Could a mastery approach help pupils with SEND make progress in Maths?

Could a mastery approach help pupils with SEND make progress in Maths?

​As featured in Education for Everybody

When it comes to teaching maths, ‘mastery’ is the current buzzword, with more and more UK schools choosing to adopt this approach to drive a deeper understanding of maths and SEND subjects for all children. 

Could mastery, which in recent years has become almost synonymous with South-East Asian approaches, help our children with SEND too? While the needs of your pupils with SEND may be varied and not all aspects of the mastery approach will be suitable for every child, drawing on elements of mastery teaching could help them make progress in maths and equip them with vital life skills. Here are five things you could try if you think they may benefit your pupils:

1. Use a CPA approach

The concrete-pictorial-abstract (CPA) approach is an integral part of South-East Asian maths teaching that enables children to develop a secure understanding of maths. Children may be able to count, but do they really understand the concepts behind the numbers? What is “5”? Is it bigger or smaller than 4? What do 5 pencils look like? This approach uses concrete objects to build children’s understanding, allowing them to see, feel and explore the numbers. What different formations can they make with five counters? What happens when they take one counter away? This leads to a pictorial approach, for example putting five counters in a part-whole model. Pupils can see five and explore ways it can be split into two parts. Part-whole models with numerals can be introduced alongside the counters, helping children link the concept to the numerals and building a solid foundation from which to move on to harder concepts.

2. One step at a time

One of the key aspects of mastery is small steps of progress, and this is an approach that can work well for children with SEND too. A good maths progression will break down complicated concepts into manageable steps, enabling children to focus on one new aspect at a time and build on this understanding as their lessons progress. This targeted focus ensures a deep understanding and provides opportunities for success, which is great for building confidence and means plenty of time is allocated to learning fundamental concepts.

3. Gradually reduce support

It is not only the progress between each lesson that needs to be carefully planned, but within each lesson too. After introducing a new concept, allow children to practise what they have learned with gradually decreasing levels of support. For example, at first, they may need a carefully structured problem, complete with relevant models as they get to grips with the new method. You can then start to reduce this support bit by bit, so that the children are doing a little more for themselves with each new question. This allows them to build confidence and procedural fluency.

4. Make it relevant

It's not strictly part of a mastery approach, but setting the maths in a real-life context can help motivate and engage all children. Find opportunities to draw out maths every day inside and outside the classroom. You could ask children to share objects equally between them; you could group pupils into pairs or threes in the playground and count them together to practise times tables; or discuss what shapes children can see in the environment around them. This not only practises what they have learned but also helps them see how it is relevant to them.

5. Focus on mathematical language

When it comes to mathematical language, don’t shy away from using correct mathematical terms. Often, children love to learn new words and explore their meaning, and using maths words frequently and consistently throughout the school will help embed the language and the concepts they represent. Whatever approach you decide to try, remember the importance of building children’s confidence in maths by praising effort, encouraging children to have a go and prompting them to look for how they can learn from mistakes.

About the author

Katie Hiatt is a Publisher at Pearson and is part of the team behind Power Maths, a whole-class maths mastery programme and Rapid, a proven intervention solution for struggling learners who are working consistently behind Age Related Expectations.

About Power Maths

Power Maths Key Stage 1 has recently joined the DfE-recommended textbooks supporting teaching for mastery in maths in England.

For more information, visit the Maths Mastery page