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Since mastery is what we want pupils to acquire (or go on acquiring), rather than teachers to exhibit, we use the phrase ‘teaching for mastery’ to describe the range of elements of classroom practice and school organisation that combine to give pupils the best chances of mastering mathematics.

And mastering maths means acquiring a deep, long-term, secure and adaptable understanding of the subject. At any one point in a pupil’s journey through school, achieving mastery is taken to mean acquiring a solid enough understanding of the maths that’s been taught to enable him/her move on to more advanced material.

Five Big Ideas in Teaching for Mastery

A central component in the NCETM/Maths Hubs programmes to develop Mastery Specialists has been discussion of Five Big Ideas, drawn from research evidence, underpinning teaching for mastery. This is the diagram used to help bind these ideas together:

A true understanding of these ideas will probably come about only after discussion with other teachers and by exploring how the ideas are reflected in day-to-day maths teaching, but here’s a flavour of what lies behind them:

Connecting new ideas to concepts that have already been understood, and ensuring that, once understood and mastered, new ideas are used again in next steps of learning, all steps being small steps

Representation and Structure
Representations used in lessons expose the mathematical structure being taught, the aim being that students can do the maths without recourse to the representation

Mathematical Thinking
If taught ideas are to be understood deeply, they must not merely be passively received but must be worked on by the student: thought about, reasoned with and discussed with others

Quick and efficient recall of facts and procedures and the flexibility to move between different contexts and representations of mathematics

Varying the way a concept is initially presented to students, by giving examples that display a concept as well as those that don’t display it. Also, carefully varying practice questions so that mechanical repetition is avoided, and thinking is encouraged.