Monday, 19 December 2016

An introduction to Improving attendance, positivity and learning within the FE Classroom.

Happy holidays readers! Another year is coming closer to an end and most teaching staff are getting a well-earned break. Congratulate yourselves, your colleagues, your teams and your students for bringing a hopefully rather quiet and relaxing end to this term.

Today's blog is all about the learner, the main reason we all do what we do. The learner is without a doubt the reason you are in your job, the majority of people chose to teach because they love working with and helping others, a sentiment that I definitely share especially when I write this blog. I sometimes think of what to blog about and then eventually the words come out, shaped from my experiences within the classroom as well as the events that have unfolded as the weeks have gone on.

Your learner's wishes, wants and motivations play a pivotal role in how you cope with English and Maths within FE. These learners have attempted your subject before and for those who don't experience this teaching, it is fair to say around 10% of your students will be genuinely interested in what you are delivering. The majority of your students are there because they have to be, or because they are forced to improve their own skills for their course. Nearly all your learners will be taking another vocational qualification such as Hair, Construction, Engineering, Catering amongst many other options available at your local institution. Equally more frustrating, some of these learners do not even want to complete this qualification, making your job as a Maths lecturer in this field even more difficult. This means we have to seriously consider learner motivation in order to improve attendance, attitude and the classroom culture within FE Maths and English classes.

What motivates people to do well? Praise by others is a strong influencer in how your students feel about their GCSEs and I would highly recommend ensuring your learners feel valued and safe before attempting to deliver any lesson. This is definitely useful if you talk to your learners at the start of the lesson. As I have built on my own practice, I spend the first 15 minutes of my 1 hour lesson completing a starter activity, usually an activity of an exploratory nature on the board involving discussion around a particular topic. One of my biggest reasons is to build rapport with my students, I talk to students about themselves, ensuring I show genuine interest in what they are doing and how they are getting on day to day. This practice for me has been effective, to the point where vocational staff will tell me that learners are enjoying my Maths lessons and perceive me as a good teacher (That's another way to keep your staff motivated and happy).

Motivation is temporary, there is a reason why gyms in the UK often sell loads of memberships in January but then become empty again come the first week of February. As human beings, motivation comes from things that make us feel good about ourselves and then repeating this behaviour to gain that same positive reward. This doesn't even have to be a tangible reward, the reason some people volunteer is the good feeling that a person gets after helping someone who is less fortunate than themselves, this doesn't mean that we can't operate purely on altruism but that we generally find reward from positivity and feeling good about ourselves in what we do.

Motivation itself is also formed from habit, learners have a timetable and the ones who stick to it have already formed the habit of attending your Maths lessons. It is extremely important to make those first few weeks of your maths lessons engaging, exciting and overall pleasant for your learners. Maxwell Maltz in the 1950's suggested that it takes individuals about 21 days to form a new habit, for learners in your classroom, this is the equivalent of the first month of their FE education. Aside from illness, if you can keep your learners engaged and in that classroom for the first part of the term, then the habit has formed and they will attend due to our natural behaviour to habit form, the next thing you need to work on is the positivity in your groups.

Positivity can be generated within your classroom in many ways, the biggest influencer of this is you. Learn to engage with your students on a level they are comfortable with, you should also be aware that not everybody wants to tell you about their personal life. As a rule of thumb, you should know who your learners are within the first month of delivery. I will eventually aim to develop particular questions for you as lecturers to challenge yourselves within this aspect to ensure that you not only communicate effectively with your learners, but you also consider every single person within that classroom as a person rather than another statistic or passing grade.

Another aspect revolves around behaviour management. I prefer to use the term PBM which stands for Positive Behaviour Management, the reason being that our students may have been subject to less than positive experiences in the past, where we have placed them in low sets or have already been labelled within a less than optimal grade boundary. FE Maths teaching is a different game altogether, the learners all have one core objective and none of them differ in this respect. Be sure to challenge behaviour but consider how you do so. I will be featuring examples in a future post.

Overall, I don't compromise on the truth about the role nor do I want to, for any teachers aspiring to teach FE Maths or English, this job is a very tough one, there are good days and some serious lows also. As a teacher of Maths within FE you will question yourself more and more about your work and what you are doing everyday, some people I have worked with see this challenge as a goal and work towards improving standards within their department, others have unfortunately lost hope and have left the occupation altogether. I hope that upon reading this, you take some time to reflect on your own journey as a teacher and question your own motivations, wishes and wants.

I have a question to any teacher out there who is reading this, how do you motivate your learners within your subject? Please comment below or follow me on twitter (@feguidebook) with your suggestions so we can hopefully share some good practice this festive season. Have a fantastic break!

- Matt