited from the PLCs as it guided their revision.   If the students were not motivated or were disaffected with their progress then this approach had limited impact for them.

This may be due to a lack of revision or re-evaluation, before using the PLCs, the students were at least directed toward the skills they needed to revise. Without the skills to properly learn from this however, the students were just completing ‘busy’ work rather than being effective.

Those who had already obtained more ‘independent learning’ skills however, thrived with the direction towards specific topics and saw an improvement from assessment to assessment.

3.    Key stage 4 course folders and exam technique lessons

At the beginning of the year, each key stage four student was given a file along with a work book to use on a day-to-day basis. The file was split into the four main aspects of mathematics with a section at the back to keep any prior assessments.

One lesson a fortnight was then dedicated to ‘exam technique’ lessons, both in Years 10 and 11. Students were given copies of past paper questions, based on a variety of topics already covered. The idea was that this would keep the information clear in the student’s mind and help them with skills for sitting exams. This is something that most students admit to struggling with.

The question was projected onto the board and each student had a directed amount of time to work in silence to complete the question with whiteboard pens on the table (one mark per minute). This was adapted in some instances to be half in silence, half partner work.

A model answer would then be explained to the class detailing how to answer the question appropriately and where the marks come from. Students recorded the model answer.  These were then filed under each aspect of Maths, used for future revision or in the case of lower ability classes, open book mocks.

The preparation of this strategy was by far the most time-consuming of the three but in my opinion one of the most effective as all pupils in the groups benefited from the activity.

As Maths is an exam based course, the students rely solely on how they succeed in the exam. The more exam type questions they can apply their understanding to the better, as they experience how to apply the skills and knowledge they know.

From the students’ perspective, most classes this was trialed with agreed that it was a good exercise and wished it could be undertaken more frequently.

4.    Introduction of Google Sites to the faculty

Although the students have access to a plethora of resources online for mathematics, sometimes it is this abundance that makes it hard to know where to start.

Consequently the mathematics faculty agreed to combine all of our resources into one place that the students could access across the school.

Putting together the Key Stage 4 part of the site was part of my action research and although it has been established, it remains a work in progress.

Due to a change in examination board, a page was set up to show the students’ route map through the course. This was included so that both students and parents could see what they were learning and how everything linked together.

With the introduction of Year 10 knowledge organizers in the 2018-2019 academic year, a portion of the website was dedicated to contain the information that would go into these.  As the new course that our key stage 4 students are undertaking is a modular based course, each unit was given a knowledge organizer and determined by tier. These were uploaded so that anyone now interested in the new GCSE course (Years 9 through 11) have access to it, not just those trialing the physical knowledge organizer.

As the site continues to develop, the intention is for it to grow to include route maps, schemes of work, past paper questions by topic and potentially past papers in their entirety.

The initial workload of setting up this site, although it seems daunting, is more about organisation of the resources being uploaded. As the site was created through Google, the site itself was easy to put together, it was just the planning and collection of resources that took some time. Obviously when done once, this is an easy task to maintain.

As the site was completed towards the end of the last academic year, it is not clear yet how effectively it is impacting upon students. As a department we are directing them more to the site as a resource hub when not in school. I would theorize that the greatest effectiveness will come from when the site has been up and running for a few months.

5.    Next Steps

Of the three strategies, the one I found to have the greatest impact, both for myself and the pupils, is that of the Key Stage 4 folder and exam technique lessons. This is something I intend to keep in my practice due to it’s effectiveness in helping the students in their exams and also how beneficial it is to use with groups of all abilities.

The Personal Learning Checklists are also very beneficial and will continue to used and be linked to our new online resource of ‘Hegarty maths’. Each question on a PLC will be linked to corresponding online lessons. This will further benefit the students by directing them even more directly to an effective resource. The success they feel from this should then promote their confidence in  learning independently.

The faculty site will continue to grow, with more resources being added to it. As students are directed to the site, the effectiveness and impact for the students should hopefully increase, promoting further independent study.

In supporting key groups of disadvantaged boys there is no simple solution to helping them to succeed and a combination of different strategies is needed based on what is most appropriate for your student cohort.  Sometimes it is the strategies that work for all, such as the exam technique lessons, that have the most benefit for disadvantaged boys.  The timing of the introduction of each strategy and the length of time pupils have to become familiar with its use are also key factors.

Featured image: ‘Calculator’ by Kaboompics on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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