Negotiating the Roadmap

The LO is on the board as they come in today, and says it all: “To negotiate a learning roadmap for GCSE module 5”. This is going to be challenging, and possibly more so for me than for 11c1.

My intended outcome is for the class to take the AQA GCSE Maths specification for module 5, chop it up, move it around, identify links and come up with a way of approaching the required learning (in essence, a new ‘scheme of work) that suits their learning preferences, and most importantly, be able to reach a broad consensus. As a lead-in, they come up with the following criteria for an effective roadmap:

  • Got to know what you’re aiming for.
  • Everyone must agree, or compromise.
  • Has to include lots of variety (in terms of types of activities, including ‘hands-on’ active learning)
  • Cohesion. Different topics must fit together and make sense.
  • Must be graded in ascending difficulty within broad topics.
  • Built-in time for revision.
  • Cover everything in time.

The initial negotiation process involves the whole class in arranging cut-up bits of paper with all the key objectives from the specification into five or six broad groups. I’m secretly glad that none of my colleagues walk in at this point – the effect is of near-total chaos, and my nonchalant use of music (a Beach Boys CD) does not help my image as that of a teacher in control of his class. I’m actually observing quite carefully though, and find it interesting to see how pupils are interacting and getting involved, assigning themselves roles. Initially, I challenge some who don’t seem to be taking part, but realise I am being too ‘teachery’ when they challenge me in return: “We’ve had our say, now we’re keeping out of it and letting the others do their bit”. They’re right, of course.

A bit of cut-and-stick later, and (as if by magic) we’re done! Five annotated unit plans, each produced by a breakaway group of pupils and together covering the whole syllabus. I deliberately don’t ‘check’ what they’ve done – I want to reassure them that there was no right or wrong answer. I am going to have my work cut out for me, teaching from their scheme, but isn’t that kind of the point?


I keep to my promise next lesson, and begin with a sheet of GCSE-style questions using the six area / volume formulae from last time: a fifteen-minute refresher which proves we don’t need to spend two weeks practicing work the class has already mastered.

From here on in, everything will be focused towards ‘selling’ my new approach. I ask them first to agree to two basic ground rules, these are my minimum expectation to give the best chance of success to anything we will attempt.

  • We will give our complete attention to whoever is addressing the class.
  • We will support each other’s self-esteem and not put anyone down.

Because I trust them to adhere to at least the spirit, if not the letter of these rules, I offer that they will be open to renegotiation after a trial period. The next eight slides each contain one of the principles I would like us to adopt:

  • Everyone learns differently.
  • Start with an open mind.
  • The targets are fixed.
  • Choices are made together so that everyone has the best chance of success.
  • We need a roadmap.
  • Learning is more meaningful if you own the process.
  • There’s no point practicing something you can already do well.
  • We need to be able to measure progress.

So far, so good. The mood in the room is one of, if not excitement, then certainly eager anticipation. They are curious to know what will happen next, and frankly so am I.

A mind-mapping task to finish, and I do my best to encourage out-of-the-box answers to the question “What are all the ways you can think of that will help us achieve our learning aims?” and, spurious references to the Pi song aside, they do pretty well – practice, visualisation, making notes/pictures/spidergrams, memory techniques, repetition, peer-coaching, SAM learning, a blog or wiki, videos, songs(!), practical demonstrations…

Another at-the-door comment, this time from J – to whom, by his own admission, independent learning is not going to come easily.
“Just wanted to say I like what you’re trying to do sir.” He shakes my hand.

It makes my day.

A New Term

I had a feeling that my Y11 target A* GCSE maths group would take my initially guarded hints at what I had in store for them this year as a front for yet another under-prepared lesson – we are very used to each other, having had the pleasure of each other’s company since Y9 in some cases – and they have gradually come to despair of my occasional scattiness.

As I attempted to describe how I intended to approach the maths syllabus ‘differently’ in their crucial exam year I became aware how much it sounded like I was making it up on the spot. Not so, but the clear picture I had developed in my head over the summer holidays suddenly felt quite alien.

I was open with them from the start. This will be an experiment; as new for me as it is for them. It will be organic (a few sniggers) and will develop as we go along. If we give it a shot and I don’t feel it’s working, I tell them, we’ll go back to more ‘traditional’ lessons (in the 2007, rather than 1950s, sense). Likewise, I invite – genuinely – their comments and feedback.

For familiarity’s sake, the remainder of our first lesson is more in line with what they’ve been used to: a card sort featuring various formulae for area and volume, followed by some practice exercises from the textbook (I feared that too much too soon would be disastrous). Ten minutes before the end I choose six of the formulae they ought to have encountered before and make clear that by next lesson I will be expecting the class to be fully comfortable using them.

As the class is dispersing, K hangs back looking concerned. “You know you said to tell you if it isn’t working? Well, what if we do that but then can’t make the time up later?”
I tell her (and believe) that I have every faith in her, and the class as a whole, to cover the syllabus far more quickly than the rest of Y11. I remind her about taking module 3 at Easter last year for the same reason.
“After all,” I say “it isn’t exactly in my interest to watch you all fail…”