Good bye for now and good luck!

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” Douglas Adams

Dear readers and teachers,

WAIT! Hold on, you may be wondering why all this formality is in the first line of my post? Well, to be honest, I am wondering the same thing too… very much so, as this is not how I usually write. But, my friends, colleagues or first-time reader of my blog… the time has come for me to sing you the goodbye song (imagine my sad face now)….

Over the last 18 months of writing, the journey has been nothing short of an adventure for me; sharing my reflection with you while learning along the way. Indeed, I have learned how to challenge myself at a different level, doing something new -like writing for public view, sharing my ideas and bits of my journey on this road to being a better teacher and overall, how to turn my challenges into steps to success.

Alas, all good things must come to an end.

Although I have been consuming myself in some education literature over the last 4 to 5 months, I have not had the time to put pen to paper and articulate what I have learnt. And, unfortunately, this may be the new norm for a while as my 4-year-old starts reception full time in September (which means potentially a lot of homework for mommy and daddy… or so I hear).

Secondly, my 2-year-old starts full-time nursery and is already showing us his ‘terrible 2’ phase!!! Apparently, each ‘terrible two’ phase is not the same so the strategies I used with my daughter IS NOT working with my son!!! HELP! And finally, I have started a new chapter in my career which I imagine will be more demanding so…exciting times ahead!!

Nevertheless, I could not leave without giving you a list of some of the books that have been keeping me busy and my mind swirling with ideas. Do get yourself one of these books or have your Head of Department buy one or two of these for the team to read on rotation, or one teacher could read and share the key ideas with the rest of the team in a department meeting. Whichever strategy is used, always think carefully about how the ideas presented fits into your school’s context and what impact it will have on students’ progress, performance and overall learning experience of the subject.

n.b: Some of these books I read years ago but found new value in them in the last few months (so hence the re-read)

  1. Driven by Data 2.0: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction by Paul Bambrick Santoyo. This book is very good with golden information, had to read it twice. This book can be a huge game-changer if the data strategies are implemented correctly and monitored effectively.
  2. Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov. This is my go-to for behaviour management, so I’ve read several pages multiple times.
  3. How I Wished I’d Taught Maths by Craig Barton. This is one of the books I love to borrow ideas from. It’s really good to remember not to re-invent the wheel so Craig shares tried and tested strategies, some of the mistakes he made teaching maths over the years and the improvements made. Yep, I read many pages multiple times in addition to the entire book.
  4. Teacher Resilience by Jamie Thom. I like how this book reminds us as teachers to pay attention to our well being and gives practical ideas on how to do this. This one is very new to my library so only read it once, but will certainly be using it again.

Now, to conclude this chapter, THANK YOU all for coming here each month from so many countries, to chill with me and learn or simply just to read one or two or a few of my posts. Though my reading numbers are just above one thousand readers, for me that is HUGE! As I came in with no expectation of where this would lead – and to be very frank, I thought only a few people I know would be reading these posts (less than 30 to be honest!!). So, yes, I was blown away. So thank you again and I hope you have found a nugget or two to help you or a colleague in your continuing professional development or as a reflective practitioner.

Well, then, this is farewell for now…who knows, I might return to this platform in the not so distant future. #anythingispossible

Cheers my fellow teachers, and when our work with the kids gets challenging and we can barely see the progress, remember these words from Arthur Ashe “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”

Let us all continue to better our best for our number one clients… OUR STUDENTS! #TheydeserveourBEST #wearelifeChangers!

Best,

Lotoya

Am I Naïve?

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Helen Keller

Is my faith in believing that low attainers can experience greater levels of success in maths a forlorn dream?

Recently I had a very passionate (very respectful and professional) debate with some of my colleagues about whether or not the very lowest ability groups of students could ever pass the GCSE maths exams.
Each of us brought our passion for the topic, with varying levels of experience and success teaching these ‘bottom set classes. Needless to say, we all shared in the level of failure in our attempts to get these students to learn maths. No surprise here right?

It is true that many maths concepts simply elude these kids, BUT is it true that all of them will fail at getting a basic pass in GCSE, which is a grade ‘4’? Is it true that these students will never understand how to solve two-steps equations?

I don’t know, but, since the day I became a teacher, albeit naïve, to this very day, I still STRONGLY believe that ALL children can learn maths to an extent. Unless of course, they have some mental issues or dyscalculia that would prevent this.

Of course, the caveat is that it may be that they learn at a different pace or stage.

Nevertheless, after eight years in this profession, even when all around me is saying otherwise, I cannot let myself give up on this idea.

I would love to say that this enthusiasm and faith in these ‘bottom set’ classes, allowed me to get amazing results! EXCEPT, that is not the case. Only in my dreams 🙂

I accept that my level of failure with these sets of students is much greater than my level of success. And sometimes, I do want to scream from the rooftop HELP! Or ‘how can you not get this’!? I am not embarrassed by this, but I am more driven to improve my craft.

Besides, I am aware of both the progress these students make as well as their admission most times at the end of my year with them, how much my faith and belief in them has helped (some) them to try to believe in themselves and their abilities. Consequently, this caused them to work a wee bit harder in and out of lessons, to varying degrees of success.

I have been deliberately trying to learn how to teach these students in a way that helps them to learn and improve. Each time I experiment with something, I try to be more consistent to see its medium and long-term impact. I am a work in progress, but so are students who are generally considered low attainers, and the most I can do for them is to seek out the best ways to help them AND ensure that they are mainly sensing my positive belief and energy in them.

So, yes, maybe I am naive, but I am not ready to give up on this belief.

p.s. So if you have had better luck with getting low attainers to pass their GCSEs (or your country’s national end of high school exams) DO GET INTOUCH – I would love to learn the tips and tricks.

p.s.s. If you haven’t done so already, have a thorough read of the DFE’s review on the effective teaching of mathematics. While much of the review is not focused on novel ideas, I have found this document quite insightful and a very good reminder of the core elements of what a successful maths curriculum planning looks like. Definitely worth the read.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-review-series-mathematics/research-review-series-mathematics

As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read and reflect with me!

Cheers,

Lotoya

Numeracy in Schools

Mathematics is the music of reason. -James Joseph Sylvester

My involvement in various maths hubs in the U.K allows me to interact with maths teachers from different schools (primary and secondary). From these interactions, we share best practices on the teaching of mathematics. One of the questions I get asked by numeracy coordinators from other schools is, what practical ideas could I give them to implement numeracy across the curriculum. This question is not always easy to answer as having tried several things over the years, you then realise that some are just gimmicks but some have a real impact.

One of the roles I play at my school involves getting people to love, or at least appreciate, maths and numbers. This often involves a range of things from leading whole staff numeracy training to having students complete numeracy challenges in their various Tutor/Form time or getting business professionals to speak to our students.

Indeed, there can be no denial of the importance and the urgency of having a more numerate society, and schools play a big role here.

According to a report launched at the Bank of England in November 2019 – Building a numerate nation: confidence, belief and skills
“millions of adults lack basic numeracy skills, leaving them unprepared for the workplace and everyday life.”

I always believed that numeracy needed a better and bigger push in schools but, I was so shocked when I read the findings of this report (link to report attached here):

Two of the key findings in the report are
1. “A quarter of adults have ‘acceptable’ levels of numeracy, with around half at the level expected of a primary school child. 

2. Business leaders significantly undervalued the cost of poor numeracy to the UK, estimating a cost of £7 million per week vs the actual £388 million.”



So, what can WE (ME and YOU) do to help?

One of my favourite Jamaican expression comes to mind:
“EVERY MICKLE MEK A MUCKLE”
This means that when every small act or small steps are combined, together these can make a big impact.

So, first save the date: 19th May 2021

this year my school will be joining and actively taking part in the National Numeracy Day Champion on 19th May 2021 and we will be using the amazing and fun resources that they sent to us once we registered – all completely FREE.

Link to register:
https://www.nnchallenge.org.uk/?utm_source=2398

I am encouraging as many of you as possible, (individually or as a school) especially if you are teaching in the U.K. to join in! If you are not in the U.K, please try to register and complete the challenge in your schools where ever you are in the world – let me know if you are unable to sign up and I will try to help.


If you are not a maths teacher then please share this with your school’s maths department numeracy coordinator or HOD or YOU could champion it!


p.s. As an individual (whether or not you are a teacher), you can complete the Numeracy Challenge or the Essentials of Numeracy and will get a certificate.


Let’s help to improve numeracy across our schools GLOBALLY!

#SuperExcited
#becomeaChampion #bettermybest
#NationalNumeracyDayChampion
#nationalnumeracychallenge2021

Cheers,
Lotoya

Using Peer Teaching to maximise Progress

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

“Confidence comes from hours and days and weeks and years of constant work and dedication.”– Robert Staubach

A few years ago I did an interview, now, I am not a fan of interviews especially when I am in the same room with the other contenders who seem to have a bigger advantage and I just think wow they look like they have the job already!  Nevertheless, it’s something we all must do from time to time. Now, as I was saying, I went into this interview for a teaching role with additional responsibilities and I was asked to describe one or two strategies that have helped to improve my students’ outcomes; I mentioned two that I often used, one, in particular, was Peer Teaching.


As a student, I found this help from my peers very rewarding so as soon as I entered the classroom as a teacher I often had my students assist each other. Once I realized the impact of this I started designing my seating plans with this idea in mind. Once I knew my students and their capabilities I would assign seats that allowed a more abled child to help a struggling pupil. It worked a vast majority of the times over the years but I didn’t think of it as a strategy (I had no idea a question like this was ever going to be asked in an interview so it’s a good thing it was a normal part of my lessons….came off the tip of my tongue)
Except, the two people who did the interviews had poker faces until I mentioned my ‘strategies’ especially this one. Seeing their surprised faces I blurted out, “well, I know that it is nothing new or grand and perhaps is one of the most commonly used strategies in a classroom BUT I have seen my students make  progress when they can re-explain with clarity what I explained or demonstrated to the whole class ….” (so much for my confidence right! Hehe)

Needless to say, I don’t remember the rest of the interview but, I did not think that explanation went down well (not even sure if I spoke English for the rest of the interview because at that moment I felt foolish for thinking or saying out loud that such a thing was worth citing as a ‘strategy’ for a big role). Anyway, didn’t get that role but was offered another.

Fast-forward to this day, I continue to use my peer teaching and I am happy with the gains made by pupils each time. It was incredibly helpful last Autumn term when I was not able to support my students individually due to social distancing measures.

I decided to share this strategy with you because it may be a good idea to use as you create your new seating plans for your students. Here in the UK, England specifically, we will be returning to face-to-face teaching tomorrow (8th March) and no doubt we will need to revisit and readapt our teaching.

Secondly, I am currently finishing my reading of the book “Talk-Less Teaching” by Isabella Wallace & Leah Kirkman and one of their strategies to improve pupil progress is named “Using Peer Teaching to maximise Progress”. This book explains that two things happen when learners learn something new and have to ‘teach’ it to another person: 

a. the individual’s understanding of the concept becomes more profound.

b. the learner becomes aware of areas that they did not understand and thus needs further clarity on that concept. 

Talk-Less Teaching listed Peer Teaching as a broad Strategy that had multiple ways of executing this effectively. It gives examples and detailed explanations of how to use Peer Teaching in your classroom to maximise pupil progress. 

As we go back to Face to Face teaching, I hope we will find creative ways of helping our students learn while being socially distanced from us. 

Cheers to becoming the best version of ourselves for ourselves and our number one clients – our students. 

p.s I don’t know about you but I am looking forward to some semblance of normalcy in teaching, albeit in my not so cute mask and face shield.

Cheers,

Lotoya

Effective Strategies for Remote Teaching & Learning: Virtual Whiteboard -Part 2

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

It has been about five weeks since I have been teaching remotely and if I tell you that I was having a ball, I would be lying! This is HAARDD! Give me back my face-to-face learning, please! By the way, even my 3-year-old daughter has online learning! Thankfully, her schedule is only three 30 minutes lessons per day with 30 minutes break between. But I tell you, I was surprised to see how much she looks forward to these remote sessions. It’s so fascinating to see how much she enjoys this.

Anyway, even though I definitely would prefer face-to-face teaching any day. Nevertheless, I have been trying to enjoy this online teaching and learning process and so I have been playing around with a number of resources as well as tips I learn from my weekly staff PDs (professional development) sessions.

So, as promised, I am back with my feedback on how my second virtual whiteboard is working for me and my students. Drfrostmaths whiteboard.

My HOD did training with our team on how to use Drfrost whiteboard and I must say that overall, I really like it. However, I would like to caution you that this needs to be used to supplement your lesson, so do have all your questions pre-planned and saved on a PowerPoint or on Google’s Jamboard (see my review here https://easymathslpt.com/2021/01/12/the-virtual-whiteboard-for-online-learning-part-1/)

What I love about Drfrostmaths whiteboard:

  1. The best feature of this whiteboard is that it allows each of my student to have his/her very own mini-whiteboard. Coupled with this is the added privacy – so each students can only see his/her own board and the main board of the teacher unless the teacher chooses to highlight a student’s board. This is great since some students are uncomfortable with everyone seeing their work with all the possible mistakes.
  2. Teachers are able to interact with individual student’s screen/board. This is so amazing, can you imagine giving individualised attention to all your 25 – 30 students in one lesson in the space of 5 to 10mins? I don’t know about you but this makes me feel powerful (haha … well, within reason). p.s. I spotted one of my year 7 doodling on his board and wrote on his board ‘can you explain how this drawing became the solution to the problem?’ and another student who had a blank screen I started writing on her board and she was ‘miss, my board! someone is writing on it!’ Anyway, they were good for the rest of the lesson. This was the first time they were using this virtual whiteboard. Power to technology! (see images of how I interacted with two students individually)
  3. The teacher can see all the screens simultaneously! Now, this is great news to a teacher’s ears as this feature satisfies our need to know if all our students are working, who is speeding ahead or struggling through or simply not even writing! It is a win-win here! (see images of teacher’s view)
  4. If you register for your free account, you are able to access loads of resources including excellent lesson PowerPoints for years 7 to 13 GCSE maths, question banks from various exam boards as well as UKMT challenge problem-solving questions among many others. These questions can be added with relative ease to your whiteboard for all students to see.
  5. You can insert pictures of questions on the whiteboard from sources outside of the drfrostmaths website. I have mainly been using this feature as often times I already have a specific exam paper or worksheet from another source prepared for my lesson. (see below, an image of the teacher’s view with a question that was inserted as a picture)
  6. Textbox features, multiple colour pens and many of the regular features you expect are all available.
  7. If you do not have a drfrostmaths account, you are still able to use the whiteboard.

Now for the disappointing bits:

  1. Due to the fact that the whole world is using the internet seemingly at the same time, my internet lags behind a few seconds. Unfortunately, when this happening and I refresh my page I lose all the work/question that I had on the teacher’s main whiteboard. Additionally, the link code changes, and my students have to re-join and start over their work using this new link. (This can be quite annoying especially when your students were halfway in their working on.)
  2. There is no ‘undo’ button! Say what! Yes, you heard me, no undo button and if you press the back button you lose everything and get a new code as I said above. (I used to get so annoyed by this flaw but, I figured out a solution – have my tasks backed up on my jamboard)
  3. Nothing is saved on this whiteboard for access another time, when your lesson is done the information on the board is cleaned and a new code is ready (not an issue really, why do you need to save the students working anyway right)
  4. Some of my readers have told me that they have problems registering for an account because they do not have a UK address. If this is the case for you then you do miss out on the wonderful resources on the website. Sorry. However, take comfort in the fact that you do not need an account to use the whiteboard.
  5. This last point is not really a negative but is more of a caution for anyone who was hoping to set a whole worksheet on this virtual ‘mini-whiteboard’ – it is a mini-whiteboard so you can only set one or two questions at a time for students to complete on this their ‘mini-whiteboard’ ! (hehe haha – someone I know very well had this in mind! No name and shame here!)

So, I KNOW you are still with me at this point and you DID NOT skim read this article (I got my eyes on you 🙂 I hope that if you have not been trying out these amazing virtual tools to get your students fingers busy during your live lessons then this will be your motivation to have a go.

As always, I want to better my best so please share with us your feedback on using these or other virtual whiteboards or any tips or resources that you have been finding effective with your students for in-person teaching or for use during this challenging but interesting time of teaching and learning.

Cheers,

Lotoya

The Virtual Whiteboard for online learning Part 1 – Google’s Jamboard

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
― Albert Einstein

Perhaps you are a bit surprised at both the hour, the day and the month that I am writing this post – two posts in one month? What! However, I shall save you the task of guessing.

I have been asked for my advice on a few things, which I promised to research and write an article on each. One of those is how to get more students engaged in remote learning. This is of course an area that I am also actively learning about. Hence, I am here at your service – to share what I am learning.

Firstly, on the matter of ‘seeing’ what students are doing ‘live’.

The following are my top three virtual whiteboards that address this issue:

  1. Jamboard. This white board is embedded in the Google Meet.

Why I like this:

I am in love with Google’s Jamboard and I have been using it in literally all of my live lessons since the beginning of this year.

  • It gives the ease of being in the same place as my meet.
  • It allows collaboration among my students. In advance of the lesson, I populate the slides with questions and I use the coloured sticky notes feature to put the names of the students I want to work together or alone on the respective slides. Note: I keep a slide with all the names so that I do not have to write these out each time.
  • I can see what each student is working on and give them instant feedback then move on to the next slide to see what another pair or individual student is doing. The art of circulating virtually! #virtualwalk (This hashtag sounds nice to my brain at this moment in time 🙂
  • The Jam is always available! It’s like a book; you write on it and then you can skip through the ‘pages’ to go over your notes.
  • Now, remember how I mention that it is like a notebook – well it’s way better. I can go back and erase and re-write and the students will only see the latest version. Note: please be aware that the students would be able to do this editing also unless you change the editing rights to allow them to only view and not edit. But this is easy stuff.
  • If you do not have a track pad then there is a text box feature for you type or paste your content in.
  • My students love to use this platform. They can make a copy and download this onto their device, for those students who understand what is expected of them – they can continue working on their slides while I am supporting another set of students. Then I can go to their slides to check what they were up to.
  • Also, students can insert pictures of their work from their book/paper onto the jam using their device (but I only advise this if they were struggling to write or finding it too slow)
  • Finally, I could go on and on about this platform because it has become my second best friend for remote teaching. But, I will leave the other goodies and just mention one last pro; you can cut and paste questions/content from another worksheet/past paper or a PowerPoint into the Jam! Woot! Woot! I hope this got you jamming!

Here are two youtube tutorial on how to use Jamboard

https://youtu.be/735gTBjz1JY

https://youtu.be/36ZzwK3ZNfM

Now for the Cons of using Jamboard

I consider myself a fairly fair and objective person, so here are some things Google needs to fix so that the Jam can be a one-stop shop (although competition is always good for the market right)

  • I have not been able to find the maths symbols in Jamboard nor have I seen them in any video tutorial.
  • I have two students who for some weird reasons, can only join the Jam if I paste the link into Google Classroom – they are unable to access this from the Google Meet. (minor issue)
  • the page/slide length could be longer (obviously also a minor issue since this can be remedied by using another slide). Except, if you have a big class size like my friends in Jamaica (you guys are superstars!)
  • Jamboard is not very helpful if you want to see all your students’ screens simultaneously. This brings me to the next two websites:

Drfrost whiteboard and Whiteboard.fi are another two amazing websites that have many features including many of those mentioned above. However, I will write a post reviewing each of them separately so that they get your undivided attention.

  1. Drfrost whiteboard https://www.drfrostmaths.com/whiteboard/
  2. Whiteboard.fi https://whiteboard.fi/

Cheers to some of my Caribbean readers who requested this post.

Let’s get jamming https://youtu.be/RIMxmnfDSOs (Song by Bob Marley & The Wailers)

Best,

Lotoya

Possible Solutions for Secondary School exams during COVID-19

“By Failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin.

Amidst the growing concerns and unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic, is the uncertainty of how to assess students at the end of their high school journey in year 11 or year 13. Indeed, this pandemic has certainly stretched us and forced us to strengthen our ‘flexibility muscle’ or ‘adaptability muscle’. I do feel as educators we are required to rapidly adapt even when there seems to be pure chaos around. Another notion of teachers being super-humans? Hats off to all headteachers! Talk about a true test of leadership! Are you still in love with your job? (You are amazing! Lead on!)

Now, with the last minute’s changes, this 13th-hour announcement to close all schools and that exams will likely be cancelled in England has no doubt put schools, students and parents in a precarious position. So, I have a few big questions (forgive me if they have already been asked and answered – forward me the link if this is the case please) but these discussions could perhaps help someone plan their next move – Plan B.

1. I know there are more ways to assess students, but presently the best and most reliable one we have – or had – are examinations. Could exam boards offer all students timed digital assessments at the end of July instead of total cancellations?
-I am aware that this may cause worries of cheating i.e. students searching for the answers on Google or allowing a friend or family member to take the exam for them. While this is always a possibility, online exams are not a new phenomenon, though more popular at the tertiary level, so surely there must be systems available to address these issues of safety and reliability.

-secondly, the drama that took place with last year’s GCSE results could be avoided since this is January – far more time for the powers that be to brainstorm and test their systems (perhaps a trial run before the big day even?)

2. could the content to be covered this year be reduced to allow enough time for pupils to catch-up from missed learning in the last academic year? For example, topics like Circle Theorem and Vectors could easily be cut or given as an optional section of the paper.

3. How about reducing the summer break for all year groups to regain some of the missed learning time?
I know you are probably telling me off loudly for this one! (I got my kickboxing pose hiding my face now) But, hey, no one wants more sun, sea and sand for an entire six weeks than I do – been planning my summer vacation to Negril in Jamaica from 2018 for 2019, then came baby number 2 in summer 2019 and COVID last summer! BUT, the fact is, our students have lost so much and unless something is done, I’m afraid we will either always be playing catch-up for a few good years or we can give up some time now and reduce the remediation or intervention work for later.

Well, I was just thinking out loud and decided to share. I am curious about what you are thinking. I know some of you are livid! Some confused. Also, many of you are in so many different countries, it would be amazing to hear how your country is dealing with the need to assess students’ performance accurately during this crisis.

In the meantime colleagues, although it may not seem right to say happy new year due to all this mayhem, I still think it is worth saying, praying, hoping and wishing so…
Happy New Year!
Cheers to an interesting 2021!
Lotoya

p.s Apologies for the delay in this month’s post but I was going for a happy post for face-to-face lessons but it did not feel right to publish so I waited.

A Special Christmas Maths Treat

“It is the duty of all teachers, and of teachers of mathematics in particular, to expose their students to problems much more than to facts.” Paul Halmos

With the end of term fast approaching and Christmas spirit in high gear, my kids have now started to ask ‘miss, when are we going to have a fun lesson?’ And my usual response – ‘I thought we always had fun lessons!’ But of course, they try not to hurt my feelings I suppose by saying that yes miss lessons are always ‘fun’ but it is the last few days and they were hoping we would play Kahoot or some maths games. I think I should have told them to write a letter to Santa about that, see what happens.

So, I have been on the hunt for great Christmas lesson ideas that are ‘fun’ and I have decided to share my findings with you as usual. Here is a link to a few wonderful activities that can be modified for online learning if you are not teaching face-to-face at the moment:http://www.mrbartonmaths.com/blog/tes-maths-christmas-2016-collection/

You do need to register on Tes to access the resources but this is for free and well worth it.

Bonus

Now, before I let you go sip your favourite drink, continue to watch your Netflix series or cook your Sunday Feast (I’m about to do that now); I have a confession to make and was wondering if I am the only one whose brain takes much longer to process these problems.

Here are two problems I gave my year 8 students last week, 90% of my students took between ONE and TWO MINUTES to correctly answer each while it took me quite a bit longer.

Well, since I aim to better my best – I always get my students to explain their workings so that those students (and perhaps their teacher) who were struggling can benefit from their explanations. I couldn’t believe how easy they find spatial awareness problem solving, clearly this was not a problem for them at all.

How about you? Put your timer on and see if you could beat my students at arriving at the answer and maybe get your kids to do these (If they beat you to it then it would be nice to know I am not alone…I hope to get some company…Otherwise I will still be very proud of you!).

Cheers to a very Merry socially distanced and masked wearing Christmas! Reflect and enjoy this time with your loved ones.

Best wishes,

Lotoya

COVID has placed me in a box!

“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” —Tuli Kupferberg

Like so many things that have been postponed, cancelled or spoiled by COVID, teaching has had its challenges with this pandemic. For many of us teachers, we are now forced to teach literally from the front of the room or our desk -whether you sit or stand or walk 5 steps to and from the white/blackboard is a matter of perspective…. or just the need for a bit of exercise.

The following is an account of a conversation I have almost every week since we returned to school at the beginning of September:

Student: ‘miss, can you come please?’ or ‘miss, I need help, come please.’

me: ‘Ah, no. Remember we are trying to limit the spread of the virus so I have to stay in my bubble… and you in yours’ or I simply raise my eyebrows and hold out my red lanyard to show them that I am afraid of the virus… even if they are not. (Whenever I do this gesture they almost always laugh, at me I suppose)

This virus has placed me in a box, with the marker tape on the floor to remind me not to stray… robbing me of that individual support I love to give to struggling students or that need to check on what my troublesome students have not been doing or to congratulate and reassure those working ever so hard and making progress.

“Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win.” —Max McKeown

Ultimately, since we do not have much of an option, for our safety and that of our students and our families, we have to deal with this and learn to think outside of the box.

Consequently, I must admit (hope you will not be jealous) but my school (and HOD) are amazing and had a good vision to invest in essential technology before the pandemic. I am very grateful that we have Wacom Graphics Tablets and visualisers to demonstrate to the pupils while we sit at our desk. These are tools that help to make the lessons interactive, especially in our current climate, and are very useful tools for online teaching also. So get your school to invest in them if they haven’t already.

Another way that we have been coping in my maths department where marking and feedback is concerned, is that we have been making use of Do Now / Lesson Starter Booklets far more often than usual. We use these to assess prior knowledge and close gaps that would have widen due to the lockdown. We then collect these in a container weekly or bi-weekly and leave them to ‘cool off’ over three days before we then check what the students have been doing, or not doing, and to monitor the progress that they have been making, or sadly the lack of progress. Nevertheless, these booklets help to give additional insight into the learning that has been taking place and we are using them to help us plan strategic interventions where necessary. (Read my article on Effective Lesson Starters to get a better idea of what this booklet look like:https://easymathslpt.com/2020/02/16/effective-lesson-starters/(opens in a new tab) )

Thinking outside the box is a common phrase that most of us are familiar with and perhaps have even been doing willingly. In this pandemic, our limitations, our constraints and our inability to teach in our familiar settings coupled with our need to help our students learn and grow are the perfect ingredients for the perfect challenge that I am confident we will rise above and surpass our imaginations to better our best.

As always, I look forward to reading your emails and your comments. How are you coping?

Cheers,

Lotoya 

Teaching Low-Ability Students

“Maths is fun when you are learning!” Fatima (one of my bottom-set students)

If you are anything like me, you would never raise your hand excitedly to teach a group of bottom set students / low-ability students! In fact, if it was a matter of choice in a department meeting, this would be your cue to go to the toilet or grab a cuppa coffee or better yet, slide as far down in your chair as possible just to hide! (At this moment in writing this, I am hoping that my principal is totally unaware that I have a blog or that she never sees this post! shhh)

Seriously, does any of this sounds vaguely familar….? or am I in the naughty corner all by myself?

Ok. I hear you agree with me quietly. That’s ok.
The description above WAS me, until recently. You see, I had the privilege of sitting in a colleague’s lesson once per week for a term and not only was I captivated by her calm demeanour and her assertiveness but I was totally amazed at just how well her set 7 students were working (we had 8 sets)! The atmosphere in the room was so positive, vibrant too, but very purposeful! There was a level of yearning and aspiration that transcend the room and vibrated through me! It was beautiful and I loved it so much that I would frequently tell other teachers about it.

  “Good artists copy and great artists steal.” Picasso


I kept wondering how this teacher, newly qualified at the time, did it. I commended her but, as you probably know already I followed Picasso’s advice and stole her strategies. I now have a set 7 class and I absolutely love love teaching them! It’s unbelievable I tell you! They work very hard in lessons, at least 90% always complete homework to a very high standard and they seem to prefer to stay in lessons to do more MATHS rather than go for lunch! I am still in a state of disbelief! Furthermore, even the students seem to also be in shock as they often make some weird but interesting comments each week in lessons, for example, last week while learning Trig one student said out loud ‘miss this is FUN!’ and in agreement her classmates said ‘ain’t it!’ and ‘yea!’ (just to point out that we were simply working some problems, some which were quick wins as well as some challenging ones, but obviously they were enjoying the thinking process)

Anyway, in a casual conversation with Nazanin about teaching low ability students I said to her ‘you must share your strategies because I have benefitted so much from watching you’. Surprisingly or not, on the spur of the moment I said ‘how about I put some questions together and you see how best you can put your magic into words and I will share it with readers on my blog!’ with my mouth wide open (ta- dah, light bulb moment) and fingers and legs crossed hoping she will say yes. And yes it was, without hesitation.

so, grab a cup of tea or your favourite drink and read on…..

Without further ado, here are some details of how Nazanin manages to be a Super teacher at raising the aspirations, expectations and attainment of so-called low-ability students! 

How do you normally approach or get ready for each lesson with a low ability class?

From the first lesson that I had with them I shared with them a plan that I had drawn out for their revision during our weeks to come. They were given a list of revision topics that was taken from mathsgenie (https://www.mathsgenie.co.uk/gcse.html) for getting grades 3, 4 and 5 and had to stick that to their books so they also were aware that there was a structure and there was a goal to attain. After covering each topic students were then given topic-specific papers for a mock test in the  class. This would not only ensure that they familiarised themselves with each topic but was interesting to see how it affected their self confidence and interest when they could answer real GCSE questions and score high grades. Further more I tend to pick topics from across the grades rather than finishing one grade and moving to next. For instance topics are taken from grade 4 followed by grade 5 and then grade 3. I believe that by concentrating on just grade 3 you are already programming them to expect low whereas by showing them that topics under grade 5 is what I expect you to learn and later what you scored 70% in the topic paper raises their self- confidence and reassures them that the grade 5 topics are not unachievable.

The mentality is to enforce that I as your teacher can see in you that you can do it and expect you to do well. Then prove it to them by letting them excel in a particular topic by scoring high in their topic- test.

Every lesson has already been planned to make sure a specific topic is well covered from basics to the level of sitting a topic test with confidence. The relationship between topics across the grade boundaries is also emphasised (e.g. Substitution in algebra, in linear graphs and quadratic graphs).  

Do you normally have to go to these lessons with a ‘bank’ of plans for various methods of scaffolding? How different is your instructional plan for a low ability group compared to a mixed or a more abled group? 

I believe that the use of various methods in low ability students is often confusing and they are better at taking in just one (or may be two) simplified,  easily understandable solid method that can be retained by the mind is what I have seen to have a better outcome. So I enjoy it when I hear remarks like: Is that it?, Oh but that’s so easy now! 

How do you know when students learn what was intended? 

During the lesson questions of various strengths are given and they are encouraged to answer them and even compete for time and correctness by giving them recognition. When the topic is finished they are then given a topic-specific paper from maths genie to do and by scoring high they are encouraged and their self confidence is boosted.

If another teacher was to observe you with this group, what would they be seeing in a normal lesson with your bottom set students? 

Engagement of students and their interest in learning as well as self confidence and the sense of being valued.

How do you get the students productively engaged? How do you know when this is being achieved at the desired level? 

Cold calling, rewards and competition as well as group work. 

What is your advice to teachers who are struggling to see progress with their bottom set students or to teachers who are demotivated by or with these classes. 

Start with teaching topics that would be easily understood and follow it by giving real GCSE questions so that the students build self-confidence and a personal reputation in your eyes as their teacher. Show them that you expect no less from them than those in other groups and hence the choice of topics the choice of doing real exam questions Once they truly believe that you believe in them and therefore expect them to achieve, they would not only gain the confidence but also try best to keep up with your  standards. That is when you know that they are themselves eager to learn and score high and subsequently aim high in their lives.

I really hope you did get to the end of this post and as always, as I aim to better my best in this area, I look forward to learning from you on how you raise the attainment of students who are considered as low-ability.

Cheers,

Lotoya