CfEM blog: CfEM Action Research – summary update

Blog by Cath Gladding, the ETF’s National Research Adviser, for the Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme.

The Centres for Excellence in Maths (CfEM) programme year is at an end – and a new one is beginning. That is the nature of Acton Research, following cycles of plan, do and review. Although the lockdown curtailed some data collection activities, the 2019/20 projects are now complete, reports written, conference presentations done. Taken together, these projects provide valuable insights for post-16 maths teachers and FE leaders across England., what did this year’s projects discover?

The strongest finding from across all projects was how vitally important it is to get to understand and to address the motivation and engagement issues of resit students. Indeed, motivation and engagement were seen as a prerequisite to successful learning.

Several of the Action Research projects skilled-up maths teachers in principles and practices used by motivational psychologists and went on to investigate various ways of developing growth mindsets and addressing maths anxiety. Colleges with the space and leadership support to create a maths hub or dedicated learning environment reported very positive effects not only on motivation but on attendance, time spent on-task, confidence and progress.

Other projects developed aspects of maths mastery in the FE sector. Further, by doing CPD training, reading relevant articles and collaborative planning and QA meetings, the maths teachers involved began to establish shared definitions of mastery in FE maths (as distinct from schools). This work was used as the basis for designing and testing a range of specific interventions with learners.

By the end of the year, for example, several projects were confidently using diagnostics and feedback from quiz-based starter activities or mentors/coaches to help identify prior knowledge and misconceptions and build from what learners know. Other projects focused on making significantly greater use of visual representations such as bar models or procedural variation in sets of related maths problems. Dialogic teaching approaches combined with a slimmed-down curriculum was also found to deepen understandings of key concepts required for a grade 4 or above.

Applying technology to maths teaching and learning was the final theme investigated in 2019/20. It was striking how similar experiences were across different CfEMs in terms of both:

  • criteria for selecting/developing new software – interactivity, feedback functionality, loads quickly at home and across College, a mix of flexible communication platform and dedicated maths programmes that support mastery, and
  • implementation of new software (teacher familiarisation, supported launch for learners, monitor and review engagement, use for timely individual and group interventions).

CfEMs have already established and justified their research focus for the 2020/21 year. It will come as no surprise that virtually all aim to explore and develop motivation and engagement and/or mastery in the context of radical shifts to blended learning delivery models for maths in FE.

Interested in finding out more? The 28 research reports and 25 online presentations will become available on the CfEM webpages of the ETF website this Summer.

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