Fellow teachers… be more Yeti!

James Walton

James Walton is an enthusiastic, dedicated educationalist who believes in inspiring, supporting
and motivating those around him to deliver outstanding thinking and learning. He’s someone who has proven leadership experience, leading effectively through clear communication, empathy and having the strategic vision and creativity to achieve excellent results. James is a firm believer in promoting a growth mindset in all members of the school community. His goal is to inspire and nurture children, and also to empower staff to become active participants in their learning and development, giving them the opportunity to fulfil their potential and become successful individuals with a positive self-image./p>

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“We are skilled mathematicians... this year we will become more skilled…” This message has helped me to drive home some messages that I hold dear to my educational philosophy and use in my everyday teaching and learning. It has helped develop growth mindsets, positive self-images and, most of all, developed an attitude which helps children to learn.

It’s nothing revolutionary and the key messages and themes have been around good teaching for many years, b ut I would like to share how using this approach this year has helped me, and more importantly, how it has helped my wonderful Year Six Maths set.

I can’t do it

My best lessons come when children are active in their learning, thinking, making connections and, most importantly, enjoying the tasks and learning opportunities available to them. I have been promoting this style of learning for many years with, dare I say so myself, some pretty good and memorable learning taking place!

"One simple caption: ‘I can’t do it... YET!"

I will say now that I have had many lessons as well where this has not been the case, and apologise to all those students who have had to suffer my instruction and voice at times when they would rather be anywhere else but in my class! However, those students can sit easy knowing that their feedback and response – yes, I have had a child almost fall asleep in my lesson – has helped future classes enjoy much better quality and engaging teaching and learning!

This year a colleague of mine introduced me to her ‘yeti’. I loved it. The image. The message. The power. Everything I had been trying to say wrapped up in one simple caption: “I can’t do it... YET!” The influence that last word has on children is amazing.

The children have embraced the message and it is regularly referred to during lesson times. Although it could be introduced at any time during the school year, I started in September during my first lesson with the children. This allowed me to allow it to influence my delivery and our mindset towards our learning. The class in question were my Year Six Maths set. A group of boys who find the application of knowledge a challenge and therefore, their true ability and understanding does not come out in assessments. This causes a downward spiral that dominates their school year. They work hard all term and then when it comes to the piece of paper that questions what they know, they go into meltdown. I was determined to try and put a stop to this. It started with ‘Yeti learning’ and then moved onto six key statements and an image I have used many times before:

  1. “What is the best way for me to achieve in Mathematics?”
  2. “What is the sticking point in this task?”
  3. “What can we now do to teach others?”
  4. “I don’t know what I will achieve this year.”
  5. “Everyone can learn to…”
  6. “I will earn feedback and praise in Mr Walton’s class.”

The first question was about attitude. It gets the children thinking about their active role in their learning and formed part of our class expectations and rules sheet.

The second made the children think about what it actually was that they couldn’t understand. The message from pupils I have had in the past is the absolute “I can’t do this…” when actually, once you have explained one small part, the child has an almost religious epiphany and suddenly the learning gateways flood open. This question makes the children deconstruct and apply their prior knowledge to the problem in front of them. It takes some training, but even after a few lessons, children were able to focus on specific parts of their learning and we could address them accordingly. This also had the knock-on effect of showing the children what they could do rather than be stumped by a larger problem in front of them.

The third question built on the second. The old adage ‘the best way to learn is to teach’ is used to get the children sharing their learning with others and therefore gain a deeper understanding of it. Collaborative learning and communication skills are vastly improved through this type of activity.

The brain and weights represents a growth mindset and the image shows us that the more we use our brains, the more it grows. This is unashamedly put in there to show the children that by being lazy, you are not helping yourself in the future. It works a treat!

The last three statements were put in after talking to the children (with careful guidance) and brought together the main points of what we wanted to get out of our year. They talk about uncertainty, progression and ‘reward’. Something the children all have control over. This helped the children gain perspective on the year ahead.

Results of leading children’s learning with these messages has been very positive. Lesson feedback from the children (they grade their learning and my delivery and content in each lesson) has been one of optimistic and constructive points that allow us to focus on what we have learnt, rather than what we haven’t been able to achieve. This has been important, as each little step is another step closer to being able to apply the learning in the right situation.

"This question makes the children deconstruct and apply their prior knowledge to the problem in front of them."

My class are now willing to give challenges a go, and have raised their own expectations and level of challenge when I set tasks. The children are given a range of problems to complete, and can move their level of challenge up or down depending on how they feel about the activity. They know that a lesson of getting everything right will not allow them to give themselves top marks for their learning, but a lesson where they can show and then explain where they have had to move their thinking on, will do. I know that a lesson where they fly through the work, give me 10/10 and say it was easy, does not mean that they have learnt lots. A lesson where we have some huffs and puffs and scratching of heads is far more beneficial to them.

Some say ‘The proof will be in the pudding‘ whenever someone tries something new and waits for results. In this case, the proof will be during their first assessment. Will the children be able to apply their learning more? I am confident they will be able to and look forward to seeing what they can achieve after changing their thinking ‘I can’t do it Yet!’ to look what I can do now.

I would like to thank some great Maths teachers for their influence, not only in this piece but also for developing my understanding of the subject and ability to teach it. Thank you to Roma Phillimore (Hazelwood School), Krista Bradford (Four Elms), Hugh Sergeant (Copthorne Prep), but mostly to Hilary Loney (now enjoying a well-earned retirement!) who instilled in me (and many more others) a confidence, belief and a love for a subject I found challenging.

Do you use such tactics in your classroom? Share your experiences below!

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