Diary of a subject leader
Real issues in the life of a fictional Subject Leader
I always find revision a bit of a challenge. In an ideal world, my students would all have copies of past papers and be working through them. They would be asking me for help when they are stuck, or just checking if their workings pick up the method marks, or their explanation is good enough. I really like the idea of students getting into the habit of using the mark scheme, because they begin to see the crucial elements of a model solution – even if they think it trivial such as putting the “0” in after £24.5_ etc. It does bring home to them that precision and detail matter.
Now all that could just be a personal penchant, developed in my own learning of maths. When at school, I was a keen bunny in maths lessons but never really thought about how I learned – I just did the answers. When it came to revision I had no structure to my notes, nor did I think about using a revision guide. I turned to my Dad – and was lucky to be able to. He would just give me a pile of past papers and say, “I’ll be in the garden”. I would then return to my room and have a stab at a past paper to the dulcet tones of an over-revved, frequently backfiring Suffolk Punch lawn mower breaking through peace of an early spring morning. So idyllic! When I was done – usually in far less that the stipulated time and because of the blankness of my papers, not my flare – I would descend through the kitchen and into the garden, whereupon I would have a number of excellent diversionary tasks: empty wheelbarrow, hold washing line away from mower, empty compost bin etc. And then I would really begin to learn maths with hands smelling of cut grass and petrol.
For me this approach really worked. I had superb, individual, instant teaching that was very specific to my need. That may be why I like to think my students can revise in this way. But, they refuse to buy past papers, and if I give them to them, they copy the answers from the mark scheme, so they can appear to have worked when all they have done is socialise. That may sound harsh, but that is what happens. Perhaps a different approach is needed?
Two weeks ago a colleague and I mixed up our Set 1 and Set 2 students. I had already taught my Set 1 vectors just before Christmas. I gave them 30 minutes to plan an individual lesson that they would teach to a friend in Set 2. We teach these groups last lesson on Friday every week – our favourite graveyard slot! The next Friday, when Freddy Kruger came knocking, we hit him with our paired teaching session! Both groups are very male-dominated – challenging and minimising this is a weekly challenge, and we made some errors with the student pairings. At the end of their teaching and learning all students had to answer three past-paper questions. Every student had a really good go at the questions, a quick round of “What went well” and “Even better if” revealed that students respected the efforts each other was making and felt empowered to ask questions of each other. The whole process, but particularly the feedback, has forced my thinking about helping students revise. I’m now thinking about other AfL tactics – the fish bowl, the model answer, sequencing an answer, student experts, skills-market and of course, a bit of help from me!
For a dedicated, or perhaps just motivated student, I still think lots of past papers is the best way to revise, and I have seen many, many students do this very successfully, but perhaps I now have too many students that are too far away in terms of motivation to make this approach in any way effective. Grating though it feels, to have to provide not just the materials, subject knowledge and insight but also to have to do the motivation as well, I have no choice. Yes, it does make my students less independent, but there aren’t too many marks for independence on current maths papers. And my students aren’t going to learn independence in the next six weeks.
But revision does have its upside – every time I cut the grass, I think back to those spring mornings of maths revision, that actually have ended up meaning far more to me than the sum total of the maths. Roll on study leave!