Productive and effective use of collaborative planning time in mathematics

It is increasingly common practice for teachers to be allocated time to plan collaboratively. Making the most of this time improves the quality of teaching, which ultimately improves student learning and engagement.

In my work supporting mathematics teachers’ planning, I am often told ‘I just wish we had more time!’ That is, more time to understand the concepts, reflect on assessment data, source high-quality tasks, and discuss strategies for supporting diverse learners.

In reality, the time teachers have to plan is finite and planning is messy business. Here are 5 tips that my research (Davidson, 2017; 2018; 2019) has shown can help ensure teaching teams stay maths-focused when planning.

Have a game plan

Plan for planning. We know that meetings can easily get side-tracked. A good meeting agenda sets out a plan to ensure everyone comes prepared and follows the leader’s guidelines. Some key elements of a meeting agenda include:

  • Meeting objectives
  • Team member roles (e.g., minute taker, facilitator, timekeeper)
  • Required preparation
  • Materials to be used
  • Meeting schedule (time/minutes, activity, discussion, action)
  • Follow-up items

Create a blueprint for the lesson sequence

One of the aims of the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics v9.0 is to help students see the bigger picture and ‘make connections between areas of mathematics and…other disciplines’ (ACARA, 2023). Working together to map a progression of learning helps keep a teaching team ‘on the same page’ about the mathematical focus for a learning sequence. Some schools use a planning proforma to guide the coherent and connected development of mathematical ideas over a sequence of lessons. A detailed blueprint also enables teachers to spend more time preparing their classroom teaching.

Go straight to the source

Education authorities here in Australia, and overseas, have invested heavily to develop high-quality resources for teaching and learning mathematics. These resources have been developed by mathematics education experts to reflect research insights, trialled in real classrooms, and refined for wider use. Examples available online for free include:

These resources provide teachers with helpful information about the mathematical concepts being developed, common misconceptions, and effective teaching strategies.

Do the maths

It is well known that effective teachers are confident in their understanding of the mathematics concepts they are going to teach. That’s why it’s important that teachers spend time doing tasks themselves during planning meetings. Taking 5-10 minutes to share and compare strategies and solutions builds teachers’ knowledge and confidence, meaning they’re better prepared to make ‘in-the-moment’ decisions during lessons. For example, teachers can anticipate the range of student responses (including misunderstandings) and plan the prompts and scaffolds needed to support and extend students’ thinking.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Once teachers have curated, planned and documented a range of high-quality tasks, they are able to reflect on what happened during the sequence and refine their plans for future lessons. A well-documented blueprint helps teachers to build on their own and their students’ learning from year to year.

Benefits for teachers

Teachers report a range of benefits to planning in this way, including increased: confidence to teach mathematics, collegiality when planning, and consistency when teaching mathematics. In my doctoral research I surveyed 123 primary educators across 24 schools about the broader issues, challenges and aspirations facing them in their mathematics planning. The survey data also led to 2 intensive case studies over a six-month period with a year 1 and year 5 teaching team, aimed at gaining a deeper understanding about the issues. This iterative research process guided and informed the development of a planning intervention to support teacher professional learning and practice. Comments from participants in my research include:

Planning is now becoming a little bit more like planned in itself . . . having an agenda . . . let’s utilise this time and get as much work done as we can. (year 1 team leader)

I feel as if our planning has more direction and is more pedagogically sound after researching [tasks and concepts] through readings and discussion. (year 1 teacher)

You know, I used to teach lots of these tasks that we’ve read about, but now I actually understand why we’re teaching them. (year 5 teacher)

We now share a clear vision, sequence and approach to planning and recognise the importance of collaboration. (year 5 teacher)

References and related reading

ACARA. (2023) Australian Curriculum. Understand this learning area. Mathematics. Australian Curriculum.

Davidson, A. (2017). Exploring Ways to Improve Teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching with Effective Team Planning Practices. Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia.'_Mathematical_Knowledge_for_Teaching_with_Effective_Team_Planning_Practices

Davidson, A. (2018). Investigating Primary Teachers’ Mathematics Planning Processes for Student-Centred Learning and Teaching (Version 1). Monash University.

Davidson, A. (2019). Ingredients for planning student-centred learning in mathematics. Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 24(3), 8-14.

With colleagues that you plan collaboratively with, look at the 5 tips shared by Dr Aylie Davidson – which ones are you already doing in your own practice? Choose one of the tips you’re not doing and introduce it into your next collaborative planning session.