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Thinking space – for both teachers and pupils

By Katie Crozier, November 2022

I had the great privilege recently of taking part in the Collaborative Learning Research (CLR) event at the University of Cambridge Primary School, where I was able to engage in collaborative professional debate around two lessons taught by Japanese teachers. Having thoroughly enjoyed the two days I am now left with many reflections to ponder over.

When I think about the Japanese lessons and the discussions about conceptual understanding and pedagogy, I find myself coming back to a moment near the beginning of the Year 5 lesson. One child in the class had seen the representation that was shared by the teacher in a different way to the other children. Through his gesturing, he indicated that he had seen the change in height of bamboo as a scaling structure. This was a central concept that was due to be explored in the lesson, yet at this point in the lesson it was not followed up. The teacher noticed and acknowledged the response but didn’t explore this further with the other children. Although I had noticed this at the time, I didn’t register the significance of this for my thinking until at the very end of the CLR, during the discussions when another observer asked the Japanese teacher why he hadn’t followed this up at the time. The teacher replied that he didn’t feel that the children were ready yet.


Ownership of learning


I have since found myself thinking about what I would have done at that point in the lesson if I were teaching my class. I feel pretty sure that I would have been delighted that one of the children had recognised the scaling structure and then I would have proceeded to teach the other children about scaling since that was a central idea of the lesson. The Japanese way was far more focussed around all children owning their learning – to come to the scaling concept when they were ready to make sense of this potentially new way of thinking about the change in height of the bamboo. The more I think about this, the more I think about how both lessons observed were designed with this ownership of learning in mind. The careful choice of context, representation, measurements and questioning guided children towards potential shifts in thinking. The design of Japanese problem-solving style lessons is something that I would like to find out more about.


Maths talk and classroom community


In both lessons that we observed, encouraging children to talk was central to the lesson design. Emphasis was placed on the children using their own words to verbalise their thinking about a mathematical idea. For example, children were encouraged to turn and rehearse an explanation of their mathematical thinking with their partner before sharing with the whole class. Children were actively encouraged to come out to the front of the class and share their thinking. Once a child’s thinking was shared, the other children were then encouraged to turn and explain to their partner what had just been said. This process may have involved children verbalising an explanation which differed from their own, resulting in a consideration of another viewpoint. Even within the short time of these two lessons, I felt that a sense of collective responsibility for everyone’s learning was being fostered by the teacher.


The life of a teacher can be exhilarating but also exhausting and overwhelming. At times it can feel as though the logistics of the day-to-day organisation of school life can take over from conversations about curriculum and pedagogy. The opportunity provided by CLR to observe Japanese-style maths lessons and engage in professional debate has been very refreshing. I have come away invigorated, with so much to reflect on within my own practice in the classroom and within my wider Trust and Maths Hub role.


Katie Crozier

Y4 Teacher Jeavons Wood Primary School

Primary Lead Cambridge Maths Hub

Primary Maths Director Cam Academy Trust

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