Teaching for mastery takes root in Shanghai exchange schools

The Teaching Primary Maths for Mastery Forum came as the second wave of Shanghai teachers completed their work in English schools. It was a good moment to hear the experiences and early lessons learned by those schools, and by the NCETM. In the audience were teachers from the host schools and from other schools interested in learning about mastery approaches to teaching maths.

Broad Themes

The NCETM’s Director for Primary, Debbie Morgan, steered the audience through the main session of the day. Based on observing scores of Shanghai lessons in English classrooms, and in-depth follow-up discussions with both the Shanghai teachers and their English counterparts plus her own research over the last year, she outlined the broad characteristics of teaching for mastery. When combined, these maximise the chances of pupils developing deep and sustainable understanding. They include:

  • Pursuing procedural fluency (rapid recall and application of facts and techniques) and conceptual understanding at the same time
  • Teachers communicating their expectation that all pupils (except those with extreme special needs) will achieve
  • Keeping the whole class together on the same material
  • Intelligent practice (see separate section)
  • Frequent homework (in small amounts)
  • Spending longer amounts of time (and going deeper) on key topics
  • Rapid intervention for those not making sufficient progress in a lesson
  • Using a high quality textbook, both to aid pupils’ learning and to support teachers’ planning and professional development

Many of these themes, and how schools had successfully changed their approach to embed them, were illuminated by headteachers from schools that have hosted Shanghai teachers.