Cathy Attard at the University of Western Sydney wrote (Oct 2010) about a longitudinal study of maths students and their perceptions of good teaching. I summarise this list for future reference. A good maths teacher, apparently:
- is passionate about teaching mathematics;
- responds to students’ individual needs;
- gives clear explanations;
- uses scaffolding rather than providing answers;
- encourages positive attitudes towards mathematics; and
- shows an awareness of each students’ prior knowledge.
These opinions come from 20 Year 6 students who were then followed through Years 7 and 8. There are interesting results from the study. The key messages (for me) from their high-school experience are that students’ relationship with their teacher is the most important factor in their engagement with mathematics, more so than the style of teaching; and that the overuse of technology risks depersonalising the educational experience.
The first observation comes as no great surprise to me, but it’s valuable for that message to be reinforced. (Remember it when people predict a future where teachers are replaced by robots.) The second is interesting. Using technology in the maths classroom certainly gets a range of responses from students. Even when I’m sure I’ve developed an interesting and meaningful activity, there are usually some students who don’t enjoy it and don’t see the point. These are usually students who would normally be engaged.
As for the list above, it’s interesting but I’d rather know the point of view of Year 7–12 students (preferably a separate list for each year group). Nonetheless, I find it encouraging: items 1, 3, 4 and 5 come naturally to me (well, “clear explanations” requires lots of practice…) and I don’t brush up too badly on items 2 and 6 either.
Don’t get me wrong, like any person I certainly have weak spots. It’s just nice to know that, for 20 Year 6 students out there in a different time and space, my weaknesses aren’t among the things they consider important 😉