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Teaching for mastery

Differentiation – How different does it have to look?

Nicola Adams is an adviser for Primary Mathematics at Herts for Learning.  In this, her first blog, she considers how differentiation or meeting the needs of all learners in the classroom is crucial but not always evident to those observing a lesson. She builds on Rachel Rayner’s blog FOMA – Fear of Maths Accountability to demonstrate how three boxes for differentiation is missing the point, and that observers must engage with the teacher before making judgements.

Picture this. Somebody is coming in to observe your maths lesson and what they see is all of the children doing the same thing. They all have access to the same manipulatives; they can all see the same working wall; they are sat in mixed-ability partners, they are playing a mathematical game… and there is conversation happening. The horror! Are they going to say that you are not challenging your more able? Are they going to ask why your lower ability children are not being supported by an adult? Are they going to say that your more able children simply don’t need the same manipulatives as the others? Just where is the differentiation? Continue reading “Differentiation – How different does it have to look?”

Teachers – Reclaim Your Inner Artisan

Rachel Rayner is a Primary Mathematics Adviser at Herts for Learning. In this blog Rachel explains why she thinks that teachers can save time by spend less of it looking for ideas online and more time crafting effective examples for themselves. 

So you are probably thinking, well all she has to think about is mathematics, and that would be a fair representation of my day every day.  But, to coin a phrase from the excellent Miranda Hart, please ‘bear with.’  As my schools will testify, if I can teach I will, I get a very real buzz from working with children of all ages on mathematics.  And like all of the advisers I work with, we do have a realistic view of life in schools and the barriers faced.  One of the areas I frequently see as patchy is the curriculum across the school.  Where we look in books across the year groups at one strand, say for example fractions, then it is typical that pupils are engaged in fairly similar content between Year 2 and Year 4.  And if I trawl through popular sites for worksheets I can see why – lots on colouring in shapes and finding fractions of amounts.  Continue reading “Teachers – Reclaim Your Inner Artisan”

The ‘Goldilocks Principle’ and Curriculum Design

Rachel Rayner is a Primary Mathematics Adviser at Herts for Learning.  The team are currently engaged in designing a mathematics curriculum for schools and teachers.  In this blog she considers how curriculum design impacts on learners.  This will be the first of a series of blogs on progression and design.

As a maths team we are currently writing every sequence of learning from Year 1 week 1 Autumn term to Year 6 final week Summer term. More on that later.  But I don’t mind telling you that it’s raised quite a few questions on the team about what a great curriculum for maths should look like.  Curriculum ‘14 for mathematics raised age-old debates – acceleration versus breadth and depth, knowledge versus engagement – let the twitter set debate. Furthermore, the new curriculum is being regularly referred to as a ‘mastery curriculum,’ heralding a bewildering array of products stamped with the ‘mastery’ brand all claiming to revolutionise your curriculum and behave rather like you might imagine a magic wand to work. And yet, and yet…still we battle to build a secure curriculum framework and schools are desperately seeking something (even after they have discovered concrete-pictorial-abstract).  One in which, age-related expectations become the norm for all pupils irrespective of their prior attainment – though we know there are a few children for whom added provision is ever needed irrespective of the curriculum. On top of that OfSTED are looking at how curriculum design supports learning for all pupils even beyond the mathematics lessons.  So where do we even begin? In this the first of a series of blogs I want to set out the current landscape as I see it (and sorry but no, I don’t possess even a modicum of fairy dust or a magic wand) before focusing in further in future blogs.  Continue reading “The ‘Goldilocks Principle’ and Curriculum Design”

Finding Maths in Storybooks – A Tale of Turning Training into Good Practice

In the Summer term 2016 Nicola Randall and Gillian Shearsby-Fox, Teaching and Learning Advisers for Mathematics at Herts for Learning, created and delivered a day of training on how to use books in maths. In this guest blog, Raj Khindey, an inspired maths subject Leader and Year 6 teacher at Chater Junior School,Watford; set about introducing the range of ideas she learned across her school.

In this blog she explains which ideas she trialled in her own class, as well as how she shared this good practise throughout KS2.

Following the training I was inspired to use a variety of fiction books that were recommended by Nicola and Gillian. I wanted to share this with the rest of the staff so the children as well as teachers could enjoy a different dimension to a traditional Maths lesson! So I held a staff meeting in Autumn Term and trialled some of the activities delivered in the course. Continue reading “Finding Maths in Storybooks – A Tale of Turning Training into Good Practice”

Fifty Shades of Grey Addition

Charlie Harber is Deputy Lead Adviser for Primary Mathematics at Herts for Learning.  This blog aims to take the seemingly simple operation of addition and demonstrate how we can vary presentation in order that pupils see connections and do not fall into shallow procedural thinking. 


Would you agree that these are all shades of grey? (Who hasn’t spent time deliberating between shades on a paint chart?)  They are all different. So how can they be all grey?

We are generalising what is meant by GREY. Oxford online dictionary define grey as ‘Of a colour intermediate between black and white’ – so under this definition all these colours, despite being different, are grey because they share this similar property. For children to understand what grey is, what would you do? Would you just present them with a single shade? More likely, one activity you would do is present them with a range of objects in lots of different colours including shades of grey and ask them to sort the objects based on their colours. In mathematics we could refer to this as part of generalisation – the ability to see what is common amongst a range of different situations. Continue reading “Fifty Shades of Grey Addition”

Bar Modelling is a Leap of Faith

Charlie Harber is the Deputy Lead Adviser for Primary Mathematics at Herts for Learning.  A passionate advocate of bar modelling, her last blog on the subject RUCSAC pack your bags, dealt with a KS2 SATs question.  Here Charlie turns her attention to KS1 bar modelling.

In my last blog on bar modelling I used an example from the 2016 KS2 test. Subsequently, I had had a number of requests asking for a similarly worked example of a KS1 test question.

leap2 Continue reading “Bar Modelling is a Leap of Faith”

RUCSAC pack your bags, let’s hit the bar instead

Charlie Harber is the Deputy Lead Adviser for Primary Mathematics at Herts for Learning.  She has  researched the positive impact bar modelling has on pupils’ access to worded problems.

Recent analysis in many schools and discussion with subject leaders confirmed what many teachers have long suspected, that many children have the procedural skills but they  seemed to abandon all reasoning  when they need to apply them once they are embedded in a word/story problem. Many schools in the UK use RUCSAC to help the children, but have you considered why that doesn’t work? Is there a better way, one which just doesn’t prepare them to answer questions in tests, but also deepens operational understanding, exposes misunderstandings and develops reasoning – empowering the children to discuss the mathematics?

Simply put, yes I think there is a better way – bar modelling. Continue reading “RUCSAC pack your bags, let’s hit the bar instead”

So you have textbooks…so what?

Siobhan King is a Mathematics Adviser at Herts for Learning

I have been thinking about maths text books: what they add to lessons and how they can be used effectively.  I am a firm believer in not reinventing the wheel and know that teacher time is finite and exceptionally valuable.   Furthermore, I agree with Tim Oates’ assertion that “high quality textbooks support both teachers and pupils – they free teachers up to concentrate on refining pedagogy and developing engaging, effective learning.”  (Oates, 2014, p4) Continue reading “So you have textbooks…so what?”

Is mastery just a passing fad?


Nicola Randall, Mathematics Teaching and Learning Adviser at Herts for Learning

Before I even start to tackle this question, I think it is helpful to clarify what we mean by ‘fad’ and the best way I could think of doing this was to consider some examples.

  • Leg warmers worn anywhere other than inside a dance studio: fad
  • No make-up selfies: fad
  • Replacing actual laughing with the word “LOL”: fad
  • Dressing as clowns and scaring people: fad

Continue reading “Is mastery just a passing fad?”

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