What's happening in the Regions?
In the South East, Brighton and Hove Sixth Form College mathematics department, under the leadership of Ronnie George, have just completed a Mathematics Knowledge Network (MKN).
This is their final report:
The underlying theme of our MKN was Using Assessment to Promote Learning in Mathematics and we focused on the aspect of assessment and feedback of homework in our sixth form. Students seem to be more and more of the opinion that learning takes place in the classroom, not outside it, and that good exam results can be ‘pulled out of the bag’ after a few hours’ intensive revision at the end of the course. Of course, we know that this is not true, and that 80% of the learning from homework takes place in the last 20% of the process, when the students tackle problems they are not immediately aware how to solve, or when they are carefully searching through their work looking for that elusive mistake.
With the majority of our students choosing not to access this vital part of the process, we decided to investigate ways to motivate and support them to change their approach to learning outside of lessons. Our biggest problem was a lack of time. It was taking all of our time outside class to identify the students who had missed out parts of the homework and provide brief feedback on that which had been completed. There certainly wasn’t enough time to do anything about the fact that most students had not completed it. This problem was being addressed by ‘going over problem areas in class’ which was boring for those who had completed it, provided a reason not to bother completing it (the teacher will go over the hard bits anyway so what’s the point?) and had little to no impact on learning (when tested on the exact same question which had just been demonstrated, students were unable to reproduce the same technique).
Through the work of our MKN we have hit upon practically every issue of improving student achievement: student motivation, independent learning, development of study skills, student response to different methods of feedback, teacher control in the classroom and the challenges of teachers working collaboratively.
Over the year, we have changed the way we work, the way we teach, the way we assess and give feedback, the way we identify and support underachieving students and most fundamentally the way we see our role – as ‘managers of learning’ rather than as ‘teachers’. We have realised that when we give students the responsibility for their own learning and support them in this process, they are able to achieve far more than we ever expected of them.
Changes to the way we work
With hardly any time given over to marking now, our time outside the classroom is available for supporting students, supporting one another, lesson planning, peer observations and planning improvements to our provision. In reality, the part of this we have found the easiest to do has been supporting students outside of class. We have done far more one-to-ones with students and although there is not much evidence (yet?!) to suggest that this has made a dramatic improvement to the results, it has certainly helped the students to feel positively supported through the course.
We have also dedicated weekly time to working as a team for the first time and it has been scary but wonderful! Committing time to weekly meetings has been difficult for some people, who have the feeling that meeting time = waste of time. Listening to each other’s ideas and not just sharing good practice but transferring good practice has been a challenge for us all. The best way to use the meeting time has been developing over the year but when it has been less than efficient this has caused resentment and frustration.
Changes to the way we provide feedback to students
Students receive aural feedback on their work rather than written. Students report finding this a much more useful way to get feedback on their progress.
Experiments with providing more feedback to some students than others was not as successful, with students reporting feeling that they did not get as much feedback as they would like on a weekly basis. Finding time in lessons to give one-to-ones was a challenge for many of us who find it much easier to be in control of the lesson throughout. We found that activities needed to be planned for this part of the lesson and that we had to make time to plan activities which did not require our constant input.
Impact on students
- Our weekly meetings have ensured much more consistency for learners.
- More students than usual are completing their weekly homework and therefore predicted results for this year are better than last year.
- One-to-ones with students have picked problems up early and retention looks to be an improvement on last year.
- Students in lesson observations were praised for their ability to work independently through problems and form connections between ideas themselves.
- Students commented that they could understand how the way they were working helped them to achieve and that they were enjoying the course and the teaching methods.
What the members of the network intend to do next
There has been a lot of interest in our project. Our fundholder has run an NCETM workshop in Nottingham and a CPD event for colleges across Sussex. We have a lot to learn and we need to learn to more fully embed our ideas into our work. Our record keeping is poor and we need to develop strategies for ensuring that the students all get the attention they deserve on a weekly basis. We intent to apply for a teacher enquiry fund grant next year in order to develop our ideas further. (Note from editors: BHASVIC have been awarded funding for a Teacher Enquiry Funded Project (TEFP))
Guidance for other teacher networks that wish to develop this theme
More information about NCETM funded projects can be found in the Teacher Enquiry section of the portal.
- Time flies! Plan meetings at the beginning of the year and make them as regular as possible in order that life does not get in the way of a good idea.
- Working collaboratively and as part of a real team who work together is a new idea in education. This culture shift is difficult and can be challenging but is worth the struggle and results in the job of teaching being easier and more enjoyable as well as the results improving!
- Talk in advance about how you might deal with feelings of challenge and fear. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are close to the edge of your comfort zone in terms of development and support each other not to slip back. Allow time in meetings to simply listen to each other talk about your experiences since the last meeting.