Inspiring teacher confidence in the classroom: changing attitudes to maths

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Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog post published on April 29, 2017.

There’s no such thing as a ‘maths gene’. Fatemah Moledina looks back on her bad maths memories and explains how teaching maths for mastery helps build teacher confidence in the classroom.

I hated maths at primary school. Probably since I didn’t think I was very good at it.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was back at my parents’ place in South London. I was searching through a hamper of school work, books, and old toys that my mother had kept for me.

I came across a Year 6 maths test on fractions where I had attained a low mark and remembered how I used to panic because I couldn’t order fractions correctly. In fact, this was one of many things I felt I couldn’t do in maths.

I needed my confidence to be built, my attitude changed, and that feeling of anxiety — linked to a fear of getting things wrong — dispelled.

A new approach to teaching mathematics

There is a common belief that being ‘good’ at maths is something you’re gifted with, but after teaching maths for mastery for eight months, this clearly isn’t the case.

About six weeks ago when I began teaching decimals to my Year 5 class, I was initially nervous about teaching children how to read and write decimals with base 10 materials. Before I started my planning, I skimmed through my MNP textbook and let my eyes explore all the wonderful colours, pictures, and ideas. It looked inviting — not at all like the textbooks I had used as a child myself.

I hoped it would help build my teacher confidence in the classroom.

Teaching my first mastery lesson

Optimistic, but still slightly hesitant, I taught the first lesson on writing decimals using linking cubes and base 10 materials. To my surprise and relief, it was all straightforward and the children warmed quickly to the ideas presented, demonstrating engagement and understanding.

As the lessons progressed I noticed two things: firstly, I really enjoyed teaching the maths lessons, and secondly, my class enjoyed being taught! There was a sense of excitement (maybe a bit too much at times) when the children were ordering decimals using place value discs and base 10 materials. They naturally began to challenge and question one another. They were developing a strong number sense demonstrated by their accuracy in comparing, converting, and ordering decimals.

To help them further, I created an additional resource of a place value chart constructed around base 10 materials. Under each place value section, the associated base 10 materials were drawn next to it. This really helped my class visualise and make connections in their learning.

Accessible to everyone

Before starting this topic, I worried that it would only be accessible to the majority of the class and struggling learners would fall behind. But by the fifth lesson, all my doubts were gone. The low ceiling–high threshold tailored questions sparked ‘aha!’ moments and the children demonstrated engagement as well as progress.

As I reflected on the school term, I realised that I had built my teacher confidence in the classroom. I found that the most rewarding part of teaching maths for mastery was seeing the children enjoy themselves during maths class. This is especially reassuring, as my aim has been to foster a positive attitude towards maths in the classroom.

is a Year 6 Class Teacher at Dairy Meadow Primary School. She is a contributor to the blog.
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