Nan told the forum that, following her trip to Shanghai, with a party of English schools heads and teachers in September 2014, a number of changes to maths teaching in her school were made. The first was immediately ending the practice of sitting children around tables in groups, replacing it with an arrangement where children sit in pairs at tables, facing the front.
The trip also made her question some of her school’s historical approaches to differentiation, including giving pupils perceived as ‘low ability’ easier tasks, and allowing them to become over-reliant on support from a teaching assistant. This, Nan said, encouraged, from an early age, a mind-set of ‘I’m no good at maths.’ Years of intervention targeting these pupils, she said, had done little to close the gap.
Equally, she questioned how the school’s ‘more able’ pupils were given superficial extension tasks, too often limited to procedural or factual knowledge, without probing conceptual understanding. This did nothing to create resilience in these pupils, many of whom, she said, did not like to get things wrong.
During the course of this school year, and reinforced during the visit of the Shanghai teachers, Nan’s school has introduced more changes, including:
- Misconceptions are now tackled with same day interventions, led by teachers during assembly times. Every day, for every class, there are two 35 minute maths lessons, split by an assembly, when the intervention takes place. Different children have intervention on different days, including some previously deemed ‘more able.’
- Over-reliance on TAs, during lessons, has stopped.
- All children are included in the whole lesson, with same lesson objective for all.
- The challenge is now to ensure all pupils have opportunities for deeper thinking.
- There is now a huge emphasis on number and calculation, and establishing consistency in approach and methods used across school.