From about this point in a school year, as a DH and HT, I’d be looking at the detail of the plans for the coming academic year, particularly staffing. I was lucky to work with open colleagues, so that any known need or desire to move was flagged up early, so that plans could be put in place. Occasionally this fell down, but usually worked.
As a teacher, then as a full time teaching deputy, when it came time to suggest classes, or year groups that were preferred in the following year, I usually offered to take what was left; it didn’t worry me which class I took. It did once mean that I went from year 1 to year 4, and another from year 5 to year 2.
As I prefer to be ordered and organised, as soon as I got my class for the coming year, I began to rough out the plans for the year, so that I would know the order of themes and topics across the curriculum and, where possible, ensured that a rich topic diet supported, or was supported by, the maths and English curriculum. By the end of the summer term, the outline was in place.
I know that, at that stage, I was somewhat unusual in being so organised. Most colleagues left their planning until the summer holiday, whereas I had time to talk with them about the learning needs of the children who I would inherit and could begin to incorporate that in my plans. I could also begin to put my mind to resource needs, and, as the School Library Service book exchange was always in June, I could kit out the classroom with necessary books for the term.
One element which I put in place and took into headship was a two week, “getting back into school” topic, a time to really focus on getting to know the children well, while instilling the specific working practices that I would expect, and also seeking the quality they they had achieved the previous July. Working in their previous book for the two weeks enabled that to be a reality. It gave me, and the children a clear baseline of expectation from which to progress, which, when changing year group, was an invaluable resource.
As a HT, I brought with me the annual plan idea, created in July, together with the two week personal topic. The first fortnight ended with a closure, part for training and part to plan, in detail, the topics for the next few weeks until half term.
This approach supported staff well-being, allowing a little extra holiday free of school thinking. It also valued overview planning, so direction was clear and allowed deviation to need.
Longer planning blogs can be seen here and here.
I was never a fan of the 1997 changes to the National Curriculum, which brought in the National Strategies for English, then for Maths. The idea of both was to ensure that all teaching reached a good standard. The impact, across a number of my local colleague schools, as well as in my own, was that good or better teaching began to regress to the models that were proposed, as teachers lost confidence in their abilities. This was in part due to an almost daily diet of political rhetoric that banged on about the “Literacy and Numeracy hours”.
I disliked the materials from the strategies as they were piecemeal and designed to be delivered to children. We had developed a very rich curriculum, with rich experiences contribution to the maths and English curricula, bringing them to life. Learning was a joined up experience, as the steps and the links were made and were clear to the learners.
My dislike was compounded three years into the system, after much Local Authority inspired “change”, when the architect of the English Strategy, John Stannard, came to speak to South-east Hampshire heads. In this speech he gave his view of literacy teaching, and in so doing described what had been the case before the strategy. I felt sufficiently brave to tell him so, quite robustly. It was a surprise to find that he lived at the other end of the village where my school was situated. He didn’t visit!
So, on my return to school, it was an imperative that we should be brave, pursue the approaches that had been proven over ten years to work and we set to work to make learning links that were clear, concise and personalised to the needs of all the children.
Interpreting teacher voice and child voice was an important step.
TEACHER SPEAK, descriptors might say this
Lively and thoughtful ideas are often sustained and developed in interesting ways, with organisation generally appropriate for purpose.
Vocabulary choices are often adventurous and words are used for effect.
Pupils are beginning to use grammatically complex sentences, extending meaning.
Spelling, including that of polysyllabic words that conform to regular patterns, is generally accurate.
Full stops, capital letters and question marks are used correctly and pupils are beginning to use punctuation within sentences. Handwriting style is fluent, joined and legible.
But a child needs to hear the message in the header picture, organised to support their thinking. In this way, a child may make progress, supported by regular engaged conversation and developmental and supportive feedback, ensuring that the child WANTS to do more for herself.
The energy of the learner is fundamental to success.
Learning is a function of the context designed by the teacher and the engagement of learners of all abilities.
It is, yet again, a case of know-how with show-how.
It seems as if not a day passes without some element of news about testing arrangements in schools, with Primaries, this can appear to be daily, as “refinements” or interpretations are circulated from HM Government.
Today has been no exception, with much discussion of the utility, or otherwise of the current Baseline Testing, (possibly Assessment) of four year olds within a short period of their starting school. This is not necessarily new, in that Baseline Assessment as part of the Early Years Profile has been around for some time. In fact, my Local Authority used this evidence to explore progress within KS1 with an annual data printout to show where you were in relation to other schools.
Testing at age 4 or 5, (6 phonics check), 7 and 11 (12 in yr7) can appear to be something of overkill, in that at each stage the reporting is summative, with some kind of numeric score attached to the child. Where, formerly, this was through levels, not it will be some kind of scaled score, with a number something like an IQ score being attached to a child.
Where a child is deemed to be “above average” as can be inferred from the numeric data, it is quite likely that they will be largely ok and on track to achieve in the school system. However, where they are “below average” or in the new parlance “below national standard”, one can infer that there are potential gaps in their learning. Where this occurs, without the detail of the gaps and the time and organisation available to seek to fill the gaps, the gaps are likely to remain unaddressed, thereby condemning a child to a life of potential failure.
Where the curriculum challenge can be personalised to an individual need, there is potential for the gap to be addressed, and endeavour to avoid a significant gap between the child and their peers.
Teachers are likely to be easily able to identify the children in their classes who are achieving with ease, or with limited support and those whose needs require regular adult intervention. If the system was altered, so that, instead of whole cohort testing that confirms the large number of achievers (currently probably around 75%+) and instead concentrated on the lower achieving 30%, with diagnostic approaches, rather than summative numbers, the information would be more valuable to teachers on the next stage of the learning journey.
Test, on the whole, offer the ability to rank order achievement. When an arbitrary “pass” mark is given, some will pass and some fail. This system has failed children in the past (11 plus?) and will do so in the near future.
Children (who “fail”) deserve better from seven years of education. Build capacity, not failure, as the new system will embed.
This could be a sentence where it is a case of insert a name and a characteristic.
It is the sort of conversation that was a regular part of my earlier career, where a “kind” colleague sought to help by sharing their personal thoughts on a particular child. After my first couple of years in the classroom, the regular question of “Which class would you like next year”, was always met with a non-committal response. I really did not mind which class, or age I was given; they were all just children and would be, with me, as they would, regardless of what had gone before.
When I took up headship, it was noticeable that the “kind” habit was still very much in existence. Forewarned did not always, in this case, mean a restart with a new teacher. Teachers would articulate that “They’d be keeping an eye on…” when meeting their new class. Having heard this, I did seek to put a cap on the practice. Perhaps it went underground, but it needed to be addressed. Children can be very different with different teachers.
“Keeping an eye”, in one case, led to a very funny incident, from which a great deal was learned.
D was a bit of a “scamp”. He was the one who took a screwdriver to the classroom timer to “see how it worked”. After he had finished, it didn’t. His screwdriver abilities were also seen in the disappearance of screws holding the toilet doors. This was “an experiment” to see how few screws were needed to hold the door securely. It kept the caretaker busy.
One day, an incident occurred where a mid-day supervisor brought the news of yet another incident, and in so doing, immediately laid the blame on D. While this might have been a reasonable assumption, on this day it proved unfounded, as, unusually, D was not actually in school that day. The red-faced dinner lady was, fortunately sufficiently embarrassed to apologise for the accusation.
It did lead to discussion of the need for vigilance, rather than intuitive guesswork and led to higher awareness of all the children, not just those for whom there was a “warning”.
Of course, keeping an eye can have very positive forms; playground buddy systems, friendship benches, young interpreters, all looking out for peers, supported by aware staff. This approach ensures that children are not enabled to become isolated from the group, but also allows appropriate space for those whose needs require some awareness.
Keeping an eye, in SEN terms, can mean the teacher becoming an investigator of anomalies, checking things out before having a supportive conversation with the school SENCo. This is at the heart of professional teaching.
Children need to learn to become responsible, and sometimes, adults need to allow them a little space to become so.
The word “interleaving” was unknown in my vocabulary up until a couple of years ago, which is interesting, as, when I read blogs and articles about it, it seemed to be what I had been doing for many years, just as a matter of practice.
It would appear, from what I have read, to mean bringing something that has been covered, and hopefully learned, back into play in a new context, or as a means of checking that the essentials have been remembered. This, to me, was a significant part of what was articulated as the spiral curriculum. Not necessarily revisiting exactly the same topic, but embedding what was learned and extending it through use and application. I may well be wrong and not have picked up some of the nuanced approaches that some will use, but that it an inevitability, as every lesson is not monitored, recorded and shared.
In the approach to planning that was established a key aspect of school life, from 1990, an overview annual plan built in opportunities for reprise and reintegration of knowledge and skills that had been part of earlier learning. This could be reprised as a home activity, with children challenged to bring in their remembering of the previous learning to support in–lesson discussion, rather than start a lesson “cold” with a “What do you remember about…” question.
I would suggest that, to have real impact on learning, longer term planning is needed to view the places where interleaving can be achieved, otherwise, with some schools seemingly moving to a shorter term approach, the chance to reflect is limited by the need to react to decisions from in-lesson assessment.
Homework can, if it becomes a routine part of classroom practice, begin to be repetitive activity, which in itself becomes slightly demotivating to a child. Setting a “spider diagram” challenge to remember 6-10 things, dependent on age, about a topic, from any curriculum area, then to reprise this as a starter activity, puts the emphasis on the child to think and actively record their memories. It shows them that to remember is considered important, as they begin to expect a reprise point. If the remembering is then utilised in a subsequent activity in class, they have reinforcement. It also means less marking from homework.
To me, interleaving, to be successful, relies on planning to embed learning over time. It is not a case of random or regular tests, as the use and application of knowledge, in a novel setting, to me adds extra value to what is known, developing the learner’s awareness that (some) knowledge has a range of applications. They need to learn to become thinkers themselves.
Plan- reprise- apply- embed… keep using, as non-negotiables.