Andy Day – How am I going to teach that?!

You may begin to see a theme emerging in our CPD over the next academic year at Activate Learning, that of English and maths. To be honest, it’s a theme across much of further education at present. Our principal, Paul Newman, saw Andy Day speak at the Festival of Education and decided that he would be a perfect person to come in and inspire staff about teaching something that isn’t really their subject.

Engagement vs. Enjoyment
Jack_Russell_Terrier_Eddi_at_the_beachImage available from here

Here are some highlights of his morning session:Engagement and enjoyment often go together but they’re certainly not the same thing.

We get engaged when we recognise something as a problem- a real problem. Even if it’s just an imaginary situation. Getting the students to the point of the ‘bite’, like a clutch, is where we want them to be.

Problem seeing rather than problem solving provides learners’ ‘aha’ moments.

How to structure a problem to maximise engagement:

  • If a problem is new then we’re more likely to be engaged.
  • If it requires thought as well as action.
  • If it seems within our power to solve (not too hard) and contains a level of uncertainty (not too easy).
  • If it contributes to a purpose then that’s also engaging.

    Ideally, the problem will be all of these things. However, some of your students might be engaged by familiar problems where they’re able to apply what they already know whilst others prefer unfamiliar problems where they need to apply their learning in different ways to a new situation. We need to respond to the learners in the room.

    If we have to explain why something is a problem then we haven’t succeeded. It’s like pointing out that something’s funny.

    These questions can help us to plan for effective ‘problem seeing’ in the classroom:

  • Where is the controversy?
  • Where is the purpose?
  • Why does it matter?

    These are some great questions that can help us to generate the problems from the curriculum:

  • What is it? What isn’t it?
  • What is it for?
  • What does it do?
  • What difference does it make?
  • What if it didn’t exist?

‘Describe a person you admire’


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Who do you look up to?

This was given as a lesson activity. We were asked to discuss how engaging it was. A lot of us concluded that it wasn’t- it lacked relevance, purpose, an aim. It lacked clarity- what are we being asked to ‘describe?’ What does admiration really mean?

One great thing about this kind of question is its open-endedness. Asking learners to answer it and then to question their responses uncovers a whole other layer of learning. Asking learners to guess/predict what questions we’ll ask them next is a great way of extended their higher order thinking skills. Equally, what do they really need to ask you in order to be able to complete the activity of describing a person they admire?

Things to consider in making something engaging:

  • Providing purpose- who wants to know and why?
  • Setting the scene- eg. the DVD that you love isn’t selling because of the blurb. You need to write a new one to make it sell. Alternatives: the car/the clothes/the nursery/ the restaurant you work at…

    In the example, ‘Which room is bigger? Which plate? Which bathroom? Which garage? Which hospital?’
    Who wants to know and why? would help- are we looking for area? volume? wall space? The word ‘bigger’ doesn’t work in helping us to answer the question. Replacing it with a more mathematical word helps. Once again, starting in this more wide and general way is great- you can then get the learners to question what their interpretation of ‘bigger’ really means.

    Feed the learners what they need, when they need it. Don’t give them everything immediately, but also, don’t leave them awaiting more details for too long.

    Another activity idea:
    Ask learners to rank CVs and explore the process of doing that. Which ones look good and why? Justifying responses helps them to develop their communication skills.

    Why spell it through and not thru?
    Which is more, 7/12 or 11/20?
    These kinds of questions help to unpack greater problems.

    If we’re serious abut changing their attitudes and levels of engagement then we have to go back to where the learners are struggling from. What are the their barriers and challenges? How can thse be overcome so that engagement is possible? Listening is vital at this point in the learning process.

Big don’ts:


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  • Don’t correct
  • Don’t assume
  • Don’t interrupt- Interrupting doesn’t save time in the long term. If you give them chance to speak then they’ll be more inclined to listen to you in return.
  • Don’t go soft
  • Don’t steer- Steering too much and getting the learners to the answer as quickly as possible is not the thing to do.

    Going backwards is the opposite of giving up.

Things to do instead:


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  • Ask for clarification
  • Insist on relevance
  • Invest time
  • Demand mutual respect
  • Learn something

Final challenges to us:


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  • Do we present ourselves as fallible?
  • Do we have to be the person that knows all the time?
  • Why is it on the curriculum?
  • Why do YOU care that they learn it?

    A question asked by a colleague:

    Q. Independent learners- how do we engage them with independence?
    A. Structure it- what does it look like? What do you do? What resources can you use? Ensure that they’re not being thrown into a situation where they don’t even know where to look. When you’re stuck, that’s the part right before you learn something. Talk them through into coming into class with the point at which they’re stuck and what they think the next step is.

  • What did they accomplish?
  • Where did they get stuck and why do they think that is?
  • What do they think is missing?
  • What resources could they use to help them complete?
  • What do they think their next step should be?

Slow down to make progress


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What follows are highlights from Andy’s discussion with the English and maths staff prior to lunch:

Purpose and relevance- do they agree with the purpose we think it has? Are we connecting with them?

‘I want x therefore I need y’ for the students is usually the thing that will help but actually making it exciting will engage many of them too.

Getting the learners to the point where they want to learn maths/English for the first three lessons is the thing we need to be doing. Whether that includes any content or not.

Take their concerns and confusions seriously.

Time for learners to think more consciously about the mechanics of their writing is useful.

Moving from a recording to a written version of that is useful for those learners who can say something but are unable to commit to to paper. They can recreate punctuation from what they’ve read or said. If students can’t read punctuation out loud then they can’t use the marks correctly. The point of punctuation is not to be correct but to make messages clear.

Pay fanatical attention to small parts of texts in order to grasp the fundamentals. Take one example and go through it exhaustively. There are advantages over going over small parts rather than full texts all the time.

Teach for a purpose, a point, a relevance

In the afternoon, English and maths staff worked with their vocational departments to complete the following:

Embedding English plan

Marking policy per department

Maths takeaway choicesfrom this menu

Coming soon: we’ll be sharing the best examples of these completed documents!


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