What I learnt from teaching Year 4 maths

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Changing schools, to me, often feels like landing in Japan. The image above looks like a train station, but could you figure out which train to get? Different schools contain similar components, systems and structures and yet can feel very different.  Indeed, venturing into Year 4 in an all through school, as a secondary geographer, felt very similar. This is despite carrying out a number of collaborations with primary colleagues. This post sums up the learning experience, my conclusion being is that venturing into other phases is well worth the CPD outcomes. In effect, I taught Year 4 maths to a group for around six weeks.

Explaining very simple stuff is blumin’ difficult.

You see, most students have a basic idea of maths when they usually get to me. Trying to teach from first principles was tricky. Very tricky. It wasn’t that I found the maths difficult (although I did have to practice a few operations and brush up on my terminology and roman numerals), it was that explaining different types of division was difficult. Even going over coordinates, a staple of the geography classroom, resulted in misunderstanding (on the part of the young people) and steam emanating from my ears (on my part). This taught me that assuming that teaching primary stuff is easy and that I needed to plan and, more importantly, plan and practice my explanations as I did during my formative teaching years.

Differentiation really mattered

I’ve always tried to avoid one-size-fits-all, but constructing different starting points and challenges for the class was vital.

There ain’t no right way.

If you get the correct answer, it doesn’t matter too much how they get there. As long as the method can be explained.

Students as teachers.

I used this a lot more than I would in the secondary classroom: getting young people to give the answer and then explain to the class.  In addition, nominating a lead learner really saved me time and helped to develop further differentiation.

Scripted lessons are useful.

There is a lot of edutwatter about this. My view is, like any educational resource from textbooks to iPads, it’s all about the careful use of what is provided. If I set out to sound like a mindless robot and follow it word by word then it would have led to a poor atmosphere. However, to a secondary geography teacher with questionable maths and english skills, the script was very useful. Not only for planning the lesson, but in developing questions providing me with some modelling and scaffold. The type of question sequence and pitch and challenge were very useful. No, I didn’t read every word.

Language is important

The difference between add, plus, addition, time, multiply, ‘3 2’s are’ can lead to all sorts of confusion. Planning terms is important, even if it’s aiming for the external examinations.

Expectations are higher

I apologise for the generalisation but, secondary standards of presentation are very poor and Year 4 were independent. By the time I had walked across the school to the lesson, they were all ready to learn with the relevant resources and routines. They collected their own equipment when needed and, to be honest, did a great job of organising me, especially at the end of the lesson. The impact has been to further increase my expectations, especially of the Year 7s who have transitioned into Year 7 (their outcomes were like I’ve never seen ever).

Routines, Starters and roman numerals

Strong routines are important, the starter five questions that encouraged deliberate practice of current and past knowledge and skills (my roman numerals are now passable) and, as already mentioned, the organisation. I’m not even mentioning my poor handwriting on the board….

In short, I’d recommend getting into a primary classroom and teaching. I’m enjoying the challenge and variety of leading Teaching and Learning across Year 3 to 13. The fundamental principles remain the same, however the implementation changes. Indeed, it’s necessary to rely upon the real experts in the school a whole lot more: the teachers.

Image credit from Flickr

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