In my maths department we are starting on a journey of building a new curriculum based on the principles of mastery.  To find out what mastery is, read Mark McCourt.  Implementing something different comes with all sorts of challenges but, if it’s a good thing to do, it brings benefits too.  One of the benefits I am finding this year is the liberation from the compulsion to produce a three- (or four- or five-) part lesson with objectives and mini-plenaries and some kind of forced activity to (falsely) demonstrate the “progress” my students have made over the course of an hour.  By having a curriculum with clear aims and (hopefully) coherent thinking underpinning every aspect I feel more confident to teach the way I feel will be most effective rather than making my lessons a conflation of lots of “best practice” techniques in order to satisfy a checklist.

I am hoping that we can spend quite a bit of department time this year discussing the best way to build our curriculum, and we have already been working on things like what we want from assessments and the difficulties of resourcing a mastery curriculum from scratch. One of the first things we talked about was lesson planning and the idea of planning in sequences rather than thinking about lessons as discrete units of time.

I start a unit with a list of its objectives, then drill down into what I want students to think about most, what I want them to practise most, what is the best order to teach things, and how I want to assess them as I go along.

As an example, let’s take rearranging formulae. There is so much to cover:

  • one-step (four operations),
  • two-step (four operations),
  • multi-step, including brackets (four operations),
  • subject appearing in the denominator,
  • all the above with powers and roots,
  • isolating the subject by factorising,
  • all the above with non-integer coefficients,

and more (we haven’t even considered, for instance, quadratic formulae such as sut + 1/2at2).

This becomes a series of examples and practice questions, and when students are sufficiently practised in the procedures we can look at contextual and more complex problems.  Examples need to be extensive so that students have seen lots modelled by the teacher.  They need to be sufficiently varied to allow students access to as many different thought processes as possible.  My planning becomes identifying these examples and the best source of practice for students.  I don’t waste time making presentations (although I haven’t done that for years) and lessons flow one to the next rather than being standalone.  I integrate different types of activities (whole-class, individual, competitions, etc) when they are appropriate and I feel provide the best way to help the students learn, not because they are engaging or different, or because I’m supposed to change what we do every 15 or 20 minutes.

Allowing a number of weeks on the unit enables me to address everything in a logical sequence and allows the students plenty of time to get to grips with the maths properly. What I don’t expect is that in lesson 1 we will achieve x, then in lesson 2 we will move onto y. We move on when we are ready to. That might be halfway through a lesson, but that’s fine – I am trying not to be constrained by the end of an hour always being the cut-off.

I also have no problem in devoting lesson time to recapping previous content, distributing practice is important to give students chance to remember what they’ve learnt.  Previously, spending lesson time on old content would have been contrary to the principle of “rapid and sustained progress” and therefore frowned upon.

It’s not rocket science, and many people will be reading this thinking, “but that’s obvious”. The point is the atmosphere has changed. Ofsted-induced pressure to perform a certain way has dissipated and I feel like I can teach the way I see fit without needing to change it when someone’s watching. Couple that with the explicit curriculum aim of taking as much time as we need (which, incidentally, is a topic of interesting discussion in the department at the moment) and the expectation of teaching the old Ofsted way is gone. Now we can try and make our curriculum really work.

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