Climbing The Hill

Category: Pedagogy and Practice

Deepening Thinking in Mathematics: by Jonathan Owen @mrowenedu

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As Assistant Head Teacher and Maths Leader at Foxfield Primary School, I am passionate about developing children’s cognitive skills, learning dispositions and confidence so that each individual can succeed across the curriculum, particularly in mathematics. As an eight-year-old-child, I believed that I wasn’t good at Maths and this is the feeling that I ultimately seek to avoid for all children.

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Undertaken as part of the Inspire Partnership Primary Leadership Programme, my project focused on deepening thinking in mathematics. This was first driven by looking at attainment data, feedback from a Challenge Partner review and the priorities on our School Development Plan. However, I believe that a large part of the success of the project was choosing a focus that addressed the needs of the school, whilst drawing on my skillset and personal aims. Underpinning this action research was a desire (both mine and that of Foxfield’s staff), for all children to be successful not only in terms of attainment, but by developing a growth mindset, becoming leaders of their learning, as well as building learners’ independence and self-motivation.  I started with a very simple idea: The Mathematics Cycle.


This was a strategy that I had developed in my own teaching, prior to joining the Inspire Partnership. I had found it successful in ensuring children explained their thinking and drew on existing knowledge. To explain it simply, the steps around the cycle develop a child’s fluency and once they have proven they have mastered the process of an area of mathematics, this indicates to teacher and child that a solid foundation exists on which to deepen thinking. Drawing strongly on the work of Steve Radcliffe and his book Leadership Plain and Simple, I made my vision clear, firstly delivering a PDM that featured a video of children in my own class successfully using this approach. I hoped that this project would save my colleagues valuable time, in addition to providing children with more opportunities to reason and problem solve.

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All teachers were given a copy of The Mathematics Cycle to put on their learning walls and use in maths lessons. Some observed this in action in my classroom. A control group of teachers were concurrently given image prompts for children to use to deepen thinking at the centre of the cycle, (some colleagues and I had already been trialling these as part of a separate research group) and the other teachers simply had a list of ways in which greater depth might be achieved. These prompts have proven to be the driving force of the project.

The greater depth prompts have evolved into stickers (featuring artwork from Mrs Jessica Vaggs), for ease of use and to save class teachers further time. Their use has been monitored and data from classes analysed. Learning walks, lesson observations and book looks showed a greater amount of reasoning and more questions from children in classes that used the visual prompts. More importantly, more ideas for further prompts emerged from the monitoring schedule, and the new system of using stickers merely enabled me to collate and share the best practice that was already going on at Foxfield Primary School.

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  • To effectively continue this project, some key events have occurred or will occur:All teachers and teaching assistants have received guidance on how to use the prompts.
  • The use of stickers will be reviewed again in January.

The Maths Cycle has been changed and simplified – for the better – a new poster will be re-launched in January following feedback from teachers; and smaller versions will be made for children to access independently on tables.

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  • Current feedback and monitoring shows the greater depth prompts are being used in a range of different ways; sometimes quite differently to how I intended, however, my biggest piece of leadership learning has been to allow flexibility when implementing school wide change. Ultimately, my vision for children noted earlier is being met and I am lucky to work with many great teachers, in particular Satnam Bansal and Patrick Adekoya for their enthusiasm and dedication to improving standards and sharing in my vision. The next step is to discuss with other leaders how the successes of these simple stickers can be implemented across the curriculum – watch this space for subject specific stickers coming soon!
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