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Is "Teaching for Mastery" copying the Chinese?

Much has been made in the press of schools in England adopting a Shanghai appropach to teaching maths. Whilst maths hubs nationally are committed to support schools develop effective and aspirational teaching & learning strategies what is not being suggested is a simple "parachuting" of Chinese culture and pedagogy into our schools. However seeking to learn from the most succesful practitioners both nationally and internationaly would only be common sense and reflecting on both current practices and past research and how this can benefit our students should be a key responsibility for teachers.

What seems to have emerged and enthusiastically welcomed by teachers is a focus on developing pupils true understanding of the fundamental structures of maths. Knowing how to complete a mathematical technique is not enough but to know why it works and when it is appropriate to apply this technique and how this fits into the wider structure of maths reveals a much deeper understanding.

Terms like fluency and mastery on their own may be too easily misinterpreted either through misunderstanding or a cynical view, but the principles of the so called "Shanghai" or "Singaporean" methods of teaching maths are in line with Skemp's comparison of Instrumental and Relational Understanding written 40 years ago.

Maths hubs and the NCETM are using the term "Teaching for Mastery" to label this newly emerging set of principles and pedagogies which are a blend of "re-discovered" strategies (although I'm sure there are many professionals who would rightly claim they have been sticking to these principles for years) and successful East Asian practices. BUT it is teachers in England who will eventually determine what Teaching for Mastery becomes.

The South Yorkshire Maths Hub reflects the national view that teachers need to develop over time through professional reflection and collaboration. Not every school will develop at the same pace nor will they choose the same focus for development. Teachers and schools are the experts for the children in their care and leaders will no doubt be wary of wide ranging revolutionary change opting instead for evolutionary development. SYMH will endeavour to support schools make the most appropriate step for them and provide suitable options for self-development within a growing culture of collaboration.

To this end there are a number of programmes available for schools to access. These are featured on this website and highlighted in the monthly newsletters but for further information we encourage you to contact us to discuss your needs by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. We would also bring schools' attention to the articles and resources featured on the NCETM website https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/47230 some of which we have drawn upon to help exemplify current thinking in the article below.

Teaching for Mastery

Since mastery is what we want pupils to acquire (or go on acquiring), rather than teachers to demonstrate, we use the phrase ‘teaching for mastery’ to describe the range of elements of classroom practice and school organisation that combine to give pupils the best chances of mastering mathematics.

And mastering maths means acquiring a deep, long-term, secure and adaptable understanding of the subject. At any one point in a pupil’s journey through school, achieving mastery is taken to mean acquiring a solid enough understanding of the maths that’s been taught to enable him/her move on to more advanced material

The essential elements are contained in this paper published in June 2016. The essential elements NCETM June 2016

Developing and incorporating teaching for mastery into every day school practice is going to take time and the aim of SYMH is to enable schools to access ways in which this can be done from providing introductory presentations, programmes of develpoment for maths coordinators and facilitating the national programme of teaching for mastery specialists to mentor participating schools.

Part of these programmes are to introduce and look at in more depth five big ideas around teaching for mastery.

Five big ideas

5 bi ideas

Clearly in order to fully explore what these big ideas mean in the context of the classroom and every day school practice we encourage schools to engage in the professional development programmes being offered, but a summary of some of the aspects within these ideas are..

 5 coherence

5 F1

5 F2

5 RS1

5 RS2

5 V1

5 V2

5 V2

5 V3

5 MT1

5 MT2

Last modified onFriday, 30 November 2018 08:35
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