Back to School: September with our Secondary Mastery Specialist
Wendy Smith is a Mastery Specialist (Yorkshire Ridings Maths Hub) from Headlands School in Bridlington, who began Mastery Specialist training in April this year. In the summer, we visited Wendy at her school and talked to her about teaching for mastery in her own classroom, and about her school’s plans for introducing the approach (you can read the article here). Two and a half weeks into the new term, we caught up with Wendy to find out how it's going…
“Because I work part-time, somehow my days fell so that I was barely in school for the last week of term in the summer. In my absence, the decision was taken that only the two lower sets and one of the middle sets (of six) would follow the mastery scheme of work that I had put together with a couple of colleagues. There was concern amongst others in the department about a lack of stretch and challenge for students working at a higher level.
"This makes me reflect on my colleagues’ understanding of teaching for mastery – and how my own has changed with the Mastery Specialist training I am engaged in. Change is something that requires good understanding, buy-in and collaboration, not something that can be imposed, however comprehensive and well-resourced.
"Those teaching the top sets were worried that some of the topics on the Foundation GCSE paper, that Y7s currently sit as an end of year test, would not be covered within a mastery scheme of work. I make no apology for this and instead would question the validity of sitting the GCSE paper as a sensible assessment of Y7 learning.
"So, I’m regrouping, and reconsidering my ideas of what can be achieved in my first year as a Mastery Specialist. The expectation is that we, as Mastery Specialists, take the first year to develop mastery techniques in our own classrooms, and I am beginning to see the wisdom in this staged approach. If I can show good outcomes this year – both in terms of learning and positivity towards maths – and develop my own understanding and skills in teaching for mastery, then I may be more successful in bringing my department on board next year.
"In the meantime, I think my role with colleagues this year will be in sharing ideas for the classroom that encourage a teaching for mastery approach, and in developing an understanding of the use of variation theory in their lessons. I have moved on from my original plan, that I would produce strong and well-resourced lessons for teachers, enabling them to use teaching for mastery whatever their level of understanding of the approach. The first part of my scheme of work for Y7 is a unit on ‘mental addition strategies’. Although this involved exploring some more complex ideas such as commutativity, I can see that my colleagues teaching the higher attainers could not necessarily see how this would be useful or challenging enough for their students.
"Meanwhile, I’ve been getting to know my Y7 class. It’s a big class, 32 students, with SATs scores 100-106. I teach three out of four of their lessons. This week we’ve been looking at commutativity – something I would not explicitly have spent any time on in the past. I’ve been using a really interactive approach to lessons, that has helped me get to know what the students have been doing in maths up to now.
"I’m finding a lot of variety in the diet of maths that the kids have had at primary school, and trying to work out which of them have experienced a mastery approach. Two students had heard of ‘commutativity’, the others hadn’t. About one third are familiar with bar models, but most are not. Lots, but not all, knew about ‘fact families’. You can start to see elements of mastery beginning to seep through, but it is far from pervasive in our primary schools yet.
"There’s going to be a challenge ahead in using an approach that is new to many and familiar to some, and in providing the commentary that allows them to value what teaching for mastery is achieving – both with my Y7s and my colleagues."