Engaging students in maths starts with stronger teacher-student relationships - expert

Engaging students in maths starts with stronger teacher-student relationships - expert

The most recent OECD PISA results show that one in five Australian 15-year-olds are failing to achieve the international baseline level in mathematics, leaving school without the adequate maths skills for the workplace.

A persistent issue for teachers is that it’s often difficult to identify ways to better support the learning needs of students who slip between the cracks and become disengaged in their schooling.

For this reason, finding ways of engaging students to enjoy maths has become more important than ever.

Former teacher, Greg O'Connor, who is now the Education Lead at Texthelp Asia-Pacific, said his own experience in the classroom teaching a variety of grade level students taught him some important lessons about how to improve students’ engagement – and outcomes – in this important discipline.

“I found that most adopted curriculums would take these rather large topics and begin to funnel several math learning objectives into the large content areas. In all honesty, as an educator, I paid little to no attention as an instructor to the large topics at hand while I taught,” O’Connor told The Educator.

“I knew that my students needed to be foundationally sound in their thought process, and to acquire a math language to be good problem solvers”.

O’Connor said there also seems to be “a unified distaste of, or at least indifference” towards maths as a subject.

“By that I mean it is not uncommon for students, and even adults, to openly express their ‘hatred’ of maths, or belittle their proficiency in the subject,” he said.

“As such, maths and science have acquired these reputations for being difficult curriculum subjects and these stigmas continue to be perpetuated when younger students hear phrases like “I am not good at math” or “I hate math”, and reflect these upon themselves”.

O’Connor said it shouldn’t matter what subject is being taught to students.

“Students will not learn without first establishing a proper relationship with their instructor/or teacher. Relationships in the classroom should be at the core and forefront of learning”.

In recent years, there has been growing debate over the impact periodic assessment as opposed to one finite “pass/fail” exam.

O’Connor says the feedback he’s received from teachers is that both parents and students have come to expect more feedback, more frequently.

“There's also a growing body of evidence that supports formative assessment, or ongoing assessment, over summative assessments, or one final, finite test, and as such, teachers are seeking ways to fold this approach into their classrooms,” he said.

“But teachers still only have so many hours in a day to devote to feedback”.

O’Connor said history shows that the ‘red pen’ approach to formative assessment has been deemed too time consuming, leading many teachers to rely on summative assessments, even when they may not believe this is the ideal approach for their students.

“As such, more teachers are turning to technology and tools like WriQ, that help remove subjectivity and manual time spent marking written work and provide a greater level of marketing consistency in writing across students and age levels using rubrics,” he said.

“Further, automation features help generate score writing indicators such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar, vocabulary maturity”.

In the context of fitting into the curriculum, O’Connor said he thinks of assistive technology as having “the option of a ramp or the stairs to reach a new floor”.

“Not everyone requires the ramp, but it should be there for those who do. And as such, assistive technology tools should be made more readily available in our curriculums,” he said.

“Education needs to continue to go through the digital transformation journey that the rest of society has been going through for the past ten years. Technology should be pervasive in schools. It is outside school, and as such, we need to be able to prepare students for the realities of the modern working world”.

Looking ahead, O’Connor envisions a stronger adoption of hybrid learning models as principals, teachers and students become more acclimatised to the post-Covid education landscape.

“The rapid and unplanned shift to online education in response to the pandemic has sparked a rush to innovate as principals test what works, and what doesn't, for their students and their teachers,” he said.

As such, what we’re seeing in 2021 is schools moving towards a more permanent hybrid model of teaching, despite more and more students returning to the classroom. In 2021, principles have a better understanding of the important role it can play in improving learning outcomes, whereas before the pandemic, there was still a degree of distrust”.