Andy Walmsley describes how action research at Biddick School Sports College was used to target students’ learning needs and develop peer coaching among teachers.

The starting point for my action research project came from an SMT review of the department that highlighted an over-emphasis of the use of textbooks in the teaching of mathematics.

Project outline

  • Develop teaching and learning styles within the mathematics department.
  • Encourage teachers to try new teaching styles with a focus group of their choice.
  • Use peer coaching as a vehicle to drive this development – pairing teachers together to discuss ideas and develop new materials and strategies.

The table above right shows the responses when students were asked to indicate their preferred teaching method and what they considered was used most in my teaching. It indicated what the SMT review highlighted – that students completed textbook work the most and that this was their least favourite teaching method!

In order to address the issue, the department introduced peer coaching, with colleagues working in pairs to develop materials for group work activities. This began with a department meeting, with staff pairing according to Year 9 classes. Materials were produced to cover a series of lessons for a topic of their choice. Lessons were observed and feedback given in a later meeting. While the exercise was worthwhile, there was no grounding for the pairings to continue to work together.

In order for the department to effectively use peer coaching to develop teaching and learning within mathematics, we needed to start at a different point on the learning cycle (see diagram below). We had initially started at the ‘variety of activities’ section, trying to create new activities to engage the students.

By moving forward to the ‘reflecting on their learning’ section the department was able to use assessment data more effectively.

Assessment for learning strategies were being developed within the department, with the use of traffic light systems to assess progress through objectives common in the classroom.

Following each test, staff completed assessment grids to analyse the performance of each student for each question. Using Microsoft Excel, scores for each question were highlighted in different colours to show where students got 70% or more of the question correct, 40% or more correct or less than 40% correct. This indicated the level of understanding for each question for each student.

The assessment grids allowed for students to set individual targets for improvement and class teachers to set targets for whole-class consolidation.

Once all the assessment grids had been completed, they were placed on the department shared intranet site for cross analysis. By comparing two different classes that had completed the same test, I was able to highlight common areas for improvement. In analysing the grids across Year 9 mock SAT grids and Year 10, the department was able to establish that the topic of ‘averages’ was a common topic for improvement. This topic would now become the curricular target for the department for the coming academic year.

The following department meetings now allowed the department to discuss the teaching of averages Staff worked in threes for peer coaching purposes, each group focusing on one aspect of averages, creating activities for the whole department to use.

The department will use assessment grids in the same way to evaluate the effectiveness of this peer coaching throughout the next academic year. By sharing this system of assessing student test results in a whole-school Inset, other departments have also begun to use the grids, creating curricular targets in the same way.

Andy Walmsley, head of mathematics, Biddick School Sports College