Dear Mrs A

This term I used Anne Schwartz‘s format for getting feedback from my students. I asked them to write me a letter. I’ve been teaching these students for ten weeks and I wanted to see what their impressions were.

Dear Mrs A,
1. The best thing you did was….
2. The worst thing you did was….
3. I am awesome because….
4. This summer I’m….
From, [name], your favourite student.

Here are some responses from top set year 7 students.

The best thing you did was let us play games.
The worst thing you did was giving us 3 exercises for HW.
I’m awesome because I did well on the fractions poster.
This summer I’m going to Taiwan, Beijing and San Francisco.

I’m awesome because I did well on the olympic stadium project and I learnt a lot about making sums simpler.

The best thing was you letting us choose our seats.
The worst thing you did was giving us a lot of homework.

The best thing you did was help me understand about shapes.

The best thing you did was let us work in pairs and groups.
The worst you did was give us quite a lot of homework.
I’m awesome because I improved my understanding in fractions, algebra and measurements.

The worst thing you did was give us lots of HW that was easy but long.
I’m awesome because I know year 13 stuff and beggining pre calculus and complex number and quadratic formulas.
This summer I’m doing an extra maths course and swimming class.

The best thing you did was giving us lots of practical tasks.
The worst thing you did was making us move the tables and chairs around.
I’m awesome because I went to every math competition, even purple comet and HKMO.

This summer I’m going to read a book of maths given to me as a present.

The best thing you did was to help me understand things when I am confused and made our lessons more interesting.
The worst thing you did was make us play a token game which was quite boring in my point of view.

The worst thing you did is… I really don’t know. You make your own mistakes, like every human.
I’m awesome because… I don’t think I am. I’m just a learner.
This summer I’m going to practise a bit of algebra.

The worst thing you did was give us far too easy work.

The best thing you did was talking for a minute about how people write.
The worst thing you did was not checking our homework.

The students quite rightly pointed out how much homework I gave and that after a while I stopped checking it. Marking is always my downfall. Sigh. I live in hope that one year I will get better at it.

Helping Students Work Together Better

Now that my surroundings have changed I find myself much more relaxed. It might be the change in my teaching classes (since some are shared) or the lack of exam classes, but I feel a lot less pressure these last few weeks. As a result I feel free to read more and try new things. I have been taking more risks in my teaching. We have weekly department meetings and in one of the first I attended, a colleague said, “You must make more time to think.” I have been making time, and there are so many good ideas to mull over. Increased motivation and inspiration has led to this blog. (I imported a few posts from years ago that I had about maths teaching but never published elsewhere.)

Students in my classes are learning maths and also learning to work together. I have one class that seems to struggle a bit with working together well; last week I happened to be reading about cooperative learning and I decided to teach my students to work together a bit better. I was reading about Kagan structures, which is where I got the activity called Sage and Scribe.

First I made up ten questions on the topic we are studying: percentages. (Actually, I borrowed them from an old worksheet.) Students work in pairs, each partner gets five questions. Student A gets the odd numbered questions, and Student B gets the even numbered questions. For the first question, Student A is the Sage (“a wise person”): they describe how to solve the question to their partner. Student B is the Scribe: they have to write down the solution as their partner describes it. Then A and B switch roles for question two. They keep taking turns; each time one person describes and the other records.

This is such an improvement on just practicing percentages from the textbook. I found that the activity helps the students explain what to do more fully and also helps them record better what needs to be done. And it’s cooperative, so they are learning about helping each other and working together. I tried this with my bottom set (“gentle set”) year 10s and my top set year 7s and both liked it.

things that worked

It really works to have all the next week’s worksheets copied up the Friday before. What a difference this makes to the ease of planning, especially homework. And what a difference it makes to my sanity. I pushed on Friday to get it all done and it really paid off today.

Better planned lessons are easier to manage. Behaviour was easier when I was calm and not flustered.

Organisation is everything. Mum said this summer, “Money spent on organising is never wasted.” To this I now add, “Time spent on organising is never wasted either.”

Reading something different (or different-ish) at lunch and directly after school relaxes my day. Funny how I have learned so many strategies for keeping my emotions and energy constant during the day and week. Sometimes (often?) a successful day is judged by whether I have survived. I wonder when/if I will move on to evaluate success by how much students learn.

marking: things i have learned

Get the students to do as much as you can.
Do some of it in class when moving about the room. Record all the homework marks.
Do it as quickly as possible. Write only the bare minimum. Do it as frequently as you can stand (every two weeks at the least). Take the books in every day there is not homework being assigned so that five or six books can be marked in an odd moment.
Keep track of homework religiously so that students know they can’t get away without doing it.
The key to this, as everything in teaching, is organisation. A well organised mark book makes marking easier. Classroom routines make marking easier.

proud and aspirational

I am so pleased with having everything sorted in my classroom and I have effectively kept it that way for one day! Woohoo. So to ensure this continues I need to spend some time every day tidying up.

I have so many ideas for what I want to do this term. (These are only a few.)
Pay a bit more attention to my tutor group.
Keep on top of my marking.
Create some G&T resources.
Read articles from maths journals.
Read Lessons in Play.
Read and read some more.

God, help me to use my time wisely. I feel full of aspirations and I’m looking forward to accomplishing a lot. But I know myself and that I get sidetracked by other things (and often good things) and my own laziness. Please help me to learn balance and also to motivate myself.

almost autumn

This is the season that fills me with dread, and also anticipation. New classes, students, and busyness. Prepping frightens me. I have some good classes this year, and also some challenging ones. Father, please assist me in getting to know these students and having ideas to help them successfully. May I be more on top of things so that I can keep my head clear for teaching them well. Help me especially with marking–my downfall every year. (That sounded a bit defeatist already!) Can I make a breakthrough with marking??

And the gifted and talented job. What does it really mean? I have not really devoted much time to finding out. But here are the ideas I have: enrichment club (two: one for each KS?), competition entries, competition training, a trip out. I shall now try to find out if there is any government guidance to help me.

Places to look again next time
Centre for Innovation in Maths Teaching
STEMNET
Crux online journal pages
the renewed Secondary Framework for maths
Maths Challenge and the Team Maths Challenge
Teaching G&T Students from the Standards Site
What Works Well in maths

I ordered a book: Meeting the Needs of Your Most Able Pupils: Mathematics. I hope it is good!