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What Makes A Good Resource - Weaning my Pupils off Spoon Feeding

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 08 September 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 03 September 2010 by ncetm_administrator

What Makes a Good Resource

Weaning my pupils off spoon-feeding

Teacher comment:
I have been getting very frustrated with my Year 7 class, a sizable core seem to be stumped whenever I don’t give instructions like a cookery recipe. 

Last week’s topic was angle. I had flexible angles on the whiteboard, I talked about one being acute, and one obtuse, as one increases the other decreases, they always add to 180. Some pupils interpreted that as a recipe: ‘take away 180’, and then switched off.  They ‘took away 180’ in every question be it vertically opposite angles, angles round a point or in a triangle.

I decided to do something different in my next topic – absolutely no recipes!

What I did:
Strictly ration myself to talking about the mathematics, never ever tell any individual child “what to do”, allow them to struggle and move on through it.

What happened:
I had shapes like this on the board

I gave everyone a dull number worksheet to keep them occupied while I gave out squared paper, scissors and glue, and dealt with the normal start of lesson “faff”.

I stopped everyone, held up a cuboid shaped box, and asked its name.  We had the inevitable discussion of cube vs. cuboid and cuboid vs. rectangle.  I drew smiles on a couple of the faces, asked how many faces there were, and what shapes they were.  Eventually we established that there are six rectangles, in three matching pairs. 

On the board I sketched the six rectangles fitting together to make a net. “What shall I draw here?”  “should this be a skinny rectangle?” “we’ve got two of these and two of these so what am I missing?” 

I gave the class the task of making and cutting out the nets for all the shapes on the board.  When they achieved a correct net that folded properly, they could stick it in their book with one face stuck down. 

Some pupils got really stuck in and got faster and more confident as they went along.  Lots of kids asked their neighbour about how to get started. 

To the whole class, I said “Each cuboid net has six rectangle faces, even if you don’t understand, just get started, try it, and if your first one doesn’t fold up right, you can improve it on your second and third goes until it works.”

I had lots of conversations along these lines:

“I don’t know what to do”
“Make a net”
“I don’t get it”
“What do you want to know?”
“I want to know how to do it”
“Your net is going to need all the sides drawn out at the right size – how many faces?”
“What shapes are they?”
“OK, can you draw one of the rectangles?”
“On the picture on the board, show me which face that is going to be – will it be the right size? – now draw the other faces, joined on, and just see if it is right”

One pupil came up after 20 mins, with three nets of 1cm cubes,
“Miss, whatever I do, it always comes out like this!”
“So what shape are the faces on your shape?”
“On the cuboid you’re trying to make, what shape are the faces?”
“Can you tell me exactly how big the biggest rectangle is?  Could you draw that face first? What sizes are the other faces?...”

I had two or three conversations was getting really frustrated, as if we were speaking different languages.  Whatever I said got “I don’t get it” as a reply.

When pupils gave me some kind of a reply, I was prepared to work with them, but some responses were still somewhat odd.
“How many faces are there”
“I don’t know – five? – three?”
(He seems to be trying to think about this, and he is a capable child.  I think he’s looking at the dimensions of the cuboid on the board – but what does he think the words in my question mean?  Does he believe that all teacher questions translate into “tell me the numbers on the board?”)
eventually his net looked something like this:

His second net had four correctly fitted rectangles. 

  • about 10 of them really shone and got onto the pyramids
  • about 10 were getting the hang of the cuboids and starting to motor ahead
  • about 5 or 6 of my core spoon-feeders actually realised that I wouldn’t say anything more, so they tried working by themselves – a couple of them looked really proud of themselves and what they’d achieved – and I was proud of them. 
  • a couple had just begun to draw flawed nets, and need more time to develop from there. 
  • a couple of pupils are still stuck waiting to start.
  • I discovered afterwards that one child had opted out and spent the whole lesson doing number work from my crowd-control sheet (oops!)
I was surprised how resilient some of these pupils were – demanding spoon-feeding and refusing to try things out for themselves. 

I think that one of the difficulties was still the distinction between rectangles and cuboids, so next lesson I will go in with blu-tak and two cornflakes boxes - one as a cuboid, and one cut up into its six faces.  I imagine that I will stick the rectangles on the board with blutak in various arrangements, but I am not intending to explain any more than I did last time.
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22 January 2013 22:43
Well done for taking one the spoon addicts!
29 August 2011 23:37
Using higher order questioning works very well for me for the pupils who want to be spoon fed. When the they say " I don't get it" I say I don't get it too!. So we work together to actively discover the maths behind the task. This is a very brave and good approach I must say.
By homej
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04 December 2009 12:31
Did you persevere with this approach -getting the pupils to think for themselves rather than spoon feeding? If so did they all get on board?
By Jodiehunter
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