Mathematical Reasoning Routines

We all have a very limited attention: as you might be aware, children can’t think about many different things at once! So establishing routines that promote mathematical reasoning – routines that children become familiar with – will allow children’s attention to be focused on the key learning in the lesson. Thinking about these routines in advance can therefore be very important.

And so much better if these routines are consistent throughout the school. In Thinking Deeply About Primary Mathematics by Kieran Mackle, I loved Matt Swain’s routine for how children hold up their whiteboards. The children always hold their whiteboards to their chests; the teacher tells the children to put their boards down one table at a time. When children are familiar with routines like this, their attention isn’t wandering to ‘will Mr Swain see my answer?’ but is held on the content of the lesson.

Here are four routines that I think support learning in a primary maths classroom:

Pair work: short independent thinking slots
In pair work, I often ask children to start by working on a task individually before discussing with their partner. This promotes different methods/thought processes and lessens the risk of one partner becoming too dominant in a conversation. The length of time that I would expect children to work independently will increase as they get older, but it’s something I try to establish with all children. In most contexts, I’d have periods of silence when working independently – children find it more difficult to block out background noise than adults. I have found that these short periods of individual thinking make children value their collaboration time more.

Re-state the views of others
In group or whole class discussions, I generally try to spend longer drawing out the detailed thinking of a child or a small number of children. It’s important, though, that all children are actively thinking about what is being discussed. As a result, I routinely ask children to re-state the opinion of the person that has been speaking. This helps children to follow a conversation rather than just thinking about what they would like to say or to give their opinion. It also opens children up to different ways of thinking or different methods.

Doubt at the point of answer
I want children to focus on the process of their thinking and encourage them to reason. I don’t want children overly focused on whether answers are right or wrong. As a result, I tend to react with indifference when children give an answer. This gives children a reason to explain their thinking and it shows them that the thing I value is their thought process. Also, where a child has answered some questions and has made a few mistakes (but doesn’t hold a clear misconception) I often tell them how many questions they have got correctly/incorrect and ask them to find their mistakes. This gives the child more thinking to do than when the questions are marked and they simply correct their mistakes.

Consistency in question types
I like to have a consistent bank of question types, using common headings, throughout the maths curriculum. These common question types are woven throughout my I See Reasoning eBooks (this blog explains some of the Y3 & Y4 techniques and this blog explains about some of the Y5 & Y6 techniques). So when building understanding, children are used to being given an Explain the Mistakes task; they know that they will be asked to explain links between questions when answering Small Difference Questions and they have become used to working systematically when given a How Many Ways? challenge. By establishing these norms, we can focus more of the children’s attention to the maths content of the task, rather than having to explain how to approach each new technique. I hope the eBooks are super-useful for this!

I’m happy to host training events on Building Reasoning Routines and Building Problem-Solvers for the 2021-2022 school year and I’m working alongside teachers to implement these ideas in the classroom. Please get in touch by emailing if you are interested in receiving support in these areas. I will also keep sharing new resources for people to trial for those people signed up to my mailing list.

Also, please share your favourite school or classroom routines, however big or small. How do they create a positive learning culture? How do they help to direct children’s limited attention in a productive way? I’d love to pick up and share new ideas!

Join the Discussion: How Expert Teachers will Rebuild Mathematical Understanding

It’s session 2 of the free Heartbeat of Education series this Thursday (11th March, 6pm-7pm) and it’s going to be a really significant one: how, as Primary teachers, can we ensure that children continue to thrive as mathematicians? And how should our maths lessons be different in this new season?

I believe that this is a time of great opportunity. It gives us the chance to reflect on children’s experience of mathematics and think about the skills and attributes that we truly value and want to build within our mathematicians. What can we do, as teachers, to lay the groundwork for children to have long-term success in mathematics? And how is this more than just helping children to ‘catch up’ on end-of-year targets? We will discuss what should be prioritised and how our teaching might be different in the upcoming weeks and months.

Register here to join the discussion live and to receive the recording of the session. I will be joined by award-winning Infant teacher Toby Tyler, leading teacher and teacher trainer Alison Hogben and the outstanding maths specialist Vicki Giffard. I want our discussion to explore YOUR questions. Here are some of the things that people have asked so far:
How do schools go about getting the balance right between focusing on the ‘Ready to Progress’ criteria as well as fully covering the National Curriculum?
How much weight should be given for retrieval practice if there are clear gaps in learning?
How should I differentiate now there are such gaps between children’s knowledge/experience in maths?

I’d love you to join in and please spread the word. Also, add your questions to the debate. Either post them on social media or email me at I’m looking forward to a lively, thought-provoking and important debate!

I See Reasoning for Y3 and Y4: the big vision for deepening mathematical thinking!

I’m delighted to have released the eBooks I See Reasoning Y3 and I See Reasoning Y4. They are breakthrough resources for building conceptual understanding; for helping children to notice patterns and relationships; and for deepening challenges. They are comprehensive and user-friendly.

Free Sample: I See Reasoning Y3 Division and Multiplication and Division

Free Sample: I See Reasoning Y4 Division and Multiplication and Division

These eBooks are a big upgrade on I See Reasoning – LKS2. First of all, between them there are 872 questions in the two eBooks, compared to the 240 tasks in the original eBook, I See Reasoning – LKS2. In each section of the new eBooks, mathematical concepts are shown using different images and representations:

Common misconceptions are highlighted and addressed:

Then there are a range of questions for highlighting patterns, generating discussion and digging deeper. Can children see the relationships between the Small Difference Questions? And find all answers to How Many Ways tasks?

Each eBook costs £24.98 and only one copy is needed per school. I believe that this represents amazing value – hopefully it means that my resources can impact many children. In-depth online or in-person CPD on embedding reasoning within sequences of lessons can also be arranged. To receive updates on all future events and to receive free resources, join the I See Maths mailing list community. Also, here are the links for I See Reasoning Y5 and I See Reasoning Y6.

I hope the eBooks will inspire many children to enjoy deep, rich mathematical experiences and that they will give you many great classroom moments!

Why I See Reasoning – Y5 and Y6 is new and unique!

I’m delighted to have  released the eBooks I See Reasoning – Y5 and I See Reasoning – Y6. They are an exciting development from anything I’ve done before and will enrich all children’s mathematical thinking. Here’s what makes them unique:

Detailed breakdown of small steps
For children to understand the individual parts of mathematical processes, I’ve introduced lots of new questions for breaking down learning into small pieces, focusing children’s thinking on specific points. For example, Next Step questions get children to analyse specific parts within calculations and Part-Complete Examples support children as they first learn to use methods. As ever, a range of misconceptions are addressed with Explain the Mistakes examples.

Opening up patterns and developing flexible thinking
There are lots of sequences of Small Difference Questions which highlight key mathematical relationships and give children surprises. For example, when children realise that different questions give the same answer, we can explore why. There are so many other patterns to uncover! There’s also a massive range of tasks that promote flexible thinking and using different strategies:

Explores big mathematical ideas (including word questions!) and allows children to create
Each topic is explored from a wide range of different angles. We look at different contexts for rounding; algebraic ideas are explored through shape puzzles; concepts are interleaved as children calculate angles between the hands of a clock at different times. There are ‘numberless’ word questions, where children explore different question structures without numbers, tasks where children are invited to create their own questions or extend sequences and How Many Ways? tasks to open up investigations!

I See Reasoning – Y5 has 362 tasks and I See Reasoning – Y6 has 396 tasks, compared to the 176 tasks of the predecessor, I See Reasoning – UKS2. The tasks cover every area of the curriculum and they incorporate the ideas from the latest DfE Mathematical Guidance. And answers are given for every question!

The eBooks cost £24.98 each and only one copy of each eBook is needed per school. I believe this represents amazing value!

Click here to order I See Reasoning – Y5 and click here to order I See Reasoning – Y6.

I hope I See Reasoning makes a huge impact on your teaching and helps all children to think mathematically. Please spread the word!

My very best wishes to everyone for the new term,

Counters & bar models used to unpick a classic PS question

This question is taken from the Y3 Autumn term White Rose Progress Check assessment:

I’ve really enjoyed exploring this question type (although, I have to admit, never yet with children as young as Y3). I want children to see and feel the structure of this type of problem, building up to being able to answer a question like the example above in small steps. Then, by working through a series of related questions, children will learn how to use efficient problem-solving strategies. They will also come to see that questions with different ‘surface features’ can have a very similar mathematical ‘deep structure’.

To start with, using double-sided red/blue counters, children attempt the question below:

Often, children start with 8 counters – 4 red, 4 blue. Then, they turn over two blue counters. They realise (with a nudge) that the difference between the number of red/blue counters is incorrect. With a bit more cajoling, we see only one counter needed turning over. At this point I line the counters up above/below each other. I suggest, rather than starting with the correct number of counters, we could start with the correct difference. Have 2 more red counters than blue counters; keep adding a red & blue until you have 8 counters.

That technique, or other methods, are then be practised using the question below. We note that this question is worded slightly differently, but see that the red/blue counters can still be useful:
This time, many children start by laying out four blue counters. We note that ten more counters are needed (5 blue, 5 red). Other children get 14 counters and experiment with how many to turn over. We look at these different approaches. Then, I draw a bar model around the counters (like for the original example), drawing a dotted line to highlight the difference of 4 counters.

Now it’s time for a worked example and another ‘different surface, same deep structure’ question. In this case, I model how to answer the question using the ‘start from the difference’ technique:
Having shown that the difference between the prices is 10p, the cost of the rubber can be calculated by halving 30p (a common incorrect answer to this question is pencil=30p, rubber=10p).

Children then attempt questions that have a very similar structure, still regularly using the counters. Some children are given slightly extended challenges:
Here’s another lesson example of how to break down the problem-solving process. I See Problem-Solving – UKS2 is designed to give teachers the tools to teach problem-solving systematically too. Work will start on the LKS2 version in January 2019. I can’t wait!

A career of improving teaching skills

Over the summer I read ‘Peak’ by Anders Ericsson, a fascinating book that examines the training that leads to expert performance in various fields. Ericsson studied world class performers (chess players, musicians, sportspeople, doctors etc) and describes the ‘deliberate practice’ that they have engaged in to develop their skill.

Ericsson argued that once we have achieved competence in something, simply ‘doing it more’ rarely leads to improved performance. Instead, a tennis player practises by hitting hundreds of backhands from kicking serves; chess masters train by studying key moves from previous games; a radiologist looks at difficult-to-interpret scans from previous cases to improve their diagnoses.

With my teacher hat on, I took away two main reflections from this book:

1. Focus on improving one small aspect of my teaching at a time
Teaching is wonderfully complex. So many things can affect the success of a lesson – there are so many variables! At any one time, though, I try to have one very specific thing that I focus on improving, and spend an extended period of time developing that one skill.

I remember once focusing for a half-term on having the best possible routine during the morning register. I analysed everything, from the logistics of my classroom layout to the little games and activities that were provided for the children. I would secretly time how long it would take children to be settled, pick through how children engaged with our little morning tasks and constantly make small tweaks to that part of the day. In 6 weeks I had a routine that I used successfully (without much further thought) for many years.

2. When making changes to my teaching, seek specific feedback
I love reading research and getting new ideas. When I first try out a new technique, it’s common that my first attempt(s) don’t go that well. For example, after reading ‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’ (Craig Barton) I tried out using ‘hinge-point’ questions as short mid-lesson assessments. At first I wasn’t skilled at exactly when/how to use these questions. I’d always arrange for another teacher to be in my class at those moments (even for just 5 minutes) so after we could unpick what worked and what could be improved.

Equally, I remember my first term in year 1. I would plan lessons with my partner Y1 teacher, but knew that her class were getting better outcomes from those lessons than mine. I learnt so much from popping my head in her classroom and watching what she was doing differently to me at specific moments. Or let’s say my focus is on the engagement of a target group of children during the plenary. I might use a TA to make specific observations about the actions of those children so I have better feedback on the success of a particular approach.

By constantly making small improvements to specific parts of my teaching, I hope that in 20 years’ time I will still be getting a bit better at doing my job every day!

Promoting Reasoning Part 4: Depth

In this final blog in the ’embedding reasoning’ series, I am sharing some of my favourite strategies for deepening learning. I love the back end of a sequence of lessons, where you can build on children’s growing understanding. Rich conversations emerge and children can apply their skills with increasing flexibility.

Nowadays, there is an increased emphasis on looking for the different ways children might find an answer. I think this is great, assuming we have given children enough tools to find different strategies (and discern the most efficient). Initially I often provide some scaffolds to point children towards different methods (see below-left). I also love ‘rank by difficulty’ as a tool for generating discussion. It helps to draw out the different ways children approach questions and focuses their conversations on key learning points.

To deepen learning, I’m always thinking about ways of stripping back the information that is given within a question. I can always put extra information back in where needed (or specifically requested), but by starting with less I can often have a more open dialogue. Consider the below-right example: I can always add in the squares to the 100-square, or other numbers. But by starting with less information I have a more open discussion about the possible values in the red boxes.

Finally, I love using ‘how many ways?’ as my final question type. Children can access a how many ways task at level 1 (I can find a way) or level 2 (I can find different ways), but the step to be working at level 3 (I know how many ways there are) creates a different kind of challenge. We may have to model how to order thinking systematically as children strive to find all possible answers. Previously taught calculation skills are becoming automated and rich opportunities for reasoning emerge.

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series. 

Promoting Reasoning Part 3: Variation

This blog post, the next in the ‘promoting reasoning’ series, features question types that help children to build on their current knowledge and notice important similarities and differences between questions.

I’m always looking for ways to promote non-counting calculation (there are overlaps here with my ‘visuals’ blog). Prompts like the below-left example helps children to make connections between doubles and near-doubles facts. Children can edit the image to help them see those relationships. Similarly, I love using ‘I know… so…’ question strings. In the below-right example, I hope children will either perform the calculation using the related fact, or they will see the relationship between the three questions.

The examples below probably fit the criteria of ‘variation’ more tightly. Specifically, by keeping all but one aspect of a question/image the same, children’s attention is drawn to the key difference. Consider the below-right example: the left hand image the dominant idea is likely to be ‘one circle’; the right hand image emphasises ‘four quarters’ more. Used together, children’s attention is drawn to four quarters being the same as one whole.

When using the ‘I know… so…’ prompt, I might adjust the amount of variation between the examples depending on where children are up to in their learning. That’s all about knowing your children, the magic ingredient that every great teacher has up their sleeve!

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series. 

Promoting Reasoning Part 2: Visual

This is the second blog post in a series looking at building reasoning within the maths curriculum. Here I’m looking at the using visuals in maths questions.

I’m always thinking about the best way to represent maths concepts practically to build understanding. The visual questions I use, therefore, are designed to correspond with the practical/visual models I have already used. The below-left example is one way that I represent the concept of ‘= means the same as’. The below-right example is a prompt that can be used to launch a practical investigation using matchsticks, developing the thought process of ‘how many [divisor] in [dividend]’ as children learn to do division by grouping.

By using questions that correspond directly with children’s practical experiences, the transition between concrete/pictorial to abstract is smoother. I might also use the visual to address common misconceptions (below-right example).

Below are two of my favourite types of visual reps questions to generate discussion. I like using ‘which picture’, where children have to consider which bar model represents a question correctly, and which bar model is showing a common error. Can children explain the mistake? I also love open-ended visuals: the bottom-right example is a particular favourite. More similar examples on this theme on the next blog!

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series. 

Promoting Reasoning Part 1: Misconceptions

In this series of blog posts I wanted to share some of my ‘go to’ strategies for interweaving reasoning throughout the maths curriculum. This post is all about specifically addressing common misconceptions.

When planning a sequence of lessons, I tend to spend an eternity considering two things: how to represent each mathematical idea to build children’s conceptual understanding, and the possible misconceptions children may have. Initially I try to break learning down into small, easy-to-digest steps (more about this phase in future blogs).

Then, when I think the children are ready, I try to address those misconceptions directly. I want to focus thinking on the key points that discern right from ‘likely wrong’, deliberately highlighting common errors. Sometimes, like the example below, I might show three possibilities and ask ‘which answer?’. Alternatively, I might ask children to explain given mistakes.

I find that these questions generate great discussion and explanation. I use these examples at different points within a lesson: sometimes as a way of addressing errors from yesterday; often as a final task before children work independently; occasionally as a plenary (although only if very confident that the children will take the correct conclusion away). Having read ‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’ by Craig Barton I will start using a couple of them mid-lesson to assess children’s understanding and signpost pupils to appropriate follow-up activities.

Predicting those errors is very much a skill in itself, developed over years of experience. And the process of coming to understand children’s incorrect responses, I find fascinating. Hopefully this technique will help your children to focus on those key learning points, and solidify their conceptual understanding in a range of areas of mathematics.

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series.