Engaging and motivating learners

Learners often enter further education and work-based learning not to study maths and English, but to train in their chosen vocational area. Most simply don't see why GCSEs are relevant! Add to this the fact that most learners will have recent experience of 'failure' with these subjects-often on several occasions. Some may have developed a strong dislike of the subjects, which in some cases may manifest itself as anxiety that can block their ability to learn.

Listen to the audio clips below of two learners from a training provider talking about how confident they are of achieving GCSE maths.

Research by the Research Base in 2014 (Effective Practices in Post-16 Vocational Maths) suggests key factors that cause learners to disengage from maths (and English) are:

  • lack of perceived relevance to employment and real-life contexts.
  • previous negative experiences at school (including large class sizes, lack of support and behaviour management issues).
  • low learner self-confidence.

Key issues to consider are:

Getting the message across

  • Employability and progression are important selling points for GCSEs-and employers can be used to reinforce this message to learners.
  • Learners need to be informed up-front about maths and English being central to their programmes, reinforced by positive messages from their vocational teachers.

The learner voice

  • Repeating approaches that learners have failed with at school are unlikely to be successful-new and more engaging approaches need to be tried, informed by feedback from learners.
  • Even though GCSEs are more difficult to directly contextualise to vocational subjects, they can still be taught in practical ways which make the subjects 'meaningful' and enjoyable for learners.

Research to gather learners' views was carried out by NIACE (2015) called Engaging Learners in GCSE Maths and English, resulting in ten key messages for the sector. Messages range from the importance of small class sizes to strong behaviour management skills of teachers, appropriate time and support both within the classroom and outside, as well as personal relevance of the qualification for learners and timely feedback.

Developing a growth mindset

  • Many young people have developed maladaptive beliefs about their English and (especially) maths abilities-developing 'growth mindsets' and 'mathematical resilience' have been shown to benefit learners' self-belief and progress in these subjects.
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