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Maths Café

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Mastery Approach Help

MrJoeMaths 18 December 2017 13:58

Hi everyone,

Please be kind, I'm asking for some advice towards implementing a mastery approach in my school. I know I'm late to the party, but I only just joined this school and it is quite traditional in the approach to maths teaching and learning.

I've read lots of the information on this website, as well as Nrich and been to some good training. I just want to lay out my vision for the bringing in a form of a mastery approach and get some feedback from people who have done some of this ideas, or have some great constructive criticism of what I'm thinking. I really don't want to have missed the point of mastery. 

Here is my intended approach (please note that the stretching of high attainers is a big worry for my school about the mastery approach).

  • Getting our MTP objectives for the wonderful White Rose schemes
  • Getting our lesson objectives from the Surrey Lesson breakdown document
  • Shared starter revisiting number a bit each lesson
  • Shared introduction to the learning objective - with examples and some reasoning whole class discussions
  • Children attempt some questions aimed at assessing their fluency within the objective. This is then used for task selection.
  • All children working within the learning objective, but is differentiated by depth - support group consolidating the concepts which will enable them to become fluent. Next group will look at some reasoning questions and begin to apply their knowledge. The task selection fluid and both the child and the teacher have a say in which challenge level is chosen.
  • Bringing class together for mini plenaries to address misconceptions (likely ones can be found in the GLOW shemes of work)
  • For the plenary we all look in a bit more depth at a reasoning question and look into a bit more detail as a class
  • Low threshold, high ceiling problem solving tasks will be used within some lessons where a group can access with minimal teacher support, but sometimes as whole class lessons where a bit more introduction may be needed.
  • We have some great textbooks (Shanghai maths project, busy ants etc) which I'd like to not rely on, but staff are enjoying them at the moment. I'm planning on steering staff towards the ideas on the White Rose schemes, the GLOW scheme, Nrich curriculum mapping and NCETM of course!
  • In terms of assessment - this is largely being set up by deputy heads and is out of my control, so I'm not losing sleep over it.

Yes - I realise the idea of differentiation by depth isn't really the 'mastery' way - but my school are not yet ready to make this jump (one step at a time!). What I'm asking is: can anyone see any holes in this idea, or have tried some and have some feedback to offer? Please do get in touch, it would be wonderful to get your opinions on this. 

Thank you very much in advance!

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mark_wllms 18 December 2017 17:22


You've just started at a new school and you want to introduce a mastery approach? Here's my advice, from my own experience. It sounds like you work for a large school, trust or federation (you have more than one deputy!), but you are in a senior leadership position. Turning round a large ship like that takes time and careful planning; don't rush into it.

  • Think through very carefully what impact you want this to have. Why are you doing this? A clear long-tem vision is important. 
  • If you want to do this because it's new and shiny and everyone else is doing it, then stop. 
  • If your decision making is being driven by your data then interrogate your data carefully. Think about what you fundamentally need to change in your school and how you will measure it. Are your 'high attainers' not making good progress? Why is that? Why do you think Mastery will help?
  • You want to incorporate the White Rose Schemes, Glow planning, NRich, Shanghai maths, Busy Ants, and Surrey Lesson progression? This may be a bit overwhelming for your 'traditional' colleagues. If you have a scheme, stick with it or throw it out. You can't really cherry pick. 
  • Don't change schemes of work mid-year. Try out your new approach in your own classroom first so you can see how it works. Your scheme of work will also have to align with your assessment system, or your teachers won't know what to teach to - the targets or the plans.

Now here's my take on mastery, based on my experiences so far:

  • The White Rose resources are very useful. However the Surrey Lesson Breakdown document refers to the old version of the White Rose scheme. The new version of the White Rose scheme is broken down into small steps (not lessons) already, so don't use both!
  • Mastery is usually described as a set of principles, rather than a specific teaching practice. The NCETM has a good definition; they also refer to five 'big ideas': coherence; variation; representation and structure; mathematical thinking; and fluency.
  • It would be worth spending some time looking at these ideas individually with teachers and exploring them individually, rather than trying to doing everything at once.
  • Mastery is all about keeping the class together. It involves breaking the curriculum down into small steps and ensuring success for all. There's nothing wrong with differentiation or challenge, but the focus is different. Traditional differentiation matched tasks to children's perceived ability, but in doing so encouraged children to spread out in attainment over the year. We want to close the attainment gaps by our differentiation so that all children achieve highly. This involves challenging within the lesson for children who grasp concepts and can explain them, and support for those who don't.
  • Using diagnostic assessment is a great idea - I would do at the start of the block to allow some reflection time, rather than every lesson. Diagnosticquestions.com has some good resources for this. You can do a second assessment at the end of the block if you want to see progress.
  • Reasoning and problem solving are really for everyone, not just 'more able' children.

I would either try to get on a 'Teaching for Mastery' Teacher Research Group run by your local maths hub, or buy into a scheme that is based around mastery ideas, such as 'Maths Mastery', 'Maths No Problem' or indeed the Shanghai scheme you mentioned (though I have no experience with any of these schemes or textbooks).

I have written a more detailed blog post explaining Mastery: feel free to ask me any more questions you like. I am currently training as a Mastery Specialist through my maths hub, but even I don't intend to develop the approach throughout the school until it is fully embedded in my own teaching. It is definately a long-term project.


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MrJoeMaths 19 December 2017 00:55 - Last edited by MrJoeMaths on 19 December 2017 00:59

Hi Mark,


Thank you for your quick and detailed reply! Please rest assured, I'm not planning on rocking the boat mid year, or even in a short time frame. The school I am at is 5 form entry and the previous maths leader had started us on the journey towards mastery, which SLT would like me to continue. I am just trying to see a way to fit the principles of mastery in with the principles of our school.

Apologies, I should have mentioned I've been teaching abroad for the past 5 years and as such have missed out on joining a hub, or having some of that closer support with developing mastery as is on offer in the UK. I'm not a member of the Senior Leadership team, I'm just the Primary Maths leader. The school I'm in is 5 form entry. I've done some reading and am just trying to piece it together to inform my overall vision for maths. How this fits in with the school and how we bring it in will be a longer discussion with SLT, but I just want to get it right in my head before trying to move on if that makes sense?

Your points are very useful - no Surrey lesson breakdown and I think we will stick with White Rose as a scheme (I've used it before and it is lovely to teach). We will definitely be bringing it in over a long time and as such will take lots of time to explore the different principles. I had come across the 5 principles, but will definitely be looking a bit more at it before moing any further forward.

I love a bit of diagnosticquestions.com - our secondary colleagues had Craig Barton over for training and he was wonderful! I've seen they have some questions linked into the White Rose scheme as well now which is brilliant too.

I have played around a bit with lesson design in my class (Year 1) as I tried a 'ping pong' style lesson where we looked at a few questions together as a class, then we tried some together, then back to tackle and talk through a misconception, then back to do some more together. Finally we all looked at a problem solving task together and the children had a go at it. I really enjoyed this approach. I felt the thought that went into the learning journey was one that really benefited the learning, rather than trying to find different tasks for percieved ability differentiation. 

Thanks again for your reply, you really have answered most of my questions and given me some clear things to think about. If I could just ask one more question - it would be:

What does differentiation for 'more able' or 'higher attaining' children look like in the classroom? I feel as if I haven't cracked it yet. I have tried differentiation by depth, so we are all looking at the same objective but in different ways, but this isn't good because as you quite rightly say - reasoning and problem solving are for all. I have tried keeping us all on the same tasks. When I did this, I found I could support children through the use of resources (CPA) and also utilising TA/Teacher time in small group work. I still feel like I'm struggling to really challenge the children who need some extra challenge. Any advice about how to do this, whilst on the same task would be wonderful. I know it must come down to questioning, but would love to find out more.

Thanks again for your advice - it really is very much appreciated.

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