Depending on your approach, the race to results day is focussed on planning and delivering great lessons in class or making sure you get the right interventions in place for those who need them during and beyond the school day. Both have been well articulated in recent copies of Schools Week; I want to move more towards the former but we still have a lot of the later.
Irrespective of which approach you take it is critical to ensure you “teach pupils what they don’t know but should” in preparation for their examinations. This has become a strap line in our life after levels approach to assessment. We termed it DAFITAL; Data and Feedback Informed Teaching and Learning.
The following example has been put together by Simon Cox (@MathsMrCox), Director of Mathematics and Numeracy at St. Mary’s Catholic Academy. This work has taken DAFITAL to a new level in terms of the information shared with pupils and parents; only got one bit of parental feedback so far but mum absolutely loved it. Key to this was the signposting provided about where extra help could be obtained, via an online programme called Method Maths, linked to areas of relative weakness. The approach works equally well in other subjects and our staff are busily analysing mock papers to determine what to teach and to whom over the coming weeks; the last few months before GCSE & A-level examinations are sat. A similar approach is being taken in our primary academies. I sense the work we are doing on assessment is quite literally transformational; key to maintaining it will be to overcoming the workload issue of entering marks into spreadsheets. We’re not there yet but are making some great strides forward.
Teachers enter a question by question breakdown for each student into Google Sheets (which we share as a department) this data is transferred into an Excel spreadsheet. A macro which has been programmed into this spreadsheet then produces the analysis sheets seen below, giving students a question by question analysis of their performance. This helps them to identify areas for development and improvement and provides significantly more detail than a grade or percentage alone would provide, allowing a sharp focus on what really matters. Key is the signposting of students to the extra work s/he should do to practice the current area of Mathematics s/he is struggling with.
In this first example, the student has achieved a grade A and is looking to identify ways of moving to an A*. During a conversation with this student, we picked up on a number of interesting issues. The student has performed much better on Paper 2 (calculator) than on Paper 1 (non-calculator) – why is this? I would suggest their past paper practice moving forward should focus primarily on the non-calculator paper. Also, despite looking for an A* which traditionally means a focus on the harder questions at the end of the paper, there are a number of “Quick Wins” for this student earlier on in the paper – stem and leaf diagrams and questionnaires are relatively straightforward topics on which this student did not pick up full marks.
In this second example, the student has achieved a grade D and is looking to identify ways of moving to a C or better. Again, the student has performed better on Paper 2 than on Paper 1, meaning a past paper focus on non-calculator skills may be appropriate. There are again a number of “Quick Wins” here – experience tells me that students generally find questions on questionnaires and frequency polygons fairly straightforward so I would advise this student to tackle these gaps first. As this is currently a grade C borderline student, I would also advise them not to focus too much attention on the harder questions towards the end of the paper just yet, instead mastering those topics earlier on as they are a quicker and easier “win”.
At a class and department level, DAFITAL allows us to look at topics on which our immediate classroom interventions need to focus. Below is the breakdown for one such class. My advice to this teacher would be to look initially at those topics in the top half of each list and provide some lesson time to improve in key areas. I would suggest forming and solving equations (Paper 2, Q5), frequency polygons (Paper 2, Q9), transformations (Paper 1, Q7 and Paper 2, Q4), etc.
We then map out our remaining lessons on a timeline and look at allocating lesson time to these key areas. I find this approach very valuable for allowing a sharp focus on improvement, and it often throws up surprising gaps which a grade or mark analysis cannot provide.
It All Adds Up
It all adds up; quite literally in terms of the marks gained by pupils but also in terms of the process for teachers. The interventions are specific, targetted and in the class room.
We have focussed on very little else collectively across the two primary and one secondary academy within our Trust, this academic year apart from DAFITAL; this involves bothe planning and analysis of teaching and learning. As ever the proof of the pudding will be in the eating but we remain hopeful that our approach will have impact on outcomes this year and, refined and improved, the impact will be cumulative in the years ahead in terms of improved learning, outcomes and life chances for our pupils.