Teaching Maths is like spinning plates. While teaching fractions, you need to keep the number and place value plate spinning, ensuring the geometry dish is still going, before the multiplication ceramic comes crashing down.
In years gone by, this could have been achieved through 'starters'; traditionally the first 10 minutes of the lesson, to warm up the students' brains. When we were working with the National Numeracy Strategy, I used to take an objective from Block A through E for each day, Monday to Friday, to revise. It worked well; we all knew every Wednesday that I would present some form of graph and ask questions; we dreaded Fridays because I would ask for decimal fraction equivalents.
However, in this time of curriculum change, where children already in the system are playing catch-up to meet the new expectations, sometimes the first 10 minutes of revision could be better used as a hook for the latest objective or a chance for deeper study of the raised bar.
Yet we still need to keep the plates spinning.
Alongside my Entry Quizzes, I try to have a good grasp on what the children can already do. While never 100% accurate, it's much simpler to plan for their next steps when you have a real-time starting point. Using this information, I know where to pitch their work and, as a further result, I can also design more challenges for them; chances to reason, problem solve and apply.
Each lesson includes a series of questions that the children can choose from. (I'm likely to write about this sometime too!) But, in addition to these Challenges, I use simply typed sticky labels, placed randomly in spare spaces by some helpful children, to mix up the types of question they answer; it's like an extension of the Extension, adding that 'starter' style revision, just to the end of the lesson, once the most important skill of that day has been covered. I have found it more time-efficient than opening the lesson with a series of information that might be of little use when it comes to the main input. In an ideal world, of course the opening would link to the main, but then we return to square one when considering how to prepare children for a world that isn't so neatly compartmentalised.
For example, in a lesson on addition, showing adequate proficiency once you have answered your questions, tackled the Challenge (the Extension; likely a set of word problems or a "what are the possibilities?" question) you can flick through your book spotting the stars; these are the sticky labels.
Upon the labels, you might find new versions of the measure problems we have been tackling, or a fractions question that'll need to be solved. It might ask you to calculate the area of a shape, or find the answer to a question requiring multiple steps. Either way, you'll need to search your brain (and your book) to remind yourself of the methods, ideas and strategies we were learning, switching from the addition you have just been practising.
It will rarely be something new, and I have found it really useful as tool to look back on; cast your eye over their answers to see how much is being retained and what will need further coverage.
Furthermore, I'm a big believer in the children's books becoming almost like a catalogue; a self-made text book. Hopefully, by encouraging them to look back through everything they have achieved, the pages become little triggers; setting off a memory of that unit we haven't visited recently, searching for the label that could be answered by revising this page.
As with everything, this won't work for everyone. However, I think it's important to find new ways to have the children revise the learning they have covered; it's a study skill for life. This method gives every child a chance to do that. We work hard to ensure 'everything makes sense' to our classes, but once we are not there, we need to feel confident that they can make sense for themselves, choosing suitable methods to solve mixed problems with the vast knowledge they have been given.
I have created some Challenge stickers below; each set adheres to the objectives of the specified year group. They're great for a quick and easy extension, covering a variety of topics, aiming to keep as much learning as possible at surface level for easy retrieval and application. They should print neatly on a simple label sheet (18 labels to a sheet). Alternatively, you might want to print on paper and guillotine.
How many times have you left a Maths lesson with one of these conclusions?
“They steamed through that, even when I set that extra challenge!”
“They really struggled with that, should have used the dienes. We will have another go tomorrow.”
First of all, it’s important to note, that teachers have little middle ground when it comes to their lessons. We are extremely self-critical and always wanting the best; especially when we have poured hours into planning and preparing. It’s really rather terrible that we don’t acknowledge our input when the lesson went well, only when we feel it wasn’t as great as it could be.
For this reason, I wanted to find a way to fine tune the content of my lessons and make the most of our time in class.
On a previous adventure, in a bid to find out what the children could already do, this started with what I called a “Plug In”; a question for the children to answer, linking to the objective of that day, to ascertain whether they could already “do it”. This was followed by a “Switch On” at the end of the lesson; another question to judge whether they had been successful. It was a great way to clearly show what the children had learnt and a clear signal to the learners themselves that they had made a small gain that day.
However (and I would imagine you have already asked yourself), what if the Plug In already showed they could “do something”? How do you show progress at the “Switch On”?
Fortunately, I am part of an amazing team that allow each other to share ideas and try new things. I changed my “Plug In” idea, to become an “Entry Quiz”, and I am really seeing the benefits. My rationale? I have always seen a Gap Analysis completed AFTER an assessment, when everything has been ‘taught’, regardless of what the children already knew. So why not find the strengths and weaknesses first, and teach what they need? Just 15 minutes of one lesson helps to prevent wasting the whole hour of another, because you would have found out they’re pretty competent already!
Examples of Entry Quizzes.
What is an Entry Quiz?
I have been teaching the 2014 Curriculum, splitting each Maths topic into a 2 week unit; a fortnight on Number and Place Value, a fortnight on Addition and Subtraction, etc. The first day of each unit starts with an Entry Quiz.
An Entry Quiz is where I have written (on average) 10 questions, to be answered in around 15 minutes, linked to the unit expectations that I’m planning on teaching in that fortnight; we want depth, not breadth. Let’s not forget, the expectations are designed to be mastered across the year, the end product; there are no longer ‘blocks’ of increasingly harder objectives that get updated as we move from Block A through E, Units 1, 2 and 3, regardless of whether the children were ‘keeping up’ with them or not.
The children answer the questions, fully aware that they might get every single one wrong, simply because they don’t know it yet; they have a year to tackle them! However, it’s surprising how quickly they make links from the expectations the previous year. For example, once you have been able to add 4 digit numbers as part of the Year 4 expectations, it’s not the biggest challenge to add numbers to 1 million in Year 5. As a result, in some cases, a smaller teaching input could be used and more time can be spent on the objectives they find hardest.
Examples of the learning completed as a result of the Entry Quizzes.
Using the results of the Entry Quizzes, I have been able to adapt my lessons to best suit the gaps that I have been made aware of. For example, the Number and Place Value quiz told me that my children were pretty good at partitioning numbers to 1 million, yet writing them in words was proving tricky. It’s amazing how the children almost teach themselves little tricks. Having made this small discovery, I was able to efficiently plan the time in lessons to cover the largest weaknesses; reading numbers.
Equally, our Addition and Subtraction Entry Quiz showed me some of their most common misconceptions regarding lining up the digits, the use of place holders and using the inverse to solve problems. Both the correct and incorrect answers have allowed me to pitch my lessons more accurately from the outset. I have been able to find different challenges, opportunities for application and reasoning to try and push my learners a little further based on the knowledge their answers gave me, alongside the findings of day-to-day Assessment for Learning.
My Entry Quiz for Multiplication and Division showed me that all of my children were confident at multiplying large numbers by a single digit. Therefore, I edited my questions for the day I would have ‘taught’ that, to be solely about multiplying by tens and ones. By single digits proved to be a great confidence builder for the learners, but I was able to maximise time in order to teach the gaps in their learning.
An example of an Exit Quiz.
I take my classroom almost too seriously. It needs to be practical, attractive and inspiring but also easily maintained. Every summer, for a couple of weeks, I rope in as many helpers as I can get to help sort my creative chaos; a series of bright ideas, with the best intentions, all aimed at promoting independent learning and community spirit.
This is the result of Summer2015's efforts:
Our Learning Walls
Much to the frustration of a previous colleague, I used to back ALL my boards in white. However, I soon realised that posters, models/images and reminders, often on white themselves, would get lost in the background. With that in mind, I chose black backing with borders the same colour as the subjects' respective exercise book.
Why the little whiteboards?
I have a grand plan to write up my week's objectives, so the children can see where our learning is heading; the end product of the hard work we will be putting in. Whether that's solving a problem using the methods we learnt, or writing something including the skills we rehearsed, I'm hoping my learners will be able to move their name tag along the lessons to show they are ready to move on. It'll be a good way for me to focus my feedback and organise extra support and revision where needed.
My English wall features a "Spelling Spy". I was inspired by my class last year, who used to enjoy finding words that could have belonged in their spelling list that week. The number of times quiet reading would be disturbed by, "Mr N! I've found another word with 'tion'!". I decided to capitalise on that this year, and provide a space for the words to be collected.
With the changes in the English Curriculum, and the apparent disappearance of 'Writing Genres', teaching writing got a little blurred; too many people with too many ideas of what 'good writing' is. In my opinion, the genres were a great way of showing off various types of language in different contexts. Writing instructions, for example, to best show off time conjunctions, or descriptive writing to best see the impact of adjectives and use of the senses. I can only assume we became too reliant on the genres and writing became very predictable. I will use this Tool Box idea to keep a reminder of all the different strategies we learn, so we can use them at any time; aiming to remedy the previous problem regarding genres, that we only use brackets in a newspaper to reveal a spectator's age!
My new school teach subjects fairly discretely. I've not worked in this way for a long time so I am looking forward to experiencing it again. Therefore, rather than a 'topic/theme' display, I have chosen to give an area for each subject. Whereas the Vocabulary board is dedicated to important language, posters and reminders, this board is solely for children's work and successes. Photos of PE, annotated maps or creative timelines, reports and fact-files; this board will become a scrapbook of each term's learning completed by the students.
And there you have it! My 2015/16 classroom! I'd love to hear what you think, any suggestions for additions and ideas for next year! Our classrooms are where we spend most of our teaching lives, so take pride in them and make them yours; the children will appreciate your efforts!