Building self-esteem is the key

15th August 2008 at 01:00

I read the explanation from Guy Claxton to Judith Judd about challenging pupils with tremendous joy and great satisfaction ("Champion of the unorthodox, TES, August 1). As a practising mathematics advanced skills teacher, who has predominantly worked in "challenging" inner city schools, I actively endorse this approach.

Successful teaching is all about encouraging students to become effective independent learners. This is not an easy option. On the teacher's part it requires skill, patience and a total belief in the ability of each individual. The student equally has a tough part to play, often doing things they feel uncomfortable with.

Problem solving, exploring ideas and answering searching open questions, especially when directed to a particular individual, leaves no room for excuses or escape. It can, however, lead to confrontation or poor behavioural responses.

Relationships are the key. Character building must be an inherent part of successful interactions in the classroom. A student with low self-esteem due to poor reading skills, for example, can develop resilience through skilful oral questioning. Another, lacking in confidence, can be encouraged with praise and endorsement from the teacher. Someone with a low attention span can increase it through small timed increments for new activities.

Language is also given a high priority by Professor Claxton. It gladdens my heart to read this. Often I am asked why I place so much emphasis on interactive oral work and vocabulary, as though it has no place in the mathematics classroom. Positive attitudes and behaviours, alongside the confidence to question and investigate, are emphasised in this way.

Students can be encouraged to wait to hear less confident individuals, coaxed to explain their methods, helped to improve their thinking or urged to ask questions, through these important exchanges. Crucially, the most significant questions are always those the students ask.

Sadly, most students continue to be treated as receptacles for knowledge. This is shallow and insulting. Examination league tables must not drive teaching and learning. Significantly, one of the greatest complements I have received came from an A* student who thanked me for "not teaching to the examination".

Ann Moore, Mathematics advanced skills teacher, Stocksfield, Northumberland.

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