ALT Newsletter Two

1. Spotlight on Jess Smith and the introduction of Story Time Phonics

Jess Smith is the English lead and a senior teacher at Chesterton Primary School, Cambridge.  In September, the school introduced StoryTime Phonics to support the implementation of Letters and Sounds. Here Jess talks about the introduction of the programme and the impact that it has had on children’s learning and OFSTED’s view when they recently inspected.

Why did you introduce StoryTime Phonics at Chesterton Primary School?

Phonics lessons were a bit boring and dry with children, particularly boys, not actively engaged.  We introduced StoryTime Phonics because it’s based on real books so that children could see the link between learning phonics and learning to read.

How did you implement the programme?

I engaged with the online training videos and then disseminated this out to the Reception and Year 1 teachers.   Following this, I supported teachers with planning and carried out lesson visits to see how the programme was embedding.  We arranged a parent workshop so that parents were aware so could link with their child’s learning.

What is the cost?

The total cost for the school was £2,500 and this was a one-off charge.  This provides access to training materials, IWB resources, teaching resources (flashcards, etc.), storybooks

What has been the impact?

The response of the children has been very positive with high levels of engagement, for example, in EYFS the children are far more actively engaged in phonics activities within the continuous provision – the children are also applying their phonics more readily to their independent reading and writing.

           

            As Ofsted commented:  Children receive a strong start in learning to read as a result of a well-   planned and ambitious phonics curriculum. For example, the Reception class spent time learning the ‘ch’   sound in the outside storytelling chair. Staff were dressed as characters from the story of ‘Chicken Licken’, which enthused the children.

            Pupils enjoy reading. They talk fondly of books they have read and the authors who wrote them.

 

Initially though it did mean an increase of workload for the teachers in reading and adapting the StoryTime plans, however, as time has gone on planning time has reduced as teachers are more used to the programme; they can also see the positive impact the programme is having on the children’s phonics learning.

How have you communicated the change to parents?

We had a phonics workshop which included a lesson visit to EYFS which was very positive.  The parents were amazed at what the children were capable of.  The teachers also send home pre-teach phonics packs each week which supports home learning and additional flashcards as part of focused provision for identified children.

How does the programme fit with your approach to the teaching of reading?

Our approach is to encourage children to develop a love of reading through the use of high quality texts; for children to understand the reasons to learn to read and write – StoryTime Phonics aligns positively with this approach.

Would you recommend StoryTime Phonics to other schools who are following Letters and Sounds?

Yes, but as teachers you do need to think carefully about your planning and you did need to be creative and engage fully with the approach.

ALT Newsletter One  

1. The leadership Challenge and Key Questions for consideration - Josh Wilkes

2. Spotlight on Anna Heaven and Metacognition

3. Leading the introduction of PiXL… by Annie Hunter

 

1. The leadership Challenge and Key Questions for consideration - Josh Wilkes

For a number of reasons, both Westwood and Grove Primary Schools have had to review their curriculum this year. Westwood had been trialling an enquiry based approach to learning where subjects were not taught discretely however, despite having benefits, it was not effective for our children. It was also not providing the rigour and discipline of each subject and did not maintain the subject integrity that the new OFSTED framework is asking for. Additionally, at both schools we have had a number of NQTs and teachers early in their career joining our staffing team meaning we needed subject leaders to be clear on expectations. As a SLT, we recognise the importance of subject leaders in developing and sustaining a highly effective curriculum. Therefore developing confident, effective subject leadership has formed an integral part of our School Development Plan this year and has been the focus of my leadership challenge.

Before beginning I considered some key questions:

1. Is there evidence that teachers lack confidence in subject leadership?

2. What can I practically do to develop and support subject leader’s confidence?

3. Which leadership styles will be significant for me to adopt?

4. How can I ensure sustainability?

5. How can I ensure this has an impact across both schools?

6.  How will I evidence an increase in confidence of subject leaders?

7. Has there been a wider impact (ripple effect)?

Before I formed a strategy to resolve the challenge of subject leadership confidence I felt it was imperative to gather the subject leader’s personal feelings. Subject leaders were given a questionnaire asking 7 questions about their confidence towards different aspects of their subject leadership. Answers were gathered on a scale of 1-5 (1 being not confident, 5 being very confident).  To summarise, in September 2019, 90% of teacher’s scored themselves between 1 - 3 on all questions, with the majority of these scoring themselves at a confidence level of 1.

In addition to this quantitative data, I finished with one question to gather qualitative data asking the individual to reflect on their answers and comment on how they felt they could be further supported. These responses included: guidance on leading the subject across the school; training on deep dives; seeing examples of assessment; continuing professional development; use of staff meeting time and  support in seeing the end goal.

 

Strategy to resolve challenge

When considering the leadership styles and the practical steps needed to effect change I decided that coaching would be most effective as this would allow me to equip subject leaders whilst working alongside them. I also acknowledged that I may need to use other leadership styles to ensure that progress is made quickly (pacesetting) and that expectations are upheld (authroitative).

Practically, in response to subject leaders feedback, I developed a range of strategies that would positively impact subject leader confidence.  These included:

1.         Release time: Subject leaders were given the time they felt they required to develop their subject. As I leader, I felt it was important to recognise the impact subject leadship could have on work-life balance.  

2.         Subject leader checklists: This outlined the role of a subject leader clearly via a list of practical tasks.

3.         Intent, Implementation & Impact: A proforma was created to help subject leaders refine their vision for their subject, how they would achieve this (action plan) and how they would evidence impact.  

4.         Subject Handbooks: Subject Leaders have been supported to create a handbook for their subject enabling them to communicate their expectations and effectively support staff across both schools.

5.         Subject Leader Days (1:1 support): Subject Leaders have had 1:1 support from myself identifying and reflecting on successes and next steps for their subject.

6.         Schemes of work: For subject leaders particularly low in confidence, schemes of work have been introduced as a supporting document and a starting point in developing their subject.

7.         Staff Meetings: I have delievered staff meetings on effective curriculum; we have dedicated staff meetings to particular subjects, allowing subject leaders to train other staff and have used staff meeting sessions to give staff opportunities to go and develop their subjects within their teams.

8.         Mock Deep Dives: I have spent time with subject leaders talking them through what a deep dive would consist of and have arranged for the trust to complete non-threatening mock deep dives.

 

Results to date

 

Through the strategies in place, there has been a significant increase in subject leader’s confidence already. In January 2020, I distributed the initial questionnaire a second time. A summary of results is as follows:

•          100% of subject leaders scored themselves at a higher level of confidence in all 6 areas.

•          0 % of subject leaders scored themselves at a confidence level of 1 (the majority of subject leaders scored themselves between 3 - 5).

 

Additionally, the second questionnaire gathered qualitative data regarding the impact of support. The responses included: an increased awareness of the role, responsibilities and expectations of a subject leader; a greater understanding of deep dives; an increased confidence in subject knowledge across all year groups and a clearer vision for their subject.  

 

A second question gathering qualitative data recording staff perceptions on which strategies were most effective in supporting them. Feedback included: school CPD sessions on subject leadership; working with leadership and seeing it modelled; support when working as a team developing the subject; developing subject handbooks and 1:1 support clarifying expectations and setting up subject documents (i.e. Long Term Plans etc).

 

Analysis of process

Overall, so far, I feel that my involvement with the subject leaders has had a positive impact which is highlighted in the results above. Despite this there have also be a number of challenges along the way.

Upon reflection, it is clear that using a range of leadership styles, dependent on the situation, has been a success during this project. The coaching style has allowed me to support staff to find their own solutions to problems therefore increasing confidence in a non-threatening and safe environment for staff. It has allowed me to build a trust with subject leaders meaning they have been willing to take risks, receive constructive feedback positively and have shown enthusiasm to achieve the high expectations we have of them, whilst feeling supported to do so. This has also proved a challenge for me as I have had to learn as a leader it is important I allow others to develop their leadership and not to just ‘do it all myself’. The relationship built through coaching has also allowed me to use a pacesetting leadership style in order to move the school forward at the pace we required and bring others along with me. I have also had to use an authoritative leadership style and, although I have found this more challenging as it is not my preferred style, it has been important to use to ensure that expectations are being met. At times this has been challenging, however it has been important to hold others to account in order for subject leaders to maintain the expectations we have of them. I have learnt from this, that not only is it important to adapt my leadership style dependent on the situation but also to learn the style that works best when dealing with individual members of staff. Having an emotional intelligence to understand which style to use when, has been an important lesson for me to be a successful leader. I feel that using the wrong style in the wrong situation could have led to worse outcomes, less positive relationships with staff leading to less ‘buy in’ and slower development of others as leaders.

Furthermore, as an Assistant Headteacher (whereby the Deputy Headteacher is on Maternity leave), this project has understandably not been my only priority in school life. Managing my time has been a challenge as the scale of this project is fairly large and I have had to learn to strategically manage my time in order to have a significant impact on subject leaders.

Additionally, this project has added extra pressure on staff and it has been a challenge for me to manage staff morale and their well-being. I have been fortunate that the strong relationships I have with the subject leaders and the small conversations I have with staff that show I care, have meant that there have been really positive reactions from the staff and they have been extremely positive about the project. I also believe that they appreciate my genuine desire and passion to provide a better curriculum for the children and my support to develop them as subject leaders. Morale has therefore been good throughout and I have managed work life balance by providing time and support to do the work during the school day.

I feel a significant success of this project is that it is sustainable. I have begun to learn to judge my success as a leader not only on what I am doing but also how well I am facilitating others to achieve and develop. This therefore will have long term impacts on the school and individual’s careers. This project is providing staff with the confidence and skills for sustainable development.

 

 

2. Spotlight on Anna Heaven and Metacognition

Anna currently works at Sidegate primary school in Ipswich where she is a Y6 teacher, Upper KS2 Phase Leader, PIXL raising standards lead and Pupil Voice Lead. However, we wanted to shine a light on the work she has done at the school regarding developing metacognition and student learning behaviours.

Metacognition has recently come into focus with the EEF publishing a guidance report and a tool to help schools to develop practice (search metacognition on the EEF site). Research consistently shows it is one of the most effective strategies in supporting pupils to progress.

What is Metacognition though? Perhaps the descriptions from staff and students at Sidegate that Anna has gathered sum it up best:

  • Making you think about what you’re doing and take more care.” Billy Y6
  • “Well if you don’t think about your learning, you won’t know if you’re doing your best.” Freya Y6
  • “To help you learn on your own.” Teju Y6
  • “When you’re doing a real deep question, it encourages you to think more deeply.” Frankie Y5
  • “Thinking about thinking helps me to learn.” Bailey Y3
  • “To help children regulate and monitor their own learning.” Mrs B (Y4)
  • “Metacognition is the key to understanding how one learns. The more we know, the better able we are to do our best learning. Some element of choice also helps too.” Mr H (SLT)
  • “Helps children to think about their learning more systematically.” Mrs N (Y3)

The work at Sidegate on metacognition is still ongoing and has progressed over a number of years. At KS1 children focus on learning behaviours and the metacognition focus comes from year 3 onwards -  where thinking journals are introduced. Anna explains that thinking journals are a really good place to do informal planning, monitoring and evaluation. Different formats for planning are on display around the room so children can choose to access the most appropriate format and gradually learn to do this independently. It’s all about equipping the children with the skills to be able to make decisions independently.

Timeline:

  • 2015/16: Sidegate Learning Gang embedded YR-6. Every letter of the school name has a letter e.g “S” for successful and a character figure to accompany (which are displayed around school). Part of it is getting children to develop self-awareness of what they find challenging or not e.g being “Thoughtful Theo”.
  • 2018/19: Trial metacognitive strategies in Y5
  • 2019/20: SLG relaunched YR-6, Metacognition rolled out across KS2
  • 2020/21: Metacognition to be embedded across KS2

 

Anna feels that for metacognition to be done well in a school it needs to be part of the culture of the classroom and every interaction with child. Encouraging independence is key. Anna has worked with children so they can choose thoughtfully between scaffolded (if they need support), created context or complete free choice activities. This links with placing no limits on learning and recognising that children excel in different areas and should not be limited by an ability label. It’s about children being able to identify where they need to go, and having that awareness of what they already know.

Key concepts to get children to think about when planning are:

  • What do I already know?
  • What information do I need to find out?
  • Which strategies will I use?
  • What is the most effective way to plan my work?

Anna’s vision is for children to really know what they are good at by KS2 and be able to be the drivers of their learning. She wants this to inform assessment and children really knowing what their knowledge is in particular areas.

In summing up the key strategies that have been used at Sidegate to develop metacognition are:

  • Pupil choice
  • Explicit teaching and planning
  • Thinking journals
  • Metacognitive talk
  • Encourage self-awareness
  • Teachers verbalising internal monologue

Crucially though metacognition has also been linked and integrated with other school focuses. One example is the schools work on PiXL. From Year 1 upwards regular core team meetings take place (every 2 weeks). These are used to discuss progress from previous weeks and then discuss where support is going to go. In the lower school these focus on the classroom level.  There are targeted PLC’s (personalised learning checklists) rather than just using everything. The PLC’s are discussed with children and they have ownership of these (to support their learning in a targeted way). This provides a real opportunity to get children thinking about where there are and links very closely with the skills they have developed through metacognition

Want to know more? Anna has delivered presentations to other schools and has PPT resources that go into more detail and give further examples and depth. In the first instance email andrew.redman@activelearningtrust.org or contact Sidegate directly making sure Andy is aware in his school to school support capacity.

 

3. A Leading the introduction of PiXL… by Annie Hunter

Isle of Ely Primary School, Ely, Cambridgeshire

 

My first experience of PiXL, Partners in Excellence, was at their conference in Peterborough with a colleague. We were not sure what PiXL was or what to expect from the day. The main things we gained from it were: an uplifting, motivational speech; a few too many confusing words and acronyms; a surprisingly delicious lunch; and some really interesting ideas we were excited to report back to our Senior Leadership Team (SLT). That was 4 months ago and now I understand far more about PiXL; I continue to find some parts confusing and overwhelming whilst others enormously useful. This seems to be the common theme for PiXL, as I continue understand and implement it within my school.

 

Teachers always have a lot of work to do. We are forever juggling all the facets of being a teacher and looking for ways to work smarter, and not harder. One of the most important facets of being a teacher is strong ‘Assessment for Learning’ (AfL): using effective assessment to inform planning and ensure progress for our learners. We test, mark, record, target, plan, teach and retest. This cycle repeats throughout the week, term and year. The SLT also aim to structure assessment so it is consistent, effective and easy to understand. Does PiXL support all this?

I am approaching this question from the perspective of year five class teacher and PiXL Lead. I have been teaching since 2012 but I am new to the school this year. The school is also relatively new and currently only goes up to year five.

 

PiXL Assessment

As with most assessment cycles, it starts with a test. It informs teachers on where pupils are and where to go next. When teachers are under a lot of pressure however, the temptation is to mark the test, collect the scores and pile the tests away atop the cupboards to gather dust. But a wealth of information can be unpicked and analysed from these tests to inform teaching far more effectively. PiXL excels at giving the tools to do this.

After the pupils have sat the test provided by PiXL, these tests need to be marked. PiXL recommends their ‘Diagnosis into Practice’ mark schemes. These not only give the answer to each question, but possible misconceptions, pedagogical steps to understanding, a list of appropriate PiXL resources and space to make notes of misconceptions or names. This follows a theme for PiXL of providing masses of information on what was previously thought to be simple task…but marking papers in this way does practice strong formative assessment.

Once the tests have been marked, each pupil’s performance in each question is inputted into a provided excel spreadsheet. This is a little time consuming, but by far one of the most valuable tools PiXL offers. Built into the spreadsheet are lots of headings and subheadings with information on each question. These have helped to identify weaknesses in: knowledge, question type (turns out my class couldn’t do tabulated responses), gaps in previous years’ learning, whole class weaknesses, group weaknesses and more, depending on your competency with Excel!

These Excel spreadsheets upload back into PiXL, which informs their tracker system. Within this tracker, teachers can then predict what the children will achieve at the end of the year. At this point, PiXL again provides a wealth of information to help you identify target children by many different factors. Our school has particularly liked how this information feeds into ‘RAG rating’ (Red, Amber or Green visual identification system) children depending on how much additional support to provide; unfortunately this feature is only available for reading and maths.

So far, PiXL has provided useful tools to aid standard and effective AfL: the tests, useful analysis and pupil tracker tools. However, PiXL doesn’t stop there.

 

PiXL Therapies

From the tests, teachers adapt plans for the whole class and identify groups of children to give topic-specific support. Using PiXL’s ‘Impact Manager’, teachers can clearly display these identified groups, with their specific support, and assess their progress over time.  These are called ‘Group Therapies’.

TAs are taking these Group Therapies and teaching to gaps in learning the teacher would otherwise struggle to do. Most topics on PiXL provide: an initial test to benchmark, PowerPoint to teach the therapy, exit test to assess understanding, and a third test to ensure learning is embedded some weeks later (though these can be used for the whole class too). The TA then RAG rates individual child performance after each test for the teacher to continually assess effectiveness.

Our TAs have spoken very positively about how structured, targeted and effective these Therapies are. Teachers have also commented on their usefulness and on how clear it is to track what Therapies are taking place. Unfortunately, these therapies do require a lot of staffing to implement and this has been problematic at our school on occasion.

 

PiXL Support

All the information and resources PiXL provides can be extensive and overwhelming. PiXL support SLT with this through PiXL Associate Visits and the PiXL conferences.

PiXL Associates come to the school to drip feed information through the year and set targets of tackling prioritised parts of PiXL. These have been invaluable for troubleshooting and understanding how to effectively use resources.

PiXL conferences highlight new tools, but they also look at performance across the PiXL Cohort to see collective weaknesses and talk through how to tackle these in their conferences. So it wasn’t just our school that struggled with simple ‘retrieval’ reading questions!

 

Summary

The amount of information on PiXL is overwhelming and it has taken time to help teachers understand and implement these systems. Where newer teachers seem to gain more from this structured approach; more established teachers see less use for PiXL in their already established teaching approach.

Overall, at our school, teachers speak positively of using PiXL to identify gaps, target learning and see progression. It has even been surprisingly helpful at parents’ evenings, in sharing progress and targets, and for subject leads, who have found many useful resources to aid their wider school planning.

Is PiXL good for supporting assessment? On a classroom teacher level, the tools are effective, have become embedded in school practise and hopefully, with time, this will translate to accelerated progress. As PiXL Lead, I feel it has really helped focus my attention on what needs work across the school, especially through the clear progression tracker, and given me direction in how best to support teachers.