How to be a maths specialist part 2: Examining your practice

|5 min read

This post is part of our ‘How to become a maths specialist’ series. Here, you’ll find tips and advice to help you upskill, improve subject knowledge, and raise standards across your school.

Arming yourself with subject knowledge is the first step to becoming a maths specialist. The next step is examining your teaching practice and gaining experience across all primary years.

Teaching maths to children aged 4–11 is an exciting yet daunting task. If you’ve read Part 1 of this series, you’ve already brushed up on your subject knowledge. Now, how can you improve your knowledge of the content and pedagogy required to be more effective?

Examining your teaching practice

The starting point for gaining broader experience is to examine what you do in more detail. If you’re unsure of what that looks like, here’s some handy tips.

1. Engage in lesson study

The central feature of teacher learning in Japan is called Jugyou Kenkyu or lesson study. It’s a way for teachers to reflect on problems that challenge them and develop their own responses. It consists of eight stages:

  1. Defining the problem
  2. Planning the lesson
  3. Teaching the lesson
  4. Evaluating the lesson and reflecting on its effect
  5. Revising the lesson
  6. Teaching the revised lesson
  7. Evaluating and reflecting, again
  8. Sharing the results

Committing to lesson study involves sharing insights with other teachers. Why not try to build this reflective process into your performance management cycle or appraisal?

2. Make a note

Journaling isn’t just for the children. Keeping a diary of maths moments can be your window into specific classroom issues. You can record where children did or said something surprising and keep a note of questions that opened up learning conversations and thinking. Keep track of your learning curves and share them with a mentor or coach.

3. Keep a portfolio

Keeping a portfolio of children’s work will help you become a skilled diagnostician. They give you insights into children’s thinking and assess the level of sophistication they are working at. Portfolios can help collect together common errors and misconceptions to supplement your understanding.

Once you start to examine your own practice, you can then seek out feedback from colleagues and your pupils.

4. Extend an invitation

Make your classroom ‘open for business’ to anyone who wants to come and watch. An open-door observation policy is a great way to invite colleagues into your teaching world.

You could make a sign that says something like:

Hello and welcome to 5S!

Please come inside and observe me and my class doing maths. I’d love your feedback.

This term, I’m trying to develop the following points in my own teaching:

  • Facilitating communication between pupils
  • Normalising ‘mistake-making’ as a stepping stone towards understanding

Making lesson observations less formal and ‘non-events’ helps foster a non-judgemental school culture.

5. Swap classes

Ask a trusted colleague to teach a maths lesson to your class and teach the same lesson to theirs. Report back to each other and compare experiences. Both of you are likely to pick up new insights that will shed light on what you do.

Teaching can sometimes feel lonely, but you’re not alone. Team teaching is the combining of two or more teachers to teach a class. Joining forces with another colleague means combining expertise.

Here are some topic ideas to get a discussion started:

  • Methodology
  • Pupil rapport
  • Subject knowledge
  • Classroom activities
  • The use of technology
  • Classroom management

6. Make time to talk

Always ask children what they think and give them time to give feedback. Ask them how they would teach a concept and what it feels like to be a pupil in your class.

You could use the 321 RIQ technique at the end of some of your lessons to encourage learner reflection. It helps children monitor their thinking and learning too.

Ask children to do the following:

  • Recall three things from the lesson.
  • Write down two insights or ideas received during the lesson.
  • Write one question that you still have.

Another quick assessment technique is ‘the one minute paper’. Children complete their feedback by writing their responses to the following:

  1. What are the two (or more) most surprising (interesting, useful, unexpected, meaningful, significant) things you have learned during this lesson?
  2. Is there anything you don’t understand?
  3. What question(s) do you want to ask me?

Making a positive change in your practice

Now that you’ve identified areas to address, you can begin to make changes.

Start small

Start by making some small changes to your teaching. Trial a new way of working such as a new formative assessment strategy and keep a record of your experiences. Accumulating small changes over time is key to maths improvement.

Share the risk

Take risks of your own then share your journey with colleagues. Some ideas might be golden nuggets and some might flop. Someone else might try them and experience the opposite outcome. Work as a team to discuss and analyse what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Read widely

Actively seek out chances to read up on classroom research, tips, and resources to guide your practice. The Mathematical Association and Association of Teachers of Mathematics are excellent sources.

Putting energy into developing your practice allows you to deepen and broaden your experience. Dynamic maths teachers go out of their way to be lifelong learners.

As your own experience grows, the next step is to use your expertise to help other teachers perform at their best. You can read more about it in part three of this series.