Monthly Archives: September 2012

The importance of routines and consistency

From my experience on prac, I cannot emphasise the importance of routines and consistency enough. Having a routine for entering and exiting the classroom is particularly important, because students will know what to expect, and hence know when they have done the wrong thing. It also helps prevent potential behaviour management issues for the same reason. If you explicitly teach the rules and routines to the students, you are teaching them how to behave appropriately. It helps enormously if the entire school has the same routines for students in every class and with every teacher, but where this isn’t possible, you can at least implement one in your own classroom for the benefit of yourself and your students.

A possible routine for entry could be students are to get their book (for the lesson), pens and school diary out before they come into the classroom. This essentially means that they are to enter the room prepared to learn – if they have the correct equipment, they should be more likely to enter the room in the right frame of mind. Hopefully.

A possible routine for exit could be chairs behind desks, and stand behind chairs. This should include a general tidy up of the classroom as a courtesy to the next class, and to emphasise the importance of taking pride in their school.

Why is this so important? As teachers, it is crucial that you are seen by your students as being impartial and fair. If you change the routine or change the rules every time you see your class, they will not know what to expect, and they will not have appropriate rules and behaviour routines reinforced. And even more importantly, you need to be consistent and fair with each and every student. Treating a student in a manner that can be correctly perceived as unfair by another student will simply teach that student that there is no point behaving appropriately, or there is no point putting in the effort to learn or complete their classwork.

Remember – students always notice what you don’t want them to notice, remember what you don’t want them to remember, and don’t remember the stuff you do want them to remember! So behave transparently at all times!


Yes I still want to be a maths teacher

I know maths is not the most popular subject in the universe.  However, I have decided that I am completely determined to become eligible to teach it as a second teaching area.  Why?  There are a few reasons…

I was very lucky at the beginning of high school to have a wonderful maths teacher.  I don’t think I recognised it at the time, but I did recognise the calming effect she had on me, mostly due to the absolute control she had in the classroom.  It was the way she did it that was the most influential – I don’t remember her ever raising her voice, but she managed to command respect from her students, and communicate the high standard of behaviour that she expected of us – along with the high standard of mathematics!  The fact that this was in a country high school in a very small town (which has had a declining population for many years as well as a high proportion of Indigenous students) I think speaks for the quality of teachers that can be found not only in public schools, but the quality of education that can be found outside the major cities.  But that is another topic.

My history with maths is not great.  I think that is true for a lot of us though – we all go through life with a little bit of ‘math anxiety’ and this even translates into the classroom (which is my point!) – I have seen teachers so absolutely petrified of maths they refuse to teach it casually, or cover a maths class if a teacher is away sick.  I know their fear of maths is not their fault, however don’t you think that as teachers, we are best equipped to try and overcome what is essentially our own fear of learning(!), and think about the effect math anxiety in a teacher would have on their students in the classroom!

I was held back at the end of primary school.  The reason I was given at the time was that my mother couldn’t decide where to send me to high school.  But in retrospect, it was a very bad decision.  I think the teachers that were involved in my education at the time should have tried to make more of an impact on my mothers’ decision, and in fact my father told me years later that only a couple of weeks in to my second round of final year of primary school it became blatantly obvious to him and everyone else that I should have been in high school.  Through that repeated year, I borrowed a high school maths text and began working my way through it.  My teacher discouraged me from doing so, saying ‘but you’ll get bored next year when you’ve already covered the work’.  There are many things I have to say about that particular attitude, however I won’t – only that it is one that I won’t be having!  But she was right though – I did get to high school and DID get bored with maths, coming first in the year with little to no effort (I did the work, but it didn’t stretch my brain!).  Acceleration was talked about, but the school was very resistant I’m disappointed to say, so things remained as they were, for a while.

I got halfway through high school and my mother once again had an idea.  She decided that in order for me to make up the lost time from repeating a year, she would find a school that would skip me a year.  In an important year of high school.  Great – it wasn’t an issue in any subject except MATHS.  As you can imagine, by the time I got through most of high school it wasn’t the content that was bothering me, it was the fact that I needed the background knowledge in order to move on to the next topic with ease.  Revolutionary thought, right??  So I entered my final years of high school having skipped a year of content, and all it did was confuse me and make me miserable.

So after almost a year, my dad enrolled me back in my former school, and I spent the rest of the year trying to catch up in just one subject – maths.  I did the best I could, and by the time I did my final years (again), things were starting to make sense for me.  So I began to enjoy maths more.  Says a lot for teaching appropriate content, checking prior knowledge, and targeting the zone of proximal development, doesn’t it!

It was during this time that I saw my first high school maths teacher again, for the last time.  Out of the kindness of her heart she helped me catch up during the holidays.  It was then that I found out that her content knowledge wasn’t as great as I thought it was – it was her pedagogy that was outstanding.  She was able to teach things in a way that aided understanding, and gave students confidence.  Or maybe that was just me.  Anyway, that was the last time I saw her.  I found out during my time at uni that she had passed away with cancer.  I am extremely upset that I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.

What have I learnt from this?  I think the best teachers are sometimes the ones who may have struggled with the content themselves, as they are more able to identify with the students who are also struggling, and are hence able to explain the content better.  Being a genius is certainly not a prerequisite for being a teacher.  Knowing how to teach the content effectively is.

What else?  Maths is not and should not be an all male domain.  Women have much to contribute.  Some women just need a little time to develop the confidence needed.

I have enrolled in a postgraduate diploma starting next year to get the maths subjects I need to be an accredited maths teacher, as well as music.  I have tried university level maths before, and failed.  I am doing this for myself as much as I am for my future students, but I think we will all be better off because of that.

There are no find-a-words in Sudan

So today’s post is about the importance of getting to know your students, and teaching them appropriate content for their prior learning. Seems obvious, right? Well, during my final prac placement, I was teaching a class of students with behaviour difficulties, as well as various learning difficulties. So we modified the curriculum, and tried to scaffold the tasks so the students were supported in their learning. And one of the activities we had them complete was a find-a-word.

On the surface, this seems like a pretty straightforward task. However, once the behavioural issues had been managed, it was clear that a few of the students were struggling with the very concept of doing a find-a-word. For experienced teachers this would probably not be a shock, but for me, to find high school students who were struggling to find the words for themselves was a little concerning. They seemed to have little resilience – relying on their classmates and the teachers to guide them through without even having made an attempt before asking for help.

One student in particular was having trouble settling. Until now, I had assumed he struggled with behavioural issues like many of the others, as he certainly displayed disruptive behaviours on the surface. However as I started to assist him with the find-a-word I realised he had no strategies for doing one. He had never encountered strategies such as looking for the first letter of the word, or even the first two letters of a word. But that was to be expected, since he had only been in Australia for a year, and as far as I know its not every day you do find-a-words in high school, let alone teach specific strategies for doing one.

What did I learn from this experience? Never assume your students have the skills to complete a task you set for them, and always have a backup plan in case you need to teach them these skills before you go ahead with the activity.

What would I do differently next time? Try to expect the unexpected better. Try to engage the students in the task earlier by more scaffolding and teaching of the explicit skills they need to complete it to try and prevent behaviour problems stemming from frustration.

What did I do well? I got to spend time with more of the students while I was helping them, and as a result, got to know them better.

Teaching literacy in music? All part of a day’s work.

Handling students’ demands for attention

It may seem obvious, but one of the skills you have to have as a teacher is how to manage a classroom full of students who are all clamouring for your attention at once.  During my first prac, I totally did not anticipate how much attention each student would be demanding at any given time, especially the younger students.  So I didn’t come prepared with any strategies to handle their constant demand for attention.  It manifests itself in many ways – some students behave inappropriately, some students are generally disruptive, some had genuine questions about their work and needed help in order to progress their understanding.  And finally, some just needed reassurance (every 5 seconds!) that they were on the right track.

So how on earth was I going to deal with this problem?  During my second prac I improved, and started focusing on the students that were being disruptive.  But as I got to know the students, I realised that some were just bored – they needed to be engaged with more difficult work.  So I put together a resource folder, and students would work to their own level of achievement during their prac time.

During my third prac, I improved further.  For example, I stopped answering every single question that was put to me straight away.  Instead, I paid attention to the types of questions being asked, and once they had accumulated, I addressed the class as a group.  I also reminded them of the importance of listening in order to know what was being asked of them the first time, if that was the issue.  I also prioritised my own attention to the students that were needing it most – and that was usually the ones that were behaving inappropriately.  By prioritising managing their behaviour using Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL), I was able to then use the rest of my time more effectively managing and teaching the class.

I still have a long way to go, but managing students’ competing need for attention is a really important issue that needs addressing in the classroom.