Keeping Parents Informed

With GCSE results in and being analysed and the new school year about the kick off, it seems a good time to reflect on what we did as a maths department last year and if it can be improved in any way.

I have already written about our new Scheme of Work and the positive influence I hope this will have on both our staff and our students. But an email I received recently got me thinking about another aspect of mathematical eduction  – keeping parents informed and involved.

There is little doubt that a supportive parenting structure can have huge benefits on students, and one of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that they either don’t know or don’t understand how their children are getting on in maths.

Perhaps this idea and the supporting resources from Luke Vanner, Head of Maths at Queensbury Academy,  might just help out.

I will let Luke explain his idea in his own words:

I have been using our “state of the nation” letters for the past few years.

Parents of our students have always been very positive about the information that this gives them, to help them to support their sons/daughters.

I also take every opportunity to remind parents about how to check that their son/daughter is receiving Maths homework and whether or not they are doing it, plus plugging the Mathswatch DVD. Over 90% of our Year 11 students have purchased it this year.

Although the “state of the nation” letter runs to 4 pages, if printed out, parents have told me that they appreciate the level of detail and say that there is nothing that they would want removed, just for the sake of brevity.

It does take time to set up the “state of the nation” letter but once done, it can be reused for subsequent mock exams, simply by changing the tracking sheet used for the link.

To go with this, after each mock exam, I create a “star chart” to tackle the areas for improvement, as identified in the analysis of each paper. Students just love getting the stickers put on to the star chart, which I blue tack to the whiteboard. Students only get a sticker when they have completed the Mathswatch worksheet(s) associated with the question. I have attached an example here. I use a standard RAG colour code, where green is “full marks”, yellow is “almost full marks”, red is “the rest”. By using a BEFORE and AFTER worksheet, students can see their starting point and progression each lesson. I keep an electronic copy (example attached) as well as the paper copy and use it to encourage the class and graphically demonstrate the progress that they have made each lesson. Since I copy/paste the data from our tracking sheet, it doesn’t take too long to set this up, adding colour codes, etc.

Students are also given a 2 page copy of their question analysis letter covering the 2 papers only without the first two pages of the covering letter and summary data, which is glued into their exercise books, for reference. A separate sheet is used to “sign off” the star chart as well, so that there is evidence of pupil progress, tailored to individual need.

When I first introduced this to my team, there were concerns about the amount of additional work required to enter the score for each question for each student on the spreadsheet. However, when the benefits were seen, staff now compete to see who can finish first (yes, really). It is also possible to relieve the burden by giving the question papers to an admin person who can enter the data for staff, if for example, they have 3 classes’ papers to mark. We also help each other.

I have attached a copy of the instructions that have screenshots included. I have simplified the examples considerably, showing that this technique could be used for an end of topic test as well, but also to show enough in the screenshot, rather than just a lot of columns for a full question paper.

I hope that this will prove useful to others. It uses the technology that already exists in every school so there are no cost implications. If parents do not have an email address, the letter can always be printed out and posted instead.

I personally think this is a really interesting idea, and one we will certainly give a lot of thought to. And I would like to thank Luke for being kind enough to share his work.

And here are Luke’s resources:

Example of state of the nation letter, using Nov 2012 Edexcel Higher tier papers

Copy of instructions for mail-merged letters sent out via email

Example of star chart after mock exam March 2014

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