How creating three different lesson types made me finally love maths mastery

Adapting the maths mastery approach by incorporating differentiation helped this head of maths feel happier about using it

Jo Purkess-Beckett

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Initially, I bought into the idea that the ‘slower, deeper’ philosophy at the heart of mastery teaching would, without the need for differentiation or ability groupings, naturally lead to better progress for all learners.

But I quickly realised that this was naive: my lower attainers weren’t magically catching up with their peers.

Why? Because mastery isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ teaching method where progress is guaranteed as long as you adhere to the ‘Concrete – Pictorial – Abstract’ (CPA) model, and it certainly isn’t the case that a whole class Singapore-style teaching model alone leads to good progress for all.

So I needed to tweak the approach. And this is how I went about it.  

Failed attempts

First, I tried re-introducing some of the differentiation methods I’d used in the past: in-lesson TA support for lower attaining learners, and offering a range of differentiated tasks. These strategies were ‘tried and tested’ and I hoped would bridge the gap for children who weren’t progressing as rapidly as I had expected.

For a while, I felt happier – the ‘same for everybody’ approach had made me uncomfortable – but there were two problems.

Firstly, these strategies didn’t sit well with the mastery pedagogies I was committed to – in particular, enabling the children to think, reason and discover independently; and secondly, the rapid progress I was hoping for didn’t materialise.

Mastery modifications

Then came a revelation: I attended a GLOW Maths Hub meeting where I heard Anthony Mitchell, head of Glenfall Primary School in Cheltenham, speak. He used the analogy of a car journey to describe children’s maths learning. The destination is the same for all, but the route is different depending on the children’s prior attainment, their current level of understanding, and their mindset.

A simple analogy, but one which helped me to crystallise my thinking. I came away re-energised by Anthony’s ideas – and with a fresh commitment to mastery.

Now I use a model that allows me to draw on those aspects of mastery that have transformed the maths learning in my classroom, while enabling all children to achieve. It involves teaching maths in two or three shorter sessions each day.

Lesson One

The first is a 35-minute whole class teacher-led discovery lesson. The children work in carefully chosen mixed-ability pairs, on rich, deep tasks that generate a high level of reasoning. I encourage a collaborative, supportive working atmosphere where misconceptions are valued and the children use talk, drawings and journaling to prove or disprove their thinking.

Lesson Two

The second session, timetabled later in the day, is shorter – no longer than 25 minutes. In this session, I offer several activities to either support the children whose understanding in the earlier session was not secure, or deepen the understanding of those who already show a good grasp of the concept. I use my observations of the children in the first session and their own self-assessment to allocate the activities.

I work with a group who needs a greater level of support; this small group work allows me to home in on the gaps in the children’s learning journey, using the principles of C-P-A, together with targeted questioning to elicit understanding and deal with misconceptions.

Lesson Three

The third session, which takes place three times a week, is a 15-minute fluency session –  a chance to put into practice the concepts and methods previously taught. Again, I offer differentiated tasks and use the opportunity to work with a small group to secure key skills.


Using this split timetable model enables all the children in my class to make good progress on their road to understanding – and finally, I’ve found a way to ensure that no-one is left behind on the journey!

Jo Purkess-Beckett is a year 6 teacher and maths lead. She tweets @beejow

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Jo Purkess-Beckett

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