Examination PE: What I learnt today from a Maths Teacher

The last time I taught A-Level PE was two years ago. It went pretty poorly and for the first time in over a decade I had students who didn’t meet their target grades or better. At the time in my write up to the Headmaster I found every excuse under the sun, other than my teaching, for the reason these students didn’t perform in my subject. However with the new term starting I reflected that it possibly could have been my approach, so went to seek advice. That advice was from a very experienced Maths teacher. Students don’t like him (but they do once they have left school), parents don’t like him (but want their children in his class) and hell, even a lot of our colleagues don’t like him. One thing you can’t deny is his ability to get the very best grades for his students. This year he got every student one or two grades higher than expected, including getting 2 students an A* in Maths when they had received B’s at GCSE. I wanted some of that gold.

For the first 20 minutes we talked about my practice with my A2 group and he challenged me on a lot on my methodology. It got me thinking that what I was doing was actually because I had heard other experience members of staff mentioning they had done them . There was no real reasoning behind what I was doing. There was no real purpose that led to ensuring they learnt the course syllabus and performed well in the exams.

Over the course of the next 40 minutes Experienced Maths Teacher shared with me some key parts of his success:

1. First lesson set the tone, don’t just talk about standards and expectations, breathe them. If they are doing their AS then set them a 30 minute GCSE paper. Ensure you know their target grade, mark it and give it back to them next lesson. Ensure they understand that it is an academic course where rigour will be demanded and intellect will be challenged.

2. Don’t give up on them. This meant a lot of things. Chase them for work, don’t accept poor notes, check their files regularly, do not accept second rate class or homework. It is tiring, but they need to know you won’t let things go. Make it so you are the member of staff that they can’t get away with things. Things will get easier with time. Other staff complain about kids in school not handing in work, I would use the time they were complaining to get it.

3. We are not their friends. We are there to challenge their intellect. They will not care about how strict you are, after they have the grades. I think this has been a fundamental failing on my behalf when I have stepped into the classroom environment. The things I have learnt through Year 7 children who hate my subject and trying to get them enjoying being active won’t work here. The relationships I have developed as a rugby coach or football coach will not serve me here. I need to adapt to the academic classroom environment and sure I don’t get side tracked by the football score at the weekend.

4. Develop a Master Folder. A master folder it seems is more than just having your notes in. Powerpoints, resources, questions, mark schemes, examiners reports. Exemplar work for every piece of work set. Experienced Maths Teacher keeps the best piece of work for every question, exam, class and homework he sets. After 7 years of our current school he has a wealth of top examples of work to show students and to help them understand. It also means that everything can be replaced if and when a child loses everything. If you get an exceptional student folder then borrow it at the end of the course and copy it. Add it to your master folder.

5. Test, Test, Test. Everything Test. Then more. Testing it seems is not for end of a unit, then forgotten about. Testing it seems is for prior knowledge, current performance and actual knowledge (what has been remembered). Start every lesson with a test. Build their knowledge. Knowledge is key for passing exams and getting the top grades. Re-test areas regular. Multiple choice, short answer, long answer, but make it knowledge based. Do one question with them, so they have a model answer, then give them a similar question to do.

6. Revision is not just before the exams. Download all exam papers. Not just for your syllabus, but all of them, and for GCSE, AS and A2. Not sure how legal this site is, but this is what was recommended: www.freeexampapers.com Go through them and pick out questions that would be on the syllabus. Use these to create examples for classwork and homework. Save the past papers for your course for Easter and beyond, its surprising how quickly you get through them. Do not give them the mark scheme. This one threw me a little one. The explanation was simple. Mark schemes are for examiners. What students need is a perfect model. Write a perfect exam script for them. If a teacher doesn’t have enough subject knowledge in conjunction with a mark scheme, text book and examiners report, then they shouldn’t be teaching the subject. I haven’t sat an A-Level PE exam since I did A-Level PE. Looks like I will be doing that this year.

7. Become an examiner. There is no greater CPD for understanding how to get students the best results than becoming an examiner in that subject and syllabus. It is something I am currently looking into.

I learnt a lot today from my colleague who gratefully gave up his holiday to talk to me. However what I really learnt is that some of the best CPD comes from having a professional dialogue with teachers in your own school. There is a vast amount of knowledge, strength and experience in your school. Engage with your colleagues and you’ll be amazed at what they have to share.

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8 thoughts on “Examination PE: What I learnt today from a Maths Teacher

  1. Interesting post. I would add though, that you must be careful when using past papers to assess the current ability of students. I’ve had students who have, via Google,found tthe site you mentioned and other similar sites which give them access to papers. They did this to practice, not to cheat, but having worked through them with their notes they know how answer the specific questions and it can slightly inflate their grades on these mocks.

    The model answer point is great, I have created fully correct scripts for the past papers for my course. I also annoyed them with info from the markscheme so they know exactly where each mark is from.

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    1. Scrav. Thank you for your comment and bringing that to my attention. It wasn’t something I had thought about, potentially because I’m not sure I have the sort of students who would take that initiative. I’m also developing my own short answer and multiple choice questions on all topic areas, to test later on in the year, to check learning and ensure it isn’t just a ‘good performance’. How do you go about sharing your model answers? Do you do this in class time, together as a group, or do you lead this as the teacher?

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      1. I do the papers on depth in one colour, usually blue. I annotate why I do each step in green and what each mark is for in red. I print/photocopy them for students. Sometimes I give them out as markschemes after pupils have attempted papers and get them to mark their own, sometimes I set it as a group task and sometimes I lead the class through a paper.

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      2. Thank you for sharing this. For someone who has always just photocopied the mark scheme and given it to students, this is definitely a new area of improvement for me in my teaching. Seeing what other teachers, especially the Maths teachers do in their subject, has given me a rude awakening on how poorly I prepared students in the past in comparison. Sometimes the best CPD is having the time, sitting down with other staff and sharing good practice.

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  2. It is interesting that Academic PE and PE is different. The distinction is really clear and it seems that the students need to learn to know you in your different role and this can be hard when you are known in a different capacity. I agree that you need to start strong. Start as you believe to go on and be consistent. I think this is powerful for students so they know that you are not going to be walked over and you are invested in them and their growth and success. It is almost like you have underlying principles that you need to let Students know about with the end learning outcome their completion in the best way in your class. Thanks for making me think about this. I also think that unpacking and rewriting rubrics or marking schemes is super powerful so that you are really clear about how their work is graded, what it is you are looking for and how this is going to be important for development. Clear examples and opportunity for re-writing and re-thinking work is important. I look forward to reading more about this journey.

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    1. I think the differences that are appearing in my ‘classroom based approach’ and my ‘playing fields approach’ is mainly due to outcomes. Success for both myself and my pupils in the classroom are based on numbers and grades. I have found that teaching methods based on cognitive psychology have improved that chance of success. I worry that it doesn’t give them a rounded education, that it is quite mechanical in approach and sucks the classroom of joy at times, but my pupils are happy with their examination grades. Until the definition of success changes in that respect its an approach that I will keep looking to refine. This is very different to what I see success is on the playing fields. Having them come back week after week of their own accord and then doing that beyond school. Therefore a change in my teaching/coaching of physical activity and sport.

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