Why Book Scrutinies Don’t Work…

Posted in Inspiration & Ideas

My confusion around why, when we’re all aiming to support high standards and progress in maths, ‘Book Trawls/Scrutinies’ remain such popular approach in achieving this…

Part 1: Introduction: 

Book scrutinies do seem to have a place in English. As there will hopefully be a range of writing samples, from completely independent work to guided practice, we can gain a relatively accurate view of a child’s progress, their level of attainment and how effectively they are responding to regular teacher feedback. Making the same judgments using recorded mathematics, however, is very different story. 

Mathematics is a subject centred around noticing, exploration, explanation and proof. The written symbols are a purely way of capturing that thinking and rarely reveal the thinking and processing taking place. As we currently move towards maths teaching that focuses upon what makes us mathematical, involving proof, conjecture and generalization, we must encourage and support teachers in creating a far more effective balance regarding what is done, talked about and recorded. Practical, talk-driven learning coupled with effective use of construction using concrete apparatus, recording using pictorial images and finally connecting this to the written abstract symbols are all essential elements in building mathematical fluency . Using book scrutinies not only fails to value this but, far more worryingly, is actually having a very negative impact on the way teachers feel they must ‘teach’ and what children are being taught to value as ‘learning’ . 

Noticing the Problem

Why are we monitoring?

  • To evaluate the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning in mathematics 
  • To evaluate consistency across classes, year groups of key stages
  • To gain an accurate and valuable insight into areas of strength in practice and areas requiring development
  • To celebrate achievement, creativity and ownership from both teachers and learners
  • To hear our pupils’ ‘voice’ as the key player in this game; ‘What messages about learning am I hearing? What messages am I taking on board?’ ‘What do I see as important?’
  • To empower our teachers to improve by sharing reliable and valued feedback from the learners and other ‘expert’ sources 

Childs’ Voice:

  • Maths is maths when you record it (Most adults I teach now believe this)
  • Using equipment is for people who ‘aren’t very good’ at maths. If I can record maths without equipment I must be better at it.
  • Quantity matters and the amount of ticks and correct answers is important
  • Using equipment is ‘playing’ and not really maths. Playing is something younger children do.
  • There are people in my class that are good at maths and people who aren’t and some that are just ‘ok
  • It’s better when you show me how to do it. If I have to work it out for myself I get frustrated because I’m not getting it right or being first (very common view with higher – attainer in particular).
  • I don’t really look back in my book; we just do more new stuff (a maths book can/should be a ‘journal’ of learning so that it can fully support ongoing reflection and connection (meaning there’s less to learn)

Teachers’ Voice:

  • Having books taken in my SLT to be looked at when I’m not there scares me and makes me anxious
  • I constantly worry about what’s in my books and what’s recorded more than anything else in my teaching due to this fear
  • I value coverage over learning as I know I have to show I’ve ‘taught’ this
  • I value what is recorded over what is discussed and explored because of this
  • Having to record everything goes against the message I’m getting about doing  more practical maths and having lots of class and group discussions
  • I’m getting mixed messages about differentiation and I spend a lot of time worrying about this rather than differentiating by responding to my children’ needs as they arise
  • When I experience valuable and inspirational new ways of working on training, my first thoughts are ‘Yes, but, what will the recording look like and how will I show evidence in their books’. This leads to a reluctance to action the learning that has inspired me and a likelihood I will continue to teach as I do now. I feel bad now though as I’ve seen a better way but don’t feel I can teach like this’.

Changing Our Approach (and achieving what we were actually aiming for in the first place)

Why wait for others to change first and then follow them? Truly great schools are only focused upon what is right and what works for their children and teachers. 

Let’s start by re-focusing our aims:

Key Messages for Monitoring Effectiveness of Teaching and Learning in Mathematics

  • Effective teaching is about planning learning journeys: moving from ‘a line of enquiry’ through to ‘purposeful practice’ and then ‘application and variation’. Medium term preparation needs to be primarily focused upon teacher subject knowledge of the conceptual understanding involved in this process and the steps to understanding. Short term planning needs to be highly reflective and responsive on a daily basis within this journey; focused primarily upon pedagogy.
  • What is ‘taught’ and ‘covered’ may have little to do with what is ‘learned’. Evaluation of whole school practice must always be about how effectively children are learning. Re-producing procedures that have just been modelled is not evidence of learning. Application and variation using both conjecture and generalisation at a later stage in the journey and an ability to identify when to use a particular procedure efficiently is evidence of learning.
  • Noticing, discussion, argument, explanation and proof lie at the heart of learning. What is recorded needs to support a child’s ability to recall, reflect and expand upon a learning experience. This can only be done with the child present.
  • Over decades, monitoring practices have eroded teacher ownership and confidence. Fear and being judged has replaced a sense of professional passion and drive in most (regardless of existing good relations between SLT and staff). Workload issues leading to despondency, exhaustion, mental health issues and the mass exodus of many experienced staff has been the  unsurprising (and incredibly sad) consequence of practices such as book scrutinies (along side others which can be discussed at a later stage)

So, what could we practically do to really meet the aims we’re setting out to achieve?

Part 2: Exploring Alternative Practices – Coming very soon!



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  •  

    Thank you so much Karen. I enjoyed the training this morning tremendously and tried out the ideas straight after lunch with my class leading to 20 mins of enthusiastic discussion! Brilliant!

    The children said they really enjoyed it and wanted to do more so I am definitely going to be changing my teaching!’

  • Thank you for showing us HOW to change. So many courses just tell us what isn't working but not how to go about addressing this. Your approaches make so much sense! Thank you.

  • Just to say thank you again for 3 really brilliant talks at SGIS. We're a small school near Basel and we’d be interested in anything you’re doing nearby (Zurich way) so please let us know!