Maths mastery has received a lot of publicity in the last 24 hours. Does it work? Will it put children ahead in the game? A few points of clarification are needed.
Maths mastery overrides the idea ‘people can’t do maths’ (Develop positive thinking).
Sensibly the Chinese believe that hard work equals success (Positive thinking + hard work = success)
Why single children out? The whole class approach, with teacher questioning and discussion (intelligent questioning + intelligent discussion = I can do), means all children work together on the same content at the same time. If a child doesn’t grasp the concept in the lesson, the teacher works with the child (one-to-one) before the next lesson.
Textbooks - give all teachers a deeper understanding of effective maths teaching, strategies and tools. Textbooks affirm what many teachers already know- discussion and conversation are a major part of maths mastery. As one primary teacher (involved in the pilot) said ‘before I would have said, you can speak with your partner if you are stuck. Now discussion is a focus of teaching and I will give a problem and ask children to tell their partner how they would solve it and then come together and discuss all strategies as a class.’
Children gain a fluency in maths processes and concept understanding. How? As the teacher involved in the pilot said, ‘I have moved away from ‘trying to get the right answer’. For example, there is only one answer to 2+3, but many ways to get the answer- draw dots, use cubes, doubles (3+3=6, so 2+3=5) etc. So whichever one you use is right. This is also good for teaching a mixed ability class.’
Maths mastery uses intelligent practice (think problem solving again and again-ask children the right questions at the right time).
Time - children develop a good foundational knowledge of key ideas and principles which are needed time and time again for problem solving.
And, very importantly, times tables and even addition tables are learnt by heart - the tools for problem solving are in the head in primary school, secondary school and beyond.
In ten years’ time, the English child may have more fluency on the abacus than their Chinese counterpart.
(Details adapted from the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics)