How I wish I’d taught maths by Craig Barton

A must-read for all maths teachers out there who strive to improve their practice. Here, I run through some key ideas that I took away and some possible practical implications for the classroom.

As teachers, we must take ownership of what we teach pupils, how we teach pupils and how we mould the learning process for them. After all, with respect to pupils, teachers are the experts and pupils are the novices.  Commonly, “learners don’t make right decisions about what to learn.  They often choose what they prefer, not what is best for them.”

Secondly, success breeds motivation. Pupils like being successful, so ensuring this is one of the key ways that we can get pupils to enjoy learning.  Explicit/Direct instruction of knowledge when it is first introduced to pupils is the best way to ensure this success.  This way, it is easier to plan for error, misconceptions are less likely to arise and it is simply more time efficient than other forms of teaching.

Regarding practice, practice makes permanent not perfect.  As such, practice must be purposeful whereby there is a feedback loop where answers are available and misconceptions can be corrected quickly.  Questions are not simply the same with different numbers but instead are designed in ways to push students a little harder each time.

Again, building pupils’ success is the key.

Possible Practical Implications:

  • Use explicit/direct instruction when first introducing a topic.
  • Differentiate by time and not by task.
  • Build success. Avoid finishing a lesson where students have grasped things with a really difficult exam question! (Save it for another time!)
  • Create goal free problems e.g. finding missing angles.
  • Use mathematical methods that are not limited with their progression (e.g. solve equations through a balancing method rather than a flowchart method).
  • Use examples and non-examples widely to build understanding.
  • Get teachers to fix misconceptions and pupils to fix mistakes.
  • Interleave material, mix up starters and homework.
  • Best form of revision in maths is regular tests from the specification….put highlighters and revision guides away.
  • Utilise the power of the “testing effect” by giving students pre-tests to prime their brain.


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