Saturday, 14 March 2020

#MathsConf22 - The Right Stuff

This year, I decided to start pushing myself and believing in my thoughts and my work a little more in the wider community than just my house. COVID-19 tried to put an end to that, but having present at the local Subject Leaders Developing Meeting, I took my presentation to MathsConf22 today and presented at my first national conference.
It was a delightful experience and the nerves I've felt for weeks were totally unfounded as it appears that I do know what I'm talking about a little bit, and other people aren't going to boo when they disagree.

The other sessions that I attended today were @naveenfrisvi's 'Interleaving', @mathsjem's 'Surds in Depth', @garyl82's 'Mastering Mastery' and @studymaths' 'Behaving Mathematically'. All gave me lots of food for thought to take back to school and extended my to-do list (as these events undoubtedly do!).

I presented on Doing the Right Stuff, with a focus on student confidence and ability levels - you can find my presentation here.

I shared three main ideas - the first of which is my award-winning (*cough*) Increasingly Difficult Questions. These have been around for quite some time (I think I last updated the web site three years ago due to parental responsibility - sorry!), but I've never really shared them on a wider scale or taken much responsibility for them.
I took this opportunity to give people a go at creating some and to ask for people's suggestions on their best uses. Here's what we got:

As a diagnostic tool - to ascertain a starting point for the class to save time on teaching stuff they're already fluent with.
As an end of unit assessment.
As a mid-topic assessment - where do we go next? how do we differentiate for the rest of the time on this topic?
To build up fluency before segueing into problem solving.
To discuss the differences between questions to deepen understanding - why is this question more difficult than the last? what is the same/what is different?
To identify specific areas of difficulty for students - make up similar questions to check understanding before moving on.
For easy differentiation - not just grouped by lower/middle/higher, as students have strengths and areas for development in different topics.

Haven't used Increasingly Difficult Questions before? You should! They are...

Easy to use.
Low printing costs.
Inspirational for students with high levels of challenge.
Not repetitive.
Easy differentiation.
A diagnostic tool.
Develop depth of understanding.
Purposeful practice.

Before I was afflicted with a small child, I began work on a spreadsheet to randomise questions so that a set of questions can be set for students to work through, answers given and questions taken, before setting another set of questions that students can continue working from. You can access that here.

I then went on to share my more recent work after moving into middle leadership, specifically around our scheme of learning and ensuring that students are doing the right stuff. The conveyor belt model of educating is damaging our students' chances of success and I'm determined to not let this be an issue at my school. After hours and hours of work, we have a modular scheme of learning spanning 5 modules. Each module is designed to span 9 units, with students starting on 1, 2, 3 or 4 in Year 7 before progressing through the spiral at their own pace, learning at a level just beyond their current level of understanding - some students may stagnate, and that's OK, because learning is non-linear, and some might smash it one year and show that they're ready for a higher level of challenge.
I've shared the journey that students take here and I think it's important to note that the inner-most ring is aligned with the Year 3 and 4 programmes of study and the third ring with the Year 6 programme of study, to maximise students chances. The scheme of learning has AQA's Level 2 Further Mathematics qualification written in to ensure that our best and brightest and challenged and that students are aware that maths exists beyond GCSE.
There is so much more to this than I have the time to share here, but if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask. CompleteMaths has been invaluable in putting this together.

My last thought was that around growth mindsets. This marries up so tightly with our SOL and was inspired by past students who have had difficulty in developing a growth mindset (and so they should...) after scoring poorly on assessments. Having had them complete the AQA Entry Level qualification and completing the assessments (scoring almost full marks every time), they're different students who want to be in your classroom and who have developed greater confidence in their abilities as mathematicians.
I believe that this cycle is what we're all striving for in class:

Growth Mindset lessons and posters try to motivate, but the (hard?) work is undone when students don't encounter the success to spur them on. I think we need to manufacture the success such that students become more intrinsically motivated (as seen in @garyl82's session too), so our assessments start at the level students had success with last year to give them a confidence boost as they're assessed at the level beyond that, and then beyond that.
More pertinent questions to other establishments might be 'Why are they doing a Higher mock at the end of Year 10 when they're not expected to get a six or higher yet? Couldn't they just sit a Foundation paper?' or 'How can we expect all students (spanning 7 years of maths abilities) to achieve success on two tiered assessments?'.

As @EmathsUK said when the day started, these ideas are not a party line and are my interpretation of things I've experienced, heard and read. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I'll be happy to share my thoughts with you if you want to get in touch.