Friday, 10 March 2017

The Holistic Approach: Investing in Student's goals and ambitions

On the preface, further education is all about the Holistic approach, according to Patel (2003) we can describe holistic learning as a method of self improvement where we consider aspects of a students character in order to help them within every aspect of their working life. An example of this may be a student who is studying Level 2 Bricklaying, who has a complete programme of English and Maths embedded within their practice of learning about the trade. Are we doing the right thing by our learners within Mathematics education in FE to ensure that we are doing our best for our learners? I will be discussing the methods and approaches you can use to develop the Holistic approach within FE teaching.

Regardless of what you teach within FE or any educational sector, we have a duty to give a good, well rounded educational experience to every learner in the room. This is no easy feat, we have a lot of students who can be resistant to change as well as those who do not see the value in education. If we have learnt anything from our student groups about their approach to education, it is fair to suggest that they may not have the right approach when they step foot within your Mathematics classroom as another year of resits lies ahead.

Holistic Education considers a whole-person based approach to learning (Image Courtesy of

When we look at learning styles, we are usually greeted by the same terminology, visual, auditory, kinetic etc for ways in which to teach our students. as a new practitioner myself, I aimed to look at ways in which we combine different elements of learning in order to benefit our students the most. In my opinion, this may just be masking an even bigger educational issue, that the student in your class does not see any value in learning and it's down to you to change their perception of that fact. Why should you care about this? If you can win your students over within the first few weeks of their education in FE, you may be able to inspire them to rewrite their story and focus on their self-development throughout the 2 years or so they spend with you. I talked about the idea of "Winning Hearts and Minds" where I explored Maths activities that can be used in the early days of your new maths year, a link to that can be found here (Winning Hearts and Minds)

Eugene Sadler-Smith (1996) suggested that learning styles are a blanket term, leading to the conclusion that it is up to us to suggest different approaches in how we develop our practice. As a new teacher, this is going to be tough but perseverance is key in ensuring that you develop your practice and consider new approaches to doing the same thing. If you are happy to do the same thing again and again, I would encourage you to become inspired by the different developing technologies that are available to you, especially now with the advancement of mobile technology and e-learning.

Some of my students prefer to be taught in a lecture style, get the facts then complete an activity based on what was discussed. This applies heavily to the GCSE Maths evening classes I teach, where learners are motivated and able to consider the deeper understanding to underpin their knowledge of a certain skill. This will not be the case for the majority of your learners within FE. I work with students who are engrossed by tabloid society, facebook fake news and popular social trends to inform their opinion of the world. A typical example would be the people on TOWIE or Made in Chelsea who embrace a lavish lifestyle without doing very much of anything.

Students love a bit of drama and story-telling (Image Courtesy of
Here is my advice for those holistic-sists (that's not a word) out there, if you are seeking to do it all in one hour then you will struggle, instead focus on one primary mission first. What are you trying to achieve and leave your students when they walk out of your classroom. For some of my lessons, this may be in the sense of knowing that you can't work out the area of a triangle the same way you can with a rectangle. The holistic approach within FE focuses on how you can embed these skills across their current interests and focus on the wants and wishes of your learners. If they can see the value in what they need to learn, they are likely to retain that information for future use.

A great example that I used was discussing percentage change within a context, I applied the learning to a few different contexts such as a restaurant discount, beauty salon sale and other things that my students could make tangible reference too. I feel that if you can't relate their learning to something that may be of interest, you may as well hand them a textbook to practice their basic skills in what you are trying to convey. You also have to embrace different technologies within your lessons, I actively use Activinspire software over PowerPoint as my platform of preference to integrate IT across my classroom. I can get students to work on the board for me and take control of their own learning journey, those OFSTED people love that!

Being Holistic isn't easy and takes time, as you learn more about the different areas you work with, you'll realise how complex and complicated the material the students have to deal with is. Armed with some years of experience, I can quickly pick out examples which relate to my students subject area, and guide them towards real life examples. I did speed distance time calculations based on the slowest London marathon runner (Brian the Snail in 2011) in the hope that they won't forget the message that I gave my students regarding methods on formula use. The lesson is then further referred to for those students who struggle inside a classroom with a helpful YouTube video I created on that particular subject just here:

It didn't take much to create resources that your students can use again and again. The Holistic approach is all about how you can allow your students to relate their learning to what they already perceive, if that means that I have to sink to the depths of explaining why Joey Essex's net worth is nearly £6 million and what this actually means then so be it. I am allowed to teach my students differently, and as educators we should strive for excellence in what we do. You may not be told you're excellent or that you're good enough, but for what it's worth, if you got this far then you do care about your students and wanting to learn something new which in my book makes you excellent already.

My tips for the Holistic Approach are as follows, to give some practical advice:

1) Embrace IT and New Technology: Consider getting your students to use Kahoot! for simple fun quizzes on the subject area through their Mobile Phones. Use the different platform of tech available to you, your college will have it somewhere, I am still experimenting with the idea of getting a Visualiser for my classroom!

2) Relate the majority of your learning to vocational studies/real life: You may not have students who are all doing the same area, however they may want a part-time job, show them that their manager would have to do a timetable to work out their rota of shifts for the week, show them the skills that they need to step up to the next position. It may be difficult with all aspects of maths but it can be achieved. You never know, you may learn something new too.

3) Observe, Observe, Observe: This was apparent to me today when I found that my students were struggling with formula, their main programme lecturer uses different terminology to explain it than I do, you'll surprise yourself with the behaviour and attitude shift in the majority of your students when you see them within their own area of interest and how their tutor can relate to them on a much more personal and impressionable level.

4) Stress the importance of a healthy life: Tell your students every time they see you about the importance of looking after themselves and a healthy lifestyle. We may not be perfect examples of this but imparting knowledge on how to be physically and mentally healthy will help them deal with future problems they may have. Some students have a lot of baggage when they walk into your class, so just take your time and talk to them about being happy. Remember, more money doesn't mean happiness and unrealistic expectations of them shouldn't be set. They are people, let's value them as such.

5) Lead by Example: Are you the example they would want to be? Are you empathetic, understanding and easily approachable regarding any issues. Consider reading ways in which you can help your students through self-help reading materials. My favourite is Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Books like this can teach you something valuable about the way in which you work to help others rather than being just another cog in the all powerful educational system. If you tell your students to read more, than bring a book in to read between your lessons, show them you are putting your money where your mouth is.

I hope you've enjoyed this post about the Holistic Approach, if you've got this far then thank you for supporting the FE Maths Guidebook. On twitter I am where we share regular postings and updates regarding education and best practice.
I am going to MathsConf9 Saturday, and I am hoping to see a lot of aspirational teachers and make new friends who are also excited to be on this educational journey with me. If you are attending, be sure to say hello!

Enjoy your weekend teachers, and remember, be happy!

- Matt