The first half term is done. It’s flown by.

I must say that moving school the second time is much easier but I’d probably have to temper that statement with the fact that I literally ruck up, teach my lessons and leave. No briefings, no after schools, no pre-school meetings .. nada! (I’m probably missing a load of stuff but hey ho .. if its urgent it’ll catch up with me sooner or later). It’s been ace and at the start of the term meant that I could focus on other stuff (our QLA “thang” is coming along nicely!) which is what the point of going part time was about. However, for the last few weeks I’ve been doing extra days for Pearson which has meant that I’ve more than made up for the easy start to the year and have been getting home late most Thursdays and Fridays – I’ve even done a couple of keynotes (OK … so “my version” of what a keynote would be!! Not everyone’s idea!). Don’t feel sorry for me … I’m loving it! I always come away with an idea or ten!!

The one benefit of all the driving I’ve been doing is that it gives me loads of time to think and I’ve come to the conclusion that whilst I’m loving being “just” a teacher at times I “think” I miss having the responsibility and accountability. It’s weird … I haven’t quite sussed out if it’s that I miss or if it’s being in a school full time and seeing the whole picture … being part-time means that you only get snippets of the big picture … it’s a little like watching a film having missed the first twenty minutes and then being the one that nips out to make the cuppa half way through too … you never quite grasp what’s going on and always feel like you’ve missed a vital part of the plot (Don’t be making jokes about me losing the plot already!). Regardless of that, for now I’m very happy doing what I’m doing.

I’ve spent lots of time in my car and so I’ve had time to think about pedagogy with those traditionally tricky (old style C/D … new style 3/4/5/who knows!) borderline students … I say these students because that’s what we do… at all the events I do I always (try to remember to) do a health warning that I focus on the hump in the normal distribution curve in the first instance. So, for example, when Seager and I moved to Alcester the focus was on those students that came in with a KS2 level 4+ that weren’t performing at the level they were capable of and over time (very quickly) we widened the net to encompass all students (it was about being strategic in the proper sense of the word!).

Anyway, I’ve digressed …. Back to what I came on here to write about!! I’ve written before about what we’re doing with regards interleaving the “crossover” topics with our year 11 supergroup and a few weeks ago, when we were doing percentages without a calculator I pulled together a worksheet based on the questions and answers from one of my “connect 4” worksheets (with these, the idea is that (i) working in pairs against each other, students take turns to do a question and claim a square in the answer grid (ii) they have to connect 4 in the “answer grid” not the question grid). There are loads of these connect 4s out there but the philosophy behind the ones I’ve done is that be carefully placing the answers in the answer grid the only way to connect 4 is to complete questions of increasing difficulty … I know water takes the path of “least resistance” and likewise, will the students I tend to teach. They will do all the ones that they find easiest in the first instance and for those that “take their time” (that’s a polite way of saying lazy!!) by the time you’re wrapping up the activity they haven’t done the stuff you intended them to build up to and so by building in the element of competition it seems to negate this issue with some students and for some topics.

That’s not what I wanted to write about!! Arggghh!! But I felt I needed to explain it before saying what I actually did and my epiphany! Where was I ?? oh yes … percentages … It’s a topic they have seen lots of times before but we were taking it to the point of being about to find fractions of a percentage i.e. 4.25% etc.  I didn’t want to get the kids working in pairs … I wanted them to get some much-needed practice on their own but in a way, that meant they had the ability to check their own answers without waiting for the solutions to be shown or without them ploughing on regardless and just perpetuating any misconceptions they may have had. This last point is key – we need to address those misconceptions very early on when it comes to students doing the work themselves so I pulled the questions and answers onto one sheet so that they could “self-check” as they went along and this worked really well! Really, really well!

I remember that this was something I toyed with on some of my previous worksheets but this worked so well, that I want to do more of it … I mean -> having answers available that the students can use to check themselves but not just worked solutions .. that’s not to say that we won’t go through the solutions too! It depends on the topic!

In short (flipping ‘eck … I say “short” now! … it’s a bit late for that!) I put THIS WORKSHEET together for two-way tables to try the idea out in principle alongside some other ideas I’ve been mulling over:

(1) the idea of having a question that is just about checking “fluency” in terms of them understanding the principle behind the topic (the “ready” section) and

(2) a question that highlights the common mistake/misconception with a topic, which, in this case is adding the two columns and not subtracting from the total (the “set” section)

(3) practice questions with subtle difficulty level differences with the answer available for them to check (the “go” section) I’ve thought about getting them to “do something” with the answers but that means they wouldn’t be able to address the misconceptions/wrong answers straight away and the students I teach would get very frustrated with having to find out which questions were wrong and possibly having to redo all their work … based on my experience with the kind of students this is aimed at, it needs to be done as they go along otherwise you’ll come up against the lack of resilience “wall” where students just give up! 

Obviously, this format wouldn’t work for all topics but it’s something I want to develop where the topic lends itself to it. May even be useful for revision … which reminds me … nah … I’ve already written enough … I’ll keep that for another post!

Happy half term.