Backing a Trailer

numeracy leaders teachers Aug 26, 2022

In this blog I wanted to share a story about when I was learning to drive, as I think it illustrates nicely the importance of scaffolding student learning through our knowledge of developmental progressions. 

My mum and dad are both teachers, mum is primary trained and dad secondary. So growing up I was lucky enough to have their support all through my schooling. Their modelling of teaching practices at home has shaped who I am today (thanks mum and dad!).

There was one time I remember that was probably not my dad’s finest teaching moment (not that he remembered this when I reminded him the other day! lol!)

One Saturday, when I was 16, I was helping dad take some supplies to his school and he suggested I have my first attempt at driving. The school car park was empty, so it was a pretty safe place to start- except… dad had hooked our trailer on the back of the car!

Dad told me it would be fine, I just needed to back the car out of the park we were in and then I would be facing forward and could do some circles around the whole carpark. It sounded easy enough, we were the only car there so at least I couldn’t hit anything, so I put it in reverse and gave it a go!

Suffice to say, it was a disaster!

If you have ever backed a trailer you know it is a very difficult skill to master!

As I clearly remember dad telling me, ‘you just have to turn the wheel the opposite way to the way you want the trailer to go!’


Anyway, long story short, I ended up with a severely dinted ego, and I think in retrospect dad probably wished he hadn’t asked me to start my driving learning journey with that skill! 

I am all for providing challenging tasks, but…  

To this day, I still cannot back a trailer!

I think the message in this story for maths teaching is: 

1. It is important that we are always aware what skills and knowledge are within our student’s zone of proximal development

2.We need to know the order in which student learning progresses in a particular construct. 

This Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) is critical for teachers to consider and discuss in their planning of topics.

If we are teaching decimals, do our students have a good understanding of whole number place value? If we are teaching converting units of measurement, can our students rename? If we are teaching part-part whole, are students familiar with subsisting small collections? If they can't, as I shared in this blog, we need to go back and 'fill those gaps'!

But how do we know the progressions students make in various mathematical contexts?

Well, one resource that is fabulous to support you in starting to recognise these progressions is the Learning Trajectories website developed in the US by Marsico Institute and lead by the amazing Dr Doug Clements and Dr Julie Sarama. It has research based trajectories and videos to support you identifying the relevant progressions. If you haven't looked at it, please head over and have a look!

Ironically, the "trailer"  story popped into my mind because dad was delivering a piece of furniture to our house. He had (very kindly) picked the piece up in his trailer (thanks dad!). After the job was finished I watched him take the trailer off his car and push it over the road into our neighbour’s driveway, leave it there and then reverse his car over to meet the trailer. He then hooked up the trailer and drove off forwards.

I said “why did you do that?”

He said “I don’t want to back the trailer out of your driveway, it’s too hard” 😂

This made me chuckle!

Remember, there is no use teaching a student to back a trailer if they can’t drive forwards in a car!

Want to learn more from Dr Ange Rogers? Click here to find out about her 'Quality Place Value Assessment in Years 3-6 Mini Course'

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