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Figuring out formulas

March 7, 2022, 11:43 GMT+1
Read in about 5 minutes
  • A whole-trust approach is reaping rewards in maths teaching and learning, says Helena Palmer
Figuring out formulas

When it comes to teaching maths, we’re creating mathematical thinkers, not calculators, at the Learning Academy Partnership.

Our aim is to build on pupils’ skills in problem solving and reasoning, and start our maths lessons with a problem to be solved that bears meaning to pupils. Children are encouraged to work together, and at the end of each lesson the class and teacher can collectively share the achievement. 

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t just one way of doing things in maths, and we embed this attitude into our teaching.

Our Trust puts resilience at the heart of the maths curriculum, leading with an approach that gets pupils to try and try again, and recognise the journey of a problem. They’re applauded for explaining, proving, and showing other ways of working – just as they are celebrated for finding the correct answer.

Rebuilding resilience

Re-entrenching resilience into our pupils’ approach to maths has become a top priority at the Trust since school lockdowns.

However, there’s no silver bullet, fix-all solution. Often people get carried away with an exciting new method, textbook or idea, but nothing is more important than consistent, high-quality teaching, rooted in our vision to create mathematical thinkers.

There needs to be ongoing support from leadership, with structures implemented that go beyond any one school or teacher. Even the strongest maths teachers need to feel that they’ve got people to lean on, so that they can continue to progress and excel. 

Teaching the teachers

A central tenet of our maths CPD has been incremental coaching. This is a regular, frequent and ongoing cycle of observation and action-based conversation that helps teachers develop specific aspects of their practice. It keeps the focus of improvement rooted in the classroom and relevant to the individual teacher. 

For a term, I coached every Y6 teacher across our schools weekly, going into classrooms and discussing how they could improve.

Teachers would then focus on one action each week, making steady improvements, and I was able to identify any gaps in knowledge that needed to be addressed. It also helped teachers to make a gradual shift in their practices with a confidence and certainty around what they were doing, and why.

Maths leads in each of our schools are trained coaches and support colleagues though this process.

Pitching in

One of the best things about working in a Trust is being part of a wider team who can all pitch in and lend their support and ideas.

The number one thing I’d recommend to any teacher is to make the most of the people around you, and equally for any senior leader or subject lead to ensure that staff expertise is being utilised and a collaborative approach being implemented. 

Over the past five years, we’ve worked on developing a consistent pedagogical approach throughout the Trust for both leaders and teachers. When we began, different academies had very different methods, from the curriculum they were using to the textbooks from which pupils were studying.

Through concerted efforts, we’re getting everyone on the same page. 

We have also created a shared language across the Trust, so everyone understands the rationale. This team approach has been enabled by shared CPD, which has helped teachers to get to know each other.

Each academy has a termly development day, but I also bring teachers together to watch lessons and discuss them, thinking through what went well and what could be improved on. 

Make it worthwhile

When making changes, our first thought is always ‘so what’ – we don’t implement anything unless we see it being worthwhile. Maths leads also trial any new approaches or resources before they’re rolled out more widely across the Trust and champion teachers who regularly innovate. 

At a glance

  • Embed resilience into your teaching
  • Make maths problems meaningful to your pupils
  • Create consistent but flexible approaches across your schools/trusts
  • Ensure you’re using the expertise of the staff around you
  • Collaborate with other schools and teachers to develop your approach

Helena Palmer is maths lead at the Learning Academy Partnership.