More on “Mastery”

After reading about Vietnamese teaching methods yesterday, today, completely by chance it seems, sees an interesting article in the Guardian about some Maths Mastery that’s been done mimicking some of the stuff done in Singapore.

Now, after 25 years, I’m as much of a cynic about Far Eastern learning methods as you can find even in the darkest recesses of the staff room. But, there’s some interesting stuff to be seen here:

  • there’s proper research with control groups and a decent sample size and all going on. That’s promising;
  • the research needs to carry on for another 4 years. That’s also promising and suggests this isn’t just another attempt to force another fad down the throats of teachers;
  • the apparent gain after a year was small;
  • the curriculum being modelled is dealing with depth and mastery rather than simply adding a whole pile of content.

The first three points are interesting enough, but it’s the last one I need to focus on.

The current UK government seems to be insistent on adding massive swathes of content to our GCSE and Key Stage 3 curriculums. The Science GCSE drafts, for example, contain massive amounts of knowledge content which will need to be rote learned – I mentioned yesterday about Newton’s Laws and a whole pile of formulae. This seems, to me, to be at odds with the Far Eastern mastery style of work, where less needs to be learned but it needs to be understood and applied more broadly.

Take, for example, the “Hannah’s Sweets” GCSE Maths question (Edexcel, June 2015). I heard, like everyone else, about the Twitter furore brewed up by 16 year olds who couldn’t do it. But it’s exactly the sort of question that anyone who’s been taught to master Maths should be able to do – as opposed to the teaching to the test methods we seemingly use just now far too often. I’ll admit to looking at it and wondering why on earth it was in any way difficult – but I guess my maths isn’t too sloppy.

So – mastery or death by content?

I know which I’d prefer. I also know darned well which I’ll be getting. And I’m not happy at all.