Activities for supporting maths and English learners

The use of a ‘Learning Study’ Approach in the project ‘Activities for supporting maths and English learners’

North Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council, HMP Northumberland, Darlington Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and Springboard (Sunderland)

We must be open to learning in different ways

Practitioners from six organisations trialled new exemplar activities that had been developed on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation. Participants adopted a ‘learning study’ approach to trialling the activities.

In some cases, sessions were observed by a representative from a partner organisation but this was often difficult to arrange. Where this was not possible, sessions were observed by a colleague.

Participants did meet regularly throughout the project to share experiences of trialling the activities and to learn from each other’s experiences.

Rationale

The aim of the project was to investigate the newly created exemplar activities, to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of these resources and teaching approaches in meeting the needs of maths and English learners and to report on the training that other teachers may need before using the exemplar activities.

Participating organisations welcomed the opportunity for their specialist, experienced tutors to contribute to the national debate around the new Functional Skills Maths and English activities.

They were able to trial the new activities with learners from some of the most economically deprived areas of the country.



Project Activities and Outputs

Approach and Methdology

The project team met regularly throughout the project. At an initial meeting it was agreed that the organisations would work collaboratively in pairs based on geographical location.

Participants attended a research CPD day where a ‘learning study’ approach was proposed. This was particularly effective in this project as the participants were being asked to evaluate a solution that had already been developed.

Participants collected evidence such as lesson plans, photographic evidence of activities being undertaken and learner completed work.  They sought feedback from learners about the activities they had undertaken and received feedback from the observer of the session. They were able to focus on the effect of the activities on specific learners.

Findings

Keeping learners engaged and motivated is key to retaining individuals on course especially for lower level learners.  The learners really enjoyed the activities and this can only help to motivate them to continue with their learning. The activities are current and purposeful; learners were able to see the direct link from maths and English to everyday life

Project participants valued the collaborative action research approach and welcomed the opportunity to work with representatives of other organisations.  Being able to network with other providers, enabled practitioners to gain an insight into how other organisations teach and how they would best use the resources in future practice. It was agreed that they could be integrated into current teaching programmes easily – either as stand-alone sessions, after the various skills have been grasped, or as dissected, ‘bite-size’ portions to fit the needs of the learner.

Tutors have been able to spend time specifically focusing on their own key learning points from evaluating the activities, something that they often feel that they do not have the time for.

For some participants it was their first opportunity to use action research and this has had a profound effect on them. One teacher described it as a revelation, an opportunity to stop and take stock of just where they were in terms of their teaching, learning and assessment practice and really concentrate on the needs of the learners and how best they are met.

In this project, it proved helpful to begin their investigations by constructively criticising materials which had been produced elsewhere.  This starting point seemed to reduce teachers’ defensiveness about their own practices and fostered collaborative studies which studied how colleagues adapted and improved existing materials.  This evaluative stance helped them give and take feedback from fellow professionals whose opinions were valued as they were borne out of common experience.

Professional Learning

Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices.

Traditionally maths has been taught didactically and learners often fail to see the relevance of maths in everyday life. Through this project participants have been able to explore ways in which they could make lessons more engaging and enabling.

More opportunities for mathematical discussions and investigational work have been introduced within teaching sessions enabling learners to develop problem solving strategies.

Being able to network with other providers, enabled practitioners to gain an insight into how other organisations teach and how they would best use the resources in future practice. It was agreed that they could be integrated into current teaching programmes easily – either as stand-alone sessions, after the various skills have been grasped, or as dissected, ‘bite-size’ portions to fit the needs of the learners.
In a roll-on roll-off class, learners are typically working at different levels and on different topic areas so this project provided an opportunity to bring the learners together as a team, improving collaboration between them. Learners were very positive about the activity and it promoted lots of discussion and opportunities for further learning.

Tutors have been able to spend time specifically focussing on their own key learning points from evaluating the activities, something that they often feel that they do not have the time for.

“The teacher found that by providing the materials, but then stepping back to allow the learners to self-correct was empowering for them. This teacher felt that the use of action research had allowed her the opportunity to reflect on her own teaching practices which had not happened for many years and discover habits which she felt she should change.

One example of changes in her teaching, learning and assessment practice were that instead of stepping in all the time to help or tell learners what was right or wrong, she was able to encourage them to make their own decisions.

She realised when she did this her learners displayed more confidence than before in correcting their own work and in setting their own targets. Using reflective practice had a big impact on this teacher”.

For some it was their first opportunity to use action research and this has had a profound effect on them. One teacher described it as a revelation, an opportunity to stop and take stock of just where they were in terms of their teaching, learning and assessment practice and really concentrate on the needs of the learners and how best they are met.

“My background is Functional Skills English and this project came at a nice point in the evolution of a practising English teacher.

In my prior experience I have already seen so many changes; Basic skills, Key Skills, Adult Literacy, Functional Skills to mention a few, but what next? To be a part of this research and to be able to make a contribution is quite an honour.

I hope my research not only credits, but also supports the next generation of functional skills standards and that my study will also help in the long-term success, skills and progress of any learner who ever undertakes a Functional Skills English course.”

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisational practices

The participants feel that they have benefitted from being able to meet peers from other organisations and being given the opportunity to discuss teaching strategies and resources in a variety of contexts.

Attending meetings such as the dissemination event allowed time to explore and share ideas about what was working or not in the projects they were running. Learning study observations also created an additional dimension to the project and allowed for further exploration of practices.

This would have been further enhanced if the teachers had been able to observe sessions in other organisations but due to timetable commitments that wasn’t possible.

The project gave teachers time to reflect on their current practice and what worked in their teaching and learning. This led to evaluation and changes to practice and these new ways of working provided challenge and motivation.

Evidence was captured by learning study observations and reflective discussion. The template ‘A Guidance Framework – Planning a Learning Study’ which was introduced at an OTLA research CPD day was an excellent resource as it provided structure and a system for future improvement, in that both the host and visitor were forced to consider alternative ways to develop the activity for future use.

At one organisation the project has prompted staff to question the Roll-on/Roll-off principle of permitting constant additions through enrolment to a class as this can interfere with the smooth and coherent delivery of topics and of the development of skills.

One tutor commented that she had completely changed her usual way of teaching from sequential to concrete whereby she used ‘real life travel enquiries’ to look at holidays for some learners who were planning a holiday, a train journey for another learner who was planning to go to London and a bus journey for two other learners who were planning to go on a day trip.

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression.

Keeping learners engaged and motivated is key to retaining individuals on course especially for lower level learners.

The learners really enjoyed the activities and this can only help to motivate them to continue with their learning. The activities are current and purposeful; learners were able to see the direct link from maths and English to everyday life.

One organisation compared groups being taught using the new approaches with groups who were not part of the project and found:

  • Better attendance with OTLA projects (11% for English and 14% for maths) as learners saw the sessions as more interactive and fun.
  • Achievement rates were the same with both groups.
  • Progression rates were better on OTLA projects with lower level adult groups as some of the learners enjoyed the sessions and saw the relevance so moved on from E2 to E3 (overall 22% for maths and English).

One teacher gathered feedback from learners about the activities:

Paul: “It was relevant to what we do and it can only help me”.

Grant: “I liked how we did things that can visibly help us in the long term, I hate doing stuff that’s pointless”.

When I asked the learners what they felt that they had actually learned this morning they clearly stated:

Paul: “I know how to fill in the reflections now for my portfolio without thinking I’ll look stupid.”

Grant: “Writing my reflections was good but I feel more confident with being able to use joining words too.”

Concluding Remarks

Learning from this project

  • Learners reacted positively to the activities and overwhelmingly embraced the opportunity to try something new whilst recognising that the contextualisation of activities made it very relevant to them as individuals.
  • The activities have allowed more opportunities for group and paired work even in mixed ability classes, providing opportunity for discussion, peer support and more independent working.
  • An experienced subject specialist teacher would be able to use the activities but an inexperienced teacher would struggle without guidance.
  • The activities are geared more towards subject specialist teachers and not as useful for vocational tutors as there is little guidance on how to teach the activities and prior teaching may be needed before introducing the topic.
  • Teachers need to be able to adapt the resources to meet the needs of their learners. Pre-planning in advance is still needed.
  • Some of the resources rely on availability of ICT and would have to be adapted for use in situations where it is not available.
  • The wide variety of activities available ensured teachers had a choice in how topics were delivered and they were able to pick the best match for their learners.
  • Project participants valued the collaborative action research approach. They welcomed the opportunity to work with representatives of other organisations but it was often impossible to arrange reciprocal visits because of timetable constraints.

Ongoing impact of the project

After the final report for this project was submitted to the maths and English team at the ETF they commissioned a suite of webinars and CPD courses to introduce the materials and provide guidance on how they can be used effectively. Details of the webinars and courses can be found on the ETF’s website.

Appendices

Here we present some documents that illustrate the collaborative action research processes that were used in this project.

Appendix 1- Project Leader’s final Report (Darlington Borough Council)

Lindsay Ogle (Darlington Borough Council) provides a project leader’s report in which he reflects on the ‘learning study’ approach that was adopted and also reflects on the development of his staff against the Professional Standards (ETF, 2014).

Appendix 2 – Learning Study (North Yorkshire County Council)

Julie Firth and Mandy Sunderland (North Yorkshire County Council) record outcomes from one of the ‘learning study’ sessions that Lindsay observed.

Appendix 3 – Developing and Examining Exemplar Activities to Support English Learners

Karen Robinson (HMP Northumberland) presents an action research report on her experiments with implementing the activities in an offender learning setting.  It proved impossible to arrange collaborative ‘learning study’ observations with partner organisations in this setting so Karen arranged for a colleague to observe her session.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.