This is a saying I remember my mother using when I was growing up. As I get older, I find myself reflecting more and more on things my mother used to say, and yet I often dismissed them at the time as just old sayings.
Covid Recovery learning
Lately I’ve been thinking this is so true for teachers this year. And yet, I speak to more and more teachers who feel the need to rush more than ever in a desperate need to ensure students ‘catch-up’ with ‘lost learning’ due to the pandemic. Hastily adapted long term plans, hastily designed lessons, hastily proceeding through lessons and through the curriculum to cover objectives and timetables where every moment is crammed, not even a moment to spare for a student arriving in the morning appearing to have something on their mind.
Is this the way to nurture our students and help them recover from the challenges of the last two disrupted school years? Will rushing through the curriculum at speed, or following the lesson plans we used last year really help our children to ‘catch up’?
Even the term ‘catch up’ concerns me. Catch up with who? Education is not a race and students should not feel they are being left behind – especially when the whole world has been impacted by a pandemic. Teachers should not feel they have to race to cover the whole curriculum for this year, as well as last year and part of the year before. And yet they do.
Children, parents, student teachers, teachers, leaders – how are they feeling?
I am in the privileged position to be able to spend time talking to students, parents, student teachers, teachers and leaders from different settings and over the last couple of weeks I’ve spoken to children who are feeling pressure from parents about catching up to do well in maths lessons, to teachers feeling they didn’t have time for creative and exiting maths lessons at the start of the school year as they met their students and began to establish relationships (both with the student and the maths) and I’ve met student teachers excited about entering the profession, full of passion for mathematics and exciting ideas, but sometimes finding resistance from staff in the schools they’re teaching at to new approaches.
Maybe it’s time to stop rushing and take a moment to reflect.
Learning from the past
This is not the first-time students have missed time from school. In 2011, after the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, students missed school. Surprisingly, they did not disengage with school, they did not fall terribly behind students in other countries. At that time, they did not even have access to the online learning that has been available to many of our students. But their test results did not suffer, in fact student results in final exams were reported to have risen.
How can that be?
John Hattie (professor of education and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, and Australian Institute for Teaching & School Leadership chairman) has carried out research into what happens to learning when schools are closed and his key findings are that children recover quickly and can make greater progress. This is when teachers focus on what has to be learned, what are the key priorities for future learning, instead of rushing through a lot of curriculum.
New Zealand is not the only example of this, New Orleans in 2005 faced a situation where their schools had to close, again students recovered quickly, some made better progress.
Children are sometimes taken out of school for extended periods to travel with their parents and this has often been found to have a positive effect on their attainment. The quality time with family and the organic, cross curricular learning that takes place during such periods means children did not take a break from learning, just a break from school and they returned with a wealth of skills and knowledge.
Children in England start school earlier and spend more hours in school than in many other countries. Estonia, Finland and Sweden are just some of the schools where children start school aged 6 or 7 and yet their children do well in international tests. In those countries there is less pressurised testing, a focus on the child and on relationships.
Opportunity not a race to catch up
Tim Oates CBE, also advises us to look to these examples as we plan to recover from the challenges of Covid. He suggests we see this time as an opportunity to not just catch up, but to improve student attainment.
The same old curriculum we had before, the same old lessons, won’t work. We can’t teach the same full curriculum, but faster. We can’t plough through the curriculum and leave things at the end of the year untouched. We can’t randomly select topics to miss out. Prioritisation must be carefully researched and planned with expertise.
We must recognise that some children will have had very different experiences at home during the pandemic, different access to resources, different support from family, different emotional stresses from being away from school. Some children, like some I have talked to, may have had parents supporting them with home learning, but they did not feel motivated by this support, instead they felt pressurised (as did the parents probably). Getting children back into school must be about more than curriculum coverage, but also motivation and passion for the subjects they’re learning. For this reason, creative approaches, and accurate, ongoing assessment within and between lessons is vital. Teachers need to use formative assessment strategies throughout lessons, plan for potential gaps and misconceptions and address these as soon as they appear. Carefully planned questions within lessons will get pupils reasoning mathematically and discussing with peers. Planned cross curricular links will use time wisely and engage students more. Strategies such as pre-teaching, bespoke homework (including online platforms tailored to the needs of individual students), teacher-led guided groups within lessons, same day intervention/keep-up sessions where teachers diagnose difficulties, structured interventions for a short time to address specific gaps – all of these are important and must be given priority.
Prioritisation of the Curriculum
All of this must fit within a curriculum that has been prioritised.
Debbie Morgan CBE (Primary Director NCETM) speaks of ‘slowing down to go fast’. I think this is her version of ‘less haste, more speed’. She explains in her introduction to the Ready to Progress resources, how students in Japan achieve an average of 70% in the international TIMSS assessments, despite Japan only teaching 54% of the TIMSS curriculum. How is this possible? Because children are taught to think, they are allowed time to reason and encouraged to make connections. They learn to be mathematicians, not just rush through a curriculum with too many objectives.
The NCETM, see link: Home | NCETM is supporting schools to move on from the pandemic, using this as an opportunity to do things better. There is support in understanding and using the DfE Mathematics Guidance (2020), the Ready to Progress Criteria, and accompanying resources, the prioritisation documents, and the new Mastering Number programme, will all help schools to move forward and ensure maths teaching is better than it was before.
Less haste, more speed – Slow down, to go fast
So if you’re tempted to rush through the maths curriculum because you don’t feel there’s time to cover everything, or if you feel pressure from parents to cover everything, or from leaders, and colleagues, please don’t. Tell them, ‘less haste, more speed’ and explain to them what this means when it comes to the teaching of mathematics.
Top tips for moving forward:
- Engage pupils, take creative approaches, ensure children are motivated and feel your passion for mathematics
- Prioritise the curriculum – and understand how/why this works
- Engage everyone in this approach (parents, leaders, children, TAs)
- Don’t teach the same lesson you taught last year – it won’t work! (Don’t think a lesson you design today will work next week, or the week after – it will need adapting.)
- Assess, respond, assess – plan for gaps and misconceptions and address them
- Cross curricular links – Roman Numerals in history, statistics in geography, measure in PE – it makes sense
- Interventions – pre-teaching, online platforms for bespoke additional practice, same day intervention, structured interventions – diagnose specific gaps and address
- Have empathy along with the highest of expectations
Author: Helen Hackett, Maths Executive Excelsior MAT