As a maths department, what achievement would you feel most proud of? An outstanding set of GCSE results with a high proportion achieving 9-7? Data showing excellent progress between Year 7 and 11? Pupils that visibly enjoy maths and actively engage in lessons, showing that they are willing and able to think mathematically? A team that effectively improves the teaching practice of all of its teachers and manages to continuously improve the teaching in all its classes? Or having the confidence to share these achievements with other maths teachers by inviting them to your school for a day.
Personally, I would like to be pushing towards the bottom of that list and that is exactly what the team at The Totteridge Academy (TTA) are achieving.
I always find it a hugely powerful experience to extract myself for one day from my own familiar routine and setting to see how others are doing it. I have come away from TTA today buzzing with ideas, an enthusiasm that quite rightly should be tempered by the mantra of “do one thing and do it well”. It’s great to glean ideas from others, but any change in how we do things back home is worth nothing without the commitment of the team that’s behind it. I feel that, at least at a department level, we need 100% consensus on implementing new ideas. If we can’t get that, we shouldn’t do it.
It has been a rapid change at TTA and I’m sure that the things I have seen today are only part and maybe not that big a part of the story. But I’d like to reflect on 4 things that I found interesting.
1, Standards of oracy, use of domain-specific language.
What struck me here was not just the way that teachers insisted on ‘right is right’, the Doug Lemov principle that I know many teachers strive for, but how pupils were on board with it too. The classroom culture was such that pupils would put up their hands to comment / correct answers given by other pupils. Not in a smug, you got it wrong kind of way. But to build up the answer so that collectively as a class we can be certain we have it nailed. Maths is seen as something which is precise and there is a satisfaction in completely and correctly answering a question.
2, Use of chants
As an alternative to Knowledge Organisers (see previous post!) the team at TTA have developed an A3 sheet of about 40 “chants” that pupils learn through the year. Examples include:
Comparing fractions… …find the LCM
Estimation… … 1sf
Multiplying fractions… …top top bottom bottom
Dividing fractions… …x by the reciprocal
Factors of a number… …go into a number
Multiples of a number… …are the times tables
I loved the way these were used in lessons. During an explanation from the teacher or from a pupil, they would say the first part, pause and then the class responds with the second part. This was clearly a well embedded part of the routine that all classes seemed confident with. A really slick way of reinforcing core knowledge whilst keeping pace to the explanations.
3, KS3 5-a-days and parental involvement
The principle of empowering parents to help their children isn’t going to patch all the gaps that you might have with Year 7 and 8 but it makes sense to give it a go. In a targeted way, parents are given a weekly set of numeracy questions with worked examples to give them the confidence to help their children at home. I want to find out more about this and how it develops over the course of the year.
4, Group work
The key to success here is group accountability. The groups are consistent from one lesson to the next and they accumulate points as a group over the term. Anyone in the group may be called upon to offer an explanation to the whole class. The lesson I saw started with pupils working individually on a problem presented to them. It wasn’t a race amongst the group to get the answer first, in fact they seemed to be conscious of each other’s work and would slow down and offer advice if another group member wasn’t getting there. Once all had agreed upon an answer, they would next rehearse their explanation. Again, there was real collaboration and awareness here. One would start the explanation, get to a certain point and then pass the baton on to the next member in the group. They would all practice a piece. Once they finished, if there was time, they would rehearse the explanation again. It all seemed very natural to them, I don’t think I have ever seen such a high level of collaborative work in a maths classroom!
All in all, an inspiring day. Many thanks to the staff of The Totteridge Academy for hosting so many of us.