I’m going to say something that is probably going to be widely contentious. Learning maths is different to other subjects … ok … so I probably need to add some provisos and context. Generally, I don’t have the privilege of teaching high flying groups (out of choice mainly!) and so most of the groups I teach have a back story and they are where they are for whatever reason – mainly though, where they are is not where they should be or where they are capable of being. I will never apologise for the work being challenging and I am certainly not going to lower my standards in terms of what I expect of them … that being said I will also never purposely try to get my groups to do something that I don’t think they are capable of (albeit that may be with some careful scaffolding!) So, when I say learning maths is different, I suppose I mean in the context of KS4 and with my beliefs in terms of the way that I choose to teach the vast majority of topics (again bear in mind the kind of groups I teach!). Of course there are topics where there will be other approaches but let’s take for example, when teaching trigonometry with a specific group having just made the transition from finding side lengths to finding angles, for me, this would be very much about introducing inverses along the lines of “here’s one, let’s get the worked example written down whilst I am modelling the work and explaining what I am doing and asking/answering questions and then I want you to have a go using the worked example to help you” (By the way this post isn’t a request for you to tell me my approach is wrong .. it works for me!)
However, having said all that I read a recent blog post and some of it just struck home with me and so maybe maths isn’t do different after all and all subjects suffer from the same struggles. On Ben Newmarks blog post “my teachers don’t help me” he talks about “learned helplessness” and I’ve been banging on about this for what seems like years now. Specifically, the fact that students get caught out doing something they shouldn’t, and the response is usually (again, you have to consider the context!) is that they were waiting for help! It still doesn’t excuse any poor behaviour.
I’ve gone “round the wrekin” … as per usual!
One of my groups have lots of “learned behaviours” in terms of how they expect to be taught and it doesn’t always match my beliefs – this is not a reflection on them particularly, its just the way the “norms” have developed with the group previously. There are lots of issues but I am persevering and some lessons just getting the date written down for some of them is a challenge … anyway, in a recent lesson a student asked for some help so I knelt down in front of the desk and we tried to overcome that “I just don’t get it!” thing that happens – it seemed to be working until mid-way through our conversation the student sat NEXT to the student I was helping said “Miss, when you’re done can you explain to me too” … they were sat next to the student I was helping and just didn’t see that they might benefit from listening to what was being said.
The blog post above really resonated with me over the weekend – particularly this: – Regrettably, I think in the past some pupils have been so individually helped they have come to believe that they actually aren’t capable of understanding anything unless there is an adult available to translate for them. For some pupils this might be true but I am sure for most it is not. So today I took a different tack when the same student asked for help – they have come a long way since the start of the year and their book had all the required information they needed to overcome their “I don’t get it” moment and so I spent some time explaining how to use the “worked example” to help themselves rather than me doing it for them and did the same for the student next to them and left them to it. I returned a couple of minutes later to two students looking at me as they showed me their work – I am sure they were expecting me to say they’d got the answer wrong but they had absolutely nailed it and they were beaming when I told them I was proud of them working it out for themselves. It was brilliant … I even got a high-5!
Some days I bloody love my job.