## How I passed the QTS maths test – part 2

The first part of the QTS skills test is the mental maths section. To pass this, it helps to have a good grasp of times tables. I was lucky that I already knew these really well because my school had insisted we knew up to 12 x 12 by the end of year 4.

If you who don’t know your times tables, my first piece of advice would be – learn them. Get to know them inside out and back to front. If you’re a visual learner, pin flashcards on your bathroom mirror, inside your fridge, above your desk and anywhere else you are likely to spot them as you go about your day. If you’re an auditory learner, record yourself saying them and listen to them instead of the radio when you’re out in the car, watch times tables songs on YouTube and sing along. If you’re a kinaesthetic learner, try turn tables cards.

Learn some times tables tricks. If there are any in particular that you struggle with, give yourself an incentive to remember them. If 7 x 8, 7 x 9 and 9 x 6 are the ones really holding you back, change the PIN on your bank card to 7856, the PIN on your phone to 7963 and your house alarm to 9654!

When you are confident that you know them, make sure you know them backwards. It helps to know that 2 x 9 and 3 x 6 both equal 18, but it helps even more if you can look at 18 and know that it’s divisible by 2, 3, 6 and 9.Finally, practice spotting relations between numbers. If you know 4 x 8 = 32, then you also know 320 is divisible by 4 and 8 as well as by 10, 40 and 80.

Then enlist a friend who is good at maths to give you some problems to solve. I got my husband to set me 3 problems a day, along the lines of: If I can buy two tins of soup for 70p, how many can I buy for £4.20? Here I had to spot the relationship between 42÷7 = 6 and 420 ÷ 70 = 6 . Once you know what sort of thing you’re looking for, it doesn’t take that long to spot it.

Ok after tables make sure you are confident with number bonds eg 6 + 4 =10 and 3+7 = 10 so 16 + 4 = 20 and 13 + 7 = 20. If you’re anything like I was, even though you know 3 + 7 = 10 you still feel obliged to count on your fingers – you know, just in case it’s changed since last time! The key is practice, practice, practice until you can override that desire. Then make sure you are equally confident at splitting single digit numbers into smaller ones. Eg 7 = 6 + 1 and 5 + 2 and 4 + 3. This means you can now quickly turn 18 + 7 into 18 + 2 (= 20) + 5 = 25, without needing to slow yourself down by counting on fingers.

Last of all it was time to get to grips with fractions and percentages. The first thing to remember is that fractions and percentages are the same. I wasn’t convinced either, but remember that per cent means out of 100 so 70% = 70/100 and doesn’t that look just like a fraction. The second thing to remember is that fractions are easy when you know your times tables and have practiced looking for relationships between numbers. 1/7 of 42 = …oh look it’s that relationship between 7 and 42 again and by now we all know that’s six.

For the mental maths part of the test I practiced for 10 minutes every day for 6 weeks and that was plenty. If I hadn’t already known my times tables I may have needed double that time, but still not as long as you might think for a mathsphobic. And if I can do it you can too.

If you feel you need a little tuition to get you through the skills tests, and you live in north Birmingham, get in touch to see how I can help you.

## Beast Quest Comprehension

I’m not a literary snob, really I’m not – I’ll take a ‘thumping good read’ over a ‘short-listed for the Booker prize’ any day. Even so, when I began working with a child who hated reading but who said he was prepared to give the Beast Quest books a go, my heart sank. How on earth was I supposed to find anything of merit in Beast Quest?

The book Daniel* chose was Nixa the Death Bringer from the Avantia series. I decided to work on one chapter per one hour session, so I wrote down 10 questions for each one, which left time to read the chapter at the beginning of the session, and to make a prediction at the end as to what was going to happen in the next chapter. And so, with a sense of despair, I started reading it with a pen in my hand to write down questions.

Well…it surprised me!

Obviously I managed to write some retrieval questions – they were the easy ones. I hadn’t expected to be able to come up with much more than that though.

In fact, I was able to write a whole range from technique (Why did the writer use italics for this section?  What is the purpose of the ellipsis in the 2nd paragraph), to working out the meaning of difficult words (sliver, stifle, pinnacle), and inference (How is the character feeling at the end of this chapter? What makes you think this?)

There were opportunities for Daniel to give and justify opinions (Do you think the title of this chapter was a good one? Why (not)? Do you think the main character made the right decision at the end of this paragraph? Why (not)?) and also to pick out other people’s view points in the text.

There were chances for him to show his understanding by explaining what various pronouns referred to, some of which referred to things in the last or even last but one sentence.

I found examples of alliteration, similes, homonyms….even anthropomorphism!

As Daniel got quicker at answering the questions and at finding the evidence in the text to support his answers, we started to have a few spare minutes at the end of the sessions where we could look at short snippets from other books and even answer a question or two about them. The result? Daniel realised that not all books are boring…he has even started reading for pleasure at home! Last session he proudly told me that the previous evening, instead of spending all his time playing on his Xbox he had read the first 34 pages of Harry Potter.

I’m really glad I took a gamble on basing reading comprehension tuition around Beast Quest instead of just dismissing it out of hand.

* not his real name

## You Can’t Always Get What You Want

A few years ago I was engaged to tutor a Year 6 girl who was desperate to get a Level 5 in her SATs, because she really wanted to be in the top stream when she started secondary school.

Her school had said she was very behind where she should be for her age, and when I assessed her in the first session I put her at about a 2A.

Katie*  wanted a Level 5 so badly that she said she was prepared to work hard and do as much work in her own time as she could fit in. I told her I would help her improve as much as possible, but gently explained that to get from a 2A to a 5 in 2½ terms was really unrealistic.

Each week I worked with her on things that she had found difficult in school, and each week I gave her homework to practise what we had worked on. Sometimes when I leave homework for children they don’t do it. That’s OK – I know they have homework from school and that has to take priority. But Katie did her school homework AND the homework I gave her, and quite often found extra work for herself.

She worked hard for the whole year. The week of the SATs arrived. She was as prepared as I could get her in the time we’d had and we just had to wait for the results and see.

After the SATs, Katie didn’t stop working hard – she carried on with tutoring and with homework. The results of the SATs arrived: Katie had achieved a 4A.

From a 2A to a 4A in 2½ terms is a great achievement, but it wasn’t the 5 she had set her heart on. You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes, if you work hard enough, you can. Katie started secondary school in September and guess what? She got into the top set.

* not her real name

To book a private maths or English tutor in north Birmingham (Great Barr, Hamstead, Kingstanding, Pheasey, Streetly, Sutton), contact me via my website.

## X is for…

X is for…eXtra help. Sometimes people need a little extra help to learn this. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it can be tricky to learn in a class with 29 other children. This is where private tutors can help. Private tuition is usually for an hour a week, but it can be more or less depending on what your family wants for you. It will probably happen in your own home, where you feel comfortable. It can be short term, just to help you catch up on one or two particular things you missed in school, or longer term if you find lots of things difficult. If you live in north Birmingham you could ask you parents or carers to have a look at my website to see how I could help you.  If you live in other parts of the country I may be able to recommend someone, or if not there is always Google.

Related post: W is for…   Y is for…

## Manic Monday

Manic Monday. Think The Bangles had it right there – Mondays are definitely my most manic day of the week at the moment.

They start too early when the alarm goes off on one side, and my husband shakes me on the other to make sure I don’t ignore the alarm! Then it’s up, showered, dressed, breakfast if I have time and out the door.  I get to school, which is in south Birmingham, just in time to check my emails and then over to my House (the House is like a before school social event for the children) to accompany the pupils to chapel.

After chapel, lessons start, but I can’t get into my classroom straight away because it is someone else’s form room so I have to wait until the children have been registered and dismissed. By this time I can enter my first class is already lining up outside so I have to welcome them into the classroom, grab the books from the cupboard to be given out and log on to the computer at the same time.

I have three lessons back to back with three different year groups and two different languages. At last it’s break time, but that’s not a chance to catch my breath – that’s time to pick up pen and paper and head over to the main building for a staff meeting.

Lunchtimes on a Monday are a rush too – shorter for me on Mondays than on the other days of the week because I teach infants straight after their lunch on a Monday, but theirs begins earlier than ours so their lessons start half an hour earlier in the afternoon.

Thankfully I have a free period at the end of the day so I can begin marking, but straight after work I head back to north Birmingham to begin my other job as a private tutor – I don’t even have time to go home first.  Two hours of tutoring later and I’m off to my adult education class. By the time I get there the class is well under way so I offer my apologies and take my seat.

Thirteen and a half hours after leaving my home, I walk back through my front door. Just time to think about an evening meal, washing up and feeding my pets before collapsing into bed.

Thank goodness Mondays only happen once a week!

To find out more about my work, visit my website www.sjbteaching.com.