Why can’t they remember things?

The never ending heartfelt cry of most teachers I suspect. You teach things, in some cases over and over again, and yet the children don’t seem to remember any of what you have told them.

This does seem to be a particular problem in maths. Whether it is worse in maths or whether, because it is such a hierarchical subject that the gaps are more apparent, I don’t know. However both myself and my year group colleague are finding it difficult to move on with a lot of our children as previously taught ideas and concepts have not been retained.

An example of this is being able to multiply and divide by 10 and 100. This is a key concept in year 5 and we have spent a huge amount of time on it. Before Christmas I would happily say that nearly all the children in my maths group of 36 had a good understanding of this concept and could explain it and use it.

However, last week I put up a mixed bag of fairly simple calculations for the children to do during registration. One of these was to find 1/10 of 20. I was greeted by several blank faces when I asked for the answer. I prompted them by asking what they needed to do. The reply was ‘divide by 10’. I felt more positive and was sure that I would get the correct response when I asked how they would do this. One of my brighter children replied confidently that they needed to split 20 into 10 little chunks!

All the work that I had done on moving numbers up and down the number line had not prepared them for a simple question and yet I have ticked off that element on their APP grids. Do I now untick it?

My feeling of despair grew worse after an assessment paper revealed that half the class had forgotten basic methods for the four operations.

In his book “What’s the point of school”, Guy Claxton makes this point:

“The idea that a teacher can see a child do something, and then tick a box to say that they ‘possess’ the relevant skill or ability is simply nonsense. ”

He goes on to say that  a child being able to do something in  one context does not mean that they will be able to do it again at a future date in a different context. From my own experience I would agree with this. But where does that leave our assessment of children?

And the problem remains that there are various hoops that the children need to be able to jump through by the end of each school year. My own performance management target is looking impossible at the moment.

My short term response is to drill the children in the things that they really should be able to do when they leave me. I have done my best to teach for understanding and will continue to do this. I will also carry on trying to find ways of getting them to use the concepts in different contexts. However I am also going to spend more time on practising basic arithmetic methods. Each morning we will go over a method for one of the 4 operations and practise it for 5-10 minutes.

Hopefully this will result in more connections being made and the children being able to retain and use the methods more easily.


2 thoughts on “Why can’t they remember things?

  1. Chris Clarke (duckiec)

    Having just led a staff workshop introducing maths APP to our school and trying to be positive about it as an assessment method, your blog is ringing so many bells. If you find any answers to the dilemma I’m sure you could make a fortune!

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