What does your child do when they are stuck at school?

Hands Up

Do you remember when you were stuck at school and you didn’t know what to do next? What did you do? It seems such a long time ago for me and there is something telling me that I would put my hand up. The point is that I can’t actually remember doing that. I think that in reality I would just write anything. Anything was better than nothing.

So what does your child do when they are stuck at school?

Have you ever asked them? If you have then do they actually tell you what they do?

The point that I am making is that being stuck affects different people in different ways. Some people will not handle it well, whereas some may see it as part of the learning process. Those who see it as part of the learning process may even quote ‘neural pathways’. I would guess that most children do not know about this or understand what it is. This is another area for discussion and is digressing from the point that I wish to discuss.

The following is based on my experience of seeing when children are stuck and talking to them about it. My experience is based around the subject that I teach – mathematics. I am very lucky to be able to teach mathematics and for children to openly express how they feel about the subject and what they do when they are stuck.

Some children will put their hand up in class. The reasons for this may be to answer a question, to ask a question or to ask for help. Some children will not under any circumstances put their hand up in class. Reasons can be that they don’t want the attention, classmates may mimic or make fun of them or they just don’t want to advertise to the whole class that they cannot do the work.

For many children putting their hand up in class is a clear indication that they are stupid and that they cannot understand the work. When I have been teaching I have got to know my pupils and I know who will not ask for help so I would always ask how they were doing with the work and I would look at their books. There are of course time constraints on how much help I could give to individuals but I would do my best.

I have actually met pupils who will not put their hand up in an exam hall even when it is only for a pencil because they think that they will be seen by others and labelled as stupid. This did really shock me!

Does your child ask a friend for help? Pupils told me that they would rather ask a friend for help than a teacher. This is actually a positive step and can benefit both pupils.

Will your child go to see their teacher for help in their own time such as after school? Teachers are under increasing pressure and may not be available because of meetings or clubs.

Some children will ask their parents for help, but my experience of this is that it is quite a rare thing to happen. I remember my father trying to help me with long division and I remember him becoming very irritated with me and angry that I didn’t understand what he was doing.

Another point to mention is the child who is so good at maths and gets the top grades. Imagine this child when they actually find something that they cannot do. They are not used to being stuck and they will adopt a coping strategy. How many times have I heard, “The work is too easy. I can’t be bothered.” Very able children are good at disguising when they have difficulties.

Ok, so I have mentioned a few possibilities for what your child could do when they are stuck. The bottom line is, “Do they get unstuck?” This is all about understanding and if you read a previous blog of mine I mention Instrumental and Relational Understanding. What happens if your child does not get the understanding that is needed? How do you know? Do you wait for test results? What can you do to help? The most common opinion that I have heard from parents is that maths is so different these days and not how it was when I was at school.

Many parents are turning to tutors for help. The advantage is that when I tutor a child I can find out where the gaps are in understanding and help them. Often a lack of understanding stems from confidence and my aim is to build this up. I will adopt a ‘can do’ attitude through successes. Another reason for a lack of understanding could be a loss of concentration in class. This could be because of a short attention span, thinking about what to have for lunch or any of the multitude of emotional reasons. Absence is also a reason for a lack of understanding because vital work may have been missed.

My job as a tutor is forensic. I find topics that need to be improved on. Sometimes it is necessary to go right back to the beginning because that is where to problem could start from.

If you would like to benefit from my online maths tutoring then please do contact me. You have everything to gain.

Time for GCSE Maths mocks

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Yes, it is that time of year isn’t it? Most schools will be holding the mock exams for Year 11 in December. Some will already have taken them and I know that there are schools that will have mock exams in January.

It doesn’t really matter which of these dates the schools hold their mocks on for the purpose of this article. I am going to focus on the mock exam, Mathematics in particular and the actions that arise from this event.

First of all let’s look at the purpose of mock exams.

As a student it tells me how I am doing and gives me the experience of sitting in an exam hall. During the build up I may have revised and it will give me an opportunity to evaluate how effective this has been.

As a teacher it is a very powerful way of assessing where the individual is and where my class on the whole are in their application of the learning. It will show me in general where there are common points for improvement and where the strengths are. I can focus on any misconceptions that have arisen and work at sorting them out.

As a Head of Maths mocks give me an insight into how the whole year are doing and if we are likely to achieve our target. I have time to put support into place for those students and teachers who may need it.

As an Assistant Headteacher the results of the mocks would form a basis for my line management meetings with the Head of Maths. We would form a strategy for achieving our target and this action plan would be a working document that would be monitored.

This is a brief guide and I could add lots more. Of course it may be different in many schools. This paints a picture of how it has been or should have been in schools that I have known or worked in. I must add that schools have much more data on their children to inform their judgements.

Now, I am a parent and I see my child in the run up to the mocks. I know when they are because I have a copy of the school calendar. The school also send me emails and texts to remind me. I ask about the mocks and my child reassures me. There can be many reasons here that may range from going to revision classes, working with a friend to working in their room every evening. The level of engagement will vary according to the individual.

Year 11 can be such a stressful time for parents. You want your child to do well and can only go off the information that you are given at that time.

Mock results day. Some schools will give results out just as if the exams were the real thing. Time for joy or tears? Joy is good – remember that feeling and don’t become complacent. I always say that complacency is like a sleeping crocodile. It can bit you when you are not prepared. I believe that crocodiles sleep with one eye open. Tears are sad. The job now is to find out why and to move on looking for improvement as we go.

Often a Parents’ Evening will follow and it is your chance to meet the Teacher. How long do you get? Five minutes? There could be a class of 30 students so work out 30 multiplied by 5 minutes. Well, I work it out to be 150 minutes or 2 hours 30 minutes. If the Parents’ Evening starts at 4pm then it will end at 6:30pm. This is not at all realistic because some Parents will take up more than 5 minutes. The teacher may also have two Year 11 classes. I have had many late Parents’ Evenings, which have been great but exhausting.

The teacher will try to tell you as much as they can within the 5 minute slot and you will ask questions. What do you want to know? Write down questions before hand. You may ask how you can support your child with their Maths. Many Parents will ask this knowing full well that they may not have the subject knowledge. Even when they do I have heard, “They do Maths differently to when I was at school”. Despair can quickly set in and Parents can feel totally helpless. This can be an awful feeling.

Many schools do a great job and I have met so many dedicated Teachers who don’t just do their job. They go the extra mile and will support their students so that they do achieve their potential. I have done this as a Teacher, a Head of Maths and an Assistant Headteacher. I always believed that ‘Every Lesson Matters’, and ‘Every Minute Matters’. The education of every student is a partnership and Parents do want to be involved. Schools do involve Parents in this journey to success, so what more can be done?

One thing that I have always encouraged is when a child gets a tutor. When this has happened to me as a Teacher I have welcomed it because it shows a statement of intent  by Parents. Of course I need to know that the tutor is going to reinforce the work that I am doing and will not undermine me. That has never happened. I have also wanted to know that the tutor has qualifications because any bad education can do damage and I care about my students. I have been able to send tests home with the student and the tutors have worked with me to improve understanding.

The point to make now is, “Why wait until the mocks?

The sooner that you start with tuition the better. When I tutor someone I can give feedback whenever the Parent wants it. I can highlight areas that need to be built up and we can practise those difficult topics. In the space of one hour I can cover much more than a Teacher will do because we will be focussed for the duration of the lesson. If I detect a misunderstanding then I will correct it and keep checking to see that it stays corrected.

All of my students increase in confidence and many start to enjoy doing the Maths. As they find their understanding improving they see their test results improve and this has such a positive effect. I have had students who are exceptional and even they benefit by the challenges that I set them.

I do advocate tuition, which is why I am now a Maths Tutor. However, I am a Maths Tutor with a difference. I am an Online Maths Tutor which means that I can tutor anyone in the world. All that they need is a computer with a webcam and a mouse. The mouse is used for writing on my electronic paper and some students may use a drawing tablet. Headphones would be good because they will stop any distracting noises. Finally they will need a good internet connection, otherwise we can get crackling on the audio.

I believe that tuition gets results and what better way to do it than online? No one has to travel anywhere and I have so may online resources that help me, which I would not have if I traveled to students’ houses. I can copy and paste work into the electronic paper and see the student write on the paper. The whole session can then be saved as a pdf and emailed to them.

Why wait for the mocks? Be proactive and contact me know. Join me in the future of Global Online Maths Tutoring.

The world is getting smaller

Throughout my life I have always heard people say that the world is getting smaller. As time progresses that statement changes in its meaning.

I remember the Concorde plane flying across the Atlantic Ocean at supersonic speed. There were the first planes to fly from London to Australia non stop. Television broadcasts from Australia stopped having six second delays in between people speaking. All of these have contributed towards ‘The world getting smaller’ and I am sure that you may have your own examples.

My own experience of the world getting smaller has to be one of communication. It is around five years ago that I had a Facetime call to Thailand and there was no time delay. Since then I have used Skype but I tended to be frustrated by the quality of the audio. The next step was to use Line for video calls, but now I have something different.

Last month I was introduced to Zoom. This is for video conferencing and I have taken part in a video conference this week. I was at home in Surbiton in the UK and we had people in Bristol, Tyneside in the North East of the UK and Poland. That was my first video conference and it amazes me. I know that other people have conferences with colleagues in the USA, such as my son, but this was my first.

I am using Zoom to connect with the son of some friends in Wrexham. He is currently in Year 11 and I am tutoring him for his GCSE Mathematics exam. We connect once a week at the same time and I also use Bitpaper, which is best described as an electronic sheet of paper. I open Bitpaper in Chrome and when I share the URL for my sheet with my student we can both write on it. I can paste questions onto the Bitpaper for my student to do and I can see his every move as he works it out. It is just as if we are sitting in the same room. He is 200 miles away so I am thinking that the world is getting smaller.

This means that I can now tutor anyone in the world in Mathematics. They need a computer, audio, preferably a webcam, a mouse (to write with) and a decent internet connection. That is exactly what I intend to do: Global Online Mathematics Tuition. The internet has made my world much smaller and my market place has just expanded tremendously.

In the ‘old days’ teachers would advertise on a card in the window of the local newsagent for tuition and they would travel to their students. Some still do that, but not anymore for me. If you live in New Zealand, Australia, China, Thailand, India, The Middle East, Europe, Africa, USA, Russia or anywhere on this globe then I can tutor you in Mathematics. Isn’t that exciting? If you really want me to travel to you then we could come to an arrangement, but all that we have to do is connect on Zoom.

Now that is powerful and my reason for saying that the world is getting smaller.

Instrumental and Relational Understanding

One week ago I gave a presentation at the maths conference in Sheffield. 400 maths teachers signed up for the event and over 90 of these were in my presentation. There were of course other presentations on at the same time.

The focus for my presentation was Instrumental Understanding and Relational Understanding by Richard Skemp. In order to cover what I wanted I only discussed his article from 1976 and my aim was to provoke thinking amongst my audience. This was a time for reflection on how we teach with reference to an article from 41 years ago.

Instrumental Understanding can be thought of as ‘Rules without reasons’. An example of this is when a quick fix is given so that the pupil is able to get the correct answers. The problem with this is that they don’t always know why it works and they can’t apply the rule to different situations. I gave examples involving multiplying two digits by two digits, the addition of fractions and solving equations.

When I was at school I remember that I was taught a whole bunch of rules but I didn’t know why they worked and I couldn’t apply them if the questions were slightly different. Yes, I was the product of Instumental teaching and I admitted that I have used this in my teaching. I have used it to get results when time is short, especially when an exam is imminent.

I gave a meaning to ‘Relational Understanding’ as ‘Knowing what to do and why’. My examples of multiplication, adding fractions and solving equations were taken right back to basics and I offered ‘concrete ways of teaching these. I used Dienes Blocks, Cuisenaire Rods and Algebra Tiles to illustrate relational understanding. In an ideal world this is great but do the pressures of having to get through the curriculum stop us doing this?

The objective of the presentation was to get the teachers to think about what they are doing and the learning that is taking place in their classrooms. I had quite a few conversations with teachers afterwards and I believe that the objective was achieved.