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4 ways to make a child a master of maths

Tony Staneff, series editor of the latest DfE-approved maths mastery textbook, Power Maths Key Stage 1, outlines four ways schools can embed the much-discussed mastery approach in their classrooms… to make each of their students a master of maths.

While the mastery approach to maths has been around for a few years now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are still wondering what it actually means. In my work with schools and teachers across the country, I know there’s a lot of confusion around the different interpretations of mastery and how to bring the practice into the classroom, so, here are four practical tips to help teach maths as effectively as possible and kick-start your mastery journey.


1. Encourage a positive maths cultureTony Staneff's 4 ways to make a child a master of maths

It can often be the case that prior attainment causes teachers to assume that some children may not be able to succeed in a new topic. Ask yourself: what are the expectations of children in your school with maths? Are children working on “ability” tables and being pigeon-holed too early?

Promoting a positive and growth mindset towards mathematics is a fundamental part of the mastery approach as teachers are encouraged to ensure that all pupils have, or are given, the background knowledge to succeed and there is no limit placed on their attainment. This should be a constant message delivered throughout the school year.  If pupils are struggling, this doesn’t mean they can’t do maths – it’s important to look at the factors affecting achievement in the lesson, for instance, do they have the pre-requisite knowledge or is too much content being covered?


2. Take another look at lesson planning

School leaders should encourage teachers to spend longer on topics and to go deeper. This is what happens in some of the most successful education settings across the world and it also supports how our brain works. Look at a curriculum that takes a small steps approach and avoids covering too much in lessons, too quickly and sending children into cognitive overload.

While forgetting is part of the learning journey for every child, leading academic Daniel Willingham says that “Memory is the residue of thought” and so it’s important that children are thinking in lessons. Ask teachers to consider how they can structure their lessons to spark curiosity and use plenty of affirming types of questions. 


3. Teach for meaning and understanding

Do pupils need to know that 2 x 5 = 10 or know why 2 x 5 = 10? The most effective way of children understanding mathematics is if the abstract has some meaning and understanding. Encourage teachers to use concrete manipulatives and images such as the bar model. Schools should look for resources that are full of images that link the underpinning mathematics with the abstract calculations.


4. Keep up your learning and access support

Whether you have the best teachers of maths in the world or those that need more development, we can all keep learning. Steps to improvement can include conducting an audit, getting in touch with your local maths hub or looking into funding for DfE-approved textbooks as part of the Teaching for Mastery national programme. Investing in your staff’s CPD as part of a wider development plan for maths is crucial, as is allowing your teachers to do maths together on a regular basis.

Tony Staneff is the mastery team leader at White Rose Maths and series editor of Power Maths, a whole-class mastery programme. Power Maths Key Stage 1 has been approved by the DfE and written to comprehensively deliver the UK National Curriculum for key stage one.


Don’t forget you can get a a handy, free guide on maths mastery!

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