Tag Archives: education

Behaviour – Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom by @Mroberts90Matt

Behaviour – Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom

Since beginning teaching in 2014, I have always considered myself to be a fairly positive teacher. I definitely feel that working with children, helping them to understand the reason behind choices in the classroom and empowering them to take responsibility for their actions. Then the last academic year happened and I was confronted with the most challenging class I had encountered…

At first I felt I had guided the more challenging members in my class to make good choices. Things were positive, and then low-level disruption crept in more and more. Positive mentoring and feedback followed and no change. As such, I began to take action in a more negative manner. Sanctions and discipline in line with the school behaviour management system followed. However, the problem that began was not issuing sanctions – they are an important part of any school behaviour management system – but rather in my mentality.

The Trap

As days turned into weeks of dealing with consistent incidents outside my classroom and then some appearing in my classroom, I subconsciously began to take a more negative stance. My thinking behind this was to supress any poor behaviour that could take place. External influences such as the upcoming SATs, imminent Ofsted inspection and the most responsibility I had taken on thus far (leading the middle leadership team, PE and Sport Coordinator, Maths Lead Team and completing an NPQML whole school project) meant that I felt less and less patience for the children that I was ultimately working myself to the bone so that they could make progress in their education. I was developing a class that responded instantly to threat of sanction for short-term engagement rather than a class who were creating a love for learning and who responded because they wanted to do well.

Of course, I did not want this. However, the day-to-day flow of teaching and pressure in many areas created this environment and mindset.

The Escape

As things were developing in this negative culture, I found myself following the thread of #PrimaryRocksLive and the first keynote speaker was @pivotalpaul (or Paul Dix in the non-virtual world). I wasn’t there in person however the EduTwitterverse exploded with quotes from his comments. One thing in particular stood out to me – we should not praise poor behaviour. Obvious right? However, he made this point which was very poignant for me at the time – why do teachers insist on writing the names of the children who make the wrong choices on the board? Why not write the children’s names on who make the right choices? Reading this was almost like a revelation. I had fallen into the practice of routinely writing names on the board in an attempt to visualise to the children the wrong choices they were making – but ultimately all that was doing was giving them promotion to their actions.

Another major factor on this path back to positivity was a twilight given by @ArtOfBrillAndyW (Andy Whitaker – The Art of Being Brilliant). This motivational speaker really eneergised and enthused the staff with positivity and the mindset that we can aim to be our top 2% and ways to overcome challenges to that positive outlook. When we can maintain that positive outlook that positivity will leak into our teaching into our classroom, into the children we teach.

The Change

So, what did I do? From the following Monday the usual space where I wrote perpetrators’ names was changed to our #BestSeatsintheHouse space (inspired by Ant and Dec’s SNT and @chrisdyson and the wonderful work at Parklands Primary School, Leeds). I moved away from jumping straight to negative reinforcement to try and subdue behaviour problems but tried to overload the class with a better mindset. Did it work completely? No. No matter how much of a positive approach you take in teaching it would be foolish to expect there to be no behaviour problems. However, slowly but surely things started to improve.

 

After this reflection I have learnt very important lessons:

Positivity trumps negativity – every time

If anyone can come and prove to me that a negative, suppressing approach to behaviour has a better impact on a child’s ability to consider their own behaviour then I would readily receive it. However, I am yet to find a circumstance where that is the case.

What you promote in the classroom is what you’ll receive

If you consistently are on the lookout for poor behaviour and that is the commentary in your teaching (e.g. I am looking to see who needs to receive (insert sanction), whoever is talking will…, make sure you are not making the wrong choice) then that will probably be what you find. If you consistently promote good choices (e.g. proximinal praise, I am noticing a lot of good choices being made… and do on) then that will be found more often. Again, nothing is fool proof but it certainly has an impact.

 Positive and promotional approaches must be in place early on to be effective

I found that as we approached the end of the school year whilst I had certainly turned things around in my classroom, things were probably not as positive as they could have been. And this leads to the most difficult lesson – positivity must be persistent. Even in the cold, dark, wet months of November to February. Carry optimistic approaches from October through to March and things will be more positive. It will be difficult to maintain but well worth it!

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Observing Shanghai Teaching by @Mroberts90Matt

Since becoming Maths Coordinator, I’ve taken the opportunity to align our school with our local Maths Hub. I feel this is a valuable link as not only does it mean we can learn from other school’s and their good practice but we are given the chance to observe and learn about current advances in Maths education.

 

Two of these unique experiences have taken place in the past couple of weeks. One was an opportunity to observe a lesson from an educator from Shanghai. This was an incredible experience.  Shanghai is one of the top performers in Mathematics according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and I was fascinated to see what all the fuss was about!

Me and my colleague entered the school hall and found around 70 chairs set out for teachers to observe and sets of tables set out in a classroom layout. This surprised me already. I had heard of lesson studies and observation opportunities like this but had never seen one. I was very intrigued to see how this would work. As the lesson commenced there were clear differences between this approach and the usual starter-main-plenary approach that we have become used to in the UK, with plenty of differentiation and limited teacher-talk. This is what I noticed:

1)    Use of language and vocabulary
I was particularly pleased to notice this straight away. The Shanghai teacher repeated the key mathematical vocabulary and sentence structures throughout the lesson. Whenever a question was asked, the children were always expected to answer in full sentences and in clear response. The class that I was observing were trained in this style of instruction for almost 4 years so they were very adept at this. However, it does not necessarily take that long to implement. I mentioned I was pleased because we have begun to implement the same value of mathematical talk and vocabulary in our school using our TalkMaths approach. It also encourages staff to use stem sentences, similar to the Shanghai lesson that I saw. Interestingly, the teacher deliberately chose a higher attaining pupil to model the correct use of vocabulary in full sentences. This provided a good role model and other pupils then followed suit. This practice therefore requires a mixed ability class. The practice of setting or streaming Maths classes would frustrate the efficacy of this approach.

2)     Conceptual Understanding 
I was watching a lesson where the objective was to compare fractions with the same numerator to a class of Year 5 children. The progression from previous lessons was laid out for us by the Shanghai teacher and they had been using a fraction wall to enable the children to work through the concepts step by step.

Fractions

Although the children did not move completely into the abstract without the pictorial representation in the majority, they were beginning to solve problems at the end of the lesson without the pictorial aid.

3)     Focus on the objective
In this lesson I observed the objective was to compare fractions with the same numerator. The children had previously learnt about comparing fractions with different denominators but, after a brief review of that objective at the beginning, this wasn’t mentioned again. This was not the only thing though that showed a complete focus on the learning objective. The teacher planned a game at the end where the children had to create the largest fraction when given a numerator. For example, they were given the numerator ‘5’ and had to make the largest fraction. Now, me and my competitive self, wondered how long it would be before some clever child realised all they had to do was write the number ‘1’ as the denominator and win every time. However, one child tried ‘4’ and the teacher simply addressed this by requesting  the denominator be greater than or equal to the numerator to create a proper fraction. Evidently this year group had not yet dealt with improper fractions and they were required to focus on the objective at hand. If any of my children had done this I would have applauded them and said they had indeed found the larger fraction. This made me question which was the better approach.
However, on reflection, I realised the genius behind staying on the objective. If the Shanghai teacher had gone in a different direction to explain the improper fraction concept then some children would have become confused and question their understanding of the concept at hand.

4)     Differentiation and Teacher Talk
This was a stark difference, noticeable instantly as the lesson progressed. The teacher spoke to the class, modelling language and demonstrating concept knowledge, for the majority of the lesson. This is where external watchdogs and validators such as Ofsted have had a real influence on teaching practice. Around 10 years ago it wouldn’t be uncommon to see, where teaching had been graded as less than outstanding, that there may have been too much talk by the teacher. This led to a wave of dislike over too much teacher talk in internal observations and a culture of no teacher talk ensued for many years. However, in the past few years Ofsted have shifted and have stated that they will favour no particular teaching style, so long as there is progress in the lesson. As such, this means that teaching approaches, such as Shanghai Maths, are now becoming more accepted in the classroom.

The other noticeable difference was the distinct lack of differentiation. All children in the class engaged, all children in the class aimed for the same goal and all children in the class completed the same activities. This again would be condemned by the previous Ofsted regimes. It still would be frowned upon in most schools. However, if the approach is to work this is clear, all must take part in the same language and same learning opportunities. From the staff that I spoke to who had taken this approach on board at the school this observation took place, they felt very strongly that the Shanghai approach had contributed to the gap between the lower ability and the higher ability reducing, whilst still pushing on the higher ability children. This was a question that came up, how are the gifted and talented stretched and challenged if they encounter the same challenges as their peers. There were many responses: peer coaching, finding more methods to solve the problems, creating their own similar problems and explaining their methods in numerous ways.

Next Step

For me, the week later I was able to network with a number of schools that had implemented the Singapore Maths approach to their schools through the ‘Maths – No Problem!’ textbook and principles. These principles of the Singapore Maths I found to be very similar to Shanghai – teacher-led, no differentiation, subject knowledge focused, focus on small steps and specific learning objectives. And of course, the ‘Maths – No Problem!’ textbook is the only textbook approved by the DfE. All of this has definitely caught my interest…

As Maths Lead my focus is the well-being of Maths at the school and so far I see two issues to be addressed: subject knowledge of staff and the workload on our staff to plan sessions. We follow the White Rose scheme which breaks down the content well and has good questions to use with the children but not really enough activities to deepen understanding fully. As such, staff are required to look in different places such as nRich, NCETM and other sites. These are sufficient however it is a huge drain on staff time when they could be sharpening up subject knowledge on what they will be teaching instead.

There is a long way to go but all of this is food for thought for the weeks, months and years to come…

Times Tables Rock Stars by @Mroberts90Matt

It’s been a few years now that a mandatory times tables assessment as been banded about. Snap general elections, changes in Education Secretaries and basically the fact that other more important things had to be sorted meant that this took a while to come into force. However, the time has come and we have an answer. From the 2019-2020 academic year, every Year 4 child across the country will undertake a mandatory, online assessment of their times tables.​​​​​​ Whether this is required or not is another debate – however I am personally pleased with the way in which the format and timing of the assessment was decided – namely through an open online consultation for education professionals. It’s a shame that just under a thousand teachers responded (if we want decision-makers in education to listen to teaching staff then we need to take the chance to have our voice heard) but it is still a positive step I feel.

One thing that this announcement has done for me as a new Maths Coordinator is take action – I suppose if that’s the case for others then the new times tables assessment may already be successful?…

Anyway, as a school we decided to improve our mastery of our children’s times tables by investing in Times Tables Rock Stars. And was it worth every penny! What I will aim to do here is explain how we have trialled this programme in my Year 6 class, how the school is buzzing about it and the impact we are already seeing from our two-prong approach:

Paper Challenges

One feature of TTRS is the worksheet challenges they offer. In the past our school would do times tables mental starters every now and then, followed by a main times tables challenge at the end of the week. These would take the form of times tables grids with randomised numbers. Older year groups would take on a big grid and the younger year groups some smaller ones. However, we wanted to integrate times tables challenges more throughout the week and drive more purpose into the challenges. Times Tables Rock Stars does this very effectively with a number of banks of challenges. Teachers can personalise these schedules of challenges to certain times tables, whether they do 3, 4 or 5 challenges a week and whether they include division.

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All challenges within these banks give the children three minutes to complete sixty questions. The children can then add up their scores and time over the entire week of challenges. This is where the magic really begins to happen…

There is a place on the website where you can fairly easily input this data onto the website. When each child’s score is put into the week (we do this on a Friday) the children can see their individual rock speed. They take great delight in trying to reach our target speed and trying to be the best class in the school (more on that in a minute). You can then see your classes progress on the website also:

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(Ignore week 5 – we have not yet added our fastest group’s time to the class average)

What we have done with this as a school is created a Weekly Times Tables Trophy and the class that does the best with their target speed wins this. This is calculated by the number of children who reach the target time for that class divided by the number of children. Of course, the target time is differentiated by year group and class as can be seen here:

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We have done this twice now and something very interesting has happened. Because the school challenge is far more fair as each class teacher is using their professional judgement to focus their times table challenges on what their class needs and the target speed is differentiated, the award is much more open. And who doesn’t love filling in a quick times tables challenge whilst listening to Living On a Prayer or We Built This City on Rock and Roll? 😉

However, this is not even the most exciting part of using Times Tables Rock Stars…

Online Challenges

On the website there are four engaging and exciting modes to play:

Festival – This mode allows all children across the world to play one minute challenges against each other with random times tables up to 12×12. This is the default mode that appears but must be used with care for younger children as it does include all times tables.
Studio – This is a single player mode that again includes all 12x tables. However, this is a particularly important mode. It allows you (once you’ve completed a minimum of 10 games) to set an online rock speed which you can compete against others in your school on a leaderboard to get the best rock speed. This really brings in a competitive edge to the online version and our children love looking at our class leaderboard in our room to see who’s moved up! You can even compare average rock speeds with other local schools! A must-use method!
Garage – Another vital mode. This is a single player mode where the children receive 10 coins for each correct answer (whereas the other modes reward a correct answer with only once coin). This encourages more children to try this mode which is important as it is the main mode where the teacher can set the times tables questioned. There are even 5 groups that you can put the children in and differentiate the questions that they will receive. This is what I would encourage most younger year groups to use before they have a firmer grasp on all times tables.
Rock Arena – Basically the same as the Garage but it is a multiplayer version for just the children in your class to compete against each other (with their differentiated tables). A good mode to use if you’re going online as a class.

We encourage our children across school to go on the website at home and we have purchased the app add-on which allows them to access it on our school iPads and most devices at home. We incentivise it using ‘Most Improved’ awards and ‘Highest Earner’ awards which are posted in each classroom and can be easily downloaded off the resource-rich website.

Impact

One half-term is usually too soon to note significant impacts on times table progress. However, two pieces of evidence seem to indicate with my two Year 6 groups that this two prong approach using Times Tables Rock Stars is already making a difference.

First, the percentage calculated in both our higher ability and lower ability maths sets has steadily increased each week. This is not a generalisation. I have recorded the percentage each week and (apart from one week right at the start for both groups) each group’s percentage of children reaching their target speed has increased steadily! Evidence that the paper challenges have had an impact in the Year 6 trial!

Secondly, within Year 6 there is a difference between the two classes. One class have a 0.75 quicker average rock speed than the other. This is might not sound like a lot but it is significant. Interestingly this gap has slightly increased over time. What is the difference between the two? The class with more minutes played online on Times Tables Rock Stars are the class with the fastest average speed which has steadily gained a faster speed than the other.

I would encourage all schools to seriously take this programme on. Not only will it help prepare their current Year 2s and future children for the new times tables assessments (which by the way will be typed online, which Times Tables Rock Stars will also prepare them for) but it will help the children gain a quicker ability on the recall of their times tables. Also, it is very affordably priced in a world where schools have to make more and more cuts.

Right – off I go to try and overtake that pesky Year 6 who has once again beaten my rock speed – this time with a 0.77 answers per second!

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Developing Deeper Understanding of Calculation Methods by @Mroberts90Matt

A word that seemed to be a buzz word when the new National Curriculum was published was ‘fluency’. The definition of fluent online is ‘smoothly graceful and effortless’. In looking at the aim in the National Curriculum, it seems to refer to bring able to understand why methods work in Maths (not just go through the motion of doing the method) and apply the method to appropriate questions and problems. So how do we develop Mathematical fluency in children? Do we give them a list of calculations? Or is there more required?

Recently our Year 6 began that wonderful journey of dividing by two digit numbers. Why doing this with an extra digit is such a great jump I’m not sure – maybe another focus for a future blog…

Anyway, as many Year 6 teachers will know – along with the teachers who introduce any formal methods of calculation, helping the children understand why they use these methods and the maths behind them is much harder than just getting the children to work on the mechanics of the calculation. Thus, scores and scores of children are taught the method without necessarily understanding the maths behind them. Since the introduction of a mastery approach to teaching maths, this has been improving.

This is how we tackled this challenge whilst trying to develop a deeper understanding and mastery of the calculation method.

1. Pitch

Naturally in the first session there was already a range of confidence. Some of our Year 6 children were already familiar with and confident with long division whereas some had just about still got a grasp on dividing by a single digit number. Those children were offered the opportunity to either go and attempt a few calculations to make sure there were confident or attempt an estimation challenge involving the long division from nRich: Dicey Operations Game 6

With the rest of the children, initially after a visual representation of the method, a number of demonstrations and a discussion around how the remainders and other aspects of the method worked, the choice was again given to the children where to pitch themselves. Those who felt confident then went to try either of the before mentioned challenges where those that did not stayed in the ‘Long Division Clinic’. The Clinic involves whiteboard work, discussion and targeting from the Teacher and explaining to their peers the process they are working through with careful listening in by the Teacher.

In order to enable the children to practice the calculation and get a real-time assessment on whether they were correct or not whilst I worked with those who still needed to grasp the method we used the website MathsBot which creates instant problems and the chn could quickly uncover the answer on the IWB to check they were correct. If not, they were to analyse, with a partner if needed, to uncover the error.

2. Clinic Continues

Because of the nature of the first session being much more introductory, there is more time given now for those who are less confident to continue working in the Clinic and then try independently. By this stage also, by scrutiny of the previous lesson’s learning, some children may have been discovered who were not as confident as previously thought. These can come into the ‘Clinic’ briefly to check where any misconceptions are.

Meanwhile, those who are more confident have choices on how to push themselves further. Try some more challenging problems set by the Teacher, work on showing their remainders as fractions or decimals and finally some reasoning and problem solving problems set by White Rose Maths which develop understanding on how to apply this method to problems.

3. Tutorials

It is well documented that we learn 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see and so on… But we learn 95% of what we teach others. So the question was for me then ‘How could I get my class to teach others in a way that will include all?’ Of course I could go down the route of whole class presentation… But if I were a10 year old child I would struggle to stand up and teach my peers the basics of long division. Teaching to groups is always fun, less intimidating. The question that method throws up is how could I accurately assess if each individual child had met the LO when different groups are teaching each other at once? To have each group teach other one by one so I could listen to every child would be too time consuming. So what?

I was led to an app called Explain Everything which was perfect. @ICT_MrP was the first to introduce this to me.

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 The app allows the user to create a video whilst using a drawing tool or a highlighting tool and images. This gave the perfect opportunity for the children to ‘teach’ someone how to use skills in Maths. In doing this, the children themselves become increasingly competent, developing their fluency.

This video not only gives the children an opportunity to engage in a meaningful and purposeful activity, but it can also serve as a future stimulus to remember previous learning. These are some examples:

http://www.kingsroadschool.com/year-6-long-division-tutorials/

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Not only does this allow the children the opportunity to explain the workings behind the formal method, it encourages them to take it step by step and plan how to break down the calculation for someone that is new to the concept. There is also that extra incentive where they could have their work used for a huge purpose – to have on the school website as part of our calculation policy and teach others who are interested in how to use this formal method.

Considering how to group the children is key in this task. Children should be allowed the opportunity to work independently as some will feel inhibited by not being able to express their explanations with extra discussion. However, some children will not yet be fully confident in their abilities and so mixed-ability pairing is extremely useful here. This is not only enable the children to further internalise the formal method but also make peer coaching another input for all children to get this calculation approach.

4. Take on the Problems!

By this stage – most children should be fairly competent in the method or at least much more closer to grasping it than they were before. This is where the real application, the whole reason why we learn these methods, comes into play. A selection of problems are available of differing levels (strictly no straight calculations) – the children are in mixed ability pairs and take on the challenges they wish to try. This ‘Hot/Spicy/Chilli’ approach means they can start where they feel comfortable and then advance or step back where they feel is necessary.  The challenges can be sourced again from the White Rose Maths documents (they have a lot of sessions when teachers are required to teach a new calculation method) and also many other areas. These challenges are completed on large, graffiti paper so that concerns about presentation or neatness can be put to one side and the maths is the main focus:

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As the session progresses, the children are expected to discuss their thoughts and their answers. This will again develop children’s ability to talk through the calculation. This would be the equivalent of the ‘Ruler of Reasoning’ session in my ‘TalkMaths Approach’ shared in a recent post. The Teacher’s role is to step back and listen in to discussions. From this observation they can address any final or further misconceptions that can be dealt with as a whole class.

No approach is foolproof. There will still be children who won’t have grasped the concept after this approach – however, this will give children a pace to suit them. Faster and more in-depth if needed, slower and more probing if required. Teaching and learning formal methods of calculation is a necessary facet of maths teaching in KS2 Maths and a lynchpin in any child’s mathematical toolkit. A deeper understanding must be developed – hopefully this will help.

Daily Whole Class Feedback by @Mroberts90Matt

A recent idea shared by @_MissieBee has prompted me to share this. It links very closely to a brilliant idea where the class are given a whole class feedback slide or sheet to stick in their book which highlights good things done and common misconceptions. I shared a very similar idea previously and have updated it over the years. It is different to what was shared as it offers a regular, even daily, model which could fit into most, if not all, subjects which require recording in books.

One of the most frustrating things I  (used to) deal with as a teacher was the amount of time marking takes. It really is one of the biggest causes of workload. The most tiresome aspect was writing the same comments in multiple books. Things such as “Don’t forget to line up your place value,” or “Check you use punctuation at the end of your speech,” or even “Name one impact of exercise on the body.” Yes – not only can this approach address misconceptions, but give a follow up challenge without either the teacher writing it 20-odd times or cutting it out and sticking it in multiple times. This Daily Whole Class Marking allows me mark a set of books within 30 minutes complete with personalised comments on misconceptions and challenges. It hones in on each child with the teacher only writing in two or three symbols into their book.

Some examples are here: Cinquain Poem Writing

12Another one for Suspense Narrative writing:13

Maths this time – with challenge questions:

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And finally a Science:

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The Idea

I would start straight away by emphasising that this is not my original idea. I came across the method in a series of excellent summer blog posts by @LearningSpy who referenced it to Joe Kirby’s blog! The idea is so simple – basically instead of writing comments that is expected by a teacher to praise what the child has done and give constructive steps on how to improve – you write down three symbols. Then, in the very next lesson (as this method allows you to mark books for the very next lesson with ease) children are given 5 mins to copy down the relevant feedback to those symbols. Typically I have numerous various comments that are used across a set of 30 books ranging from correcting common misconceptions to a gentle reminder to underline the date and LO. During this specific 5 mins at the start of the next lesson, I am then able take the time to target individual children I have made a note of to give some extra verbal feedback on what they’ve done and try to progress their understanding further. I personally have labelled this time ‘MAD Time’ (Make A Difference) but the concept is that the children write the personalised comments down, rather than the teacher.

Does it MAD?

Well, I have been using this method in my feedback approach for over three years now. There are issues:
1. It may be more challenging for Phase teachers younger in the school (particularly KS1) to adapt this. Possible, but more challenging
2. The first week is always the most ineffective as the children get used to the method of feedback and are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their learning. It does take focus from them and reminders on how to use the time best but each year I have done this, the most challenging learners I have had have seen the advantage of this and taken it on board.

Despite these potential barriers, there has been clear outcomes. These are listed below:

  1.  My workload has balanced

Before I would spend up to an hour, maybe more, marking a set of class books. After having written repetitive comments in books the children would then barely give them a second glance, despite my attempts at the start of each lesson to get them to read and initial the words painstakingly etched by me. This would become disheartening after time. Now, I find I am spending 20-30mins or so on the same number of books. This means I have more time to prepare engaging follow on lessons from the learning I’ve just assessed. We all know providing written feedback is a huge drain on time and whilst some schools may be moving away from written feedback reliance, many are still expecting this. This approach allows this still to be met, whilst freeing time for the teacher.

2. The feedback has improved

I am not afraid to admit it – after marking 20-23 books, my enthusiasm would deplete and my comments to the children in their books would become more and more generic and rushed. I suppose this is human nature (and why a wonderful piece of writing from a child might get more rushed toward the end!) Because of this technique, the level of personalised feedback is constant for the whole class, not just the children whose books are nearer the top of the pile! One big loss in the later books in my pile would be follow up questions. I would be less likely to write these in later books. Also, if I planned to stick in follow up challenges, I often forget to print these off and take them home. Once I have the books home, I have forgotten them and therefore no challenge question to push my learners further. This way, there will always be opportunity for follow up challenges.

3. The technique gets the children to take the feedback in

Now that the children are, in essence, writing comments on their own work they seem to take it in more. I have seen direct improvement on a child’s work from comments they have written. Would those improvements have been made if I had written them? Maybe, but it is less likely the child would have read them. This way, the feedback is certain to be acknowledged, even if then the child makes no effort to act on it.

We all know the frustration when we spend all this time writing comments then the children just turn the page without taking it in. This approach means the children have to at least read, write and respond to the feedback (in their purple pen) to indicate any difference to their learning.

4. It shows innovative practice which is centred on one thing – learning

This marking approach has been used under two senior leadership teams. Both of them have stated that they feel this is outstanding practice in feedback. The MAD Time was stated as an extremely good way of helping children make a difference in their learning and straight away set a precedent for that lesson that we were there to learn, and they would have the feedback yesterday to work on. The whole reason I have decided to use this is because it has an impact on the children’s learning. This can be seen in session, in the books and in the data. Learning is the centre of this approach.

5. FInally…the children GET it!

I did NOT expect this outcome! Quite honestly, I thought my class would hate it to begin with. However, now when I display the 8-10 comments they may find in their work, they actually get excited to see what they receive! Some even utter a ‘yesss’ when they know it’s MAD Time before they then find they have a ~) or a +) which they need to work on. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because it’s a new idea and it’ll lose it’s freshness after a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s because they feel they are actually engaging in something they feel is new and a good way to improve their learning. They actually care that they understand why they’ve received certain feedback and what they can do to achieve that.

Will you try MAD Time in your teaching and learning? How do you get written and verbal feedback across to your class and are there any other ways that have been effective for you? Are you MAD?

Classroom Displays by @Mroberts90Matt

September is in full flow. Classes are back and teachers are already getting stuck into helping the children in their class make great progress. Summer seems so far away, particularly as the mornings and afternoons have begun to get darker very swiftly.

As swiftly as the autumn has swept in, the crazy summer on EduTwitter seems to have dissipated. I seemed to have missed the full extent but there was allsorts – insults, jibes, ‘discussions’ between primary and secondary colleagues, the everlasting trad/prog debate and even uproar over a classroom view. But now term has begun all seems to have settled back into a quiet swing of excellent classroom ideas, wellbeing advice and professional support.

One topic that surfaced every now and again was the debate on classroom displays. The debate was this: what is an acceptable amount of time to be spending on classroom displays?

I love a good-looking display as much as the next person. I do see their value. However, if I could avoid doing any task in my classroom, keeping maintained, up-to-date and engaging classroom displays would be it! The task that I would shirk first. Forget marking, risk assessment filling…anything! As such, these debates intrigued me. Some teachers put the opinion forward that spending a large amount of time on classroom displays is a waste of time. Others would argue that if this how teachers want to spend their spare time then what’s the problem? Others then argue back that we can’t fight the battle against an increasing workload when some put more hours into a task like classroom displays than is necessary. If they do it then what’s the problem with asking others to do it?

As I reflected on this I wondered if there was a difference on the time spent on this area of preparing the learning environment between primary and secondary teachers. Twitter polls are not the be all and end all of teacher opinion, but an interesting pattern did emerge:

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As can be seen in the above polls, there are some interesting comparisons.

A similar proportion of primary and secondary teachers do not spend 4 days or more on classroom displays.

There is a much wider spread of responses within the primary sector.

70% of secondary teachers spend a day or less on displays compared to 44% of primary teachers.

There will be a number of reasons for this:

  • I imagine a huge reason is that secondary teachers do not have a set class or generally a set classroom (please correct me if I am wrong secondary colleagues).
  • As primary colleagues, we teach younger children. Therefore, maybe some feel younger children may need more vibrant displays perhaps?

If anyone has any others thoughts on this difference would love to hear them!

Ironically on the same day that I posted this poll, an article Jamie Thom in the Guardian online addressed some thoughts I had been considering. The article can be read here: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2017/sep/01/how-to-be-a-minimalist-teacher?CMP=share_btn_tw

Have a look – it covers a lot of thoughts I had. Happy October 🙂

Reflections on #nomoreboysandgirls by @Mroberts90Matt

Everyone will have heard of this documentary recently, and if you haven’t then go and watch it…now. On BBC iPlayer. I’ll wait…

Now that you have seen it, this was an excellent, thought-provoking two-part documentary about gender stereotypes and how these stereotypes are formed. Before watching this programme I was very much aware about how we can influence the gender views of the rising generation. However, I assumed there was some element of nature as well as nurture behind the preferences and that these influences created the strengths and characteristics of the gender. In this article I will not attempt to provide a summary of the documentary as I would not do it justice in my humble writing. However, if you seriously have not seen it, it is well worth a watch.

What I will do is pick out some of the reflections I had watching this enlightening documentary as an intrigued teacher, a curious observer and a riveted parent.

1 The need to be more reflective

One thing that hit me straight away was the way in which teacher-extraordinaire, Graham Andre (@grahamandre), allowed a crew of BBC television cameras into his classroom and watch him as he taught. Now, I know many professional teachers who shudder at the thought of having their headteacher who wonders around the school often into their lesson for 20 minutes occasionally. The thought that Mr Andre had a national television programme recorded in his classroom l leaves me in awe as my classroom is barely presentable at the best of times. However, not only the facades of the classroom were on display for the nation to witness, but Mr Andre himself in action.

However, as always on social media, there was criticism – particularly around Mr Andre’s use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘mate’. Now, I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised by these terms being used in the classroom – just not what I do. Despite this, the harsh words used online were unwarranted. I then thought over this further…it takes an incredible practitioner to have the confidence to allow television cameras into their classroom and teach for all to see. I had to applaud Mr Andre and his brilliant class.

This got me to thinking – teachers are often monitored by others and receive feedback from them. However, one technique that has been aired is the recording of one’s self whilst teaching and then looking back over the footage to self-evaluate teaching styles. I had this done during my teacher training in my final placement on request of my University Tutor who was doing research into it. I found it very informative and useful. Possibly could be something I will look into this year. Graham Andre was extremely reflective and willing to adjust practice from the feedback given to him and this is the mark of a reflective practitioner.

2 The (unrecognised) power of parents

The power and influence of parents cannot be overestimated. As teachers, we know this. We despair when children are not given the focus of daily reading or times table practice at home and rejoice when an engaged parent arrives at your door, willing to listen to any advie to help their child progress in their learning. However, this reflection came as the concerned parent of a 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. As I sat and watched this documentary I started to analyse the influence I have on my own children. Whilst I feel we do ok, there is a recognition that I have an immense responsibility as a father to help my children develop in a world where they feel anything is possible is they put there mind to it.

This is not simply wishful, idealistic thinking but helping them realise that they can aim for whatever they wish to do and I have to be careful not to stunt any potential growth in any area. Not easy in a world where, as shown by the documentary, retail, the media and other influences are becoming ever more skewed towards gender stereotypes for children – ironically when we are aiming for a more equality view towards gender amongst adults.

I am hoping many more parents watched this and recognised the power and influence which they have.

3 Schools do not hold ultimate responsibility…

Here my thoughts switched back to me as a teacher. My thought was ‘What can I do in my classroom?’ What shone through in the documentary was that schools cannot do this alone. I can stand before the children and promote gender-equal views and challenge any stereotypes the children may have, however there are a number of other influences besides the teacher and school. Friends play a huge part and home life have a massive stake in the opinions and views.

As such this is where schools have to be proactive and reach out to parents and communities. In the documentary, the Head of Lanesend Primary School commented on how they will intend to continue the initiative to avoid gender stereotypes. What I would be interested to find out is how they involve parents in the drive…

4 …BUT schools do hold some power

Schools have power. They can take the initiative to make a difference. As was shown in the documentary, not only does breaking down the walls of ‘gender skewing’ give children the belief that they can achieve any goal (gender is not a barrier) but also there were other benefits. Most stark were the reduction of poor behaviour in boys (by over 50%) and a higher self esteem amongst the girls. Schools must therefore be focused on doing everything in their power to assist in challenging gender stereotypes. Yes, they are not the only stakeholders that need to act on this. However, they can get the ball rolling.

It was great to hear that Mr Andre had presented the experiment to the Institute of Education – hopefully there will be something that comes along in the pipeline. However, as professionals I had this question:

What can YOU do now?

I cannot influence multiple schools and local authorities to have a focused effort to challenge gender stereotypes. Maybe you reading this can (please do so)! However, I can begin where I have influence, in the walls of my classroom. It will not be easy, the first challenge is recognising the habits or tendencies I may have that reinforce gender stereotypes but then, once recognised, I can change that. I would encourage you to do the same!

Academic Year Resolutions by @Mroberts90Matt

The start of a brand new academic year! I am honestly very excited. After an NQT year, RQT year and then a year developing my leadership with an NPQML qualification, I am ready to take on a new role as Maths Coordinator in our 2/3 form entry primary school. As I have done each year – I hope to begin the year with some resolutions to keep me focused, driven and moving towards objectives which I hope to achieve through the year. As always, I have looked back on the goals I have set in the past, have built on them and added a couple of new ones.

1. Keep my home-work life balanced

This goal first appeared in my NQT Resolutions and it then was recorded as my first RQT resolution also and it may well be the first on my list every year in my career. My family are the most important thing to me. I will certainly not be trading them for a successful career in teaching – I would change jobs before that happened. Obviously it can be done but it will require time management and careful a selection of priorities. I look around at some of the staff in my school who have families of their own and wonder how they can manage to do what they do! Now, at this stage in my career I have an incredible, supportive and interested wife as well as a 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter – so it is busy times in the Roberts household! Our son is moving into Year 1 this year so it is becoming even more busy! Yet, as long as I keep this goal foremost in mind I know it will be fine – it has certainly been becoming easier to spend more time with my family and I intend to continue the trend.

2. Complete my NPQML with an excellent result

Last year I began an NPQML qualification which I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do. I was able to lead a school improvement project which seems to have had a positive impact on the teaching of Maths in school. This really has been, and will continue to be, an excellent learning experience. I have until November to complete the writing up and tidying up of the assignment and as I do, I’m noticing just how much I’ve learnt. So, I want to try and complete this qualification with a great result.

3. Create an impact on times tables learning in the school

As mentioned, I have an exciting new role in my school as the Maths Coordinator in the school. I’ll have the opportunity to work with an incredible team to continue the progress we’ve made in the school. One area that I think will need development as the government begins to implement further assessment is times tables learning. We need to create a new, exciting way for the children in our school to latch onto times table learning. We’ve invested in @TTRockStars which is an engaging programme which can provide regular, consistent practice for all in school with a drive to gain in mastery and speed of the times tables. I’m anxious for this to take hold so this will be a goal for me.

4. Set school up as part of a Maths Hub

One piece of advice we were given as a school maths leadership last year was to join a local Maths Hub. This would provide an opportunity for the school to network further as well as provide a way for the school to demonstrate excellent practice. This may be a straightforward goal but it’s one which I think will develop the school and take it to the next level in it’s Maths progression.

5. Push for more staff sports opportunities

A few events were set up during the year last academic year (Rounders, Dodgeball) and they were great opportunities for staff wellbeing and relationship building. I’m not sure of many other schools that engage in this, and those that do I’m sure are warm, welcoming places to work. I want to try and encourage the staff to take part in one event a half-term. This teaching business can be tough. In the Summer 2 term there was a lot of monitoring and important actions in the school that happened and everyone worked really hard. We planned a Rounders event towards the end and it was a great release for all those involved.

There you have it  – some straightforward goals focused on new opportunities that I have. Hoping you have a wonderful new journey this academic year.

Developing a World-Class Maths Model by @Mroberts90Matt

Previously I wrote about a whole school initiative I was planning to implement into my school called Talk4Maths, a Maths-focused drive on vocabulary and maths talk drawing on ideas from the well-known Literacy initiative Talk4Writing. The research and thinking behind this Talk4Maths can be found here. After some development with a team I was fortunate to work with in school and implementing it, I have refined this strategy into a model which is now at work across my school and has been for almost 5 months. It seems to be going well – some of the impact will be addressed later in this post.

What is Talk4Maths?

Talk4Maths is an approach to teaching and learning Maths which is based on talk and discussion. It asserts that Maths learning is taken in more when children are given the chance to explain their reasoning and describe different skills and processes. There are opportunities for children to internalise mathematic skills and concepts using oral retelling and actions. They then talk. Talk has been shown to develop mathematical understanding significantly:

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As talk is the focus of this initiative, the Talk4Maths strategy then breaks down into three main approaches.

How does Talk4Maths look?

There are three key elements of our Model that we started to implement:

  • 1. Using oral retelling and actions to internalise mathematical terms and skills:
    This is the part of Talk4Maths which draws from Talk4Writing in a similar way. The children are encouraged to internalise mathematical skills and terms using mnemonics and actions to improve their memory of them. As a school we developed universal actions which all staff could use:

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What you see above is the action for ‘multiply’. My Y6 class used this method to memorise terms such as ‘factor’, ‘prime’ and ‘square number’ as well as how to use the four operations on fractions.

  • 2. Creating ‘concept maps’ to show step-by-step understanding:
    The fluency developed from oral retelling and actions is then built on by children developing concept maps to help them break down skills and concepts and visualise them. They can create the concept maps, talk through them with their peers and even create other types of ‘concept maps’ such as tutorials (an example is when we created Long Division tutorials on Explain Everything on the iPads). An example of a written concept map can be seen below:

    Factors

    What you see is ‘Factors multiply together to create a product’. As mentioned in my previous post I had a child working at a low Year 3 level who went home and taught his parents about what a factor was and gave some examples. This was a great example of how creating concept maps could work.

  • 3. Special ‘Talk4Maths’ sessions which involve problem solving, talk and informal recording on sugar paper.
    This is my favourite part (and probably the most important) for what is the purpose of developing fluency in mathematical  skills and concepts if this fluency is not developed in reasoning and problem solving challenges. As such, we set staff the challenge to involve AT LEAST once a fortnight a session dedicated to problem solving and talk. Of course they are expected to incorporate this in most sessions, but this session is special. It is out of books on a more informal style of recording, whatever that may be, and provides ALL the opportunity to discuss and tackle problems using the skills they have developed up until that point.  Some examples below:

To add extra incentive for the children to engage fully, the teacher circulates the groups and picks out through observation one learner who has stood out for their use of mathematical vocabulary. They are crowned in that week’s celebration assembly as (wait for it…) the Ruler of Reasoning!

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And it gets even better – the Ruler of Reasoning from that fortnight receives a personalised RULER OF REASONING (a special ruler with the above logo inside it) which is theirs for the next two weeks until the next winner is crowned. The kids love it!

Why Talk4Maths?

Already, the soft data from the Talk4Maths initiative has been evident. The language used by the children and the staff in discussing who is the Ruler of Reasoning and why they have won that coveted title shows the focus being given to vocabulary, problem solving, determination, talk and mastery – just some of the key words being used in all communications around this strategy.

Hard data – we are just waiting to receive our school’s end-of-year data but a question-level analysis of the KS2 SATs Maths shows that the problem questions were not the vocabulary-based questions or questions that required explanations (of which there were two this year). As well as the improvement in isolated questions, the overall progress of this year’s cohort was greater than last year’s. Also, about 5 classes trialled the Talk4Maths strategy back in Autumn Term – of all the classes in our 2/3 form entry school the top 3 classes that made the most progress were classes that were trialling this strategy. I’ll hope to update it when we can see the impact across the school once that data comes through.

Any questions – just let me know 🙂 – you heard it here first!

Verdict on Whole Class Guided Reading by @Mroberts90Matt

So, just over 4 months ago, I set on a new journey in Guided Reading – Whole Class Guided Reading. I shared my initial thoughts back then on what I considered the pros and cons of this, and other approaches I had experiences that can be seen here. As I have gone along with this approach, I have noticed a few things which have really added to this method:

1. Keep the Groups but Keep them Mixed

At the start, I reflected a lot on what would be best. Should I completely disband Guided Reading groups? If not, do I keep them differentiated to be able to focus certain levels of questions or mix them up? As I continued I decided to keep the previous groups we had for Guided Reading which were differentiated – mainly so that the groups didn’t feel a complete change. In hindsight however I think that was the wrong choice. I think it is important to keep GR groups so that you can focus discussion and questioning in a smaller group setting but making them mixed ability is the way forward. This enables support for the lower attainers by accessing higher levels of questioning and discussion with their peers. Also, those with a greater depth of understanding can develop this through explanation and discussion of their thoughts with their peers as they coach them.

2. Vary the Activities

So when we were presented with the idea of Whole Class Guided Reading, I was given the idea that a lot of the Whole Class model could focus on discussing questions focusing on different strands in Reading (such as prediction, summary and comparison) and children should be able to model answers. As such, this was pretty much all I did. It was great to start with and it definitely had an impact – however, it did become stale after a couple of weeks. So I began to realise that Whole Class Guided Reading should be seen as engaging as any other session (duh – I know right) and whilst a lot of the engagement should come from a stellar text (we used Wonder – the kids LOVED it) you do need to put in some variety of activities. I probably won’t make it every other session – but maybe once a week or so throw in something to make the text come even more alive. Some examples can be found in this document (which I didn’t create) List of Possible Whole Class GR Activities

Some others are below:

In the back of your books, write three open questions you would like to ask any of August’s guides (Charlotte, Julian and Jack) about their first impressions of August.1

3. Go with the Flow

I think Whole Class Guided Reading has such a potential to unlock thoughts and imagination across the class. However, as we have gone through discussion and drawn ideas from all the class, a number of answers have been given that have taken things in a different direction. We have gone into in-depth comparisons between August/Summer and Beauty and the Beast, we have also delved into the genetics behind colour-blindness (one of my party tricks) as a result of the discussions going in their flow. One thing that I would take away for Whole Class Guided Reading is be ready for the discussion to take a different direction – I find it exhilarating and the children find it engaging when the discussion is at a high-level but has evolved over questions and thoughts from the children…and because it is ‘Whole-Class’, these ideas can come from anyone about the same text.

Back in February I said I would not change my effective, well-planned carousel – Guided Reading, I had it cracked. However, I am of the opinion that I will not be changing my Whole Class Guided Reading – unless something else comes along that looks better/is forced upon me but hey – that’s teaching!