5 ways to develop risk taking across your school

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Mistakes are a big part of learning ⁠and it’s important that children learn to take on challenges and persevere. Here’s how you can develop risk taking and resilience in your classroom.

Since adopting a maths mastery approach three years ago, we’ve seen some big changes to our approach to learning and teaching at Saltdean Primary School.

Having to wrestle with concepts, question understanding, and as Ban Har says, “learning to sit with the feeling of not knowing — yet”, has been a great success.

So we wanted to give our thoughts on one of the most important aspects of teaching maths for mastery: how taking risks and building learners’ resilience leads to mathematical rewards.

How to develop risk taking and resilience in your classroom

The leadership team at Saltdean work together to create a school culture where we view mistakes and failures as opportunities for deep learning. Here are five steps we’ve taken to encourage our learners and staff to take risks and build their resilience.

1. Help children learn from their mistakes

Saltdean uses staff meetings, year group planning sessions, and peer coaching to model how pupils can learn from their mistakes. Seeing misconceptions and mistakes as valuable experiences helps us create a positive learning environment.

Our school uses consistent school-wide training and ongoing development, so there are always chances for staff to discuss pupil misconceptions and mistakes.

2. Create an environment where teachers can improve their skills

It’s not just children who benefit from building resilience and learning from their mistakes ⁠— it’s important for staff too. At Saltdean we try to create an environment where staff can overcome obstacles and take risks. One way to achieve this is through our in-school CPD where we encourage staff to talk freely about their challenges and areas for improvement.

Throughout 2018–2019 our focus was on developing learning through effective questioning. Teachers wanted to learn how to ask the right question at the right point, how to scaffold pupils to ask their own questions, as well as how to use questioning to challenge a pupil’s thinking.

A non-judgemental environment means that teachers feel comfortable discussing and evaluating what has and hasn’t worked during lessons, and can plan next steps with other practitioners.

3. Support children with carefully crafted questioning

A learner’s understanding becomes more secure when supported by carefully crafted questioning. Active questioning encourages children to think beyond their comfort zone and develop a growth mindset.

As learners’ curiosity and resilience grows, our approach to questioning becomes more effective. Deep learning happens when children are expected to reason and explain to others instead of relying on their teacher to give further explanations. When children have more secure knowledge, they naturally become more confident and better able to take on challenges.

4. Create a culture of mutual respect

At Saltdean, we strive to create a culture of mutual respect for each other’s ideas by listening while respectfully challenging understanding. This is effectively established in classrooms when it is planned, led, and modelled by the teacher.

As pupils have started to feel safe and confident to make mistakes in class, we’ve watched them begin to push the limits of their understanding. We’ve looked at how learners behave when mistakes are made, and provide support by encouraging sentence starters, examples of positive language, and class celebrations.

5. Use real-life problems to support understanding

In the Maths — No Problem! approach to maths mastery, lessons start with an anchor task, based on a potential real-life problem (you can learn more about the MNP three-part lesson here).

The anchor task helps our teachers plan for how pupils can take risks, talk through ideas, explore misconceptions, and extend their mathematical understanding. Appropriate concrete resources and key language are provided, alongside opportunities to confidently develop methods with peers before sharing them further and applying them.

Over the last three years, it’s become clear that both pupils and staff need to be curious, lifelong learners who feel safe taking risks. We’ve seen how this ethos can maximize every learning opportunity, create confident mathematicians, and ultimately build a school community that loves maths.

Katy Reeve is Assistant Head at Saltdean Primary School, East Sussex and a contributor to the Maths — No Problem! Blog. Published on