The effective deployment of Teaching Assistants in the classroom to maximise the progress of pupils with identified SEND

An Action Research Project by Aleisha Woodley

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers.

As line manager of the SEND team and in conjunction with the SENCO the need to research this topic was two-fold. After teaching staff Teaching Assistants (TAs) are the second biggest staffing cost in most schools, so deploying them in line with the latest research to maximise their impact on and in supporting pupil progress is vital in gaining value for money.  Secondly, after establishing how they should be deployed the best practice from teachers in engaging, supporting and directing this valuable resource is essential. The research phase was undertaken as a combination of a literature review of current research on models of deployment and impact studies on pupil progress as a result.  This led to a clear model in the context of St Bernadette’s for deployment of our TAs after observation of the current model and impact.  With the following aims:

  1. Teachers should be more aware of their responsibilities towards low attaining and SEND pupils
  2. Increase quality of TA interactions with pupils
  3. Create quality teacher and TA liaison time
  4. TAs have a clearer understanding of lesson plans, objectives and how to support pupils in meeting them
  5. Increase TAs self-esteem, value and confidence with a more clearly defined role.

This work was written up in full by the SENCO and implemented at the beginning of 2016-17 academic year. The quality of dialogue and parallel research meant that on-going discussions in learning focus time (CPD time allocated to staff across the school year) and line management time was clearly understood and developed a joint understanding of what was needed to improve deployment of TAs in class and for interventions.  The SENCOs project then focussed on developing the understanding for teachers and how they can best direct, support and deploy the TAs with the most advantage in their classroom to improve the progress of pupils.

My consideration for my own classroom practice then focussed on the targets in green (see exemplars below) and on classroom implications for those pupils that work well below the levels/grades of the rest of the class. In the academic year 2015-16 I taught a number of pupils operating well below the rest of the class academically who had a variety of learning difficulties preventing them from fully accessing and operating at the expected level of their peers. I interviewed pupils about their difficulties and how best to assess their understanding rather than their ability to record their understanding.  This produced key questions that would assess pupils’ learning and bridging the gap between their understanding and that of their peers as a key assessment tool in class.   The pupils’ preferences and recommendations were taken into consideration when developing and implementing these ideas.

Background & Literature Review of TA deployment

The school context:

The school is an 11-16 mainstream Catholic Comprehensive that has 750 pupils on roll with a wide ability range from pupils on P levels to working beyond A* at GCSE. 84 pupils were on the SEND register in the academic year 2015-16. This is 10.76% of the school population which is slightly below the national average. 8 pupils were covered by a statement of Special Educational Needs or an Educational Health Care Plan.

The primary need of each pupil is stated and shared with all teaching staff along with suggested strategies for meeting these needs in class. Specific strategies and external agency advice is sought and shared for those with complex needs or those pupils whose progress is very slow.  These external agencies range from ASDOT who are the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Outreach Team; BIS Behaviour Improvement Service: Speech and Language Team; Hearing Impairment Service etc.  The use of these additional agencies is identified according to the need of the pupil and their barriers to learning.

The SEN D code of practice states “Special educational provision is underpinned by high quality teaching and is compromised by anything less.” The school has for a number of years required teachers to publish ‘pen portraits’ for each class that highlights the needs of pupils in the class it highlights pupils on the SEND register; Pupil Premium or Disadvantaged; high ability; English as an additional language EAL. Teachers’ highlight the needs of pupils in each category as well as strategies they will employ in meeting those needs in the classroom.  This has sharpened the focus on meeting the needs of different groups of pupils and has proven successful in helping to reduce gaps.

Teaching Assistant deployment in class

The 1981 Education Act was the first legislation that outlined the responsibilities of Local Authorities (LAs) and schools in meeting the needs of pupils with Special Educational Needs. (SEN) The right of parents to request a mainstream primary or secondary school educate their child rather than a special school with a population of all SEN children was enshrined in law. Hence the birth of inclusion of pupils with significant additional needs in mainstream schools often referred to as inclusion. Statutory statements were also introduced that set out for pupils with significant or complex needs what help and support should be provided for them. Other SEN pupils without statements were also recognised and the need for teachers to ensure that they make adequate progress made clear. This inclusion of SEN pupils into mainstream schools led to an increased workload for teachers and for former volunteers or helpers to be paid to support SEN pupils in the classroom.  These early TAs were often unqualified and many of them were mothers, as school hours fitted around child care.  Although the first survey of the impact of TAs was not undertaken until 2009 with the DISS project. (Deployment and Impact of Support Staff) It demonstrated that TAs often worked with the lowest attaining pupils to support and help them access their work.  This conversely also meant that teachers spent the smallest amount of time with these pupils.  TAs with the least specialist training were working closely with those that arguably, needed the most help.  DISS also found that TA interaction with the teacher relieved the teacher’s stress, as they were able to complete administrative tasks and support but did not aid the progress of the pupils in their care as their training was not sufficient to develop their interaction with these pupils adequately.  The (MAST) Making a Statement Project found that TAs often had “more responsibility for planning and teaching statemented pupils that teachers.” Pg2.  TAs were expected to plan and differentiate on the spot once a lesson had started with little or no guidance from the teacher, (Webster and Blatchford 2013) concluded that one of the reasons was that teachers had/ have limited knowledge on how to meet the growing needs of the pupils in their classrooms, claiming that little or no additional training in their initial teacher training (ITT) courses (EEF 2015)

EEF 2015 showed that the more support an SEN pupil had from a TA the more likely that they would not make as much progress as someone similar with little or no support (Webster and Blatchford 2012) This was not the fault of the TA but how they were deployed and what additional training they had (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016). The DISS project had highlighted the lack of TA preparedness, they turned up to a lesson with no idea of what was being taught and how. The TA often had to respond as quickly as the pupils and support the SEN pupil to complete and record tasks often having to modify content as they worked. Using TAs in this way has been highlighted as poor Quality First Teaching in the Code of Practice 2014, which highlighted that the skills of the teacher are needed to focus on the SEN pupil. Blatchford 2012 highlighted the TAs lack of training hindering open questioning and not promoting higher order thinking skills. He went as far as to say that if this was not addressed then it would continue to hold back the progress of learning for those with SEN. Other studies have found that where TAs are trained and do know the content required then they can have a positive impact on progress and confidence of pupils with SEN.  Education for Everybody 2015 found that TAs inspire confidence in children, encouraging them to take part and helping them feel safe to participate.  Having an additional adult in the classroom also allows teachers to be risk takers, improvising creative ways and practical tasks rather than traditional seated work. (Alborz et al 2009)

Webster 2013 stated “TAs can only be as effective as teachers enable them to be. TAs need to ask what skills or knowledge the pupil they support should be developing and what learning teachers want them to achieve by the end of the lesson.”

The COP 2014 goes further by stating that “teachers are to be wholly responsible and accountable for SEN students in their classroom. Providing high quality teaching and differentiation for those requiring additional support in class; even with support staff in the classroom, and understanding the needs they have.”  It is from this point that I considered how best to meet the needs of pupils in my classes and their individual preferences in types and timing of support in lessons.

Context and classroom development of differentiated approaches to assessment for those pupils operating well below their peers:

After completing the literature review and analysis of effective deployment of TAs, as well as the role of the teacher in Quality First Teaching I began to consider the effectiveness of my own practice in differentiating for and effectively assessing those pupils at Key Stage 3 and 4 that were operating at levels 1 to 3 in Key stage 3 and pre GCSE grades equivalent to levels 2 or 3 at Key stage 3 or grades G and F at GCSE. The Code of Practice for SEN states:

A pupil has a learning difficulty if:

  • They have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of other pupils of the same age or;
  • Have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools.
  • Under the Equality Act 2010. Schools must not discriminate and they must make reasonable adjustments for disabled young persons.
  • The definition of disability in the Equality Act includes children with long term health conditions such as; asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, and cancer. These children may not have Special Educational Needs, but there is a significant overlap between disabled children and young people with SEN.

It also states the school must:

  • Be able to identify the young persons with Special Education Needs and assess their needs
  • Adapt the curriculum, teaching and learning environment and access to ancillary aids and assistive technology
  • Assess and review the young person’s progress towards outcomes
  • Support the young person in moving towards phases of educations
  • Enable the young person to prepare for adulthood.
  • Secure expertise among teachers to support the young person with Special Educational Needs – This should include expertise at three levels; awareness, enhanced and specialist
  • Assess and evaluate the effectiveness of the provision for the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Enable the young person with Special Educational Needs to access extra-curricular activities
  • Supporting emotional and social development of the young person with Special Educational Needs
  • Ensure the young person with Special Educational Needs takes part in actives with children who do not have Special Educational Needs as far as possible

Obviously some of these criteria have direct application in the classroom and must inform planning, teacher development and training to instil these skills and attributes in every classroom and teachers’ day to day practice.

The COP also spells out the direct responsibilities of the teacher in relation to pupils with SEN.

  • Teachers are responsible and accountable for the progress and development of the pupils in their class, even if they have support staff or a Teaching Assistant present.
  • Where a pupil is not making adequate progress teachers, SENCO and parents should collaborate.
  • High quality teaching, differentiated for individual pupils with Special Educational Needs must be provided.
  • Additional intervention and support cannot compensate for lack of good quality teaching.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review the quality of teaching for teaching for pupils at risk of under-achievement.
  • Schools should regularly and carefully review teachers’ understanding of strategies to support vulnerable pupils and their knowledge of Special Educational Needs most frequently encountered.
  • The quality of teaching for pupils with Special Educational Needs and the progress made by pupils should be a core part of Performance Management / Appraisal. Special Educational Needs should not be regarded as sufficient explanation for low achievement.

The COP goes on to spell out what adequate progress is for pupils on the SEN register especially if they have low starting points:

  • Similar to that of peers with similar starting points or baselines
  • Matches or betters the child’s previous rate of progress
  • Closes the attainment gap between the child and their peers
  • Prevents the attainment gap growing wider

The school system at St Bernadette’s for setting target levels or grades ensures that each pupil is intended or targeted to make at least expected progress even those with low starting points. The challenge for me in my teaching in a mixed ability class is accurately assessing and developing their progress to the next level or grade when the majority of peers are working at a higher level.  Targeted oral questioning is one way it has been addressed as well as assessing written tasks of all pupils against success criteria.  The use of TAs in some cases to support pupils has also traditionally been used to gauge pupil progress.  TA support is not always possible and is often targeted at those pupils with a statement or EHCP as their support is statutory.  Concerns in many of the studies have also been raised including this one.  “The most vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils receive less educational input from teachers than other pupils” (Blatchford, Russell and Webster 2016 P18). To maximise the time spent and the impact with these pupils and to accurately assess their lesson by lesson progress was a real priority.  In order to establish current practice and the actions to be undertaken I interviewed the pupils I taught in 2015-16 who were operating below the average range of their peers.  All of the pupils I taught were also on the SEN register that were in this category.  All of them were receiving additional literacy support outside of the classroom.

Actions

To focus on the pupil perceptions of their progress and strategies that supported them to do well. I have summarised the most useful comments below each question.

“What do you like that teachers’ do in class to help you?”

  • Come and check if I have understood the instructions
  • Always have the same routine in class at the beginning and end of lessons
  • Come and sit with me
  • Give me time to think of an answer
  • Read through worksheets or information together
  • Point to where you are on the screen
  • Make reading simple.
  • Help me with presentation

“What don’t you like that teachers’ do to try and help you?”

  • Give me different work
  • Ask me a question I cannot answer
  • Tell me off if I’m asking someone for help because I’m stuck
  • Tell me in front of everyone just do this bit
  • Give me different worksheets
  • Never ask me questions in class on my opinion
  • Move on too quickly if I don’t know

“What do you find the most difficult in class to do or try?”

  • Lots of writing
  • Answer questions in front of everyone I am not prepared for
  • Read out loud without help
  • Read on my own
  • Write simplified information without help
  • Complete lots of written questions.
  • Answer yellow stickers
  • Read teacher’s handwriting on the board or in our book

“What makes you feel successful or happy in your work?”

  • Teacher praise
  • If I’m asked for my opinion
  • Leading something I’m good at
  • Completing a task well
  • The teacher checking on me and saying good stuff

As a result of the unscientific but helpful discussion with 6 of my pupils I decided to focus on the beginning and end of my lessons. All 6 pupils were working below the average range of the their peers for age related expectations, were all on the SEN register for mild learning difficulties and had received or were in receipt of literacy intervention outside of the classroom.  Pupils were all really clear they never wanted to be given a different worksheet or work to do.  They were quite happy to start on easy questions that got harder and try to do the more difficult ones if they could.  They also did not want to do lots and lots of writing every lesson.  Three boys in Year 8 all stated that thinking about writing as well as the question slowed them down.  The school expectation is that a lesson objective is shared with pupils for every lesson as well as success criteria and these are used a benchmarks of success at the end of the lesson.

figure-1

Figure 1. This is the type of slide used at the start of every lesson that highlights the objective as well as the success criteria. These are referenced to new GCSE measures.

figure-2

Figure 2.  These pre-planned or targeted questions have become part of my routine planning to assess the pupils in my class that would normally be operating below the age related expectations. Although I now have a TA for this class I sit with the pupils and assess their knowledge and am able to push their understanding further if they have grasped the basic concepts.  I then note progress towards the success criteria.  Pupils said they found writing plenaries quite difficult.

figure-3

Figure 3.  This is in addition to above in the application of the required knowledge. Again, verbal questioning and recording by me as the teacher ensures an accurate picture of the pupil’s assessment level in that lesson.  It is described and written in this manner so a TA would be familiar with it and could use it if necessary.  This planning takes little time, max 10 minutes per lesson and when it has been done it can be used again for different classes.  This has become their routine and allows me time to correct really fundamental flaws but also to celebrate their successes.

figure-4

Figure 4. Success criteria used with the whole class. This is still used with SEN pupils and they can tick where they have succeeded i.e. identifying bulbs or battery in a circuit is possible for them.

figure-5

Figure 5.  These key questions and exemplars break down for the TA or remind the teacher what can the pupil do and what does this mean in relation to the success criteria. It also helps the TA during the lesson to ask relevant questions to help the pupil access the learning.

figure-6figure-6afigure-6b

Figure 6. These three plenary slides have also been used for summative capture at the end of the module etc. The pupils reported fatigue by the end of a lesson so they want to use simple but effective strategies to summarise their learning.

figure-7

Impact & conclusion

The strategies for questioning at the correct level, developing TAs expertise in questioning and the plenary approaches are all simple tools that have been effective. Some of the pupils I am teaching for the second year will select their own plenary tool or ask for more direct help than they used to if it is not public.  A barrier to recording their understanding does not mean they do not understand and their verbal responses can demonstrate their higher understanding.  Spending more time with these pupils during the lesson means they become less frustrated and will engage more as evidenced with one pupil that I have taught for two years.  He has not received any negative referrals as his level of engagement have risen using these techniques.  I have a full record for all of these pupils of how they have performed in each lesson via verbal questioning as well as written assessments produced independently which measure their ability to capture this information.

I routinely use this planning and plenary tasks and this certainty helps the pupils to demonstrate their learning more effectively. Previously, I would have relied on the few verbal questions they do answer in class and their written work.

Sources/ References

Alborz, A, Farrell. P, Howes, A., Pearson. D, (2009) The impact of adult support staff on pupils and mainstream schools. London HMSO

Black. P and Williams. D (1998) Inside the black box: raising standards through classroom assessment. London GL Assessment Ltd

Bland. K and Sleightholme. S (2012) Researching the pupil voice: what makes a good teaching assistant? British Journal of Learning Support Nasen

Blatchford P., Russell A., Webster R.(2012) Reassessing the Impact of Teaching Assistants. How research challenges practice and policy. Routeledge

DFE: (January 2015) Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years – Statutory guidance for organisations which work with and support children and young people who have special educational needs or disabilities

(Featured image: GotCredit, Education key keyboard, CC BY 2.0)

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Approaches to Teaching in a Knowledge Based Curriculum

An Action Research Project by Daniel James (Computing)

Focus of Project

In deciding on a focus for my Action Research (AR) Project I had to consider what were the biggest influence and challenges that I would face as a teaching professional over the next 12 months or more. It was with this hat on that I decided the biggest challenge would be the move from a skill-based ICT KS4 curriculum to a knowledge based Computing curriculum.

It is worth noting that as teachers I believe we would say we have always been teaching in a knowledge based curriculum, with our main goal being to provide students with the information (and skills) that will assist them in the future. However in 2013 Michael Gove brought this area of education centre stage. As a result, what we once considered to be a knowledge based curriculum did not contain enough knowledge. The new knowledge based curriculum was born.

At first the approach I took to my action research project was to look through some well known teaching pedagogies, including; de Bono’s Hats[1], Solo Taxonomy[2] and The Flipped Classroom[3]. Although these provided ideas for specific teaching approaches; such as providing students with different perspectives within which to approach tasks or different levels by which to structure understanding. I believed they muddied the water of how to approach teaching in an increasingly knowledge based curriculum because they focused on other aspects of learning and in particular would have needed embedding with students before they impacted upon learning.

It was with this research in hand that I decided that my focus would be on two generic approaches to teaching, that of the independent student-led approach and the teacher-led approach. The outcome of which would be the answer to the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum?

 Objective

The objective of this Action Research is to investigate approaches to teaching within the new knowledge based curriculum. I will be investigating the learning differences between a teacher-led approach and a student-led approach. The end objective is to determine which approach facilitates more effective learning from the students.

The Knowledge Based Curriculum

In March 2011 Alison Wolf produced The Wolf Report[4] reviewing the state of vocational education. This report led the way to the GCSE and vocational reforms seen over recent years. The Wolf Report concluded that “Good vocational programmes are, therefore, respected, valued and an important part of our, and any other country’s educational provision. But many vocational students are not following courses of this type”[5].

This then paved the way for the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to announce changes to the curriculum across all stages of education. He detailed that students needed to have a “stock of knowledge”[6] and that “unless you have knowledge … all you will find on Google is babble”.

The impact of this was the slimming down of the number of accredited GCSE and vocational subjects, increasing the knowledge needed for the courses that remained to be accredited and the introduction of a new attainment and progress standard for schools (Attainment and Progress 8[7]).

In September 2015 the first of these new GCSE’s was being taught in Maths and English, with the rest of the curriculum to follow in 2016. The subsequent Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, outlined the importance of this new knowledge curriculum in a speech delivered in January 2015. “At the heart of our reforms has been the determination to place knowledge back at the core of what pupils learn in school”[8]. From this point onwards it was clear that knowledge over skills was going to be the academic currency on offer.

This educational change seemed to be at odds with the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), where they were insisting that there was a skills shortage from young people leaving education. In 2015 the CBI published a report into the educational climate; this report was titled “Inspiring Growth”[9].

The report suggested that the government reforms should provide young adults with the correct attitudes for work. Findings included that employers looked for attitudes and aptitudes before formal qualifications and that employers look for a combination of academic and vocational studies. You can draw your own conclusions from the study but I see it as a counter argument for the wholly knowledge based curriculum that all students must complete; it seems to be at odds with such a curriculum.

Educational Pedagogies

Joe Kirby, in Pragmatic Education December 2013[10], suggests that there is a distinct difference in the approaches to skills and knowledge and that “These are contrasting mind-sets; they result in different pedagogies”.

He argues that knowledge based learning “prioritises memory, instruction and practice”, with the aim for pupils being to “know, understand, remember recall…connect their knowledge”.

Kirby suggests that skill-led learning facilitated by constructivism provides variety at the expense of clarity; he says “Cognitivism and knowledge-led instruction prioritise clarity and memory to avoid confusion and forgetting”. He advocates the knowledge approach: “In a nutshell, variety [constructivism] is a distraction”. Knowledge-led learning is best because of its scientific approach in which there is a formulaic approach to learning with a tried and tested method of delivery (e.g. the three part lesson). This approach is also backed up by Scott[11] on his blog, where he discusses skill based versus knowledge based learning.

Headguruteacher[12], in 12 principles of effective teaching January 2016, highlights, in his blog, that one of the 12 principles of effective teaching as being “Tool them up”, which commented on providing the students with the resources to enable them to learn with or without a specialist teacher in the room, however he noted “not all students can use these materials readily and need to be shown how.”

Headguruteacher also commented that teaching for memory was an important principle, “They [students] need strategies to do this; primarily lots of practice”. Interestingly the 12th and final principle of effective teaching centred on the two approaches I investigated during this Action Research project. He titled it as “Get some balance”, in which he recommended that teaching should be 80% “Mode A” teacher which is straight, rigorous cycles of explanation, model content, practice and feedback. The further 20% was “Mode B” teacher which uses awe and wonder and open-ended exploration to achieve deeper learning.

These studies stood out among the reading completed for this research as they had direct relevance for my classroom focused project. I used a combination of these in my own approach. This is detailed in the next section.

My Approaches and Actions

Having chosen to look at both student-led and teacher-led approaches I decided to split my two approaches over two periods of time so as to get direct comparisons. The first approach was a student-led approach. The idea behind this was to provide students with a guide as to what information they needed to know and what knowledge they needed to acquire (success criteria).

The emphasis in this approach was on the students being independent in finding out the knowledge, researching and clarifying ideas and theories in their own way.

dj1

figure 1

An example of this approach is the Frog VLE page (figure 1) in which success criteria are provided and the task set was for students to develop their own understanding in the three main areas as outlined in the blue file link boxes.

This approach was continued over a number of lessons until an end of topic test was complete. This provided evidence about the students learning under this method.

The next approach was to use a teacher led approach in which the students made notes from the teacher presentations while verbal explanation was also provided. This was then cemented by questions about the content they have just heard.

This approach negated the need for independent work and concentrated on the students’ ability to process the information they have just received.

An example of this approach is the series of slides taken from the KS4 computing module on data representation (figure 2 and 3). In this topic the knowledge element was very high and beyond what students had done before in computing. The combination of teacher led knowledge and questions to cement knowledge were used over a number of lessons.

figure 2                                                        figure 3

At the end of the trial of both approaches undertaken, the students were, as a class, interviewed and their results used alongside work scrutiny and classroom observation to formulate the findings which are detailed below.

Impact

The student-led approach had a variety of impacts on student learning. The first being that those students who had been resilient when finding this approach challenging found that they were better able to understand a topic. They believed that “they were better able to put it into their own thinking”. Some of the students who struggled with this method said that they liked the openness of tasks but that they needed more boundaries as it was “easy to go off task”. They felt that if a worksheet had been provided to place the information in they may have had more chance of progressing well.

The work scrutiny backed this up but I found that even when a worksheet was given, some did not complete it due to the openness of the task and the challenging nature of having to find the knowledge for themselves. (See image evidence below).

A student’s work without worksheet guidance: success criteria and then independent research and production of evidence of completing task. It is worth noting this is a B grade target student who at this point was working around the C grade (figure 4).

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figure 4

A student’s work with worksheet guidance: This allowed students to concentrate on their own knowledge acquisition. As you can see there are gaps which had to be filled with teacher explanation as the student lacked the resilience to continue with their own research (figure 5).

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figure 5

The second notable impact of the student-led approach was the effect on students extended knowledge. Students were able to explain in detail the areas they had successfully investigated but this was usually at the expense of other areas of the topic. Students felt that there was too much information available and that they often got caught in learning about an area in too great a depth. This depth was not needed for the current course; which itself creates another dilemma. How do you stop students going into too much depth? Or even, should we stop them in their pursuit of knowledge?

Evidence of the issue of depth versus breadth of knowledge was shown through their end of module tests where the results were below that of their target and showed a greater depth of knowledge in some areas which was lacking in others (figure 5 and 6).

figure 5                                                    figure 6

Both of these tests were examples of core knowledge gained in one particular area but not in others. The student on the left scored well in input, output and storage devices whereas the one of the right scored well in The CPU element.

In researching the teacher led approach I decided that I would provide the information, meaning students having to make notes and then answer questions around it. This was also supplemented with structured note sheets (figure 7 and 8).

                                        figure 7                                                     figure 8

The findings from this were very interesting. From a pupil voice perspective they found the teacher led lessons “a bit boring” but they said they understood more of the topic and in greater detail because they had been explained by an expert first. The students liked the note sheets; in particular the boys as this circumnavigated the need to be tidy in the books as it was already done for them.

For my view point I had the ‘safety blanket’ of knowing that the course content had been provided for the students but also the knowledge that the explanation was directly relevant for the content of the GCSE. However the preparation that went into these lessons was much greater in thinking about how best to explain the content, design the lesson materials and the subsequent assessment tasks.

The end of module assessments with the teacher-led approach had shown a marked improvement from the first approach taken. There was greater knowledge across the class with the answers in the assessments being of a consistently higher quality (figure 9).

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figure 9

Executive Summary and Next Steps

As a result of the action research there are a number of things I will focus on doing differently. Firstly, lessons will primarily be planned around the teacher-led approach in which content is delivered by me and then further questioning and tasks are designed to aid memory recall. In the creation of the teacher-led lesson the resources will be differentiated and allow for progression of knowledge at a pace that will be appropriate for the class.

Where possible I will also use the student-led approach but limit the resources that the students have to find the answers. This would then avoid the issues around the depth of knowledge at the expense of breadth whilst still encouraging student-led learning.

One of the key areas from this research that I will be taking forward is not being afraid to ‘teacher talk’ as this has been shown to be the most efficient way of students gaining knowledge in certain circumstances. This does need to be punctuated with questioning and mini-tasks so as to avoid student disengagement.

In the future I will avoid doing student-led lessons where the knowledge content is too specific. The reasoning for this is because a student-led lesson may result in students researching areas that are not specifically associated with the qualification, therefore not gaining the necessary knowledge for the exams.

In the planning and delivery of lessons my thinking has changed from primarily providing an engaging lesson to a lesson that provides the students with the academic opportunities to shine. This shift in thinking has meant I have concentrated more on the content of the teacher presentation than on the tasks that the students would do. The reason for this is because without the correct knowledge shared by me the students will not be able to complete any task fully, irrespective of delivery.

Finally, to answer the question: How best to teach in a knowledge based curriculum? There is no ‘right’ way to teach a knowledge based lesson and a variety is needed to get the most out of all students. However this research has found that a teacher-led approach produces better student results.

It is worth noting that in the initial research Headguruteacher commented that 20% of teaching should be ‘mode B’ teacher, this is what I am aiming for in the future.

In summary:

  • Teacher-led and student-led teaching approaches were used across a number of modules. Students interviewed and assessed at the end of modules.
  • Student-led lessons had increased pupil engagement and interest however it was found that acquisition of knowledge was incomplete and as a result module test scores were lower.
  • Teacher-led lessons had increased pupil results and understanding of the topic but led to a decrease in pupil engagement (more compliance than engagement).

Next Steps

  • Continue action research model on a bigger class with different ability levels.
  • Investigate the impact and work on resilience to challenge learners as a tool for improving student knowledge acquisition.

Sources and references

[1] De Bono’s Hats (http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php)

[2] SOLO Taxonomy (http://www.learningandteaching.info/learning/solo.htm)

[3] Flipped Classroom. (https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf)

[4] Wolf Report (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/180504/DFE-00031-2011.pdf)

[5] Wolf Report- Executing Summary. Paragraph 2/3.

[6] Gove Sets out ‘Core Knowledge’ curriculum plans (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21346812)

[7] Progress 8 Measures (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/497937/Progress-8-school-performance-measure.pdf)

[8] Nicky Morgan: why knowledge matters (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/nicky-morgan-why-knowledge-matters)

[9] Inspiring Growth (http://news.cbi.org.uk/reports/education-and-skills-survey-2015/)

[10] Pragmatic Education: How best to teach: Knowledge-led or skills-led lessons? (https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/how-best-to-teach/)

[11] Sscott (http://targetmaps.co.uk/knowledge-based-curriculum-vs-skills-based-curriculum/)

[12] Headguruteacher: Principles of Effective Teaching (https://headguruteacher.com/2016/01/10/principles-of-effective-teaching/)

Featured image: ‘Study time concept’ courtesy of http://www.freeimages.co.uk

 

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (3)

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Maths mastery – exploration and implementation

An Action Research project by Julie Silk

Aims of the project

The aim of the investigation was to explore the changes to approaches in the teaching of Mathematics to incorporate the new style of questioning and understanding known as Mastery.

The Key Stage 3 and 4 curriculum has drastically changed, particularly with regard to the style of questioning in assessment.

Our aims

  • To clarify what “mastery” means
  • To identify changes needed to teaching styles and learning outcomes
  • To implement changes
  • To observe one another to assist with team planning and sharing good practice
  • Embed mastery in our Schemes of Work

Background

In 2015 the new Mathematics curriculum was launched. Numbers replaced grades and a new style of examination was introduced by the examination boards. Our current Year 11 will be the first to face the challenge of the new curriculum. It was, therefore, essential that as a department we gained full understanding of what the changes were and how this would impact on our teaching. There were two main changes: curriculum content and mastery. Exam boards, education experts and teachers across the country were all offering a variety of opinions as to how this would look. It was for this reason that the faculty as a whole decided to carry out action research that would assist with this process.

Context

Our initial discussions began with us selecting a couple of classes to work with in order to build resilience and mastery skills using plenaries that based on mastery style questions.   At the same time we set out to research more fully the definition of mastery.  It quickly became apparent that we would need to use our plenaries with all classes or some of our pupils would be disadvantaged.  In consequence we extended this practice to all classes in years 7-10.

The emphasis on moving from predictable questions where you can teach a few “tricks” to get enough marks to get a C, to a real understanding of how to problem solve with Maths is , I believe, an excellent step forward. I have always considered teaching maths to be like coaching a football team. You show them lots of skills which they can practice and master but it isn’t until they are put together in a match that the full beauty of the game can be appreciated; in our case the “match” is problem solving.

Actions

  • Research mastery
  • Change plenaries
  • Change assessments
  • Observe each other teach in peer observations
  • Share good practice within the department
  • Share good practice outside the department

Research was shared and stored in a central folder in the Maths faculty for the benefit of all.

The new style of questioning needs quite a lot of encouragement for pupils to get started and we have to build resilience as up until this year, pupils were reluctant to get things wrong in Maths.

With the new style of questions we felt that it was important for the pupils to get a realistic idea of their understanding of the work. Our new tests provided by the exam board are very challenging and pupils need much encouragement to correct their mistakes. I felt it was vital for them to persist and so for every end of unit test we do, one week later they have a retest, same style of questions but different numbers. Pupils are adapting much better to the tests as confidence grows. The younger the pupil the better they are dealing with the changes. In year 10 the tests and end of year exams have certainly spread the level of attainment, many who would normally be 4/5 borderline are struggling to achieve anywhere near their target grade while the top-end are almost on par with their counterparts from last year. We can now see that our next step is to get pupils to write down the steps taken in each question and to at least start a 6-8 mark question that they feel is at the limit of their ability.

Peer observation

At the start peer observations were used to have a look at what we were each trying out with our classes. We have a full programme of paired observation for the next academic year to further develop our skills and share best practice.

Impact

The full impact of our findings will be more evident as time goes on.

  • Test results for my year 10 groups have shown that the more able the pupil the better they have adapted to the new style questions.
  • Resilience is key to gaining marks.
  • Showing working out is now more important than ever.
  • Adoption of the Shanghai style of teaching (learning key facts, peer support, moving forward together) is important as pupils need all the mathematical skills taught readily available.

Conclusions

  • In the long term, changes to the curriculum will increase understanding of Mathematics by pupils
  • Resilience needs to be encouraged and perfected
  • We’ve been fortunate that Nrich has been good preparation for some of the skills needed
  • Results will rise as we develop mastery further
  • The skills we have gained can be shared with others in other departments, other schools and Primary colleagues

Next steps

  • Continue to adapt lessons to incorporate mastery plenaries
  • Increase pupil response to tests and exams
  • Use peer support to raise understanding in lessons
  • Contact Primary partners to set up a support hub
  • Focus mind set changes on the middle ability pupils who seem to have been the most affected by exam changes

Sources and references

NCETM (2014a). Developing Mastery in Mathematics. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/45776 [Accessed: 28th September 2015]

NCETM (2014b). Video material to support the implementation of the National Curriculum. Available from: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/40529 [Accessed 28th September 2015]

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. October 2014. Williams, H. (2014) Approach, Research. Mathematics Mastery Acting Director of Primary

Developing Mastery in Mathematics (1)

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Mastery in Maths: Research and lesson adaptation to fit the new criteria in Maths

An Action Research project by Clare Mondair

Aims

The aim of this investigation was to explore aspects of Mastery in Maths to improve my own understanding of what Mastery actually means and what it would mean for the students in my lessons. In addition, my aim was to change my own teaching where necessary in order to best help the students in my classes achieve of their best. As a Faculty we aimed to work together to develop lessons that would contain a ‘Mastery’ element as well as developing resources to add to the new Scheme of Work which was quite thin on the kind of Mastery resources required.

Literature Review

Although there are many differences between the education systems in England and Eastern Asia, the ‘mastery’ approach to teaching commonly followed in these countries can teach us much.

According to the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. (October 2014), the main principles and features characterised by this approach are that:

  • Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.
  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace.
  • Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.

The intention of these approaches is to provide all children with full access to the curriculum, enabling them to achieve confidence and competence – ‘mastery’ – in mathematics, rather than many failing to develop the maths skills they need for the future. In addition, it has been recognised that for many schools and teachers the shift to this ‘mastery curriculum’ will be a significant one requiring new approaches to lesson design, teaching, use of resources and support of students. It also focuses on giving students the skills they need to make sensible choices and to use their knowledge to tackle problems in all sorts of situations. It also aims to develop their resilience for when the road gets tough.

There is a real need for a balanced approach here.  Of course having key facts at your disposal is very helpful when it comes to solving problems, especially when in an unfamiliar context but the need to be flexible and adaptable is too. Also helpful is being able to use what you do know to get you facts you don’t know.  For some students when learning their tables it can take a while to get 11 x 12 to “stick”, but if they are confident with 10 x 12 = 120 then they know how to get to the answer pretty quickly by adding on another 12.  Therefore, it is their understanding of the structure and not just my knowledge of the facts that helps out in tables tests. This is what sets students out on the road to mastery of the times tables!

Mastery of the Mathematics curriculum encourages ‘intelligent practice’ to enable students to develop conceptual understanding alongside procedural fluency.  It is important to use multiple representations to support this understanding and to encourage students’ reasoning.  Students are also encouraged to solve problems from the very start of the curriculum journey, not seeing it as some ‘add on’ that can only be considered when all the facts are in place.  The challenge is developing these skills and understanding alongside mastering different aspects of the Mathematics curriculum.

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Research Methods

Having researched and established as a Faculty what ‘mastery’ actually meant in maths we had to think about the way in which it would be developed. An agreement was made that we had already been attempting to develop mastery in terms of problem solving over the last year but lessons were intermittent and often lost out on due to other factors of school life.

An agreement was made that we would continue to develop lessons as normal but that a majority of our lessons would now contain an aspect of mastery. Nrich lessons would continue but would be incorporated in to the new Scheme of Work where possible (Nrich is a website created by Cambridge University which has open ended questions and what we now recognise as ‘Mastery challenges’). In addition, teachers in the Faculty would make lessons that they had produced available for the whole team and we would observe mastery lessons being delivered so that we would have a good understanding of what it ‘looked’ like. This would enable consistency throughout the Faculty. Many lessons would contain the format below so the students would know that was Nrich.

nrich-cm

The lesson would then progress through a series of steps so that there was enough challenge for everyone. Students were encouraged to work at their own level, however they were also encouraged to go for the higher level challenge where possible. This would result in those students who were less able working alongside those who already had a good ‘mastery’ of mathematics. The advantage of this system meant that students were working with and supporting peers and learning from one another in their language and at their own level.

find-a-whole-cm

The above would not apply to Year 11, but all other year groups should benefit from this thinking. It would of course be especially important for the Year 10 classes as they would be sitting a new exam which would call for resilience as well as thinking outside of the box in order to tackle some of the new material.

Main Findings

Asking students to think of more than one way to answer a question not only forces them to think more laterally but it also allows discussion of methods of true ’mastery’. These types of tasks enable students to:

  • Develop mathematical language.
  • Articulate their reasoning.
  • Share ideas on approaches to problem solving.
  • Grow in confidence when discussing ideas.

The key to this success is strong peer support which must be built up over time. In addition a good pedagogic tool to use in mathematical problem solving is instead of finding one way to solve a problem find three ways. Working in pairs is key to problem solving tasks as students come up with different ways of starting and after establishing one solution they are able to share alternative ideas. A core value of ‘mastery’ is partnership, listening to each other and showing respect for different views and ideas. Allowing students to explain their thinking, asking for and giving support and encouraging feedback is very important to establish and maintain mastery of mathematics.

Using Nrich we were able to appreciate that the current mastery approach encompasses two key aspects of mathematical learning, conceptual understanding and procedural fluency, which we agree are essential for nurturing young mathematicians. In addition there are five aspects of being able to be a Master at Maths, conceptual understanding; procedural fluency; strategic competence; adaptive reasoning and productive disposition (Kilpatrick, Stafford & Findell, 2001).

  • Much of the curriculum has been moved from higher levels to lower levels resulting in students now being expected to suddenly achieve at a much higher level than previously expected.
  • Many of our students do not have the basic mathematical fluency or reasoning skills in order to access much of the new curriculum.
  • Resilience in students is key in helping to ensure that students stay on track and improve.
  • Peer support and discussion is vital if students are to succeed in mastering some of the problem solving activities and questions which will come with the new curriculum.
  • Nrich allows students to explore Mathematics in a safe environment where they don’t feel threatened by their lack of basic knowledge.

Discussion and Conclusion

Mastery can only be developed over time and is unlikely to have much impact for the first two years of the new curriculum changes. The current difficulty we face is the fact that our Ks4 students have not been brought up with this habit of mastering Mathematics and it is therefore difficult to develop these skills and follow a Scheme of Work designed for a new exam which is already challenging to our average ability and less able students.

The mastery of Mathematics is however, being thoroughly embedded in the curriculum where possible for the Ks3 students and the impact of this should be felt when the current Year 9 group begin the GCSE course.

Mastery in Mathematics will enable students to articulate their ideas, build resilience, build mathematical fluency and think about problems from a different angle which in turn should have an impact on many aspects of life as well as Mathematics.

References

Drury, H. (2014) Mastering Mathematics. Oxford University Press, pp8.

Mathematics Learning Study Committee. Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. National Academies Press, 2001.

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. October 2014.

Williams, H. (2014) Approach, Research. Mathematics Mastery Acting Director of Primary.