What to expect when adopting a maths mastery approach

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Maths mastery can transform teaching and learning in your school. But what will actually change? Here’s what to expect when adopting a maths mastery approach.

Maths mastery is a transformational approach to maths teaching influenced by high-performing Asian nations such as Singapore. But, what exactly is the maths mastery approach?

Maths mastery in a nutshell:

  • It helps pupils develop a deep, long-term, and adaptable understanding of maths
  • It’s an inclusive approach where all children achieve
  • It goes at a slower pace which results in greater progress

A transformational way of teaching and learning maths sounds great, but what changes should you expect to see? I’ve taught using a mastery approach since 2015, here’s my advice on what to expect.

Expect lesson delivery to be easier

In the past, my maths lessons were labour intensive. I was thinking of an engaging lesson, preparing resources, planning for differentiation, and then navigating the forest of hands from pupils that were ‘stuck’. Looking back, there were some pupils that I sometimes didn’t get to.

MNP lessons are online, with the resources listed. Tomorrow’s lesson will build on today’s. Opportunities for extension and support are at the click of a button. The non-negotiable objective gives the lesson focus. Using a mastery approach is liberating. You’re not run ragged as a teacher.

Each lesson is divided into distinct parts, including an anchor task, guided practice, and independent practice. My previous post on the three-part lesson explains the mastery lesson structure in more detail.

The three-part lesson gives you more time to plan lesson delivery rather than creating new content. The three-part lesson also provides learners with a consistent format that they are familiar with. This means that you’re not repeating instructions about what you want done and in what order.

Expect your learners to become more independent

A maths mastery approach encourages pupils to take more of a leading role in their learning — working in partners, teams, etc. while the teacher is in charge of quality control. Undoubtedly, maths lessons are more interesting and interactive. You’re never sure what children are going to say, but you can question, draw methods together, and ‘guide from the side’.

Pupils learn not to be teacher reliant. And because the teacher is no longer the font of all knowledge, it frees you to walk around the class, listening in on groups as they talk about how they might find a way to the answer. It gives you the opportunity to ask questions about their approach, be puzzled. They soon learn that you are no longer a walking answer book. You can draw the class together to go through what they’ve found out — ideas, methods, and discussion abound.

Everyone can contribute to maths lessons. For advanced learners, it slows them down and makes them articulate their thinking. For struggling learners, the problem is explained in two or three ways, and in a language they can understand. They can ask questions if they’re still unsure.

Expect your learners to be enthusiastic about maths lessons

The biggest difference that I saw in my pupils was a change in mindset. For some children, the change can be eye-opening. Not only can they now contribute during maths lessons, but they see that their ideas are useful to others.

As my current class approached the end of Year 6, I asked them about it …

  • “You used to have to put your head down and work but now you can share ideas and the teacher doesn’t always have to be correct.”
  • “Because the chat is good, not many people are stuck.”
  • “Lessons get harder but there are no big jumps so it’s achievable. It makes you work for it!”
  • “There is no such thing as silence in this class.”
  • “It helps you be social with your classmates and be more open about what to do.”
  • “It’s made it easier because now we can talk, and people can tell me what I’m doing wrong.”
  • “Everyone can spread their ideas, and it’s easy to challenge yourself.”

At its core, lessons are more engaging because they centre on talk and discussion. This is brilliant because not only do children love talking, chattier classrooms are a key part of effective learning, according to influential educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

Expect to make changes to your classroom

To promote collaboration and self-direction, you need to think about the class environment. Now that I’ve outlined what to expect when adopting a maths mastery approach, here are some tips to make maths mastery happen in your classroom:

  • Having the class arranged in rows hinders collaboration. Clusters of tables work well (fours or sixes) as children can sit in twos or threes. Children will gravitate towards their friends, but everyone should be able to work together. Regularly shaking up the groupings will promote teamwork.
  • Don’t have the maths resources packed away in a cupboard. Place the concrete materials where children can walk over and get them as required. Keep the workbooks here too alongside any extension materials.
  • Have a carpet area where you can assemble the class to share ideas. Having a flipchart close at hand to record thoughts also encourages talk to be spontaneous.

Have clear expectations about behaviour and what to do in particular areas of the classroom. This allows the class to build a routine and allows the lessons to flow. It also helps to maintain the pupil’s attention spans as they move areas during the lessons. Over time, the children become more independent — organising and helping themselves.

Could it really be that easy?

My last piece of advice is to keep an open mind. There will be setbacks along the way. But stick with it and you’ll see improvements in your practice. Maths mastery not only changed the dynamics of my classroom, it also boosted my pupils’ communication and problem-solving skills. Good luck!

is the Head of Singapore Maths – which was introduced to the school in 2015 – at Wellington Prep School, Somerset, and a blogger.
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