Three ways to Improve Planning in Primary Mathematics

Since June (and the bad Ofsted and bad SATs results) I have been working on improving planning in maths and it’s really worked. Here’s how.

1. Impose a planning format

If you know anything about union and indeed Ofsted guidance you’ll know that is the *wrong* thing to do. But it’s exactly what I did at my school. I imposed a planning format that everyone had to use.

But planning is for the teacher, not the senior leader, I hear many cry.

No. I disagree.

Planning is for the child.

For too long we had written plans that support what the teacher might say in front of the children, how they might model or an activity or what learning resources they should prepare before the lesson. What we had not done is really think about what the child needs to do during a sequence of lessons to achieve the goals set out in the unit of work.

So in fact, while it was an official planning proforma that I imposed, it was actually the principle behind it that was important. And the principle was this: start the unit plan by writing the final lesson’s learning objective. Then work backwards through the learning objectives that build up to the final one to create a learning journey for the children. It’s a bit like that picture I shared 2 days ago. Then, for each day, plan what children who were likely to exceed the set learning objective might accomplish, and do the same for children who would struggle each lesson.

When this was done, each lesson would have 3 learning objectives around a similar aim, and each lesson would also built towards the next lesson.

What was great was that the teachers who got this, swiftly diverged from the planning proforma I had set up. They got the principle, so who cares if the format looks different? So much for the planning format imposition! What I found is that the teachers who needed most support where those who thought they were doing it right by merely filling in the boxes of the planning proforma without really thinking about the principle. And for these the proforma was a great starting point for explaining the principle in greater depth, thereby developing their mathematics subject knowledge.

2. Supply some medium term plans

There’s a lot to think about in mathematics, especially when you’re a non-specialist dealing with a brand new curriculum that you’ve had little or no training for. While I’m a big fan of ‘ownership’, as I wrote about yesterday, there is a limit to how much new stuff any teacher can take on in one year.

So I gave everyone medium term plans. I had some help. Various folk from different parts of the country have made maths plans and overviews and the like, so I used a few different documents to create medium term plans for mathematics for Years 1-6. I’m going to save the post for the ideal mathematics medium term plan model for another day (probably tomorrow), but suffice it to say that the medium term plans I’ve written have been a useful framework for teachers creating their unit plans mentioned above.

3. Link the medium term plans with assessment

The big problem we have at the moment in Primary is assessment. Nobody is quite sure what the age-related expected standard will look like. To make that more confusing, if a child is ‘age-related’ by the end of the academic year in mathematics, what sort of maths should they be able to do by December? or Easter?.

I looked around for some tests, and found none that suited what I wanted, so I made my own. Well that’s not quite true. I am making my own. So far I’ve made tests for Autumn 1, Autumn 2 and Spring 1. Each of these tests is linked with the medium term plan that should have been taught during that half term.

Of course, I don’t actually agree with testing a curriculum that is not best-fit. I’ve already written about the problems of the previous level-based assessment system being best-fit and how it disadvantages children. And of course any test is a best-fit measure. It seems ludicrous to me to create an ‘expected standard’ curriculum and then use a ‘best-fit’ tool (like a test) to measure how well each child has done, but that, again, is another post, for another time.

The point is that by analysing the tests, each teacher has been able to find out which bits of that unit the child did less well on and use that knowledge to follow up and plan further interventions during the next half term.

In conclusion

I’m biased obviously, but I think mathematics is in a much stronger place at my school than it was six months ago. We’ve had more conversations around mathematics knowledge in the last few months than in the previous five years, and I can really see teachers taking ownership of their maths teaching, rather than relying on third party solutions and merely delivering lessons.

In my next post I’m going to attempt to compare some different models for mathematics medium term planning that I’ve seen.

The trouble with shared spaces – a small step towards #BYOD.

… is that nobody takes responsibility for them.

There I’ve said it. It’s a fact we all know: one that my wife would echo back to me with a wry smile on her face; one that was proved time and time again when I lived in shared accommodation as a student…

It’s a fact that has irritated me somewhat during the previous academic year. My school is blessed with an abundance of space. We were one that was previously two-form entry and is now only one – so we have spare classrooms. And like all people we have expanded into them. Many of the classrooms have become shared spaces. Messy spaces. Disorganised spaces. Under-used spaces.

So this year I resolved to make more space-owners. I’ve assigned many of the previously troublesome shared spaces to individuals in the hope that they would become tidier, more organised and more purposeful. Already these rooms have started to look wonderful as the people in question have started to enact their vision of them and I’m sure they’ll continue to look great when the children start back on Thursday.

Then I came to the ICT cabinet.

With 2 years of dust, assorted wires, some Wii controllers, an empty drinks carton, 3 spiders and some defunct equipment –  it was truly a mess. The picture shows the empty cabinet, its broken perspex frontage the victim of one too many footballs hitting it.

It was truly a testament to the problem of a shared space. Nobody really owns the hall. People just use it. Assemblies, games lessons, rehersals, choir, even Indian dance lessons (Yes, David Cameron – Indian Dance!). What this means is that over time, people plug and unplug their own devices, leave bits and bobs and because it looks a complex birds nest of wires, the cleaners never clean it.

Here’s some of the stuff I found in the cabinet.

So a new resolution for this cabinet. Only 3 wires – a network cable, a video cable and an audio cable. From now on people can bring their own device and plug that in.

Just like rooms, devices get looked after by their owners. And maybe a bit of Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) here will end up with BYOD everywhere and for everyone in the school – staff and students alike.