We asked MNP CEO Andy Psarianos to share his top tips for managing a smooth return to the maths classroom after Covid-19. Here’s what he came up with.
Whether you’re going back to a maths classroom where learners left off months ago, or you’re faced with cutting content — having a plan and an understanding of the tools at your fingertips goes a long way.
1. Summative assessment is your friend
You know where you are trying to get to: what you don’t know is where you are. And without knowing where you are, it is unlikely that you’ll get to where you want to be.
This is where summative assessment comes in. By using a well-developed summative assessment tool, you can gather and use information to formulate an opinion.
First, examine your learners’ results carefully, looking for any gaps in content and cognitive domains (knowing, applying, reasoning). This will give you a good idea of where you are. Then, evaluate the terrain between where you are and where you want to be and make a plan. Think of this plan as your map.
Now, you know where you are, where you want to go, and you have a map. With all of this information you have a much better chance of reaching your goal.
2. Focus on core competencies and don’t obsess on coverage
Remember, when teaching maths for mastery you are teaching for depth, or what Richard Skemp called relational understanding.
The end goal is to improve your learners’ intellectual competence. This means aiming for core competencies like generalising, number sense, metacognition, visualisation and communication.
Done well, learners will be able to transfer what they understand. Rushing to cover all the content is unlikely to give the desired results.
3. Use whitespace built into the Maths — No Problem! series
If you teach with Maths — No Problem! you will notice that within each year there is a certain amount of whitespace, a built-in mechanism for catching up.
In England, local authority-maintained schools must open for at least 190 days during a school year. In a typical year of Maths — No Problem! there are between 100 and 150 lessons. This means that there are between 40 and 90 days of whitespace for each year group.
Note that younger year groups will have more whitespace than older years. Teachers are expected to use this whitespace as they see fit (remediation, enrichment etc.).
If you find yourself trying to catch up on content this year, you can use some of this whitespace to do it.
4. Decide on the most critical content to cover
Some primary maths content is more critical than others. Of course all the content is important, and all of it required to cover the entire breadth of the national curriculum. But if you are faced with making decisions about what to skip, here are a few suggestions.
Critical primary maths content to cover
The number topics and operations are critical and you must not skip over these or pay them lip service. These are the topics that need to be mastered.
Usually you will find these topics at the beginning of the year, but there are some exceptions. In Year 1, you will revisit number topics several times throughout the year. All the number chapters are non-negotiable and must be covered well.
Other topics like fractions, decimals, ratio and proportion should also be covered in-depth.
Less critical primary maths content to cover
Topics that are less critical are often left to the end of the books. If you find yourself pushed for time, these are the topics you can consider spending less time on.
Usually these topics include measures, or topics that are more focused on learning conventions rather than concepts. They include topics such as time, money, mass, capacity, volume and roman numerals.
5. Try out blended learning
If you know that you won’t have the opportunity to teach the topic of time thoroughly, it’s possible to slip content into your daily routine. You could start your lesson by highlighting the time and talking about what you are going to do for 15 minutes.
How will you know when the 15 minutes are up?
What will the clock show in 15 minutes?
Today is Wednesday, what day will it be tomorrow?
Can do coordinates in PE?
You get the idea. You can cover a lot of content without directly teaching it. This takes a lot of planning, but it can be done. Every bit helps.
6. Use formative assessments to plan
In Maths — No Problem! textbooks, chapters often begin with a review of what prior knowledge is expected for the upcoming content. This serves as an opportunity for children to remember what they previously learned.
It is also an opportunity for you to formatively assess where learners are. Look out for these lessons and use the assessment data to formulate your plan of action.
7. Learn to deconstruct a topic into its building blocks.
Knowing how to deconstruct a topic and how to use that knowledge for a quick assessment means you will be able to deal with possible issues right away.
Dealing with gaps early on allows you to teach the topic at a reasonable pace and maximises the time that you have.
For example: if you are teaching column addition of three-digit numbers some of the prerequisites you may want to check for are:
Addition facts up to 20
In order to do column addition pupils need to know all their number facts up to 20. They should be able to answer these questions in a reasonable amount of time:
How much is 7 + 5?
How much is 8 + 9?
The other prerequisite for column addition is a sound understanding of place value. Pupils should be able to give you the answer to the following questions confidently — without any hesitation or need to do calculation.
How much is 30 + 5?
How much is 300 + 5?
How much is 320 + 5?
How much is 300 + 200?
How much is 307 + 90?
If learners can’t answer these questions efficiently, there is no point in trying to jump into teaching column addition before addressing these prerequisites. If most of your class can’t do it, you need to address that right away, before you start.
If there are a few struggling, work on remediation or scaffolding strategies so you maintain the required pace for the entire class. While the whole class works on their independent practice, you should be helping those who are struggling.
8. Use your professional judgment and make a plan.
Keep in mind that you are the expert and you will need to make some class leadership decisions. Talk to your peers and talk to your leadership team. Where possible work together to reach a common goal.
All that said, every classroom is different. Only you will be able to formulate a plan of what will work best for your situation. Don’t look for silver bullet solutions (they don’t exist) and be wary of those who claim to have all the answers.
It’s a good idea to keep a long-term perspective on learners’ educational needs instead of putting too much focus on the short-term targets. Remember, you educate children for their benefit and not in order for the school to look good for an inspection or for the pupils to perform well on a test.
As the French say: bon courage! You didn’t become a teacher because you thought it would be easy.