Life has been busy, busy, busy recently, hence a lack of blog posts. There have however been several things running round my mind, one of which is the issue of ‘mastery’. There was a discussion about this on twitter recently which I found very interesting, running the gauntlet from issues with the word itself (too masculine) to the necessity or otherwise of mastery as a part of education.
During those discussions one alternative word I latched on to was ‘proficiency’, which I prefer. This may only be because it reminds me of doing my cycling proficiency course in Year 6, but I do genuinely think it’s a better term. It seems less absolute somehow, more about really knowing what you’re doing than being able to regurgitate facts. One thing we’re working on right now in my Year 3 class is complements to 100, for example 32 + __ = 100. I could demand that my class master the set of bonds, but I prefer them to be proficient in finding the answer to any such question I give them. They need a method, which can then be applied to larger facts (e.g. 235 + ___ = 1000).
I do think that this proficiency is important. My class were grumbling slightly about one of their morning tasks (of which more later), and I said to them that there’s no way round it, you just have to know this stuff. You just have to be able to do it, which means practice, practice, practice. After all, practice makes…?
So, how do I work on achieving this proficiency with my class? There are two aspects that I want to discuss: times tables tests, and morning tasks.
Firstly, times tables tests. In my first year teaching in Y3, I was hesitant about starting times tables tests too early. I wanted to make sure we’d had chance to practice a lot in maths lessons first, so that they could be successful when it came time to test them. I continued to work on them in class, despairing slightly at how little they were picking up, and eventually started testing in the summer term. And, surprise surprise (to me at the time) they got them learned. Quickly. Far more quickly than during my many months of patient teaching. So, the next year I started in January. And again, it was effective. Once you start testing, they get them learnt. Now I start two or three weeks in to September, and as we approach Christmas, 20 out of the 25 in my class who do times tables have moved off the first test (2s, 5s and 10s). I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the fact of being tested (I’m not promoting a test culture here!), although that certainly sharpens their focus. Rather, it’s the knowing that they will be practicing them week in, week out.
Secondly, morning tasks. When my class come in in the morning, there is some kind of task up on the board. A maths example would be:
As you can see, it’s differentiated three ways, with pupils choosing the appropriate level for them. We have discussed choosing well, and I’ve made it clear that my expectation is the yellow set for most people, with the red functioning as a warm up if needed, and the green as an extension. When the children come in, they get their things sorted out, then sit in their places, pull out their morning task books and get on with it. It’s not always Maths – sometimes I throw Literacy in there too, as it can be a good way of practicing basic grammar (sort these words into nouns and adjectives, improve these sentences by adding an adverb, etc), and then occasionally a more fun activity – recently we designed dog exercising machines! It gives them a few minutes of independent practice, and makes for a calm start to our day. They also make for useful mini assessments for me – if I can see that lots of them struggle with a particular task, then we can drop in a lesson or part of a lesson to reinforce it.
I’m sure that nothing I’ve said here is revolutionary, but I know that I always enjoy seeing how other people do it, so I hope that by providing a few examples from my classroom, it might help and inspire others!