I teach at a boys' comprehensive school, having moved there from a girls' grammar school in 2015. This year I have my largest ever Year 12 class, with 27 students. A quarter of the students in my class got a B at GCSE, and I also have a few strong mathematicians who got an A* at GCSE and a distinction in Certificate of Further Maths. So the class is a very mixed group with varying levels of prior knowledge. Their target grades range from an A to a D. When I first started teaching this class they were very chatty. Because of the size of the class it felt more like Year 11 than Year 12. In October I introduced a seating plan - the first time I have had to do so for sixth form - and things improved immediately. The class has matured a lot since then and they are now focused and hard working. I'm hopeful for plenty of As this summer. The size of the class is not as much of a problem as I thought it would be - the main impact is on my marking workload.
Here are some of the things I have changed this year...
1. Modelling good work
In the first few weeks of Year 12 I made a big fuss about the presentation of work. I clarified my expectations by taking photos of good work and displaying these photos on the board when I returned homeworks. Students were visibly proud when I showed their work on the board.
This is a minor thing but I really think it made a difference... A couple of years ago I read a blog post which suggested a vertical layout for binomial expansions:
In September I handed a 'test me' card to every student and told them to ask their parents, friends or siblings to test them on the quadratic formula at home.
4. Grid method
I first wrote about alternatives to algebraic long division here, but I didn't teach the grid method properly until this year. I practised it extensively and decided that it is both more conceptually clear and more efficient than long division, but I was still nervous about teaching a method that is not widely taught. I took the plunge and was so pleased that I did! Even the weakest students picked it up immediately. I'm sure I'm seeing less silly mistakes than I used to with long division.
I introduced logs using the 'power' approach explained in this guide from James Tanton. It's a great introduction to the topic!
5. Independent study
I've always set an assessed homework for each chapter at A level. I give feedback and a grade for every piece of assessed work, which means I have a pile of sixth form marking to get through once or twice a fortnight. I don't do anywhere near this level of marking at Key Stage 3 or 4, but I think that regular feedback is vital at A level. My students are really good at doing their assessed homeworks independently and submitting them on time.
However, the big challenge is getting them to do independent practice (ie work that I don't mark) at home and during their private study periods. This year I issued a course booklet to my students which makes suggestions for how they should use these periods. I refer back to it regularly. At the end of every lesson I set a specific 'independent study' task and remind them that there should never be a time that they say they have no maths homework. In previous years I wasn't so specific about the exercises they should be doing but I've realised that more guidance is necessary for those who are less motivated. This is an ongoing struggle though - I still have some students who do very little independent practice, and it really shows.
6. Exam preparation
I was quite shocked last year when I discovered that one of my Year 13s hadn't done a single past paper in Year 12. Seriously, not even one. This is a huge contrast to my previous school where all of my students would have done every paper available.
This year I made a big thing about the importance of papers at Year 12 Parents Evening and gave my students a checklist of all C1 papers. I will make a similar list for C2 at Easter. If I had the budget I'd print packs of papers for my students to complete rather than get them to print their own.
After half term I will be available for weekly 'paper support sessions' after school where my students can drop-in for help with any questions they've found difficult.
here and here.
I haven't yet worked out what to do with the students who are likely to get a U this summer. They attend weekly intervention after school but unfortunately it's not enough - there are significant gaps in their underlying knowledge. Ideas gratefully received! At my previous school I taught a girl who worked at a U all year and then ended up with a C, so I know it's possible for a student to turn it around.
The time pressure to get through all the content before the summer exams means teaching sixth form always feels like a race against the clock. I really enjoy teaching A level though. It's a shame that this is the last time we'll be teaching C1 and C2. I will miss these modules! It has been such a pleasure to teach them.