10 September 2017

Cover Work

No one likes being put on cover. We have precious few free periods and we're always ridiculously busy, so last minute cover is an absolute day-ruiner. I lost count of the number of times I had to do cover for other subjects last year. It prompted me to think about what makes a decent cover lesson.

Unlike long term supply, a cover lesson for an unplanned absence is normally delivered by a randomly chosen teacher from another subject who happens to have some non-contact time. These lessons are planned in a hurry, either by an unwell teacher who has logged in from home, or by a busy Head of Department. I think we have to accept that a student may not learn anything new when their teacher is off sick. As long as it's rare, that's not the end of the world. There are plenty of useful things that a student can do independently when their teacher is absent - in fact, it can be a really good opportunity to do some focused practice. To me, the worst kind of cover lessons are those where:
  • The lesson requires expert knowledge on the part of the teacher delivering it. No one should be expected to stand up and teach a full lesson on something that they know nothing about. Cover lessons should be written with non specialists in mind. 
  • The lesson is hard work for the cover teacher. From a staff welfare perspective, we must be nice to our colleagues and not give them anything complicated to deliver or challenging to oversee. Activities should minimise opportunities for disruptive behaviour. No one wants a cover lesson from hell.
  • There isn't enough work for students to do, or the instructions are unclear, or the required technology doesn't work, or there aren't enough resources to go round. Four students huddled around a single textbook isn't ideal. 

Ideally we should always set an assessment in a cover lesson. That works perfectly. The cover teacher simply has to invigilate, and may even be able to get on with their marking or lesson planning. Instructions are clear and the risk of behaviour problems is minimised. However, sometimes the timing isn't right for an assessment.

From a maths perspective, the next best option is a whole lesson's worth of independent work - starting with a reminder of a method (in a textbook, on a worksheet or in a video), then a good set of practice questions and some extension problems. Ideally this lesson will be a continuation of the topic covered in the previous lesson. If your school has textbooks then this is easily done, but for schools without textbooks, I think that Corbett Maths is a very useful source of material.

Below is an example of a standard set of instructions for this kind of cover lesson - this can easily be copied and adapted for any topic.

Cover Lesson: Solving Quadratic Equations by Factorising
  1. Students write down the date and title in their exercise book.
  2. Show this seven minute video: https://corbettmaths.com/2013/05/03/solving-quadratics-by-factorising
  3. Display this slide on the board for the remainder of the lesson: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9L2lYGRiK2bRkhHM19WeGVPT1E/view?usp=sharing 
  4. Hand out these worksheets: https://corbettmaths.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/solving-quadratics-by-factorising-1-pdf.pdf. Students must work independently in their exercise book. They must write down the questions and show all workings.
  5. If a student finishes the entire sheet, hand them these extension problems: http://donsteward.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/two-root.html
  6. Five to ten minutes before the end of the lesson, display or read out the answers and ask students to mark their own work: https://corbettmaths.com/2016/10/15/solving-quadratics-by-factorising-1

This lesson is easy for a non-specialist to deliver. The video ensures that all students are reminded of the method and therefore able to get started. Students then work independently throughout the lesson, getting lots of worthwhile practice done. Perhaps the cover teacher will allow them to quietly ask their partner for help if they get stuck. Meanwhile, depending on the class, the cover teacher (assuming they're not a maths teacher) may even be able to get on with their work.

Mathsbox provides helpful cover lesson resources (with subscription), but I don't know of any other resources available that are specifically designed for cover. Corbett Maths videos and textbook exercises seem to work very well though. I'd love to hear if you've come up with another approach to cover lessons that makes them easy to plan, easy to run and worthwhile for students. Please share!

1 comment:

  1. I am off on Wednesday so someone else is teaching all of my math classes that day. I already have emailed the sub teacher who teaches art useful links to some helpful math resources. I have also told her that I want the higher ability groups to do some independent work as well. Basically the whole class knows my expectations for them in terms of work and that I expect a bit more of this particular set (they are a medium ability set, grades 4-6). This particular lot will be working on some difficult bearing, vector and boxplot exam style questions.
    With my other sets, I prefer to differentiate. My lowest attaining set will be expected to do a whole numeracy five a day starter activity for the first part of the lesson then they will either do more multiplication or focus on one of the topics which they find really hard. Again I have emailed the sub teacher some practice questions in case for them to do during the lesson.
    The highest ability set will be asked to complete a higher exam paper independently at first and then work in pairs correcting and marking it.