Thanks to John Dabell for this article.
‘Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3’ is the latest report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and presents sharp, intelligent and actionable guidance to support “great maths teaching” in primary and secondary schools.
The guidance is relevant to all pupils but in particular to those children who fall below their expected level of mathematics achievement. The report adopts the premise that it is essential to see maths as a pump rather than a filter in the pipeline of education but this can only be achieved through tapping into what works and is supported by research.
A vital enabler in the strengthening of teaching, learning and assessment is good access to relevant evidence; this report can help guide teachers towards this as its key focus is to promote a culture of evidence-led best practice.
Key principles for effective teaching
The guidance identifies key principles for effective teaching and presents these as 8 recommendations. They are:
- Use assessment to build on pupils’ existing knowledge and understanding
- Use objects and visuals
- Teach pupils strategies for solving problems
- Enable pupils to understand the connections between different topics in maths
- Develop pupils’ independence and motivation
- Use tasks and resources to challenge and support pupils’ mathematics
- Use structured interventions to help pupils struggling with maths
- Support pupils to make a successful transition between primary and secondary school
Drilling down into these recommendations a little more, there are particular details worth considering.
- Use assessment and knowledge of common misconceptions to guide planning, intervention and feedback.
Teachers need a clear understanding of the distinct differences between assessment of, for and as learning as each has a part to play in maths lessons.
The report notes that assessment must provide teachers with current and accurate information about what children know, partly know and don’t know. Formative, continuous assessment guides maths teaching and informs instructional planning at the specific level of individual student needs and, more broadly, suggests where a given teacher might improve a lesson. An important element in the assessment process is providing effective feedback and the report outlines six main characteristics:
- Be specific, accurate, and clear in your feedback
- Give feedback sparingly so that it is meaningful
- Compare what a pupil is doing right now with what they have done wrong before
- Encourage and support further effort
- Provide guidance to pupils on how to respond to teachers’ comments
- Provide specific guidance on how to improve
Assessment therefore operates on different levels but is most effective when it is up-to-date, diagnostic, identifies strengths and weaknesses, and moves learning forward by focusing on next steps. The teacher has a crucial role to play in finding ways to make these next steps explicit.
The report recognises that some high-quality, structured intervention is required for some pupils to make progress although these should decrease with efforts that focus on improvements to core classroom teaching that support all children in the class.
Teacher interventions are crucial in promoting formative assessment but these interventions should be less frequent and more challenging.
The report details 8 elements of great catch-up interventions:
- Interventions should happen early.
- Interventions should ‘be informed by the evidence base regarding effective teaching’.
- Interventions should include explicit and systematic teaching.
- Effective implementation is essential to success.
- Connections between intervention learning and whole-class learning must be frequently, and explicitly made.
- Intervention should motivate pupils.
- Always pay ‘careful attention’ to what a pupil might miss in class.
- Interventions do not need to be time consuming, or intensive, to be effective.
The report notes that whilst the above points reflect features common to successful interventions, rigorous evaluations of maths catch-up interventions are few and far between.
The EEF guidance is a timely report and draws our attention to the way in which maths is taught and how we can help all children achieve better progress. What the report offers is informed by rigorous evidence and the recommendations proposed can improve students’ learning achievements. The guidance is an approach for thinking as much as a collection of handy tips and techniques and the recommendations may require a change in the way teachers work with students. Crucially, this will come down to working collaboratively, changing practice slowly and being led by confident subject leaders with content mastery.
Read the full article from the EEF here.