Thanks to Ruth Duckworth, Year 6 teacher, for the following article.
The most effective teachers not only refine starting points, but also make regular adjustments to planning during the learning journey.
As the new term starts and classroom timetables settle down to ‘real’ lessons, it is easy to roll with the planning as it is – especially if you’re teaching in the same year group as last year. It’s comfortable to start with the same topics, for example reading and exploring a novel you’re familiar with, often teaching virtually the same lessons all over again.
However, we can’t assume last year’s planning will just fit this year’s cohort. Instead it’s important for teachers to implement regular formative assessment right from the beginning of term – using a range of Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategies to pinpoint pupils’ prior learning.
Assessing prior knowledge
Popular starting points are KWL (What I know/ What I want to know/What I have learnt) grid activities, which pupils can easily adapt e.g. using more creative presentation styles such as tree diagrams, mind maps, or speech bubbles. Having used KWL grids for several years, many of my pupils now record their starting points and questions in more personal ways – using 3D flap questions, post it notes and arrows to guide thought processes.
Adjusting planning throughout the year
The most effective teachers not only refine starting points, but also make regular adjustments to planning during the learning journey. They support all pupils’ learning by regularly scaffolding and modelling pupils’ ideas as these develop – and consider further lines of enquiry along-the-way for pupils to achieve the best outcomes possible.
There has been a definite shift away from just teaching types and genres of writing, such as ‘Year 3 write non-chronological reports about Ancient Egypt’, as teachers have moved towards pupils considering audience and purposes for writing first. To engage and inspire good writing, children need wide opportunities to explore different types of writing – which may fit a range of different purposes. When taking part in cross-school writing moderation we look for a variety of fiction, non-fiction and poetry pieces – some formal, some informal – and not necessarily with all pupils have exactly the same outcome. For example, in the previous Year 3 Ancient Egypt example, are pupils having the choice to write a formal museum report or type an informal blog? Both outcomes could include the historical content (artefacts, Egyptian rulers or gods etc), but the blog may be a more engaging task for less confident writers or those who have strong computing skills.
Filling in gaps from previous years
Identifying and filling learning gaps (including from previous years’ teaching) is vital for ensuring progress – and can be included regularly throughout the term and year. Although it becomes routine to keep rolling-on with the lessons, ensuring evidence is there in the books for book trawls, it is so important to do the quick formative AfL checks too.
We teach our pupils to use green pens for editing and improving their writing, but also for self-assessment or peer assessment comments each week. These checks provide valuable insight for teachers – what concepts are going in and what vocabulary/ key terms pupils are using or now understand. Moving beyond the ‘I enjoyed this lesson’ type response is the key – scaffolding more evaluative phrases and giving pupils time to write quality feedback (often with a more confident or capable peer) – helping them to assess their own learning progress.
After all, as well as self-assessments providing valuable feedback for teachers’ next lessons, it is extremely satisfying to share in children’s ‘eureka’ moments. One of my Year 6 pupils wrote in a self-assessment comment, “’I didn’t understand that the apostrophe goes exactly where the letters are missed out in contractions. I just thought I was really bad at spelling.” Although contractions are Year 2 content, he still had a specific gap in his understanding. Remember then, to take time and use quick, regular formative assessment and AfL checks to keep filling those gaps.