Conception of the good

Insights into our current education system

Page 2 of 6

Typical Lesson (Substituting Fractions)

I saw a couple of tweets asking teachers how they plan their lessons, what is a typical lesson look like, what happens behind the scenes? I was keen to read people’s responses and then to be able to compare it to how I have been planning my lessons over the years. This blog post will outline the typical planning process and I will use an example: substituting fractions.

Before I begin, I thought it would be useful to know that during the planning process I outline a progression model. I pick a topic that I want to teach, e.g. substitution, and I break down the topic into complex skills which I want to teach and form exercises which pupils will complete. Breaking down each skill into small component skills prevents pupils overloading their working memory during the initial stages of teaching new information.


The start of every lesson I give pupils a selection of questions to recap what has been taught over the last few days. Pupils do this on their mini-whiteboards. This is a quick exercise taking no more than 5-10 minutes. The questions have been prepared in advance because I want to ask questions which really test a pupil’s understanding. There is no point giving pupils a question to do on their mini-whiteboards which they will all more definitely get right. You want to tease out any confused understanding or misconceptions that pupils may have. This is because if a pupil proceeds to learn new content with misconceptions in mind then more misconceptions will form, or become consolidated.

Recap: Required pre-requisite knowledge

Recapping prior knowledge is essential. If pupils don’t have prior knowledge that future learning depends on then no successful learning will take place, and furthermore pupils will be cognitively overloaded from learning multiple skills. The core knowledge that needs to be recapped will be used again and again throughout the lesson when learning new content. Before I taught pupils how to substitute fractions into different expressions I recapped how to :

  1. Add and subtract fractions with common denominators
  2. Multiply fractions
  3. Multiply fractions and integers
  4. Divide fractions
  5. Add and subtract fractions with different denominators

Initial Teacher Instruction: Faultless Communication

I will think about the worked examples that I want to use to teach pupils how to substitute fractions in a manner which works for all problem types. Engelmann refers to this form of instruction as Faultless communication which I shall blog about soon. I try and design my teacher instruction so nothing that I say contradicts what I have taught in the past.

I want to teach pupils how to substitute fractions into different expressions. I plan my worked examples and I think about how I can design them so pupils can see that the process of how to substitute a fraction into an expression is always the same. The process is the same when I am substituting (adding and subtracting fractions with common denominators):

  • two different fractions
  • three fractions
  • if the result after substitution gives me a fraction which I can simplify to an integer
  • if the result after substitution gives me a negative result
  • if the result after substitution gives me zero
  • if the result after substitution gives me a mixed number

I will also pre-empt misconceptions:

  • Question A: “When we add or subtract fractions with the common denominators. The denominators are the same, the denominator remains the same, add or subtract the numerators.”
  • Question O: “I have ¼ – 6/4 they are going in different directions, I find the difference which is 5/4. The larger fraction is negative so my result is also negative
  • Question G: “Here I have three terms that is ok. I can have questions like this…
  • Question I: “I have eleven-tenths minus one-tenths and the result is ten-tenths which simplifies to 1. That is correct. That is possible.”
  • Question P: “I am adding an integer to a fraction so my result is a mixed number. That is correct. That is possible.”

Not showing these examples means that when pupils try the following questions then they will be freaked out by getting answers which are negative or zero or mixed numbers. The process of substituting fractions where you have to add or subtract fractions with common denominators is the same regardless of the question set up or the answer you get.

Show Call

After going through my worked examples, I will give pupils a very similar set of questions to attempt on their mini-whiteboards. Here pupils are showing their written work to maximise the likelihood of pupils creating perfect answers and working out during independent work. I put a question on the board; give pupils 30 seconds to complete the work on their mini whiteboards. They hold their mini-whiteboards with the answer hidden so other pupils can’t copy each other. I then ask them to show me all at the same time – 3, 2, 1 and show. This lets me see all 32 pupils’ working out. I will give whole class feedback over mistakes that I see. I will show the class a pupil’s work if it is excellent. I will show a sub-optimal answer too and stay ‘Jonny, would have gotten a merit if he had done this…’ or ‘Jonny can improve this. Who can help him improve this? Thank you for letting us all learn from your work Jonny.’ Doug Lemov goes into more detail about the effectiveness of Show Call in his podcast with Craig Barton.

The purpose of this exercise is for me to fix any mistakes and close those gaps. Also, to identify the pupils who are still struggling and support them during the independent practice part of the lesson.

Independent Work

I will have designed a practice exercise of questions for pupils to attempt independently. I will circulate the room. Help pupils who are struggling. Glance at pupil work as I go around and fix any mistakes that I spot. At the end of this timed exercise I will read out the answers and get pupils to tell me how they did:

“Raise your hand if you got 10 or more questions correct. 15 or more. 20 or more. All correct so far.”

“If you made a mistake but you now understand that mistake raise your hand please.”

“If you made a mistake that you don’t’ understand and want me to go through it on the board then raise your hand. We can all learn from you.”

No Plenary

I don’t usually have plenaries in my lessons. I plan my lessons so pupils can complete all the exercises, even more so the hard staff at the end that I want pupils to have the time to complete. I don’t use Exit Tickets because I do a weekly quiz which informs me of the same information that an Exit Ticket does.


I think this approach is similar to many teachers. Nothing here is extraordinary but ordinary. However, what is most important to understand is that the typical lesson above includes features and details that allow pupils to learn, and more importantly it allows pupils to remember what they have learnt. Everything that I have outlined is a combination of what I saw as good teaching from my own education but also from what I have witnessed and learnt from many exemplary teachers that have kindly let me watch them teach.

Weekly Quizzes: Substitution

In my last blog post I discussed how curriculum sequencing underpins successful teaching of concepts. For examples, ensuring that pupils are able to add, subtract, multiply, divide directed numbers as well as raise a directed number to a power allows successful teaching of how to substitute directed numbers into expressions.

The second aspect of good teaching is ensuring pupils are regularly given low-stake quizzes which test whether a pupil has retained the small body of knowledge that has been taught explicitly over a short period of time. This is possible through weekly quizzes. I learnt this good practice during my time at Michaela Community School, and it has been the second most important aspect of my teaching practice that has allowed my pupils to be successful in the classroom. The first being the introduction of in-house resources in the form of a textbook.

Why are weekly quizzes powerful?

  • Testing is a form of learning which helps pupils retain new information

I didn’t think of testing in this way when I started teaching. I thought testing was a form of dead time which took up lesson time. There is some grain of truth to this because you don’t want to occupy a large proportion of your lesson time to testing because you want to teach pupils new content.

Where I was wrong in my understanding of testing is that when pupils are taught new content the only way pupils retain new information is through regular testing, this is the case by:

  1. Activating the information in regular, spaced intervals. The recall process needs to be an active one where a pupil responds to a question rather than re-reading or highlighting. Every act of recall and review of newly taught information the stronger the memory traces become. The stronger the memory the longer you are able to recall the piece of information.
  2. Testing a pupil’s understanding of a concept by creating a variety of test items. The greater the variety the more that pupil learns to connect new information with what they already know. This improves a pupil’s ability to retain information.

Equally, this is important because there is nothing more frustrating for a teacher, and a pupil, when a pupil has been taught a lot of information and then they forget it. This demoralises even the most competent of pupils to learn further.

  • Weekly quizzes are a good measurement of a pupil’s change in performance

This is dependent on a few factors:

1.The content of the test items has all been taught to pupils. Or pupils have been taught sufficient information to answer the question. For example, I didn’t explicitly teach this problem type below to my Year 10s or Year 9s because I wanted to see if they could do it themselves given the information they already had. In both classes 95% of pupils were able to do both questions correctly.

2. The way that I have organised my weekly quizzes is similar to what was done at Michaela. I give pupils a practice quiz before I give them the real quiz. The real quiz’s score I will total and collate into a spreadsheet. The practice quiz is a similar version of the real quiz but with different numbers, the question types are the same. Pupils do this practice quiz in my lesson in exam conditions. I then mark the quiz with the class, giving whole class feedback. I ask pupils how many marks they got per question. For example:

This lets me know which pupils have made the most mistakes, which pupils have been the most successful, if I need to reteach a particular concept that the whole class has misunderstood or that I haven’t taught well.

They are then able to take the practice quiz home, and they are also given a spare copy of the practice quiz. So on one piece of paper, double sided:

  1. class practice quiz with teacher feedback in green pen
  2. black copy of practice quiz to reattempt at home

The pupils have teacher feedback to act on so when they are revising for the quiz the following day they know what they need to revise over. They understand their mistakes and they know how to avoid making those mistakes again. The following day pupils are given the same quiz but with different numbers. They complete this in exam conditions where I invigilate to ensure pupils don’t speak or cheat.

This works because the test items haven’t changed. I have changed the numbers that the pupils will substitute but the problem types are the same in the real quiz and practice quiz. The test has stayed constant so I can infer a judgement on pupil performance. You can’t compare test results when the quiz continues to change. Keep as many test variables the same, so the only variable that is measured is a pupil’s performance.

From the data set of the most recent weekly quiz my Year 9 Set 2 did I can then make the right judgement about each pupil’s performance.

What makes this practice difficult?

It depends on how many lessons you have with that class because you do need time to teach the curriculum and do both a practice quiz with feedback to give, and time for another quiz. I am very lucky to have about 5 lessons per week with my classes, and some double lessons too.

If you teach five year groups then it can be hard as a single teacher organising these quizzes. If this became a whole department policy then it would be best to have one teacher designing the weekly quiz for one year group. This is manageable. If one teacher makes the quiz catering for all ends then each individual teacher can edit to make it suitable for their classes.

I have only been at GYCA for a half term, but the quizzes are informing me of how I can improve my teaching, how clearly pupils understand what I have taught them, how flexible their knowledge is and how well they are retaining what they have been taught. The kids love seeing percentage scores in the 80 – 100% range. Pupils love seeing the success of their hard work. It motivates pupils who want to learn more to be able to do so because they have been told (a) what to learn and (b) how to do it too. It also gives pupils who are lazy or find maths difficult guidance on how to improve.  I am looking forward to seeing the kids’ faces on Monday morning when they get their quiz scores back. Lots of them will be beaming with pride.



Effectiveness of Curriculum Sequencing – Substitution

After October Half term, I joined Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. I was given the task of teaching Year 10 Set 5 out of 6. The first topic I was assigned to teach them was substitution to then go onto teaching expanding brackets. I planned two booklets to teach both topics. I then realised due to a lack of prior knowledge, what I had prepared was out of their reach. I went back to the drawing board to teach the topic of directed numbers. This blog post is a reflection on what I saw to be effective teaching of substitution purely because of how the prior knowledge required was sequenced before teaching substitution.

Teaching Directed Numbers

Directed Numbers is a high-leverage topic. This is because if the content of the topic is mastered then pupils are able to successfully learn other concepts with great ease. Pupils are able to substitute negative numbers into expressions if they are able to add/subtract/multiply/divide negative numbers without having to process what they need to do in their working memory. For example, when I planned my lessons on substitution, I broke my lessons down into this order:

  1. Substitution of positive numbers
  2. Substitution of negative numbers
  3. Substitution of fractions
  4. Substitution of decimals

Before I wanted pupils to be able to substitute negative numbers into different expressions I had to teach the following:

  1. Adding and subtracting negative numbers (including large values)
    1. -4 + 5 –> -41 + 51 (crossing over 0)
    2. -4 + 3 (and 3 – 4) –> -41 + 32 (not crossing over 0)
    3. -4 + 4 –> -329 – 329 (meeting at 0)
    4. -5 + 6 – 9 (multiple terms)
  2. Adding and subtracting negative numbers (double signs)
    1. -4 – + 5
    2. -4 – – 5
    3. 4 – – 5
    4. 4 + – 3
    5. -4 – – 4
    6. 4 + – 5
  3. Multiplying and dividing negative numbers
    1. If I multiply an even number of negative numbers then my result will be positive
    2. If I multiply an odd number of negative numbers then my result will be negative
  4. Raising negative numbers to different powers
  5. Cube rooting negative numbers (including odd roots)

What worked?

Repetitive practice exercises

For the first lesson on teaching how to add and subtract negative numbers with no double signs, I had pupils completing exercises of one problem type. This was to help pupils recognise a pattern which I later shared. Pupils did lots of questions where they practised moving up and down the number line before hand.


This was also the case when teaching pupils how to multiply and divide negative numbers:

Similarly, this also applied when asking pupils if the result when a negative number is held to an even or odd power would result in a positive or negative number.

Daily Recap and Questioning

After the starter of my lessons, the next 5-6 minutes I would ask them the same questions on a daily basis, change the order of the questions which was important to ensure that pupils were made to think. Similarly, I used the same problem types each day but would change the numbers.

My questions also became less scaffolded over the weeks to ensure that I was really testing the kids. I also specified the answer to the question. For example:

If the numbers are going in the same direction then what do I do?

Answer: Sum the values

This was because I wanted pupils to have absolute clarity over what they needed to do, and with a variation different phrases for the answer and being verbose would have confused them. Also, the repetition helped pupils see specific patterns e.g when we have the following problem types -5 – 6 we add the values of 5 and 6.

These are the questions that I asked them on a daily basis:

Questions for adding and subtracting negative numbers – no double signs:

  • Are the numbers going in the same direction or different direction? ANS: Same/Different
  • If they are going in the same direction, what do I do next? ANS: Sum the values
  • If they are going in different directions, what do I do next? ANS: Find the difference
  • When I have found the difference, will my answer be positive or negative? ANS: The larger value is negative so my answer is negative.
  • What are the two things do I ask myself when I see this question?
    1. Same direction? Sum the values
    2. Different direction? Find the difference
  • What is the first step?

Questions for multiplying and dividing negative numbers:

  • How many negative numbers do I have? ANS: 2/3
    1. Follow up: Is that an odd or even number? ANS: Even/Odd
    2. If I have an even number of negatives then will my result be positive or negative? ANS: positive
    3. If I have an odd number of negatives then will my result be positive or negative? ANS: negative
  • Are there are an odd number or even number of negatives? ANS: negative
  • If there is an even number of negatives then will my result be positive or negative? ANS: positive
  • If there is an odd number of negatives then will my result be positive or negatives? ANS: negative
  • Will my result be positive or negative? ANS: Positive/negative
  • Is my power an odd number or even number? ANS: even/odd
  • Will my answer be positive or negative? ANS: positive/negative

Questions for adding and subtracting negative numbers – with double signs:

  • When I see two signs next to each other, what do I do? ANS: Circle the signs, and replace
  • What is my first step? ANS: Circle the signs, and replace

Why was the re-teaching of directed number crucial?

Pupils were to attempt the following exercises.

Substituting negative numbers with calculations requiring knowledge of how to add and subtract negative numbers

Prior knowledge they needed that was taught:

a = -3

a + 11 = -3 + 11 = 8

1.Given that a = -3, b = -4, c = -5 and d = 4, evaluate each expression

Substituting negative numbers with calculations (double signs)

Prior knowledge they needed that was taught:

a = -3

11 – a =

11 – – 3 =

11 + 3 = 14

2. Given that a = -3, b = -4, c = -5, evaluate each expression

Substituting negative numbers where pupils will be multiplying and dividing negative numbers

Prior knowledge they needed that was taught:

a = -3

2a = 2 x -3 = -6

-a = -(-3) = +3

3. Given that a = -10, b = -4 and c = -6, evaluate each expression

Prior knowledge they needed that was taught:


4. Given that d = -12, e = -3, f = 16, g = -8 and h = -20

It is very early days but they are very comfortably learning how to substitute negative numbers. We will be learning how to multiply a constant and an expression, next week. The teaching of directed numbers will support the pupils particularly when attempting the following problem types.

Engelmann: Underestimating the Number Family

In my last series of blog posts I outlined how Siegfried Engelmann teaches the relationship between addition and subtraction using the number family.

This blog post was inspired by an epiphany whilst teaching a very weak pupil basic addition. I had taught her the following in a sequence of lessons:

  1. Adding integers with no carrying
  2. Adding integers with carrying
  3. Adding decimals with same number of decimal places (carrying)
  4. Adding decimals but with varying number of decimal places (carrying)

In the last half of a lesson I was teaching pupils how to attempt the following set of problems.


I explained using the last problem that when I am adding 2 in the units column to the 9 I am not really getting 1, instead I am getting 11, and the tens is being carried to the column on the left. All pupils besides two understood this. I then demonstrated using a number family that:

  1.  2 is the small number
  2.  I am adding 9 which is the second small number
  3. To get a big number. This big number must be bigger than the two small numbers.

I also showed a non-example of the number family:


  1. 2 is the small number
  2. I am adding 9 which is the second  small number
  3. I will have a big number at the end of the arrow. It can’t be 1 because the big number cannot be smaller than the two small numbers.

At this point, she got it. This is my weakest pupil in year 7. I definitely underestimated how powerful the number family structure can be!

Engelmann Connecting Maths Concept Textbook series: Number Families Part 3

During my second year at Michaela Community School, the department used Siegfried Engelmann’s Connecting Maths Concept Textbook series as the main teaching tool for Intervention.

This is the third write-up of a sequence of blog posts:

In my last post, I outlined how Engelmann teaches pupils within his textbook series of the relationship between addition and subtraction using the number family. Furthermore, how the set-up of a number family is utilised by pupils to answer complex worded problems. 

This blog post will go through the most difficult problem types using the number family set up that were taught.

  1. Problem Type #4: Number families with fractions and integers

By Lesson 67, fractions were included in the number family calculation. For example:

If a number family shows a fraction and a whole number, you have to change the whole number into a fraction.

The bottom number of the fraction you change the whole number into is the same as the bottom number of the fraction in the family.

The above sentences in bold are directly lifted from the teacher presentation book

Here’s a number family with a fraction and a whole number:

This is taught after pupils have learnt and practised the following:

  • Writing an integer as a fraction with a specific denominator
  • Simplifying fractions into integers
  • Differentiating between fractions that do and do not simplify to an integer
  • Subtracting fractions which have common denominators

The teaching of the above then allows such a problem type to be taught.

To have further similar questions included in Test 7

Similarly, including problems in Lesson 72:

2. Problem Type #5: End up, Out and In 

The next number family problem that is introduced tells pupils about getting more and then getting less of an amount. The number family has three fixed categories: End up, Out and In.

Here is an example before I explain the set up of the problem type:

End up is the first small number. The big number is the number that goes in. The next number small number is shown by the number for out. Whatever is left is referred to the number that you end up with. It is the difference between the number for in and the number for out.

Then the problem type became more complicated because more terms were added to the number family, For example:

Fran had $36. Then her mother paid her $12 for working around the house. She spent some money and ended up with $14. How much did she spend.

Here you have two values for in that you must find the total of: 36 + 12 = 48. The total is the big number which is labelled under in. We know how much Fran ends up with so this is what is left.

The sequencing of this problem type and the transition between the first example to the second example with multiple terms is gradual for pupils to learn without experiencing cognitive overload.

The first example of the problem type is only taught in the teacher-led part of the lesson, it is not set as independent work for pupils to do. I think this is simply because it is very difficult for the weakest pupils to complete by themselves that to ensure success it is taught with teacher assistance. Also, pupils did find this hard to learn! There is a lot of reading, a lot of information to organise but by the end of the year pupils were able to do this will little to none teacher assistance. It may be covered in the next set of Engelmann books that follow after this set.

We can see the distribution of how the problem type is covered over different lessons.

Blue = Teacher-led exercise using prepared script + teacher-guided qus

Green = Independent task where pupils are being tested

White = not present in the teacher-led exercise or independent task

End up, Out and In

End up, Out and In with multiple terms


Here we can see the progression in difficulty from taking the most simple addition and subtraction calculations and introducing more complex problem types were addition and subtraction are being tested in various ways. Furthermore, Engelmann looks into including visual variations of the problem type, including large integers and fractions, and multiple terms. Yet, each and every time the algorithmic set-up of structuring the information using a number family allows pupils to draw the correct inference about what they need to do next – Do I add or subtract?

Next, I shall be looking at the teaching of fractions!


Engelmann Connecting Maths Concept Textbook series: Number Families Part 2

During my second year at Michaela Community School, the department used Siegfried Engelmann’s Connecting Maths Concept Textbook series as the main teaching tool for Intervention.

This is the second write-up of a sequence of blog posts:

  • Introducing the number family
  • Manipulating the number family for complex worded problems
  • Just when you thought the problems couldn’t get more difficult

In my last post, I outlined how Engelmann teaches pupils within his textbook series of the relationship between addition and subtraction using the number family.

This post will go through how the set-up of a number family is utilised by pupils to answer complex worded problems. 

  1. Problem Type #1: P and Not P questions

In Lesson 16, P and P’ problems were introduced. For example:

There were 8 new shows. The rest were old shoes. There were 46 shoes in all. How many shoes were old shoes?

The number family problem has been written up into words where pupils need to do the following:

  1. Label the three groups; P, P’ and all. In this case, New, Old and All
  2. Assign the number stated to the correct group
  3. Decide whether to add or subtract to form the calculation

It is explained in the presentation book how to deliver the teaching of such a problem type. Then the following questions are given to follow throughout future lessons:2. Problem type #2: More than or Less than problems

In Lesson 24, a problem type is introduced which has a new layer of complexity, pupils need to:

a) Learn the terminology of difference words: more than, less than, greater than, smaller than

b) position labels and numbers on the number family arrow by understanding the difference words of more than, less than etc.

Here are some examples:

  • If you know that one value is more than another value then that one value is the big number. The other number is the small number. E.g. 14 is more than 11. 14 is more. It’s the big number. 11 is one of the small numbers.

Second example:

  • If you know that one value is less than another value then that one value is the small number. The other number is the big number. E.g. 24 is less than 30. 24 is less. It’s the small number. 30 is the big number.

Pupils are also taught to write the smaller value as the second small number. This is deliberately mentioned in the Teacher’s presentation book. Pupils are learning how to use the number family to interpret the question. This can be extended to similar questions where pupils are taught to structure the calculation before performing it:

The presentation book emphasises the importance of the key words: shorter, heavier, fewer, further etc. These words indicate which item will be the small number label and which item will be the big number label.

In regards to question a, the pole is shorter than the tree so the pole is the small number label and the tree is the big number label. The number 8 is referred to as the difference number, this is deliberate language used within the Teacher presentation book. The difference number is the first small number label. The number before the difference word (8 feet), in this case shorter than, is the difference number. 

The next three lessons pupils are taught how to label and structure the number family. They do not perform any calculations they just place each label and the difference number given. Lesson 28 they are taught to perform the calculation fully. For example,

The calf weighed 345 pounds less than the horse. The horse weighed 509 pounds. How many pounds did the calf weigh?

3. Problem Type #3: Asking to find the difference number

By lesson 43, there are number family problems that ask about the difference number. For example: A coat cost $134. A radio cost $23. What is the difference in the price of these objects?

Pupils are being asked to compare the cost of two items. Using the number family set up a pupil positions the big number and the small number. In this case the coat costs more than the radio. They also learn that the small number is the second small number too. The first small number is the difference number.

4. Differentiating between problem type

By Lesson 43, an exercise to differentiate between problem types is introduced:

Similarly, what is interesting to note in regards to the distribution in the teaching of these problem types and the spread of independent practice exercises is that what is mostly practised is the P and Not P problem types. I think this is because it is the first worded problem type that pupils use the number family to reach the answer.

Blue = Teacher-led exercise using prepared script + teacher-guided qus

Green = Independent task where pupils are being tested

White = not present in the teacher-led exercise or independent task

Each number represents the Lesson no. E.g 16 = Lesson 16

In the next post, I will go into the problem types that became progressively more difficult yet were simple to answer because of the set-up of a number family.

Engelmann Connecting Maths Concept Textbook series: Number Families Part 1

During my second year at Michaela Community School, the department used Siegfried Engelmann’s Connecting Maths Concept Textbook series as the main teaching tool for Intervention. The textbook series comes with:

  • A pupil textbook
  • A pupil workbook
  • Prepared Tests (after every 10 lessons)
  • Teacher Presentation book

Each lesson would have:

  • 4/5 Teacher-led exercises (using  the presentation book)
  • Independent pupil work

I know that some teachers would feel uncomfortable using a presentation book with prepared scripts but when I read through it I realised that Engelmann had written it better than anything else I had seen. The script is accurate, deliberate and is economical with text. This is something I will come to later on.

This blog post is one of a series to come. I will go through one specific skill that was taught and covered within the textbook and workbook for the pupils to really master. I will outline how this one specific skill was taught from the simplest problem type to the most difficult problem type. I will also show the same algorithmic set-up, as suggested by Engelmann in the Presentation book, which was used consistently when pupils worked through different problems which became increasingly more complex.

Here I will be looking at the relationship between addition and subtraction using something called a number family.

Here is the sequence of posts:

  1. Introducing the number family
  2. Manipulating the number family for complex worded problems
  3. Just when you thought the problems couldn’t get more difficult
  1. What is a number family?

A lot of the addition and subtraction problems are based on using a number family.

A number family is made up of three numbers that always go together to make an addition and subtraction fact.

Engelmann introduces it as a family made up of two small numbers and a big number. The big number is at the end of the arrow. Here are the two facts taught:

To find the big number, you add the small numbers.


To find a missing small number, you subtract. You start with the big number and subtract the small number that is shown.


Engelmann also shows the two visual possibilities of the same problem. This explicit instruction within the presentation book is allowing pupils to develop a schema around the set-up they will be using to complete different addition and subtraction calculations. Engelmann is also pre-empting misconceptions which are most common by stating that “you start with the big number and subtract the small number that is shown.” How many instances have you seen pupils writing it in the reverse manner?


2) Deciding whether to add or subtract?

Engelmann states in the presentation book that the first question to ask pupils before they perform the calculations of the number family is: “Do we add or subtract?”

This is really valuable for pupils because they are being asked to decide what operation to use between the two numbers stated. They have to decide whether they have two small numbers or one big number and one small number. Through the number family it is also visually really clear for pupils to determine what combinations of numbers they have. Thus, helping pupils to see what operation to use.

Also, note that there are two and three-digit numbers included. This is to show pupils that we apply the same decision making question to calculations with digits of all size.

3) Number family where subtraction calculation requires no regrouping (#1)

The first few lessons pupils were asked:

“Do we add or subtract?”

“Write out the calculation from the number family.”

The subtraction facts did not include numbers that would require regrouping. Why? This is because subtraction which requires regrouping was a separate skill which was going to be taught within the sequence of lessons. This is really important! It is essential when you are teaching a pupil one specific skill at a time and also that you aren’t making it difficult for the wrong reasons. You are testing whether pupils can decipher which operation they need to use with the values given, not their subtraction skills with regrouping.

4) Number family where subtraction calculation does require regrouping (#2)

Once the subtraction with regrouping had been taught as a different skill then such subtraction calculations were included in the number family.

5) Visual variations of the same problem type

Engelmann introduces number families where the arrow is vertical. He shows that the calculation works the same even if the arrow was horizontal. Visual variations of the same problem type show pupils that some changes are irrelevant. The set up with a vertical or horizontal arrow does not change:

  • The question we ask whether to “add or subtract”
  • Which is the big number or small number because the big number is always at the end of the arrow. Small numbers are always along the arrow.

To then include questions sets of the similar type:

This has now been taught explicitly by the teacher using the presentation book. From lesson 11 this skill is practised within the Independent task section of future lessons to ensure pupils don’t forget what they have learnt. Below, I have a table listing the amount of lessons where horizontal and vertical number families are present, in which lessons and in what capacity:

Blue = Teacher-led exercise using prepared script + teacher-guided qus

Green = Independent task where pupils are being tested

White = not present in the teacher-led exercise or independent task

Each number represents the Lesson no. E.g  6 = Lesson 6

In the next post, I will go into the complex worded problems pupil were able to attempt and accurately complete by manipulating the number family set-up.



Charter Academy: Teachers Teach, Kids Learn

On Wednesday, I visited Great Yarmouth Charter Academy and I was truly blown away by how extraordinary the school has become in the space of 5 weeks. This blog post will summarise what I witnessed to be excellent practice:

Chanting Poetry: Invictus

Whilst pupils were entering the hall to go to assembly, I could hear lines from Invictus being chanted with such rhythm and passion. The drama teacher would recite a line in an animated fashion and he would project his voice to resonate to every corner of the room. Pupils would recite back the line or complete the sentence of the line. If it wasn’t good enough then the teacher would repeat the line and get the pupils to recite it again.

Peaceful Corridors

Pupils walked in silence, single-file, on the left hand side with their bag in their right hand. Pupils transitioned through the corridor smiling and greeting their teachers wishing them ‘Good Morning, Sir!’ ‘Good Morning, Miss’. There was no chaos. Pupils would arrive at their teacher’s door with a sense of urgency, purpose and desire to learn. I saw the transition between form time and period one and it was incredibly peaceful and pleasant. Teachers stood in the middle of the corridor reminding pupils of the corridor behaviour expected. One of the teachers remarked that this transition took one minute where in previous years pupils would be arriving 15-20 minutes late to class.


There has clearly been a huge push on uniform because pupils looked incredibly professional. Pupils’ shirts are tucked in, skirts at the knee, ties are immaculate and also hiding their shirt’s top button. I didn’t see any pupils wearing hoodies, coats or trainers. Pupils with scrappy uniform would be dealt with straight away.

Silent lessons

The school’s headteacher,  Barry Smith, took me around to see lots of different lessons. This was the highlight of my visit. Every classroom I walked into I saw pupils SLANTing. They were in silence listening to the teacher talking or watching the teacher writing on the board. I didn’t see any low level disruption in all of the classroom I walked into. I didn’t hear or see pupils whispering to each other, passing notes or speaking rudely or being disrespectful to their teacher. More importantly, I didn’t see a difference between how the kids were SLANTing before Barry entered the room compared to after he had entered. Why? This is because they were SLANTing throughout the lesson.

I went to two English lessons, and in one lesson pupils were in silence writing an essay about different overarching themes of the play, Romeo and Juliet. In the second lesson, I saw a pupil detail the context behind the poem, London, using a wide range of sophisticated language. I was almost brought to tears hearing an eleven-year old pupil share accurate insights into the poem in such a confident and articulate manner. His teacher was so pleased and she showered him with praise.

I watched the Head of Maths teach and she was the respected authority in the classroom. Her pupils were listening intently, they were SLANTing and speedily working away to complete their worksheet of questions. I saw a full 40 minutes of teaching and learning. No disruptions. Every second mattered and every second was utilised for learning.

Pursuit of Happiness

Pupils and teachers are genuinely happy at Charter Academy. Pupils are learning because teachers are able to teach with a clear and consistent behaviour policy being implemented in the school. I ate lunch with the pupils and lots of them shared their joy of being able to learn. More importantly, teachers are beaming with pride over how well-behaved and keen their pupils are to learn. One pupil was very honest and admitted to being the pupil who would truant and hide in the toilets. She admitted how behind she is academically due to the hours she spent outside of the classroom and is now doing extra revision at home and attending after school catch-up classes.

One of the Prefects I found standing in the crowd during break shared with me “I am really loving school. I am learning more than I ever thought possible. My teachers are great. Mr Smith has turned around my school. I am proud to be Charter.”

It is very early days but the school is a wonderful place to be for pupils and teachers and I’m very excited to see what Barry and his team achieve. Thank you to all who had me in theirclassroom!





Teaching a concept from every angle

At Trafalgar College, we have a centralised planning system put in place where all Maths teachers within the department are teaching from the same textbook. This textbook has been designed and agreed by myself and Ian Burchett, Executive Principal.

The rationale behind our decision to use a textbook as our main teaching resource was to ensure that all pupils in the year group, across all ability spectrums, are being taught the same content. The only difference between each class is the amount of time the teacher spends on teaching a particular concept.

This week I taught all my year 8 classes how to write a fraction as an integer (given the numerator is divisible by the denominator) and in the planning process I was thinking of the different problem types that fall under the concept of writing a fraction as an integer, here they are:

  1. Simplifying a fraction where the numerator is divisible by the denominator
  • Using the first 12 multiples of the first 12 times tables

  • Large numerator that requires short division

 2. Finding the missing value which can either be:

  • Numerator
  • Denominator
  • Integer

3. Filling in the missing blanks where the integer is equal to a string of fractions

4. Writing a fraction from a sentence and simplifying it to an integer

5. Deciding if the following equations are true or false

6. Deciding whether the equation will be a mixed number or integer, where the answer would be ‘integer’ or ‘mixed number’

7. Deciding which fraction is the odd one out given a list of fractions which simplify to an integer. Including fractions that do not simplify to an integer

8. Given a number line, state the equivalent fraction for each integer given the denominator of that fraction

What I found was that pupils were genuinely thinking about the concept that was being taught simply because they were trying a variety of different problem types. Essentially, they were doing the same thinking again and again but applying their knowledge in different instances. What I enjoyed was watching the kids ponder, stop and think whilst they were attempting each question on their mini-whiteboards. I saw the pupils correcting their mistakes before I even needed to highlight their mistakes whilst circulating the room. This is simply because I thought about the different ways of assessing a pupil’s ability to write a fraction as an integer.

Rolling Numbers

This September, I started at Trafalgar College in Great Yarmouth and my biggest push for the first week was to ensure that all Year 7s would be able to recite their times tables.

I did this through rolling numbers. This is something I learnt from my visit at KSA, and saw the successful implementation of whilst being at Michaela Community School.

Rolling numbers is a call-and-response chanting of times table facts while pupils are counting off on their fingers. The chants are catchy and funny. There are specific hand motions to each times table chant which allows pupil to distinguish between different times tables – also resulting in many pupils desperately wanting to roll certain times table chants over others.

What worked well?

Kids at Trafalgar College have been successful in learning their times tables. The most effective aspect of it all is the counting off on their fingers. Kids can now associate that 21 is the third multiple of 7. This goes above and beyond having kids just listing out all twelve multiples. This enables pupils to answer certain calculations easily. How did I know this? I could see an improvement in the time it took for pupils to answer times table questions when I would test them before or after my lesson.

The lyrical and rhythmic aspect of the chants really motivates pupils to get involved because it makes reciting times tables fun and exciting. They find the opening line the teacher chants “Team! Team! Good as Gold! Let me see your fingers roll…the threes” motivating because the team element gets the reluctant kids to take part. When I say “roll” the kids start rolling their arms. From the front it looks really impressive to see 32 kids rolling their arms and smiling. Why? Simply because they are having a great time!

What were the struggles?

There are some pupils who will really want to take part more so than other pupils. I did have a small population of pupils who were reluctant, and thought that the whole process was cringeworthy and unnecessary. However, I didn’t let those pupils opt-out. The process of learning your times tables is imperative. My Headteacher put it nicely that learning the times tables is equivalent to learning the alphabet before you learn how to write. I would motivate these reluctant pupils in a positive manner by reminding them that we are a team and that they don’t want to be the person who lets everybody down. If you take part then you will enjoy it. If you take part then you will be able to list off your times tables effortlessly. What really helped was picking the most enthusiastic pupil to stand at the front with me and chant the teacher part. This made reluctant pupils see how successful other pupils have been who took part and motivated them to get involved too.

Why did I push rolling numbers in my first week?

It helps kids learn their times tables, successfully. Kids go through school learning their times tables in a very touch and go fashion and by repeatedly rolling numbers on a daily basis it pushed all pupils across the ability spectrum to commit these facts to their long term memory. The chants are catchy. The kids love the physical movements because they are loud and dramatic. Most importantly, it has made learning something potentially mundane (as children may think) incredibly enjoyable.

« Older posts Newer posts »