Think, think, think…

Now I’m a few months into teaching (time sure does fly), I can’t help but compare the experiences I am giving in my teaching to my own school experience. Particularly with how I was in school, when planning a lesson I often ask myself, is this a lesson I would of engaged in?

Whenever I try to think back on my lessons at school, I find it quite hard. Sure, it was almost a decade ago now but it’s not really because of that. As a student in secondary school I was quite disengaged, putting minimal effort into most subjects. At the time, I could never really verbalise why this was the case and it’s only recently I realised why it was. It was because I was bored. Where I have always loved learning new things, lessons were always delivered in a plain and dry way. Explanation lecture for about 20 minutes, followed by 40 minutes, which changed into an hour when lesson length increased, of completing questions on the explanation. Sure, some teachers gave really engaging explanations but then it became boring just completing the questions afterwards. Particularly as the questions tend to be a standard recall, or worse…. Just copying the notes.

Funny enough, my lesson plans do not follow this structure! Where, after a starter, I begin with an explanation, this contains questions for the students. I don’t just tell them the concept, I get students thinking about it. Allowing them to experiment and try out their own ideas, ultimately figuring it out for themselves. In a lesson, I may even have a second explanation, solidifying or expanding the first. Maths particularly is a subject that lends itself well to this as it revolves around logic. Where it is viewed as a subject which only has specific answers, students strangely don’t always come up with the right answer. Even after a brilliant, if I don’t say so myself, explanation, with clear step by step instruction on how to deal with a problem. Students still, annoyingly, give the incorrect answer!

Back in my day, if this happened the teacher would have just said “no” (or “not quite” pending on how blunt they are) until a hero ends the suffering by providing the right answer. However, a trick I’ve picked up is to not react and get students to reason out their answer before confirming if it is right. Particularly when the class is split between two answers, getting a brave representative from each camp to explain their reasoning. Most of the time, the brave student explaining their journey to the wrong answer will suddenly have that moment where they self-correct, realising a step they made didn’t make sense.


Alternatively, they realise when the correct answer camp explains their method. It’s a more interesting environment, with student’s putting forward their thoughts in an interactive environment. Although some students don’t see the value in this, indeed I’ve been moaned at a few times about why I’m going over the wrong answer, but they are engaged with spotting the mistakes. Particularly when I make them…

However, the explanation isn’t where the thinking stops. When testing the newly gained knowledge with an exercise, I avoid just straight forward questions. Getting ideas from Craig Barton’s book in particular such as spot the mistake, where students look for mistakes in an answer, or purposeful practice exercises that have multiple levels so students can take it as far as their understanding allows. Gone are the days of just completing textbook exercises for most of the lesson to practise the skill but not thinking about it holistically. These newer style exercises help keep students retain it, getting them to think about why they do each step of the process. In turn making it more relevant, and dare I say, also more interesting.

Alex, Maths Trainee Teacher, King Edmund School