This is a post about gimmicks; more specifically little tricks to aid pupils remembering “methods”. Its grown from a tweet put out about a month ago by a genuinely curious NQT. This is my campaign for why such tricks should be eradicated from our classrooms.
It’s taken me a long time to get around to writing this post. Mainly because the start of term has been hectic as always but also because I’m well aware I can be opinionated, set in my beliefs and a stubborn old mule and I wanted to completely reflect before I put this post out. I’m still as stuck I my belief as I was then.
The tweet that started this discussion was put out by an NQT and showed the “butterfly method” for adding and subtracting fractions:
(Google suggests the source of this image is this post)
This instantly triggered an automatic and physical reaction which quite frankly left me feeling more than a little queasy! Cue a tweet to gauge the response of Maths teachers. I’ll be honest here. I was expecting (and hoping) that most would have a similar reaction.
In some cases my expectations were met as Maths teachers demonstrated their disdain for such trickery:
And thanks to Kevin for making me feel normal by having exactly the same physical response 😉
And then I realised that we weren’t all singing from the same hymn sheet. And it was experienced tweachers who I utterly respect and admire fighting for the place for such methods in our classrooms:
I still just cannot get my head around any justification for using these methods in any classroom (I think I may be willing to make exceptions, as some tweeters argued, for Y12 resit groups who are not likely to be using or studying Maths at a higher level and just need to get over the random Grade C hurdle the government has kindly set them.)
So here’s my argument as succinctly and articulately as I can manage:
1: Understanding is EVERYTHING
We need pupils to understand why a method works; the actual nuts and bolts. Why? Because then they will recall it. Because then they can extrapolate it to different areas of Mathematics (algebraic fractions for example). Because then they can see and utilise the beautiful links in Mathematics which make us love the subject “that’s why I learnt about LCMs, that’s when I use them”.
2. We should have high expectations for ALL
I was shocked by the arguments about low attainers and those who struggle with Maths needing/ appreciating methods like this. Of course they will. You’re teaching them a method they can apply by rote. No thinking. Just doing. They’ll sit there happily doing it until the cows come home. They will never understand even if you show them after because this shouldn’t come as any surprise to you; kids are lazy and they’ll always try to take the shortcut. Here’s a suggestion: why don’t we start by assuming they can understand why it works if we teach it well and expect no less of them. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that pupils don’t remember the gimmicks when they walk out of the room, they remember by it making sense to them and being able to work from this understanding to the method and then to the solution.
So there’s my argument: understanding and high expectations. That’s as simple as it boils down for me.
We’re teaching pupils Mathematics. Not teaching pupils how to pass exams. I refuse to be part of an exam factory and it saddens me that some of you don’t. If pupils don’t understand the bottom line is I haven’t taught it well enough not that they need a trick
Some useful links:
I sing his praises a lot but Don Steward has some great resources for fractions and teaching for understanding (use the tag index at the side for other specific fraction topics)
This NRich article discusses teaching fractions for understanding
The Guardian – How to teach fractions article links to resources.