In this episode our Main Feature is Back to School, where we discuss how things change over the summer and what it is important to focus on in those first weeks back. We also have the usual features: in the news, we recommend and inspired by. Please check out edublether.wordpress.com and rate us on iTunes.
Why are schools keen to label children as smart or gifted?
My intiial reaction is that I have no idea. Maybe using gifted allows SMT to ask class teachers what their plan is for ‘stretching’ some children. I feel this is used as a counter balance to the question of what teachers do to support less able children in lessons. This differentiation battle has been ongoing for a while and is not in line with the AiFL which I have studied when reading the Shirley Clarke books.
So what is a belief message you can give to students when you’re talking to them about their work?
You have to give them the belief that they will get there eventually. I remind them that I have failed at many things but I have always managed to get the hand of something if it mattered enough to me. I also discuss with the class why I am asking them questions – not because I don’t know the answer, but because I want to know if a certain person knows an answer but more importantly how that person works something out.
The evidence that those with a “growth” mindset have more brain activity than those with a fixed mindset is pretty amazing – and important. What does it make you think about? Is there something you may do or say differently because of this evidence?
It reminds me that as well as telling my class that we learn stuff which is hard, because it grows our brains, I must remind them that they will find it hard and that they will get there in the end.
How can you help parents with math anxiety?
I think several approaches/actions are required here leading to an understanding of why they are anxious.
Firstly you can share links to video clips, reading matters, research, courses etc showing how growth mindset works and how this links into mathematical understanding.
Secondly you need to remind them of that time in maths that they felt terrible because they couldn’t answer a question in a certain time limit. Ask them how that shaped their feelings towards maths as a subject. Discuss with them the way maths is taught at university where depth and understanding matter more than time limits.
Share with them some of the rich learning tasks from youcubed and ask them what they think someone is learning when the are working on these tasks. During this model maths talk with them too and explain how this cements learning.
Discuss my own feelings towards maths and how they changed when someone took the time to explain how maths worked to me in a way in which I could understand it.
From all of this, ask them how well they feel maths was taught to them. If they feel the teaching they received was not the best, this can be linked to their anxiety. It’s not their fault, a lot of it is the way things were in the past in maths teaching.
What were the main ideas you heard from the interview with Carol Dweck that you think can be helpful in your teaching or interactions with students?
Growth mindset is telling the children that they can develop abilities.
Struggle is good but needs some support.
Be ‘casual’ about mistakes whilst offering to help the student get it right and scaffolding their answers.
Some people are unclear what a fixed and growth mindset are.
What are you most excited to learn from this course?
New ideas for use in class.
How I can support children who struggle the most with their maths.
Things to say to other teachers, SMT and observers in my classroom when they question what I am doing and why I don’t have maths groups.
What ideas do you think were most helpful for the students in the video? What impacted them most?
The idea that getting things wrong in maths is OK and that finishing first does not mean the best. Also, the idea that only struggling through maths develops the brain. Immediate recall and pages of correct does not grow the brain.
One of the questions in my Mathematical Mindsets MOOC was about gifted children and our labelling of people as gifted.
Since the mid 00’s there has been a requirement to highlight ‘gifted and talented’ children in classes in the schools I have taught in England and Scotland, but on reflection, this flies in the face of a ‘growth mindset’ approach to education.
Here is how I answered the question What do you think the “gifted” label does to young children and their teachers?
If we start by thinking of a gift, we might think of something which is given to us without our needing to do anything to recieve it. i.e. You get your birthday gift, but we didn’t really contribute a lot to being born…
To a child who believes themselves to be gifted, this might mean that they feel they don’t have to work hard, as they have been given something extra which others don’t have. It might mean that when they come across something they can’t do they feel they ‘don’t have the gift’ in this so it’s not worth trying.
Children hearing others described as having a gift are likely to see that child’s work in a subject as unrelated to effort. Therefore there is no point in that child trying that little bit harder, as they are not gifted. However hard they try, they are not going to get to be good enough.
Teachers who believe in, or label children as gifted (as well as discouraging many children) may not see the point in putting efforts in to certain groups or children. I remember my Y3 team leader in my first year of teaching explaining that if I hadn’t given children the chance to do something, then they certainly would not be able to do it. They may also be inclined to put children into groupings for subjects from which they can never escape, as they are never given the opportunity to do the same work as ‘the other group’.
I am working on (and shall be over the summer holidays) an online MOOC – Mathematical Mindsets, run by Jo Boaler.
If you haven’t come across Jo before, find her on the Twitter, google her or read her books. I love her methods for maths and the way she links them with growth mindsets.
I intend publishing some of my work here.
In my first piece, Jo shared three pieces of research onto brain growth with us and asked us to share our feelings about how this should impact schools.
Taxi Driver Evidence.
“You may have seen me show the evidence from London black cab drivers who have to undergo complex spatial training, at the end of which, they have a significantly larger hippocampus in the brain. At the end of being taxi drivers, when they retire, the hippocampus shrinks back down again.”
Taxi driver response:
This research shows that a brain that is being used develops and grows and that when the brain is not being used it regresses to its initial state. So in school I guess this means that we need to keep children thinking about their maths. The children who probably end up thinking about their maths are the mid-ability ones upwards who, if we are not careful are fed a diet of ‘more of the same with bigger numbers’. These are the children who are ‘high fliers’ who then plateau in their maths learning.
We need to use real-life challenging problems and investigations and games with all learners to ensure brains keep growing.
Half-Brain Case-study. “You may also have seen me show the girl who had half her brain removed. The doctors expected her to be paralyzed for many years or even for her whole life, but she shocked them by regrowing the connections she needed in a really
short space of time.”
This research shows that the brain is a wonderful thing which scientists are still understanding…slowly in some cases.
In school we need to encourage our children to make connections within their brains to ensure that they keep developing. Brains don’t get full! We need to share this learning about re-wiring of brains with the children so they come to associate hard learning with something like a gym visit or fitness training – a development; and improver.
Stanford Case Study: “They brought 7 to 9-year-old children into the labs at Stanford, and half of them had been diagnosed as having mathematics learning disabilities, and half of them hadn’t. And they had these children work on maths under brain scans.
And lo and behold, they found actual brain differences. And the children diagnosed with learning disabilities actually
had more brain activity than the other children, more areas of their brain were lighting up when they worked on maths.”
Stanford response: Initially, this research seems to show that pupils who are thought have learning disabilities are working harder to keep up with (and by definition be not as good at maths as) their peers. Their brains are working harder, which means they will feel more tired during a maths lesson, be more stressed and require more breaks. We need to think in schools how we treat these children who are working harder, and it’s certainly not good enough to say X is not good at maths. It also suggests that schools need to find time to work closely with our ‘poorer maths attainers’ to get an understanding of where there learning is and to give them strategies to learn and develop their maths. – In an ideal world this can be done through group work and talk partners also.
As soon as the PISA results came out, the questions, accusations and incriminations began. Blame it on the CfE, blame it on the SNP, blame it on the boogie. I’m not going to blame anyone, there’s plenty of stuff written by plenty of people on the internet already, indeed I’m not sure the PISA results are something to aim for or worry about – Finland seems not to be too concerned – but I am going to write about working through major education reforms in my career to date.
The two major reforms which took place whilst I’ve been a teacher occurred in England and Scotland. In England, I taught through the time of the National Literacy Strategy, the National Numeracy Strategy, the QCA units, the QCA unit plans, SATS tests and OfSTED inspections every four years in a range of schools in England. In Scotland I’ve taught throughout the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, and seen at first hand via The Girl, the national assessment procedures.
The reforms in England were massive and to a large degree micro-managed. The Government wanted improvements in literacy and numeracy and wrote strategies to make sure this happened. If there was debate around what ‘good’ literacy and numeracy should look like, I wasn’t part of (I was in my 20s though, so I knew everything anyway). The strategies were written by a group of literacy experts and then rolled out to schools in the autumn and winter to be put into place for the start of the next school year.
I recall the literacy strategy being rolled out in 2 hour staff meetings after school – I hate after school meetings, I’ve done a day of teaching, there is assessment to do and I’m tired: You’re not going to get the best out of me. These meetings were scripted by the government, the trainers read out what we needed to know and we worked through units of work which explained how the strategy worked, how we should plan, how we should teach reading,writing and spelling. We soon spotted that the answers to the trainers’ questions were usually on the next page of the document! For this training we were given a complete strategy, various unit breakdowns of our own, resources (which we needed to make up in school) and some examples of expected work. It was a slog but by September we had stuff in place and away we went with it. The lessons I taught from the strategy weren’t perfect, but there was a structure in place to help me.
Of course, your school didn’t HAVE to follow the literacy strategy, but if you didn’t and the OfSTED or local authority came a calling, your school literacy strategy had better be an improvement on the national strategy. If your SATS results weren’t up to standard then OfSTED might make an extra visit and again, you’d better be getting the national strategy in place or else (or else usually meant your HT retiring or resigning).
Once we had successfully implemented that – well actually by October of that same year – the National Numeracy Strategy was launched. If you’ve had the misfortune to chat to me about this, you’ll know I love the NNS! The Government spotted some of the problems with the literacy strategy and made some key improvements.
The NNS contained examples of questions and ideas you could use, straight out of the folder. The document, like the NLS had learning objectives for each term of each year group (meaning for differentiation there was a progression mapped out). However, the NNS was supplemented with two things I thought were brilliant.
Firstly, there was a 5 day maths course for every teacher in the UK. 5 days out of class (in a hotel at times) to discover the document, talk about it with colleagues from other schools, plan how you would implement it with your class, look at all the resources. Like the NLS it too was scripted, so the Government really were leading this change in EXACTLY the way they wanted it to go. The 5 days were back to back. A full week thinking about nothing more than numeracy. It changed my teaching approach to maths from ‘here’s the book kids’ to something I love to this day. And really it bloody well should have done, bearing in mind the cost of this to the UK taxpayer.
The other wonderful thing was the resources the NNS team made and shared. They created some wonderful teaching programs which I use to this day and they wrote the unit plans. These were highly detailed documents for each unit of work. Unit one was place value it contained 5 plans, one for each day of the week. Each plan was A4 and was pretty much a script for the lesson. There in the same folder (and latterly on CD-ROMS) were the resources (including worksheets) you needed for the lesson. Differentiated. The idea was that these plans were a start point, you changed them to suit the needs of your class. Lots of teachers did and that was great, but even if you didn’t (because you were, like so many teachers lazy what you delivered was good quality, written by numeracy experts, lessons. If you were new to the job it allowed you to know where to pitch an average lesson and how to piece your maths teaching together over a term. I loved them and still did out the ideas for a concept which my class find tricky to see if I’ve missed anything.
After a year or two, the Government did it again. They released the QCA topic documents. These detailed the teaching for all of the non-core subjects on a lesson by lesson basis. Again, all the information you needed to teach the lesson was contained in the folder. You adapted it, changed the order, added bits in, took bits out but the basic lessons for all your Art, DT, History, Geography, Music, Science, RME and PSE were there. Concurrent to that, the Government noticed that problem solving and investigations was not progressing as well as they wanted, so they created more problem-solving resource and ran another 5 day maths course for two teachers in each school to upskill them in teaching this. Again, resources and knowledge I still use to this day.
Looking back, it seems a great time, with resources aplenty, cash aplenty, but it was hard, hard work at times, with the pressure of OfSTED ready to pounce and the pressure of SATS scores needing to meet targets for school and local authority. For me, giving me start points close to a finished article of a lesson plan or termly plan allowed me to focus on the delivery of the lesson, moving children to their next target (of which they had many) and how I might make these at time dry lessons interesting and meaningful for the children. For teachers, new to the profession it certainly offered a proven scaffold to begin their careers. I loved the support the strategies and unit plans gave me and the time it freed up to think about the needs of the children in my care.
I will discuss the education reforms since I’ve moved to Scotland in my next post. I think it’s possible I moved out of England before things took a turn for the worse, but I’m happy to hear comments from people who disagree with that thought or with things as I recall them from the late 90s and early 2000s
Question – What do shapes and underpants have in common?
Answer – A maths/art lesson with some reading for enjoyment thrown in for good measure.
At snack time I read my class the Aliens/Dinosaurs love underpants series of books by Claire Freeman and Ben Cort. The children loved the stories. This gave me an idea to have the children design their own underpants. As they were learning about shape and pattern I used this as a basis for their designs.
The children had a choice of underpants and were able to create their design either by printing shapes or using coloured dots.
I created washing lines to display the underpants, using craft mini pegs to attach the pegs to the string.