Simon Holden-White, Senior Product Manager in the Primary Maths team at Pearson, reflects on new research into teachers' views on maths education amidst COVID-19 and shares some top tips for primary schools when teaching maths remotely this lockdown and beyond.
In October 2020 we commissioned a survey of over 2000 teachers and school leaders across primary and secondary, to understand the impact of the pandemic on maths teaching and learning. Now that teachers are again facing many of the same challenges as last year, here are some tips for primary teachers based on the main themes emerging from our research with Teacher Tapp. All quotes in the blog are from Pearson’s Power of Maths research with Teacher Tapp – October 2020.
Just over a third (35%) of primary teachers are confident that they can teach maths remotely and effectively in another lockdown.
Despite this, it has been really impressive to see how primary teachers have applied lessons from 2020 when faced with another lockdown. In another Teacher Tapp survey, 71% of teachers at state primaries reported to have used “videos or streamed content” of themselves teaching over a week in January, compared with only 22% last April. Maybe you are teaching a maths lesson as normally as possible via video conference, or perhaps you’ve tried ‘flipped learning’, sending children a video you’ve recorded and then meeting to talk through it afterwards.
At a school we work with in Knowsley, staff have been teaching three remote lessons a day. Interestingly, they found that the best approach for their school was to have one and the same lesson for the whole class, with the video call connecting those at home with the group in school. Could you make life easier for yourself by doing one lesson, instead of catering for the two groups separately? The software allows for breakout rooms, which they plan to experiment with for collaborative work. Is this something you could try with your class?
Some lessons and topics may be easier to cover remotely than others. It might be that you’re less sure how well children will respond to a long division lesson, or it might be that they can’t all find rulers at home to do a lesson on measuring shapes. Perhaps you could rejig the order of topics according to the year group and the circumstances for your class. If you are struggling to cover everything and need to think carefully about which topics are most critical in your year group, have a look at the NCETM’s Ready-to-progress criteria.
Have you sent children home with manipulatives? If not, perhaps when you are talking about fractions they can break a biscuit in half, or represent numbers with groups of smarties etc!
Gaps in attainment
As a result of the pandemic, 55% of primary teachers report a wider attainment gap between pupils in maths, and 46% say number fluency is the area of most concern.
Alongside the problem of children missing lessons on specific topics, teachers also face the challenge of general number fluency being lost. Not knowing number bonds or times tables can obstruct children when it comes to accessing a lesson on a new topic. Many schools hold weekly maths meetings to practise number skills and continue to do this remotely. Could you look carefully at the next unit of work coming up and plan practice for these sessions strategically to clear barriers to accessing the learning?
When remote teaching, you may be finding it more difficult to ensure that all children are keeping up. You could try using the chat function to get a red/amber/green self-assessment from each child at the end of the lesson, and then organise a follow-up call for those that need it in the afternoon.
Our research also shows that half of primary teachers are increasing the use of prior knowledge checks in response to gaps in learning. Are you doing this in your school? (See below for how you can do this with Power Maths.)
Supporting parents and carers
Only 39% of primary teachers are confident in their ability to support parents and carers to feel more confident and positive about maths.
With children learning at home, this is bound to be a challenge for teachers, especially as we know how common it is for parents to talk about their own low confidence with maths. It might be a good time to share some accessible information about the approach to maths in your school, if you haven’t already. Take a look at the letter (PDF | 0.18 MB) and presentation (PPT | 5.7 MB) we created for Power Maths schools to share with parents and carers as an example. Some schools have fed back to us that the effort they’ve put into engaging the community by presenting the approach for maths has really paid dividends.
What have we done differently with Power Maths?
Whatever maths lessons look like at the moment, many schools are benefiting from having a carefully-structured scheme of resources to use with children at home and at school. For Power Maths, we’ve tried to support schools with using the resources as flexibly as possible. Children can access everything they need from home (including digital versions of the textbooks and practice books, power ups for fluency practice, flexible teaching tools and also strengthen and deepen activities that you could use for extra sessions), and of course you can reduce their screen time if they have the books themselves. We’ve also produced fun videos of the main teaching input for many lessons, bringing the learning to life.
To help manage gaps in attainment, there is a recap curriculum you can follow as well as the regular progression, and we have set out prerequisites for each unit, so you can quickly check prior knowledge before teaching, and also find materials for pre-teaching whenever you need to. We've even got a summary of how you can use Power Maths this year, including a recorded webinar where our series editors give advice on the main challenges.
Simon Holden-White is Senior Product Manager in the Primary Maths team at Pearson. He is responsible for Power Maths, Pearson's whole-class mastery programme designed to spark curiosity and excitement and help you nurture confidence in maths.
To find out more about how Pearson can support you and your school with remote maths teaching and learning, visit our remote learning section.
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