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Mathematics teaching

Deep Progress in Mathematics (Improving Attainment in Mathematics Project, 2001-2002)

Led by Professor Anne Watson and Dr Els de Geest of University of Oxford, in collaboration with Dr Stephanie Prestage, University of Birmingham.

This study explored the work of 10 teachers who had a shared commitment to increasing the attainment of previously lower attaining students by building on the belief that ‘all students can think hard about mathematics and thus do better at mathematics’. The research challenges the practice of giving students in lower attaining groups repetitive, procedural, fragmented, simplified mathematics, showing that such students can demonstrated sophisticated mathematical thinking and reasoning given the right conditions. While there was considerable variety in the practices observed, researchers also identified common characteristics among the teachers in the practices adopted. These were organised into a continuum, describing how teachers create an atmosphere in which students gradually become active learners of mathematics, then the nature of that activity and then the tasks and structures within which the activity took place. A core belief that developed during the project was that students need to have opportunity to make ‘deep progress’, meaning:

  • Learn more mathematics
  • Get better at learning mathematics
  • Feel better about learning mathematics.

Changing Mathematics Teaching Project 

Led by Professor Anne Watson and Dr Els de Geest, University of Oxford

Three schools decided separately to change the way they teach Mathematics in KS3 in order to help all students, especially the previously low attaining students (PLAS), to learn more mathematics. A shift to mixed attainment groupings, in all three schools in Year 7, and an on-going review of teaching approaches were designed to ensure that all students would be exposed to rich opportunities to extend and develop their mathematical thinking. These developments were partly influenced by the findings of the IAMP project, published as 'Deep Progress in Mathematics' (as outlined above), but mainly by the teachers’ own concerns and past experience. The study followed their progress, keeping records of how the departments worked, what individual teachers thought, and what the teaching was like. It also traced the reactions of a sample of PLAS in one cohort from entry in year 7 to SATs at the end of year 9.

Both projects were funded by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation