Monday, 30 January 2017

Assessments in FE Maths?

So tonight's blog post is all about assessment, yeah yeah I get it, we all do it every time we walk into the classroom and deliver an activity or worksheet to our students, but I am going to share with you what has worked for me in the past and what continues to work now in an FE Maths environment.

You may be asking yourself why the environment from School to Further Education changes how we should deliver and assess? Well it doesn't in the most part, a lot of the methods we use to deliver and engage our students within their further education Maths lessons, however we have to consider the student groups we are working with and how we combat the different issues and dynamics that happen within your different class groups.

The first thing I want to say, is that you are not going wrong with what you are doing currently and I am not the person to criticise or judge what you are working towards. In fact, anyone who teaches within this current further education climate should pat themselves on the back for a job well done. You keep the energy going and you don't back down, keep it up!

What I am going to do however is offer up my own opinions of what I believe works and what doesn't work considering the different classrooms and structures that I have around the current further education maths classroom. Let's start with everybody's favourite!


Ahh yes, the worksheet. Not only does this require minimal effort on your part but they are ideal for your students who are stretching and understand concepts in a lot of clear detail. One of the models I use within the classroom is the Bronze, Silver and Gold worksheets. The idea is that students can opt for worksheets for the level they feel their understanding is at. Within some of my functional skills classrooms, some students opt for the worksheet as they want to grasp a concept in more detail or they just don't want to do it and feel that this is the least painful way to get the lesson over and done with.

Worksheets when used well can add much to your classroom, it can inspire students to participate actively, especially if they are competitive in nature (my sports students are massively competitive in this respect) but that means that they will encourage each other to reach a certain level of maths attainment. I don't believe in basing lessons on worksheets as this can wear down quite quickly to some student groups who may advance rapidly as well as belittling the ones who struggle with the content you have given them. Use with caution!

Come on now, those worksheets aren't going to mark themselves!

PowerPoint based activities

This is one I primarily use, I structure a lesson on a powerpoint and then run through it within an allocated time, allow some time for bell work/starter activity while students are appearing in your classrooms to get the creativity and discussion flowing within the class. I use this method regularly as students tend to discuss and I can assess work on a variety of different levels across the class as time goes on. It is a tough situation within Maths as you want to make sure that people understand the concepts rather than copy off their friends, so I use this as an opportunity to make my way around the classroom in parts. I work with a variety of different students in Maths with different needs, some may need extra support understanding what you have asked them to do so be aware of this when you wander round your classroom and think everyone is getting the material.

Are your students excited by your amazing powerpoint?

Movement activities

A great way to assess activities in my classroom revolve around being active in the classroom, in the FE classroom, I have to use this sparingly as some students will outright refuse to move out of their seat (so make sure you have a backup). An example of this was when I stuck up signs across the room saying "Always True" "Never True" and "Sometimes True" and gave students statements about different maths misconceptions, most of my students participated within this activity but alas, there were a handful who did not want to leave their seat, or when they did they didn't want to continue working afterwards. A really difficult concept when you have 45 minutes of your lesson left and your students are screaming the corridor down. Oops.

Be sure to have a backup activity prepared if this falls apart, my favourite thing to do is amend what you are doing, so raising hands or small group discussions work well in this situation

Interactive Resources

Kahoot, Activinspire Voting pads and other devices have been helpful in developing this approach, so much so that students will actively ask for these activities in their classes. These revolve around the use of technology to enhance the student learning experience, sometimes these work very well and students are engaged within their lessons. I have encountered problems with this approach however, students who have got their phones out to use Kahoot have since decided they don't want to participate and then closed the application altogether, a very difficult concept to work with the students when they don't listen or aren't interested in the activity you have prepared for them.

If you have the availability, try to get students to use college facilities to engage within their learning, I don't think they will use Facebook as often to find out that their mate is at Greggs having a great time while they are stuck in maths!

Get off Facebook you!

When receiving feedback

One of the biggest problems in my teaching practice as a new maths teacher has been how to assess and give proper feedback on performance. I have always just waited for one person to give an answer to a maths problem and this suffices, however during a recent teaching observation, I was noted on this aspect and encouraged to think about other assessment methods. I eventually decided that I was going to give students the answer to the question on the board already, and they have to show me how they got to that method, there is much more variety in the method compared to the answer which you can assess. Assess the students method in maths, that's where all the marks are, it's evidence of understanding the question they have been presented with.

In Conclusion

It is a really tricky minefield teaching maths within further education but you have to use a combination of different approaches to make sure that you get the most from your classes. Classify students within the groups into appropriate dynamics so that you can work towards their own best interests. This is especially difficult when you have groups who can drive you up the wall, tell you your lessons are rubbish or question you constantly about your capability to teach them.

Teaching in this environment can be unforgiving, just remember that if you are struggling with assessment in these classes, find another way. There are many opportunities to assess based on these methods outlined about but overall, nobody knows the group like you do. Work in the best interests of your students (and tell them that often) and you should hopefully make your life easier, it's nearly half term teachers, enjoy the rest of your week

- Matt