Using Social Media to Help Pupils’ Prepare for an Exam

An Action Research project by Nicola Osman (English)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Choosing a focus

Teenagers spend an awful lot of time on social media and we wanted to see if we could harness some of this time and energy into encouraging them to revise. It seemed important to me to ensure that I used the sorts of social media that my students were using on a day-to-day basis and tried to respond to their ideas about what would work.

To begin with, I spoke to students in my class about the sort of thing they thought would help them. They gave me a number of ideas. They were keen to have a group on Facebook as they said it would be easier to ‘find’ the stuff, rather than having to scroll through all their feeds. A number of them felt that the Faculty youtube (StBernsEnglish) channel would be a great resource as they could follow links from there to any available information.

Initial actions

With the consent of my Head of Learning/Line Manager I set up a school-based Facebook page with my surname as a first name and my subject as the surname (No other personal information was shared or accessible to pupils).

The first thing that I wanted to help my students to do was to revise Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I was also rereading the book and revising myself. Every evening, I would read a chapter of the book. Then I would put a post on facebook, reminding them of the content of the chapter and making a link to the ebook version of the chapter, a youtube video of someone reading the chapter and a youtube video of someone’s analysis of the chapter. As time went on, I began to make the summary of the chapter that I posted more detailed as I realised that pupils were more likely to read what I had written than to follow the links. Pupils told me that they did not find this particularly helpful – I think there was too much for one evening’s revision for one subject.

Having tried these initial revision strategies, I felt that I had a sense of what the pupils would find useful: they wanted bullet pointed information and not too much to read. Pupils in our school were given a revision schedule for their English Literature exam. There was a key question each week from one of the key texts that they needed to revise as well as one or two poems. Using this schedule, I set out a plan for the posts over the final weeks of revision. Each week, I tried to post ideas that would help the pupils to answer the question posed for their revision or, if they were revising a poem, some of the key revision points from the poem.

The first post of the week was always a reminder of what exactly they were supposed to be revising.

Fig 1

Figure 1: Weekly reminder

I would then try to bullet point a plan for the question in a second post.

Fig 2

Figure 2: Weekly bullet points

In subsequent posts, I would go into more detail about each bullet point, explaining the relevance and including supporting quotations.

Fig 3

Figure 3: Individual bullet points

Fig 4

Figure 4: Quotations example

I tried very hard to bullet point the information and keep posts as succinct as possible, although this was challenging given the scope of the exam questions students can expect.

Fig 5

Figure 5: Theme with bullet points

Other Strategies

In reviewing the facebook page, I found evidence of other strategies I’d tried. Megan Poore in her book ‘Social Media in the Classroom’ said, ‘The trick is to design teaching and learning tasks that demand deep, considered engagement with a topic, as opposed to surface occupation with a technology or tool.’ In order to ensure that pupils were engaged with the posts, I created a closed group intended to provide a safe space for students to comment and engage in the learning.  Access to this was limited to members of my class who had to request membership of the group to join, so that I could ensure that no other person had access to any of the group’s messages or details.   In doing this, I ensured that the e-safety lead in my school had access to this group as well so that, whilst it was a closed group, I was making the conversations available to another member of staff so that there were no ‘private’ conversations between my students and me. Then I posed questions or asked for supporting quotations. The idea being, that pupils would respond and actively contribute to the learning online.

Fig 6

Figure 6: Examples of questions posed for pupils

The difficulty was that students were not prepared to comment, even in a closed group. In the example above, four or five students had read the post (admittedly not many) but none of them replied. My speculation was that they did not want anyone else to see them being the ‘keener’ who replied to the teacher’s post. Another explanation would be that they wanted to be passive users of facebook, to have a look at what I had to say but not wanting to be actively engaged themselves. Retrospectively, I would like to have included some feedback on this particular issue in the closing survey. This dramatically altered the way in which I used the facebook page, however, as there were no opportunities to assess, respond to ideas, share different perspectives or give other constructive feedback – or other good things that happen in a classroom. The model, therefore, became very information or lecture-based.

Analysis of feedback data

In total, I wrote over 200 posts, which amounted to a significant amount of time and effort. My concern was that the amount of time I was spending would not match the impact on pupils.

I surveyed the pupils in an anonymous questionnaire in which I asked them to be honest in their responses.

Year 11 were asked how often they used the page. The majority said they had used it sometimes. Of those who had never accessed the information, one did not have facebook and the other said that they did not know what to search for.

Fig 7

Figure 7: Year 11 Social Media Use

Year 10 were asked how often they used the page. There were a greater number who had only used it once or twice. However, the year 10 group was set up later than the Year 11 group so that might account for this response as pupils were asked to consider their usage across the year. More pupils in this group had never accessed the content – responses showed that they did not use or have access to facebook.

Fig 8

Figure 8: Year 10 Social Media Use

Those Year 11 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them to remember details. There were six negative responses – half of these said that it didn’t help them with what to write in the exam.

Fig 9

Figure 9: Year 11 views on the content of the posts

Those Year 10 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them with their weekly revision. They also responded strongly to the idea that they got something out of reading the posts. There were no negative responses from this group.

Fig 10

Figure 10: Year 10 views on the content of the posts

Pupils in Year 10 and Year 11 responded strongly to the statements that suggested they had accessed the post – in some way – but had mostly used other resources.

Fig 11

Figure 11: Year 11 Social Media Use of Revision Resources

Other findings

  • Around half of the pupils said that they had followed links shared
  • Around half answered ‘maybe’ to accessing the posts in another format, such as a blog

Further Actions

My second initiative was to summarise the content of the Year 10 lessons as I taught them to help Year 11 revise. Feedback from students was that this was better but when the mock exams came along, this was shelved as students requested more input on An Inspector Calls.

 

Again, I took up the challenge – trying to help them revise an entire text in a fortnight. I divided the text into sections and, using the revision book, began analysing the text. This meant writing four or five posts sometimes as I desperately tried to ‘reteach’ them the entire text. The result was that, whilst I had revised the text very well, the students said that there was too much information for facebook. I had also included links to youtube videos that would help them to revise the poems that they needed to learn. They said that there needed to be less content and suggested that I bullet-point the information and did only one post a day. This has led me to consider using Facebook to give the pupils some simple reminders that will pop up on their phones and have more detailed notes on another platform (i.e. blog).

One advantage of following these processes was that I now have very detailed revision notes on several of the texts, which I can now reuse for Year 10, although I am going to have to think very carefully about how I do this.

See the orignial blogs  at @englishrevisiononsocialmedia

Featured image: ‘Mobile phone’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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Using pupil workbooks and interactive PLCs to support learning

A Sharing best practice post by Daniel James (Computing and Business Studies)

Reading time: 2 minutes

The development of a structured approach to learning in GCSE Computing lessons came out of a detailed evaluation of students’ books, notes and revision techniques from the previous academic year. It was clear that there was, in some cases,  a huge difference between the quality of lesson notes and the pupils’ ability to find these notes and use them effectively for revision purposes.

It was from this starting point that we decided to create lesson booklets for all modules in the GCSE Computing course. This provides a structure for students when making notes,  removing the anxiety that some felt when they did not know what note to make in a lesson from all that they were being taught.

Structured Learning 2

Structure Learning

Figure 1 and 2:  Pages from the pupils’ workbooks

The lesson booklets also enabled students to find the notes they needed when revising more quickly and thus focus on undertaking the revision rather than trying to work out which of their notes they needed to revise from.

Along with the lesson booklets we have created end of module revision booklets that have a one page module summary sheet and then exam questions taken from previous exams (or the sample material for new GCSEs).  These support the revision process and ensure students get to the point of applying their learning to exam questions more efficiently, which is after all the ultimate goal in exam preparation!

Revision- notes

Revision- Exam Practice

Figures 3 and 4: Examples of revision notes and exam practice from the End of module revision booklets

This term we are introducing an online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist) that we have created to allow all students to RAG (Red/Amber/Green) rate their learning across the course.  This allows us as teachers not just to see how all the students in a class are doing but to tailor our revision lessons and final preparation to these needs in the run up to an exam.

PLC

Figure 5: Section of the online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist)

PLC- Analysis

Figure 6: example of the analysis section of the online PLC

Featured image: ‘Workstation’ by Open-ClipArt Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Common CC0

Developing a coordinated approach to revision for GCSE Science

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Reading time: 9 minutes

Objective: To develop and implement a coordinated faculty approach to exam preparation for GCSE Additional Science and students retaking GCSE Science.

Background:

Our school is a relative small secondary comprehensive school in the south of Bristol, with approximately 150 students per year group. Of these approximately 30 students will take separate GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics exams with the remainder taking GCSE Science and GCSE Additional Science.  Of these, most students will take GCSE Science in year 10, with the opportunity to retake in year 11 if necessary, and GCSE Additional Science in year 11.

In August 2016, we received the GCSE Science results for the 92 students we had entered in year 10. The results were disappointing.  Of these students fewer than 50% had achieved a grade of C or above and fewer than 40% had made expected progress. Although there is evidence nationally that students do less well in year ten, and there is an argument that students are not ready to achieve the grades of which they are capable in year 10, we had not previously found this to be the case. In fact, in previous year’s students had often achieved better grades in year 10 than they had in their GCSE Additional grades in year 11. Clearly there was an issue with the way in which this cohort of students had been prepared for these exams. As a faculty we needed to take a long hard look at ourselves and consider both the reasons for this underachievement and strategies we could implement to ensure that these students not only achieved more positive grades in their Additional Science exams, but also that those retaking achieved higher grades in GCSE Science.

Context:

At the start of term one we met as a faculty and had a frank discussion about the year 10 results and what we felt might be some of the barriers for our students. We also discussed the potential issues with some of our students.  Having done so, the consensus was that the issues for many students in year 11 fell into two broad categories, problems with retaining knowledge and difficulties with exam technique and applying their knowledge in exam conditions. It was clear that we needed a more systematic, faculty-wide approach to addressing these concerns. We strongly felt that we needed to develop a suite of resources which students and teachers could use both in class and at home, which would help to develop these skills. We also felt that it was important to ensure that these were consistently used across the faculty so that all students accessed the support in the same way.

We had many potentially useful revision resources at our disposal already and had been using these for a number of years to support student revision, but most had been used in a fairly ad hoc way. Part of the task would be to collate and format these in a way which would be accessible to students and to make them available in a consistent manner. I was also aware, through my links with other local Heads of Science, that other schools were in the process of developing similar resources. We were happy to share the resources that we were developing and were hopeful that other school would feel the same.

As part of the Action Research process in our school each member of staff was allocated Inset time, which they could use to visit other institutions.  As such, I used this time to visit another local school who I was aware, had successfully implemented a revision programme which had helped to raise the achievement of their pupils in science in the previous year. Having spoken to the member of staff responsible it was clear that they had used a programme of independent revision activities to help support their students’ revision and that this had had a really positive effect. I was keen that we adopt a similar system, but also that we had a consistent approach to in-class revision.

Actions:

As a Faculty, our actions fell in to three categories.

  • Interventions to support students retaking GCSE Science.

We decided as a faculty that it would be necessary to support students retaking GCSE Science or taking it for the first time, by using some of our curriculum time. As such I devised a schedule of intervention lessons for these students which I would run. To support this I wrote a revision booklet for each of their assessed units (Biology, Chemistry and Physics). This booklet consisted of a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), with links to the relevant pages in the revision guide, some brief revision notes, a mind map to support their revision and an exam question. Over the course of the year student received twelve one hour long revision sessions, and were set work from the booklets to complete for homework.

  • A consistent approach to supporting students in their revision at home.

As mentioned previously, it had become apparent that many students found it challenging to retain information and to recall and apply this when answering exam questions. We decided that we needed a consistent, faculty wide approach to addressing this. Key to this would be supporting students in their revision at home in a consistent was across the Faculty.

As such we decided that during terms 3 and 4, all students would receive weekly revision homework activities, one for Biology, one for Chemistry and one for Physics. These would be set centrally by me using Show My Homework and checked weekly by class teachers. An example of such an activity is shown below. When these were set, students were also made aware of the pages in the revision guides where they could find the relevant content.

TN - revision hw

Figure 1: Example of a science revision homework task

To help incentivise student take up, we ran a reward system where every time a student completed a revision activity, their class teacher would issue them with a raffle ticket. At the end of the process a draw took place and the winner received a free Prom ticket.

  • A consistent approach to revision in class.

As a Faculty we also felt that it was important to have a co-ordinated and consistent approach to in-class revision. We wanted to ensure that students had had the opportunity to cover all the course content, practice exam questions and to have the security of doing this in a consistent way across the Faculty.  As such, I wrote a programme of five Biology, five Chemistry, and five Physics revision lessons. These were delivered to all year 11 Additional Science students during term 5. These lessons all followed a similar format.

Firstly, students completed a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), to remind themselves of the subject content and to highlight the priority areas for revision. An example of this is shown below. Note that the PLC contains revision guide page references to help students access the correct information for their revision at home.

“Use the PLC below to help you to identify the content that you already understand and do not understand in this revision lesson. You will come back to this at the end.  At the end of the lesson the areas still highlighted amber or red need to be your priorities for revision at home.”

TN - PLC

Figure 2: Example of Personalised Learning Checklist used during revision lessons

Having completed the PLC, the class teacher would then use a Power-point presentation, to talk through and summarise the content covered by the PLC. An example slide is shown below.

TN - powerpoint slide

Figure 3: Example of a slide used to summarise learning in a typical revision lesson

The third activity in the lesson would then consist of students using the revision guides and the information they had just been given by their teachers to complete summary, knowledge based questions relating to the subject content. An example of these is shown below.

 Use your revision guide (F- p3-6, H- p3-7), your learning from the teacher’s presentation and your revision guide to help you to answer the questions below.

  1. Label these diagrams of cells: (plant cell/animal cell)
  2. Complete this table to give the function of the following organelles:
Organelle Function
Cell Membrane
Cell Wall
Chloroplast
Mitochondria
Vacuole

Figure 4: Example of a revision activity linked to a revision guide

Finally, students were asked to apply the subject content they had reviewed in the lesson and to answer an exam question.

Each student received a paper booklet for each lesson, which they collected in a folder. At the end of the term they took these home to assist with their final at-home revision.  All resources and activities were shared with students and parents on Show My Homework. Resources were shared between staff in our Faculty on our internal shared network.

Impact:

The table below summarises the overall outcomes in GCSE and Additional Science for the cohort of students involved in this project.

Subject %C+ Nat. % C+ %A/A* Nat. %A/A* Average  grade Target Average grade
Additional Science 57 58 4 9 C- C
Science 54 48 2 4.5 D+ C

Figure 5: table of GCSE results for cohort involved in this project

Pupils had achieved threshold outcomes (C+), which were above or extremely close to national averages. Although the overall average target grades were below the internally school set targets (based on FFTD), they are likely to represent progress which is at average or above national expectations. The percentage of students achieving A/A* was below national expectations, however we only have a small number of students targeted A or A* taking GCSE and GCSE Additional Science as most of these students were taking the Separate Sciences. It is interesting to note that Additional Science results were better than GCSE Science. These results are for almost exactly the same students, all took both GCSE and Additional Science. Although there are clearly many variables in play, not least the year in which the exams were taken for the majority of students, this does suggest that the Additional Science homework and in class revision programme did have some positive impact.

Twelve students, who were retaking GCSE Science in year eleven, out of a total of 45 (27%), achieved an improved grade in year eleven. This suggests that the revision programme for these students had some impact, although it did not lead to an improvement in grades for the majority of students.

Anecdotally, the vast majority of students questioned said that they valued the revision programme and found it useful; many were extremely enthusiastic about it. It was also interesting to note that those students who were most enthusiastic and who bought into the programme most fully, also seemed to achieve the best results. Obviously it is impossible to infer cause and effect here. However, detailed analysis of the results indicated that many of our targeted borderline students (especially on the D to C borderline), who had made their target grade had also engaged fully with the revision programme. It was also noticeable that these students were disproportionally female. Our results were significantly better for girls than boys, especially for middle ability students. It did appear that a gender difference in buy-in to our revision programme might at least partially account for this.

Conclusions:

  • Our revision programme ensured that all students had access to the same high quality revision resources and interventions.
  • This was well received and appreciated by the vast majority of students and parents.
  • There is some evidence that the programme lead to improved outcomes in Additional Science.
  • There is some, limited, evidence that the retake revision programme lead to improved outcomes for those students retaking GCSE Science.
  • Broadly, our revision programme seemed to benefit girls more than boys leading to on average better outcomes for female than male students. This seemed to be the case especially for middle ability students.

Next steps:

  • Update and revise the revision programme for the current year 11, for the new 1-9 GCSE.
  • Investigate the apparent gender difference in impact. How can we adapt the programme so that it is more impactful for male students?

 

Feature image: ‘Chemistry, Erlenmeyer Flask’ by GDJ on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

Developing strategies to promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy

An Action Research project by Kate Rolfe (Geography)

Objective

To attempt to develop a range of strategies that can be utilised in lessons to help promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy.

Background

The English Baccalaureate is a school performance measure introduced in 2010 that grades schools on the basis of how many pupils get a grade C or above in the core academic subjects at KS4 (Maths, English, Science, MFL and History or Geography). Option choices at Key Stage 4 have always been flexible in the sense that pupils are offered a variety of pathways and Ebacc subjects have always been promoted at the school.  However, the introduction of the Progress 8 Measure now means that all pupils must opt for at least one of the remaining core subjects outside of the compulsory English, Maths and Science (DfE, 2014). As such, the number of pupils opting for these subjects has increased which has impacted upon the profile of the pupils with a greater range of abilities choosing them at GCSE level. With the government’s commitment to making GCSE testing more rigorous it is important that such academic subjects are accessible to all. This is particularly true for Humanities and MFL subjects where the DfE (2016) have announced the intention that all pupils will take Ebacc subjects by 2020. For the Humanities faculty, this will mean that every pupil in the school will need to opt for either History or Geography and so a key area of focus over the coming years is to make these subjects accessible for pupils of all abilities. The key barriers to success in these subjects (as perceived by the faculty) are the retention of information in two content heavy subjects and proficiency in reading and writing. It is the latter which underpins the aims and objectives of this piece of action research.

Context

The focus of this action research is to attempt to overcome the barriers to learning for pupils posed by lower level literacy skills in academic subjects such as Geography. The group I will be focusing on is my Year 10 Geography group, in particular two pupils who are listed as SEN for low level literacy. These pupils are both entitled to a reader, scribe and extra time for their examinations and have both admitted that they would not have picked any of the Ebacc subjects outside of English, Maths and Science if they had an open choice due to the fact that “they are subjects with loads of writing”. Anecdotally, this could account for the fact that these pupils are the first I have taught in Geography who require this level of support in literacy as in the past, before the changes described above, it has been possible for pupils to avoid opting for subjects which involve ‘loads of writing’.  As discussed above, the avoidance of more academic subjects is no longer an option for these pupils and as this is the first year I will be teaching pupils who require extra support in the exams, I will need to reconsider my teaching methods to account for this.

Background Reading

Nationally and internationally there is a significant difference between the achievement of boys and girls attaining their expected reading age, where girls outperform boys at all levels and this gap increases with age. This difference is not due to genetic differences between the genders but rather social and cultural norms surrounding reading at home, role models, gender identity etc. (National Literacy Trust, 2012). With no national strategy for literacy, intervention takes place at a school based level and at times, especially in secondary schools, the responsibility for literacy tends to fall to the English faculty. However, the ability to read, write and express opinion is important in all subjects and a vital skill for pupil’s once they leave school. As such, the responsibility to develop literacy falls to all teachers in all subjects. Despite the fact that in their final exams the two pupils on which this study is based will have the questions read to them and their answers written for them, the importance of these skills should not be overlooked in a subject that can provide real world examples of the use of these skills. In addition, as a classroom teacher, it is impossible for me to provide the same level of support the boys will receive in the exam during lessons. As such, in order for the boys to become more independent in their learning and the assessment of this, the development of their literacy skills is vital even if they will not be tested in the same way as other pupils during exams.

While carrying out research for this project, it became apparent that much of the UK literature surrounding literacy focuses upon the development of literacy skills for early years children and for pupils for which English is an additional language. As such, the key document used as a basis for this action research was produced by the Canadian government called “Me read? No Way! A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills” (2004). This guide provided a review of literature which highlighted key trends in boys reading and writing skills as well as suggestions as to how this could be approached in lessons. Although this was primarily related to English and literacy lessons, key findings I found applicable were:

  • There are misconceptions that boys do not like to read when in fact it is more likely that boys do not like the reading what is being presented.
  • Boys do not cope with vague instructions and long explanations so work needs to be highly structured.
  • Boys need a structure to help them gather information from what they are reading.
  • Boys prefer writing frames which can be as simple as asking pupils to note down the points that they need to include.
  • Giving pupils time to talk through their thoughts and answers to consolidate their ideas before they commit them to paper.
  • Boys prefer to complete tasks where the work seems relevant to them and has a purpose that they can understand
  • Boys prefer work that includes an element of competition and/or involves short term goals.
  • Many boys are frustrated by non-specific terms such as “discuss”, “account for” and “explain” and so will need to be taught what they mean and have them broken down for them.
  • Work by Steve Biddulph also suggests that boys learn through teachers and not subjects whereas girls are able to connect directly with subjects. This suggests that boys can only connect with a subject via a teacher. This places emphasis on the relationships between teachers and the boys in their class as the need for boys in their puberty years to believe that a teacher cares for them as a person is paramount before they will allow their teacher to impart knowledge or skills to them (Pickup, 2001)

The latter point regarding relationships in relation to a boy’s learning is reinforced by Maslow’s hierarchy of school needs where every stage above physiological is the responsibility of the teacher within the classroom in order for the pupil to reach the stage where they are available to learn.

Actions

Over time, the following strategies were trialled, adapted and utilised in order to attempt to meet the objectives set out in this project:

1. Grasping pupils’ needs

Prior to starting any intervention with targeted students I felt it important to gauge pupils’ understanding of Geography and their individual needs. Too often differentiation for lower ability pupils involves generic writing frames or text which is reduced to such a level that higher order thinking skills are lost altogether. Although this is the appropriate step for some pupils I do not want to assume it is the case for those on whom I am focusing. As such I took advantage of the presence of a PGCE student taking my lessons from October to December and used this time to work 1:1 with pupils to better understand their needs.

2. Primary School Visit

As the literacy levels of the pupils in question have a greater correlation with the skills being developed in primary schools, I used INSET time to visit a Year 6 class at a local primary school.

3. Improve use of key vocabulary

A key barrier to learning for pupils with low level literacy in Geography is the sheer volume of key words which to pupils, often have an abstract meaning. Population pyramids (which are not always triangular in shape), the Demographic Transition Model and erosional processes such as hydraulic action are not always accessible to our most able readers, let alone those who struggle. In the past I have perhaps been guilty of simplifying these key words too much with pupils with lower level literacy and consequently pupils struggle when faced with them in exam questions or during independent revision. As such, I have focused on using the words with pupils in lessons through the development of glossaries, using dictionaries and knowledge tests based on key word definitions.

4. Use of discussion and opinion

Use of discussion, especially with boys has been highlighted in the literature as a strategy to help them engage with writing. This was achieved through planning lessons with deliberate discussion time with a clear focus. A clear focus is vital in order to ensure discussions are purposeful and aid learning. Examples of this include asking pupils their opinion as a way into a topic, planning answers as a group and talking through an answer with the teacher before committing pen to paper.

5. Competition

A second strategy recommended in a variety of literature is the element of competition appealing to boys. This was implemented in lessons through the use of card sorts, games and debates.

6. Building relationships

As discussed previously, boys tend to learn through their teachers rather than content and as such developing relationships with pupils is vital. These strategies are arguably the most difficult as they need to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of moods, situations and individuals. In order to approach this I tried to consider situations from an objective point of view and attempt to discover the root cause of some of the behaviours that could undermine a positive relationship. One of the boys for example would constantly shout out the correct answer to questions posed to the class. At the start of the year this may have led to consequences and sanctions which could be a barrier to developing a positive relationship. By looking at the situation from an objective point of view I came to realise that the misbehaviour was not an attempt to ruin the lesson but rather that class discussion was the part of the lesson that the pupil felt able to participate in most and as such “hogged” the questions. This was overcome through a discussion with the pupil that resulted in me giving him a pad of post it notes whereby he would write down a reminder word or sentence for the ideas in his head. I would then make a conscious effort to discuss these with the pupil after the class discussion.

Impact of each action

Grasping pupils’ needs:  The opportunity to work with pupils 1:1 was deemed invaluable in beginning this project and gauging need. It was found that one pupil is extremely demotivated and does not want to study the subject. His literacy skills are weak and he can find it difficult to grasp abstract concepts. However, the other pupil upon which this research is based was found to be very articulate in Geography and could grasp and begin to analyse higher level concepts. As such, it was found that despite both pupils’ needs being identified as lower level literacy the intervention strategies used for them need to differ in some cases.

Primary School Visit:  Observing the strategies used with Year 6’s was an eye-opening experience especially when considering the expectations that we have of Year 7s upon arrival at secondary school. The greatest disparity between primary and secondary school in relation to literacy is the amount of time dedicated to a task. Throughout the morning I observed pupils drafting and redrafting a piece of work which was later written up in best during the afternoon. Even pupils who were deemed of lower academic ability produced grammatically accurate pieces of writing to demonstrate their knowledge. The key challenge here is that a large proportion of curriculum time in primary schools is dedicated to literacy and so a ‘practice makes perfect’ approach is more easily adopted. At secondary school, and especially at GCSE this development of literacy skills is not as easily adaptable where content takes priority over skills. This is an area I will need to consider in more depth in the future.

Improve use of key vocabulary: This approach yielded mixed responses depending on the complexity of the topic. When pupils felt confident in the key words being tested it acted as a morale booster. However, if pupils could not remember the words then this could act as a reason to disengage in the lesson. However, this strategy was liked by the class as a whole and I am hoping that the repetition of key words will have longer term benefits.

Use of discussion and opinion: The use of planned discussion in lessons was anecdotally one of the most successful in engaging the boys in learning. The option of giving an opinion gave the boys the perception that there was no right or wrong answer but the justifications they used to support their points were high level in terms of geographical knowledge. Discussing answers first allowed pupils to begin structuring their answers and this was further developed whereby pupils would write all initial ideas onto post it notes which could then be re-arranged in order to plan an answer. Although these strategies did not always transpire into extended writing, it has enabled the pupils to begin to verbalise their ideas which is a skill that will need to develop further as they are both entitled to a scribe in their final exams.

Competition: Overall, the use of competition in lessons received mixed responses and was susceptible to the mood of the pupils. At times they would really engage and actively compete with one another to reach the answer first but in other instances it was perceived as a gimmick. The subject content of the competition also played a large role in the engagement of the activity.

Building relationships: The impact of actively seeking to build positive relationships with pupils in my class has had a positive impact on my relationship with the pupils in this project and across all of my groups. I would like to think that one of my strengths is having a positive relationship with most of the pupils whom I teach and these naturally develop over time. However, actively considering the reasons for potential misbehaviours in my lessons has allowed me to have conversations with pupils that may not have arisen naturally in order to implement strategies to cope with this.

Conclusions

Arguably, the overwhelming conclusion of this project is that there is no solid conclusion when it comes to strategies to engage and promote the progress of low literacy boys. To an extent I had pre-empted this outcome with the inclusion of the words “to attempt to” develop strategies in my original objective. Within my classroom I have witnessed giant leaps forward with the progress of the boys in my class as well as huge steps backwards and this has varied on a term by term, week by week, day by day basis. This can at times be annoying, tiring and extremely frustrating when a strategy that works in one lesson appears to fail the next. The key thing I have learnt is not to give up. Some of the systems I have adopted throughout this project started to show benefit very late on in the term and some have not shown any benefit at all. However, the one thing that is true is that the boys have most definitely noticed the effort that goes into helping them make progress and ultimately that building of relationships is the most important thing.

Next Steps

Despite the progress made with my boys with lower level literacy this year it must be acknowledged that there is still a long way to go if they are to reach their full potential. This will largely focus on attempting to build self-esteem and confidence within the pupils to want to succeed for themselves. The key areas to focus on next year will be:

  • Instilling confidence to write independently
  • Encouraging pupils to attempt tasks even if it results in failure
  • Making better use of readers and scribes in preparation for exams
  • Fostering resilience in order to overcome the fight or flight response to exams

Featured image: ‘Letters’ by geralt on Pixabay. Original image licensed by CC0 Public Domain

Mastery in Mathematics (6): Research and lesson adaption to fit the new GCSE curriculum

An Action Research project by Rory McMahon (Mathematics)

Aims of the Project

The aim of this project was to research ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ and the implications its’ introduction would have on our Faculty in terms of:

  • The new AQA Curriculum
  • Adjustments to the Scheme of Work
  • Alterations to lessons to promote ‘Mastery’

Background and context

This project started in response to the recent changes to the Maths curriculum which take effect from the 2017 GCSE’s. As a Faculty we looked to change our practice in light of the recent changes. The curriculum changes are as follows:

  • There is more content to teach with harder topics being introduced.
  • There is a greater emphasis on problem-solving and mathematical reasoning, with more marks in the GCSE exams being allocated to these higher-order skills.
  • The total examination time is increasing with all exams taken at the end of the course.
  • Students will also have to memorise formulae.
  • There is a new grade structure from 9 to 1, with fewer marks at the lower grades and more marks at the higher grades.

Actions taken

Peer observations to gauge the level of Mastery evident in lessons in September/October

As a Faculty all teachers took part in peer observations during Term 1 in an attempt to see good practice in action as well as gauge the level of ‘Mastery’ evident in existing lessons. Positive and constructive feedback was given and a discussion on how ‘Mastery’ could become more visible in lessons was held during Faculty meetings.

Scheme of Work changed from Kangaroo to AQA

The decision was made in January to make the switch from the Kangaroo scheme of work to the new AQA scheme to attempt to get pupils used to the new format in time for the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. Although it was thought to be a better move in the long run, there were some challenges to this approach. Firstly, a comparison of the schemes had to be made and topics which were covered already had to be crossed off.  However with the level of many topics increased, we needed to pick out sections of topics which students had not been previously been exposed to and teach those separately. Secondly, the increased difficulty of concepts and the change in focus to ‘Mastery’ proved to be difficult for students to adjust to. We were hoping they would adapt quickly to the problem solving nature of lessons as this was a style which they had not been previously used to.

Adaption of End of unit tests to support Mastery

End of Unit Tests now include Mastery style questions to build up resilience and retests are available and encouraged, so that students now have the key skills needed to succeed at this form of questioning. This is a work in progress which has been embraced by the pupils as they can see progression from the first sitting of the test to the second. It also gives them more opportunity to sample the type of examination questions they will be expected to answer in the coming years.

Further peer observations planned to see how Mastery is developing and lesson adjustments

Again in Term 3/4 the Maths Faculty undertook peer observations to observe the increase in focus towards ‘Mastery’ in lessons as standard practice. The Faculty was unanimous in the conclusion that Mastery questions were most easily integrated into the bell-work phase of the lesson or alternatively and possibly most effectively, during the Plenary phase. Personally, I found giving the students a ‘Mastery’ question as their plenary always challenged the pupils to think about the skills they had learnt in that lesson in a different way. Once the students spotted this they began to widen their horizons in terms of spotting links between different concepts learned. Some examples of Lesson alterations can be seen below.

Example 1

Our pupils in this case would have spent the majority of the lesson learning about the sum of the interior angles of polygons. In this question, they have to apply that knowledge but also represent their answers as fractions in their simplest form.

interior angles

Example 2

Factorising 1

A standard lesson on Factorising Expressions would concentrate on embedding the relevant skills needed as above. However, the Plenary to this lesson looks like the following slide below.

Factorising

The students are encouraged to use a skill learned in the lesson to solve a different style of problem, thus establishing links between different concepts.

 Adoption of Eastern Asian styles of teaching (learning information)

 It is widely recognised that the countries of Eastern Asia out-perform their UK counterparts in relation to attainment of Mathematics in primary and secondary schools. International tests show that in these countries the percentage of 15-year-olds who are functionally innumerate – unable to perform basic calculations – was more than 10 percentage points lower than in England. As recently as 12/07/2016, news broke of a £41m support for 8,000 primary schools in England to adopt the approach which is used by the leading performers in Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The Eastern Asian method has the following features:

  • Emphasis on problem solving and comprehension, allowing students to relate what they learn and to connect knowledge
  • Careful scaffolding of core competencies of :
    • visualisation, as a platform for comprehension
    • mental strategies, to develop decision making abilities
    • pattern recognition, to support the ability to make connections and generalise
  • Emphasis on the foundations for learning and not on the content itself so students learn to think mathematically as opposed to merely reciting formulas or procedures.

As a Faculty we have tried to integrate the techniques of embedding skills in the minds of our students and then getting them to apply these skills to problems. Previous lessons would consist of teaching skills and then getting pupils to practice these skills for the remainder of the lesson. Now, our attention has changed to using and applying these skills to problem solving for real-life situations. 

On-going adaption of the Scheme of Work to include NRICH activities to further develop Mastery 

Before the focus on ‘Mastery’, the Maths Faculty always felt that problem solving was a crucial attribute for students to develop. This was enhanced by our used of ‘The Nrich Project’ from the University of Cambridge.

“NRICH is a team of qualified teachers who are also practitioners in RICH mathematical thinking. This unique blend means that NRICH is ideally placed to offer advice and support to both learners and teachers of mathematics.”

NRICH aims to:

  • Enrich the experience of the mathematics curriculum for all learners
  • Offer challenging and engaging activities
  • Develop mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Show rich mathematics in meaningful contexts
  • Work in partnership with teachers, schools and other educational settings

For teachers of mathematics, NRICH:

  • Offer free enrichment material (Problems, Articles and Games) for all ages that really can help to inspire and engage learners and embed RICH tasks into everyday practice.
  • Help to promote RICH thinking in classrooms by offering on-line and face-to-face support at Primary and Secondary level.
  • Deliver professional development courses and workshops in rich mathematics.
  • Help teachers to think strategically about ‘next steps’ and progression in problem solving.

In 2014-2015 ‘NRICH lessons’ were held once per term to help enhance the problem solving skills of students. In 2015-2016 it was felt that the Faculty should conduct NRICH lessons once per fortnight as the shift in focus was becoming apparent at that stage. Moving forward, the Maths Faculty has created a bank of NRICH lessons to be used in conjunction with the new Scheme of Work for the academic year 2016-2017. Some snapshots of how these were integrated can be seen below.

sow-1.png

sow-2.png

Impact

As a Faculty, we have discussed the possible impact of our endeavours to adjust our teaching and learning to the new and challenging ‘Mastery’ curriculum. As this style of teaching and type of examination questions have been rolled out, students have become more familiar with the concept. Therefore, we can say there has been definite progress in the students’ familiarity with the style of future exam questions.

Secondly, we can state that the confidence of our pupils has increased with regard to structuring an answer for these questions. At the beginning of the year, receiving answers from students for bellwork and plenary ‘Mastery’ questions was a difficult ordeal! Gradually through practice and knowing they should be able to use some of the content they had covered in lessons, many were then able to attempt a reasonable answer. This developed over time so now we not only have our highest attaining students putting answers together but our bottom sets are also successful.

Finally, the AQA practice papers were an invaluable resource. As with the previous strategies, students found the change in structure and expectations very difficult to deal with. Therefore, we gave students the practice paper to attempt and gave them a grade. Once the papers were handed back, students could then go through the mark scheme with green pens to see where they could have picked up more marks. Also, answers that had four, five or even six steps were often broken down by the teachers for the class. Students then had the opportunity to re-sit the examination as a confidence building exercise. Slowly but surely the results for the first sitting of the tests began to improve but as a Faculty we realise this is a work in progress.

 Conclusions

  • The new AQA Curriculum has been rolled out and used for six months this academic year (2015-16) allowing teachers the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the format and tests.
  • The new Scheme of Work has been adjusted to accommodate ‘NRICH’ lessons which we see as crucial to embedding a culture of problem solving across the department.
  • New lessons have been created and existing lessons have been amended to include ‘Mastery’ questions in the bellwork or plenary phases.
  • There is a confidence in the Faculty that we are ready to begin the 2016/2017 secure in our knowledge of the new requirements to ensure the continued progress of pupils in the Mathematics Faculty.

References

Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/45776 [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/40529 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/46689 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.

Featured image: original image ‘Map of Mathematics Poster’ by Dominic Wallman, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/95869671@N08/32264483720

 

 

Nurturing student talent in Art at Key Stage 3 in preparation for the challenges of GCSE

An Action Research Project by Tanya Owen (Art & Design)

As Van Gogh once wrote, “…one must never let the fire go out in one’s soul, but keep it burning.”

I began this research project as a direct response to teaching 4 out of 5 Art and Design groups in year 8. This particular year group has an extremely wide ability spectrum, a number of pupils with behavioural issues and one lesson a week to teach them Art in. I felt as a teacher I was not spending enough time with the higher achieving pupils. Even though I would differentiate the work, by the time the rest of the pupils were focused I would only have a limited amount of time to support pupils in developing more technical and refined skills.

I understand implicitly how to teach a pupil at GCSE level to achieve an A*. A lot of one to one work and time inside and sometimes outside of normal lessons is needed; discussing ideas; teaching technical skills and instilling the confidence to experiment with materials and make mistakes. This year, my A and A* students spent a lot of extra time after school or at lunchtimes working though these criteria and stretching their ambitions and creativity in a relaxed and supportive environment.  A trusting and positive relationship was developed with these individuals, which helped them to feel safe and to succeed.

As a response to this, I decided to begin a Year 8 Art Club for pupils who aspired to be talented artists so that they too could have a relaxed space in which to be creative and where I could teach them to a higher level, spark their creativity and tap into their imagination.

What does a talented Artist look like?

  1. They think and express themselves in creative and original ways

Pupils want to follow a different plan to other pupils and have strong personal ideas. They often challenge the tasks given and can extend the work in a fantastic direction.

  1. Have a strong desire to create in a visual form

They are driven by their imagination, flights of fancy, humanitarian concerns or personal issues/subject matter. They persevere with resolving visual problems and complete tasks successfully.

  1. Push the boundaries of a normal process

They test ideas and problem solve. They explore ways in which to depict ideas, feelings, emotions and meanings. They are excited by new ideas and ways of looking at their work and are not frightened by it.

  1. Show a passionate interest in the world of art and design

They are often interested in a particular art form, contemporary culture or youth culture.

  1. Use materials, tools and techniques skilfully and learn new approaches

They are keen to extend and explore their technical ability and can sometimes become frustrated when their skills do not allow them to do what they would like to do initially but they persevere.

  1. Initiate ideas and define problems

They can explore ideas, problems and sources on their own and collaboratively with a sense of purpose and meaning.

  1. Critically evaluate visual work and other information

They make unusual connections and links with the work of other artists. They can apply the ideas/techniques to their own work in a non-linear and innovative way.

  1. Exploit the characteristics of materials and processes

They use and understand materials well and even invent new ways of using them.

  1. Understand the ideas and meanings in their own and others’ work

Their work has meaning and a narrative which they can talk to you about on a very personal level.

As a visual person, I find definitions in words quite difficult and find the use of concrete examples much clearer, such as in the following examples of a current GCSE pupils’ work:

Fig 1

Fig 2Fig 3

Leading ultimately, to the completed project.

Fig 4

So, having clearly defined what a talented Artist’s work looks like I decided to take a very small part of this to tackle with the year 8 group. For me, it was important to inspire and excite the students about the subject. I began by running workshops for the pupils outside of lessons. Although the pupils seemed to be quite happy with this, there were not many participants and they lacked enthusiasm. So I decided to let the pupils take the lead…

Although one or two found this freedom a little difficult, we talked individually about what they wanted to do and came up with some themes and concepts. Most pupils, however, brought in their sketchbooks from home; drawings they had already done and artists’ work they particularly liked and were very excited to show me what they really enjoyed. This brought a whole new energy to the group and many more joined. Many of the pupils were very motivated by Manga Images. Pupils need to have a certain technical aptitude to draw these figures and faces accurately and many were doing this very skilfully. They are nevertheless, quite flat drawings and could be made a lot more exciting by adding various techniques and contexts to them. I did not want the pupils to just continue with creating pastiches of the artists’ work.

The Manga drawings are quite flat and cartoon like….

Fig 5

Other pupils within the group focused on various things from cake prints to make Birthday cards as well as continuing to explore classwork, to which they were be able to add some of the new techniques explored.

Fig 6

I did two weeks of each workshop demonstrating techniques and trying to get the pupils excited about applying more exciting patterns and textures into their drawings and artwork.

Fig 7

The pupils did enjoy this but seemed to do it a bit reluctantly, as most wanted to carry on with and develop their own pieces of work.

I then began to look at evidence about creativity.

Fig 8

‘The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself.’ (from an article in the Guardian)

First, creativity, like learning in general, is a highly personal process. We all have different talents and aptitudes and different ways of getting to understand things. Raising achievement in schools means leaving room for these differences and not prescribing a standard ‘steeplechase’ for everyone to complete, at the same time and in the same way.

Second, creativity is not a linear process, in which you have to learn all the necessary skills before you get started. It is true that creative work in any field involves a growing mastery of skills and concepts. It is not true that they have to be mastered before the creative work can begin. Focusing on skills in isolation can kill interest in any discipline. The real driver of creativity is an appetite for discovery and a passion for the work itself. When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done. Their mastery of them grows as their creative ambitions expand.

Third, facilitating this process takes connoisseurship, judgment – and, yes, creativity, on the part of teachers. For creativity to flourish, schools have to feel free to innovate without the constant fear of being penalised for not keeping with the programme.

So, although teaching pupils new skills is effective, it would be more effective to get the pupils to answer technical  questions about their work through a desire to create a piece in a certain way.  As a teacher the challenge then is to facilitate this vision…to answer and give options to creative questions.

How do I give this creature an eerie texture?

Fig 9

How do I make this hair look more lively?

Fig 10

How do I make the paint more dribbly and random on my flowers?

Fig 11

This process has had a powerful effect on the relationship I have with those pupils. There is a greater trust that they will be able to succeed with me as their teacher, which for me is very important, as I feel it has been this group of students in particular who can be marginalised in lessons. They also have a greater confidence in the art classroom as they have a greater ownership of it. Independence and confidence has risen. I am trying to use the club as an opportunity to talk about classwork in a non-formal way so that I am able to have a bigger input into stretching their abilities and ambitions inside and outside the formal setting.

Ultimately, I want pupils to have more ‘attitude’. When I consider what is different between my most able pupils at GCSE and this group in year 8; it is that the GCSE candidates are argumentative, protective and almost stubborn about their ideas. This ‘attitude’ gives them resilience in resolving their own creative dilemmas.

As a consequence of this research I intend to proceed as follows:

My Action Plan

  • Encourage pupils to integrate new techniques into their own ideas/work to make it visually richer and craft a creative final piece.
  • Try to give them the confidence to deal with mistakes. It could lead to a new idea and the pupils may have the courage to go down a creative journey in which they do not know the outcome.
  • Add links on our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to various pencil and paint techniques so pupils can access them and learn how to do these at home;
    • Watercolour – salt technique, texture and cling film, blurring and wash on wash
    • Creating texture and collage – using tissue paper, glue gun, pva, pulp, newspaper, magazines
    • Pencil techniques – realistic drawing, creating texture using a pencil, portrait drawing
  • Plan an art trip for year 9 next year to raise aspirations further and run another art club based on this.

Featued image: Wallpaper Geometric Art Abstract Waves Background  Creative Commons Zero – CC0

Approaches to Teaching in a Knowledge Based Curriculum

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Computing)

Focus of Project

In deciding on a focus for my Action Research (AR) Project I had to consider what were the biggest influence and challenges that I would face as a teaching professional over the next 12 months or more. It was with this hat on that I decided the biggest challenge would be the move from a skill-based ICT KS4 curriculum to a knowledge based Computing curriculum.

It is worth noting that as teachers I believe we would say we have always been teaching in a knowledge based curriculum, with our main goal being to provide students with the information (and skills) that will assist them in the future. However in 2013 Michael Gove brought this area of education centre stage. As a result, what we once considered to be a knowledge based curriculum did not contain enough knowledge. The new knowledge based curriculum was born.

At first the approach I took to my action research project was to look through some well known teaching pedagogies, including; de Bono’s Hats[1], Solo Taxonomy[2] and The Flipped Classroom[3]. Although these provided ideas for specific teaching approaches; such as providing students with different perspectives within which to approach tasks or different levels by which to structure understanding. I believed they muddied the water of how to approach teaching in an increasingly knowledge based curriculum because they focused on other aspects of learning and in particular would have needed embedding with students before they impacted upon learning.

It was with this research in hand that I decided that my focus would be on two generic approaches to teaching, that of the independent student-led approach and the teacher-led approach. The outcome of which would be the answer to the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum?

 Objective

The objective of this Action Research is to investigate approaches to teaching within the new knowledge based curriculum. I will be investigating the learning differences between a teacher-led approach and a student-led approach. The end objective is to determine which approach facilitates more effective learning from the students.

The Knowledge Based Curriculum

In March 2011 Alison Wolf produced The Wolf Report[4] reviewing the state of vocational education. This report led the way to the GCSE and vocational reforms seen over recent years. The Wolf Report concluded that “Good vocational programmes are, therefore, respected, valued and an important part of our, and any other country’s educational provision. But many vocational students are not following courses of this type”[5].

This then paved the way for the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to announce changes to the curriculum across all stages of education. He detailed that students needed to have a “stock of knowledge”[6] and that “unless you have knowledge … all you will find on Google is babble”.

The impact of this was the slimming down of the number of accredited GCSE and vocational subjects, increasing the knowledge needed for the courses that remained to be accredited and the introduction of a new attainment and progress standard for schools (Attainment and Progress 8[7]).

In September 2015 the first of these new GCSE’s was being taught in Maths and English, with the rest of the curriculum to follow in 2016. The subsequent Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, outlined the importance of this new knowledge curriculum in a speech delivered in January 2015. “At the heart of our reforms has been the determination to place knowledge back at the core of what pupils learn in school”[8]. From this point onwards it was clear that knowledge over skills was going to be the academic currency on offer.

This educational change seemed to be at odds with the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), where they were insisting that there was a skills shortage from young people leaving education. In 2015 the CBI published a report into the educational climate; this report was titled “Inspiring Growth”[9].

The report suggested that the government reforms should provide young adults with the correct attitudes for work. Findings included that employers looked for attitudes and aptitudes before formal qualifications and that employers look for a combination of academic and vocational studies. You can draw your own conclusions from the study but I see it as a counter argument for the wholly knowledge based curriculum that all students must complete; it seems to be at odds with such a curriculum.

Educational Pedagogies

Joe Kirby, in Pragmatic Education December 2013[10], suggests that there is a distinct difference in the approaches to skills and knowledge and that “These are contrasting mind-sets; they result in different pedagogies”.

He argues that knowledge based learning “prioritises memory, instruction and practice”, with the aim for pupils being to “know, understand, remember recall…connect their knowledge”.

Kirby suggests that skill-led learning facilitated by constructivism provides variety at the expense of clarity; he says “Cognitivism and knowledge-led instruction prioritise clarity and memory to avoid confusion and forgetting”. He advocates the knowledge approach: “In a nutshell, variety [constructivism] is a distraction”. Knowledge-led learning is best because of its scientific approach in which there is a formulaic approach to learning with a tried and tested method of delivery (e.g. the three part lesson). This approach is also backed up by Scott[11] on his blog, where he discusses skill based versus knowledge based learning.

Headguruteacher[12], in 12 principles of effective teaching January 2016, highlights, in his blog, that one of the 12 principles of effective teaching as being “Tool them up”, which commented on providing the students with the resources to enable them to learn with or without a specialist teacher in the room, however he noted “not all students can use these materials readily and need to be shown how.”

Headguruteacher also commented that teaching for memory was an important principle, “They [students] need strategies to do this; primarily lots of practice”. Interestingly the 12th and final principle of effective teaching centred on the two approaches I investigated during this Action Research project. He titled it as “Get some balance”, in which he recommended that teaching should be 80% “Mode A” teacher which is straight, rigorous cycles of explanation, model content, practice and feedback. The further 20% was “Mode B” teacher which uses awe and wonder and open-ended exploration to achieve deeper learning.

These studies stood out among the reading completed for this research as they had direct relevance for my classroom focused project. I used a combination of these in my own approach. This is detailed in the next section.

My Approaches and Actions

Having chosen to look at both student-led and teacher-led approaches I decided to split my two approaches over two periods of time so as to get direct comparisons. The first approach was a student-led approach. The idea behind this was to provide students with a guide as to what information they needed to know and what knowledge they needed to acquire (success criteria).

The emphasis in this approach was on the students being independent in finding out the knowledge, researching and clarifying ideas and theories in their own way.

dj1

figure 1

An example of this approach is the Frog VLE page (figure 1) in which success criteria are provided and the task set was for students to develop their own understanding in the three main areas as outlined in the blue file link boxes.

This approach was continued over a number of lessons until an end of topic test was complete. This provided evidence about the students learning under this method.

The next approach was to use a teacher led approach in which the students made notes from the teacher presentations while verbal explanation was also provided. This was then cemented by questions about the content they have just heard.

This approach negated the need for independent work and concentrated on the students’ ability to process the information they have just received.

An example of this approach is the series of slides taken from the KS4 computing module on data representation (figure 2 and 3). In this topic the knowledge element was very high and beyond what students had done before in computing. The combination of teacher led knowledge and questions to cement knowledge were used over a number of lessons.

figure 2                                                        figure 3

At the end of the trial of both approaches undertaken, the students were, as a class, interviewed and their results used alongside work scrutiny and classroom observation to formulate the findings which are detailed below.

Impact

The student-led approach had a variety of impacts on student learning. The first being that those students who had been resilient when finding this approach challenging found that they were better able to understand a topic. They believed that “they were better able to put it into their own thinking”. Some of the students who struggled with this method said that they liked the openness of tasks but that they needed more boundaries as it was “easy to go off task”. They felt that if a worksheet had been provided to place the information in they may have had more chance of progressing well.

The work scrutiny backed this up but I found that even when a worksheet was given, some did not complete it due to the openness of the task and the challenging nature of having to find the knowledge for themselves. (See image evidence below).

A student’s work without worksheet guidance: success criteria and then independent research and production of evidence of completing task. It is worth noting this is a B grade target student who at this point was working around the C grade (figure 4).

dj4

figure 4

A student’s work with worksheet guidance: This allowed students to concentrate on their own knowledge acquisition. As you can see there are gaps which had to be filled with teacher explanation as the student lacked the resilience to continue with their own research (figure 5).

dj5

figure 5

The second notable impact of the student-led approach was the effect on students extended knowledge. Students were able to explain in detail the areas they had successfully investigated but this was usually at the expense of other areas of the topic. Students felt that there was too much information available and that they often got caught in learning about an area in too great a depth. This depth was not needed for the current course; which itself creates another dilemma. How do you stop students going into too much depth? Or even, should we stop them in their pursuit of knowledge?

Evidence of the issue of depth versus breadth of knowledge was shown through their end of module tests where the results were below that of their target and showed a greater depth of knowledge in some areas which was lacking in others (figure 5 and 6).

figure 5                                                    figure 6

Both of these tests were examples of core knowledge gained in one particular area but not in others. The student on the left scored well in input, output and storage devices whereas the one of the right scored well in The CPU element.

In researching the teacher led approach I decided that I would provide the information, meaning students having to make notes and then answer questions around it. This was also supplemented with structured note sheets (figure 7 and 8).

                                        figure 7                                                     figure 8

The findings from this were very interesting. From a pupil voice perspective they found the teacher led lessons “a bit boring” but they said they understood more of the topic and in greater detail because they had been explained by an expert first. The students liked the note sheets; in particular the boys as this circumnavigated the need to be tidy in the books as it was already done for them.

For my view point I had the ‘safety blanket’ of knowing that the course content had been provided for the students but also the knowledge that the explanation was directly relevant for the content of the GCSE. However the preparation that went into these lessons was much greater in thinking about how best to explain the content, design the lesson materials and the subsequent assessment tasks.

The end of module assessments with the teacher-led approach had shown a marked improvement from the first approach taken. There was greater knowledge across the class with the answers in the assessments being of a consistently higher quality (figure 9).

dj10

figure 9

Executive Summary and Next Steps

As a result of the action research there are a number of things I will focus on doing differently. Firstly, lessons will primarily be planned around the teacher-led approach in which content is delivered by me and then further questioning and tasks are designed to aid memory recall. In the creation of the teacher-led lesson the resources will be differentiated and allow for progression of knowledge at a pace that will be appropriate for the class.

Where possible I will also use the student-led approach but limit the resources that the students have to find the answers. This would then avoid the issues around the depth of knowledge at the expense of breadth whilst still encouraging student-led learning.

One of the key areas from this research that I will be taking forward is not being afraid to ‘teacher talk’ as this has been shown to be the most efficient way of students gaining knowledge in certain circumstances. This does need to be punctuated with questioning and mini-tasks so as to avoid student disengagement.

In the future I will avoid doing student-led lessons where the knowledge content is too specific. The reasoning for this is because a student-led lesson may result in students researching areas that are not specifically associated with the qualification, therefore not gaining the necessary knowledge for the exams.

In the planning and delivery of lessons my thinking has changed from primarily providing an engaging lesson to a lesson that provides the students with the academic opportunities to shine. This shift in thinking has meant I have concentrated more on the content of the teacher presentation than on the tasks that the students would do. The reason for this is because without the correct knowledge shared by me the students will not be able to complete any task fully, irrespective of delivery.

Finally, to answer the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum? There is no ‘right’ way to teach a knowledge based lesson and a variety is needed to get the most out of all students. However this research has found that a teacher-led approach produces better student results.

It is worth noting that in the initial research Headguruteacher commented that 20% of teaching should be ‘mode B’ teacher, this is what I am aiming for in the future.

In summary:

  • Teacher-led and student-led teaching approaches were used across a number of modules. Students interviewed and assessed at the end of modules.
  • Student-led lessons had increased pupil engagement and interest however it was found that acquisition of knowledge was incomplete and as a result module test scores were lower.
  • Teacher-led lessons had increased pupil results and understanding of the topic but led to a decrease in pupil engagement (more compliance than engagement).

Next Steps

  • Continue action research model on a bigger class with different ability levels.
  • Investigate the impact and work on resilience to challenge learners as a tool for improving student knowledge acquisition.

Sources and references

[1] De Bono’s Hats (http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php)

[2] SOLO Taxonomy (http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/solo.htm)

[3] Flipped Classroom. (https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf)

[4] Wolf Report (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/180504/DFE-00031-2011.pdf)

[5] Wolf Report- Executing Summary. Paragraph 2/3.

[6] Gove Sets out ‘Core Knowledge’ curriculum plans (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21346812)

[7] Progress 8 Measures (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/497937/Progress-8-school-performance-measure.pdf)

[8] Nicky Morgan: why knowledge matters (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nicky-morgan-why-knowledge-matters)

[9] Inspiring Growth (http://news.cbi.org.uk/reports/education-and-skills-survey-2015/)

[10] Pragmatic Education: How best to teach: Knowledge-led or skills-led lessons? (https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/how-best-to-teach/)

[11] Sscott (http://targetmaps.co.uk/knowledge-based-curriculum-vs-skills-based-curriculum/)

[12] Headguruteacher: Principles of Effective Teaching (https://headguruteacher.com/2016/01/10/principles-of-effective-teaching/)

Featured image: ‘Study time concept’ courtesy of http://www.freeimages.co.uk

 

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (2)

(Featured image: “Image Provided by Classroom Clipart“)

An Action Research project by Jodie Johnson

The aim of this project was to explore different ways in which we could embed the new ‘mastery in maths’ curriculum into our day to day teaching. The curriculum has changed dramatically for Key Stage 3 and 4 in terms of the way students will be assessed; while the content is largely the same the way in which we teach the new curriculum has to be adapted to this new style if our students are to be successful .

Our aims were:

  • To clarify exactly what ‘mastery’ means for our subject
  • What this means for us as a faculty as a whole and our teaching styles; we then wanted to work on how this should directly impact on our individual lessons and assessments
  • To begin to think about how we could allow our students the opportunity to be more resilient in our subject and therefore more ready to face the new style of questioning that they will be challenged with
  • Finally, we worked on how the mastery curriculum could be embedded more formally into our schemes of work.

Background

Looking formally at ‘Mastery in Mathematics’ is vital for our department at this time as our current year 10 are the first to face the new mastery curriculum at GCSE level. It was essential that we took the time as a department to focus on the shifting focuses of the new curriculum; it was important that we did this together and that we did it now. In our initial meeting we wanted to address the differing opinions we had in terms of what we thought mastery was and then whether this mirrored what the new curriculum required. Once we had clarified this for ourselves it was important to us that the students could articulate what we meant by mastery.  Finally and most importantly we needed to work on how this would impact on our day to day teaching methods so that our teaching style was adapted and in turn we were preparing our students as best we possibly could for the challenges they would be facing.

Context

We began our discussions at the beginning of the year by each focusing on a couple of specific classes that we would ensure had a ‘mastery plenary’ as often as possible and that we would use as a group to compare to the rest of our students. However we quickly realised that this would leave those that were not picked at a huge disadvantage in terms of preparing them for their assessments so we decided it was important that all of our students (in years 7-10) were experiencing ‘mastery’ style lessons.

While we felt as a department it was vital that we started to look at Mastery this year for our students, I have also been interested in this style of teaching for a while. I have become more and more conscious since I began teaching that the mathematics we were delivering to our students wasn’t necessarily preparing them for the real world but for an exam that we could pretty much second guess in terms of what it would look like. Like most other mathematics teachers I have worked with, I felt the problem solving skills and fluency that we should be teaching our students was being lost and replaced with teaching students how to answer a seemingly random set of questions in order to pass exams and this meant that they did not have a deep understanding of the concepts they were being taught. In my opinion, Mathematics should be an exercise in problem solving, it should stretch a person’s mind to work in a way that no other subject does and this was being lost as result of the pressure which falls heavily upon teachers shoulders to hit target grades. The new mastery curriculum while daunting for maths teachers in the short term, I saw and still see, as an exciting and hugely beneficial thing in the long term for our future generation of Mathematicians. How exactly this would look in my classroom, how I could ensure I was preparing them to problem solve and enjoy mathematics, while at the same time preparing them to pass their exams in maths is something I was grateful to have the time to do while preparing this Action Research Project.

Actions

As a department there are several ways in which we have modified our teaching since working together as a learning focus group1.

Research into Mastery and how this affected our work

All member of the department undertook their own individual research into what mastery was and we the brought it together in our learning focus meetings. We found that the most important factor when teaching the mastery curriculum was that of fluency between topics. We decided after our reading that for our students, especially those that would be facing the foundation curriculum this was something that we were not currently doing successfully, building their resilience in mathematics was paramount.   If they were to be successful mathematicians we needed to instil some confidence in them that it is completely fine to get things wrong in mathematics.

We also discovered various ways in which other countries have approached the teaching of Mathematics. We looked at the potential impact adopting Eastern Asian styles of teaching would have on our students and decided that some time would need to be dedicated to our students ‘learning’ facts and methods in maths so they had access to them at all times when completing more open ended tasks. Things like learning times tables for our younger students is something we often presume the students know from primary school but this is often not the case and we spent some time with our weaker students actually learning things like this as home works or in class.

We discovered after conversations between the team that articulating mathematics is something that is important for our students in order to ‘master’ a topic and that again our current methods weren’t necessarily allowing enough opportunity for this skill to be developed. We have therefore spent much more time on questions where students have to prove answers and in my lessons I questions students in a slightly different way, emphasising the importance of clarity in their working, asking questions like “Are you sure about that? Prove it to me as your current working doesn’t convince me”. This form of questioning also forces my students to think more precisely about what they are writing and the way in which they are presenting their work.

We researched different methods that we could use every lesson that wouldn’t necessarily link directly to individual topics. For example, asking questions like:

“Where does this fit into what we did last week?”

“Can you show me another way to do that?”

“Is that the only way to do that question?”

Adapting Assessments

At the beginning of the year we were working from a scheme of work called ‘Kangaroo’. We have worked on this for the least 4 years as a faculty but with the new curriculum changes Kangaroo have also updated their aims and lesson objectives. We continued to follow this scheme of work but adapted our assessments to include mastery style questions that we found on the Kangaroo website as well as the AQA website (which is the GCSE board we will be following) at the end of each unit of work. This meant that our students now needed much more fluency between subject areas and we were working at dispelling the myth that ‘a Pythagoras question looks like this’, ‘an expanding brackets question looks like this’ etc. We were starting to force our students to think of Mathematics as a puzzle and that each individual topic was just one piece and that they would need all the pieces to answer these new style questions.

Over the last 3 years we have been developing our schemes of work to incorporate more and more ‘Nrich’ challenges (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). While we have informally taught Nrich lessons once a fortnight for the last few years, one member of the department has now formally added appropriate Nrich lessons to our schemes of work where they naturally fit into the subject areas we are teaching. The rationale behind this is that the students will get used to being ‘stuck’ (no Nrich challenge is a 5 minute problem with a yes or no answer – each one takes at least an hour and the students will become more and more familiar with getting themselves unstuck as part of the experience). One adaptation I made during these lessons during the year was to only allow students to ask 3 questions of me the teacher per Nrich lesson. This forced them to have to really think about whether they needed to ask the questions or whether they were actually being too teacher reliant.

While this year was very much an experimental year in terms of the best way to adopt ‘mastery’ in the classroom, one thing that we were keen to get right was our assessments. We felt it was essential that the assessments the students were doing to inform our data on their learning resembled closely what their final assessments would look like in order to make our data as accurate as possible. In some cases (especially in year 10) this has meant students’ progress data has taken a hit, however we felt preparation for the new mastery curriculum was paramount. This also meant that we could build resilience, not just in the classroom when we are teaching and when they have the luxury of checking their answers and ideas with their peers and teacher but when the students needed to transfer this to the exam hall and feel as though they needed to at least attempt questions (especially the larger 6-8 mark questions which we have not seen before) without fear of getting them wrong.

Changing plenaries

In order to prepare our students for the new style curriculum we started to use plenary questions that paired more than one topic with that which was taught during the lesson. In the Appendix you will find two plenaries which show how mastery could be demonstrated once a topic has been covered.  There is also a full lesson which shows Levelled learning objectives and how we now must link subject content to other areas to secure ‘mastery’. Hopefully these will show how fluency between topics is now essential to completing most of my planned plenaries this year. While there was some resistance from students initially, the students do recognise the importance of doing this and have adapted accordingly.

Peer Observations

In order to help each other and compare our work, myself and another member of the faculty paired up to complete some peer observations. We used the time to discuss ideas and how the topics taught could be connected to other areas of maths.  This helped both of us to plan appropriate mastery style questions for the main bulk of the lessons and the plenaries. The joint planning that went into these lessons allowed us to think about the fluency between other areas and topics, as well as standardising the way we delivered our plenaries and most importantly, the different ways in which we were trying to build resilience in the subject.  As a faculty we plan to complete at least one peer observation per term to see how mastery is developing.

Impact and Conclusion

The impact our actions have had on the faculty will be felt in time. While there is no concrete evidence that can be shared in this document, I think that from my perspective, it has forced me to think about my practice and the fluency and links I make when teaching. My mathematics has certainly improved as a result of teaching the new curriculum, especially since I have a very able top set in year 10, who need to be challenged to reach their potential – the new assessments that we have even challenged me, which has been great!

While many students are still not comfortable with the new curriculum and style in which we now have to teach mathematics it is definitely improving, my students, especially the most able, are always very excited when they realise we are having an ‘Nrich lesson’ and now ask me at the start of lessons whether that is what we are doing today. This is an improvement on where we were at the start of the year since they didn’t tend to enjoy and therefore excel in these lessons because they were being pushed out of their comfort zone.

My key stage three classes have improved greatly in terms of their resilience and are now much more able to access mastery plenary questions that I give them to practice. At the beginning of the year many, especially my least able in year 7 and 8 would simply freeze when they were confronted with a questions that didn’t directly relate to the subject we had been focused on during the lesson. It is a gradual process but it is certainly a picture that is improving.

As I have mentioned above, the first mock our year 10 students took in June did not necessarily show strong progress, however in terms of my class, their reaction certainly showed maturity and resilience which is what this new curriculum requires our students to show. They worked solidly on their mock papers once they had been marked to understand as many questions as possible. Since they now understand the importance of keeping going – they are keen to do so.

Next Steps

Continuing our work on mastery is essential if we are to mould students to being successful not just in maths but in terms of their resilience to tackle problems and overcome their fear of getting things wrong. It is important that our work continues over the next few years and that any new team member understands why this is so important. Next year we will continue developing our lesson plans and assessments.  We will continue to work on Nrich challenges with our students and the peer observations that myself and another colleague completed will be rolled out to all members of the faculty. The standardisation of our lessons is important so that our students recognise that when they come to the maths corridor they will be challenged and need to have access to all areas of maths, not just those that they have been taught in the last 45 minutes.

This project is certainly an ongoing piece of work that we need to build on over the next few years. Our students will certainly become more comfortable with the mastery curriculum as we move forward, especially as this year Key Stage 1 & 2 have also been introduced to the new ‘mastery curriculum’ at their level, which should mean students are being moulded to move more freely between topics and solve problems independently. I look forward to seeing how our students develop as our teaching styles become more accustomed to the new curriculum.

Footnotes

  1. Learning Focus Groups – For professional development purposes staff work in small groups who share a common interest in developing an aspect of their teaching practice. These groups provide a forum for discussion, support, sharing and joint activities to help each teacher develop their own individual Action Research project.

Appendix

Plenary 1

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Plenary 2

 

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Full lesson

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Plenary

 

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References

Department for Education (DfE). (2013a). National Curriculum in England: Framework Document. London: Department for Education.

Kilpatrick, J. Swafford, J. & Findell, B.(eds.)(2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Mathematics Learning Study Committee: National Research Council.

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/45776 [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/40529 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2015). National Curriculum Assessment Materials. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/46689 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

Ofsted  (2015) Better Mathematics Conference Keynote Spring 2015. Paper presented at the Better Mathematics Conference, Norwich, Norfolk.

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (1)

(Featured image: ‘Multiplication sentence written in multiples of three’ http://www.freeimages.co.uk/)

Mastery in Maths: Research and lesson adaptation to fit the new criteria in Maths

An Action Research project by Clare Mondair

Aims

The aim of this investigation was to explore aspects of Mastery in Maths to improve my own understanding of what Mastery actually means and what it would mean for the students in my lessons. In addition, my aim was to change my own teaching where necessary in order to best help the students in my classes achieve of their best. As a Faculty we aimed to work together to develop lessons that would contain a ‘Mastery’ element as well as developing resources to add to the new Scheme of Work which was quite thin on the kind of Mastery resources required.

Literature Review

Although there are many differences between the education systems in England and Eastern Asia, the ‘mastery’ approach to teaching commonly followed in these countries can teach us much.

According to the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. (October 2014), the main principles and features characterised by this approach are that:

  • Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.
  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace.
  • Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.

The intention of these approaches is to provide all children with full access to the curriculum, enabling them to achieve confidence and competence – ‘mastery’ – in mathematics, rather than many failing to develop the maths skills they need for the future. In addition, it has been recognised that for many schools and teachers the shift to this ‘mastery curriculum’ will be a significant one requiring new approaches to lesson design, teaching, use of resources and support of students. It also focuses on giving students the skills they need to make sensible choices and to use their knowledge to tackle problems in all sorts of situations. It also aims to develop their resilience for when the road gets tough.

There is a real need for a balanced approach here.  Of course having key facts at your disposal is very helpful when it comes to solving problems, especially when in an unfamiliar context but the need to be flexible and adaptable is too. Also helpful is being able to use what you do know to get you facts you don’t know.  For some students when learning their tables it can take a while to get 11 x 12 to “stick”, but if they are confident with 10 x 12 = 120 then they know how to get to the answer pretty quickly by adding on another 12.  Therefore, it is their understanding of the structure and not just my knowledge of the facts that helps out in tables tests. This is what sets students out on the road to mastery of the times tables!

Mastery of the Mathematics curriculum encourages ‘intelligent practice’ to enable students to develop conceptual understanding alongside procedural fluency.  It is important to use multiple representations to support this understanding and to encourage students’ reasoning.  Students are also encouraged to solve problems from the very start of the curriculum journey, not seeing it as some ‘add on’ that can only be considered when all the facts are in place.  The challenge is developing these skills and understanding alongside mastering different aspects of the Mathematics curriculum.

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Research Methods

Having researched and established as a Faculty what ‘mastery’ actually meant in maths we had to think about the way in which it would be developed. An agreement was made that we had already been attempting to develop mastery in terms of problem solving over the last year but lessons were intermittent and often lost out on due to other factors of school life.

An agreement was made that we would continue to develop lessons as normal but that a majority of our lessons would now contain an aspect of mastery. Nrich lessons would continue but would be incorporated in to the new Scheme of Work where possible (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). In addition, teachers in the Faculty would make lessons that they had produced available for the whole team and we would observe mastery lessons being delivered so that we would have a good understanding of what it ‘looked’ like. This would enable consistency throughout the Faculty. Many lessons would contain the format below so the students would know that was Nrich.

nrich-cm

The lesson would then progress through a series of steps so that there was enough challenge for everyone. Students were encouraged to work at their own level, however they were also encouraged to go for the higher level challenge where possible. This would result in those students who were less able working alongside those who already had a good ‘mastery’ of mathematics. The advantage of this system meant that students were working with and supporting peers and learning from one another in their language and at their own level.

find-a-whole-cm

The above would not apply to Year 11, but all other year groups should benefit from this thinking. It would of course be especially important for the Year 10 classes as they would be sitting a new exam which would call for resilience as well as thinking outside of the box in order to tackle some of the new material.

Main Findings

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Using Nrich we were able to appreciate that the current mastery approach encompasses two key aspects of mathematical learning, conceptual understanding and procedural fluency, which we agree are essential for nurturing young mathematicians. In addition there are five aspects of being able to be a Master at Maths, conceptual understanding; procedural fluency; strategic competence; adaptive reasoning and productive disposition (Kilpatrick, Stafford & Findell, 2001).

  • Much of the curriculum has been moved from higher levels to lower levels resulting in students now being expected to suddenly achieve at a much higher level than previously expected.
  • Many of our students do not have the basic mathematical fluency or reasoning skills in order to access much of the new curriculum.
  • Resilience in students is key in helping to ensure that students stay on track and improve.
  • Peer support and discussion is vital if students are to succeed in mastering some of the problem solving activities and questions which will come with the new curriculum.
  • Nrich allows students to explore Mathematics in a safe environment where they don’t feel threatened by their lack of basic knowledge.

Discussion and Conclusion

Mastery can only be developed over time and is unlikely to have much impact for the first two years of the new curriculum changes. The current difficulty we face is the fact that our Ks4 students have not been brought up with this habit of mastering Mathematics and it is therefore difficult to develop these skills and follow a Scheme of Work designed for a new exam which is already challenging to our average ability and less able students.

The mastery of Mathematics is however, being thoroughly embedded in the curriculum where possible for the Ks3 students and the impact of this should be felt when the current Year 9 group begin the GCSE course.

Mastery in Mathematics will enable students to articulate their ideas, build resilience, build mathematical fluency and think about problems from a different angle which in turn should have an impact on many aspects of life as well as Mathematics.

References

Drury, H. (2014) Mastering Mathematics. Oxford University Press, pp8.

Mathematics Learning Study Committee. Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. National Academies Press, 2001.

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. October 2014.

Williams, H. (2014) Approach, Research. Mathematics Mastery Acting Director of Primary.

 

 

 

Making the most of Personal Learning Checklists

(Featured picture: ‘untitled’ by AJC1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Kate Rolfe (Humanities)

Whether you call them Personal Learning Checklists (PLCs), RAG lists or as we refer to them, Module Outline/Review Lists, you have a tool which if used effectively, can cover a multitude of uses to support learning.

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Picture 1: A Module Outline Sheet

In Humanities where pupils study two subjects (Geography and History) with the same teacher, we use our ‘module outline sheets’ and ‘module review sheets’, as a way to signal the beginning and end of topics. The first module outline sheet is used with pupils to discuss the structure of the term and key assessment points. It also allows pupils to engage with success criteria and the objectives for the term in order to select a target to aim for based on past progress and predicted targets. Finally, the RAG (Red, Amber Green) aspect of the sheet allows pupils to judge their current understanding of a topic and accept that red sections provide opportunities for new learning. It is also helpful for the teacher as it can highlight areas of overlap between subjects, where pupils may have already covered some of the content, so teaching of these topics can be modified accordingly.

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Picture 2: A Module Review Sheet

The module review sheet allows pupils to reflect on their progress on a termly basis and over a longer period of time than specific assessments. By completing the RAG section a second time pupils are able to compare easily their perceived progress over time. It is also useful for the teacher as if there are any common “red” areas then these can be addressed through revision or other means. The right hand side of the page is a chance for the pupil to reflect on particularly strong areas of a topic and areas they could improve on. This could be related to specific skills or general attitude to learning. This has become more explicit in lessons through our school ‘Excellence Programme’, where pupils are asked to find a piece of work that they are particularly proud of in order to reflect on how they achieved excellence in learning. The teacher WWW and EBI section allows the teacher to give more generalised feedback to a pupil about their attitude to learning/response to feedback/homework etc.

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Picture 3: A GCSE Geography Module Outline Sheet

At GCSE level module outline sheets use the terminology of the exam specification. This is because this is where a large number of questions originate from. For example, during a mock exam, a question referred to “how vegetation is adapted to the soil and is in harmony with it”. The term “harmony” was used on the exam specification but had not been used explicitly in the textbook or lessons. As such, although the pupils had the knowledge required to answer the question, the wording had thrown them. The module outline sheets can also be used to track topics and completed work. Now that the Geography GCSE exam has much more content, each topic can take up to two terms to complete. By dating work pupils can track any lessons they have missed in order to catch up on that work.