PublicationsSystematic reviewsMotivational effort in KS4 MathsPress release
A systematic review of strategies to raise pupils’ motivational effort in Key Stage 4 Mathematics. Press release

New EPPI Centre review: Raising pupils’ motivational effort in Key Stage 4 Mathematics

5 July 2006

Livelier, more positive teaching has a greater effect on improving pupils’ motivation to learn maths than grouping by sex or ability, according to a new report.

Teaching in supportive, innovative ways that not only engage but also challenge pupils is the way to make average and below-average 14–16 year olds work harder at mathematics, it says. But, to have any long-term effect, these techniques must also increase their understanding.

The Government-funded review of research, which looked in detail at 25 studies carried out in England or Wales since September 1999, found no evidence that setting had a clear and consistent impact on pupils’ motivation to learn mathematics. It did, however, find some evidence that being in a low set could create disaffection, especially where the whole class knew that this would deny them access to higher GCSE grades.

And one study found the use of boys-only classes in co-educational schools could sometimes enhance rather than undermine the ‘laddish’ culture it is in large measure designed to combat (although the girls preferred it).

On the other hand, teaching styles and methods that gave pupils a positive identity of themselves as ‘mathematicians’ – that is, people who can understand and do mathematics and feel a sense of belonging in their mathematics class – could really make them work harder.

This involved creating a caring and supportive classroom climate and providing activities pupils found challenging and enjoyable and which also enabled them to gain a deeper understanding of the subject. Other motivating strategies included giving pupils a chance to collaborate and making them feel equally valued.

The review, led by researchers from the University of York, found that teaching strategies using information and communication technology (ICT), such as interactive whiteboards and graphical calculators, could have a powerful effect on pupils’ motivation. Other innovative methods, such as the use of mental/oral starter sessions and whole-class interactive teaching (imported from the ‘numeracy hour’ in primary schools), could also play a part.

But, for such strategies to be effective, teachers must have a good understanding of the theoretical basis underpinning them and a good command of the skills and techniques for implementing them, the researchers stress.

‘The strategies considered in this review…all require a high level of skill and expertise,’ they say. ‘These are not strategies that teachers can simply implement without ongoing support and training.’

They recommend that maths teachers work together in collaborative groups with external support to explore and evaluate innovations in their teaching that would help improve their pupils’motivation. They also want to see more research undertaken and made available to teachers to find out exactly what features of each strategy are most effective.

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