As August turns to September, and teachers approach a new academic year, there can be few who think it will be just like any other. The Pandemic changed all that with the enforced Lockdown since March and the inevitable closure of schools to many of our pupils.
There is talk this morning on R4 of pupils being three or four months behind in their academic learning. This is of course based upon guesswork and supposition, since no actual testing or assessment can possibly have taken place before schools reopen for business! Nevertheless, it should come as no surprise since that is the amount of learning time in school they have all missed!!
There is also conjecture, based upon relevant surveys, that these losses are greater for boys and for those deemed previously to be Disadvantaged due to prevailing social circumstances. I would caution again against making any assumptions about where pupils are on their return to school in key areas of learning reading writing and maths, and urge that instead schools take full account of ALL losses experienced by ALL pupils and make carefully considered VALID and RELIABLE assessments as soon as it is humanely possible so that provision can be matched to actual rather than assumed needs of individuals. Many individuals will return with varying degrees of traumatisation, bereavement and anxiety, regardless of their previous states, and it will prove to be very unwise to ignore this.
It is understandable that school leaders, steeped as they may well have been previously in a “results orientated culture”, should worry about the loss of knowledge, and that once the safety aspects of containing the spread of infection on site have been sorted they should base their provision around swiftly catching up on knowledge based learning. After all, the core purpose of schools is the learning. However, Barry Carpenter (Oxford Brookes: Recovery Curriculum) and Mary Myatt (Back on Track Sept 2020) urge schools to take a more holistic and humane approach based upon Carpenter’s 5 Levers that will make the most difference. You will undoubtedly be aware of these : Relationships, Community, Transparency, Metacognition and Space, and hopefully the period of transition and induction into new classes as the year begins and progresses will take full account of all these factors. There is no doubt that catch up will be achieved, although it may well take more time than is anticipated, but it will only be achieved effectively through a “systematic, relationship based approach to re-igniting the flame of learning” (Carpenter)
Time is of the essence, resources available to schools are finite, and the future extent of the ongoing problem with infection is uncertain. What IS certain is that Carpenter’s levers are the key. They all matter, but in this blog I want to concentrate upon the third Lever, Transparency, as I believe it will be all too easy to overlook its importance.
Returning to school-based learning will be strange for all, and pupils of all ages will be nervous of how they have fared in terms of learning compared with their peers. There will be much uncertainty and anxiety based on what they now do not know, and a fear of how they will cope with the new stuff. It will be very important to be transparent and open with pupils, whatever their age or circumstance, about the lost learning that all have suffered, and to acknowledge the fact that Lockdown experiences were different for everyone , and everyone will need to concentrate hard now on very effective learning in order to get back on track.
Transparency involves sharing the big picture with the learners. They need to know what it was they would have learned in the summer term last year and how that would have put them in a good position to learn what would be needed for the first term in the new year. They need to know how that fits in with what they need to know by next July, and the fact that each builds on what has gone before. There needs to be shared with them the state of urgency in terms of learning the essentials of what they missed, as well the need to make links and remember the essentials of what they already know so new learning is incremental. Teachers can share with the pupils not only WHAT they are teaching them but explain HOW they are teaching them in ways that will best help them learn.
Clear explanations and highly effective modelling will be required of teachers using a very direct instructional model that draws upon the ideas of Engelmann, Rosenshine and more latterly Sherrington. Adopting an “I do, we do , you do” model of reducing support (rather than any former ideas of differentiation) with plenty of time to practise and recall will be crucial in terms of teacher planning, but pupils need to be told why learning is taking place like this, how they can best be successful and why it is so important to their futures that they make significant efforts for themselves. This for me is what “transparency” is all about. Hattie would call it “making learning visible”, and Myatt would say it is simply “doing the things that make the difference and dumping the rest”.
For me, Carpenter’s 5 Levers for Recovery all have a place in the new reality of classrooms- they always did but other stuff got in the way. In the situation we now find ourselves, where time is of the essence and resources are finite, learners of all ages, more than ever before, need to understand clearly the why and the how of their own learning.
Stay safe and keep reading!