Churchdown Village Infant School, Churchdown, Gloucestershire
Churchdown is a two-form entry infant school where almost all children are of White British heritage and speak English fluently. The school holds the International Award, which recognises the work it has done in linking with countries around the world. It also has an Active Mark Award for provision of sports. It recently gained the information and communication technology (ICT) award and has just applied for Artsmark Gold.
Aims and overarching theme for the lesson study cycles
Our aims were:
- to break down barriers for learning through:
- developing children’s use and understanding of mathematical language
- fostering children’s enjoyment of mathematics
- enabling children to become independent thinkers
- to raise standards across the school.
Our overarching theme was the children’s use of mathematical language.
How we set up the project
Although the KS1 results are generally good, we found after analysis that most areas for improvement were where children did not fully understand the technical language of the questions. We had also just recruited three new members of staff so we were keen that they were using concise and correct mathematics language in their lessons. Therefore, after lots of discussion with the Head and staff in the autumn term, we decided our project was to be on mathematical language.
As a starting point we posed the questions:
- what mathematical language did we want our children to learn?
- what do we need to do for our children to succeed?
All six teachers and classes were to be involved - both Foundation Stage and KS1. I, as the mathematics co-ordinator, adapted the lesson observation prompt sheets that I had been using as part of the Gloucestershire Leading Maths Teachers team for observing how children learn. These were approved by the Head and the rest of the staff. This was important as I wanted teachers to realise that the focus was to be on the mathematical language used within the classroom.
Pairs of teachers jointly planned a series of lessons. They taught and observed the same lesson, using the prompt sheets. This ensured that both teachers used the same planning, taught the same lesson and when observing were both able to focus on the mathematical language used in the classroom through using the prompt sheets. After teaching and observing each lesson the pairs of teachers jointly discussed and reviewed their observations and this aspect was considered to be the crux of the project.
These observation and reviews were then fed back to the rest of the staff during a staff meeting and there were further discussions to see if there were any commonalities running through the teaching and learning. Also, we looked together to see whether the mathematical language used by the children and teachers had changed. The Head teacher and mathematics co-ordinator then analysed the findings. This whole process was repeated the next term. Each pair planned lessons based on the same strand of mathematics – capacity.
Challenges we faced and how we overcame them
There were many challenges before and during the project. Initially we planned to start the project in the autumn term but because of time restrictions, staffing and logistics we did not actually start until the spring term.
As a busy school with six teachers we had to choose a time when all staff members were in school and when there were no other focussed days. Staff had to come to an agreement about the project and decide when they would teach their focussed lessons. Also, staff had to agree on the structure of the lesson and the language to be used to teach. Teachers had to become familiar with new prompt sheets used for the observations and feel confident about using them.
As a direct result of analysis of the first round in the spring term we found that, although we could analyse the impact of the use of mathematical language on both teaching and learning, we could not see the impact across the whole school because all three year groups had used different strands of mathematics. Therefore it was agreed that in the summer term all teachers would focus on the mathematical language for capacity. As a result of this we were able to see what language was being used in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 and this helped us to ensure that it was consistent and progressive.
Joint planning revealed that teachers had focussed on building mathematical language into their lessons. Teachers had researched the key mathematical language needed to reinforce the learning objectives for this particular unit of work. Planning was reviewed so that there was active discussion about the lessons. Teachers said that the joint planning helped them to focus on:
- learning objectives
- mathematical language used to deliver the lessons
- structure of lessons in terms of talk partners
- paired work
- questioning skills and explanations and differentiation.
Active discussion and reviews revealed that teachers were more aware of the impact of their teaching and the mathematical language used within the lesson:
- by teachers
- by children in response to questions and explanations
- by children to each other during paired and group work.
Teachers revealed that they had used more repetition, questions and explanations to tease out and challenge children to think using the correct mathematical language. By the end of the first lesson children in all classes were beginning to use key vocabulary when speaking to the teacher and to each other during the main input and in paired and group work. Many Gifted and Talented children, who often knew an answer but could not explain their reasoning, now began to use mathematical language freely. The teacher who had already observed one lesson and had then taught the same lesson to another set of children said that she was able to use explanations and deal with misconceptions more easily. The teaching and learning had become richer through the experience of observation.
NQTs said that they liked the idea of being observed without any threat. NQTs also said that observing experienced teachers using language helped them in their own understanding of mathematical language. Experienced teachers said it encouraged them to reflect on their own use and understanding of mathematical language and on their planning and teaching.
What we learnt
- Joint planning and discussion helped teachers clarify the exact focus of the teaching and also strategies to use in the classroom
- Observing colleagues teaching with the focus being on children’s learning rather than on teaching felt less intimidating
- The project also helped team building
- The children’s use of mathematical language increased and improved very quickly. They also began to use mathematical language in their everyday learning.
As a school we found this project very useful in our whole school development. We have decided to extend the project into next year and hopefully will be able to see the true impact of the development of mathematical language across the school as the children become more confident using it.
Quotations from teachers
Two NQTs both said how unthreatening this method of observation was. Other teacher’s comments:
‘I learned so much from seeing experienced teachers teach.’
‘It gave me time to reflect on my own teaching and also research the mathematical language needed to teach specific strands of mathematics.’
‘Teaching the same lesson after observing helped me address children’s misconceptions and improve my questioning skills.’
Reflections on the lesson study process including how close we feel the process was to the Japanese lesson study model
Our starting point was similar to the Japanese model whereby, as a school, we identified an area for improvement – i.e. mathematical language. Teachers worked collaboratively to plan, observe and discuss outcomes in terms of teaching and learning. Discussion helped teachers to work together as a team. The teachers also had time to reflect on their teaching styles, the language they used, the content of their teaching and what impact this had on the children’s learning. Each teacher wrote up their findings from the first lesson, and like the Japanese model, focused on successes and failures. These findings from the first round of lessons were then analysed. Improvements and changes were incorporated into the second round of lessons. The difference here is that the Japanese model advocates promptly re-teaching the first lesson with adjustments made after the lesson has been reviewed, all within a short timeframe. We taught a new set of lessons on the same area of mathematics a term later, taking into account lessons learnt the first time around.
Top tips for other schools that wish to develop lesson study
- Choose your overarching aim carefully
- Have the full backing of all the staff before you start
- Build it into the Numeracy Coordinator’s Annual Improvement Plan
- Be prepared for some challenges that occur along the way
- Remain positive and focussed.