On Friday the Head of Maths observed my Year 7 lesson. Today I had the feedback. It was incredibly useful; the whole process has been extremely positive. The context is that, although I’ve taught A Level and GCSE maths several times, I’ve never taught Set 3 in Year 7 before. I’m a novice in this area; it’s the hardest, most interesting maths teaching I’ve ever done – but hugely rewarding. We’re doing algebra and this lesson was about forming expressions from described situations. It was period 5 on a Friday. The lesson has felt a bit too stilted for my liking; it didn’t flow as I’d hoped so I wasn’t expecting a rave review:
The main feedback points I’ve taken away were:
Positives: The general atmosphere in the lesson was good; I’m walking the talk in terms of routines and general expectations; students are enthusiastic – some especially so; I’m giving praise and embracing making mistakes as part of the learning. I had some good questions lined up (including a good one giving multiple alternative correct answers for a perimeter expression) and I modelled a can-do spirit about working through them.
Areas to improve: Basically, I’m not giving the less confident students enough practice with questions they can do to build confidence; the ramp of difficulty through the sequence of questions was too steep and there were not enough questions that were straight-forward drill practice. At the same time, some students could manage this easily so I need to produce differentiated questions that allow for the challenge whilst also allowing for more drilling on the basics for those that need it. There is a risk that some of my students feel less confident with maths than is healthy at this stage in Year 7 because I’ve been pushing the difficulty a bit too hard. It was also suggested that I need to revisit some basic algebra models to allow some students to re-connect to the basic ‘unknown number’ premise in different contexts; it’s not conceptually secure – yet.
Actions: Increase the success rate possible; produce tiered question sets that provide both confidence-building and challenge opportunities; revisit basic conceptual models.
The process was excellent from my perspective for several reasons:
My observer is someone I respect hugely; I know he can do everything he’s suggesting I do. The discussion was very much focused on the pedagogy of maths and the maths curriculum – the details of good questions, student misconceptions. He offered suggestions that resonated as sensible; I don’t think I’d be quite as receptive to non-specialist generic feedback. His reports on the interactions amongst the students were fascinating – they shared their learning perspectives during the lesson and this was interesting to hear.
Because the spirit was highly collegial and I was given some positive affirmation at the start, I was ready to hear the constructive feedback; it was precise, non-judgemental and authoritative. On my part, I was eager for the feedback: I’m happy to be the humble learner in this situation; I’m not under any illusions – I’ve never taught an introduction to algebra before. I was receptive – and relieved that the feedback wasn’t more critical. I had the opportunity to share some of my challenges and dilemmas: how to balance progressing through the content whilst being aware of the diverging levels of confidence across the class – some need more practice; some are ready to move on.
I’d like to think I can give feedback as helpful as this was for me with a spirit that helps people hear their areas for development such that they act on them in amongst all the positives that offer affirmation and motivation. It certainly helps to sit on the other side every once in while.
(Final thought: Thank goodness lesson grades are dead and buried. I’ve been able to reflect on all of the issues and ideas without brooding over the pseudo-rigour of a made-up judgement grade.)
Would that other headteachers were prepared to be open to the experience and so enthusiastic about the feedback. Sadly, delivering courses recently, one teacher received feedback from a senior leader grading her RI, offering no positive feedback only missives on deficits. On the other hand, a different colleague who is establishing critical thinking/problem solving in Maths is receiving solution focussed coaching and subsequently having great success by getting children to look for maths in real life, setting problems as lesson starters, promoting a learning wall with problems anyone can attempt, and celebrating success with Mathemagician of the week – brilliant idea! However, the two contrasting experiences of these talented individuals was so uplifting for one and demoralising for the other it made me wonder what on earth we are going to do to get our professional support systems and strategies back to a proactive model which recognises strengths and delivers quality feedback which can be used to better our teaching.
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While my current school does make use of a grading system, they do offer extensive feedback. Although there are a lot of issues with a grading system – hence the push not to use them – I do think that it can be helpful. Sometimes it is nice to know whether you are “good” or “outstanding”… especially as so many adverts and person specifications mention them.
Is it possible to offer different starting points to students? IE: If you think you are struggling, start here; if you are ok with this, start here; if you think you are acing this, start there? That way students are offered differentation, and are able to self-select. Of course, this assumes that students are able to self-select correctly. It may happen that lazy students pick the easiest option…
I was recently observed by OFSTED with a bottom set Year 10 class, many of whom are new to the English language or have moderate learning difficulties. Like yours, some of the feedback was that the lesson was too difficult. Except I found that all students were engaged and doing the work – yes some were struggling, but they were trying and beginning to achieve. The feedback from OFSTED, I found, was less useful than my department and SLT feedback. Rather than commenting on handwriting and presentation, the department and SLT focussed on how to improve the actual learning!
Thanks for this. One huge issue with grading is that professional people are reduced to thinking their grade is a judgment of them: nobody is a ‘good’ or ‘ outstanding’ teacher; certainly not based on one observation of a lesson when the learning is invisible. Don’t fall for it – even if positive, the grade is a delusion. It’s good feedback you need, nothing more.
Indeed – I think my falling for it comes from only recently leaving education. All through it we are summed up with a grade, be that: A SATS level; a GCSE or A level grade; degree classification. I just need to drop that and focus on the feedback.
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