Marking Work

As a former teacher, I often spent hours marking weekly and learners’ daily efforts to check my instruction and their understanding.  But, it’s one thing to mark something right or wrong, another thing to discover why something is right or wrong and a further thing to decide how to either improve, for the learner or the guide.

I felt any lesson I gave where learners were able to contribute to discussion a success.  More success was felt when learners were successful with the suggested practice.  This success continued to grow when: I found something I had not done wonderfully well this time but could do better, and knew how to do it better; I found something that learners could have done better and found a way to improve their understanding; the next steps were already planned; the next steps weren’t ideal but I know how to make them so.

Teaching and learning are not fixed and should never be thought so as such, ever!  Every plan can be better, all learning can be enhanced and so can instruction.

Numbers or Numerals

“I can count to 10!!” Tim shouted as he ran in the front door.

“Fantastic!” replied his dad.  “Show me.”

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10!” exclaimed Tim, excitedly.

“Wonderful!” cheered his dad.  “Now,” he said, “can you show me how much one is?”

“Sure,” said Tim.  And he proceeded to write the numeral 1.  All smiles, he showed his dad, “There!”

“OK,” said his dad, “and can you show me how much four is?”

Tim took a moment to count in his head to four, scrunching up his face to concentrate, and began to draw some squiggly lines that looked a lot like the numeral 4.  “That one is tricky,” said Tim.

“Good work Tim,” said his dad.

The problem is, Tim doesn’t actually know how much a number is worth at this point, he knows a sequence but does not have a value for each one, he also has a symbolic memory for a number word.

Sequences are fairly easy to remember but more difficult to learn, think of your phone number, a sequence of numbers that doesn’t change; your address, if more than one digit; your birthday; etc.  These are sequences that we remember, but we do not attach  value to them, nor do we need to.

Numerals are symbols that take the place of a word.  Numbers are values that can be ordered as numerals or collections of objects.  Learning numerals is an exercise in comprehension, memory and handwriting.  Learning number is an exercise in value recognition and comparison.

Eventually, numerals can be used to great effect when the understanding of the value of the number is secure.  Numerals get in the way of said understanding though and really should not be taught until after the value of a number is understood.

Learning is an organic, fluid process

Learning should be fluid not compartmentalised into blocks or units that can be ticked off as they are covered.  For learners to meet their potential, they should have the confidence to know: their strengths and weaknesses are acknowledged and catered for; when they face a barrier, they know that a coach will help them find a door to overcome it; when they are faced with something new, they know how to use their prior learning to make sense of the new and make it familiar.

In a classroom, this does happen but is amazingly difficult.  Some classes have greater thirty learners with very diverse needs and abilities.  There are teachers who have their finger on the pulse and alter instruction, practice, assessment and feedback when needed.  However, there are other teachers who are either: new, and haven’t the knowledge base to support such a range; lacking in passion or drive and are looking only to tick boxes and collect a paycheck; toward the end of their career and either too tired to devote the needed energy or too stuck in their ways to keep up with new strategies to support or unaware of the challenges facing learners today; challenges that were not present 10 years ago or even more recently.

With an online platform, this individual learning progression is still difficult because, although the time given to each learning outcome can be extended or shortened, the order of progression is still largely fixed.  A program will, after successful completion of a piece of learning, suggest next steps for learners but this is often the same next steps that are suggested to every learner of the program.  The upside of this form of practice is that learners can repeat the practice again and again until they feel comfortable and confident about moving on.  This is not the same as instruction.

Learners need informed guides who can see where they are now, where they were in the past and where they are headed next.  Teachers do that but parents, or other adults who can devote time to more of a 1 on 1 relationship can do far more.  It is this tailored approach that will allow all to fill the gaps in their learning and pass what the average learner can.  This approach would allow all learners to meet their potential.

Who knows what that is?