creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by William M Ferriter: http://flickr.com/photos/plugusin/13092406743

The other day I was perusing Youtube, as one does, when I came upon a clip by Yeasayer. It was Take Away Show produced by La Blogotheque, a live performance recorded on the fly on the streets of France. Instead of the plethora of instruments that usually fill out their sound – guitars, drums, synthesisers, samplers – it was cut back to basics: voices, a few beer bottles and some simple woodwind. Although this was a step away from the original, it was interesting what remained. The melody, the rhythm, the form, the feel, the essential essence of the song. There was something raw, intimate and real about it that grabbed your attention.

This all got me thinking, imagine if education were like this. No schools, no classrooms, no fancy touchscreens, no scripts, just pop up installations, with a basic plan, at the point of need. Learning and support for the problem at hand. Similar to what Mel Cashen posed with her question, what if food vans were schools? Of course they are not and education seems inextricably linked to classrooms, but there is something in the question. Something about capturing the essence of learning. What is important right now in the context I am in. This thought of capturing the moment reminded me a little of what I have been doing with numeracy intervention this semester.

I started this year using Marian Smalls ‘Gap Closing’ program to support students flagged as struggling with numeracy. The basis of this was a diagnostic tool which then identified areas for growth. Once completed, students would work through various activities to fill in the gaps. Although the program works in theory, it was hampered in practise by two limitations: student absences and the time allocated. After one semester, students had only managed to work through an eighth of the program. In addition to this, they were becoming progressively restless and disengaged with the tasks. Something had to change.

After some reflection and feedback from the students, it was suggested that one of the issues was that what was occurring in intervention often had little connection with what was actually happening back in the classroom. They still felt like they were struggling. In addition to this, although the diagnostics provided areas for improvement, they did not encourage student self-reflection and empowerment within the process. I therefore decided to change tact and focused on creating an environment where students reflected on their learning as a group and worked together to identify problems and errors. For as John Hattie has suggested, one of the key reasons for success is that teachers know every lesson and every day where a student starts.

An issue with this change was that there were no pre-defined tasks. As I focused on the students who were present, this limited my ability of predictive planning. Instead I entered each session armed with a tub of random resources, paper, a whiteboard and my iPad. After beginning with a starter designed to get students engaged into learning and open to risk, I would then pose two questions in a T-chart: what have you learnt and what have you found difficult? Although I had a fair idea where the students were at, different classes were always at different stages, so ‘going off the planner’ was always difficult. After working together to brainstorm ideas, these ideas would then be organised into clear topics and students would place themselves based on their own point of need. For each topic I would come up with a learning intention and discuss who as a small group we would work through the problem.

Some groups would talk together and work on identifying what the problem actually was, others would grapple a task I had designated for them. More often than not though, we would reflect by actually recording our findings. Using Adobe Voice, students would verbalise their learning. For example, one week one group came up with different strategies for working out 24-hour time, while another week a group went through and defined the different angles. The powerful action in all of this was that these videos were then shared back to the class and celebrated on the big screen. Not only were they recognised by their peers, but their work was being celebrated. Not only was there a significant increase student engagement with numeracy, but they were also excited by learning. On a side, it is an important reminder that even one device in a room can make a different.

So what about you, have you ever run an intervention program? What did you do? How did you focus on each student each week? I would love to know, for together we are always made better.


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Take Away Teaching – A Reflection on Intervention by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

7 thoughts on “Take Away Teaching – A Reflection on Intervention

  1. creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16756943331
    The other day, I was lucky enough to observe Kathy Palmer demonstrate Back-to-Front Maths, a problem-based approach which focuses on identifying and working through misconceptions. Whereas a lot of traditional pedagogical practices are about fluency, Back-to-Front is about developing a deep understanding. Going beyond learning by memory and association to understanding the why behind it all. As Tierney Kennedy explains on the website:

    Back-to-Front Maths begins with problem-solving, where students explore brand-new concepts and then use their findings to derive algorithms and formulae. It works by creating light-bulb moments for students and enabling them to discover for themselves underlying mathematical principles, rather than providing explanation-and-practice pedagogy.

    The challenge is often in finding a way to disrupt students’ usual thinking so that they don’t just get the ‘answer’, but the deep process behind it. All this while at the same time making students feel that they are valuable, that their opinion matters and that it is not only OK to be wrong, but an essential part of learning.
    I had previously had some experience with Back-to-Front, having used some of the tasks and activities when I ran intervention. However, it was a lot different actually seeing it being demonstrated, rather than simply having it explained in theory. Personally, I had made the error of meticulously following each step outlined in the tasks. What Palmer demonstrated was the importance of having a curious and inquiring mindset above all else. If that means picking out just part of an activity and leaving the rest then that’s fine, because what is more important is depth not breadth. This also allows for more flexibility in regards to adjusting activities based on feedback.
    I had a similar experience with thinking strategies. A few years ago we had a staff meeting where we were all told that we were teachers of numeracy and given a list of strategies to support. As a English/Humanities teachers, I felt a little bit lost and although the posters went up into the classroom, I did not really know what to do with them. Something that stood out with Palmer’s demonstration was a reference to the various strategies as she taught. They were not an ‘explicit’ focus, rather they were celebrated any time a student demonstrated it, followed with the comment ‘that’s what great mathematicians do’. We get so caught up how and when to teach interdisciplinary subjects, complaining of a ‘crowded curriculum’, when really we often engage with them each and every day. The challenge, in my view, is actually being confident with the different skills and strategies ourselves so that we can clearly call them out in the classroom. At the heart of this is language and instruction.
    Unlike the traditional conception of problem-based learning, which is associated with resolving a big question or problem, Back-to-Front is about providing tasks and problems which provide enough ambiguity for students to find their own way. Although the focus maybe on ‘number’ or ‘measurement’, lessons involve students coming upon their own discoveries. What becomes important then is language and how we use it. Although many of us have the tendency to answer questions with ‘yes or no’ and correct student misconceptions, the challenge is to use language to help students clarify why they think the way they do. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply start with the initial instructions and recount a student’s explanation of things. Not only does this allow the student in question to think through their own problem, but it also allows other students who may be confused to come on board. In addition to verbalising learning, emphasis is given to non-verbal forms of explanation, such as visualising things, physically jumping them out and using different materials to make things. Having said this, Palmer made the point that you can’t put out the spot fires of misconception all the time. Sometimes you need to let a misconception through to the keeper and come back to them later with a different perspective.

    In the end, my take-aways were:

    Celebrate vocabulary, thinking and strategies in the moment.
    Stop sometimes and do a quick vox pop to reassess where people are at.
    Come back to the explanation of the task in a short and sharp manner whenever possible to maintain focus.
    Sometimes it is best to come back to some spot fires later in a focus group using a different task.
    Emphasise process over product, that is celebrate having a go, putting in effort, identifying errors and misconception, because “that’s what great mathematicians do”.

    If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.Share this:EmailRedditTwitterPocketTumblrLinkedInLike this:Like Loading…

    Problem Based Learning in Mathematics – My Reflection on Back-to-Front Maths by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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