It’s time to stop dumbing down vocabulary in Primary Maths…

This article first appeared on Tes Online news (here)

“When I look at the word problem I know that the numbers and the word ‘altogether’ are important. It tells me that we are adding the two numbers together.”

“The equation I am solving is five add six is equal to something.”

“There are 11 flowers in the garden altogether, but I will check using my beadstring.”

You would be forgiven for thinking that the children discussing the problem are older than four or five years old. The mathematical language they use is correct, with a sophistication that is often reserved for students further up the school. Too often it is assumed that Reception children can’t handle more complex language and ideas, leading to the dumbing down of concepts and terminology. Words such as “pointy parts” replace “vertices”; “number sentence” replaces “equation”. I think it’s time we gave our younger children more credit.

Think about the equation 5 + 6 = 11. Now imagine trying to explain it using no mathematical vocabulary and no resources to support you. You could probably find some elaborate way of explaining it that made sense to you. Now try and explain to someone else. Would it make as much sense or would it just be confusing to them? Language is fundamental for understanding and needs to be at the heart of everything we do from the moment children start school, including in the maths classroom.

To achieve a high level of vocabulary and, ultimately, a deeper level of understanding from Reception onwards in maths, there are three key principles that my team focus on in every lesson:

1. Concrete-pictorial-abstract

In simple terms, “concrete” is stuff that children can manipulate (cubes and counters), “pictorial” is visual representations (drawings and pictures) and “abstract” is the number or symbol representation. When language is introduced alongside this process, children are able to link abstract language to real meaningas they can touch, move and manipulate resources in a way they can’t with words; pictorial provides the link between the two. Maths lessons across the school begin by using key vocabulary with concrete manipulatives. When pupils are confident with the concrete, the pictorial is introduced, before moving to the abstract method of recording. It is important to note that the concrete is always available at any age.

2. Key vocabulary reinforced through actions, synonyms and antonyms

Using the correct mathematical vocabulary is just the beginning. Children also need to explore what it means. They are introduced to key language alongside a physical action that represents that piece of vocabulary. The action supports the learning and their understanding of the word, as the same action is used for synonyms. For example, an arm across the body signifies subtraction but also take-away and minus, allowing the children to interchange language that is used in different contexts. Children are also introduced to words that are the opposite, so in this case addition, but also linking words such as inverse to mathematically explain the relationship between the two terms. With consistent reinforcement of language, children are able to effectively explain their working, giving us insight into their thinking. This is especially important in Reception, where most assessment is not written or recorded.

3. Questioning

As teachers, we question all the time, but how often do we truly ask “why?” in response to a correct answer? It was only after watching mastery teaching expert Yeap Ban Har model a lesson that I began to do this. Rather than saying “Yes, well done” to correct answers, I asked, “How do you know?” I remember the look of horror on my pupils’ faces, as they thought they had given the wrong answer, doubting their own working. It was only when they discussed their ideas out loud, using mathematical vocabulary, that they realised they were actually correct. Another variation is taking all the different answers at face value and taking the time to investigate each with the class.

Children love to learn through language. A shift of thinking will help us to create confident mathematicians who have a deep understanding of the topic. Not only this, our children love maths. By dumbing down vocabulary, we are doing a disservice to our youngest students. Young children are already learning new language every day, so why not teach them the correct mathematical language first time around?

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Smile until Christmas and beyond..

          Don’t smile until Christmas!

That was the advice I ( as I am sure many other NQTs are) was given before starting my first year as a teacher. 

Let’s just take a moment to think about that… Don’t smile until Christmas…. what! Why would I not smile? And til Christmas…. that’s a whole term away, a third of the entire school year and to be honest I came into this profession because I love what I do and funny enough things I love tend to make me smile.

So where does this crazy idea come from? I’m going to share a few statements I think contribute to this idea…

You can’t be the children’s friend if you want them to respect you. 

Now I’m not saying you should be a ‘friend’ to all the children but come on respect and friendship are not mutually exclusive or inclusive. The idea of being a friend to all the children is hard because ultimately you you have to bring in the boundaries. But…. and it is a huge but… you have to spend a lot of time with these little (or slightly bigger) people… why would you not like to be ‘friends’ with them… friends in the way you care about them, you want to know what they’ve been up to and what they like doing and you genuinely want them to be their best self. Now I don’t know about you but that sounds like a type of friendship to me. Maybe not in the most literal sense but still… I imagine your children will have so much more respect for you if you show an interest in them. 

Children can’t learn without behaviour boundaries. 

True, children need boundaries. In fact, children crave boundaries. Especially those who don’t get them at home. But not smiling and boundaries do not come hand in hand. Children don’t need sternness, they need consistency. Consistency is safe and children that feel safe can learn. They need to know that you will follow up on poor behaviour in a fair, calm way but they also need to know that you will be there with a smile when they do something great and most importantly when they just need someone to brighten up their day. 

Smiling makes you seem like a pushover. 

No, no and no…. smiling makes you seem like a kind, friendly person. It shows you are enjoying what you do and why shouldn’t you be enjoying what you do? And more importantly it shows that you are happy and happy teacher equals happy children (for the most part). Happy children learn better and that’s our ultimate goal right? 


So… come this Autumn term whether your an NQT starting with your first class, an experienced teacher heading back to a new set of children or an out of class SLT member… smile at each other, smile at parents and most importantly smile at your children… it will change your day and theirs for the better. 

Posted in culture, Humanity, new year, Teacher life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ten things I’ve learnt about teaching…

This is a reworked version of a blog I posted 2 years ago in a different place at the end of my 3rd year… 2 years have since passed but a lot of what I wrote rings true still so I thought I would edit it slightly and repost it on my new blog dedicated to all things education…

Being a teacher is strange, I think that’s the one word I would use to describe it. It’s a whirlwind of emotion every single day. In just this week alone I have felt happy, sad, angry, confused, exhausted, delirious, embarrassed, proud, hungover, lonely, crazy, frustrated, jealous, elated and relieved just to name a few! And yes I am an emotional person, but when I chat to other teachers I realise I’m not alone.

Which leads me on to why I am posting this blog. I have learnt ten things over the past 5 years that have helped me survive…

1. Lessons don’t always work.

You can plan your lesson to the nth degree, have printed and laminated the best resources, have thought out every sentence stem you are going to implement, created 5 differentiated pieces of work stretching your more ables and supporting the lowers and thought your kids would be amazed and engaged for the entire morning to have your class descend into complete chaos and not get the first task you have set them… But do you know what… Stop, breathe and change it…. There’s literally no point in carrying on. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and that is ok!

2. Don’t be afraid to try something new. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas, new displays, new seating plans, new ways of learning… one year I turned my classroom into a cave and got rid of all my classroom tables (my year 1 class worked on he floor on clipboards) and do you know what… It worked!  Try talk partners you think are a crazy idea, let children sit where they want, ask a controversial question to provoke thought… just don’t be afraid to step away from the ‘normal’.

3. Take the time to chat to colleagues. 

It is the best way to reflect and improve. I have learnt so much from the people I work with this year. I am lucky enough to work in an all-through school which means I work with the secondary teachers too…. And the discussions that have taken place in corridors, cpd sessions, during Friday night staff basketball and in the pub have been invaluable and have really made me think about myself as an educator.

4. Leave the classroom at lunchtime.

Yes you need to set up,  Maybe you weren’t quite as organised as you thought this morning and you could start on the 30 books that need to be marked from your last lesson. But seriously…. Just leave your room. Even if that’s just for 20 minutes while you eat your sandwich or controversial take a walk to the local park…..Chat to your colleagues, rant about how your lesson didn’t quite go to plan or maybe even just chat about the latest episode of OITNB… Believe me you will feel better for the afternoon.

5. Stand your ground.

It is important to stand up for the things you truly believe in and consistency is key. Whether it’s with a child, a colleague or a parent… As horrible as it is at the time I promise you they will respect you in the long run.

6. But know when to back down.

No one likes someone who thinks they are right all the time, even when they are wrong. Take time to listen to the other person and think through what you are going to say.

7. Say sorry. 

Which can be the hardest thing to do (at risk of quoting Elton John). School is a stressful place. Sometimes we say and do things in the heat of the moment that makes you look pretty mean. But it takes a big person to stand back, reflect and say sorry.

8. Leave work early. 

Crazy thought I know, but it works. I’m not saying you can leave early every night but make a day where you do. Set yourself a time to leave and whatever needs doing past that time can wait. Go home and see the family, go to the gym, go and sit in Starbucks with a book, but whatever you do… Just leave and take some time for yourself. Your class will thank you for it.

9. Take the time to listen. 

Really listen… To the children you teach, the other teachers in the staff room and to be parents who just want to share their worries. Give them your full attention, don’t offer advice, don’t tell them what you would do, don’t turn the conversation back to you… Just listen. It does wonders for relationship building and they might just be there for you when you really need it.

10. Let it go….

Of course I quoted frozen… I’m a primary school teacher after all. But it’s so true. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Some things are just out of your control, whether you don’t know fully what’s going on, you’ve been asked to do something you don’t want to really do or someone’s let you down again…. Breathe and let it go!

And to everyone out there who’s a teacher, knows a teacher or lives with a teacher…. Yes sometimes we may seem a bit crazy but it’s because we care!

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A study into Times Table Rock Stars…

In my previous posts I discussed the CPD module we were taking part in this term (read more in previous blogs here and here). As the term is coming to a close I have completed the research and written it up ready to present to other staff in the final CPD meet this week.

I thought I would share my research publicly to show what a dramatic improvement TTRS has had on the retention and speed of recall of multiplication tables 1×1 through to 12×12.

I hope you enjoy reading the final results:

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What effect does a computer/app based programme have on multiplication retention and recall in year 3 students?

Evidence for action:

In February 2017 the government announced plans to reintroduce times table tests to the end of KS2 SATs tests. Recall of both multiplication and division facts by students is often laboured, leading to children struggling to apply facts to solve more complex problems (Wong and Evans, 2007). Learning multiplication and division facts by rote can often be ‘boring’ to children which can lead to low retention in students.

Computer games have often been suggested as useful educational tools (Egenfeldt-Nielson 2005). Not only are computer games motivational for children (Garris, Ahlers and Driskeel, 2002), they provide immediate feedback so children are instantly aware of mistakes they are making. Further to this, as games allow children to make mistakes and try again in a risk free environment they are more likely to explore and experiment, ultimately increasing the time they spend practicing (Gee, 2005; Kirriemuir, 2002).

Research conducted by Herold (2013) suggested that interactive learning of multiplication was more successful than computer or paper based practice whereas research by Bauer (2013) found that the group who used the computer based programme showed the greatest growth in comparison to flash cards and paper practice. With this in mind a mixture of paper and computer based practice and testing was used in this research.

Evaluation methods:

Times table rock stars (www.ttrockstars.com) is a paper, computer and app based programme that supports children in the learning of multiplication and division facts; it is used by a growing number of primary schools in the UK and is highly rated.  I decided that all children in the class would be using the same and there would be no control group- this decision was based on ethical grounds.

A baseline test was conducted before the 4-week trial. It featured all multiplication facts from 1 x 1 through to 12 x 12; both the time taken to complete and correct answers was recorded.

During this four week trial, children ‘played’ on the app in school 3 times a week and took the paper test once a week. They also had access to the app at home.

At the end of the 4-week trial children were then re-tested with time and answers again recorded and compared against the baseline scores.

Surveys were also conducted using google forms to ask children what they thought of the app.

Results:

Results from the baseline tests:

  • 38% of children increased amount of correct answers and time
  • 51% of children improved overall time to complete with no effect on correct answers
  • 67% of children improved overall time to complete
  • 29% of children did not increase time but improved overall correct answers

Some children who improved their time did make more errors. Many of those children who improved speed but made more errors commented on the pressure they felt on themselves to complete the test as quickly as they could and felt they made mistakes they shouldn’t have.

Results from student survey:

  • 91% strongly agreed that they enjoyed using times table rockstars
  • 74% strongly agreed or agreed that they enjoyed doing the paper tests
  • 78% strongly agreed or agreed that they think times table rock stars has improved their recall
  • 71% strongly agreed or agreed it has made their recall quicker
  • Home use of the app was varied:
    • 2% use it everyday
    • 2% use it 2-3 times a week
    • 2% use it at weekends
    • 5% never use it at home

Impact:

From this study it is clear that TTRS has had a huge impact on the retention and speed of multiplication recall. There has also been a noticeable change in lessons where children are drawing on known facts to solve more complex problems.

A further impact is the motivation on boys learning their multiplication facts. The competitive element of the app has allowed friendly competition between peers and has driven an increase in practice. This said, it needs to be considered that not all children are accessing the app at home and a further study could look at the difference in speed and accuracy in relation to use of the app.

From this study, it is clear that TTRS should continue to be used into the next academic year. In order to not only continue but drive motivation, a number of workshops and events around TTRS will be planned into the calendar year and a survey will be conducted further in the year to look at motivation and enjoyment levels to ensure it is still having an impact.

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Why you should do assemblies differently!

Think back to when you were at school….. What were assemblies were like?

Rows upon rows of children all facing the all-mighty teacher that had happened to sign up to that assembly. Imparting knowledge they had learnt from google/book they had read that morning when they remembered while in the shower it was their turn to do assembly just an hour later. Touch and go with how many children were actually listening and how many suddenly had a real interest in the Velcro on their shoes, flicking the bit of hair of the child in front or catching up on the sleep they missed the night before. 

I remember doing my first assembly in my last school as an NQT, looking over the room of 300ish children and I would guess that about 30-50 were interested in what I had to say… and even then I am probably been optimistic!

So why is it that if  you were to walk into many schools in the UK this is exactly what still happens? Surely it’d be better to get rid of the assemblies and have extra learning time? I mean at School 21 we have at least 2 hours of assemblies a week, before you even start considering the class assemblies and P4C lessons that take place… what a waste of time right? 

Wrong!


Take a good look at the photo above (This photo was taken in the assembly I facilitated 2 weeks ago)… What do you notice? There’s no rows and children are talking to each other. You might also notice I used the word facilitate. As teachers we facilitate learning all the time so why should assemblies be any different? In my opinion they shouldn’t!

So what’s different about what actually happens in assemblies here?

Well you will notice children are in circles- this allows children to share ideas more effectively. Talk partners, trios and thumbs in discussions are just a few talk protocols that are used in assemblies. Topics are chosen very carefully to develop well-being and to develop the whole child and are built upon throughout the week; Key stage assembly, year group strong circle and P4C lessons. Talking points and questions are used a lot to generate discussion between groups and to provoke opinion. Children are given roles to stimulate discussion; they might be asked to summarise, challenge or clarify thinking. Sentence stems are used as readily as they are in lessons. We’re not afraid to get children moving about, to be controversial to provoke deeper thinking, to stand back and not be the one to talk the most; in fact in the most recent assembly I did the balance was 80:20 with children talking 80% of the time. 

And what’s the point in all of this?

At School 21 assemblies are elevated to the same importance as lessons. They are planned to push thinking, they allow exploration of ideas and they give a safe space for children to discuss how they feel. Assemblies provide new thinking for children. Thinking back to the traditional assembly in rows and that first assembly I did (not facilitated I may add), so many children used that time as a brain break, their thinking was not challenged and their input was not valued! 

If we as educators want our children to be the change in the world, how can they be if we don’t give them all the tools they need… assemblies are perfect for doing this and I strongly urge you to step out of your comfort zone and try a new way of thinking with assemblies… I promise you’ll be amazed by the results!

(Please feel free to contact me if you would like ideas on how to transform your assemblies)

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Questionnaires with children…

As part of my research project in CPD I wanted to collect the opinions of my children on times table rock stars (TTRS). I have done questionnaires this year already with children and the time and effort it took to collate the data was enormous. With this in the back of my head I was worried about how much work I was taking on… That was until I remembered google forms.

I have used google forms in the past for staff surveys but always wondered how it would work with children; do they need a google log in, how would I get them to access it, would they understand what to do. But faced with the prospect of having to read and analyse paper copies I thought it was worth the try.

I created my questionnaire on the google forms site with ease with a mix of question types. I was able to set that the question had to be answered and I could tailor it to what I needed. My next worry was that I didn’t want the children to have to log in; the whole point of this was to make my life easier not harder. But google forms has a setting where they do not require sign in, so as long as the child has the link they can access it…

To make it even easier I copied the link into http://www.qrstuff.com so the children just had to scan the code using a qr reader on their iPad. The children accessed it with no issues (especially as they had used the codes before) and they were away… with the promise of time on TTRS once they were done (sometimes a little bribery goes a long way!)

Once they were done I timidly opened the google forms to see whether it had worked…


Not only had it worked, but google forms did all the faff for me… I had bar charts, pie charts and individual answers all recorded for me with no extra effort needed. It even exports to excel…

So if you have any research to conduct be it with staff, parents or children… use google forms and make your to do list just that little bit shorter!

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Using song in story telling…

We are currently doing a project with the enquiry question ‘How can we tell stories like the Egyptians?’ As part of this we are currently learning the story of Isis and Ra. Listen below to the song version of the story. The song is to the tune of fever and was written by myself using the story. It is a great way to deepen a story and I highly recommend giving it a go. If I can write a song…you definitely can!!
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