As a teacher, I have always believed in mastery. The dictionary definition of mastery is “Comprehensive knowledge or skill in a particular subject or activity”. Think about everyday skills that we use without thinking; brushing teeth, ironing clothes, driving etc. The skills required to do these things must be learned and mastered over time. Mastery means that the learned activity is carried out automatically.
This is the same for any new learning. For example, when a child has learnt that 10 + 5 = 15. The test of mastery comes when faced with a worded problem like, Tom needs 15 apples but has bought 5, how many more does he need to buy? Mastery can be taught in all subjects not just in maths. Teachers can help children develop mastery through practise, reinforcement, consolidation, challenges and high expectations. As we do this, I believe we can narrow the gaps between our high and low attaining pupils.
Teaching mastering involves teaching pupils the benefit of ‘hardwork and grit’. A key finding from Professor Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets is that you should not praise pupils just because they are clever and succeed at a task, instead praise the effort, praise them for working hard. When you do that, it helps pupils know that mastering any skill, requires effort and regular practice. This is what is known as a growth mindset. So, if child has not mastered a skill, he does not give up, but is given the opportunity to pay attention, invest effort, apply time to practice, and master the new learning opportunity.
Mastery means that the learning has ‘stuck’ in the mind of the learner and can be recalled at any time through precise and high quality questioning. As a teacher, how confident at you with teaching for mastery? Can you tell when a child has mastered a skill? Here are some ideas.
- Teach the skill, then promote fluency. One of the aims of the national curriculum is that pupils will “become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics, including through varied and frequent practice with increasingly complex problems over time, so that pupils develop conceptual understanding and the ability to recall and apply knowledge rapidly and accurately.” Fluency is not practise, practise, and more practise. It is about efficiency and accuracy. For example, show children efficient ways to calculate accurately and when they have mastered these, give them the flexibility to choose.
- Teach reasoning. This is the second aim in the national curriculum for maths. Reasoning is the magic ingredient that gives learning a meaning, direction and depth. If a child can reason, they can justify, generalise, prove, explain and explore; they can make sense of what they have learnt.
- Teach problem solving. The national curriculum requires that children are taught to “solve problems”. Although this aim specifically relates to maths, it cuts across all learning. All children should be regularly offered rich and challenging problem solving activities in lessons. It allows them to apply what they have learned.