When do the children see the adults talking?

Every year, the tally of children rocking up to reception year with speech and language deficits seems to increase; some have an American accent (!), some have no clear consonant sounds, some have a severely limited vocabulary and some don’t speak at all. I think pretty much everyone is in agreement about the positive effects of sharing civilised conversation and food at the dinner table on children’s emotional and intellectual development (research shows it is better for building vocabulary than reading to children*) and how lack of dinner table conversation may impact on development, but have we taken the opportunity to look at the life of a disadvantaged child to see when exactly they might have any kind of adult conversation modeled to them? For some children I fear are not seeing or hearing civilised conversation at all. What’s going on?

  • Even where communal dining experiences happen, children are now allowed to interject, talk over or even dominate the topics of conversation (this is, I think, more prevalent among middle class families) which effectively prevents them from learning to politely sit and listen and maybe pick up the plethora of subtle words, phrases and concepts from adults who are conversing around them.
  • When eating out, children are quite often given an iPad or a phone to entertain themselves with, so they are effectively sent into a conversation-less and self-absorbed bubble. Even teenagers are allowed to opt out in this scenario.
  • Adults tend not to talk on the phone and instead prefer to use some kind of text messaging app/service. I’m pretty sure that I would’ve learned so much from hearing my mum gossip away on the phone, but I’ll admit that my own children never hear me on the phone (I avoid it, partly because I’ve been conditioned to ‘put the children first’ and always be at their service).
  • Nobody goes to church any more, or even regularly attends village gatherings, so children don’t get to regularly see or hear any kind of script for conversing with various types of people (strangers, close friends and family). What do people regularly do? Shopping. Not much conversation there, other than “Do you have this in my size?” and generally treating fellow man like The Help.
  • Single-parenthood. For a while, a couple of years ago, I was on my own; I’m very sure that my children would’ve suffered from not seeing any kind of regular intellectual or caring adult conversation modeled to them (although I always engage my own children at the dinner table) during that time. This must be the case for the hundreds of thousands of children who (mainly) live with one parent (usually the mum). That one parent must also experience some kind of conversational-ability attrition rate due to the fact that they are tied to looking after their children 24-7, sometimes without any respite at all.
  • Even at nurseries and playgroups, years ago you would let your little ones go and play with all the toys or join in with singing while you sat with a cup of coffee and nattered to a fellow mum, knowing full well that a few toddlers around you would be eavesdropping, but nowadays (actually, this might just be my observation) it seems as if every mum must forgo that coffee and a natter and join in with the singing and playing down on the floor (which knackers your knees!). Upshot: no adult conversation to be heard.
  • In the classroom, the TA is either not there (as in my case) or has been brow-beaten into maximising ‘teaching and learning’ by shoe-horning interventions into every crevice of the day. The upshot is that they never see the teacher and TA ask each other how they are. Further, at lunchtime, I’m flapping about with meetings, clubs and preparing for the afternoon such that I never stop to have even the briefest of conversations with a colleague. Essentially, the children in my class could just see a servile automaton constantly teaching and handing out worksheets/scaffolds etc and I’m sure many other children up and down the country are experiencing the same thing.

It amazes me that while we espouse the benefits of learning a new language through ‘immersion‘, we collectively conspire to immerse our youngest generations in nothing at all. We then teach them how to read and write (using systematic synthetic phonics instruction – the best way to learn to read), but they do not understand the words or phrases and they have fewer words, phrases and facts in their heads to write. Nursery and playgroup leaders can only do so much, as can EYFS reception year teachers. What can be done? What do we need?

  • A massive, collective realisation of how we are effectively going backwards as a species in terms of emotional and cultural intelligence.
  • A campaign to ‘bring back conversation’ to our daily lives (‘Conversation is not just for Christmas dinner, it’s for life!).
  • Non-patronising information for parents about the importance of not limiting adult conversation when looking after children.
  • Subtle opportunities for children to hear adults at school be nice to each other and talk about interesting things – perhaps more break times or even not being so frantic about deploying the TA.
  • We could even go as far as to have teachers sat near to children at lunches, but my fear in this case would be that teachers would be minded to only talk to children about what the children want to talk about which doesn’t exactly teach them how to take turns, be nice or hear a bigger range of vocabulary and phrases. In many cases, teachers would just end up doing constant behaviour management (“Stop throwing the fork on the floor!”) which would be depressing and exhausting.

I did see one EYFS reception year in a private school integrate snack time as part of their ‘whole-child’ education. The children were taught a script for serving each other juice/milk (out of jugs!) and plain biscuits while the teachers sat with them asking them about their day, expecting the children to do the same back. At lunch, the children were sat with a teacher being shown how to sit up straight, use a knife and fork properly and, again, have civilised conversation. It helped that the class sizes were much smaller. In state schools I have only ever seen rushed snack times where the adults run around waiting on the children hand and foot and the children might have the whiteboards out or some kind of instructional video on. Very interesting. I guess if Ofsted came though, they would see ‘No wasted opportunities for teaching and learning’.

dinner2

It does help if you are actually teaching, rather than getting children to constantly [not] discover, do group-work etc because at least that way the ratio of adult talk to child-talk is better, even if they’re not hearing any kind of day-to-day vocabulary and phrases. However, if behaviour is poor then children are only really hearing short snippets of interesting sentences punctuated with relentless reminders to ‘do the right thing’ such as refraining from poking each other, playing with rulers, fiddling with shoes, talking over the teacher, calling out, making silly noises, humming, using the mini WBs for cartoon practice etc combined with regular praise for those children who are doing the right thing.

Anyway, the least we can do is be aware of how children need to hear at least a little bit of adult, civilised conversation.

Who’s with me?

*I’m not saying we shouldn’t read to children, in case anyone gets the Venn diagrams in their heads mixed up. In fact, we should read lots of stories to children!

The problem with problems

The problem with problems is that if you’re only looking for problems, then, surprise surprise, you’ll only find problems. Adopting ‘problem seeking and solving’ mode most of the time would make you miserable, don’t you think? Sometimes, people get so deep into problem solving that they end up seeing problems where there are none. Given this situation, is it worth considering how school policies, ethos, protocols etc might drive everyone into a relentless ‘problem solving’ mode such that everyone ends up really miserable? In case you’re starting to feel a bit confused, take the everyday responsibility of primary teachers to monitor friendships and social interactions of children both in the classroom and in the playground: you’ve got to adopt ‘problem finding’ mode for the entire duration of break duty and through your lessons. Further, in terms of resource allocation, this means that the majority of decisions and allocations of resources are reactionary, rather than proactive: see a child looking a bit sad, go to said child and deploy comforting words, ask some nice children to play with them, make a note in the behaviour log about said child and a mental note to follow up their social progress the next day etc.

problem
Do you see any happy faces?

I’m not sure there’s any way round this and perhaps this blog is purely an observation rather an attempt to try and square some kind of educational circle. Even marking books is all about problem seeking: make a note of those children who, despite lots of explanation, modelling, scaffolding etc still didn’t ‘get it’ and then wearily going out during the last bit of lunchtime (left after frantic marking) to pull them in for a same-day intervention. Behaviour is another area where teachers have to be in constant problem find-and-solve mode because low-level disruption is so commonplace (and many children these days seem to default to cheeky monkey mode whenever you stop looking at them). I find this really wears me down because my head is constantly filled with problems and I can never dwell on the positives or really concentrate on forging a path ahead for the children.

Given the above, this is one of the reasons why I like the sound of what goes on at Michaela Community School: the systems that are in place (which put the onus on the children to work hard, for example) free the teachers from being in problem finding mode all of the time and enables them to adopt a more positive mindset of concentrating on teaching and training their charges to be kind, hard-working and intelligent. My hypothesis is that in schools where systems, protocols, routines and expectations have been created and are non-negotiable, the mental health of teachers (and children) is much better. The trouble is that it is commonplace for management within schools to increase the amount of ‘scanning for problems’ that teachers must do, such as expecting huge spreadsheets to be generated and certain numbers to be flags for adding yet more intensity to that child’s educational experience. This, in a nutshell, is probably what drives me to blog so much; I am actually trying to create a positive future by writing about possible ways to free myself from being in problem-seeking mode all the time. I think this is what drives many teachers to blog.

Perhaps all that can be done is to be aware of how, in adopting any new policy or minding teachers to be on the lookout for yet another flag, number or behaviour, we are loading up their minds with problems, problems and more problems. Perhaps we could make an effort to provide mental ‘balance’ by creating systems where successes are celebrated for the teachers? Even better, think about how decisions can be made that free the teacher from having to be in problem-finding mode all the time.

Who’s with me?

A DNA test for all children?

This got me thinking. Over the last few years it has become apparent to me that identification of children with SEN early on in primary schools seems to happen in the complete absence of awareness of the plethora of syndromes and conditions that are genetic or hormonal in origin, or just down to nutritional deficiencies. I think it would be a good idea for children to undergo a health screening as they come into the school system and even if it didn’t include a DNA test, we could certainly do with blood tests to identify, before it is too late, potential hormonal conditions or nutritional deficiencies that affect cognitive function and development that are easily treatable. Further, educators themselves seem to be completely ignorant of the common (and treatable) disorders of the endocrine system that affect cognitive function and development, so I would like to see all primary SCITT courses include a session or two about common medical conditions in order to increase awareness of children’s needs: I am quite concerned that children with the potential need for a statement are simply funneled through the system that ends up with a generic ‘General developmental delay’ written down on their EHCP (or on their IEP) by the Ed Psych when in fact they may have Cushing syndrome, for example.

dna
I’ll admit, DNA is fascinating to me

Some conditions are easily identifiable when you know about how they affect fat distribution around the face and body, or how they affect limb growth or joint mobility. There are certain physical signs to observe and think about. How many people know about the link between Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which is genetic in origin and leads to hypermobility, and autism? How many people know that Marfan syndrome is linked with ADHD? I’m not sure that educators know about these two syndromes, let alone how they might affect or be associated with cognitive function. Some conditions lead to precocious puberty, yet how often have I heard from educators that children with SEN seem to go through puberty early?

What’s the point in knowing all this information? The point is that it would help us to help children and also to make parents more aware too.

Who’s with me?

 

Constantly asking children to think about their feelings

I don’t know if many educators have twigged a key difference between schooling today and many years ago is just how much we get primary-aged children to think about themselves and their feelings; the result is that everything ends up being questioned and analysed in their heads. As a relative ‘outsider’ to education, this seems really weird. Perhaps this is because my own upbringing was rather old-fashioned, but my childhood-self would’ve much preferred the status quo of mostly doing as you are told and not having too much say in everything: it frees you up to think about numbers and imagining you’re living on your own island (well, a sibling or two was allowed) where all the animals could talk. I think if I were to be asked every 5 minutes how I felt about lessons, teachers, what I was wearing, what food I ate, what constitutes good behaviour and whether my friendships were actually real, I would have ended up completely nuts (and I’m already bonkers enough as it is). So, why do we constantly make children analyse the minutiae of (school) life in terms of how it makes them feel?

In asking children how they feel about something like, for example, uniform, the following thoughts occur in their heads:

  1. I wasn’t bothered before because I just accepted it, but now I think about it, I actually don’t like it
  2. This must explain why I don’t feel good in lessons and can’t learn as well
  3. Come to think of it, I don’t like the rules about ear piercings either
  4. Uniform makes me sad

And what about asking a child to ‘rate’ their maths lesson with a smiley/neutral/unhappy face:

  1. I wasn’t bothered before because I just accepted it, but now I think about it, I actually don’t like fractions because it’s a bit tricky and I got quite a few questions wrong
  2. This must explain why I don’t feel good compared to, say, a day at Alton Towers where I don’t make any mistakes at all
  3. Come to think of it, I don’t like any maths lessons
  4. Maths makes me sad
happy
This seems like a good idea, but little children tend to base their picture choice on how they feel and so many other factors contribute (eg. they have just had a falling out with a friend). The fact is, they’re constantly being asked to think about their feelings which is unhealthy.

Behaviour is another area where children are, in some schools, constantly required to look inwards to their feelings for the answer. A child will typically be asked to ‘make the right choice’, but the child will only resort to thinking about how they feel about something (since they are young and haven’t fully developed rational thought or the bigger picture) and if they’re not told off or given some kind of sanction then there won’t be any ‘sad feelings’ to try and avoid, nor will they ever learn that their actions affect others. Further, this situation sends the message to the child that they can simply make up the rules of life based on how it all feels to them at the time and if they’re not being educated by parents on the ‘right choices’ and the ‘correct behaviours’ then how will they ever know what to do?

Personally, I think it would be better to not have children constantly looking inwards to their feelings and instead just give them a set of rules for behaviour, uniform and the understanding that they are in school, first and foremost, to learn. Are we not making children incredibly unhappy when we constantly ask them to look inwards to examine how they feel about everything? Are we not causing them unnecessary worry? How are we teaching children to simply put their feelings to one side and accept life, dealing with it as it comes and focusing on a positive future?

An oft overlooked consequence of training children to look constantly look inwards to their feelings for answers is that we are also at the same time training children to not think about the bigger picture or about other people. Little children absolutely cannot deduce that uniform prevents bullying or that being good at maths takes hard work, practice and leads to fuller participation in adult society (and a better chance of making a decent living) and unless someone spells it out to them and makes them feel guilty about it, they absolutely will not think about how their messing about is deeply upsetting to other children and the teacher. Some children (and some adults) will never be able to understand how their actions affect others, so that is why we have rules: to enforce good behaviour until it becomes a habit rather than a ‘choice’. Further, in constantly asking children to think about how they feel in terms of behaviour, many will feel completely justified in doing whatever they want (such as hitting another child ‘because he didn’t let me join in and it made me sad’). This is not something I would want to encourage, but it is inadvertently being encouraged in many schools in the name of ‘putting the child first’.

Of course, I’m not saying that children should never think about their feelings at all, but that we need to dial down the frequency of their being required to look inwards in order to help them develop the ability to look outwards. My solution would be to go back to letting children have a proper childhood where they don’t have to constantly worry about making the wrong choices or whether they might be feeling sad at any point. Let’s just have behaviour rules and the expectation that children accept their education is good for them, freeing up their little heads to play, learn and be happy. If children do the wrong thing, then we should let them know they have broken a rule and made others unhappy, that they should never do that again.

Who’s with me?

A yearly test? Bring it.

Right, a very small number of primary schools are seeing the evidence-based light and switching to knowledge-based curricula; hopefully this trend will continue and then we will be rid of this ‘Let the kids bumble their way through life not really learning, so long as they’re happy doing things that interest them’ nonsense once and for all. We’ve also got good things happening in maths and English (eg. phonics, proper SPG lessons, practice of standard algorithms and learning maths facts off by heart) in those schools where management are similarly enlightened.

taking-a-test
A no-fuss test

It’s time to start thinking about some kind of simple, yearly national test so that everyone, including parents, really knows how a child is doing (IMO = how much effort they’re putting in). What would it look like and what would it test? First off, it would be MCQ style which is easier to mark (use the technology!) and could also test for misconceptions at the same time. All the children would need is a bit of extra paper to do their maths calculations on and this could, I guess, be attached to the paper as evidence with an additional box marked ‘Used formal algorithms’ for the teacher to fill in. Ah, they’d need a pencil too and to learn how to either tick/cross/colour in boxes. Then all the papers would be sent off to be fed through some kind of machine with the results winging their way back to schools and parents in no time at all. Too much paper? Let’s make it an online test then.

What’s in the test? Everything, hopefully, except extended writing. Certainly we could have science, maths, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, reading, history, geography, music theory, R.E…….all the knowledge. It would all take a couple of hours (in different sittings) and most children in primary schools do regular tests anyway in every year group, not just SATs year groups, so why not do this test instead? I would save the teachers hours and hours cross-referencing birthdates with standardised scores and creating enormous spreadsheets for the half termly progress meetings!

Now let’s deal with all the potential problems:

Child can’t read? Read the test to them then.

Child can’t hold a pencil? Have the TA fill in the test for them then.

Child doesn’t like tests? Tell them it’s a quiz, promise them a biscuit after and use positive language rather than making them internalise adult worries about mental health issues.

Child won’t sit still and be quiet? OK, this one’s a tough one because I think all children, with training, can learn to sit still (they do when they’re engrossed on the iPad, for example). We all, according to the science stuff I have read, have frontal lobes and can therefore learn the habits of inhibition. Child still won’t sit still and be quiet? They can do the test by themselves then, before or after school in smaller chunks of time.

Child prefers to play outside and would rather do ‘kinaesthetic learning’? Tell them that life isn’t about doing whatever we want, whenever we want.

Child might get distressed about results? Now, I don’t understand the fuss about KS2 SATs on this one either because children aren’t actually told if they’ve ‘passed’ or ‘failed’; the results (which, by the way, mention nothing about passing or failing, rather a scaled score and whether they have achieved the expected standard) go to the school and the parents and it is for the parents to decide what information is given to a child. If there are educators going around telling children that they’ve ‘failed’ a test, then these educators need to be reported. Anyway, back to my MCQ test: the results (raw percentage correct for each subject area and total ‘points’ score) should go to the parents with information about the national average so that they can get some sense of where their children are in relation to this. Then, the parent can choose whether to give their child their score accompanied by a piece of their mind as to how proud/disappointed they are.

Sure, some parents would end up getting an almighty reality check as to how little their child has chosen to learn, but some struggling parents might also feel good about how, despite working long hours for low wages and still struggling to pay the gas bill, all those tired moments spent reading with their child or assisting with homework have really paid off. Trust me, if your life is a bit shit and you feel ground down, finding out that your child is doing well is one of the most glorious and joyful moments for a parent. Further, we should never forget the impact that a father’s ‘I am proud of you, son,’ has on a young lad who is tempted to try and gain the ‘respect’ of peers who only want to see him act like a clown.

Parents really are an untapped resource and, contrary to the opinion of some educators who have rather low expectations of certain kinds of families, they all want their children to do well; over the past few years I have had to turn away many parents who wanted to find out the exact results of tests we administer in class as they were so desperate to know exactly how their child was doing. Why do we deny them this and what are we so afraid of? That they might find out the truth? A no-fuss test like this incentivises parents to take more of an interest in what their child is learning if they actually knew which subject areas children were being taught in that year (and would stop them from assuming that the purpose of a school is to only teach children to be happy). I’m sorry, but cross curricular topics like ‘The Seaside’ or ‘All about me’ on a school website tell parents nothing at all about which exact areas of history, geography or music theory they would be learning, especially if the accompanying spiel is all ‘Children will be using their skills of collaboration and creativity to evaluate their design and technology projects, incorporating their understanding of how different materials sourced from the local environment work together to recreate a famous landmark while discussing key science themes‘ rather than ‘Children are going to use loo rolls to make the leaning tower of Pisa and hopefully learn about structural integrity and gravity in a fun way‘.

So, let’s have a yearly test.

Who’s with me?

 

Is too much choice making children miserable?

This blog post was inspired by a recent chat I had with a friend who is part of the home-ed scene. We were talking about behaviour and she mentioned that among the extreme ‘child-led’ faction (yes, there are different factions) where children are given freedom to choose what to learn, what to do and are asked constantly how they feel about something, they are self-centred, badly behaved and miserable. It would seem that all that lovely freedom doesn’t lead to happiness, in fact, quite the opposite. I couldn’t find any academic research on choice and happiness in children, but we are all familiar with what is known as the ‘Paradox of choice‘ and how adults are affected (basically, too much choice makes us miserable); should we also think about how choice might affect little children?

Creating ‘independent learners’ usually features on primary school mission/vision statements and is especially evident in the EYFS reception year classroom. Although this document is quite old, the sentiments and direction within it still hold sway in primary schools up and down the country, minding teachers to, among other strategies, use ‘choice’ as a way of developing ‘independent learners’.

“…..time for children to follow their own ideas, to make their own choices, and develop as self-regulating learners”

Providing little children with lots of choice is, on the face of it, kind, caring and would in theory lead to children being more independent, but I think it just makes them miserable, ‘picky eaters’ who are never satisfied and are constantly thinking about their feelings. They’re not able to think rationally because they’re little children (some adults still can’t think rationally and instead just depend on how they ‘feel’ for direction in life); surely the Choice paradox is actually worse for little children?

Buffet
All this choice leads to nothing but regret (and a stomach ache)

What kind of choices to primary children have these days that didn’t exist when we were children?

  • ‘Choose your challenge’ in all lessons
  • Choice of activities in EYFS reception year
  • Which exotic piece of fruit to choose for break time snack
  • What to have for school lunch
  • When, during lessons, to have a sip of water
  • Choosing a colour/smiley/unhappy face to put by the LO at the end of every lesson
  • Which club to go to after school
  • Which enrichment activity/club to go to during lunchtimes
  • Which teacher/headteacher will be employed (student council interview)
  • What to research during topic lessons
  • Which role to take on during groupwork sessions
  • Which storyline to follow for independent writing
  • Whether to behave based on how ‘fun’ the lesson is
  • Which songs to sing in assembly
  • Which secondary school to go to

Individually, these choices seem inconsequential and ’empowering’ for the child and I’m sure you can think of quite a few others, but when we consider them in terms of the cumulative effect of constantly being minded to think about one’s feelings, I reckon many children are being guided down the character-development path of misery. OK, that’s probably a bit too dramatic and, of course, nothing is quite as clear cut (but sometimes you have to talk in terms of dichotomies in order to compare situations) as we would want.

What is the answer? I wonder if it would be best to just turn it all around and have as little choice as possible? You might argue that this would lead to children just kind of flopping back and not developing at all, but I do believe there is a place for learning to be grateful, to accept and to just get on with the job; the opposite of this is learned when we make little children’s lives one big smorgasbord of edu-choice. Also, let us think about the disadvantaged child in this situation: they’ve already had to make way too many choices that they shouldn’t have to make (such as, what to eat, if anything, for breakfast, or, where to go after school when no one’s at home) and perhaps they could benefit more from not having so many choices to make. Sure, give young people more choice as they get older and have learned to work hard rather than ‘choose’ to bail out when the going gets tough, or when they have taken on more responsibilities, but for little children? Those of use who are parents know the consequences of providing children with lots of food choices at home: it leads to fussy eaters. When are education professionals consider that providing too many choices in the classroom will lead to fussy learners?

Who’s with me?

When maths practice doesn’t add up

As twitter was a-buzz with Michaela quotes, something caught my eye this morning:

Practice
I wonder if any other school adopts this view?

I have, of course, written before about the issue of practice and how I feel that many teachers are not quite aware of what it takes to fully commit maths facts and procedures to memory, or to elucidate whatever pattern has been embedded in a carefully curated session of intelligent practice. This is perhaps because most primary teachers don’t even have A-level maths, let alone a degree in the subject (or a degree that uses a lot of maths). For the purpose of making my message clear, I am going to use the terms lower and higher achievers, so don’t even think about kicking up some puerile nonsense about how I’m labeling children etc.

Anyway, perhaps you’d like to join me on a little thought exercise about your lowest and highest achievers? Do the lowest achievers really have discalculia or some other SEN? Let’s do some rough maths for LKS2, concentrating on lessons involving calculations rather than recalling shape facts for example (and it really is rough, but still interesting, since looking through the books for this purpose really exposes a stark difference).

  • Average lower achiever number of calculations performed in each lesson: 7
  • Average higher achiever number of calculations performed in each lesson: 20

We have weekly tests and the children, funnily enough, tend to do the same number of calculations under test conditions (just goes to show the power of test conditions). If we assume that perhaps another fifth of the maths timetable is used for shape, time etc, that leaves us with, roughly, 3 lessons per week where children are doing calculations. Let’s also cross off a couple of weeks for days out, plays, productions, longer assemblies etc and we’re left with 37 weeks.

The difference in the number of calculations higher and lower achiever children do is roughly 1500 a year and this is a conservative estimate because I have not taken into account the difference in amount of practice during start of the day activities, or homework, or even in the ‘maths doodling’ that children do during wet play times or at home for a laugh (yes, many of the more ambitious children in my class ask for extra times tables practice sheet so that they can ‘get a PB’ in the weekly tests).  We could spend all day quibbling over the real numbers (well, you could, I have a full time job to go to!), but I hope the main message is clear: there is a huge difference in what higher and lower achievers actually do during maths lessons. Am I confusing correlation with causation? Is it wrong to assume that sheer lack of practice is the main reason that lower achievers are lower achievers?

What causes this difference? From my observations, children at the lower achieving end of the maths spectrum tend to spend longer trying to recall (or calculate, using repeated addition, for example) individual snippets of information during a calculation, thus showing an over-reliance on working memory (also increased likelihood of getting wrong answers). They also take longer to decipher a question in the first place. Additionally, there are key personality trait differences: lower achievers tend to be more resistant to requests to focus, to stop talking, to concentrate, to stop fussing over silly things like sharing rubbers. They are more likely to mess about. They are more likely to not care about presentation or laying out calculations in a systematic way. They are more likely to just sit there and wait for an adult to show them, all over again, what to do (thus clearly have ‘learned’ that they don’t need to pay attention during the initial input or bother to ask a question). Higher achievers are the opposite: focused, determined, serious, quiet, systematic, hard-working. I have worked with some of the best mathematicians in this country and I can tell you that these adults mathematicians seem to be similar to the higher achievers in classrooms. Isn’t that a weird coincidence, don’t you think?

The paragraph above illustrates to me that the main issues are more to do with lack of maturity, good behaviour and focus that would, over the years, contribute to fewer maths facts and procedures being committed to long term memory. This is a parenting issue first, but it is also a whole-school behaviour issue that perhaps shows us how important it is to make sure that the personality traits of successful mathematicians are instilled at a very early age in order to stop the rot, those gaps in learning, from setting in. However, if you look at primary schools (especially in the younger years), group tables, carousel activities and the teacher’s love of ‘buzz’ in the classroom means that these children fly under the radar for a long time, sometimes all the way till UKS2 by which time those habits of distraction, rather than maths facts and procedures, are permanently entrenched.

So, let’s think about instilling good habits from an early age.

Who’s with me?