Return of the old National Curriculum and the associated levels? No.
My entry today comes with 2 objectives:
The previous curriculum was built around cycles of objectives that got continuously harder before the year had finished. For those able to keep up, it was great; the challenge was always there, pre-set. However, for those who struggled with the previous objective, whether you understood or not, you were pushed to move on. Common sense will tell you that the teacher would keep track of everyone's success, able to tailor the lesson as best as they could so everyone was stretched. This includes every best effort to organise timely intervention. However, the awful levels culture skewed this ideology somewhat. In a world fuelled by numbers, practitioners and their school leaders found themselves in a wicked game to create the illusion of success, by having your numbers as high as possible, to be superficially judged by those the other side of the gate.
This was a 2 fold problem:
The results of this were self explanatory; the gaps among the learners got wider, and many were left behind when others were forced on, while other groups were left unprepared for the next year because they were never given the time to fully understand all of the learning they had just skimmed (but were able to scrape together the satisfactory amount of evidence in order to be judged as the 'higher' band on a single occasion, likely encompassing a heavy amount of modelling and very little independence).
Grossly unfair on all counts, and completely impractical as they continue through the education process.
The 2014 National Curriculum is our chance to rebalance our classrooms and provide support for those who need it most, while also providing open ended application for those who relish a challenge.
Rather than needing to understand a concept in 2 days, before revisiting it, at a harder level, in 3 months time, we now have a set of objectives that you have a year to engage with and understand; emerge into, and aim to master. For the first time in my career, I have a curriculum encouraging the use of manipulatives and imagery to enable the children to build up a bank of practical experiences to help them solve problems. Yes, there are a lot of objectives, but through your Assessment For Learning, you can decide which ones require the most time allocation (made easier because the objectives stay the same).
Rather than pushing your children through a set of criteria to reach the highest number as quickly as possible, we now have a system that encourages them to stay within their set of criteria, but experiment with the application of everything they have learnt during that time; depth, not breadth.
This is likely the part many teachers are finding the most difficult; it's the biggest difference between the 2 curriculums, and therefore ignites the most fear. Whereas, before, you would steam through adding and subtracting 3 digit numbers, up to 4 digits, to money, through to decimals, we are now being asked to provide other challenges that stay with the 3 digit numbers; word problems, number puzzles, proving/disproving statements, investigations, missing digit problems, using the inverse, etc. The fear is visual; "you're still doing 3 digit numbers", so where's the progress? Simple. The progress comes from the complexity and level of understanding required to complete a problem successfully; much more beneficial in the long term, compared to, "Now try this 4 digit number."
Why? The new system is about checking understanding. Really, if you've understood the place value behind adding and subtracting, and how to use the columns in a written method, you'll be successful regardless of how big the number is, so the only thing you were stretching was the question! Now you can provide opportunities to apply the learning, and you don't need to touch the next set of objectives in order to do that; touching the next year group's objectives isn't a signal of attainment.
The successes of this are also 2 fold:
While it's had some teething problems, I am a firm believer in the 2014 National Curriculum and the Assessment changes it has brought along with it. It will just take time. The problem is not the new curriculum or the 'standards' it is written with, but the expectation that pupils, who have only just completed a year of the new system, will be able to be fairly assessed on an order of events they haven't partaken in, within a wider community of schools and their families who haven't had a chance to catch up with the new system in a mutually understood language - we are not even convinced those who wrote the system fully understand it!
Teachers, calm down; you're clouding yourselves. We are conditioned to respond to criticism and jump through hoops to achieve criteria we spent years learning. Now that the criteria is different, we panic because know the same critics will come, expecting to see the same professional practice with little REAL time to adjust. Use this chance to work together to create a system that works for you; a system you'll be able to confidently explain to a critic.
Critics, please don't touch the curriculum for at least 6 years. Give it time to filter through, for at least one cohort to get through the whole process. Let us make sense of it; we are more qualified than you.
It is our job to make the most of what we are given, to equip these children for the rest of their lives. A daunting prospect when led by a less-qualified, higher power with a more numerical aim, but we can do it!
Teaching Maths is like spinning plates. While teaching fractions, you need to keep the number and place value plate spinning, ensuring the geometry dish is still going, before the multiplication ceramic comes crashing down.
In years gone by, this could have been achieved through 'starters'; traditionally the first 10 minutes of the lesson, to warm up the students' brains. When we were working with the National Numeracy Strategy, I used to take an objective from Block A through E for each day, Monday to Friday, to revise. It worked well; we all knew every Wednesday that I would present some form of graph and ask questions; we dreaded Fridays because I would ask for decimal fraction equivalents.
However, in this time of curriculum change, where children already in the system are playing catch-up to meet the new expectations, sometimes the first 10 minutes of revision could be better used as a hook for the latest objective or a chance for deeper study of the raised bar.
Yet we still need to keep the plates spinning.
Alongside my Entry Quizzes, I try to have a good grasp on what the children can already do. While never 100% accurate, it's much simpler to plan for their next steps when you have a real-time starting point. Using this information, I know where to pitch their work and, as a further result, I can also design more challenges for them; chances to reason, problem solve and apply.
Each lesson includes a series of questions that the children can choose from. (I'm likely to write about this sometime too!) But, in addition to these Challenges, I use simply typed sticky labels, placed randomly in spare spaces by some helpful children, to mix up the types of question they answer; it's like an extension of the Extension, adding that 'starter' style revision, just to the end of the lesson, once the most important skill of that day has been covered. I have found it more time-efficient than opening the lesson with a series of information that might be of little use when it comes to the main input. In an ideal world, of course the opening would link to the main, but then we return to square one when considering how to prepare children for a world that isn't so neatly compartmentalised.
For example, in a lesson on addition, showing adequate proficiency once you have answered your questions, tackled the Challenge (the Extension; likely a set of word problems or a "what are the possibilities?" question) you can flick through your book spotting the stars; these are the sticky labels.
Upon the labels, you might find new versions of the measure problems we have been tackling, or a fractions question that'll need to be solved. It might ask you to calculate the area of a shape, or find the answer to a question requiring multiple steps. Either way, you'll need to search your brain (and your book) to remind yourself of the methods, ideas and strategies we were learning, switching from the addition you have just been practising.
It will rarely be something new, and I have found it really useful as tool to look back on; cast your eye over their answers to see how much is being retained and what will need further coverage.
Furthermore, I'm a big believer in the children's books becoming almost like a catalogue; a self-made text book. Hopefully, by encouraging them to look back through everything they have achieved, the pages become little triggers; setting off a memory of that unit we haven't visited recently, searching for the label that could be answered by revising this page.
As with everything, this won't work for everyone. However, I think it's important to find new ways to have the children revise the learning they have covered; it's a study skill for life. This method gives every child a chance to do that. We work hard to ensure 'everything makes sense' to our classes, but once we are not there, we need to feel confident that they can make sense for themselves, choosing suitable methods to solve mixed problems with the vast knowledge they have been given.
I have created some Challenge stickers below; each set adheres to the objectives of the specified year group. They're great for a quick and easy extension, covering a variety of topics, aiming to keep as much learning as possible at surface level for easy retrieval and application. They should print neatly on a simple label sheet (18 labels to a sheet). Alternatively, you might want to print on paper and guillotine.