Sometimes, teaching English and maths can feel like trying to take your cat out for a walk…

…you approach the task as if it’s going to be the best thing ever, your
enthusiasm knows no bounds as you prepare to lead the way…but their reluctance is powerful and eventually wears you down.

One of the biggest barriers to teaching English and maths skills is the powerful reluctance to engage. Many learners, and staff, have had negative, and sometimes even traumatic, experiences during their previous education in English and maths, which we simply need to overcome if we want the learners to achieve their full potential.

It’s not just you who has the reluctant moggy…

Recently, I’ve been working with colleges around the country and regardless of the individual staff training needs where ever I go all staff are finding the learner (and some staff) negativity to be one of the biggest challenges in the teaching of English and maths. Although this hasn’t come as a surprise to me at all, it did make me think that some easy pointers and tips might be gratefully received.

Make the cat feel happy, safe and confident and they’ll follow you anyway! 

Changing the mindsets of learners 

#1 Identifying barriers – it’s not just about completing initial assessments and diagnostics, then filing them away as job done, you need to assess in more detail. What are your learners likes and dislikes in English and maths? What are their fears? Their previous experiences? Their aspirations? Interactive activities to gain this information are invaluable.

acti#2 Meeting the needs and interests of learners – Gaining the knowledge above enables us to do just that. Following activities to identify further information about our learners’ previous experiences allows us to tailor our sessions to meet their learning needs, appeal to their interests and remove barriers early on. E.g.a learner studying English may refuse to engage due to a fear of having to read work to the group, if this learner is assured that this will never happen, the barrier is removed and they become engaged.

#3 Contextualising English and maths – The old classic we’ve all heard: ‘I didn’t come here to study English and maths’… but they did come to you to learn how to succeed in their chosen profession, so it seems obvious that we need to contextualise the sessions to highlight the relevance of English and maths to the learners. If your learners aren’t studying a vocational qualification, they still have interests, find out what they are and pickingcontextualise that way! E.g. adult learners will have hobbies, interests, aspirations – your activities can be created in a way which includes these.  The best way of thinking of ideas for this is by creating activities for your learners where they tell you the relevance. There are loads of resources out there to help you with this, but no better resources than the specialists who work alongside you…

#4 Collaboration between tutors – Vocational specialists and English and maths specialists have a common goal…to enable the learners to achieve and progress. Now, more than ever, vocational and English and maths are crossing over, if you’re not already doing it, it’s time to work together. Two simple methods: 1) English and maths specialists email vocational staff weekly to inform them of this weeks topic, vocational specialists reply with links to vocational lessons which will naturally occur. 2) Vocational tutors are required to support their learners to develop English and maths skills, where appropriate, in vocational sessions – English and maths teachers can share ways to support development of skills in weekly team meetings. #sharinggoodpractice!

#5 Changing the way we give feedbackDr Carol Dweck’s study on feedback explores the impact praising effort oppocarol dwecksed to intelligence has on learner progression. Think how it would feel as a D grade student in secondary school, potentially always achieving lower grades than some of your peers, even though you put as much effort in, if not more, than your class mates do…eventually, if the amount of effort goes unnoticed, the motivation would understandably disappear. Could this be a reason for that D grade? Remember that in college, our D grade students are top of the class! They have lots to share and if motivated successfully can step over that C grade threshold and beyond!

That’s enough to get started with…consider your own practice and if any of the above could be implemented more successfully.

Get it right and your learners could even lead the way for others.

To view an example training session on changing learner mindsets in maths and English, please visit by clicking here.



Experienced teacher in all things English: I teach GCSE English Language, FS English at all levels and deliver bespoke training and qualifications in promoting English and maths to all vocational departments as an Education and Training Consultant. I have mentored many trainee teachers specialising in English and maths, who work for and/or complete placements at college, supporting them in all aspects of becoming a confident teacher of English/maths in Further Education. I provide training on teaching and learning to colleges across the country and am an author for Hodder Education, writing contextualised English resources for use in vocational areas and GCSE English resources for use in FE.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s