Category Archives: Numeracy

Thanks for the memories, coach

It is with a sense of disappointment and disbelief I learned that the literacy and numeracy coaching program was to be scrapped in schools.

I have been fortunate enough to work with both literacy and numeracy coaches in my classroom over the last few years and can attest to the value of this program.


When I first started working with a coach, they would sit in my classroom and take notes about what I was doing. I felt each week when they came in to observe my lesson that I was ‘on show’; that I needed to pull out the smoke and mirrors  and put on a performance to impress. What followed the lesson would be a very one way conversation with the coach asking me numerous questions about what I thought and what I believed I should do next. This was frustrating.  I wanted them to tell me what I was doing well, what I was doing wrong and what I needed to do to fix it. If I knew what I was doing wrong, wouldn’t I be doing something about it already ?  The nature and idea of coaching wasn’t clearly explained to me and I wasn’t getting what I wanted.

When it was finally explained to me what the program was actually about and as I developed a level of trust with the coaches I was working with, did I begin to benifit from the program.

Working with a coach encourages you to critically reflect on your teaching practice through effective questioning. I have written previously about the value and power of these conversations and how they have encouraged me to modify my teaching practice for the better. Whilst coaches arn’t about providing the answers, they do bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience. They often visit many other schools and bring to the table other examples of good teaching practice. The coaches I worked with sat in on my lessons and saw first hand what was occuring within my classroom. They knew my students, and in turn, were able to direct the questioning based on what they had observed.  

Through coaching, I have learnt how to support my students in articulating the thinking behind their learning and be more criticial when reflecting on their own work. Basic statements like “I worked well” and “I didn’t get it” were no longer being used. Instead student reflections started off with statements like “I found it difficult when…”, “I need learn more about….” or “something new I learnt today was…”

I learnt that it’s not about “covering the curriculum”. The use of quality assessment data needs to be what drives the teaching and learning program; not a scope and sequence chart that sees you “cover” topics on a two week rotational basis over two years. I have learnt about how my students learn and maintain concentration throughout a session and modified the structure of my lessons to capatilise on this.

Through coaching, I learnt more about web 2.0 tools. I was introduced to to web conferencing as a tool to connect to other educators. From here,  I learnt about blogging, twitter, wikis and a range of other resources that I could not imaging having access to now.

Last year my teaching team was privillaged to work with Cathy Toll, the guru of coaching. To see her in action is truly amazing. Her ability to remember names and facilitate a conversation through questioning is something I think all teachers wish they could do effectivly within their classrooms. Cathy worked with our team looking at strengths and what barriers stopped us from working effectively. Through questioning, Cathy drew from us what we already knew and got us to develop a plan on how we were going to work together in the future.

It has often been said that the best professional learning happens closest to the classroom. The coaching program acknowledges this and creates a personal learning program based on the needs of the teacher.  Creating a personal learning program is something we as teachers are encouraged to do for our students, yet it amazes me how this does not translate across to most professional learning programs for teachers.

So, to Pip, Kerry, Helen, Emma, Jono, Tayna, Heather, Maney and Kerryn (and any other coach I’ve had an interaction with and failed to mention) thank you for what you have done to improve my teaching. The government may not yet be able to measure the outcomes of your work in a way they would like to, but I, and the students I have taught know the difference you have made to my teaching and to their learning.

Earn & Learn



Another post I’ve been meaning to finish off for a while. This topic came about following a conversation I was having on twitter with another teacher about creating online bank accounts for students.

Earn and Learn is a financial awareness program developed by Rob Vingerhoets. This program sees students operate in a way similar to a small town or community.

Initially, students receive a base weekly payment for the work they complete. Students who undertake leadership roles or have extra responsibilities within the classroom are able to receive additional payments. Such resposnibilities might include taking the lunch orders to the canteen, cleaning the class library, setting up the computers, turning on and off the lights when we enter and leave our room.

Students also pay tax through the money they earn, make weekly “rent” payments for their seat and locker, take out insurance policies against forgetting their homework or receving an injury, contribute to superannuation and make purchases. Students operate businesses within the classroom and organise their finances through credit, debit and cheque accounts at our class bank.

This book was originally published in 1990’s and utilises a lot of black line masters. Wanting to incorporate 21st century learning, I took many aspects of this and transfered them across to computers; the main one being the setup of the students banking accounts through a series of excel spreadsheets. Students also created sales ledgers and the sign writer used publisher to create the signs for the various businesses  (I don’t have 1:1 in my school, but imagine the possibilities !)

This program encompasses many domains of the Victorian Essential Learning Standards and reflects a variety of attributes of PoLT. Students need to ensure that necessary documentation is completed each week to ensure they are paid; this encourages and supports students to take responsibility for their learning (Principle 2.1). Students work together in teams to manage and operate their businesses and to seek support and clarification; this uses strategies that build skills of productive collaboration (Principle 2.2). Students use their visual art skills and publishing applications to generate signage for their businesses. Spreadsheet applications are used to monitor their income and expenditure. This capitalises on students’ experience of a technology rich world and has students using technologies in ways that reflect professional and community practices (Principle 3.4 & 6.3)

Since introducing this program, student attendance figures within my class increased, and quality of work and assessment results improved. I have also supported colleagues to implement this program within their classes. As a collective, we are now discussing the strengths and weaknesses of this program and looking at how we can develop this program as we move towards an open plan learning environment for the following year. This links with our school Annual Implementation Plan goal of increasing student motivation towards learning….

It’s been great fun !

Do you run Earn & Learn in your classroom ?
Have you made modifications to the program to suit your needs ?
How have you incorporated the use of ICT to assist you in managing the program ?

The bus stops here



Earlier this year, I posted about some challenges and frustrations I was having with the way I, my team and my school was going about the teaching of Mathematics.

To summarise:

“We teach Contiki Tour Maths”, I proclaim.

I go on to explain. “The way we teach maths is just like travelling on a Contiki Tour. We climb on a bus, travel around, take a look round and the good stuff and before you know it, we jump back on and move on to the next town. That’s how we teach Maths. We pick a topic, do stuff with it for two weeks then move onto the next topic.”

Through Twitter and other online reading, I discovered the work of Dan Myer through the TED Talk Videos. His post on developing good problems provided me with a good starting point.

I shared Dan’s work with my numeracy coach and used the opportunity to discuss and reflect on what I was finding.

This lead to the creation of the Dog’s Breakfast Project. Using the Xtranromal online video editing software, she created a video to engage students with the topic. The multimedia engaged students in the task and featured a great deal of data required to solve the problem. This lead to talking about what information matters (also mentioned in Dan Myer’s work)

The tasks were presented to students in the form of a menu. Students were required to complete mandatory components, other sections required students to select from a range of tasks whilst other tasks were option. This allowed students who experience difficult with maths to still experience success and exit the task at a point they felt comfortable with whilst those who excel at maths were provided with additional challenges.  

The task also featured a rubric that made explicit to students the expectations of the task and what they were being assessed on.

Instead of getting “the answer” the focus was on the process. Many of what we would have considered our best maths students really struggled with this concept. When we asked them to explain how they got the answer common responses were “I just did it” or some form of grunted responses “Ehh-Ha-Huh” that was the equivalent of “I don’t know”

What we learnt from this process though was the need to scaffold the students through the process. This approach was a big change for us as teachers but also for our students who had become used to our style of teaching. Additional projects we have undertaken now include graphic organisers and templates to assist students with recording the information. It is our hope that over time we can remove these tools from the task and have students develop their own means to record and collect data.

What I’m  loving about the way we have changed our teaching is that it now encompasses so much more. The work we are doing is based on ‘real-world’ problem solving. No longer are we touching on a ‘topic’ in an isolated 2 week block, never to be touched again until it comes up again in the 2 year cycle. I’m enjoying the teaching of mathematics so much more and I can see my enthusiasm transferring across to my students.

We still have a long way to go. Creating such projects is not a simple task – No longer can we open up our Teacher Resource BLM book and pick out activities that explore a topic. That said, some tasks in these books do assist in providing a starting point; it’s the process of finding the problem and taking it that extra step further into a richer task that is the challenge for us; one that I’m sure we will improve at over time and with experience.

The Contiki Tour bus stops here.