International experts, behavioural problems and more. In this episode Emily and Adam share a ‘day in the life’ of publishing and creating content for the Maths — No Problem! books. Who is involved in the publishing process? What do people need to be mindful of? Plus, insight on how one weak question could lead to multiple issues in the class.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello? I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast. Welcome to The School of School podcast.
So today, we are going to talk about writing and, well, creating, if you like the Maths — No Problem!! textbooks and workbook materials. And Adam Gifford is going to be chatting because I work closely with him normally, Adam, in our day-to-day relationship. I'm your publisher and your writing or create-
You're the boss.
I'm not the boss-
Yeah, yeah yeah-
... I'm not the boss-
You're the boss-
... I'm very well aware of that-
Yeah, yeah yeah-
You are the almighty and I'm very lucky to work with you as a colleague. And actually, I think one of the things that's really, I think works for us is that you are building on training content and you're building on the book content. And I kind of see it as I'm there to facilitate all the different bits and pieces that kind of come together. So a day in the life of putting our books together and what that actually looks like, because I don't think people realize how much is involved.
No, well, I've got to be honest. I didn't until I started doing it. I think like... I suppose this is true for a lot of things, but I think one thing that probably needs that people need to be mindful of, and that I didn't realize anywhere near as much is that because there's so much content on the internet, right? It seems like educational materials are at your fingertips at any time, 24/7 and you can keep your printer wearing away for days and days and days printing content from the internet.
But the problem is that there is so much content that isn't doing children any favors. And so the process, I think that's been a real eye opener for me is that the process in producing a single page in a textbook is phenomenal. The number of people who look at it, the number of people working on it, the number of times it gets changed, adjusted, evaluated, considered. It is phenomenal. I should probably know the number of people that might have their eyes cast over a single page, but it's quite a few. It's quite a few.
It is, and if you think about it, I think the bit that often people don't realize is that when you are talking about it in, include it in it, the process by which we kind of doing the final evaluation. The evidence and the teachers and the testing and our accredited schools, you've actually got everything from like academics, like-
Amazing kind of professor level, doctor level, minimum, like experts in their fields. And that could be assessment, or it could be mass mastery, or it might be earliers or whatever it needs to be for that particular product. So from academic you've then got your educational writers who predominantly come from an educational background, so there's expertise there. And then we've got our teachers, our teacher panels, and our accredited schools that are reviewing materials through the process.
And then on top of that are what I call our kind of like creative teams. So we've got our editors. And then within that, you've got the development editors who are kind of developing the scripts and the production editors that are making sure that everything is absolutely dotting the Is, crossing the Ts, punctuations, right? Because we don't want kids to be receiving material where even in a maths textbook, the stuff they're reading isn't accurate. So yeah, it's huge, isn't it?
And we haven't even gone into the illustrator, the designers-
The people who are making, crafting frankly, crafting the page layout to make it not only accurate, but engaging.
I also think that the level of interrogation that each page, I think that, that would be difficult for anyone to understand who's not part of the process. And I think that, I can't tell you for how many hours we've had input from international academics, the total experts in their field, both in the UK and internationally. Talking about something so small, that might be the orientation of a triangle and that might cause debate between people who really are experts in the field, which does a few things. Well, number one, it's the level of rigor that should be there. Children are relying on us to ensure that the content that's being produced will support their learning. Well, there's nothing more important than that, that has to drive everything and take that really seriously.
I think also is that it allows a greater understanding. If we can make time as part of the process to discuss ideas around, I'll just use the same example, the orientation of a triangle, should it be the base horizontal to the ground? Should it be slightly rotated, those sorts of things, then you start to unpick bigger pictures. And I think we should be expecting that level of rigor when it's being used by huge numbers of children and these children, we want to set them up for success. We want them to be engaged learners. We want them to be curious. And I think that those aspects that might seem quite subtle, we know can have a profound effect in understanding. And I think that if we want to demotivate people, then give them content, that's not well thought out.
And I'll give you an example of that. I'll give you an example. It's not in a textbook, but I've worn quite a few hats in maths education. And one of them, I was working in a, or not working in a secondary school. I was in there, I was working for a university and training secondary school maths teachers, and one lesson that I saw that the children that came into a particular lesson, there were four questions on the board. It was just standard. That's what they did. They came in, they got their books. I think it was accepted that there was probably a five minute period where people sort of came in at different times. And I could see that what had happened with this trainee teacher is that the most difficult question was number one. So I watched the reaction of the children as they walked in, and I could see that they looked up saw number one, realized it was too difficult and immediately behavior problems started.
Now, that's something that is not particularly subtle. You can look at that and say, well, likes to say in the Maths — No Problem!! books. And I know this has been referred to another podcast that start with a problem that can be defined as a low floor high ceiling problem. So it's accessible, but it can be made into something more complex that if those same group of children walked in and they could start their mathematics, chances are the behavioral issues never would've started, but would the teacher have known that, that subtle difference in the numbers that were chosen was the catalyst for a behavioral issue to start in the classroom, which then became the focus of the lesson. And unfortunately took up a lot of what I talked about with this particular trainee, because it linked back to behavior all because of the numbers that were chosen at the very beginning. So I think we need to be really mindful of the effect that these seemingly subtle changes or decisions can have in the grand scheme of things, and immediately in the way that the children think or the way that pupils think.
So I love that story and the behavioral management idea there in terms of engagement and children being able to just get in and get on and made me think as well, something else I think people don't realize is, we're very mindful of things. We've talked about another podcast as well, the cognitive load. And when the editors editing, when you are writing or you are developing or someone else is written, and you are reviewing their work, whichever role you're taking in that moment. I think we really are conscious, aren't we? Of trying to make things as familiar, or when a particular question comes up a particular question type, we're very careful at making sure that, that the time can be spent on the learning or the practice that needs to take place, not in trying to work out what I need to do where possible. And I don't think people realize how much and that the design is a part of that as much as say, our development editors are constantly developing those manuscripts to try to consider that.
Yeah, absolutely. And also that it links back to really sound research. So it's not an opinion. It's not just, I think that this should go here because it loosely fits into something that I think is good, that we should be able to justify all content, or we should be able to relate it back to sound research that gives a really clear justification as to the reason why that's there. And I think the other aspect is that I think we believe strongly that everything on the page should be there for a reason. And if the reason doesn't have a strong enough justification linking back to learning and education, then don't put it on there. We're not in the game of just making pretty pictures or putting something on there because, oh, it might be engaging if there's a bumblebee doing figure eights above a flower.
Now maybe there's a time and place for something like that. But I think the point that I'm trying to make is that we are not doing something just to make it aesthetically pleasing, that everything should be able to link back that the reason why this decision is made with the placement of something or the numbers that are chosen, or the layout, whatever it may be, that there's a justification that links back to education research. And if we can't do that, then there shouldn't be a place for it. And I just think, I just think that there's that point of, the children are too special. You can't mark around with these kids. They get one shot at every year group, one day.
Yeah. That's it. So do I want to print something off from the internet when I don't even know the author? Do I know that they've considered all of these things? Do they even know the education research behind these decisions? Well, if the answer's no, then don't do it. It's that simple. So on the flip side of that, we do do it and I'm really pleased about that. Well, not pleased. That's a tween, I'm really pleased about it. No, it's absolutely essential that it's done. It would be negligent to not do it. That's how I feel about it. And-
I also think another thing Adam is, I think people, so writing content without it being tested. So we, even with the academics, even with teachers, even with educationists, writing the materials, even with the best designers, even with the best editors, you still need to take the materials, not necessarily the whole thing in one go, but you need to be checking that as you develop a new product, is it working? Is it working for the teacher? Is it working for the learners and making sure that, when you're creating something from scratch, you have those touch points in the product cycle where the content is tested because it's going into a classroom or potentially it's going home. And have you made sure that whichever user is going to be facilitating this piece of work with the learner because obviously I'm thinking predominantly in primary here, but that can take place.
And if there's anything that isn't working or isn't clear or was misunderstood or misinterpreted, even with all these amazing people, you get to hear about it. Like the kids have a perception, the teacher can feedback, oh, that's really good feedback. Now we can take that. And we can ensure that before it's published we've tested it and not only have the evidence that it works. We've tested that it's practical in the classroom.
We've got the best people working on it. We know pedagogically, it's sound. And we've heard from the kids that they love the characters or they love this or they're enjoying, they're engaged by the materials, because if there's something tiny that can be done to make a difference, we're going to take the time to make that happen.
Yeah, absolutely. And I just think that the sort of, one of the last things that is really... That I've had my eyes opened up to, is the enormity of the process and the necessity for the enormity of the process. I remember as a kid and I used to... There was always a program on, and at one time they were testing cars and as part of the car testing, they crashed the cars, right? And I was thinking that it just doesn't make any sense at all. Cause these are good new cars and they're crashing them into a wall. Now, obviously they're crashing them because they need to stand up to crashes and all the rest of it. I understand that now. But at the time it was kind of like take that part of the process out because you don't want to be going around crashing your cars. It'll cost you money. You don't want to do that.
But I think that these are the sorts of things that we need to be, not just prepared to do, but we do, do that as part of that whole process, that everything has to be done to interrogate the integrity of it. And that was something as someone who... I've worked as a teacher, I've worked as a head teacher, I've used the books, I've been trained, I've got lot of experience with the product itself. However, it wasn't until I became part of that process that the rigor that is applied to it became so evident. And I think that, that's incredibly reassuring. I mean hopefully you already know that's the case, but the level of checks and balances to ensure that the children have got the absolute best product available to support their learning. You can't do it by cutting corners. You can't do it by not crashing the car into the wall. You've got to do all of those things.
And do you enjoy doing it?
I love it. I love it. It's a privilege. It's a privilege. So yeah, no, absolutely. And you learn huge amounts of other people and I think that's the other thing. This is going to sound really tween, right? But I'm going to go ahead with it anyway.
But I think that at the heart of it is that you, everyone really is utterly passionate about the children using it and learning. And I know that probably one of the highlights of my educational career, which spans more than two decades now is being in a classroom in New Zealand. And I was sitting on the floor with a group of children and they were using a lesson that I'd actually written and they were talking about learning maths. And to have that from the start of a process where it's an idea and the number of people that get involved in it through to sitting in New Zealand, which is where I'm from, with some Kiwi kids looking at it and they're going, oh yeah the pictures really helped me learn this maths, Mr. Gifford. Oh, is that yeah, go on. Is that true? What do you think about that picture over there? Is that all right? Yeah. No, that's a good one. That's a good one. It helps me do this and this and this.
And you kind of think, oh, at that point that's pretty special and what a privileged position to be in, but also reminds you of just how important it is that anyone that is involved with education and providing materials, don't muck around with it today. Like it's far too important.
Well, Adam, that was super helpful and interesting. I think it's nice to unveil the secrets behind the process that we go through.
So that book that the teachers holding at nine 10, or whatever time
Lot of love went into that, honestly, lot of love.
Lot of love.
Love a bit of sweet few tears, but you know, at the heart of it are real, real motivation to chat about teachers and kids.
That's brilliant. Thanks so much, Adam.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.