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Episode 21: Delivering Mastery - Tips

Didactics, comfort drinking and more. In this episode Adam shares some invaluable advice on delivering the mastery approach effectively. Does the term 'covered' mean a topic is learnt? Does it help to film yourself teaching? Plus, advice on how teachers can get through topics quicker.

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Profile of Andy Psarianos expert educational podcaster.

Andy Psarianos


Andy was one of the first to bring maths mastery to the UK as the founder and CEO of the independent publisher: Maths — No Problem! Since then, he’s continued to create innovative education products as Chairman of Fig Leaf Group. He’s won more than a few awards, helped schools all over the world raise attainment levels, and continues to build an inclusive, supportive education community.
Profile of Emily Guille-Marrett expert educational podcaster.

Emily Guille-Marrett


With nearly 20 years of education experience, Emily has a knack for creating wildly successful learning content. Her past work includes publishers like Oxford University Press, Pearson and Collins Education. Currently, you’ll find her dreaming and scheming in her role as Head of Publishing at Fig Leaf Group.
Profile of Adam Gifford expert educational podcaster.

Adam Gifford

In a past life, Adam was a headteacher, and the first Primary Maths Specialist Leader in Education in the UK. He led the NW1 Maths Hub’s delivery of NCETM’s Professional Development Lead Support Programme before taking on his current role of Maths Subject Specialist at Maths — No Problem!

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Podcast Transcription


Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos. Hello, I'm Emily Guille-Marrett. Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.


This is the School of School Podcast. Welcome to the school of school podcast.

Emily Guille-Marrett

Hello, and welcome to School of School Podcast. And today I'm here with Adam Gifford. Adam is going to, well I'm hoping Adam I'm saying he's going to, but you don't know what I'm going to say yet, but what I'm hoping that you're going to talk to me about is a query that's come in from some teacher and it is around maths' mastery and the sense that things are taking a very long time. Things that they thought would take a shorter amount of time to deliver to a classroom they're really struggling and I think this often is a perception, maybe an incorrect perception, but something that people say, how can I save time? How can I get through these things quicker? Because I'm not getting through them fast enough. Can you perhaps give some top tips to help schools and teachers with their planning for things that appear to be taking a long time?

Adam Gifford

I think there's this various element of effect and what you've said. I think that whenever an approach becomes talked about a lot, Mastery's not a new approach, but in terms of having a curriculum being described as a Mastery curriculum is new. And I think that with that, when we talk about we want children to go deeper rather than to sort of spread their knowledge wide, but shallow. I think that all of these things, we could sort of build an opinion that yes, we need to spend ages on a single topic or, we need to, we're in the past, we might have taught fractions in a day. We're now having to take a week and all these sorts of things. So it's probably just worth clearing up a few things right at the outset. The first thing is, is that we should be the pace at which we teach or move through any sort of ideas should be totally based on the assessment information that we gather from our class. From what we get back from our children, I often hear people talking about coverage, I have covered this.

Does that mean the children have learned it? Or does that just mean that we've sort of talked about it in class and therefore it's covered, right. So I kind of think of coverage as I don't know how helpful it is as, as a noun to learning. I'm just not sure about that because there's a massive difference between if you like covering or exposing the children to an idea and them actually understanding it and being able to do something with it. Right? So I think we need to know where the children are at when we teach them, which means that we need to know what to assess and we need to know what the next steps are. When I first started teaching, I would argue. And that was over 20 years ago, I would argue that you just had almost like a natural attrition rate that you'd just delivered you, were the ones that, and you delivered and you told everyone what to do.

And I would model, which is, there's no problem with modeling, but I would show everyone how good I am at primary school maths by doing it all up in the board. And I'd effectively ask them to copy what I did, and maybe 70% of the class was successful. And then you had that sort of 30% attrition rate, but everyone got that. So no worries is long as the majority of the class kind of got it. You're okay. There's always going to be some kids that don't get it, aye. So, it doesn't matter. We'll just keep on going. Now, that's not very sophisticated. And if you are that child and the 30%, it's also not fair. And so we know that not a very, that's not a good way to teach, so we need to be better at it. And there's definitely ways to be better at it.

So I look at say the Singaporean model, right? 40 children in a class, one teacher, very few teaching assistants and yet the number of children and the proportion of children who not only get the basics or what we would expect to be kind of non-negotiables at that age. But to exceed those is phenomenal, so that's a model that suggests that it can be done. So what are we doing in class? I think the first thing is, is that we must understand the didactics or the series of skills that need take place in order for a child to learn something. What are they, or, and that will go beyond, and it will go into years previous. We need to know all the way from the time they first walked into school and why are they learning it? If I'm teaching in year three, how's this going to help them in year six.

So I've got all of those sets of skills, that progression of skills, very clear in my own head. I think the next thing is, I need to be able to assess. Children stop learning generally, for two reasons. They either know it or they don't know it. It's just simple as that because in the middle they're learning. So they're okay. So, we need to be sure that we're not stopping our children from learning because they've already achieved it. They understand it. So our assessment's really key because that tells us when we can move children through. Now experience in the classroom, we must accept that when we first start teaching, it is very difficult to assess large numbers of individual children. It's a really, really tough skill to know that this child over heres at this level and I can move them on here.

This child's here. That's a really, really difficult skill to achieve. So we've got to be kind of kind on ourselves too, and accept that, that skill of assessing multiple children in effect the same time is something that gets better the longer we teach. So that's the first thing. So if our assessment skills aren't as sharp someone else, we could reasonably presume that our decision making or when to move on to the next stage is not going to be as accurate. The other thing that we have to understand is that we are making a decision for the whole class. As a general rule there's no one else in our classrooms. So I've got 30 children in front of me. And if they all look like they're busy doing something and they're learning, then that tells me as a teacher, I'm doing an okay job. Like things are going well here, but I may not know whether or not they're all still learning for that.

We usually need help. So my top tips of these, if we find that lessons are taking a long time. If we find that we plan this to last a week and we still think that actually after two weeks, the children are still not in a place where they understand at a level that we'd like them to be. First of all, if, and I appreciate this is often very difficult in a school cause adults times are often extremely tight is have someone else teach your class, right? And the reason why I say have someone else teach your class, take a lesson that's part of a series of lessons, just as you would, so nothing out of the ordinary. If you do that, the one thing that I always encourage teachers to listen for is at what point do you think each child's ready to progress, ready to move on from that particular idea?

So if I was doing one part of a lesson, at what point have they kind of stopped learning because they know it and you can move them on. That's very, very difficult to achieve when you're thinking about the next part of the lesson, or you are trying to keep tabs on all sorts of different things that happen when the class teacher. But if you are looking at your own class and you're eavesdropping on those conversations, you can start to pick up on the fact. And this has certainly happened in my teaching practice that, oh, do you know what? They're ready to go! Like they're ready to do this. And sometimes we may sort of overestimate how long children need or, we are worried that by putting them in a situation that they're not sure what to do, that something terrible will happen. But my decision making process is often one saying, well, if I let them have a go, then the worst that can happen is I can bring them back.

Yeah. But they've had a go. If I don't let them have a go that time where they've stopped learning, they'll never get it back. That's it. It's gone. So what's better to do. Is it better to go, "Mm, I reckon they're close. Why don't you see what happens? Let's see what happens. Let's let them have a go at it." And perhaps if something, particularly if they're using a well designed, written textbook, if they're using an approach that works, there's always going to be supports in the next stage. You're not like sending them out to sea with no life jackets. They've got things there. So I always think if you can, if you can manage that will you listen to your own class? And you listen to when they're ready and make notes and think, oh yeah, I could get them to go here, here, here, or here.

That's one thing. Now, usually that's hard to achieve because there's a lack of spare adult time, if you like. So the next one I think is really, really good tool. It's also horrific. So you have to brace yourself.

Emily Guille-Marrett

Oh my gosh Adam, horrific is a strong word.

Adam Gifford

No, I think that's an absolutely reasonable word to use for this. So the next thing is, that if you can't have someone else teach a class you're in there. I think the next best thing that's practically available in schools is you video yourself teaching right now. Everyone's got like, in schools, we've all got iPads or something. There's all, there's always some device that we can use to video ourselves teaching because we determine how much time children are spent doing their learning. Right. We determine it.

If I'm at the front of the classroom and I'm going on, like I am now, I am restricting the amount of time the children can have. And honestly, we are all terrible at estimating the amount of time we do what I'm doing now. Yeah. And that's especially true in a classroom where I've got no one at else sort of looking at me or yawning or anything. If I've got like a class of children who are all sitting there and looking at me and hanging on to my every word, I'm thinking, "this is great. Let's keep it going." The video puts that into sharp focus. So here's what you do. Doesn't really matter where you set it up. Ideally, you'd set it up where you can hear yourself speak to. So video that lesson, keep that going all time. The next thing that you do is you pick up your iPad or recording device and stick it in your bag and take it out of school.

Now I know GDPR rules like data, data protection that clear this with your line managers and all the rest of it. If you can't take it out of school, here's what you must do is lock your classroom door or somewhere where you're not going to get interrupted and brace yourself. I often say, pour yourself a drink of choice. Yeah. Something that's just going to just give you a little bit of comfort, because what you're about to hear, for those of us who are really old school, used to be able to hear yourself on like, an answerphone, eh, and you'd listen to the sound of your voice and just go, "I don't sound like that. Please do tell me I don't sound like that. Do I actually sound like that? Oh my no, I don't. That's awful." Watching yourself in a video is about a hundred times worse.

The next thing is watching yourself teach a class because the video will pick up stuff that you don't pick up. You just go, "Oh no, no, no, no. Don't say that. Don't say it Adam. Don't, don't, oh, you just said it. Oh my! Look at him down there. He's gone to sleep. Oh, oh no. Oh." So the first time you do it really it's just about getting over the trauma of watching yourself teach, which has the potential to be quite traumatic. But if you use it regularly, what starts to happen is you start to notice some things, you'll start to notice the amount of time that you are say, for example, modeling something at the beginning of the class and think, "well maybe actually I could have stopped there and let them have it go." You'll notice when the children get a bit fidgety, maybe in your class you do it in like 5 or 10 minute chunks.

Never, ever go over 5 or 10 minutes, either talking, them, doing something, them doing something individually, break it up, be really rigid about that. So I think those two things are really important because unless we address it and it's very difficult to do on your own when you're teaching in a classroom on your own, we all tend to do the same thing. So if nothing's going to change, if the way that I am at the front of the classroom doesn't change and the length of my lessons won't change either. And if I feel that I'm just not moving at the rate that I thought that I would and from what I've planned, then we have to have that help and we have to accept that there needs to be some sort of, well, I use the word order, but I don't want to freak people out to say like a rigorous audit, nothing like that, but we need to take stock and we need to be very careful about what is it that's causing that.

What are the things that just going to take time? So if I'm a newly qualified teacher, that's just the way it is. It takes a while to learn your trade and you get faster at it and better at it. The more you do, that's true of everything in life, I guess. And then also to be very analytical about, at what point do we move on? My assessment process is sharp. Do I know the indicators that would suggest we can move on? And I think when we start doing those sorts of things, we can continually look for efficiencies in our classroom. Regardless the Mastery curriculum kind of in my eyes has nothing to do with it. Mastery curriculum, just about children learning and, and accessing something for the next steps. Well, that's why kids come to school. That's what we are here for. That's what all of us are here for. So really it's just about, ah, do I know when to move them on? If so, yes. Then I'm being super efficient. I think that's it. I don't know if we've got any other top tips.

Emily Guille-Marrett

Well, I think we don't need anymore


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