Posts filed under ‘pedagogy’

Managing mental maths

Just wanted to make some notes on two different approaches to mental maths tests. In both my last and current placement the teacher facilitated around 15 minutes mental maths practice at the start of each maths lesson, and set a mental maths test at the end of each week. In my last placement, this was a written test, with 20 questions to answer in two minutes, all on one times table. The teacher marked the answers and noted the scores on a record sheet. If a child scored more 18/20 or more they could move on to the next times table the following week. The teacher encouraged them to think of it as a challenge to themselves, not a competition with others.

In this placement, the mental maths test is given orally (children write the answers), with 10 questions for each maths group (3 groups). The teacher calls out the answers and the children mark each others’ papers. Then they have to read out their score so the teacher can note it on the record.

In both cases, the teachers have found a considerable improvement in children’s mental maths from their approaches, so much respect is due.

Personally I would change the second approach so the children were not reading out their score – to me this aspect makes the whole thing competitive, which I think the research on formative assessment suggests is not helpful. The second approach is fine for those who do well in the test (which is actually most of the class most of the time) but, i feel, liable to humiliate and discourage those who don’t get as high a score as their peers.


May 2, 2009 at 4:47 pm 2 comments

Hanging on

One of our lecturers gave us some good advice the other day, in the form of a quote I can’t now find. It goes something like this, “To survive in times of great change, stick to a few key principles and hang on.”

I thought I might have a go at identifying what key principles I want to hang onto when I’m into my probation year…

[1] Respect all learners and all learning
fostering a supportive, inclusive community, valuing diversity and recognising what children bring to the classroom

[2] Continuing professional development
continue to evaluate my teaching, using this blog and a critical incidents file to reflect on my practice and identify ways to improve

[3] Positivity and solution focus
without taking away from point [2], focus on what’s going well, what the children are achieving, and bring that positivity to my teaching

[4] Assessment for learning
involving all the children in their learning and development, sharing learning intentions and success criteria and making sure feedback is:

  • good quality
    grounded in the idea that everyone can take a next step in their learning
  • Is that enough to be going on with?

    April 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

    “Sit still and be quiet”

    I spent last week writing an assignment on child development, which – apart from wishing I was still lolling around doing nothing or meeting friends – I really enjoyed. In what I now recognise as my usual style, I started off being too ambitious with what I would cover, wrote far too much and then spent a long time cutting and tweaking. These are probably not characteristics that will serve me well as a qualified teacher. However, the point is, I chose to focus on physical development because I knew less about this than cognitive or social development – we had to choose one and I thought I’d learn more by choosing the one I don’t know. In a doubtless naive and under-read way, I tried to make a case for the interconnectedness of all three, and the underlying importance of movement and perception in learning.

    This week, I find brilliant a video on the TED website of Ken Robinson. This is what I was trying to say:

    Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

    January 16, 2009 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

    Celebrating success

    The school I’m placed in at the moment, along with many others I’m sure, uses the concept of Star Work as one of the motivators/rewards for pupils. The piece achieving Star Work status is displayed at the entrance to the classroom, and the teacher sends home a certificate. At first I thought that sounded good. But, I’m finding it difficult to use this system and I’m now a bit troubled by it. How can I single out one piece? It necessarily involves looking at something other than the success criteria for the lesson (if only one child achieved the success criteria then that lesson was a disaster!). What does it say to a child if they achieve the success criteria but their work is not Star Work? I suspect it says, “Your work is also being judged against some other criteria we’re not telling you about, and against that criteria, it just wasn’t as good”.

    I’ve been teaching the class poetry in creative writing lessons. I did choose three poems to be Star Work, but I’ve been trying to value all their work. I got them to write a good copy of their poems about Autumn, which I’ve mounted onto leaf shaped bits of paper (nice idea, but cutting leaf shapes was far too time consuming!). Some of these I’ve displayed on the walls, the rest I intend to turn into a book, though again I suspect this sends mixed messages (why are some on the wall and some not?). I think my greatest success so far is simply reading out their poems to the class. I’ve done this during the lessons and also instead of a story. I don’t choose which ones to read in advance – I read every finished poem, in the order I find them. The children listen very attentively (I think mainly because they are waiting for their own work, though they like hearing other people’s too).

    It was during one of these reading sessions my reservations about the Star Work system increased – one child asked “What happens if it [my poem] is really good?”. I guess she is hoping her poem will be the Star Work. Will she only feel her poem is really good if it is Star Work? I think she has seen the truth, in that way children do: she knows she achieved the success criteria, but she also knows that’s not what Star Work is about; it’s about whether something is “good” or not, and what on earth does that mean?

    Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you feel Star Work does work?

    November 16, 2008 at 8:25 pm Leave a comment

    Routines and strict Miss Doodle… Duggle… Dmmmh

    A big day… I had a go at getting them back in from the playground, whereupon they are supposed collect their milk and settle on the carpet ready to listen to a story or share news. I had already planned a serious talk about “learning behaviour” and by the time I got them all sitting down, it was badly needed. It was a properly scary 15-20 minutes, followed by a very pleasant rest of afternoon. Overall, I think it was progress.

    One thing I realised is I need to pay more attention to how the teacher organises routines. By the time I came out of the cloakroom (a whirl of lost gloves and shoes and tales of falling out) the children were all over the place. It’s chaotic but fixable. I herd those with milk to the carpet and send those without milk to get it. They go. They come back without milk – none left in their box. Suddenly about 10 children are off in all directions up and down the school looking for milk. I am now thinking What happens if I never get them all back sitting down and ready to listen?

    Children start returning with milk. All are now heading for the carpet at my gentle insistence, but they are quite high and absolutely not listening. I tell them I am going to teach them a song, and start to sing (it’s about sitting on the floor and listening). Some of the boys think this is very funny. I am thinking, Will the rest of the class catch the hysteria? What if they all start laughing and don’t stop? A more detached part of me notes with interest that my long held fear of singing solo to an audience (I have a terrible singing voice) is now as nothing.

    I finish singing to a fair bit of laughter, but it has partially worked. I begin the big serious chat about respect and listening. They are rapidly calming down, most are now with me. I silently thank my lecturers, and the staff from my last placement, for the positive behaviour language and concepts I am lifting directly from them. It’s fine – I set expectations, we’re down to about 5 children who are not on board. I tell them if they choose to keep being disrespectful they will be choosing to get a warning [the slippery slope to loosing golden time]. Two carry on talking and laughing – I give them their warning. One more tests it out – I give him his warning. They’re all on board. Ha! Sorted.

    I tell them they are going to respectfully listen to their classmate, who is going to show them a book. They are silent and expectant. A child on the carpet is signalling to me with pleading eyes. His straw is too big – he needs the corner cut off his milk carton so he can drink it. Moment lost. Will there ever be a time this afternoon when we are not talking about or dealing with milk?

    I get scissors to sort the milk. Talking breaks out. I tell them I’m really disappointed, this is disrespectful etc etc. I am temporarily and uncharacteristically strict. How odd – as odd as being Miss MacDougall (or more commonly Miss Doodle) instead of Katy. They settle silent and expectant again. The longest time passes while the child stands at the front with his book, saying nothing and searching in the book for the page he wants. My fault: I should have prepped him. My heart is pounding. I am willing him to find the page he wants before I loose the class again.

    He settles on a page. I read out the first paragraph. He wants to show another page, I say,

    “OK one more.”

    “Just one?”

    “Yes”. Emphatically yes.

    Another long search. But we get through it – we look, I read, he’s happy, it’s done.

    I segway quickly to the preparation for the art activity. It’s planned, it works: they’re thinking, right on task and enjoying it. I attempt and partially succeed in an orderly transition to the tables. They work well – most are getting on independently, all are focussed, happy and taking care with their work. The chat is pleasant. I give lots of praise. The artwork is great. One child tells me she thinks I’ll be a good teacher. I don’t know her criteria for a good teacher (no chance to ask – more glue/paint/scissors needed), but I hope she’s right. Not there yet though.

    October 30, 2008 at 9:24 pm Leave a comment

    Creative a supportive community: feedback

    A quality audience also gives quality feedback. The tips from our peer teaching exercise on Thursday were:

    – Ask everyone to think of one word to describe how they are feeling about the activity and get everyone to tell this to the whole group (one at a time). This gives a sense of the mix of feelings and a bit of empathy.

    – Make sure everyone knows what they are to give/get feedback on before the activity starts.

    – If someone is talking to a group, set one person the task of being the observer and giving feedback, and the others to be the quality audience. Alternatively, if a group is presenting to several other groups, you can ask the separate audience groups to huddle for one minute to discuss and decide on one (positive) piece of feedback they will give.

    – After the activity, ask the person how they thought it went – give feedback based on this.

    – Always find positive points to say, focus on what they did well. Suggest how they can make something “even better”.

    August 31, 2008 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

    Creating a supportive community: speaking

    What is a quality audience?

    Our Director of Studies has introduced us to the idea of a quality audience.. with children, you spend some time discussing what a quality audience looks like, feels like and sounds like, asking them to come up with ideas.

    You can also negotiate with the children, for example, if someone has suggested “everyone must sit still”, you can encourage them to think how much fidgeting is OK, and can we help people who need to fidget, eg by giving them something quiet to fiddle with while they listen…

    Then, in any speaking activity, you can ask them to be a “quality audience” for the speaker. The Director of Studies says things like, “Can I have a quality audience in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1” to bring group chat to a close and focus on the speaker. Works a treat with us!

    August 30, 2008 at 3:00 pm 2 comments

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