Case study: Mathematics Mastery

Written by: HTU | Published:

How do you demonstrate pupil progress when the best moments of learning often aren’t on paper? Alexandra Mintz speaks to Caroline Farrant, a teacher at Sir Thomas Abney, which is involved in the Mathematics Mastery project..

Some of the best moments of learning aren’t on paper,” explained Caroline Farrant, phase 1 leader at Sir Thomas Abney Primary School in Hackney. 

“Two years ago I just remember looking at my pupils writing in their books and wondering whether it was meant to be helping them or me. Even with all the marking I still wasn’t sure that they were understanding maths to the level I wanted.

“I wanted my pupils to talk and experience maths, to play with objects and help each other learn. And that’s when we discovered Mathematics Mastery. Every single lesson had time set aside for conversation – real conversation in pairs. And every lesson used objects and games to help children get to grips with complex maths concepts.”

The Mathematics Mastery partnership is a group of schools who share a set of pedagogic principles and an evidence-based curriculum framework, aligned to the 2014 national curriculum. Partner schools focus on depth of understanding and giving pupils fluency in maths, and put a major emphasis on subject-specific teacher professional development and collaboration. 

Initially developed by practitioners within the ARK Schools network, drawing on good practice in the UK and countries such as Singapore, it now extends to more than 100 UK primary and secondary schools.

Ms Farrant continued: “Mathematics Mastery has a far greater focus on using objects to help pupils understand mathematical concepts. Pupils are expected to manipulate the same concepts in a variety of ways, for example using cubes and beads, as well as writing and symbols.

“What this means is that we have pupils demonstrating an understanding of complex mathematical concepts but not necessarily on paper. Feedback through marking wasn’t properly reflecting the work they were doing. We took this as an exciting opportunity to improve the way that we give pupils feedback and record their achievements in class.

“Maths Mastery also encourages teachers to circulate around the classroom during the lesson allowing us to recognise far more of those of moments of understanding for every pupil.”

Sir Thomas Abney introduced two new approaches to giving feedback in maths lessons. The first was simple – capture those moments in photographs. The year 1 and 2 teachers take photos of pupils showing the work that they have done and these are stuck into their workbook with a caption explaining what the pupil has learnt.

“Pupils love seeing photos of themselves in their workbooks,” Ms Farrant explained, “and it’s gratifying for the teachers to be able to teach using physical objects but without compromising on tracking.”

The second was more of a challenge – the aim was to get all the marking done by the end of each lesson. Ms Farrant continued: “The typical way to monitor progress is to collect the worksheets at the end of the class, mark them over the next day or two and then hand them back to pupils. 

“The problem is that by the time they get the feedback, pupils have forgotten what they were working on and have little opportunity to work on the feedback – by that point you’re probably on to the next topic.

“Our teachers now go round the class with a green highlighter – a technique introduced to us by the Hackney Learning Trust – while the pupils are completing tasks. 

“If they spot an error they highlight it in green on the worksheet with a suggestion to the pupil as to how to correct it. All the pupils know that they then need to get their green pens and have a closer look at that answer, before writing the correction in green. This way, pupils have a complete record of the feedback conversation and their reflections on it.

“We also set the pupils a red hot challenge question to do if they’ve completed the core tasks – this also gets marked in class and helps us work out whether pupils have properly understood the concepts they’re working with.”

Critically, it also improves lesson planning: “Because we have an accurate picture of pupils’ understanding at the end of the lesson, it means we can hand over to the learning support assistant much more effectively. It also means that we know exactly how to pitch the next day’s lesson and can focus in on areas that need more time. It makes us much more flexible and responsive as teachers.”

Dr Helen Drury, director of Mathematics Mastery, is impressed with the approach used at Sir Thomas Abney. 

She explained: “The whole point of Mathematics Mastery is to support independent teachers who feel confident developing their own teaching techniques – it’s great to see schools really running with that and using it as an opportunity to try out and share new methods.”

And it’s not just the adults who are happy with the changes. Christine, a year 2 pupil, said: “It helps me to use the things on my table, like bead strings and dot paper. It helps me to use my brain.” 

  • Alexandra Mintz is from Mathematics Mastery.

Further information

If you’d like to find out more or are interested in joining schools like Sir Thomas Abney in the partnership visit Webinars and information evenings are taking place in mid-March and the deadline for applications this year is March 28.

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