November 22, 2010

How to give instructions?

I struggled again today. In the last few lessons with Year 7 I've experimented with verbal instructions (bad move: in one ear , out the other/ not listening at all/ etc) and writing them on the board (bad move: pupils do not bother to look at the board). Today I used the differentiated worksheets that I spent ages creating, which had very clear instructions at the top and a worked example. It should have caused fewer problems, not more! The other worksheet I've used in a lesson was a 10ticks piece, which I chose pupils questions from. Some had problems understanding which questions they were supposed to do, even when I told them individually and wrote it on their actual sheet. It's a mixed ability class so I do personalise the activities where I can, and tell pupils to do or not do certain questions depending on whether they need it at that stage or not. After an initial comprehension of the instructions, and a check from me, it somehow gets lost. By the end of the activity they have done something far removed from what I asked. 

I really don't know what to do. I tried asking someone to repeat the instructions back once but they seemed patronised by this. In any case, it only checks that that random person understands, and only checks they follow at that minute. Given how quickly instructions seem to leak away, this isn't a useful activity at all! 

I'm also getting irritated by so many of the pupils lack of initiative. They cannot write the date and title unless given to them. They won't underline it with a straight line unless asked (and in many cases, lent a ruler). They can't do a question unless given an identical answer. If they can't do it they shout, in increasingly loud and annoyed tones "Miss I can't do it! I need help!" then "What so I have to wait, *not learning anything*, while you do something else?". They won't try. I can't tell if it's because they are used to being spoon-fed or if I'm being a pushover. 

In previous lessons it's gone pretty well and the level of help needed has been manageable. They put their hands up, and sometimes they'd gently and tentatively say "Miss?" to make sure I'd noticed them. It's descended into loud and aggressive demands for my attention. Much of it is that they want me to read the question to them. 

Today we did the angles in a triangle. There was a somewhat long and confused starter cutting up triangles and rearranging the angles into a straight line (lo and behold, 180 degree total!),  confused since they weren't given step by step instructions, we just did one together with my giant sugar paper triangle on the board. I thought they would be able to replicate what they'd just seen and been involved in. Heck no. 

Then was my carefully differentiated worksheets, tailored especially to them, containing all the information they needed, instructions, an example, hints on the questions which combined angles-on-a-line with angles in a triangle. Simply couldn't start, as no-one could read the example and then replicate it on the first question, deliberately chosen to be the same question with different numbers to start them off. They needed me to read through the example for them. I literally read out my own writing! 

Then, after a series of questions giving two angles in increasing wonky strange triangles, and find the unknown angle (deliberately putting it in different corners), there was a question with a triangle and one side extended with the exterior angle given instead. AKA use facts about angles on a straight line to find the interior angle. Then you have two angles in a triangle like the previous ones. Impossible. Even with a hint which said "use facts about angles on a line to find this angle first". When I read it out, they could tell me the angle on a line. But, as more than one girl informed me rather angrily, that doesn't work here as the angle given in the triangle and the exterior angle given elsewhere added to 195. Obviously, they just wanted to blindly add the two angles then take away from 180 degrees. At least they noticed that 180 -195 doesn't give a valid angle in a triangle. Several of them told me this meant angles on a line don't work here - as if the angle on a line only sums to 180 in certain, triangle free (planar) environments!? Shame they usually insist that either I'm wrong or maths is broken, no-one *ever* says "Miss, my answer can't be right because xxxxx, but I can't see where I went wrong". 

My feedback was to give an example of how to do it before each different variety of question. I'm going to next lesson. I'm in the maths computer room, where I wanted to do an awesome Geogebra activity. Here is an (isosceles) triangle. Move the points in the corners around. What do you notice about the angles/lengths. Repeat with equilateral triangle. Next:  names of the triangles. Can you accurately draw some of your own? Can we have two sides match but not two angles? And two angles match but not two sides. 3 angles/3 sides? Plenary: Mini whiteboards. What were they called again? What does that mean?

But we don't have Geogebra. I'm told the maths department have been asked IT for some dynamic geometry for a long time and it's a no-no. I stand no chance of getting it by Thursday. All I have at my disposal is Autograph, which isn't ideal for angles in triangles. In any case, it's only available on computers which aren't in the maths computer room (logic!). 

Also, so far these pupils hate to be given a "think about it for a bit" task. They want instant answers. If it doesn't occur to them, they ask me and I am expected to provide an understandable and near-instant solution. "Just play around, see what you notice" is not an acceptable start, no matter if I later add questions to help them. I can't imagine them trying. They start class-wide "it's tooooo hard! I don't get it!" yet won't accept class-wide support, they want their own. 

What was successful last lesson, which was a surprise at it was at the frazzling end and was the first time together, was a mini-whiteboard plenary. I asked for angle sum in a triangle, angles in a right angle, etc then "Give me an acute angle. Any number of degrees which makes an acute angle". After an initial "huh?" I added that there were lots of possible answers and some of them really went for it. I had lots of 45 and 30 degrees but also some 1 deg, 89.9deg. Yet if I'd give them such angles they'd freak about how hard it is! Definitely a good move. I then asked everyone for an obtuse angle, to one decimal place. Lots added .0 to the end of their angle. I quite liked that answer. It satisfies the question and demonstrates they knew they could just use what is effectively their previous (and correct) answer. Bonus points for mathematical corner cutting. 

So my plan next lesson may not involve computers (depends if I can find a suitable non-safety-blocked activity - I've got one awesome "here are a ton of triangles, put in isosceles/equilateral/scalene piles") and will probably only involve them a little. I'll give very exact instructions, slowly and in multiple formats. I'll give an example of equal hardness to the questions I'll then set. I think open questions are my way in to independent thought, as I can set questions which can have easy answers. Perhaps I'll do the Geogebra demo I planned on the board, with the angles and lengths appearing next to it in a list. Which equal each other at the start? Keep an eye on them. Do the numbers change? Do the pairs of sides/angles still equal each other though? Then: these are the angles and sides which match up. Draw this one. Colour matching sides and angles. Check they copied correctly. Is this (incorrect triangle) allowed? Accurately (pencil, ruler and protractor) draw your own. Label angles and sides. Swap with partner. Check it. Do again. Then mini-whiteboard plenary of properties of the various triangles. 

I'm not accepting all this calling out and demands which are bordering on disrespectful anymore. They also dawdle their way through simple instructions they used to be good at doing. Seems my requests to be ready in X amount of time are meaningless. Especially as they'll call out for individual help/reassurance at this point when it's clearly whole-class time. The fight for individual attention really is intense. 

Lets see how that goes. 


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. This frustrates me too. I’ve observed this sort of thing even with year 11s- absolutely no initiative, no independent thinking. In my year 7 class, I have to explain individually to every pupil what to do, despite it being written on the board and on the top of their worksheet. Perhaps there needs to be a PSHE type lesson to do with thinking skills that would teach them how to be more independent?

    27 Nov 2010, 09:23


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