What is the hardest thing about teaching mathematics effectively? Is it differentiating your lessons effectively to meet the needs of all your students? Is it convincing your students that there is some real world application to what you're teaching? Is it convincing them that there doesn't need to be; the joy of understanding and exploring should be enough?! Perhaps all of these are problems that we'll never fully resolve, but there is one issue that I think is seriously holding back mathematical education: teachers don't know what their students can and can't do.
I'm sure that most of you could tell me what grade or level your students are working at, but you tell me exactly which students can divide an amount into a ratio, exactly which could factorise a non-monic quadratic? Note the use of the word 'exactly', I mean if you wrote a list of which can and which can't and then set a question, would the results fit your predictions, to the student?
Of course you can't. No teacher has ever been able to do that, for all of the 100 or so students they teach and for every topic on the curriculum. That's why we need systems in place and record keeping to inform our practice. This is where formative assessment comes in. I'm not talking about lollipop sticks, thumbs up and traffic light cards, I'm talking about a data driven approach, utilising the results of summative assessment, to create a personalised plan for each and every student.
Here's my approach, it's very simple: Every time I test my students, I keep a precise record of how many marks each student got on each question. I do that using createatest. Entering the data is simple and quick and I get an immediate picture of my students' abilities, which builds over time.
The real value comes from what you do with the data. Once I have this information, I know exactly which questions each student cannot do and can set weekly targets to deal with the misconceptions one by one. This results in outstanding progress over time, and constitutes the dialogue that Ofsted inspectors are so keen to see.
Previously, I kept a record of which areas students struggled with and made up a new version of each question every time I set a target. This was fairly time consuming and my current approach is to use the feature of createatest that allow you to produce 20 questions on areas that students have recently made mistakes. Incredibly easy to produce, I use them as target booklets; I simply write T:Q7, students copy out question seven into their books and answer it. Quick, easy and incredibly effective.
We are all constantly aiming to improve, and I'm sure you all have suggestions as to how you assess your students and then use that data to improve your practice. We'd love to hear them, so please tweet us @createatest.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your week