GCSE Resits – Different to School

One of the things you often hear when colleges are talking about GCSE resits is that they should teach their students differently than how they were taught in school.  The arguments given are that the students were not successful in school so the approach should be different to engage the students.

In this post I am going to argue that the sentiment ‘different to school’ is not helpful.

Firstly, why do schools take the approach that they do?  It is because they believe it is the best way to teach their subject to their children.  Well, does that sound like something we should just dismiss?  Do we miss trust our colleagues in secondary that much that they must be wrong, that what they believed is best is automatically something we should avoid?  I think not, just because the approaches used in school were not successful in the timeframe they had does not automatically mean that they cannot be successful given a little more time.

Secondly, what approaches did their school use?  I don’t know.  I teach at a large college and the number of secondaries that feed into us number in the tens.  How can I know the approaches that these schools used?  Were the teachers experienced, inexperienced, NQTs, trainees, subject specialists, non-subject specialists, supply?  Did they use inquiry, project-based-learning, direct instruction, explicit instruction, knowledge-based or skills-based? Did the teachers favour rows or groups?  Did they use mini-whiteboards, manipulatives, technology, interactive quizzes, worksheets or textbooks?  Were they streamed or setted or mixed ability?  I don’t know any of these things.  If I don’t know what approaches were used in the schools, how can I avoid them?

So if the approaches used in schools are what the teachers thought would be best and are not worth automatically dismissing and if we don’t even know what approaches the schools used so can’t avoid them, why should we try?

Instead we should focus on teaching our students the best way that we can.  Sometimes it might be similar or even the same as what they had experienced in school, sometimes it might be completely different.  As long as our focus is on getting the best out of our students then we are doing the right thing.



The Elephant and the Twig – Maths Anxiety

Maths anxiety is a real issue with students sitting maths in FE.  The students we teach have often not been successful in the past be they 16-18 year olds resiting again or adults that have bravely returned to education.

Due to poor past experiences, a history of perceived failure and the general cultural attitude that maths is a hard and scary subject these students enter our classrooms sometimes paralysed by fear and anxiety.

I would like to share a story that I told my students at the start of the year to try to relieve some of this anxiety.  It is a story I first read in Geoff Thompson’s ‘The Great Escape’.

The illustrations below are by my wife and are taken from her cartoon ‘Penguin Loves Mev’ which documented the first 8 years of our relationship.

elephant and twig

Our students will often feel like the elephant.  After repeatedly not performing in class and not achieving a grade 4/C they have a type of learned helplessness and no longer want to try.  The have the belief that they cannot pass – that they are “just not good at maths”.

What I told my students is that they don’t necessarily need to believe they can pass at the start of the year – they just need to forget that they can’t.  If the elephant forgot that the rope restrained him, he would take a step forward, the twig would pop out of the ground and he would be away.  Like our students, if they could forget they can’t do maths – follow a worked example and then solve a problem, they might just find that they can.

Graded Lesson Observations – When will the madness end?

From personal experience and talking to colleagues, I am aware of the problems facing graded lesson observations and I knew that the evidence is stacked against the process although I had never looked into it myself.

I have decided to take a look.

So what does the evidence say:

Continue reading “Graded Lesson Observations – When will the madness end?”

Show Call using Flickr

Show call is a questioning technique used as an alternative or in conjunction with directed questioning.  I first heard of it from the Mr Barton Maths podcast, it is mentioned in a few episodes but most memorably with Doug Lemov and Ollie Lovell.  It is a technique described in Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion 2.0, but unfortunately not in the original Teach Like a Champion that is gracing my bookshelf.

Continue reading “Show Call using Flickr”

Knowledge Organisers

As mentioned in my previous post I am going to use knowledge organisers in my GCSE resit classes next year.

At MathsConf14 I was fortunate to hear Hinal Bhudia and Dani Quinn’s  excellent workshop on ‘Memorable Learning’ which included knowledge organises.  Much of the content from this post will come from the presentation slides which can be found here.

During the presentation we were told that there are four different types of input, each requiring a different teaching approach: Continue reading “Knowledge Organisers”

TAM Day 1

Yesterday was my first day at the Teaching A Level Mathematics course.  My application was a little late but I got it in and fortunately accepted just in time.

There were about 20 of us there and it seemed that most had, like myself, done some A level teaching in the past.  As we were doing our introductions it was also clear that most, like myself, also had concerns about a depth of subject knowledge and the best approaches to teaching.  It was good to be in a room with a group of people who were all in the same boat. Continue reading “TAM Day 1”