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Departmental Workshops - How to get better at open tasks

Created on 05 April 2011 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 05 April 2013 by ncetm_administrator

Departmental Workshops - Structured professional development activities    

How to get better at open tasks


This unit considers how, as teachers, we can work with students so that they become better at working on open tasks. The unit addresses different parts of the mathematics lesson and encourages you to plan specific actions within the context of a mathematical task. Finally it is suggested that you might work alongside your English department in helping pupils to write their answers. There are some large and challenging questions posed and the aim of this unit is not to provide you with definitive answers but rather to provide you with an opportunity to continue to develop the understanding and the answers that you already have.

Where are you now?

Individually for a minute or so then in pairs or small groups consider the Bowland Assessment Task - Spinner Bingo. Make a list of the things that pupils would find difficult in tackling this task. It may be helpful to split your list into ‘mathematical subject content’ and ‘ways of working’. Compare your list with another pair.

Activity 1

  1. Using the ‘Getting better at open tasks arrow’ – Resource sheet 1 enlarged to A3 size, and ‘Getting better at open tasks cards – students’ – Resource sheet 2, arrange the cards above the arrow in order to show what you might expect to see in the classroom as pupils become better at working on open tasks.
  2. Using the ‘Getting better at open tasks cards - teacher’ – Resource 3 arrange these cards under the arrow to show what the teacher might be doing as pupils become more independent in the classroom
  3. Using the blank cards, add any teacher or pupil actions as appropriate. It may be useful to stick down your cards on the paper.
  4. Choose one of your classes to think about – you are going to assess where you and your pupils are now. On the ‘arrow’ draw a vertical line on the top half of the diagram to mark where the pupils are now and date it. Draw another vertical line on the other half of the diagram to show where you are now, and date it.

Activity 2 – A structure for an open task

How will you plan a strategy to encourage your pupils to get better at open tasks? Go back to your ‘arrow’ from Activity 1. Identify some specific actions you will take to help pupils move along the arrow. You may wish to refer to the blog ‘Thinking about a structure for open tasks

If you identified

read the section

Students don't understand why they are doing the task

 Teacher introduction

Students don't know how to start the task Thinking Time
Students cannot decide which pieces of information will be useful Starting the activity
Students are afraid of being wrong Working on the activity
Students can attempt a task but cannot communicate a solution to a wider audience Explaining their method and solution

You may find it easier to plan your actions for a specific task. Choose a task in your scheme of work or consider the Bowland Assessment Task Spinner Bingo.

Activity 3 - Working on an examination question

Students seem to have difficulties in tackling the sorts of examination questions which are unstructured but carry a large number of marks. Choose one of the examination questions from Resource sheet 4 (foundation) or Resource sheet 5 (higher). Using the ‘thinking outside the box’ framework provided, break down the question in a way that would make it more accessible to students. Working with a colleague, plan how you could use this structure in a lesson.

Activity 4 - Talk to your English department

Marks are allocated in the GCSE examination for:

‘Clear conclusion drawn in ‘good’ English dependent on some (not necessary correct) calculation using the rule given’

OCR Applications of Mathematics Foundation Tier Specimen mark scheme


The English Department in your school will have a structure that they use for teaching persuasive writing. It may be SEA (Statement, Evidence, Analysis) or PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation). This may be a useful structure to encourage students to use when writing in mathematics.
Look at the question on Resource Sheet 6. Use SEA or PEE to write an answer.

You may have worked through this workshop thinking about Year 10 and 11 students – but ideally this process should start in Year 7. Spend some time as a group identifying things that you can prioritise in Year 7 to enable pupils throughout your school to become better at working on open tasks.

Implementing and continuing to learn
Ask members of your team to consider what they might aim to do :

You could identify an objective that relates to the way students work to focus on next lesson

Next week
Take your arrow diagram and decide if the class you considered have moved on from the where they were last week (when you dated the diagram). What will you do now in response to this movement?

Next year
You might want to look at the Scheme of work and identify tasks that are particularly good for encouraging pupils to improve their independence.

Further reading

NCETM Department workshop Preparing to teach the Linked-Pair Pilot GCSEs

NCETM Department workshop Mathematical Processes & Applications

NCETM Department workshop Developing functionality in mathematics

Using contexts and models to support mathematical development by Frank Eade and Sue Hough, Manchester Metropolitan University and related resource materials

What's in a task? Generating mathematically rich activity by Susan McDonald and Anne Watson, University of Oxford

Connecting mathematics with reality: connecting reality with mathematics by Geoff Wake, University of Manchester.



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