Recovering the good learning habits and closing the gaps in their understanding.
The start of the new academic year for teachers and pupils alike, will be like no other! Whilst “catching up” will undoubtedly be a priority in-year, the immediate pressure of this needs to be removed in the early days of the new term, and a carefully planned and extended “induction curriculum” needs to be put in place that provides a wealth of activities designed specifically to enable staff and pupils to feel safe and secure in a formal learning environment, and has the explicit intention to re-engage learners.
Pupils in a new academic year, exploring with a new teacher in a different classroom how to function as a successful learner should be central to this induction programme, firstly because “school is no longer the safe, constant place we thought it was” and secondly because teachers need to take their pupils “ through a process of re -engagement that leads them back to their rightful status as fully engaged, authentic learners.” The process needs to be made transparent and highly explicit.
It is well documented that learners demonstrate increased self-esteem, greater independence and ultimately higher achievement when they are involved in the development of understanding of their own learning experiences (metacognition). The post C-19 Lockdown classroom climate needs more than ever before to be embedded with the belief that ALL pupils can learn and improve, and that whatever has befallen individuals since March 2020, catch up and keep up is possible for all. Concentrate intensively on creating and developing optimum conditions for, and positive attitudes to learning, and progress will naturally accelerate.
I cannot recommend too highly the work of Di Pardoe (Towards Successful Learning, 2005) as a basis for this type of re-engagement early in the new school year. Exploring collaboratively what helps learners to learn well, and what might prevent them from doing so, will be instrumental in agreeing what behaviours will support good learning in the classroom, in the school and beyond, as well as re-establishing their understanding of their own responsibilities within the process. Whilst this type of activity will be invaluable in the first two weeks of term, it is not something that stops there. Building on this throughout the year using Di Pardoe and Tom Robson’s “Think Like a Learner” materials will give pupils the power to become better, more powerful learners and should be built into any revised curriculum for recovery.
The need to assess where pupils actually are NOW in their learning as a result of Lockdown experiences
Inevitably teachers will need reliable and valid means of assessing effectively where pupils are in their learning as soon as possible, so that provision made takes account of the lost time and the missed opportunities, whilst celebrating what HAS been achieved, despite the break in formal tuition.
I personally favour the use of standardised tests (such as NFER in reading and in maths) administered early in the new school year, marked and analysed appropriately to provide information that is reliable and relates to previous national norms. Not everyone agrees with me- some feel this increases the trauma and stress of school returns. They warn against such early baseline testing but teachers need reliable and valid information on which to plan their curriculum to match the actual learning needs, and most importantly in a post lockdown context, to determine the nature and the extent of the catch up required at individual level. James Bell (Renaissance Learning) says “Teachers could spend weeks and weeks working out where those kids are: our tests can do it in 20 mins………..and can pinpoint which skills children need to learn next.” Why make life more difficult than it needs to be?
Of course, teacher (formative) assessment is important, but that should always be built into high quality, daily teaching and learning anyway, and it will, of course, supplement and further inform what is learned from the standardised test outcomes whose sole purpose is to provide a baseline (summative) snapshot in time upon which to build concepts and schemata. These are unusual times post Lockdown, and very focused approaches that balance the need to de-stress with the need to match educational provision to actual learner need as quickly as possible, will be crucial. As Daisy Christodoulou says in defence of testing, “If you want fairness, progress, equality and reliability, then human judgment may not be the best method.”
In my opinion, teachers MUST NOT at this initial stage, rely on guesswork and gut feeling. They cannot be sure that what was true of these children before Lockdown is still as true in September, given the varied experiences they will have had in the past six months. Nor can they afford to waste any time in this new academic year, when time will be at an absolute premium, and must be used most effectively. It is this point that brings me to the work of Mary Myatt and her ten suggestions for getting teaching and learning back on track. (“Back on Track”, Myatt, 2020).
The urgent need to stop doing things that make little or no difference to pupil learning.
More than at any other time in history, the current situation has underlined the fact that teachers are people first and professionals second and when leaders return in September to their staff, some of whom are very vulnerable, they will need to balance the robustness of their professional demands with kindness, to create a culture in which they care about individuals personally, whilst challenging them directly in ways recommended by Kim Scott (Scott, Radical Candour , 2019)
With time for learning at an absolute premium, Myatt suggests that what should happen in schools is ONLY that which is known to make a difference to pupil learning. There simply is not enough time to do everything, so teachers should stop doing the things that are not having a positive impact on pupil learning- the things that get in the way. She suggests that “80% of what teachers do in schools has an impact of only 20% on pupil learning” and cites the work of McKeown on “Essentialism- the disciplined pursuit of less” and Kondo on “The Magic Art of Tidying” to support her point. A new approach to curriculum planning must ask “Why are we doing this?” and “What should we cut? ” Planning a post C-19 curriculum will of necessity involve “covering” less but doing it better. Myatt strongly suggests that things must change and identifies key time consumers that have to be re thought.
Meetings need to be made more purposeful, and during those that do take place, matters of admin must be drastically reduced to enable an increased emphasis on acquiring professional knowledge through directed reading assignments, followed by specific professional dialogue. Myatt asserts what we all know about written marking, i.e. that it has little effect on learning and should largely be replaced by whole class feedback, and that the internal collection of data that is neither reliable nor valid should be dropped, along with the notion that progress is linear, and can be measured and recorded in a number. It simply cannot.
Just as Siegfried Engelmann believed that “The curriculum will largely determine the extent to which pupils are smart.”, like Christine Counsell, Myatt feels that the curriculum is the new progress model, and that in terms of teacher assessment, the question to be asked should be “If I have taught them that, have they all got it?” Assessment for Learning should essentially comprise looking at pupils’ work, listening to pupils talking and explaining, and observing their responses. Myatt is also a strong supporter of comparative judgement in terms of the assessment of writing for accountability purposes. She is most definitely not a fan of internal tracking now levels are long gone.
Having had the discussions with regard to what to stop doing, Myatt suggests identifying things that add MOST value to learning so that future energy is clearly focused upon the quality of the education and the quality of the curriculum, with the key question being “Is it ambitious enough [for all]”.
Myatt says that higher expectations of all pupils, with a ban on setting tables and differentiated worksheets, would be more effective than current practice. She also cites a need to increase the time spent with pupils reading demanding texts and teachers using direct instruction (DI) methods, as described by Engelmann, Sherrington and Rosenshine to support her views. Similarly the emphasis on task completion should be abandoned in favour of an increase in thinking and talking time, and a strengthening of mastery, insisting that all learners are capable of so much more demanding work. Time spent using inferior often differentiated worksheets and material from the internet is, for Myatt, a particular bug bear, and to this end she has herself provided high quality links to real resources on her website. With a clear instruction to “dump the rest and use these.” https://marymyatt.com/resources
The advice from Myatt is resoundingly clear. We have an opportunity now to rethink what we do and plan a future curriculum rich in experiences, but with a strong instructional focus and sound formative assessment, where practice is varied, and students learn to evaluate their knowledge for themselves. This reinforces the need this year to look very carefully at the methods used in classrooms to ensure that pupils learn what is intended and retain knowledge over time. This might usefully be the best basis for CPD 2020/21.