The attitude towards maths mastery in schools may be mixed, but one thing is undeniable: it’s happening. Supported by Ofsted and the Department of Education, this new teaching approach has seen success in schools across the globe. But what exactly is maths mastery?
As in any industry, the world of education is rife with buzzwords. Some of these demonstrate important concepts, such as Individual Learning Styles and Scaffolding, while others come and go. Maths Mastery is one of the latest buzzwords in education, but it looks like it may be here to stay.
What Is Maths Mastery?
Maths mastery is a new approach to teaching mathematics thought to give pupils the best chance of mastering maths. This approach can be applied in primary and secondary schools. It focuses on helping students acquire a deep and long-term understanding of maths they can use in different real-life situations.
Teaching maths for mastery involves whole-class interactive teaching — all pupils work together and progress at the same rate. Only once children have a deep understanding of the mathematical concepts they are taught will they move on to more advanced lessons.
Lessons taught using the Maths Mastery approach should involve discussions, questioning, a variety of fun maths activities and demonstrations of concepts. Perhaps most importantly, they should be enjoyable as well as informative. Making maths lessons fun can improve learning retention and help children develop long-term knowledge and abilities.
The Maths Mastery approach originated in Asia, in high performing schools in cities including Shanghai and Singapore. In the UK, hundreds of schools have adopted this approach, and organisations including Ofsted, the DfE, and the NCETM are supporting Maths Mastery. The results for children taught using this method could be staggering.
How Maths Mastery Can Help Children Achieve Academic Success
Maths Mastery has already impressed schools around the country. In 2019, the NCETM reported that Maths Mastery has a significant, positive impact. The approach is helping teachers develop their knowledge and skills, and children are learning maths more securely. So what is it about Maths Mastery that is helping children achieve academic success?
All Children Can Achieve Mastery in Maths
Mastering any subject can be considered an intimidating prospect. But, behind it lies a straightforward and positive concept: that all children — with the right support and understanding — can succeed and thrive. Mastery in maths is about supporting children to develop a deep understanding in an environment that’s accessible and fun, rather than overwhelming them with concepts they’re not yet ready to learn.
Teaching for Mastery Logically Connects Concepts
Maths mastery makes sure children have all the necessary foundational knowledge to grasp more advanced concepts. It starts with the basics and ensures every child has a solid understanding of one topic before moving on to another topic.
The teaching for mastery approach recognises all mathematical concepts are connected — some concepts can’t be grasped without a good understanding of other topics. For example, you wouldn’t expect a child to be able to calculate large sums without first being able to count. Similarly, teaching a child to understand fractions without a solid foundation in division would be a struggle.
All Children Learn the Same Mathematical Concepts
Every child learns at their own individual pace. With a linear method of teaching, students who aren’t ready to move onto learning new ideas can find themselves at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. They may fall behind and not have the chance to develop the same knowledge as their classmates.
But this is where maths mastery is highly beneficial. The approach is designed to make the whole class move at the same pace. This means students who learn faster stay on the same content at a deeper level, allowing them to consolidate their knowledge. So, all students secure an understanding of each mathematical concept.
The Challenges Teachers Face and How Teaching Mastery Can Help
Teachers face enough challenges in their day-to-day working lives, from managing their time to supporting children who need additional help. By introducing maths mastery into your teaching, you’ll not only benefit from more structured lesson plans, but you’ll also see your students thrive, fully confident in the concepts they’ve learned — the ultimate goal for any maths teacher.
Teachers Save Time on Lesson Planning with Maths Mastery
Every teacher faces the difficulty of catering to the individual needs of up to 30 children in a classroom. Planning lessons and learning opportunities to suit whole classes and individual pupils can take hours of work outside of the classroom. With children learning at a different rate, teachers can find themselves planning for students learning completely different topics, often in the same class!
Because Maths Mastery relies on the whole class learning together, teachers don’t need to worry about creating different lesson plans and activities for different children. The focus is on consolidation — so even those who have grasped a topic will continue learning the same content until the whole class moves on. Children will develop strong foundational knowledge and teachers can focus on one topic at a time.
Teachers Can Improve the Transfer of Learning
It can be a struggle to help children apply school knowledge to real-life situations — many pupils will remember facts, concepts and equations. But their understanding may not be deep enough to transfer that learning to other situations or concepts. However, teaching for mastery should result in children having a strong enough understanding to apply the lessons they’ve learned.
Children should have ample opportunity to apply what they’re learning with the help of their teacher. Teachers should offer learning opportunities that demonstrate applications of knowledge and allow pupils to explore different ways to apply knowledge. This means erring away from the basic repetition of sums until a child understands why an answer is correct, and instead focusing on variation.
Giving pupils the chance to apply their knowledge in different contexts will deepen their understanding. Schools can always provide an additional challenge by altering the complexity of the task to suit the individual learner.
Teaching Children How to Master Maths
Mastery in maths lies at the heart of what all teachers aspire to do: encourage children to reach their full potential. The Maths Mastery approach can instil a solid foundation of mathematical concepts that will support children throughout their entire education and, indeed, their lives.
Teachers hoping to start teaching for mastery can make changes in the classroom to make this process easier and more successful, for both students and teachers.
Make Use of Regular Assessments
Teachers must track each child’s movement towards mastery to ensure children are fully grasping topics before moving onto new material. Regular assessment means teachers can be confident the class as a whole is ready to learn a new topic.
In many setups, this means a differentiation in content, with fast-learners learning new topics while others catch up. But this can promote a damaging mindset in children — those who aren’t as fast learners receive less demanding tasks and they may start to feel they are “mathematically weak”. Fast learners too, can develop an unhealthy mindset. If they believe learning is a race, this can lead to unfocused work, where the child ends up learning very little but feels pressure to stay ahead of the class.
So instead of allowing children to move on to different topics, teaching for mastery should involve differentiation within topics. Children of different abilities should be given different levels of support and different resources to help them achieve mastery and consolidate knowledge.
Such an approach means children are still learning and consolidating the same topic, preventing the damage that can come from developing a clear-cut weak/able mindset.
At Master the Curriculum, our maths resources can be used for teaching mastery because we don’t differentiate by number. For example, if children are learning numbers and place value, we have resources of varying difficulties for children working within 10, 20, 50 or 100 etc. Rather than getting ‘low ability’ children to work within 10, and ‘high ability’ children to work within 20 or 50, all children work within the same learning objective but are challenged in different ways.
Use a Variety of Resources
We know every child learns differently. Regardless of whether you are teaching mastery or not — it’s vital to make use of as many resources at your disposal as possible. These might be pictorial representations or self-instructional workbooks tailored to each child’s pace and progress. At Master the Curriculum, we offer a variety of resources for maths mastery, categorised by key stages and year groups.
What it’s important to bear in mind, though, is there is no definitive way to teach math mastery. Teachers should rely on intuition and knowledge of students to adapt the process, so they learn in the way best suited to them.
Apply Lessons to Different Contexts
The core aim of mastery teaching is to teach children how to apply the concepts they’re learning to a variety of different situations. Asking children to go through the same set of materials over and over again does not reinforce learning; it hinders it. Instead, focus on giving your pupils more complex tasks that challenge them to apply these concepts differently. This way will enrich their learning and allow you to gauge whether they need additional support.
Joining Master the Curriculum can give you access to maths resources that can help you teach maths mastery. We offer differentiated worksheets that don’t differentiate within numbers, so that all children can progress at the same pace. Get in touch today for more information about our resources, or become a member to access maths resources straight away.