Teaching Stories

Teaching Stories #8: James Norman

Dr James Norman is a BILT Fellow and Programme Director for Civil Engineering.

Take a break

Many, many years ago I gave a three hour lecture on concrete with out taking a break. In the three hours I barely paused for breath, let alone stopping to enable students to collect their thoughts and order them (or go to the loo). This was back in 2003 and I had recently become a Research Assistant. A combination of my own exhaustion, friendly feedback from a member of staff and a few reasonable student comments helped me realise that maybe three hours without a break was a little unreasonable.

So I started subdividing my sessions, first into 50 minute chunks but now into (roughly) 20 minute chunks. I generally deliver my units in two hour sessions and so I now divide this into 4 20 minute chunks. In the gaps sometimes I give students exercises and things to do or dwell on, but sometimes I just suggest they stretch their legs, get some fresh air, take a moment to catch up. I often answer questions in these breaks and I try and move around the teaching space making myself available. Sometimes these will be questions on the subject at hand, sometimes they will be about something tangential (grand designs seems to come up lot) and sometimes it will be advice about other parts of life (jobs, other units, projects they are working on, societies they are involved in).

News, Teaching Stories

Teaching Stories #7: Aydin Nassehi

This teaching story is submitted by Aydin Nahessi, a Reader in Manufacturing Systems and Head of Mechanical Engineering.

Using name labels to make the interactions more personal

In a medium sized class (around 40 students) dealing with a relatively technical subject, I wanted to create more interactivity. I observed that asking questions from “the student with the red top” or “the student with the blue jacket” was very impersonal and strengthened the feeling that I was “picking” on students. Last year, I asked them write what they would like to be called on a piece of paper and put it in front of them. I then used these names to ask them questions or create dialogue between them (e.g. Ed what do you think about Joshua’s point?). In addition to creating lively discussions, this had the side effect that by the end of the teaching block, I had learned the names of the majority of the class.

News, Teaching Stories

Teaching Stories #6: Ksenia Shalonova

My unusual classroom observation

This teaching story was submitted by Ksenia Shalonova , a Teaching Fellow in Engineering Mathematics.

When I was pursuing a teaching career, it was common to be observed by your manager. They normally come with a long list of things that you did right and wrong, the boxes that you ticked and did not tick … One of my managers was quite exceptional – may be because he was a rugby player in the past? He mentioned only two things to me that I still remember and sometimes struggle to fulfil.

(1) When you ask students a question, do not be tempted to answer the question yourself even if they struggle. Always give them a chance to reflect and to make mistakes that is important in the learning process. (2) If you want to engage your students in using a certain software product (such as Excel or Matlab), use this software yourself during your lectures.

bristol conversations in education logo

Bristol Conversations in Education: Preservice and practising mathematics teachers as learners: From initial and professional development activities to classroom practice


This event is part of the School of Education’s ‘Bristol Conversations in Education’ seminar series.

Speaker: Professor Salvador Llinares

How are different kinds of learning activities in teacher education (initial and professional development activities) reflected in mathematics classroom practice? Different theoretical perspectives, such as enactivism and socio-cultural perspectives, try to explain the shifts between the contexts of prospective/teacher learning. The issues raised in this domain are framed by questions such as “Where, under what conditions and how mathematics teacher learn”. Enactivism helps to explain how activities in professional development can support teachers in modifying their practice when they return to their own classroom. From this perspective, teacher learning is a shift in the patterns of interaction in a particular teaching context, that is, it is the product of the system consisting of teacher educator, teachers and context that frame the learning situation. On the other hand, professional noticing, as a way to become cognizant of mathematics teaching events by knowledge-based reasoning processes, provides a structure for prospective teachers to understand and act in particular contexts. Understanding prospective teachers’ noticing development could help to explain how prospective teachers develop responsive mathematics teaching. This approach draws on the insight that every recurrent interaction prospective teachers have with a mathematics teaching situation (attending, interpreting and deciding) influences them as teachers.

Links between enactivism and noticing to understand prospective teachers and teachers learning in different institutional contexts in which teacher education initiatives are included will be explored. In particular, featuring the ways in which prospective teachers and teachers participate in activities from teacher education programs to endow meaning to mathematics teaching in their practices.