#AskMark Volume 2

on 06 April 2021
Blog Title

In the second of our new weekly #AskMark series, we are putting another question to our founder, Mark McCourt. This week, we’re asking how to implement a mastery model in a mixed ability class.

Don't forget you can submit your own questions too - simply tweet @LaSalleEd using the hashtag #AskMark .

What advice would you give to a teacher with only mixed-ability classes, who wants to follow a mastery model but is worried about how to implement it?

Firstly, it is important to pause and think about all classes. Any class of pupils with more than one pupil in it is a mixed ability class. Ability is an index of learning rate – it is about how readily a pupil acquires understanding of a novel idea. It is not fixed and can change from topic to topic. In a mastery approach, we want pupils to progress through learning mathematics together. So, very large differences in learning rate can introduce difficulties in timing this progression. There is no way around this, there is no way of aligning pupils’ learning rates. But there are easy and effective strategies for addressing the issue. For example, different pupils could have different prep or consolidation activities.

It is also true that all classes containing more than one pupil are mixed attainment classes. Attainment is a measure of where a pupil has reached in their learning of a domain. There are no particularly accurate ways of measuring this, so, at best, it’s a pretty broad statement. Working in a mastery approach with pupils of mixed attainment is necessary because all classes are. The issue is when the difference in attainment becomes large.

Nobody would suggest, for example, putting a pupil who cannot yet count in a class with a pupil who is working on second-order differential equations is a good approach. So, there is general agreement that there is some point at which the differences in attainment becomes large enough to warrant pupils following different courses.

The question is, how large? And how large are schools being asked to cope with?

Well, actually, the differences can be really rather large and a mastery approach can still be highly effective. A key ingredient of a mastery approach is diagnosing and fixing any gaps in prerequisite knowledge before pupils begin to learn a new idea. Done well, this can ensure that pupils with quite different prior attainment can work on new ideas at the same time and at pace.

However, some schools are being asked to work with differences that are so large that the effectiveness of the approach is compromised too severely. What to do? Well, perhaps, as many schools have done, use in class groupings. This can work with a mastery approach, but it is extraordinarily complex and creates a huge work burden for teachers.

Fundamentally, a mastery approach is just not compatible with a large attainment gap. I would therefore advise any school wishing to use a mastery approach to avoid mixed attainment classes.

Got your own question for Mark? Simply tweet @LaSalleEd using the hashtag #AskMark and he’ll answer as many of your questions as he can.

Next week: Advice for parents of young children on supporting and developing mathematical thinking, and guidance for trainee teachers on effective differentiation.

Primary Maths Conference

Primary Maths Conference

Devonshire Place, 78 London Road, Leicester,LE2 0RA
Wednesday 28th September, 9am - 4pm

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The Complete Mathematics annual conference for mathematics leaders and teachers in primary schools

The Complete Mathematics annual conference for mathematics subject leaders and teachers in primary schools brings together teachers from across the country for an informative day of discussion, debate, policy updates and exploring impactful teaching and learning.

  • 09:00 Introduction

  • 09:10 - Session 1

    Tom Oakley - @MrTomOakley

    Find the balance between fluency, reasoning, and problem solving

  • 09:55 - Networking

    Speed Sharing 1

    A chance to meet attendees and share practice, speed sharing is a light-hearted way to collect practical tips for the school year ahead.

  • 10:05 - Session 2

    Lisa Coe - @elsie2110

    Teaching statistics and coordinates for deeper understanding

  • 10:50 - Networking

    Speed Sharing 2

  • 11:00 - Session 3

    Stuart Welsh - @maths180

    Think Fast: The art of responding in the moment” 

  • 12:00 - Networking and Lunch (please bring your own lunch)

    Tweet Up 

    Whether you’re new to Twitter, an experienced tweeter or considering joining, this lunch-time “Tweet Up” is an opportunity to meet colleagues from social media, make new connections and share practice beyond the physical boundaries of the conference.

  • 12:30 - Session 4

    Kieran Mackle - @Kieran_M_Ed

    An evidence informed approach to the use of concrete resources

  • 13:15 - Networking

    Panel Prompt Question: 

    What is the purpose of education?

  • 13:25 - Session 5

    Priya Shah - @mathsdives

    Where does visualisation sit in the primary mathematics classroom?

  • 14:10 - Networking

    Panel Prompt Question: 

    How can we ensure we continue to improve as teachers? 

  • 14:20 - Session 6

    Neil Almond - @Mr_AlmondEd

    The Area Model of Multiplication…from Reception to Year 6

  • 15:05 - Networking

    Panel Prompt Question: 

    What gives you hope for the future of primary mathematics education?

  • 15:15 - Session 7

    Attendee Panel 

    Thinking Deeply about Mathematics Education

  • 15:55 - Closing

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