20 Tasks for Maths Mastery Now!

Number-savvy children who twig on to concepts readily are now sometimes referred to as ‘rapid graspers’.

These are the children that use physical and visual models, explain themselves orally, think on their feet, show number sense, explain their thinking in writing, make connections, challenge themselves and manage their own learning… but not all in one go or all of the time!

This nebulous and contentious term at its simplest level is NCETM and Ofsted-speak which some translate for MAMA (More and Most Able) or ‘high attainers’.

As a buzz word, ‘rapid graspers’ might sound obvious, but it doesn’t sit easily within a teaching for masteryc approach. It sort of implies a defined ‘broadband’ group of learners who are whizzing through the work craving extra challenge.

But a growth mindset-infused mastery classroom isn’t like this because ability isn’t fixed and children aren’t labelled. Ability is fluid and so everyone can showcase an ability to grab, grapple and grip new concepts quickly. It might be the case that some children can clinch concepts with more consistency but that doesn’t mean we should attach a label to them.  As research show, being hooked on labels is damaging.

Don’t confuse rapid grasping for mastery

Every child can grasp a concept readily and this will depend largely on the teaching they are exposed to. All children therefore need to be given appropriate challenge and support to master a concept. When a learner shines and demonstrates that they ‘get it’ then teachers adapt, respond, vary work and take the learning deeper.

Rapid graspers is actually quite a helpful term because it can refer to anyone in class and allows everyone the opportunity to excel. We can communicate to children that ‘we are all rapid graspers’ and explain that we all have strengths which will surface at different times.

Everyone moves through the curriculum at the same pace, all children are capable of succeeding and acceleration is out.

What to do

Children who show that they have grasped a concept with understanding shouldn’t be mistaken for having mastered it.

Mastery is hard-won and comes through digging deeper and challenged through more demanding problems which excavate, intensify and reinforce their knowledge of the same content rather than being fast-tracked to objectives in the years above.

When children show that they are comfortable with a concept and start to ‘run with it’ then this tells us we need to add some turbulence and cognitive conflict so that we can advance and enrich.

Further challenge can be woven into their learning by asking the right questions in the right way. Deep learning begins with questions, not answers so peppering a lesson with effective questioning is key.  Differentiation by outcome is not an option; differentiation has to be purposeful and that means having a rich repertoire of questions.

Teaching – how to ask rich questions

Rich questions are important in maths as they promote more sophisticated thinking at a higher level and encourage children to compare, contrast and relate. Aim for rich tasks that enable higher order thinking skills (HOTS) rather than more of the same (MOTS).

The NCETM provide lots of guidance for planning different types of question and questions that can help extend children’s thinking. They have teamed up with the Maths Hub programme to produce various resources which can be accessed here including advice on differentiation.

We need to differentiate our questions to ensure that children are appropriately challenged and can make progress where they have to convince us they understand a concept by explaining it, using it and proving it. This is called putting on the “master’s glasses” and is an approach encouraged by the respected and popular Maths – No Problem! programme.

Opportunities for innovation and exploration are important as it allows pupils to be mentally agile, creative and make connections.

20 top tips

To deepen learning present pupils with choices, a variety of openings and ask them if they can:

1. write a ‘spot the mistake’ activity to highlight a misconception?
2. create their own concept cartoon?
3. find another way to show how a problem can be solved?
4. invent a new method?
5. create a story to illustrate a concept?
6. write a song or poem?
7. make a board game?
8. devise a poster?
9. hold a hot-seat interview?
10. create a short video explaining a concept as a ‘tiny teacher’ using models, images and practical apparatus?
11. record a podcast explaining a concept or key word?
12. use their knowledge in a different context?
13. create a factsheet with worked examples?
14. make a worksheet and produce an answer guide?
15. invent an ‘odd one out’ or ‘true-false-maybe’ quiz for another class?
16. create a ‘maths mat’ of key words with worked examples and images/diagrams?
17. write a definition and worked example for a maths dictionary?
18. write in a maths journal or diary to explain what they have done?
19. extend a problem further and carry out their own research?
20. design a webpage about a concept?

A mastery approach to teaching is deep and sustainable learning for all where everyone is a rapid grasper.

Each lesson will have ‘rapid graspers’ but who they are will vary as confidence ebbs and flows.


Author: John Dabel

John DabelJohn is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books and contributed well over 1,000 articles, features, reviews and curriculum projects to various bodies, magazines, journals and institutions. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru – sharing monthly insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.



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