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?

It was announced at a recent team meeting that the college would continue graded lesson observations this year. You can imagine the feeling of disappointment and despair that filled the room.

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. It always felt as though the practice would eventually fade away and it was something that I wouldn’t need to worry about.

With this announcement I decided to look a little deeper.

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”