Sunday, 23 July 2017

Looking back, looking forward - a few thoughts

I should take a moment to look back at how mathematics teaching in my K3 (5/6 year olds) class went this last year.

First some background: there was roughly 45 minutes of maths daily. I was so pleased that Annaïg teaching in the other K3 class was happy to plan so much together, and that the two classes worked on so much together.
One of the big things this year - you'll know this if you've seen my tweets - was using Cuisenaire rods extensively to explore equations. (See my Cuisenaire-related tweets from the year.) Cuisenaire-related work took about one third of the time. We started from just play, moved to making equal-length trains, then to writing these down using the initial letters of the colours, then on to writing numbers, with orange as ten.

It was good enough that I definitely want to return to it and follow a similar pattern with our K3s next year.

There was a lot of space for the students own creations and explorations. I was keen to keep a sense of agency, and tried to respond to any initiative. This was as important, I feel, as the exact direction we went in. That sense of 'this is an inquiry we're following because B started us off with this; let's see where it goes' is something I really want to nurture again, and even more so, next year.

My overall sense was of enthusiasm and enjoyment. I loved it when kids were bringing in drawing s of Cuisenaire staircases from home, and sets of equations that they'd been writing. But there were two students who at particular points said that they didn't like school! I asked X why and she said she what she liked best was sitting on the sofa in her pyjamas with biscuits and hot chocolate and watching TV. I could identify with that. Y told me she just wanted to play. That too I get. I'm going to try to make it more play-based next year, and work with smaller groups to make our learning more chatty and sociable, and let me listen in on thinking more.

A guiding thought was that I wanted to move forward as a whole class and didn't want anyone to feel boggled or left out at any point. There were two students who were my touchstone for this, Y and Z. Y often didn't really focus on what we were talking about as a whole class, although she was fine when I sat with her and we took things slowly. Z had lots to say and again benefited from having me close by; he found the writing down bit hard, knowing how to write letters or numbers or signs. It was these two (and maybe my own lack of nerve) that stopped me going further with equations with fractions in, even though more than half the class were comfortable with them. I feel like I did the right thing here, even though we didn't get the same astonishing progress that Gattegno and Goutard reported.

Next year...

  • I'm working with Marie as the teacher in the other class. I hope we'll work really closely; we're planning to do lessons at the same time, and have whole year group lessons that ensure we're sharing our best ideas with all the children.
  • I want us to use big maths journals, to keep all the photos of student creations as documentation, to allow the adults to scribe thoughts alongside these, and for students to add their written work into. And to look back and reflect on more.
  • We must include some things we hardly touched on at all (!) like time, and more of things that were under-explored, like measurement and 3D shape.
  • I want to include the parents in our learning a lot more.
  • Our two teaching assistants will play a full part in this.
  • We'll do 'number of the day' as a little ritual. Doing the 100th day was a big success, and the size of the numbers is just right for this age group, of all age groups. I'm hoping when we get back our new magnetic hundred squares will be hanging from the walls above the whiteboards.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Going Sideways

A problem with the metaphor of 'progress' in learning is that the 'journey' becomes roughly linear:
If that's extended to an individual lesson, students will be making 'progress' through the lesson. They won't all make as much 'progress' as each other.
Some of them have shot forwards, others are tarrying back nearer where they started.

And what to do with them then, in the next lesson? Put those three shoot-aheaders in a separate group? Ask them to hang around for a bit? Teach them and hope the tarriers will keep up?

This is a real challenge for us all, and I don't claim to have the answer. But I do recommend Going Sideways.
Take a detour, a road less travelled, follow a student's deviation, make room for the unfamiliar embodiment, for variation and investigation. After the number lines, try hopscotch.
Read a story about a hundred ants.
Look at a strange picture:
Solve an unusual problem.
Because maths isn't just forwards, it's sideways too. Maybe it's like this:
Or perhaps it's like this:

But whatever it's like, it's not in a straight line. So when the students go sideways,
make sure to show the ones on the left what the ones on the right did. And the ones on the right should see what the ones on the left did too.