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About the project

Enhancing Mathematical Learning Through Talk

I was talking to my job share partner and she said that the turnaround in maths has been powerful. I think it’s the overall effect the project has had, doing all the activities and having an open mind has changed not only the way we plan, deliver and teach maths but also the way the children respond.

Purpose and context

The ultimate aim of the project was to raise the quality of mathematics teaching through developing teachers’ subject knowledge and classroom practice with a particular emphasis on understanding the importance of talk in teaching and learning mathematics. Our exploration of each of these inter-related themes was informed by the lessons learnt from previous research studies mediated by the expertise of the project team.

The project began at a time of revisions to the National Curriculum in England and its assessment and so we focussed attention on the NC aims of ensuring that all pupils work towards fluency, can reason mathematically, and solve problems. At the same time, we recognised the vital role that the early years of schooling and KS1 play in setting the scene for young children’s engagement with maths and for providing the foundation for a sense of enjoyment and curiosity about mathematics.

‘Pupils’ confidence has improved, parents have commented that the children have really enjoyed maths and are really engaged (pupils who had cried before about doing maths, now really enjoy it).

Who was involved in the project?

Key Stage 1 teachers from 33 schools in Wandsworth and Merton Local Authorities participated in the project. Some schools funded an additional teacher (often the maths subject leader) to attend the CPD training days.

The project delivery team included 3 senior academics from Brunel University; a Wandsworth LA adviser; an expert in Key Stage 1 education and mathematics & Honorary Fellow Exeter University; a KS1 practitioner with substantial experience of working both in HE and schools; and a primary school mathematician-in-residence and expert in developing role play in mathematics teaching.

At the outset, a Steering Group was established to discuss issues arising from the project and any recommendations were followed up immediately. The Steering Group comprised two LA advisers, project teachers, a Head teacher from each LA, and the Brunel University team

How did the project work?

The project spanned two academic years and ran for a period of 17 months between February 2014 and July 2015. The teachers attended a programme of Continuing Professional Development days designed to:

  • introduce key research in teaching and learning mathematics with a particular focus on teachers’ subject knowledge and the importance of talk in classrooms;
  • enhance their maths subject and pedagogical knowledge to promote greater confidence to explain and teach mathematical ideas;
  • introduce diverse approaches to planning opportunities for children to think, talk, enjoy and engage in mathematics;
  • consider the role of parents in supporting children’s mathematics learning.

This week we are in the process of doing the end of term project assessment with the children. At the start of the project, the monitoring tasks took approximately two days to complete with each class. However, this time it is taking a lot longer as the children have far better, more detailed responses and won’t stop discussing or sharing their ideas!

I found re-doing the assessments again very rewarding. I noticed in terms of my own professional development, how differently I delivered the questions and also how I interpreted the children’s responses more clearly than back in September

A framework for encouraging parental involvement in children’s learning was also offered to the teachers in the second year of the project. Alternative approaches to engaging parents were explored; a parents’ workshop was modelled, and support materials provided.

Parents are a child’s first and most enduring educators, and their influence cannot be overestimated. Parents should be at the centre of any plan to improve children’s outcomes, starting with the early years and continuing right through schooling’
‘It is acknowledged that the overwhelming majority of parents want to do their very best for their children and also recognised that the majority say they expect to need advice or help at some time or another’ (The Williams Report)

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