Archives For September 2012

I heard of a CEO who has a golf lesson every fortnight with a top golf coach. He paid almost £200 for each lesson. He hasn’t improved his handicap at all over the last year. Why? Because between his lessons, he couldn’t find time to practice.

I know of countless kids who have piano lessons every week. The ones who move through the grades aren’t the ones who have the best teachers. It’s not necessarily even the most gifted. It’s the ones who put in their daily practice.

Maths is no different. We can tinker with the Framework and the National Strategy; we can try to employ the best graduates as teachers. But the simplest way to raise standards in maths would be to give children more opportunities to exercise the left side of their brain.

[To illustrate this, at our tuition centre last week we assessed a 14 year-old. She had previously attended our centre for 18 months up until she was 11. She performed worse in the standardised test last week than she did in the same test when she finished with us over three years ago. She knows her maths has got worse: behavioural problems in her class and a lack of confidence and motivation on her part have meant that she has barely practised her maths for years.]

A good teacher will be asking themselves, as they write a maths exercise, “What is the purpose of this question?”

There are, in my view, four types of maths question

  1. Questions that teach
  2. Questions that reinforce understanding
  3. Questions that test
  4. Questions that generate discussion

Questions that teach are rare. This is because they are difficult to write and traditionally, teachers have done the teaching. Examples of such questions can be found in my earlier blog about inductive learning: .  Children like doing these types of questions. They also don’t mind getting them wrong.

Questions that reinforce are very common. These are easy to write and extremely important when it comes to long-term understanding. Children like doing these questions – as long as they are getting them right.

Questions that test are, for many teachers, favourite questions to write. They are more interesting to write and help a teacher assess the ability of a child. For this reason they are often overused – with damaging consequences: if introduced too early they can damage a child’s confidence. Some children thrive on these questions, but for others, these questions lead them to a dread of maths.

Questions that generate discussion are created by skilled teachers who have the ability to control the direction of the ensuing discussion to reach the desired learning outcome. All children like participating in these discussions as long as it is conducted appropriately.

Before the advent of ICT, the learning process was typically: teacher teaches; child does questions of type 2 and 3; teacher marks questions to gauge level of understanding.

Tutoring websites have tried to replicate this with: video/animation teaches; child does questions of type 2 and 3; website marks questions to gauge level of understanding.

So far, we have missed the huge teaching opportunity that technology has presented to us: to get children involved in the learning process from step one. It is easy to generate questions of type 1 on the iPad, and children love doing them – this is the way children should be learning.