Your mathematical classroom culture

Blog: Suzanne Cook, Primary Development Lead

Your mathematical classroom culture

Posted: 29/08/14

We know that no two classes are ever the same, and nor are any two teachers.

On my first ever INSET when I started teaching, we had Dylan Wiliam present to us, and he said that being an effective teacher can mean being the ‘best caricature of yourself’ that you can be. At the time I had no idea what he meant, but noted it down enthusiastically thinking I understood, probably because it sounded like I was going to be great! Within a week I had realised that I had quite a long way to go.

I was very lucky as I was learning to teach, as I was surrounded by a great team of people who could use their skill and experience to help me develop. In the end, the ‘caricature’ I developed was a patchwork of things I had seen and tried that resonated with me and my classes, and took different forms for different students. Eventually I knew what the norms and behaviours were that I wanted, and what I needed to do to help set up the environment I that would make them happen.

It’s that time of year again. New faces and new classes. Maybe you’re new to teaching or starting in a new school setting, and you might be thinking about the characteristics of your classroom environment, and the behaviours that you want to encourage. Maybe you’re planning to embed some new principles in your lessons – as many teachers who are joining the Mathematics Mastery partnership will be – and you might be wondering exactly what it is you want your lessons to look like, and how you can achieve that. Maybe it’s both of these.

The start of the year is a really great chance to create a classroom culture that will mean students have a fantastic learning experience. It’s a chance to set out your expectations of behaviours and norms that you want to see in your lessons. Jo Boaler – Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University – recently published her favourite messages to students for ‘Setting up Positive Norms in Maths Class’ through, with tips on how to achieve these. Her favourite seven are:

  1. Everyone can learn maths to the highest level
  2. Mistakes are valuable
  3. Questions are really important
  4. Maths is about creativity and making sense
  5. Maths is about connections and communicating
  6. Maths class is about learning not performing
  7. Depth is more important than speed

We definitely agree with Jo (as we usually do!), and think these messages would really support students learning with the shared principles of the Mathematics Mastery partnership. Whether it’s developing growth mindset, using concrete materials or using language to explain mathematical thinking, the norms associated with the messages above can be very powerful.

So, if you’re thinking about setting up a positive classroom culture, some of the ideas in the links above could be helpful, and you may even find some new features for your caricature!