By Sarah Dean on 04 Nov 2020
This academic year has set teachers and school leaders some of the toughest challenges ever. With one half of the autumn term already complete and almost a week into the second, schools continue to move from strength to strength working rapidly to develop policies and procedures to keep everybody safe whilst ensuring that every child has access to high-quality education at all times.
Schools are facing the twin pressures of ensuring a COVID-19 secure environment and continuing to provide a high-quality curriculum, both in-school and when needed, remotely. Although schools have been given leeway to adapt their curriculums in light of the pandemic, they are working tirelessly to work towards moving back to their broad and balanced curriculums, whilst also supporting pupils to make rapid progress to address their gaps in learning. We are not yet sure about the true, long-term impact of school closures during the pandemic. However, it is clear that in all settings, children’s learning has suffered, and gaps in learning have been exacerbated. So, what can we do to support pupils to make rapid progress?
Continue to Identify and Prioritise Gaps
Planning effective assessment is integral to supporting great teaching. Schools will already have used a variety of ways to assess their pupils’ current understanding of certain skills within reading and writing. Some may have used high-stake summative assessments within the first few weeks. Others may have used baseline writing assessments and reading conversations to find pupils’ starting points and highlight areas to address. It is key that we continue to assess pupils’ progress, identifying additional gaps in knowledge and skills to focus on.
Now into the second half term, we can use formative assessment to analyse children’s most recent outcomes in reading and writing and compare these with their initial baseline assessments. Focusing on children’s outcomes will enable us to see what they have learnt over the last half term and highlight any misconceptions or further gaps in knowledge. This analysis will enable us to reflect on the progress made through the recovery curriculum and inform planning next steps, including adapting long term planning to meet the needs of pupils.
When reflecting on children’s progress, it is crucial that teachers continue to differentiate between learning that has been forgotten due to extended absence from the classroom and material that has not been learnt properly (EEF, 2020). Through the last half term, schools have worked hard to prioritise specific elements of missed learning and to teach the essential skills needed to build schema. It may become apparent that these gaps have not yet closed and more time is needed to secure these. However, it might be that children are ready to move onto the next steps in their learning.
Our ‘Basic Skills’ documents, like the example below, help to identify these gaps and prioritise what learning must be taught or reviewed. The objectives highlighted in yellow signal skills that children must be secure in before moving up to the next year group’s curriculum. Teachers can use these to continue to identify which objectives to focus upon in the classroom, or zone in on where intervention may be needed for specific groups of children.
Consider How Best to Plan and Sequence Learning
Once areas of focus have been identified, it is important to carefully consider how to plan and sequence learning. Tom Sherrington discusses in his book, Rosenshine’s Principles in Action, how learning needs to be cumulative and that to provide a deep understanding of a subject or concept, we must provide children with opportunities to build schema for learning.
Within English in particular, children will have missed learning essential concepts needed to build schema and therefore will not be secure in the knowledge needed to progress. For example, this year, children in Year 2,are likely to not have built sufficient understanding of sentence structure to be able to effectively use Year 2 concepts such as subordinating conjunctions without further consolidation first. It will crucial we plan for these children to secure their knowledge of simple sentence structure first, then moving on to using the coordinating conjunction ‘and’. Pushing on to subordinating conjunctions without this consolidation, is likely to result in misconceptions and a lack of understanding as to the effect of using further conjunctions.
Sherrington (2019) also states that learning must be a process of constant review and revisit. If children have missed essential knowledge then how can we expect them to build upon something that does not exist? We cannot just assume that this knowledge is there. We must constantly be checking otherwise gaps will widen, rather than narrow. Even prior to the pandemic, most teachers will have found gaps in children’s knowledge from previous year groups that needed addressing prior to the introduction of year group content. It is not that these concepts were not taught, nor that they were not taught well. It is likely that the content was simply not recapped, reviewed and revisited sufficiently to truly become sticky knowledge.
This year, these gaps have been exacerbated, and so it is imperative for all teachers to think carefully about how to fill them effectively, so that knowledge is deep, not surface level. For Year 2 and Year 6 teachers, this is more time-pressured as it is likely that end of key stage assessments will go ahead this academic year. So, what can we do to support pupils to make rapid progress and close their learning gaps this year?
Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction
With the ‘new normal’ in schools split between in school and home learning, strong evidence from the EEF suggests that explicit instruction, scaffolding, flexible grouping and cognitive and metacognitive strategies are key components of high-quality teaching and learning for all pupils. This is particularly true when teaching Literacy. Children need explicit modelling and teaching of new concepts, as well as sufficient opportunities to investigate, practise and apply those concepts. For example, when introducing new punctuation, we must ensure that we explicitly teach its purpose, effect and how it can be used in different contexts. We must scaffold teaching in small steps and also enable pupils to investigate, practise and apply the punctuation in a range of ways. Following Rosenshine’s principles of instruction provides teachers with a scaffold to review previous material, ask questions, teach new material in small and simple steps, guide pupils, check understanding, scaffold and provide opportunity for independent practice.
Provide Additional Support for Identified Pupils
The DFE have stated that teachers in Key Stages 1 and 2 should prioritise the identification of gaps, re-establish good progress in the essentials (phonics and reading, increasing vocabulary, writing) and provide opportunities to read across the curriculum so that pupils read widely, consequently developing their knowledge and vocabulary.
All schools are already making good headway with this, and are seeing the majority of pupils quickly progress. However, as time moves on, schools are also identifying pupils who have more significant gaps in knowledge and understanding. These pupils need further support to make the rapid progress they need in order to close their learning gaps. Identifying these children’s specific needs is crucial. Once this has been done, additional ‘catch-up’ learning and well-planned, specific interventions can be used to support them to progress.
Some of these interventions may be formal, whilst others may be more informal. For example, some pupils may benefit from a short corrective teach session in the afternoon to recap an important GPS concept, or a pre-read session to support their understanding and vocabulary prior to a whole class reading lesson. When a more formal intervention is deemed necessary, the Interventions for Literacy website by the Dyslexia and SPLD trust is an invaluable resource which can be used to identify the most effective intervention for a pupil’s specific needs.
Year 2 and Year 6 Network Sessions
With uncertainty pervading the coming weeks and months, we need to take this opportunity to reflect on the year so far and utilise this experience to plan effectively for the future. This academic year is one like no other; it is uncharted territory – presenting challenges to even the most experienced professionals. Take heart, as these can provide positive opportunities, as we take time to reflect on and challenge our current thinking and practice.
The sessions will provide a wealth of practical ideas for use in the classroom. Delegates will also be given opportunities to network with other professionals, discuss effective approaches to teaching, share good practice and explore possible solutions to challenges.
With many children missing almost 3 months of schooling last year, we are all aware of the impact this has had on their learning and progression, inevitably creating gaps and misconceptions. Schools have worked hard to meet children’s needs and address these gaps throughout the first half of Autumn term, yet we must not lose momentum. The sessions will give delegates the chance to analyse and discuss children’s most recent outcomes in reading and writing, exploring where pupils have made progress, and where they still require support to close their gaps. During the session, delegates will also discuss and explore their English long-term plans and obtain professional advice and ideas to improve learning opportunities. In addition, delegates will gain access to an online folder where writing examples can be collated and commented upon during the session. These will remain available to use after the session to support the standardisation of assessment judgements and to track progression.
As always, delegates will be able to take away a wealth of ideas and resources that can be implemented in the classroom. To find out more or to book a place click on the link below:
- EEF (2020), The EEF Guide to Supporting School Planning
- Sherrington, T. (2019) Rosenshine’s Principles in Action, John Catt Educational Ltd.