Finish Strong - for them and you!

numeracy leaders teachers Nov 29, 2022

Have you ever been to an athletics sports and seen a student slow down and walk as they approach the finish line? It rarely happens, most of them are busting to ‘finish strong’. Each year in teaching is a little like a race, we start full of enthusiasm, but sometimes by the time we reach December, we are exhausted and don’t focus on “finishing strong”. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the challenges of teaching. I consider it one of the hardest jobs anyone can do. BUT, I do think that it is really important to keep our foot on the pedal, particularly in maths deep into Term 4.

This is even more important ‘post-COVID’. We have missed so much face-to-face teaching time, the results of which we are all acutely aware. Therefore, I think it is now more important than ever to keep our maths teaching going right to the end of the year!

I have vivid memories of playing maths games on many final school days with my class- sans tables and chairs, enjoying the last few hours, reflecting on how far they had come that year… Teaching is a tough gig, but if we can make the most of our time with students to teach and grow our practice… that is a great way to ‘finish the race’.

I have several reasons why I think it is important to keep going with a regular maths session each day until the last day…

  1. Ratty Kids: The human brain is wired to seek structure and predictability. Whether it is a 3 month old or a 100 year old, we all love routine. I understand that often the end of year is crazy, you are preparing for graduation, practicing carols, moving/packing classrooms, changeover days, writing reports etc. etc. There is a LOT of extra “stuff” going on…but if we lose the structure of a solid maths session every day, we can easily lose our momentum academically and behaviourally with students. In my experience students become ‘ratty’ without structure, which in turn makes us tired and cranky, we then lose some of our enthusiasm for teaching and it becomes a vicious cycle. The students act out because we don’t have structure, we get tired because they are pushing buttons, we are less inclined to teach. If you have ‘check-out’ mentally too early, students will sense it in a millisecond and pounce! They have a special radar for this!
  2. But we don’t have resources: When I was teaching, I recall very early in December we would stop sending readers home and borrowing from the library/ literacy resource/Numeracy cupboard room was wrapped up for the year. Now, I understand the need to collate and audit materials. I have done the ‘sorting the maths cupboard’ job many times as a Numeracy Leader, but it is important that we understand that this doesn’t signal the end of maths teaching for the year. There are plenty of things we can do in the classroom that don't require materials. Open ended tasks, ‘Estimysteries’, ‘Number Talks’, ‘Splat!’, ‘Which one doesn’t belong?’ to name a few. These are all high yield tasks, that require 0 equipment!! So if you are a leader, perhaps share these ideas with your teachers, and if you are a teacher and you have never tried these-give them a go!   
  3.  The pressure is off: By the time we submit reports, the ‘pressure’ associated with assessment/reporting has been eased. But instead of having the ‘it doesn’t matter what we teach, reports are written’ mindset, I prefer to think of this as ‘free shot’ time. The pressure is off, and in teaching that doesn’t happen very often. I always committed to using Term 4 to try new things in my maths teaching. In Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s book- Peak- they talk about the fact that the only way to improve at something is to complete deliberate practice and be out of our comfort zone. We hardly EVER have a chance for this in teaching because we are so time-poor and often too worried/scared we are waiting time to try new things. 
  4. Academic achievement: We know many students are behind where they usually would be because of COVID. Once school finishes many students will go on summer holidays and not think about maths for 6 weeks! Concepts need to be really solidly embedded for them to be retained that long. We don’t want regression or learning loss over the holidays. While there is not much we can do about what the students do on the holidays, what we can control is making the most of every second we have with them before the year ends. If your maths program stops 3 weeks before the end of the year that is 15 hours and potentially means it will be 9 weeks between their final maths session and their first one of the following year. Even if is playing maths games- do something every day- literally every minute they are thinking mathematically helps their brain make neural connections! 

But in the last few weeks of the year, the pressure valve is released, and it is the perfect time to give new routines a go without worrying you will be ‘wasting time’. It might be a flop. Who cares? You have learnt something. You have challenged yourself and you have been out of your comfort zone. That is a #teacherwin! On the flipside, you might be surprised how engaging/simple/valuable a routine is and then it can become part of teaching toolkit in 2023, another #teahcerwin. Practice…tick…Improvement…tick   

So there you have it, finish the year strong and do some enjoyable and memorable maths with your students! 

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