Students, trainees and practising teachers have been eagerly awaiting the release of ‘Embedding English and maths’ by Terry Sharrock. The book offers practical strategies for embedding two core subjects whilst still engaging and motivating your learners.

In celebration of its near-release date, Terry Sharrock has prepared a short passage to explain exactly what his book is actually about.

So Terry, let’s see what you’ve got to say!

It’s “Wear a T Shirt to Work Day”. You’ve got two choices. Both have the words “Embedding English and maths” on them, but one says “I want to…” and the other says “I have to…”. Which one are you going to choose? My book, “Embedding English and maths – Practical Strategies for FE and Post 16 Education”, is written in response to requests from tutors, particularly vocational tutors, for help in embedding English and maths in their lessons. Many tutors are confused about what embedding English and maths is; what it looks like when it is happening really well and what exactly is their role in helping students develop their English and maths skills. They want practical and workable ideas to embed English and maths in their lessons. The book provides all of this. It also explores how we learn and remember things and suggests some ways we might make learning English and maths more effective. I wonder if the following scenario is familiar.

The scene is a classroom in any centre of learning. The tutor is recapping work that has been covered in recent weeks. He/she is full of enthusiasm and keen to test the knowledge of the students. “So, can anyone tell me the difference between area and perimeter?” He/she looks eagerly around the class, anticipating a flurry of raised hands. They are all paying attention but no one is answering. “But we did this last week!” the exasperated tutor continues. “Does nobody remember?” The students look around at each other desperately trying to help the tutor out by recalling what was said in the previous lesson, but a lot has happened since last week and it just won’t come back. .

Sound familiar? It is to me. I have spent most of my working life either delivering learning or watching other people deliver learning. It fascinates me. What makes effective learning? Why are so many tutors in the same position as our exasperated colleague above? I think I have an answer.

One key thing I notice is that we ask people to learn and remember things, but we don’t encourage them to find strategies to do it. Let me give you an example. I always start my training sessions by going around the room and naming everybody in the group. Not so impressive when you have 9 or 10, but when you correctly name 48 people (or on one occasion, 82) it usually gets a round of applause. Of course it’s a technique. I have used it for over 30 years, but most importantly, someone showed me the technique, I practised really hard and acquired the skill, which I use on a regular basis. There’s not enough time to go into the technique here, (I explain in detail in my book.), but the important point is that I was not just asked to remember names, I was given a task and then given a way to accomplish it, that worked for me. How often are we asking learners to remember concepts in English and maths without encouraging them to find ways to remember?

Let me give you another example. I was observing a lesson, when the tutor explained to the students that she was going to give them ten spellings to learn and there would be a test on them next week. She concluded, “So go home and practise them”. One student at the back put his hand up and asked, what I thought was a brilliant question. He simply said, “Miss. Practise what?” In a nutshell, he was explaining my point. The tutor was asking them to learn spellings without sharing any techniques or strategies to remember them. It would be like someone telling me, “Go in to that room of 48 people and remember all their names, but I am not going to give you a method to do it”. I couldn’t do it. And yet we ask students to remember stuff all the time and just expect them to do it. So next time you are working on a topic such as area and perimeter or helping students to improve their spelling skills, pay attention to how students will remember the learning. Put the onus on students. Ask them if they can find a way to remember the learning.

In the example at the start of this blog, the tutor had explained the difference between area and perimeter and asked all the students if they understood. They all nodded that they had. What he/she didn’t do was then go on to say, “Great, now can you tell me how you are going to remember the difference between area and perimeter?” If you adopt this strategy as part of your teaching, students will start to explore ways to remember these concepts. One students said, “I have a game which has a perimeter fence with barbed wire and guard towers. It goes all the way around the camp, so I am going to think of that and remember that perimeter is measuring all the way around a shape.” Another said, “Perimeter has got the word ‘rim’ in it and a rim is something all the way around a can or glass, so that’s what I am going to remember.” Encourage students to make links, or find “hooks” that they can hang their learning on. Write them down somewhere. Along with notes of what area and perimeter are, include how you are going to remember the difference. Encourage them to use drawings, posters or cartoons to remember as a way to move the learning from short term to long term memory. When students discover ways to understand and remember they experience success in English and maths and are more likely to want more. So have a look at the book and on the next “Wear a T Shirt to Work Day”, choose the “I want to…..” shirt.

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