Post-lockdown planning, preparations and more. In this episode Andy, Emily and Adam advise on how to best manage the return to the classroom. How disruptive has lockdown life been to students? Should teachers be splitting their class into ability groups? Plus, top tips for assessment.
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hello. I'm Emily Guille-Marrett.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast. Welcome to the School of School podcast.
So we've reached the time of year where more children will be returning to school. Obviously, there's been children in school and that level of disruption is a massive challenge for everyone involved. And I think that there's going to be a lot of teachers, a lot of parents, a lot of children who want to make sure that transition back is as smooth as possible, but also to react to where the children are at. A lot of children may have learned plenty while they've been away, others not so much. Some people in the middle, but the one thing we know with the disruption on this scale is that there will be some impact. And when they return to school, it's pretty important that we get to grips with what that impact is so we can turn around and respond.
So what's the biggest problem teachers are going to have when kids come back in your mind?
I think the first thing is assessment being able to get a picture of such a diverse bunch of people. If you've got 30 children in the class, they'll have 30 different experiences of some level of disruption, whether they've been attending school or whether they've been learning at home. So I think getting a snapshot and being able to be clear, perhaps about a sort of global assessment, but also being very, very clear about what to assess with any given topics moving forward. And I think the third part of that is because the learning is unlikely to have kept the usual timing. If everyone was back at school, was giving the children an opportunity to look at some of those chapters in books. Some of those areas that perhaps we look at further into the year.
We don't want to deny children that, but equally I think it's important that we know how we can practice and manage core skills and basic facts within those areas that may have, I don't know, certain topic headings that don't necessarily reflect that basic skills and core facts are a really essential part of it. So I think being prepared for those areas and being prepared to assess, address, and respond in real time whilst looking at some new ideas, I think that's a really challenging thing for anyone that works in education. So I think there'll be pretty big hurdles.
What do you think, Emily, from a language point of view, especially?
Well, from language literacy and reading, I think mirroring similar issues in maths in terms of when do you start testing? Sorry, assessing, what are you assessing for and what are you going to use do with that information? And we know, don't we? That there's going to be this wide gap between those children who have perhaps had more opportunity with live teaching or being able to access materials and those who perhaps haven't. Even I reckon within schools, the different year groups may have had different experiences and some of that's practical because of the fact that they may be year one versus a year six. And I know that children are able to concentrate perhaps more statically on online with some of the bits and pieces as they're older.
One of the things I think is really interesting here is sometimes I think it's very easy to feel negative about assessment. When you talk all the poor children who've been at home and it's too much, and I really, really empathize with that. As a parent, it's a worry, isn't it? You sort of think,'Oh, our children have had so much to handle in terms of mental health and in terms of their wellbeing and we want them to socialize and play again.' But actually, obviously, it's where my professional view is. That if it's done correctly and it's like a benchmarking and it's a supportive tool, I think actually, having assessment early on as a diagnostic supportive thing, it's not about their ability or their potential. It's about where are the gaps and how can we support? And is there a story across the year group or the school of something we can do quite quickly to build that support? That bit, I don't feel often gets discussed in the... It's either your anti assessment or you're pro assessment and it's more complex.
Yeah. Well, so lots of teachers think that, and not just teachers, but lots of people, I guess, just would take the point of view. Well, you should trust the teachers more. The teachers will know, right? The teachers should know where the kids are, but this is really a different instance, you don't know. You really will not know because they've been out of your care for a while and you don't really know what's happened. So you need the data, right?
So if you are a teacher right now and you're thinking,'Gosh, I've got to start planning.' When do you start assessing? What do you focus on first? And how can you plan and prep and actually deliver what needs to be done to support those kids?
Let's just start with the basic tenant of a mastery approach is that we try to make as many things as fluent as possible, so we don't have to attend to it. So we've got the capacity to attend to a new idea. So the first thing that we need to do is be able to break down the skills that are needed. Let's just say, looking at perimeter, for example, we might use addition or multiplication to find a perimeter of a given shape. So if I was about to do that and I'm thinking,'Okay, so I'm doing area and perimeter, surely, I need to concentrate on number.' I think this is where we need to box clever. We need to think,'Okay, well, we've got an opportunity to develop core skills here. So we might need to start thinking about how we can vary the questions if the assessment data tells us that's what's needed.
So, for example, if a rectangle had one side of six centimeters and one side of four centimeters, how many different combinations could we come up with that will give the same perimeter? Those sorts of ideas where we are looking and we're saying, right, what are the fundamental core or key, basic skills that are needed here that we are practicing that may not have been kind of revisited as a specific topic for some time? Can we see that in this? And so, really looking at maybe the core idea of, I don't know, what is a perimeter, for example? But then using that as a vehicle to really ride home the basic facts or core skills. And for that is a number of sort of variations that we can do on that.
We can say things with something like a perimeter, give a total. The perimeter is 100 centimeters, how many different combinations could there be? So I think when we do something like that, what we're asking the children to do is practice their core skills because effectively what they'll do is work out how I can structure my thinking. But in amongst that, what we have to do is a lot of multiplication or a lot of addition, or a lot of this, or a lot of that. So I think that what I would be doing as a teacher is looking and saying,'Okay, I don't want to revisit and go over what I've already taught for the first, however long the children have been back at school. Yet, I understand that we may have a problem with some of those core skills that need to be at a level where they're fluent.
And so, how can I drag them out of content that on the surface, the new ideas' perimeter for arguments sake. So, I think it's variation on the questions that are being asked, but also understanding the impact that a change can have on a problem, because sometimes a small change can have a massive impact. So, I think that those are the sorts of things that I would be doing. I know that also looking at where you've got assessment with say the Maths — No Problem!! The products, we've got the formative assessment tabs, so it's basically broken down. The hierarchical fashion of here are all the key skills, knowing those before you start. So if one of those is adding two, two digit numbers, for example, I can say,'Oh, Emily, I've noticed, oh, let's have a look at what you are doing there.
Could you just do me a favor? I can see that one of those is 12 and one of those is 13. What did you come up with for the total for that?' Because if one of the core skills is adding two, two digit numbers, I can then talk to you, ask that question. And I will know almost immediately whether or not you've got the core skills to be able to carry on. So it's doing things, it's that preparation before the lesson takes place to be able to assess, understanding all of the skills going all the way back and knowing what the corresponding questions are to elicit that in real time quickly. And then to know what I can do to get you back in the game. So you might be okay with 12 plus 13, but 18 plus 13 requires more skills, renaming those sorts of things.
That's where you may need more practice. So I might say to you,'Okay, I want two, two digit numbers that, I don't know, will add up to 40, but one of them has to start with a 10, a single 10.' And then you have to come up with the rest and see what have happens there. So I think it's these sorts of things that it takes a bit more time and I may well need to go and visit colleagues because that's a skill that goes beyond just the content we see in front of us. So we can't just vary things randomly and leave it to chance. We've got to understand the impact of changing certain things because every problem in a book that's well written, it's got a purpose. It's not just the throw around.
Yeah. So for teachers, I guess, if I was to summarize what you're saying. The skill that maybe they should be focusing themselves on is that diagnostic sort of if I look at a problem, you use perimeter. What are the components that are necessary? What are the building blocks that lead to being able to do that particular thing? And if they can't do it, where does the problem lie? Is it that they don't understand what perimeter is as a concept? Is it number facts? Is it something else? Right? It could be that you think that they can't do perimeter, but the actual problem is they don't understand place value because it's 23 and 47 that they have to add. And they don't know how to do that. So they gave you the wrong answer, not because they don't know what perimeter is, but actually, it's because they have a problem with place value and they didn't line the digits up correctly with the additive. It could be as simple as that, is being able to diagnose those things.
Absolutely. And I think that we have to look wider and we should be doing this anyway. But I think the utmost importance now is that we need to be able to look back and say,'If we're doing perimeter in a key stage two, upper key stage two, that we know the skills that, that have gone before it all the way back as far as we can.' And the perfect world would know them all the way back to the early years on entry some of the early ideas.
How do I convince my team who are very nervous at the moment that we don't need to stream? And we don't need to split into ability groups that we can continue the mastery approach in the current climate and it will still be okay. I believe in it, but how can I do that and continue to support it?
I think I'm going to approach your question, Emily, from a much more practical tactical point of view and focus it on people who may be teaching with Maths — No Problem!! So, first thing I would say is with Maths — No Problem!! you're well covered anyway, right? Every single anchor task, every single explore part of the lesson that's been designed to be a low floor, high ceiling. So there's an anticipation that of all the children in that classroom, a certain percentage of them will not have grasped the concept yet. Some of them will be right at the level you expect them to be and some of them will be already advanced. So as a teacher, teach that lesson as you would, but just be mindful that many or more than usual might be struggling, right?
Do that, go through your lesson, jump into the guided practice where the children are working in groups independently, right? Use that time to teach what the Japanese call teach between the desks and that is get around the classroom and see what they're doing and assess who's struggling, who's there, who's not there. Do it and do it quickly. You've got 10 minutes, efficiently get around the class. Then after that move those who are ready off to independent practice with the workbooks. That's what they're designed for. They don't need your support. Spend the time with those who are struggling, right? So your middle group and your top group will be fine. They don't need to answer everything correctly in the workbook, but they're at a level where they can work independently on their own. You got to let them go. Those who are not even on the runway, they're not ready.
Forget about flying, they're not even on the runway. Those ones are the ones you need to spend your time with. I think all too often teachers say,'Oh, that's the low group. I'm going to put them with the teaching assistant and then teach them last year's content.' That's not what you should do. Then individually go in there, diagnose what the problem is. Each individual child in that group, diagnose where's the problem. And then come up with either a remediation strategy or a scaffolding strategy. That's going to bring them up to the level where they're ready for tomorrow's lesson. Forget about trying to fix an entire problem in a day. It's not going to happen. Just get them ready for tomorrow. And if you do that consistently, they will not fall behind. The minute you put them in last year's content, they will never catch up again. Right?
And that I think if from a mastery approach, that's what will work, right? And as teachers, what you need to be able to do is figure out which ones are struggling, diagnose what's wrong and spend the time with those. And let the teaching assistant, if you have one, if you're fortunate enough to have one, let them maintain those who are doing okay, because they don't need as much help. Right? Focus on the ones that need the help. I think that's the most practical advice I could give. Also, if you're lucky enough to use Maths — No Problem!! Please, please, please read the teaching guides because it'll tell you a lot of information that'll be useful to you like what is statutory? What is non-statutory? What is non-critical? What is absolutely critical? You might have to make some decisions. You might have to skip some content because for whatever reason, the teaching guides have a lot of... We've added a tremendous amount of information in there for teachers to help them with these particular problems.
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