Planning for success in maths
Careful planning takes time but makes lessons easier to implement. As a teacher, when you’re clear about the structure of the lesson you’re about to teach, you go into the lesson with much greater confidence and the ability to help it run more smoothly. You also have more mental space available to deal with unexpected issues that crop up! Having said that, an important part of the planning process is anticipating problems, such as common misconceptions or technical difficulties your pupils may have about the maths concept being taught.
In general, most lessons have the following structure:
This is normally where pupils are made aware of the learning objective for the lesson. By the time they get to Year 3 pupils at primary schools are often in the habit of starting their lesson by writing down a learning objective. It’s important to talk to students about the relevance of the objective and, where possible, put it in context with the rest of their learning.
In the introduction pupils are also told about the success criteria which help break down the learning objective into more manageable parts. They can then check they’ve achieved these during the lesson. For instance, in a maths lesson about telling the time, some of the success criteria may be:
- I can tell the time on an analogue clock to the nearest 5 minutes, or
- I can tell the difference between minutes past an hour and minutes to an hour
Finally, this part of the lesson is the time to connect the learning objective to any previous learning. Recapping the 5 times table for example, is a good way to start a lesson about telling the time to the nearest 5 minutes.
2. Main activity
It’s important to try and vary the main activities you use and not simply hand students a worksheet each lesson. It can be an interesting challenge to find ways to make lessons on seemingly monotonous topics enjoyable to students. During my PGCE — teacher training course — I was fortunate to have a brilliant university tutor called Paul Broadbent for my specialist subject, maths. He showed us that there are all sorts of ways to make maths interesting to children, from loop card games to tarsia puzzles to presenting questions in the form of a ‘Who Wants to Be a A Millionaire’ quiz (.ppt).
Given the practical constraints of working as a teacher — especially time! — you won’t always be able to make lessons unique and memorable. There are, however, important aspects to take into account whenever you are planning this stage of the lesson, including differentiation — planning for students with different levels of ability — and assessment. More on this below.
Some important things to consider in order to make this part of the lesson as effective as possible are:
- What key questions will you ask students during the lesson?
- If you have a TA, how will he/she be working with students?
- How will you challenge more able pupils and support less able ones?
A good plenary activity recaps the learning objective, sometimes in a fun way, and provides you as the teacher with another opportunity to assess students’ understanding. You can find some great ideas for activities to modify and use in plenaries at The Mathematics Shed. It’s also a great place for ideas to add variety to your maths lessons in general.
There are many different techniques which can and should be used to assess pupils’ understanding in lessons. Assessment should be carried out throughout the lesson and not just by marking books at the end – you don’t want to reach the end of the day only to realise that most pupils completely misunderstood an idea. By checking in with students at intervals during the lesson and, if needed, pausing the main activity to clarify misconceptions, you can avoid this. One way to do this is, after explaining a new idea, to give pupils sample questions and ask them to show you their working and answers on whiteboards.
Pupils tend to love correcting the mistakes of others! One way to take advantage of this is to show them some questions together with incorrect answers on the board, and ask them to discuss and explain the errors to you. By highlighting common mistakes, you may reduce the chance of pupils making the same errors.
Another approach is to ask pupils to design a question for their partner near the end of the lesson and then get them to exchange, complete, and mark the tasks they themselves have designed — they also enjoy playing the role of a teacher at times! Simple peer marking can also be used for some parts of the lesson such as mental maths tests, for example.
"Pause to engage with pupils regularly during the lesson, listen to what they are saying and modify your plans if necessary."
Plan, but also ‘be present’
Preparing for lessons is vital, but you can plan lessons perfectly and forget one of the most important things you need to bring to the lesson: yourself and your attention to what’s actually going on. Pause to engage with pupils regularly during the lesson, listen to what they are saying — this can be hard in a noisy classroom but it’s so important — and modify your plans if necessary.
It gets better
Planning can be very painstaking, particularly for a newly qualified teacher, but is worth the effort and you improve the more practice you get! Use the plentiful resources available to you on the internet to make things easier for yourself. Importantly, reflect on how well plans worked after lessons so that you can keep taking small steps to enhance the quality of your lessons.
Roshan teaches through Zen Educate. Ready to give it a go? Find out more about supply teaching jobs with Zen Educate