Setting up your ‘ethos for learning’ — tips from an expert

|4 min read

Is your school or classroom providing the best opportunities for maths development? What do you need to focus on? Where can you get help?

Working as a specialist leader of education (SLE) was the best move I ever made. Focusing on primary maths, I have been able to visit many schools and work with hundreds of teachers to develop and improve maths understanding. And through this process, I too am still learning.

After teaching in the classroom for more than 26 years — from Reception to Year 6 and everything in between — I decided it was time for a change. I was passionate about primary maths teaching and wanted to expand my field to working with adults.

For the last few years, I built up work independently and with other maths specialist groups such as the National Centre of Excellence for Teaching Maths (NCETM), Jurassic Maths Hub and Maths — No Problem! Working and learning alongside other specialists has been rewarding and exciting. Sharing my knowledge and expertise with all who invite me into their schools and classrooms seems to be the best job in the world!

Of course, children are the focus. The aim is to support them in their developmental understanding. But how can this best be done?

Benjamin Bloom and other leading theorists

Research by maths and education specialists plays an important part in my role. The following theorists and their ideas are especially significant:

  • Benjamin Bloom — Everyone can learn given the right circumstances
  • Richard Skemp — Understanding the links and relationships which give maths its structure makes it more meaningful
  • Jerome Bruner — Children learn best when they are encouraged to discover facts and relationships for themselves
  • Lev Vygotsky — Talking with others helps children develop a framework so they can think on their own
  • Jean Piaget — Play is integral to the development of intelligence in children

The trick is to use these powerful findings to create an experience for children where they can enjoy learning and grow into confident mathematicians.

Ethos for learning

One of the main areas I focus on when working with leadership teams and teachers is setting up the ethos for learning, one that allows for exploration through a structured approach. I have often referred to documents produced by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF). These documents, which are dedicated to improving maths education, are based on current research and have separate bullet points for recommendations such as assessment, manipulatives and representations, independence and motivation.

So what does that look like in the classroom?

I’ve listed a few questions here that could spark some ideas and lead you to ask, does my classroom or my school feel like this?

  • Do children know what to expect from each maths lesson in terms of the structure?
  • Are all children able to use manipulatives which are close to hand to explore and explain their thinking?
  • Are all children encouraged and expected to talk, draw, write and model to communicate their ideas?
  • Are children working and learning with a partner for much of the maths lesson?
  • Is the teacher able to step back and spend much of the maths lesson observing the children?
  • Is the teacher constantly listening to what the children say and planning what the next steps will be?
  • Does the teacher have the mathematical knowledge necessary to allow them to think on their feet if needed and guide them in the right direction?
  • Is mathematical and everyday language used throughout the lesson to develop children’s communication skills?
  • Are there times outside the maths lesson for children to revisit concepts if necessary or for pre-teaching, and are these led by a trained practitioner?

The Maths – No Problem! Programme supports a structured approach to learning through exploration. Lessons begin with a problem, question or thought and children work in pairs to investigate. The teacher watches and listens and then draws the class together, having carefully selected some ideas from the children themselves. The skill then is to guide the children to ensure the concepts have been understood before they take on their independent work for the lesson.

Take a look at how you are setting up your classroom or school for maths this year. Let us know if there is anything we can help you with. Working with others is a surefire way of developing your own skills and knowledge. It’s usually fun too!