A very simple sentence emphasised by Stephen Tierney at ResearchEd York “Find out what children don’t know and then teach them it” seems so obvious, but how often do we forget this? Life after levels has seen a rise in “check in” and “check out” tests, which can be great for full topics but what about a shorter period of time? It is important to note that I haven’t used the word lesson as the hour given is an arbitrary length of time and we shouldn’t limit (or even stretch out) a key point of learning to a full lesson as students will most likely require a different length of time.

Let’s take adding fractions as an example. How often have we got a class in our mind when planning a lesson and thought something along the lines of “lesson 1: add fractions with same denominator, and the extension can be changing one denominator. Lesson 2: start with changing one denominator and then move on to changing both denominators. I am guilty of this in the past but hopefully with a little fine tuning I can avoid doing this again in the future. What happens if, and usually most do, students remember how to add fractions with the same denominator – do you plough on and teach the lesson anyway or do you jump straight to “lesson 2”. I have used adding fractions as an example here but the same could be said for any topic - it must happen on a regular basis where we plan an hour lesson (or series of lessons) on a topic because the scheme of learning says we should. We have all had one of the two following feelings far too often:

- They know it already, this won’t take as long as I thought – I have 32 copies of a worksheet printed off that I won’t use now!
- They never got that, I could really spend some more time on it. Now you’re left with the choice of taking your time with it or thinking “They will cover it again another year, I’ve got a scheme to follow”.

Both feelings are far from ideal but are far too common – but this goes against the very simple sentence mentioned earlier “Find out what children don’t know and then teach them it.” It sounded so obvious when I first heard it that I almost dismissed it. Then I applied it to how I teach and thought I don’t do enough of this – it shocked me! I like to think I am a good teacher but moments like this make you question “what if I have been doing it all wrong for so long?!” But that is what good teachers do, find ways to adapt and develop their teaching.

Now I have set the scene I will introduce the resource I put together. It came about in a department meeting. We have check in and check out tests for Key Stage 3 but not Key Stage 4. How can we assess if a student understands a topic before we teach it, and how do we work out how long to spend teaching it. With this in mind I have made a multiple choice question PowerPoint linked to the Edexcel scheme of work. Using the six headings of Algebra, Number, Geometry & measures, Probability, Statistics and, Ratio & proportion and rates of change I have linked a multiple choice question to each objective in all of the topic areas. A handful of questions we had on the system from somewhere so I edited them in to the same format, about a quarter were written by two other colleagues and the rest by me. For each question we have tried to make the wrong answers from common mistakes.

I will be using this for all my GCSE classes next year, both higher and foundation, for each objective. From this simple starter I will be able to:

- Gain an understating of the starting point in which I will teach a topic from. This will hopefully eliminate the first feeling mentioned earlier.
- Address any misconceptions right at the start of the unit to reduce the chance of these being built on and made worse.
- Some topics will be secure. If students can demonstrate this it will mean I won’t need to spend as much time as I first thought on a unit or topic. It will then save time for teaching topics that require more time, and in turn start to be a solution to the second feeling mentioned earlier.

The questions could be simply used as a class settler or 5 minute starter, but the real value to this resource is probing wrong answers, getting students to explain why they got the correct answers. A more thought provoking task for students to do is to work out the mistake made in getting the wrong answers. This way I will find out what children don’t know and then teach them it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, feedback is always welcome.

Phil

@pbrucemaths