5 tips to reinvigorate your teaching practice

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Getting back into the swing of things after a break from school can be tough, but the new year is the perfect time to set intentional goals for your practice.

Instead of writing down every little thing you want to achieve, how about focusing on just one: this year, take steps to make maths better for your class and for your school.

Of course, this will look different for every school. You’ll have different challenges, different expectations and different results. These tips are only a starting point — a few ideas you can incorporate into your classroom and build on throughout the year.

1. Create the right environment

You know what they say: clear desk, clear mind. But did you know this same logic applies to your maths resource cupboard? A clean, well-organised cupboard can do wonders for your practice and give you peace of mind that everything is in its place and ready when you need it.

Taking time to organise your resources now saves you a lot of time later. Plus, organisational psychologists say there are lots of benefits of a clean, decluttered space. When things feel out of order, we can feel scattered and anxious.

Creating order helps us feel calmer and keeps us productive. It helps pupils clear classroom routines and makes distributing and packing up resources a breeze!

So, back to that cupboard. Here are some practical ways to get started:

  • Store your digit card sets in plastic sandwich bags
  • Put base ten/Dienes blocks in Tupperware containers for easy distribution. Pre-pack blocks in pairs or small groups
  • Store some cubes in sticks of ten for easy distribution and pack up — a cube monitor can be a useful job for making sure they go back into the container nicely (more on that in the next section)
  • Set up a teacher resource box at the front of class to help with teacher modelling

2. Share the load

Does your daily to-do list look more like a wish list? Trying to fit in all of these tasks on top of lesson planning while still giving your pupils the attention they need can feel overwhelming. But remember, you have a whole room full of helpers, ready to take routine jobs off your plate and help you do what you do best — teach.

Start by creating a list of tasks for any given week. Think about small maintenance tasks like wiping the board clean, keeping supplies organised or watering class plants; and the bigger tasks like class librarian or discussion moderator.

Sharing the work is good news for you, and even better news for your pupils. Letting children take an active role in managing the classroom teaches them essential life skills and helps build the classroom community. By taking on responsibilities, pupils feel like active contributors to the classroom system, taking ownership of their space and building collaborative skills with their peers. Now, they have a stake in the success of the classroom.

Assigning one task to each pupil increases their sense of personal responsibility.
You can assign tasks based on a rotating schedule, or let your pupils choose their own tasks. However you choose to share the work, when you give children clear expectations, they’ll take on the challenge and learn valuable skills along the way.

3. Speak maths

We don’t teach pupils to read by spelling out each word in a sentence.

T-h-e  c-a-t  s-a-t  o-n  t-h-e  m-a-t.

But all too often, this is exactly the way maths is taught. Saying six plus eight equals four plus ten only helps pupils get familiar with the sounds of mathematical symbols. It doesn’t give them the relational context they need to understand mathematical problems on a deeper level.

All sentences are meant to be read — even mathematical sentences. Reading a mathematical sentence helps put it into context for your learners.

Here’s an example from Dr Yeap Ban Har: six sandwiches in one box, together with eight more sandwiches in another box is the same as four sandwiches in the first box together with ten sandwiches in the second box. See the difference? You’re still teaching six plus eight equals four plus ten, but reading the problem helps pupils visualise and understand exactly what that sentence means.

How to read a mathematical sentence

Being conscious of the language of maths also means creating awareness of maths in other situations. Try observing your pupils during games or tasks. Later, share your observations with other pupils, “I saw Holly playing a game and she was using multiplication”.

This helps pupils see maths as an interesting and useful subject. It encourages them to watch out for mathematical situations in their life — keeping maths top of mind during fun activities.

4. Reframe maths mistakes

Misteaks Mistakes are an opportunity for learning. That’s not to say we should praise incorrect answers. But we should listen to the reasoning behind those answers and use wrong answers as an opportunity to ask even more questions.

Mastery without failure isn’t possible and a pupil who never gets it wrong won’t necessarily know why they’re right. Besides, success is a bit boring — it’s only when we make mistakes that we have an opportunity to examine what’s really going on and figure the problem out at a deeper level.

Next time you come across a mistake in class, take a few minutes to ask why your learners think it’s incorrect. This opens a window into their thinking, uncovering their misconceptions and letting them work out what went wrong and why.

Investigating maths mistakes can start a rich discussion between peers. Instead of waiting for a wrong answer, you can use an incorrect statement as an anchor task. Calling it a ‘maths rumour’ turns a situation where pupils may feel negatively about their capabilities into a fun detective game everyone can play:

  • I heard a rumour that the biggest acute angle is 89°
  • I heard a rumour that 2/9 is bigger than 1/4
  • I heard a rumour that there are no numbers between 3.7 and 3.8

Then let your pupils have a productive discussion. During their conversation, you can step back to assess their level of understanding and the direction they need to move in to improve their learning.

It’s also a chance to teach students question-framing skills. Ask them to discuss the incorrect answer and encourage them to use respectful language like “I understand your thinking, but have you considered X?” Or, “I don’t understand how you came up with this answer, can you explain your thinking to me?”

Reframing maths mistakes helps pupils learn to persevere and stretches their conceptual abilities so they can grow as mathematicians. They learn that struggling is not an unpleasant obstacle to getting the correct answer, it’s a productive exercise they can build upon lesson after lesson.

For more maths rumour ideas, read our blog: Maths Misconceptions: Using A Rumours Activity.

5. Make maths visible

Poems are proudly displayed in the English classroom, paintings burst out of Art class and into school hallways. And maths? Well, maths work is confined to workbooks and journals. No wonder pupils consider maths difficult and dreary. We need to start valuing maths just as much as other subjects and use our interactions outside of class.

Maths is in everything: how we measure cooking ingredients, the way we plan our travels or how to divide up a birthday cake fairly and equitably. It’s the invisible thread that connects us and everything we do — so let’s celebrate it.

Start with your classroom. Take your favourite maths quotes and make a maths quote board with your pupils. Here’s one to get you started:

“Knowing about the ways of learning: the best way to learn anything is to discover it by yourself.” George Pólya

Showing children that maths matters in their everyday life encourages them to feel positively about maths as a subject. Three Bridges Primary School in London even displays good maths work in their hallways, exactly how other schools display pupils’ artwork. Actions like this show children that maths is valuable and that their effort is worth rewarding.

Once your pupils start seeing the value of maths, and how it fits into their own lives — you’ll be well on your way to a successful year.

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