The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Rebecca Carver

Helping all pupils to master maths

Primary teacher Rebecca Carver explains how combining a mastery approach with creative strategies can help all pupils to succeed in this often problematic subject.

Using the Mathematics Mastery approach, we set the same learning objectives for every child in every lesson. All children get the same activity; we differentiate by giving pupils different levels of support. Everyone is doing the same type of questions, but using different strategies. Once a child has finished their work, they progress to a ‘maths challenge’ consisting of open-ended questions. This is designed to develop open-minded thinking.

Supporting struggling pupils

We believe in giving all children opportunities to be successful. If a child is floundering, I might ask them a question on a different level so that they can give a correct answer, but I’ll also say, ‘Would you like someone to help you?’ I will later go back to the original child so that they can explain their answer in their own way, rather than just moving on to someone else for the answer. This builds pupils’ confidence.

Our morning maths meetings are another great way to boost confidence. These consist of 20 minutes spent on fundamentals such as dates, place value, shapes and patterns, presented through accessible media such as song.

Practicing topics in this way ensures that this is one part of maths where every child feels successful.

A whole-school ethos

Our school's core values include:

  • aspiration
  • respect
  • perseverance
  • honesty
  • happiness.

These run throughout every single lesson: the teachers will remind the children, and children remind their peers.

This emphasis means that if pupils aren’t getting on, they know instantly to begin working that out. Related values are embedded throughout the school: listening carefully, for example, rather than speaking at the same time; not being afraid to give an answer, which is very important in maths.

Because we are a new school, the ethos of aspiration has been embedded in every teacher. High standards are in place for staff as well as students.

For example, our TAs want to become teachers: my TA has plans to begin teacher training soon. Professional development is considered very important: teachers will be proactive in finding their own training, or be directed to an effective course by SLT.

A clear maths policy sets out clear paths for all teachers to follow. Optimus members can use this example from Julia Stead to ensure whole-school curriculum implementation.

Classroom creativity

As a former dance teacher, I’m used to being on stage. I feel comfortable in front of the class and am not afraid to make a fool of myself. Allowing myself to do that makes the pupils feel it’s OK for them to do it too.

Pupils don’t feel inhibited, and they can be as silly as they like. This allows them to learn a lot more; for example, if we are engaging creatively with a book, the pupils can write their own story far more imaginatively than they would if I just read it to them. It’s also good for thinking outside the box in maths challenges.

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