Tuesday 5 March 2013

Things My Pilates Teacher Taught Me about Teaching

Every Friday after school there is a staff Pilates class. It is physically incredibly demanding and can be ridiculously painful on Saturday morning (sometimes Sunday too, if you're "lucky"). It is really effective though. Me and my Pilates-mates are getting seriously hench.

I was thinking last Friday, whilst I was struggling to hold my plank: how does Gary, the instructor, manage to convince the class to do unpleasant things like jump squats over and over again, when we're tired and cranky and in pain? In my mind, this is equivalent to getting year 8s to add fractions again and again when they're tired and cranky and causing me pain. Are there any tips I can pick up from Gary?

Teaching Tricks I've Picked up:

1) Have a "number of the day"

 Gary always gets us to choose a number for the week. This is the number of reps of burpees or sets of press ups or the number of seconds we'll be holding our side planks or whatever. We always try to pick a low number (particularly if reverse lunges are involved) but Gary somehow manages to manipulate it.
Gary: What's today's number going to be?
Liz: 4
Me: 3
Gary: OK, 7 it is!
He's an evil genius.
But because we have "chosen" that number, we have some ownership of it, and we can't complain it's too high or too low.

Next time you're setting some questions for your class to do, first set a number of the day. You can discuss the properties of the number first, give some cool facts, then set them that number of questions, or have them work for that number of minutes.

2) Demonstrate many levels

Gary is probably the best differentiator I have ever seen. When he demonstrates a move, he always has at least three different versions. One of the options is always ridiculously hard, which, to be honest, no one in our class is really able to do, but he always shows us it anyway, to show us what we might be able to do in a few lessons' time.

He always makes us do one (or one set) of the lowest difficulty move, then says, stick with it, or if you want, do ---. Then after a few more he cranks it up another level, but always reminds us to stick with what we're doing if it's working for us.

I think this is a great idea to apply to maths lessons. Show your class three types of equation, demonstrate solving each one, and make one of them just above their current capabilities, so that they can see where the learning will lead them next, and give them something to aspire to. Start them off at the same point, then let the high fliers progress.

3) Be your subject's best advertisement

Gary has a typical surfer's body: wiry, lean, and deceptively strong. He does these moves that leave us all open-mouthed. I sit there thinking, I'd love to be able to do that one day.

Do your students ever look at you and think that?

How often do you wow your students with your amazing maths skills? You're the expert, you should be the role model. You should be the person they look at and think, "I'd love to be able to do maths like that one day". Build some showing-off into your lessons next week, and see how your students react.

And if all else fails, do a hand-balance. My favourite is the Crow.

Emma x x x

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