Historically, maths has been perceived as a ‘performance’ subject, divided into those that ‘can do’ and those that ‘can’t’. Sadly, by the end of their first week in many traditional classrooms, children as young as 4 years old are ‘labelled’. They may have been put into the ‘green group’ because they ‘can do’ maths and will be given the ‘hardest work’, or they may be put into the ‘red group’ because they ‘can’t do’ maths and will be given much easier, often much less interesting work to do.
The intention is to provide support to those who ‘appear’ less able and challenge to those who ‘appear’ more able. However, this approach is now seen to be very limiting, to all groups of learners.
‘Less able’ learners accept their label, and because they are only exposed to low level tasks that require very little ‘mental struggle’ or critical thinking, do not develop these essential skills and often have gaps in their mathematical knowledge and understanding.
On the other hand, ‘more able’ pupils also suffer. Firstly, they often see maths as a ‘race’, where getting higher and faster is best. This can result in superficial learning, often based on memory and rote learning, as opposed to deep learning of concepts and application of skills to real life problem solving. Moreover, pupils labelled as more able can shy away from challenge, fearful of failing as they so used to being ‘able’.
Today, research into ‘Mindset’ and study of high performing jurisdictions from around the world, demonstrates that a different approach can provide very different results. Countries at the top of international tables for attainment in mathematics education deliver a ‘Mastery’ approach. This means exposing all children to the same curriculum content at the same time, and rather than accelerating those who grasp concepts quickly on to new material, they are taken wider and deeper, through rich challenges and extension tasks. Meanwhile, those that need more time and more support receive this.
Here at Sunmarke, Positive Education and the Mastery approach go hand in hand. In order to deliver and achieve ‘mastery in mathematics at Sunmarke:
Teachers embed growth mindset messages so that every child believes that they can achieve the highest standards
All pupils are exposed to the same curriculum content, giving everyone the same opportunities to learn, apply and master concepts
Differentiation is provided through deep enrichment tasks for those who grasp concepts more quickly and by providing tailored, individual support and intervention to those who need more input
Lessons are designed to deliver the three main aims of the English National Curriculum: fluency, reasoning and problem solving
Lessons are crafted to ‘hook’ children’s interest through links to the class theme and real life applications
Questioning is used skilfully to assess conceptual and procedural knowledge and understanding daily, in order to provide continual challenge and support
By enabling children to ‘master’ maths during the primary phase at Sunmarke, many more will go on to excel in the secondary phase, developing the skills needed for the future.