Standing on the shoulders of giants

I took a couple of Philosophy modules in my first year of university. I was frustrated that I couldn’t write essays just based on my opinions. It’s taken me some time to realise that any decent idea I’ve ever had has been thought before, and with more clarity and better arguments.

After being on Twitter and working in an excellent department for some time now, I’ve gleaned enough good ideas to put forward some thoughts for teaching maths from KS3 to KS5.

1. Keep it simple. I think a good set of textbooks, traditional teaching, regular testing and preparing well for exams will lead to good outcomes for any school.

2. The biggest impact on results is out of control of a maths department, it is a strong whole-school behaviour policy.

I am fortunate in that the school I work in is exemplarary in this respect. The school’s systems including behavioural, homework, pastoral, and with interventions probably has a bigger effect than any of us maths teachers on the students’ improvement in maths.

3. Students enjoying maths is predicated on them learning maths. Prior to my Twitter journey, I thought that if I could get the students interested in the subject then they would learn it. I think I was completely wrong.

I like the analogy of learning an instrument, no one would expect to just jump into playing piano concertos, find it exciting and then learn how to play the piano from there. One has to start with practice and hard work on learning scales, it is as a result of this hard work that the joy of the music becomes apparent to the player.

4. Test the students a lot. It helps them learn.

5. Drilling is good. The more parts of maths students are fluent with the easier they will find it to learn more.

6. The more a student knows the easier they find it to learn more. Identify those who have a knowledge deficit as early as possible and intervene to close the gap.

7. Teachers are always pushed for time. Reduce marking to the essential. There is no evidence that a huge amount of time spent marking benefits the students in any way. This is not to say ‘don’t mark’, it is to say ‘consider the way time is used knowing how valuable time is to teachers’. Consider how feedback is different to assessment.

8. A huge amount of secondary school maths is built on the necessity of knowing Number well. Prioritise Number in Years 7 and 8, and use the excellent Times Tables Rockstars and Numeracy Ninjas to help with this.

9. Practise exam papers and past papers are hugely useful for students especially in the years running up to the GCSE and A-Level exams. Worth spending the money on photocopying.

10. Homework is hugely important at all Key Stages. Back to the learning an instrument analogy, no one would dream of turning up to music lessons expecting to learn their instrument only through those lessons, effective practising is key to learning anything.

11. Knowledge Organisers are a great idea.

12. If you want to learn how to be a better teacher, read David Didau and Daisy Cristodoulou for a start.

13. Targeted interventions can be very helpful. Kids seem more alert to listening in these.

14. Knowing your subject well is crucial. This is particularly apparent at KS5. The better I know A-Level maths the better I teach it. I think this is true at every Key Stage.

Department meetings would be usefully spent discussing the actual maths to be taught so all teachers end up knowing all topics inside out.

15. Teachers who are well rested and have a reasonable workload will be better in the classroom than those who are otherwise.

That’s enough for now. Thank you for all the wisdom. Apologies for not referencing and acknowledging.

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