This year as the lockdown continued,
I explored… as maybe many of you did online exercise options!
I decided on Pilates.
I’ve really enjoyed discovering how much I can learn through YouTube videos! (Disclaimer: I have a long way to go and a lot to learn about Pilates) As I’ve experienced what it’s like to be the learner and not the teacher I realized…
“There’s gold here!”. My instructors (well the ones I liked and the ones I continued to tune in to) were sharing nuggets of wisdom that I could apply to how I teach mathematics! I also realized that the good teachers were able to keep me engaged, encouraged… And help me achieve success!
Can you relate to these experiences of when a teacher becomes a learner…?
One of the instructors I liked the best is very clear and very calm when she gives instructions. (Her business is very aptly called ‘Kalm Pilates’!) She even explains why exercise should be performed in a certain way. A line she shares is: “Do this little and often to see results”… When she said that I immediately thought, ”That’s what I teach about numeracy warm-up routines and number sense!” I know if we repeat the right numeracy routines regularly (preferably daily) and correctly we will see results too.
The ‘little and often’ sessions in Pilates have helped me see improvements in my fitness and that encourages me to keep going. Just as short, regular number sense routines will help our students see improvement in their skills and encourage them to keep persisting with Mathematics!
This brings me to the second point I’ve learned from regular Pilates. I needed to start ‘low and slow’ to build my confidence. When I stumbled across a Pilates lesson that was far beyond my ability level I would either be quite discouraged or fall way behind. I would perform each movement so badly that I couldn’t possibly gain any benefit from the procedure. But when I was working at a level that I could achieve I was motivated – not only by ‘nailing the move’ but by seeing improvement in my strength and flexibility.
‘Poor instructors’ (well they were poor for me as they weren’t meeting me where I was at!) would start an exercise without any introduction and they would have no ‘entry-level’ options that I could achieve success with. There’s nothing quite like success to increase engagement and to build enthusiasm to keep persisting.
When I was learning a new Pilates move, I realized I appreciated the instructors who were careful to explain, demonstrate, and give me a reason to incorporate the particular move into my routine. If I learned that it was important to hold my arms in a certain position because it was going to strengthen my shoulders or would help me avoid injury then I would be even more focused on ‘getting it right’.
The same applies to learners of Mathematics. If students can understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it helps them ‘stick with it’… Even if it’s difficult at first.
We know differentiation in the classroom is powerful and necessary and I experienced it first-hand doing Pilates! Instructors who didn’t differentiate weren’t able to keep me engaged. Either because they didn’t provide any options to extend my skills… Or because they kept me working at a beginner’s level with no challenge… OR because they went straight to an advanced level with a presumption that they were leading a class of Pilates experts!
And to add ‘insult to injury’ they would complete the routine at great speed without any time for me to catch up. I’d still be trying to work out the first routine while they’d be onto the next…. Or I’d still be literally catching my breath while they blithely moved on! Can you see the parallels to a Maths lesson delivered at speed? Can you see how sometimes we presume that our students know what we’re talking about?
Or that we provide little to no opportunity to learn, let alone consolidate a skill…? One of the best instructors I have come across provides what I consider ‘great teaching’. She demonstrates the move and then allows time before speeding it up. She will also demonstrate a move at “Level 1” then an advance variation at “Level 2” and maybe even a “Level 3” or “Level 4” variation!
I found if I was feeling strong and brave, I might try and push myself to the next level but if I couldn’t do it
I would return to what I could achieve. This meant I could stay participating in the class and yet not feel a failure.
I would still be benefitting from my involvement and down the track, I could give the next level another go… As the instructors have said, “Over time you’ll see improvement!”. They have been right! At the beginning there were Pilates moves I was totally incapable of achieving, let alone repeating… but now I’ve had the joy of seeing I can do them! How encouraging is it for our students to be able to have success and to see improvements?
And if they are introduced to higher levels of mathematics, without any undue pressure to perform, they can have the goal of going for those too… especially when they feel confident and equipped with the necessary skills and fluency to do so. (Just as an aside, this is why heterogeneous groups work so well. Students get to see what is possible and to hear various strategies explained etc.
Then they can give the strategies a go as they feel they are able to. The students who ‘get it’ have the opportunity of explaining and justifying their mathematical thinking – which is a very important mathematical proficiency.) Think about a time when you’ve learned a new skill or body of knowledge… What made it enjoyable for you? What made it difficult? Could you apply what you experienced in the teaching of Mathematics?
If you’ve got some time, I’d love to hear about when you were the student and what you’ve learned from it to help you be a better teacher… AND if you’d like to be a better teacher of Mathematics and Numerac check out my Professional Development options for classroom teachers.
Some courses are currently available online. Some are being delivered via ZOOM. Face-to-face PD is not currently available, but I am booking dates for Australian school visits in 2021. To explore PD options that would help you become a better Maths teacher get back to me via email and we can arrange a time to talk. We can talk about the areas you’d like to improve in your Mathematics teaching… either for yourself or for a whole school staff…