Reflecting on: Having efficient and well organised systems
Key Elements: Curriculum and lesson planning / Assessment / Learning environment and resources / Managing a budget
Developing excellent mathematical learning environments
Mary Ledwick, project manager for Embedding EiML, opened the Embedding Excellence in Mathematics Leadership Conference by using the unusual opportunity to discuss mathematics across three phases. Each table, which comprised subject leaders from primary, secondary and post-16, was asked to discuss ‘learning environments’ and to focus in particular on ‘classroom displays’. A sample of contributions from primary teachers included: 100 squares, number lines, Numicon, quantities, vocabulary and up-to-date work. The responses from secondary teachers suggested that in theory much was similar but that there was more variability in execution, while a novel use of whiteboards was proposed by one post-16 delegate - at their institution each classroom has both an electronic whiteboard and normal whiteboard at the front, while smaller whiteboards are fixed on all other walls of the room. These are used for group work and the results left on display for as long as is considered appropriate. The full range of written responses can be seen here.
The use of systems to secure long term sustained development
Graham Macphail began his session on ‘efficient and well-organised systems’ by making the point that setting up systems secures the legacy, and this should be a priority; meaningful and lasting improvement should be what the subject leader is aiming for. He used Sudoku as a metaphor for systems, exhorting subject leaders to work with what they have got and realise that every action they take will influence next moves.
Likewise, one of the big lessons for Ronnie George in the first two years of her leadership was the discovering the importance of good systems. Developing these has taken time and is an on-going job; every year they are improved which is a satisfying part of the job. She cites the following as examples:
- streamline the teaching teams by timetabling people on a minimal variety of courses each year. This means that teachers can teach repeat lessons which provides more planning time and allows teachers delivering a particular course to meet and plan together
- use common homeworks which are written in advance. These provide a common expectation among students as to the required workload for the course and allow students from different classes to support each other with their work. Discussions about how to improve the homework has provided a platform for fruitful debate about pedagogy in general, which has led to improvements in classroom practice
- install whiteboards all around the mathematics classrooms. This encourages a pedagogy that believes in active learning where students are out of their chairs and working in groups
- give feedback to students on their homework during class-time. This idea followed an observation that teachers were putting a huge amount of time into marking and that students did not seem to be particularly benefiting from this in terms of their learning. Several teachers have been trying this new approach and have been using the Japanese method of Lesson Study to research best classroom practice which includes giving feedback.
Graham has taken the unusual step of employing a ‘mathematics coach’ to work with underachieving students. He describes it as an ideal post for a graduate. They are paid as a Learning Support Assistant, but work solely with the mathematics department. Their duties include:
- delivering intervention programs to individuals and small groups, preparing relevant and appropriate learning experiences
- discussing reasons for underperformance, through interview
- assisting in the development of suitable intervention material
- keeping a log on students who undertake intervention, assist on the recording and reporting procedures
- liaising regularly with parents, learning managers, learning coaches and teachers to inform them of progress and provide relevant feedback
- monitoring progress through regular tests and feedback results to the Learning Coach
- providing wrap-around support for students who are not making expected progress, delivering a variety of intervention packages, before during and after school
- supporting exam revision sessions as required
- working with other professionals such as business mentors
- interpreting data to identify any student who is not making expected progress.
Creating opportunities for parents to become more involved in mathematics learning
Mary Tuson in the Secondary project described the oversubscribed parental engagement courses she has set up as giving her tremendous personal satisfaction and joy. She says that working with parents who are aiming to develop their mathematics skills is a fulfilling experience; their enthusiasm and thirst for further knowledge has resulted in her developing a ‘Mathematics GCSE for parents – distance learning’ course through the school Moodle. Many of the parents are doing the course so that they can help their children with the revision programme and others are doing it for their own professional development and job prospects.
The connection with parents is just as important in FE and you may want to consider how this can best be achieved in your institution.
When you are thinking about developing efficient and well organised systems you may also want to look at other items of interest on the NCETM portal such as:
- the case studies in Curriculum and lesson planning, Assessment, Learning environment and resources, and Managing and budget (especially case study C)
- In-Depth Study Module Widening Participation at A Level
- the NCETM FE Magazine (and its archive) for a wealth of regularly updated ideas for teachers of mathematics and numeracy
- example Assessment Policy
- Departmental Workshop Improving the learning environment
- the NCETM Secondary Magazine's Diary of a Subject Leader: Issue 22, Issue 23 and Issue 30 relate to assessment
- relevant quotes from the Ofsted summary report Mathematics: understanding the score, Assessment, Learning environment and resources, and Curriculum and lesson planning.