EEF Blog: Learning secondary maths in lockdown - how to help your students ‘have a go’
EEF maths specialist and secondary school teacher Simon Cox explains how teachers can support their pupils to tackle challenging mathematical tasks remotely.
“I don’t get it, Sir”
This is a commonly heard phrase in my classroom. I don’t think it is an indication of the quality of my explanation. I doubt many maths teachers have gone more than a few lessons without hearing it.
Getting ‘stuck’ in maths is familiar to even the most accomplished mathematicians. Learning how we dig ourselves out of a mathematical hole can be key to future success.
Frequently the pupils do ‘get it’, but are looking for the reassurance that an expert eye cast over their work can provide. Pupils who haven’t yet developed the confidence, independence, and self-motivation that are hallmarks of effective mathematicians.
With most pupils currently working at home, physically separated from classroom experts, it may be difficult to motivate them to ‘have a go’. With parents of secondary-aged children in particular often lacking the confidence to support their child mathematically, it is worth considering what supports we can offer in the short-term to help.
What would we do in the classroom?
Under normal circumstances, we would nurture and encourage independence over time. The gradual transfer of responsibility from teacher to pupil can take many years with modelling, scaffolding and questioning during tasks all playing a key part.
Evidence suggests we should develop pupils’ metacognitive skills through structured reflection on their learning, and support them to plan, monitor, and evaluate their mathematical thinking. Knowing when to choose one strategy for solving an equation over another, how to identify when a line of thinking is leading down the wrong path, and identifying when an answer simply doesn’t make mathematical sense.
How might this be adapted for remote learning?
Remote learning is a short-term temporary measure, but there are things we can do to develop structured reflection and encourage ‘having a go’. One of these is explicitly showing our pupils how to get the most out of the resources being provided by their teachers.
A good example of this is the use of a video clip. To us, it is obvious that the video can be used flexibly – we pause if we want some thinking time, rewind if we need clarification, and watch again if we want a message to be reinforced. We put ourselves in a quiet place, away from distraction, and make notes as we watch to refer back to later.
These things are obvious because we have developed knowledge of ourselves as mathematicians. But are they obvious to our learners? If not, then explicit structures can help.
Using a checklist
One simple support for learners and parents is a checklist. Whilst never perfect, these can set out explicitly our recommendations for engaging in a task such using a video clip. They won’t solve all of our challenges, but in the absence of a teacher in the room, can help to make remote learning a more efficient and reflective process.
Checklists recreate some of the supports we might usually have in place in the classroom, provide some focus for busy parents, and might help just a few of our pupils to ‘have a go’ where they might otherwise have given up.