Mr Barton’s >How I Wish I’d Taught Maths: Lessons learned from research, conversations with experts, and 12 years of mistakes< has already had a profound effect on the way I approach not only maths, but all my teaching in the primary classroom.

I saw Craig speak last summer and it really has changed the way I view teaching and learning. He humbly states ‘this is a book in a secondary context, but if primary teachers can benefit, then great.’ He’s absolutely right they can benefit – immensely.

The strategies from Craig’s wonderful book can be applied, and are alive and kicking in my primary classroom. So far, it has had a measurable impact on understanding in my class. I have grand plans to roll out these strategies and approaches down the school.

Below are the main takeaways that have already had a profound impact on my teaching, and hopefully demonstrate how they can be applied in a primary setting.

Problem Pairs

One of the key elements of the book is the majestic problem pair. And it’s a game-changer. Granted, I am teaching Year 6, however, I believe the principles of this technique are easily transferrable right the way down the school, particularly in the skill acquisition phase of learning.

I began working through problems with similar structures and then providing worked examples for the children alongside the questions. I thought I had the perfect setup, but it swiftly became apparent that trying to create worked problems to fit alongside the actual problems was taking an age to prep.

With one eye on the beast that is workload, I realised, after reading what Craig does, that the process of children copying down the example (a model of excellence) was a time saver and helped with dual coding. The children responded really well to this approach and the success and understanding has been clear in multiple lessons for me.

Silent Teacher

Now I know this is nothing new in education and has been around a few years, but coupled with the problem pair, the silent teacher proves a wonderful tool to help the encoding process. I’ve been delivering the problem without any narration and my TA has ensured all children are silent and giving the board full attention.

Once this process is finished, the class then explain the process (with guidance) and are then set to try their own. It really does pay attention to the phonological loop and the visuospatial notepad and the implications on fragile working memory.

I asked my children what they thought about the process and they feel it helps them concentrate and really understand the ‘key bits’ of the maths.


This has been a more recent technique I’ve employed and again fits perfectly with the development of germane load – the idea that our working memories need exercising at the right level. By fading out the worked examples as we’ve gone through, it’s allowed children to start predicting and filling in the rest of the problem, thus leading to better understanding of problem structures.

I tried this with some percentage questions with a similar structure. At first, some were hesitant and looking for support, but with the right climate over the lesson we were able to make headway and they really started engaging with the process.

Redundancy effect

This one is heavily influenced by the work of Peps McCrea alongside Craig’s book (listen to their podcast interview and get hold of >Memorable Teaching< by Peps). The idea that any information that’s presented to children that is not linked to the learning becomes redundant and has a bearing on the working memory.

Granted, this can cause somewhat of a stir in a primary setting as I know many teachers like colourful engaging classrooms with plenty of support on walls for children. I am not advocating nothing on the walls, more of a refinement on what we present. I have trialled (along with my other Year 6 teacher) working walls that are very long and split horizontally in two – we are fortunate to have the space to do this.

Since taking this photo, I’ve moved the flipchart off to allow full space on the board. This now tracks the learning we are doing and is a record of key worked examples as we move through a unit. The children have responded wonderfully to it and it has helped with clarity of thought for myself.

Another thing that’s disappeared is my clock. I never really considered what a cognitive distraction it was, particularly for Year 6! Finally, I have also stripped back any distractive displays from the front and focused the visuals on what I want them to think about.

Pick up a copy of Craig Barton’s >How I Wish I’d Taught Maths: Lessons learned from research, conversations with experts, and 12 years of mistakes< for just £13.99 from

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