I feel quite sure the main issue at the forefront of the minds of all primary educators, after the difficult, enforced absence from the classroom for the majority of our pupils, is how we can now maximise and improve children’s performance across all aspects of English and mathematics.
Having worked in primary education, as both teacher and assessor, for many years, I remember all too vividly that sinking feeling when we returned to school in September, to discover that our pupils had, seemingly, learnt nothing at all the previous year! Of course, it wasn’t true and after a couple of weeks, with some revision and a little extra help, we could move learning forward positively.
However, Covid-19 has severely affected and, in many cases, damaged our children’s learning outcomes for this year, and it falls upon the broad shoulders of everyone in education to ‘pick up the pieces’ and prove that we can, after everything, secure sustainable improvement to their achievements in English and mathematics.
By now we have all assessed those pupils who have enjoyed having extra parental time invested in them and benefited from home schooling throughout lock-down, and those who have not. This year, the ranges of abilities and gaps in learning in our classrooms are even wider and the planning implications are immense, especially for those teachers with classes which span different year groups. A main priority, for many, has been re-establishing the routines of learning at school; not at all easy after such a long break.
There is a plethora of excellent ideas and strategies ‘out there’ which you can utilise and develop, but you don’t have to do it all at once! You know your school and your pupils best. Concentrate on igniting those sparks which come from the children; those which you can build on and further develop to create maximum, enjoyable learning opportunities!
Our pupils’ Speaking and Listening skills have sadly declined year-on-year, and many children may not have had quality verbal interaction with anyone over lock-down. Give talking and listening to each other high importance throughout the day. Ask open ended questions about everything; the who, what, why, when, where and how questions which encourage children to think and respond. Listen to their ideas and thoughts about topics which they are excited by … incorporating some of their ideas into your planning will give pupils ownership of their learning and add extra stimulus.
How many of us are feeling despair at our pupils’ current reading abilities? Make reading a priority, whether it’s as a class, to each other, to an adult or reading for pleasure during a few quiet moments. Remember, children learn by example so set a good one by reading yourself at these times! Ensure the books in your room are interesting and enticing … can you, perhaps, swap books with another class? Talk to your parents and carers and reiterate how important it is for a child to read at home. Encourage parents to be ‘seen’ to read for 10 -15 minutes themselves each day – probably some of the most valuable time they can invest in their child’s future learning!
A creative curriculum offers many exciting and enriching opportunities to further develop children’s reading, writing and mathematical skills. The confines of the classroom, at present, can be restrictive and perhaps a little stifling so take your classroom outside. Outdoor learning has never been so important. How can we measure and evaluate the benefits of time spent outdoors? Probably most importantly, it can have a positive impact on the mental and spiritual health of both our staff and pupils and it can also help to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning. Use the environment to stimulate; escape the bubble and develop lessons where children can discover and explore the outside world. The autumn is a season of change and colour and offers opportunities for exciting learning journeys which can incorporate many areas of mathematics, reading and writing, and further develop children’s social, speech and language skills.
Some ideas, to build on children’s mathematical skills outdoors, might include:
- Counting games and rhymes, the 4 rules, times tables, surveys (traffic, birds, etc,)
- All areas of measurement - area, distance, properties of shape, angles etc.
- Creating large scale graphs, bar charts, Carroll and Venn diagrams
- Songs and games which reinforce number facts.
- Keep a weather chart and find the mean, range and median temperatures for the week or month.
Of course, the outdoors is a wonderful backdrop to stimulate language, and the opportunities to further develop children’s reading and writing skills are endless.
- Illustrated diaries can be kept to record the development of the season towards winter. What can we see, hear, smell, touch?
- Choose a favourite nature/science topic to research. Create booklets, posters, or accounts to record their findings.
- Take part in a bird, or a bug, watch.
- Use the class cameras or iPads to photograph daily changes in the landscape, leaves or weather.
- Use time-lapse photography to record what happens in the garden or the undergrowth during the evenings or early mornings.
- Encourage the children to invent stories about their learning experiences. These could be written in a special book or shared verbally.
- Create class, or individual, poems.
Any outdoor learning can be tailored to suit the different educational needs of all children from Early Years to the more complex requirements of the Year 6 curriculum. Assessment of pupil progress should be no different. The outdoor opportunities you give to your children should, above all, challenge all abilities, and allow them to use their previous skills to develop understanding and allow them to predict, problem solve, evaluate, self-assess, describe and explain.