The training that I have received from the NCETM towards being a Mastery Specialist has been the most thorough, informative, interesting and engaging that I have received in my career. The first year as a Mastery Specialist is spent developing deeper understanding of the 5 Big Ideas of mastery; the Shanghai approach to lesson design and how to develop Mastery in your own classrooms and school settings. The impact of this initial part of the training was that our teachers began to use whole class teaching, resources were selected better to unpick the underlying structures of the maths and children’s confidence increased as ‘lower ability’ children could see they were doing the same work as everyone else.
I was lucky enough to observe Shanghai style teaching initially through the Maths Hub in Southampton. Seeing that one lesson by the Shanghai teachers I knew that if the opportunity came up then I would absolutely want to go to Shanghai and learn more. I was ecstatic when I was chosen to go. I went to China thinking that I would go and see another level of Maths far beyond where we were currently working in the UK. I believed that we were very much going out there as the novices going to learn from the experts. Whereas the dynamic was actually one of true exchange: of academics coming together, learning together and from each other in a spirit of mutual respect. The training that we had received had been exactly in line with what they were teaching in Shanghai and so enabled us to participate and engage with the exchange on a higher level than if we had not received the mastery training first.
We were made to feel very welcome from the moment we arrived and the ceremony hosted at the Shanghai Normal University reiterated the essence of this ‘exchange.’ The Chinese teachers were just as eager to hear our ideas and learn from us as we were from them. In watching the lessons in Shanghai and taking part in post lesson TRG discussions I was expecting to feel overwhelmed. However my main feeling was one of deeper understanding and reassurance. If Mastery was a jigsaw puzzle then the NCETM training had turned all the pieces over so that I could see the different colours; the showcase had given me the frame on which to hang some of these pieces. My time in Shanghai allowed me to complete the puzzle with comprehensive understanding of the bigger picture of Mastery as well as knowledge of all the individual pieces.
One of the concepts where I feel my understanding became more refined was regarding small steps. We had been taught about small steps as a coherent pathway through a topic to ensure deep and secure understanding. Units of work would be longer than had been taught on the old curriculum allowing children to be very confident before moving on to new learning. In Shanghai I was really impressed by the clear small steps within a lesson as well as across lessons that smoothly took children from what they already knew towards new learning. All teachers also had a very clear understanding of not only where their lesson fit within a sequence but the bigger picture of where it fit within the school.
During my time in Shanghai I was constantly reflecting on what the teachers were doing, what the teaching steps were and how they were able to teach concepts so successfully. Having the opportunity to be in an environment where day and night you were with other teachers and could discus, share and compare ideas meant that I came home with a very clear sense of what we were doing well as a school and which aspects of mastery may have been overlooked or not developed as well yet. It also helped me to appreciate the Spines from the NCETM as I could see how the teaching steps have been taken from the teaching steps as demonstrated in Shanghai to support our teachers here with their understanding.
On return to the UK I spent time with staff looking again at lesson design as I felt this was the key to bringing the 5 Big ideas together and to ensure deep and secure learning was taking place in all lessons. In Shanghai we were asked to team teach and team plan a lesson. I found this to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences as having another professional to bounce ideas off and to review and reflect with took my planning and understanding to another level. This is something that I regularly encourage within our school and within my TRG schools.
We were also lucky enough to be able to take our staff to the Shanghai showcase in Portsmouth where Mrs Waddington and Mrs Heath came to meet my Shanghai partner teachers teach and see the mastery method first hand.
As a consequence of this training and experience at St Nicholas we have an 'open classroom' policy. Teachers are regularly encouraged to observe each other and to share best practice. I firmly believe that one of the key reasons that teachers in Shanghai are so confident and inspiring is because they are given time to plan together, observe and reflect. I am now better able to support schools as I have a clear and confident understanding of the cycle of team teaching, lesson design, reflection and review. This culture of constant development is a norm for them. By allowing more time for open classrooms and regular team planning and review we too can progress, develop and improve our practice to be the best Maths teachers we can be.
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