Stick with it! Teaching for mastery in Year 6

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Priorities may change in Year 6, but your teaching approach shouldn’t have to. Stick with maths mastery and you’ll set your learners up for success.

Welcome to Year 6. In the last year in primary school, you may find your priorities starting to shift. It’s the year where school leadership, teachers, and parents try to ‘get things right’ so that learners have a smooth transition to secondary school.

Depending on who you talk to, this could mean getting ahead of where the majority of learners should be and achieving a high grade in SATs papers.

Often, these demands conflict with what you’ve already been doing in your maths lessons. Suddenly the curriculum becomes skewed to the test. Practice papers take centre stage. And teachers go back to rote learning to make sure that curriculum has been covered.

How does the pressure of Year 6 affect learners?

Every teacher wants their learners to succeed, even when the pressure is on. Beyond an exam result, what other ideas and attitudes are we instilling? Teaching to the test is a sure-fire recipe to put a considerable number of pupils off a subject.

Teaching to the test doesn’t foster an appreciation of maths. Maths lessons soon become a slog, associated with endless practice questions that become harder and more confusing. No wonder some pupils simply just give up. I probably would.

How to manage new priorities without changing your approach

Yes things change in Year 6 but that doesn’t mean you should change your approach. At the start of Year 6, I always concentrate on mindset, coverage, and confidence.

Focus on these three things and your learners will be in good shape for secondary school. We stayed with the mastery approach last year and the benefits were plain to see.

Help learners shifting to a positive mindset

Shifting to a positive mindset means that you’re no longer reacting in lessons, you’re responding. Even as the content gets more demanding, you’ll notice your learners continue to verbalise their thinking, share ideas, and build up their knowledge. Being more involved in their learning means they are more engaged.

I’ve seen the benefits of this change firsthand. Four new pupils joined my Year 6 class and adapted quickly. In some ways I think they reaped the most benefit from the mastery approach. The maths lessons felt very different to what they had come across up to this point.

When asked how they felt about maths lessons, they told me:

  • “They’re good because they’re not just put your head down and work. It’s like taking a different side of maths and having fun with it instead of being a bit bored.”
  • “Previously, you were taught things and you wrote them in your book. I didn’t talk and never thought about sharing ideas.”
  • “It helps you be more open about your ideas. You can really spread them around. Rather than stop and finish, you can then go one step further.”

Use quality content that covers the curriculum

A shift in mindset is not enough on its own ⁠— it needs to be backed up with quality content. A well-designed maths mastery programme linked to the national curriculum, gives learners enough time to understand concepts and encourages them to explain their understanding.

Endless practice papers or going back over topics pushes lessons back to a one-size-fits-all template. By keeping with the scheme, learners take the steps that have to be learned and practiced. Steps that each individual can weave together in their own way.

Build learners’ confidence and problem-solving skills

With a maths mastery approach, learners are never spoon-fed and they don’t always have to rely on their teachers. When maths lessons are passive, then in effect, the teacher is deciding for you.

By emphasising multiple methods and discussion, children learn to become assertive in lessons and decide how to tackle problems for themselves. I think this puts pupils in a good place, practically and mentally, for exams.

When should learners progress to Year 7?

Of course, it’s not just about getting Year-7-ready, it’s about learning full stop. Accelerating pupils into Year 7 or 8 work so they can show more than their peers doesn’t mean they actually understand it. In fact, research tells us the opposite is the case.

Grasping key ideas in greater depth will support children’s progression once they reach that secondary stage. Avoid the temptation to limit the degree of mastery by concentrating on what’s needed in the short term.

Whole-class teaching makes sure that every learner masters material to a sufficient depth, and after that, you can build up a bank of harder variations for your advanced learners. This will help them continue exploring and developing ideas and concepts.

Year 6 is an important one. It’s your opportunity to help your mathematicians foster a growth mindset, an understanding of the different areas of study, and a sense of confidence. They should be fluent in a variety of procedures and have a solid foundation for solving multi-step problems. Important skills found in a mastery approach.

Plus, by sticking with maths mastery, you’ll cultivate your learners’ willingness to face the unexpected. Get ready to wish them well in Year 7 and beyond.

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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