Mini-interventions

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Richard Noibi (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

When we speak of interventions in education, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, we typically think of large scale initiatives.  Schemes that might run across a whole school.  Interventions that have been meticulously planned with supporting documentation, layers of responsibility and financial accountability.  These are important but for many  pupils, it can often be the small-scale interventions teachers make, that can have the greatest impact in overcoming a barrier to learning in a particular lesson.

One example I use is the ‘mini-intervention’.  This is a way of supporting a pupil who has missed a lesson or not understood a key step in their learning.

Here’s how it works in my maths lessons.

Step 1

At the start of each lesson I give my class a bell-work/starter activity to get their mathematical brains warmed up.  This might reinforce the learning from recent lessons, give them a chance to demonstrate their mastery of an aspects of maths, or get them engaged with a new area of study.

Starter

Figure 1. An example of a starter activity

Step 2

While the majority of the class are working on the starter I will sit down with a pupil who was absent for the last lesson and go over the work we have covered in a 1:1 ‘mini- intervention’ and using a block of post-it notes to provide a brief explanation and  summary of the key learning points they have missed.

Fig 1

Figure 2. An example of some ‘mini-intervention’ post-it notes on trigonometric ratios given while the rest of the class work on their starter problem

Step 3

The pupil now has a greater chance of succeeding with the lesson ahead.  They can still seek support but they have enough information to make a start on the work set for them and often this is enough to let them catch up with the rest of the class.

Fig 2

Figure 3. Work on  multi-step trigonometric ratio problems completed by the pupil who received a ‘mini-intervention’ in figure 2. who has caught up with the rest of the class

By providing a pupil with a  post-it intervention they have a reference point to help them tackle the work, rather than having to repeatedly seek help once the main part of the lesson has started.  This helps them to be more independent in catching up with the rest of the class and allows me to focus my attention on the needs of other pupils in the class.

Fig 3

Figure 4. An example of a ‘mini-intervention’ post-it on the transformation of functions

Fig 4

Figure 5. The work completed independently by the pupil in figure 4 following their min-intervention

Why not try some mini-interventions yourself?

Featured image: ‘post its/ideas’ by B-G on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Supporting pupils with low-level literacy in Computing lessons

An Action Research project by Stephen Spurrell (Computing)

For my Action Research Project, I wanted to find various ways that allowed my Computing class in Year 7, which includes a number of pupils with low-level literacy and/or numeracy, to fully access the subject. Essentially, to differentiate for them and then use this research to modify future lessons.

I decided to write up my findings in a blog as I went along, and here are the posts from that blog in the period of this research project.

The blog can be seen at http://computingliteracy.blogspot.com/ and I do intend to continue writing in it.

Computing and Low Level Literacy:An Introduction

Hello! Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog. This is something I am doing as part of my CPD at a secondary school in Bristol in the UK. One of the classes that I teach has a number of pupils with low levels in Literacy and Numeracy. Whilst that isn’t particularly unusual, all schools have pupils that struggle more than others, I have found it a particular challenge to teach this class Computing at the start of the year. Computing, like many subjects, is a subject where precision and accuracy are paramount. How, then, do you get pupils who struggle to read and write to compose a working programme where they will need to write accurately, spell correctly and work out where the errors are? How do you enable pupils who struggle to count to ten to experience the success of seeing something they have created work on the screen in front of them? I did a quick Google search for tips, advice, schemes of work even for Computing with low level and low ability pupils (note that it isn’t just SEND pupils although they do make up part of the group if they have low levels too). I had a look on sites such as the TES to see if there were any materials there. I came back pretty blank and still left scratching my head. So I thought that I would try out some ideas, see which things work, which things don’t. If they work, I’ll use that idea again. If they don’t, I won’t. With the support of the rest of the Learning Focus Group (the small group of colleagues who are working on similar issues with their classes as part of our CPD) I’m hoping that this will be a successful year. Expect to find blogs about things that fell flat on their face. Expect to find blogs of something that worked really well! I hope that you find it useful and are able to help me reflect on my practise and ultimately improve the pace and depth of my pupils’ learning.

Computing and Low Level Literacy: Using Worksheets

The first module that is covered in the Year 7 Computing Scheme of Work is Online Safety. Not just spreading the message that children shouldn’t talk to strangers, but looking at how they keep their information safe, how to avoid plagiarism and the importance of reporting things when they go wrong. One lesson looks at scam emails and how we can identify them easily. A really useful skill that the pupils will then have to avoid giving their personal information away and to ensure they are not a victim of identity theft. There is a really good worksheet that goes along side this lesson which is provided by Common Sense Media. The worksheet lists the features of phishing emails such as being too good to be true, spelling errors (as phishing emails are often written by people who don’t speak very good English) or asking the user to confirm their password. It then gives three examples of a phishing email so that the pupil can highlight the feature and tell me what it is. Now, I knew that there would be people in the class who would struggle if I just put the worksheet in front of them like I did for my other class. They would struggle because perhaps they can’t read or because perhaps they struggle to understand concepts. So to make things easier for everyone, I read the instructions of the worksheet word for word, slowly and clearly, making sure I paused every few sentences to ensure they all understood what was expected of them. I had also created an ‘alternative’ worksheet for some of the pupils where I had already highlighted the feature or features in each email, they would just need to tell me what that feature was. After giving the pupils an opportunity to complete the worksheet and going around the room and helping them, being honest it is hard to see how this activity was in any way a success. The pupils who can’t read fluently (a surprisingly high number) still couldn’t tell me which feature had been highlighted because of course they couldn’t read it. Those pupils who can read still struggled because they can’t understand concepts so couldn’t make the link between a statement such as, “You have won £10,000,000 in the latest raffle” and it being too good to be true because they hadn’t entered the raffle. They would just guess which feature was which. Of the 15 pupils in the class, I would say only 3 or 4 made any real progress with understanding what to look out for in a phishing email. Interestingly that wasn’t through a lack of trying on the part of the rest of the class, they just couldn’t do it. Although I did notice their heads drop when I pulled out the worksheets at the start of the lesson, an interesting reaction, almost as if they knew this was going be like pulling teeth. As soon as I realised this task was not going to work, I had a swift mooch round Google to see if I could find a video that would explain this for me. I found one and put it on for the last 10 minutes of the lesson. Back to the drawing board then! Worksheets appear to be a big no-no for this class. I am aware though that I do not want to have too many videos. They need to do some written work, and need to be able to understand what is on the screen in front of them when they are at home. Otherwise they won’t be prepared for the real world.

Demonstrations

The class I am working with who have low levels in Maths and some with Maths and Literacy are moving on to a topic of work that requires them to research, to write and to design an interactive quiz aimed at other people their age. Although on the surface a topic that might seem easy, for a child with low literacy/Maths and probably low confidence, this probably seems quite daunting. There is a lot of logic needed (which button goes to which location etc.) as well as having the confidence to use their imagination. The topic requires them to use specific knowledge – to know the answers to questions such as “How do I…?” Leading them to these answers, or giving them the opportunity to discover these answers involves demonstrations from the class teacher. So, how best to go about this? Recall is something that isn’t the best for pupils with low level literacy and low levels in Maths. So it is likely that they will be able to do something in one lesson, but then forget how to do it in another. I have decided to trial making videos available to them so that they can replay a demonstration over and over if they need it, or pause it when they need to think about an instruction.

It is also important that they are able to see a demonstration clearly, so I make use of Impero to broadcast my computer screen onto theirs so that they don’t have to strain or don’t end up too far away to see a detail. This appears to be working well although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating!

Helping Pupils with Writing

One of the many things I have noticed with teaching this low ability set is that they gain a lot of confidence from having things written down in front of them. This could be a word, a sentence, an instruction, information they need to copy or log in information. One of the pupils who has an LSA assigned uses a small whiteboard when he can’t spell a word they are researching, or when they need to remember an instruction for later. I tried this out with another pupil, and said to him to write down anything he didn’t know the meaning of whilst he was reading, or anything he wanted to ask me. Conversely, I wrote down things he needed to know or anything I wanted him to copy out. This massively boosts their confidence because they know that their exercise book will then only contain the right spelling, or the correct information and so be something that they are proud of. Perhaps this is because this is something they only associate the more able children with? It also helps them to plan a little bit more, as in think further ahead about something that they want to put into their work. As a consequence, I will be giving these boards to a couple of other pupils in the class. It will become a standard piece of kit for their lesson.

Coding with Low Level Pupils

One of the topics we have been looking at lately is coding. We use a fantastic website called code.org which is full of resources, challenges and different types of coding to help teach this module of work. The great thing about code.org is that you can easily differentiate the work pupils do because you can set them different courses depending on their ability. So the higher set that I teach will have a different course given to them than this low level set. The way code.org works is to give some instructions either via a video or written text. These instructions then need to be carried out over a series of 15 small tasks which get increasingly complex as they go along. Once they have completed these 15 tasks, they then move on to the next level and the next series of instructions. This website was very popular with the class. It allowed them to work at their own pace, it allowed them to correct their mistakes instantly (as the website told them whether they had built the code correctly or not) and allowed them to make games which they had seen previously (such as Angry Birds).  By marking their work instantly, the website also allowed the pupils to see what level they were at as I put the success criteria on the board each lesson. They were then able to know whether they were working below, at or above target and what they needed to do to keep progressing. It was also a really good tool for me too as it allowed me to look at what they would be encountering in that hour and help them to succeed by giving them a little bit of knowledge before they started (e.g. keywords or examples of this bit of code being used already). All in all a really successful topic because:

  • Pupils worked at their own pace
  • They were given instructions broken down into small chunks
  • Instant feedback
  • Constant context of their level 

Importance of Routine

It has become apparent over the past few weeks and months that routine is incredibly important to a class who have low levels and as a consequence probably low levels of confidence too. They need to know where they stand.  To establish routine, I always structure the lessons in the same way so that there are never any surprises or something that unsettles the class. Essentially the structure looks like this: – Come into the class and stand behind their chairs – Sit down and log in – Whilst logging in, think about a question on the board (I would have read this question out) and write the date, title and objective in their book. – Go through keywords for that lesson (usually a matching exercise using the internet to help) – Introduce the main task, often with a demonstration – Complete the task – Plenary activity This routine has helped the pupils to settle quickly, to not worry if they can’t log in quickly (they know that the others are busy and not waiting for them) and help to make the room a ‘safe’ place.

Short Instructions

When completing the module on Scratch (a coding program that allows the user to create games or puzzles), there were lots of instructions that needed to be remembered such as which block of code to drag in or which object to add code to. Giving too many instructions confused the group – they needed to have a short series of instructions (two or three things) written down or explained carefully. Once they had completed these instructions, they were given some more. This meant that they did not have to worry about what was coming but just concentrate on that small particular section. When it came to the end of the module and they needed to build a game to be assessed, we used videos from the scratch.mit.edu website to help the pupils. This would have an impact on the level they could achieve (maximum level 5) but by pausing the video every 15 seconds or so, allowed the pupils to experience success by building a working game well above their target level. This method made me realise that all tasks needed to be broken down into small chunks that were easily remembered.

Featured image: ‘learn school usb’ by geralt at Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Developing strategies to promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy

An Action Research project by Kate Rolfe (Geography)

Objective

To attempt to develop a range of strategies that can be utilised in lessons to help promote the progress of boys with lower level literacy.

Background

The English Baccalaureate is a school performance measure introduced in 2010 that grades schools on the basis of how many pupils get a grade C or above in the core academic subjects at KS4 (Maths, English, Science, MFL and History or Geography). Option choices at Key Stage 4 have always been flexible in the sense that pupils are offered a variety of pathways and Ebacc subjects have always been promoted at the school.  However, the introduction of the Progress 8 Measure now means that all pupils must opt for at least one of the remaining core subjects outside of the compulsory English, Maths and Science (DfE, 2014). As such, the number of pupils opting for these subjects has increased which has impacted upon the profile of the pupils with a greater range of abilities choosing them at GCSE level. With the government’s commitment to making GCSE testing more rigorous it is important that such academic subjects are accessible to all. This is particularly true for Humanities and MFL subjects where the DfE (2016) have announced the intention that all pupils will take Ebacc subjects by 2020. For the Humanities faculty, this will mean that every pupil in the school will need to opt for either History or Geography and so a key area of focus over the coming years is to make these subjects accessible for pupils of all abilities. The key barriers to success in these subjects (as perceived by the faculty) are the retention of information in two content heavy subjects and proficiency in reading and writing. It is the latter which underpins the aims and objectives of this piece of action research.

Context

The focus of this action research is to attempt to overcome the barriers to learning for pupils posed by lower level literacy skills in academic subjects such as Geography. The group I will be focusing on is my Year 10 Geography group, in particular two pupils who are listed as SEN for low level literacy. These pupils are both entitled to a reader, scribe and extra time for their examinations and have both admitted that they would not have picked any of the Ebacc subjects outside of English, Maths and Science if they had an open choice due to the fact that “they are subjects with loads of writing”. Anecdotally, this could account for the fact that these pupils are the first I have taught in Geography who require this level of support in literacy as in the past, before the changes described above, it has been possible for pupils to avoid opting for subjects which involve ‘loads of writing’.  As discussed above, the avoidance of more academic subjects is no longer an option for these pupils and as this is the first year I will be teaching pupils who require extra support in the exams, I will need to reconsider my teaching methods to account for this.

Background Reading

Nationally and internationally there is a significant difference between the achievement of boys and girls attaining their expected reading age, where girls outperform boys at all levels and this gap increases with age. This difference is not due to genetic differences between the genders but rather social and cultural norms surrounding reading at home, role models, gender identity etc. (National Literacy Trust, 2012). With no national strategy for literacy, intervention takes place at a school based level and at times, especially in secondary schools, the responsibility for literacy tends to fall to the English faculty. However, the ability to read, write and express opinion is important in all subjects and a vital skill for pupil’s once they leave school. As such, the responsibility to develop literacy falls to all teachers in all subjects. Despite the fact that in their final exams the two pupils on which this study is based will have the questions read to them and their answers written for them, the importance of these skills should not be overlooked in a subject that can provide real world examples of the use of these skills. In addition, as a classroom teacher, it is impossible for me to provide the same level of support the boys will receive in the exam during lessons. As such, in order for the boys to become more independent in their learning and the assessment of this, the development of their literacy skills is vital even if they will not be tested in the same way as other pupils during exams.

While carrying out research for this project, it became apparent that much of the UK literature surrounding literacy focuses upon the development of literacy skills for early years children and for pupils for which English is an additional language. As such, the key document used as a basis for this action research was produced by the Canadian government called “Me read? No Way! A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills” (2004). This guide provided a review of literature which highlighted key trends in boys reading and writing skills as well as suggestions as to how this could be approached in lessons. Although this was primarily related to English and literacy lessons, key findings I found applicable were:

  • There are misconceptions that boys do not like to read when in fact it is more likely that boys do not like the reading what is being presented.
  • Boys do not cope with vague instructions and long explanations so work needs to be highly structured.
  • Boys need a structure to help them gather information from what they are reading.
  • Boys prefer writing frames which can be as simple as asking pupils to note down the points that they need to include.
  • Giving pupils time to talk through their thoughts and answers to consolidate their ideas before they commit them to paper.
  • Boys prefer to complete tasks where the work seems relevant to them and has a purpose that they can understand
  • Boys prefer work that includes an element of competition and/or involves short term goals.
  • Many boys are frustrated by non-specific terms such as “discuss”, “account for” and “explain” and so will need to be taught what they mean and have them broken down for them.
  • Work by Steve Biddulph also suggests that boys learn through teachers and not subjects whereas girls are able to connect directly with subjects. This suggests that boys can only connect with a subject via a teacher. This places emphasis on the relationships between teachers and the boys in their class as the need for boys in their puberty years to believe that a teacher cares for them as a person is paramount before they will allow their teacher to impart knowledge or skills to them (Pickup, 2001)

The latter point regarding relationships in relation to a boy’s learning is reinforced by Maslow’s hierarchy of school needs where every stage above physiological is the responsibility of the teacher within the classroom in order for the pupil to reach the stage where they are available to learn.

Actions

Over time, the following strategies were trialled, adapted and utilised in order to attempt to meet the objectives set out in this project:

1. Grasping pupils’ needs

Prior to starting any intervention with targeted students I felt it important to gauge pupils’ understanding of Geography and their individual needs. Too often differentiation for lower ability pupils involves generic writing frames or text which is reduced to such a level that higher order thinking skills are lost altogether. Although this is the appropriate step for some pupils I do not want to assume it is the case for those on whom I am focusing. As such I took advantage of the presence of a PGCE student taking my lessons from October to December and used this time to work 1:1 with pupils to better understand their needs.

2. Primary School Visit

As the literacy levels of the pupils in question have a greater correlation with the skills being developed in primary schools, I used INSET time to visit a Year 6 class at a local primary school.

3. Improve use of key vocabulary

A key barrier to learning for pupils with low level literacy in Geography is the sheer volume of key words which to pupils, often have an abstract meaning. Population pyramids (which are not always triangular in shape), the Demographic Transition Model and erosional processes such as hydraulic action are not always accessible to our most able readers, let alone those who struggle. In the past I have perhaps been guilty of simplifying these key words too much with pupils with lower level literacy and consequently pupils struggle when faced with them in exam questions or during independent revision. As such, I have focused on using the words with pupils in lessons through the development of glossaries, using dictionaries and knowledge tests based on key word definitions.

4. Use of discussion and opinion

Use of discussion, especially with boys has been highlighted in the literature as a strategy to help them engage with writing. This was achieved through planning lessons with deliberate discussion time with a clear focus. A clear focus is vital in order to ensure discussions are purposeful and aid learning. Examples of this include asking pupils their opinion as a way into a topic, planning answers as a group and talking through an answer with the teacher before committing pen to paper.

5. Competition

A second strategy recommended in a variety of literature is the element of competition appealing to boys. This was implemented in lessons through the use of card sorts, games and debates.

6. Building relationships

As discussed previously, boys tend to learn through their teachers rather than content and as such developing relationships with pupils is vital. These strategies are arguably the most difficult as they need to be flexible and adaptable to a variety of moods, situations and individuals. In order to approach this I tried to consider situations from an objective point of view and attempt to discover the root cause of some of the behaviours that could undermine a positive relationship. One of the boys for example would constantly shout out the correct answer to questions posed to the class. At the start of the year this may have led to consequences and sanctions which could be a barrier to developing a positive relationship. By looking at the situation from an objective point of view I came to realise that the misbehaviour was not an attempt to ruin the lesson but rather that class discussion was the part of the lesson that the pupil felt able to participate in most and as such “hogged” the questions. This was overcome through a discussion with the pupil that resulted in me giving him a pad of post it notes whereby he would write down a reminder word or sentence for the ideas in his head. I would then make a conscious effort to discuss these with the pupil after the class discussion.

Impact of each action

Grasping pupils’ needs:  The opportunity to work with pupils 1:1 was deemed invaluable in beginning this project and gauging need. It was found that one pupil is extremely demotivated and does not want to study the subject. His literacy skills are weak and he can find it difficult to grasp abstract concepts. However, the other pupil upon which this research is based was found to be very articulate in Geography and could grasp and begin to analyse higher level concepts. As such, it was found that despite both pupils’ needs being identified as lower level literacy the intervention strategies used for them need to differ in some cases.

Primary School Visit:  Observing the strategies used with Year 6’s was an eye-opening experience especially when considering the expectations that we have of Year 7s upon arrival at secondary school. The greatest disparity between primary and secondary school in relation to literacy is the amount of time dedicated to a task. Throughout the morning I observed pupils drafting and redrafting a piece of work which was later written up in best during the afternoon. Even pupils who were deemed of lower academic ability produced grammatically accurate pieces of writing to demonstrate their knowledge. The key challenge here is that a large proportion of curriculum time in primary schools is dedicated to literacy and so a ‘practice makes perfect’ approach is more easily adopted. At secondary school, and especially at GCSE this development of literacy skills is not as easily adaptable where content takes priority over skills. This is an area I will need to consider in more depth in the future.

Improve use of key vocabulary: This approach yielded mixed responses depending on the complexity of the topic. When pupils felt confident in the key words being tested it acted as a morale booster. However, if pupils could not remember the words then this could act as a reason to disengage in the lesson. However, this strategy was liked by the class as a whole and I am hoping that the repetition of key words will have longer term benefits.

Use of discussion and opinion: The use of planned discussion in lessons was anecdotally one of the most successful in engaging the boys in learning. The option of giving an opinion gave the boys the perception that there was no right or wrong answer but the justifications they used to support their points were high level in terms of geographical knowledge. Discussing answers first allowed pupils to begin structuring their answers and this was further developed whereby pupils would write all initial ideas onto post it notes which could then be re-arranged in order to plan an answer. Although these strategies did not always transpire into extended writing, it has enabled the pupils to begin to verbalise their ideas which is a skill that will need to develop further as they are both entitled to a scribe in their final exams.

Competition: Overall, the use of competition in lessons received mixed responses and was susceptible to the mood of the pupils. At times they would really engage and actively compete with one another to reach the answer first but in other instances it was perceived as a gimmick. The subject content of the competition also played a large role in the engagement of the activity.

Building relationships: The impact of actively seeking to build positive relationships with pupils in my class has had a positive impact on my relationship with the pupils in this project and across all of my groups. I would like to think that one of my strengths is having a positive relationship with most of the pupils whom I teach and these naturally develop over time. However, actively considering the reasons for potential misbehaviours in my lessons has allowed me to have conversations with pupils that may not have arisen naturally in order to implement strategies to cope with this.

Conclusions

Arguably, the overwhelming conclusion of this project is that there is no solid conclusion when it comes to strategies to engage and promote the progress of low literacy boys. To an extent I had pre-empted this outcome with the inclusion of the words “to attempt to” develop strategies in my original objective. Within my classroom I have witnessed giant leaps forward with the progress of the boys in my class as well as huge steps backwards and this has varied on a term by term, week by week, day by day basis. This can at times be annoying, tiring and extremely frustrating when a strategy that works in one lesson appears to fail the next. The key thing I have learnt is not to give up. Some of the systems I have adopted throughout this project started to show benefit very late on in the term and some have not shown any benefit at all. However, the one thing that is true is that the boys have most definitely noticed the effort that goes into helping them make progress and ultimately that building of relationships is the most important thing.

Next Steps

Despite the progress made with my boys with lower level literacy this year it must be acknowledged that there is still a long way to go if they are to reach their full potential. This will largely focus on attempting to build self-esteem and confidence within the pupils to want to succeed for themselves. The key areas to focus on next year will be:

  • Instilling confidence to write independently
  • Encouraging pupils to attempt tasks even if it results in failure
  • Making better use of readers and scribes in preparation for exams
  • Fostering resilience in order to overcome the fight or flight response to exams

Featured image: ‘Letters’ by geralt on Pixabay. Original image licensed by CC0 Public Domain

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)