Saturday, April 9, 2011

Having too much fun with Year 7?

Year 7 in my state (NSW, Australia) is the first year at high school (USA: middle school). Students are aged 12-13 yrs. This is the first in a series of three posts where I reflect on the experience of teaching my first full time Year 7 class.

During my first (ever) term with my Year 7 class, I was keen to create a positive learning environment for students starting on the long journey that is high school mathematics. Like most keen-and-eager new teachers, I didn't take the "start out tough with them" advice of more experienced teachers and I eagerly tried many ideas  to make maths more engaging than perhaps traditional approaches take. To give full credit to my teachers at university, they did caution us to use balance and wisdom - and not to overdo the 'creative' lessons.

Adapted from
Alex99's free Sponge Bob screensaver
At the end of the first term, I think we do have a happy and positive class - but after analysing test results, looking over student exercise books and thinking carefully about the student feedback from the end of term anonymous survey, I'm asking myself: Have I actually been helping my Year 7 students develop good habits? Have I been reinforcing the need to apply effort to their mathematics? Remember Andrew Martin's critical factors for building academic success: Effort, Attitude and Strategy. I think I've been helping with the attitude and the strategy - but probably neglecting the effort. I'm coming to the conclusion that not following enough traditional techniques undermines the effort aspect - and in so doing, I risk undermining academic outcomes. We have been doing "real" maths, but at least some of the class isn't doing enough of it.

Encouraging Effort Strategies for Term 2:
  • Be explicit about the role of effort in improving academic outcomes.
  • Ensure most lessons to have a 15 minute "working silently" component - with an option on the board for those who don't have books (a perennial problem that causes distractions and chaos).
  • Provide a clear and explicit message about homework: keep it reasonable (15 mins per lesson), keep it consistent (every lesson).
  • Seating-plan based observation sheet to check and reinforce text books, exercise books, Homework.
I'm not intending to abandon the fun lessons - but temper them with calmer lesson segments where the focus is on application of effort and practice.

A Seating-Plan Based Observation Sheet
Here's an idea I developed in the last few weeks to help me be more organised in my Year 7 class - something I can find very difficult when there are so many students asking for attention.

Idea for a seating-plan based observation sheet

The idea is to make a pad of these and put them in a clipboard which I carry as I walk around the class. A very quick set of ticks as I move allows me to record: who is present (no need to do separate roll call), who has brought books to class (and reinforce the message it's important), who has made an effort at the homework (and reinforce the message it's important), as well as allow a spot survey across the class who is on-task and who is off-task. I'm thinking if I can do all this on one sheet, then I can quickly collate some notes from it at the end of the day. (Darn it I want an iPad :-)  I'll try this out for a few weeks and if it works I'll publish the template.

Beyond the Effort issue, an even more pressing factor has become prominent with my Year 7 class - a vast difference in mathematical skill levels - and how I need to do a radical overhaul of my teaching with this class to accommodate it. But that's for the next post.


  1. I like your seating plan observation sheet.

    I have my seating plans that I generate in Excel and utilise in a similar way at the start of the year (whilst I'm learning the students names), but I've never thought of combining the seating plan with data that I record in my rolls.


  2. My heart goes out to you.

    Keep up the great work but ease up. You are going to burn out.

  3. Sorry about my other dumb comment. I was reading some of your posts on a mobile device and felt compelled to write something.

    I like you seating plan recording sheet. I used a similar thing for my Year 7 and 8 classes this year. It worked well particularly while I was still getting to know the students.

    I might still use it when focusing on correct setting out. A number of my students refuse to move beyond a bunch of chook-scratching on the page and then writing down some answer -related or not- to the scratchings. I'm sure you have some students like it.

    "Effort" is hard. There are all sorts of reasons that students won't make the effort. I think your approach to it is sound.

    I am enjoying reading your posts. Its helping me relive my earlier bursts of enthusiasm. However, I am just coming back from a time of burnout and am still acutely aware that in the flush of enthusiasm one's vision far exceeds one's capacity to fulfill it.

    Please be careful.