#136 Dani Quinn – Part 1: Michaela School, Planning Lessons, Low Stakes Tests

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On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, I spoke to Dani Quinn.

Dani is the Head of Maths at Micheala Community School – arguably the most discussed, scrutinised, controversial school in the county. It’s a school whose policies and practices divide opinion in both the teaching and political worlds. So, having read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers, and seen Dani speak, and thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, I couldn’t wait to get her on the show.

Now, in a world first for the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, this interview will be split over two parts. Why, I hear you ask? Well, because it is so flipping long! I just had so many questions to ask Dani, and then loads of the things she spoke about prompted new questions. So, the part you about to listen to covers the planning and delivery of maths lessons in Michaela, going into minute detail about how each component works in practice and what the justification is, together with a discussion about Michaela’s homeworks and weekly tests. Dani and I – so long as this experience has not put her off – will then reconvene at some point in the future to discuss the practice of drilling, Michaela’s behaviour policy, wider issues in Maths teaching, her Big 3, advice for teachers, and probably a fair bit of other stuff as well.

So, in a wide ranging, interview we covered the following things and more:

  • Why do maths teachers at Michaela not think in terms of planning lessons, but in planning topics?
  • What do student topic booklets look like, and how do teachers use them to aid their planning?
  • When might it be right to teach the “how” before the “why”?
  • We go off on a bit of a tangent and discuss introducing linear equations, and why making it more difficult for the students in the initial stages might be a very good thing to do.
  • How does Dani use the material of former podcast guests John Corbett and Will Emney, together with Jo Boaler’s Number Talks?
  • One thing that struck me when reading the Tiger Teachers book was the emphasis on a period of reading in each lesson – how exactly does this work in maths?
  • How are misconceptions addressed and resolved both before and during lessons?
  • How does differentiation work?
  • What does actual classwork look like?
  • Why does Dani not bother with plenaries?
  • Michaela students get maths homeworks every single night – what do these homeworks look like?
  • Why don’t Michaela teachers mark books?
  • A key component of the learning process at Michaela are the weekly tests. What do they look like, how are they marked, and how is the resulting information utilised?
  • How does Dani use competition effectively, and why is controlling the narrative of this competition so important? And, if like me you have always shied away from publicly condemning students’ poor performance in front of other students, you will find this bit of particular interest – it has really got me thinking.
  • Finally, we end Part 1 with Dani describing a bad lesson she taught, and what she learned from it. And please stick around for this one, as it is a classic with a very important message.

I am going to come right out and say it – I found this conversation fascinating. Dani was incredibly open and honest, and as a Head of Department she clearly and passionately believes wholeheartedly in what she is doing. You may not agree with a lot of what she has to say, but it is clear that each component of Michaela’s approach to teaching mathematics has been carefully thought through, so if nothing else it will give you plenty of food for thought.

Just before we get cracking, as I have discussed in the last few episodes, these interviews are really making me reflect on my teaching – scrutinising routines and practices that I have religiously followed for the last 12 years of my career without really giving them a second thought. Inspired by the likes of Dylan Wiliam, Tom Bennett, Greg Ashman, Mark McCourt and Will Emney, I have started to judge my approach to teaching under the microscope of educational based research. And it has been quite an eye opener. I have reviewed over 60 papers, from the fields of Explicit Instruction, Memory, Problem Solving, Fluency, Cognitive Load Theory, Formative Assessment and more, and for each paper I have provided a Takeaway where I describe the impact the paper has had on my teaching. You can find the page at: mrbartonmaths.com/teachers/research/ I plan to add to it over the next few months, and indeed the rest of my career. I really hope you find it useful. And I’ll be discussing the Retrieval Effect in relation to Michaela’s weekly tests in the Takeaway at the end of the show, and it is something every teacher listening can put into practice.

On Twitter Dani is @danicquinn
Her excellent blog can be found at: missquinnmaths.wordpress.com/
My educational research page can be found at: mrbartonmaths.com/teachers/research/

As ever, if you enjoy this podcast, please share it with your colleagues. And seeing as we will have Dani back on the show, why not make a note of any questions you have, and tweet them to me at @mrbartonmaths. And if you have time to give us a review on iTunes, then the egomaniac in me would be delighted.

My usual plugs:

Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you enjoy the show!
Craig Barton

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