Maths Mastery and the National Maths Hubs

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The national network of Maths Hubs are recruiting schools for the 2018/19 Teacher Research Groups. We hear from the London North East Maths Hub about this year’s work on Maths Mastery

Collaborative learning and peer observation are powerful tools for teacher CPD. Teachers, who are often working in relative isolation within their classrooms, benefit from and value the opportunity to observe different practice in different contexts. There may be innovative ideas to try out in class or to disseminate in school, as well as opportunities to discuss pedagogy with colleagues and to challenge long-held ideas.

The national Maths Hub programme uses the Teacher Research Group (TRG) as a core tool within which to disseminate ideas around Maths Mastery. Nationally, the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) has trained 133 specialists and by the end of this academic year, the projection is a total of 280 specialists nationwide, fully trained and working with 1,700 schools – by 2020 the aim is to have worked with half of the primary schools in England.

Through their local Maths Hub, specialists are allocated seven schools each – with two teachers from each school expected to attend the TRG. The schools taking part will experience six TRG lessons over the course of the year, each one being taught by a maths specialist. The specialists will provide relevant reading and research for each school to engage with prior to the research lesson and they will facilitate a post-lesson discussion.

This article encompasses the experiences this year of two teachers, one a mastery specialist and the other a TRG participant, both working with the London North East Maths Hub.

Tim Harrington: The Mastery Specialist
Maths lead at Lansbury Lawrence Primary, east London

Having qualified as a mastery specialist last year, I was filled with excitement and trepidation in equal measures when leading my first TRG session. I had visions of the participants from each of the seven schools all staring, waiting to be wowed and entertained with a maths masterclass.

However, this is not the premise of the TRGs, nor is the role of the specialist to be seen as a “guru”. It is an opportunity for all participants to engage in sustained, high-quality professional development throughout the year. The central idea is to empower teachers and maths leads through collaboration as opposed to dictation.

Therefore, the specialist can be seen as someone who plans, teaches and facilitates the TRGs, but it is the richness of the post-lesson discussions and development through school visits that create a shared understanding of the mastery approach.

For me, this has led to a deeper appreciation of the five main principles of mastery – coherence, variation, fluency, mathematical thinking, representation & structure – over the year and developed a sense of shared CPD rather than passive participation.

I have been the maths lead at Lansbury Lawrence Primary for nearly four years and I am currently the Specialist Leader of Education for schools in our partnership. Through my role I have attended various INSETs and CPD delivered by experts and maths leads, but nothing has provided better professional development than the TRG format.

With traditional forms of CPD we quite often leave with a head full of ideas but in reality have little time to put them into practice. The format of a TRG differs greatly in that is sustained over time, with “gap tasks” in-between and opportunities to see the key principles in practice through observations and followed up with school visits. It is a format I have begun to use in my own school to create a shared understanding of mastery.

A TRG begins with a pre-lesson discussion, the specialist will share the learning journey of the class, pinpoint any potential difficulty points and discuss the area of mastery they want the group to focus on in the observation. For example, this could be the use of sentence stems, use of manipulatives or variation. This pre-lesson input is an important element, as all participants are aware of the intended objectives and it then allows for a clear focus during the lesson observation.

The post-lesson discussion is where the “magic” happens. It is important to note, that it is not a critique of teaching styles, rather, it is an opportunity for each participant to reflect on the observation and refer back to the five main principles of mastery. Each participant has an opportunity to share their observations and the specialist will pick out key themes from the discussion to explore further.

It is during these discussions that gap tasks are set and action plans are created, so the participants can try out a principle in their own setting and feedback their findings in the next TRG. Key themes that have emerged this year are the use of bar models, manipulatives and precision in mathematical language. Teachers in the group have commented on the depth and richness of this discussion and how this has facilitated their understanding.

More importantly, perhaps, is that the openness of the process and ability to challenge and ask questions are what have provided colleagues with the confidence to experiment and to innovate within their own setting. It has fostered a deep collaboration; participants return each time with samples of work they have tried in class, share difficulties that may have arisen and support one another to develop a deeper understanding of maths.

There have been many key moments this year from the post-lesson discussions, but two which stand out are coverage and differentiation. In one TRG we focused on using double-sided counters to explore finding fractions of number and amount. The lesson required more time spent developing the learners’ understanding of the whole and equal parts using the manipulatives and sentence stems. A few participants commented there was no work in books, but after unpicking the learning that had taken place we all agreed that the depth of learning would only enhance their understanding in the long run. Mastery is about making connections – understanding the small coherent steps that develop and sustain learning, rather than rushing through the content.

Another example was the Shanghai exchange lesson we observed at London Fields Primary School. Some participants noted there was no differentiation during the lesson and related back to their own experience in the class and how this wouldn’t work for them. In the post-lesson discussion, we looked at how questioning, mixed-ability learning partners and the use of resources supported all learners and the small steps in the lesson meant there was no need to “differentiate” in the traditional sense. All learners were challenged and supported to be successful. It was a liberating experience for some.

For me, this encapsulates the premise of TRGs – the opportunity to see theory in practice and, through collaboration, unpick how we can develop that in our own teaching and share this within our school. It is an enriching experience and one that doesn’t stop after the TRG but is developed in the school visits throughout the year.

The role of specialist also includes three school visits throughout the year for each of the participating schools to support school leaders to develop the mastery approach. The premise of these visits is for the specialist to work alongside the maths lead. The role is varied and completely tailored by the schools, which I find empowers the subject leads and harnesses the idea of collaboration. I have conducted learning walks, reviewed school policy, delivered staff training as well supported lesson planning .

I am proud of the impact I have seen this year. It has been an exciting experience, with many learning opportunities for us all along the way. Not only have I had an opportunity to develop other leaders and teachers, but I feel my own knowledge and understanding has deepened as a result, which has directly fed back into my practice and further developed my own school’s approach to the teaching and learning of maths.

Jasmin McCelland: The participant teacher
Old Palace Primary School, east London

At Old Palace Primary this year we have begun to trial the use of a mastery approach to mathematics focusing specifically on years 1 to 3. With successful outcomes in maths already happening, our main reasoning for joining the TRG was to trial the mastery approach to see what benefits it would provide for our pupils and how it could help us further strengthen our practice. Working with the TRG provided the opportunity to see mastery in practice and discuss the benefits.

One of the biggest changes going into using the mastery approach was with the timetabling of the different strands in maths. In the past, our medium-term plans had children revisiting core number strand throughout the year. With the mastery approach we moved towards teaching each strand as an explicit block.

The idea of not revisiting was something we were uncertain of, however we have found that the explicit in-depth teaching of each strand really did allow for a better and lasting understanding. The TRG group provided not only the opportunity to see the effective outcome of teaching in blocks through the observation lessons but also provided the opportunity to discuss and share experiences with other schools.

Through our training we decided to focus specifically on using the bar model to represent and structure the mathematical problems children are facing and on the language and variation of the problems we were providing. The TRG supported us in delivering bar modelling training to our teaching staff and provided modelled examples of the practice being used in other schools. Since the bar modelling training we have seen evidence of children being more successful in problem-solving.

The TRG also helped us to provide a mock TRG session within our school. During this session Tim Harrington came to support the maths coordinator in running a mastery session. Teachers, support staff and senior leaders were invited to attend. During the session the lesson focused on the use of mathematical vocabulary, the variation of questions and the use of mixed ability pairs to support learning.

The staff were able to see the mastery concepts in action, discuss their effectiveness and gather ideas to further their own mastery teaching. Staff found the observation and discussion helpful and were able to communicate how they would be able to use these ideas to better their own practice. It also allowed teachers a chance to share their own ideas and strategies. Alongside the TRG and with the support of the North East London Maths Hub we are continuing to further our development of mastery within the school. We can already see the many benefits that this approach to teaching provides and are very grateful to Tim and the Maths Hub for all their support. 

  • This article was compiled and prepared by Nia Silverwood London North East Maths Hub Lead and assistant headteacher of Elmhurst Primary School in London.

Further information

Maths hubs nationally are currently recruiting schools who are interested in participating in TRGs for the 2018/19 academic year. Schools are funded to participate. If you are interested, contact your local maths hub for more details. Details of the programme can be found at www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/51959


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