Derry Richardson – Top Tips for creating a positive learning environment:

positive about numbers

We understand that maths anxiety can be a real concern for teachers, parents and children, which is why we are committed to finding ways to make everyone feel more positive about numbers. Derry Richardson, Head of Professional Development at Oxford University Press provides her top tips for helping combat maths anxiety in the classroom

Being human – let your class know how you feel about learning something new (rock climbing, a new language, painting, playing a new sport or instrument). Share the feelings you have experienced and ask them to share some they may have or recognise. Consider ways to tackle these feelings of anxiety, include them in a poster or wall display. Regularly refer to them and ask the children to use these strategies and demonstrate them yourself when learning something new, in maths or any subject!

Traffic lights – Produce simple split pin flash cards in trios, with red, amber and green colours (like traffic lights), which the children can access on their tables or from a central source independently. They can lay the chosen colour in front of them or agree in a group how they are working and display the colour. GREEN – Children use green to signal to the teacher or other adult when they are working well and feeling confident, ready to push themselves further or be challenged. AMBER – having difficultly but have some strategies to work with first before I need support or input. I might ask a peer or look at the display for strategies, but I want the adult or other to know that I am feeling uncomfortable. RED – I have recognised that I cannot go any further at this point and have tried all the tools available to me, including my peers and now need adult help to get me moving with my learning please.

children doing maths

Misconceptions are good – build an ethos in the classroom where our misconceptions are ways of learning, not being mistaken or wrong in the eyes of others. What do misconceptions look like and how can we challenge them to tale positive learning steps? Create a road or map image on the wall or in small groups and think about what attributes, tools or good questions could help them get further along the learning journey; peer to peer support, asking an adult, looking back at our work, asking ‘what if…’ questions, resilience…

Talk – in maths especially one of the barriers to learning is the use of precise mathematical language. Spend as much time as possible on the correct terms and building mathematical talk. Link to the weekly spellings or build into the phonics work early on. In Inspire Maths there is an emphasis on precise mathematical language in responding to questions which helps the children review their learning, build complete pictures in their minds of the maths they have experienced and when articulating to others, which at times may highlight misconceptions to be discussed and resolved, as part of the learning in a constructive and collaborative way. Provide scaffolds for talk and sentence building as you would in English and draw on this learning to make the maths talk accessible and more familiar.

Manipulatives – working memory in children needs to be fostered and developed. One way to pursue this in maths in with the use of concrete manipulatives and the careful transition between the physical, the pictorial and abstract. Some children find it too overwhelming to move directly to the abstract in some aspects of maths, and the symbols and numbers cause anxiety. Using structured apparatus to help them talk about the maths they are doing, alongside the variation in images or the maths structure, will enable them to access the abstract more readily and with confidence drawing on the metal imagery. In Numicon, the widely researched approach to maths, by Communicating, Generalising and Exploring, builds gradually throughout the maths curriculum encouraging opportunities for children to discover the mathematical structures in carefully structured learning activities underpinned by the use of manipulatives. Much like we would not expect the children to discuss and draw electrical circuits without first assembling one and learning how they work, manipulation of number requires exploration and communication to draw on the generalisations and build fluency.

Derry Richardson

Derry Richardson is Head of Professional Development at Oxford University Press. She is an outstanding classroom practitioner and Leading Mathematics Teacher, with experience teaching across the Primary and Early Years phases.


Looking for resources to help? You can find out more about the resources and Professional Development that Oxford University Press has to help pupils become #positiveaboutnumbers including Numicon and Inspire Maths on our website.

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