3 adaptations for SEND students when using mastery

A focus on mastery needs different considerations when working with SEND pupils, argues this Sendco


3 ways to help with mastery

As a classroom teacher, I welcomed the mastery approach that has swept through primary maths teaching in the past few years.

I felt my aversion to ability groups was validated in the "no assumptions" vision of mastery.  It allowed me to focus on how I was going to teach a unit, pinpoint exactly what steps were needed to achieve an objective, and pre-empt where misconceptions might lie.

My subject knowledge evolved and improved, I was able to plan "high ceiling/low threshold" tasks with growing confidence and went into lessons expecting everyone to achieve the intended outcome.

Then I left the classroom and took on the role of Sendco.

As such, over the past two terms, I have viewed the world anew through a SEND lens and this has led me to develop some specific caveats for using a mastery approach with SEND pupils as follows:

1. Pre-teaching

Some children will find the pace of teaching hard to keep up with. Pre-teaching can support this, by exposing these children to key terms and concepts prior to the lesson. 

By making links back to earlier learning (either in the current or previous year group), children may be more able to use their memories of past experiences and see where in the sequence this new learning will fit.

 Pre-teaching can be particularly valuable for children with speech and language needs, or any child who has poor understanding of concepts, weak auditory memory or a limited vocabulary.

2. Differentiation

While I loathe, with a fiery passion, pointless three-way differentiation activities based on fixed ability groupings, for some children, it is simply not possible to follow the curriculum for their year group.

Ultimately, if Billy in Year 4 cannot access Year 4 maths, then there is no point flogging the proverbial horse – in this case the horse being the long-suffering 1:1 TA who is trying to coax Billy valiantly through each small step. 

Old-school, good-quality differentiation is necessary here: if Billy is calculating at the level of a Year 2, then he needs Year 2 work.

By teaching most of the class as a whole, this should free up planning time to focus on smaller, more specialist pockets of differentiation which may well vary from topic to topic. 

Billy, after all, may well prove to be a surprise whizz at algebra. 

3. Independence

While the days of full-time 1:1 TAs are long gone, teachers and teaching assistants are, rightly, drawn to those children in the classroom who are stuck.

Some of these children may have SEND needs, and some may also have Higher Needs Funding, or an EHCP, which confers a statutory duty on schools to provide certain support.

I would argue however that all children, regardless of their provision, should be given the opportunity to work independently, even it is only for a few minutes at a time. 

This gives that child the message that they can do work for themselves.

If you have a child in your class who is consistently unable to complete activities without adult support then aim to assess before each unit so you can plan for them to succeed in a different way. 

Children who consistently perform below the level of their peers are more likely to experience feelings of low self-esteem, low self-worth and high levels of anxiety. 

So while the mastery approach is a positive move forwards for teaching in many ways, it is important to remember that we should not be throwing the differentiation baby out with the ability-group bathwater.

The writer is a Sendco in an English school

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