Maths content writer Sarah Garry explores the fact and fiction behind maths mastery.
A Passing Fad or Evidence-Based Game Changer?
Read up on the latest maths pedagogy, and you’ll struggle to avoid seeing the word ‘mastery’ fairly regularly. It’s more than just a buzzword though; it’s a government supported initiative designed to raise attainment across all groups by ensuring students build strong foundations and develop deep understanding. Leaning heavily on the education programmes of Shanghai and Singapore, widely recognised as the leading educators in maths, science and reading, the programme supports the 2014 curriculum that says, ‘All pupils should become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics… [and] pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content.’
Depth Over Breadth
A common misconception of the maths mastery approach is that, by moving the whole class (and in many cases, a whole year group) through topics at the same pace, more able students will remain unchallenged in their learning. In fact, these very same students are challenged to develop their depth in understanding.
Take the KS3 Pythagoras’ Theorem Mastery Homework Grid, for instance. We can develop fluency by simply testing a student’s ability to find a missing length in a right-angled triangle using Pythagoras’ Theorem. However, we can also ‘throw them in the pit’ by asking them to find the area of a triangle with missing lengths and leave their answer in surd form. We can also ask them to investigate Pythagorean triples, an open-ended task to challenge even the hungriest of learners!
What are the Benefits?
Developing this depth of understanding helps students make links between topics and means teachers are less likely to need to revisit these topics in detail at a later time. Students become better learners, with the ongoing recognition that all learners can succeed and there is no glass ceiling for attainment in mathematics.
Another benefit to this method is less lesson planning. That’s something we can all get on board with! With a maths mastery approach, you develop one lesson for all your classes. Time is instead allocated to considering how to apply variation and appropriate scaffolding to ensure students can make rich connections across the mathematics curriculum.
Team planning is the name of the game when it comes to the maths mastery approach; you might spend longer on one lesson which everyone in your department can teach, ensuring a consistency across the team but with careful planning this lesson can be used for years to come. Twinkl also have a wide range of materials designed to support teaching of a maths mastery curriculum. From Mastery Homework Grids to the ‘Mastery in….’ Series, designed to provided fluency, connection and problem-solving examples on every topic in the KS3 curriculum.
Mastery in mathematics requires a commitment from all staff and students that every child can succeed in this subject. It shouldn’t be considered a quick fix, but with time and effort it can and will narrow the gaps between mathematical attainment in our classrooms.