Six recommendations for improving social and emotional learning in primary schools
To be published on 6th December 2019
To be published on 6th December 2019
Establish a shared vision for SEL: ensure it is connected to rather than competing with other school priorities.
Involve teachers and school staff in planning for SEL.
Provide training and support to all school staff, covering: readiness for change; development of skills and knowledge; and support for embedding change.
Prioritise implementation quality: teacher preparedness and enthusiasm for SEL are associated with better outcomes.
Monitor implementation and evaluate the impact of your approaches.
Establish schoolwide norms, expectations and routines that support children’s social and emotional development.
Align your school’s behaviour and anti-bullying policies with SEL.
Seek ideas and support from staff and pupils in how the school environment can be improved.
Actively engage with parents to reinforce skills in the home environment.
Ensure your curriculum builds skills sequentially across lessons and year groups. Start early and think long term.
Balance teacher-led activities with active forms of learning, such as: role-play, discussion and small group work, to practise skills.
Focus your time: quality matters more than quantity. Brief regular instruction appears more effective than infrequent long sessions.
Be explicit: clearly identify the skills that are being taught and why they are important.
Use a planned series of lessons to teach skills in dedicated time.
Adopting an evidence-based programme is likely to be a better bet than developing your own from scratch.
Explore and prepare carefully before adopting a programme - review what is required to deliver it, and whether it is suitable for your needs and context.
Use evidence summaries (such as those from EIF and EEF) as a quick way of assessing the evidence for programmes.
Once underway, regularly review progress, and adapt with care.
Model the social and emotional behaviours you want children to adopt.
Give specific and focused praise when children display SEL skills.
Do not rely on ‘crisis moments’ for teaching skills.
Embed SEL teaching across a range of subject areas: literacy, history, drama and PE all provide good opportunities to link to SEL.
Use simple ground-rules in groupwork and classroom discussion to reinforce SEL skills.
Use a range of strategies to teach key skills, both in dedicated time, and in everyday teaching.
Self-awareness: expand children’s emotional vocabulary and support them to express emotions.
Self-regulation: teach children to use self-calming strategies and positive self-talk to help deal with intense emotions.
Social awareness: use stories to discuss others’ emotions and perspectives.
Relationship skills: role play good communication and listening skills.
Responsible decision-making: teach and practise problem solving strategies.
Interventions are often quite separate from classroom activities. Lack of time for teachers and TAs to liaise allows relatively little connection between what pupils experience in, and away, from, the classroom. The key is to ensure that learning in interventions is consistent with, and extends, work inside the classroom and that pupils understand the links between them. It should not be assumed that pupils can consistently identify and make sense of these links on their own.
Schools should use structured interventions with reliable evidence of effectiveness. There are presently only a handful of programmes in the UK for which there is a secure evidence base, so if schools are using programmes that are ‘unproven’, they should try and replicate some common elements of effective interventions:
Research on TAs delivering targeted interventions in one-to-one or small group settings shows a consistent impact on attainment of approximately three to four additional months’ progress (effect size 0.2–0.3). Crucially, these positive effects are only observed when TAs work in structured settings with high quality support and training. When TAs are deployed in more informal, unsupported instructional roles, they can impact negatively on pupils’ learning outcomes.
Schools should provide sufficient time for TA training and for teachers and TAs to meet out of class to enable the necessary lesson preparation and feedback.
Creative ways of ensuring teachers and TAs have time to meet include adjusting TAs’ working hours (start early, finish early), using assembly time and having TAs join teachers for (part of) Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time.
During lesson preparation time ensure TAs have the essential ‘need to knows’:
Research has shown that improving the nature and quality of TAs’ talk to pupils can support the development of independent learning skills, which are associated with improved learning outcomes. TAs should, for example, be trained to avoid prioritising task completion and instead concentrate on helping pupils develop ownership of tasks.
TAs should aim to give pupils the least amount of help first. They should allow sufficient wait time, so pupils can respond to a question or attempt the stage of a task independently. TAs should intervene appropriately when pupils demonstrate they are unable to proceed.
If TAs have a direct instructional role it is important they add value to the work of the teacher, not replace them – the expectation should be that the needs of all pupils are addressed, first and foremost, through high quality classroom teaching. Schools should try and organise staff so that the pupils who struggle most have as much time with the teacher as others. Breaking away from a model of deployment where TAs are assigned to specific pupils for long periods requires more strategic approaches to classroom organisation. Instead, school leaders should develop effective teams of teachers and TAs, who understand their complementary roles in the classroom.
Where TAs are working individually with low attaining pupils the focus should be on retaining access to high-quality teaching, for example by delivering brief, but intensive, structured interventions (see Recommendations 5 and 6).
The evidence on TA deployment suggests schools have drifted into a situation in which TAs are often used as an informal instructional resource for pupils in most need. This has the effect of separating pupils from the classroom, their teacher and their peers.
Although this has happened with the best of intentions, this evidence suggests that the status quo is no longer an option.
School leaders should systematically review the roles of both teachers and TAs and take a wider view of how TAs can support learning and improve attainment throughout the school.
Schools should expect and proactively plan to support students with the weakest levels of literacy, particularly in Year 7.
Developing a model of tiered support, which increases in intensity in line with need is a promising approach.
Assessment should be used to match students to appropriate types of intervention, and to monitor the impact of interventions.
Creating a co-ordinated system of support is a significant challenge requiring both specialist input and whole-school leadership.
Talk matters: both in its own right and because of its impact on other aspects of learning.
High-quality talk is typically well-structured and guided by teachers.
'Accountable talk' is a useful framework to ensure talk is high quality, and emphasises how talk can be subject specific.
Teachers can support students by modelling high-quality talk, for example including key vocabulary and metacognitive reflection.
Combining reading activities and writing instruction is likely to improve students’ skills in both, compared to a less balanced approach.
Reading helps students gain knowledge, which leads to better writing, whilst writing can deepen students’ understanding of ideas.
Students should be taught to recognise features, aims and conventions of good writing within each subject.
Teaching spelling, grammar and punctuation explicitly can improve students’ writing, particularly when focused on meaning.
Writing is challenging and students in every subject will benefit from explicit instruction in how to improve.
Teachers can break writing down into planning, monitoring and evaluation, and can support students by modelling each step.
Targeted support should be provided to students who struggle to write fluently, as this may affect writing quality.
Teachers can use a variety of approaches, including collaborative and paired writing, to motivate students to write.
Training focused on teaching reading is likely to help secondary school teachers teach their subject more effectively.
To comprehend complex texts, students need to actively engage with what they are reading and use their existing subject knowledge.
Reading strategies, such as activating prior knowledge, prediction and questioning can improve students’ comprehension.
Strategies can be introduced through modelling and group work, before support is gradually removed to promote independence.
Teachers in every subject should provide explicit vocabulary instruction to help students access and use academic language.
Effective approaches, including those related to etymology and morphology, will help students remember new words and make connections between words.
Teachers should prioritise teaching Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary, which students are unlikely to encounter in everyday speech.
Teachers and subject leaders should consider which words and phrases to teach as part of curriculum planning.
Literacy is key to learning across all subjects in secondary school and a strong predictor of outcomes in later life.
Disciplinary literacy is an approach to improving literacy across the curriculum that emphasises the importance of subject specific support.
All teachers should be supported to understand how to teach students to read, write and communicate effectively in their subjects.
School leaders can help teachers by ensuring training related to literacy prioritises subject specificity over general approaches.
Consistency and coherence at a whole-school level are paramount.
Whole-school changes usually take longer to embed than individually tailored or single-classroom approaches.
However, behaviour programmes are more likely to have an impact on attainment outcomes if implemented at whole-school level.
Universal behaviour systems are unlikely to meet the needs of all your students.
For pupils with more challenging behaviour, the approach should be tailored to individual needs.
Teachers should be trained in specific strategies if supporting pupils with high behaviour needs.
Some strategies that don’t require complex pedagogical changes have been shown to be promising.
Breakfast clubs, greeting children at the door and working with parents can all support good behaviour.
School leaders should ensure the school behaviour policy is clear and consistently applied.
Effective classroom management can reduce challenging behaviour, pupil disengagement, bullying and aggression.
Improving classroom management usually involves intensive training with teachers reflecting on their classroom management, trying a new approach and reviewing their progress over time.
Reinforcement programmes based on pupils gaining rewards can be effective when part of a broader classroom management strategy.
Teaching learning behaviours will reduce the need to manage misbehaviour.
Teachers can provide the conditions for learning behaviours to develop by ensuring pupils can access the curriculum, engage with lesson content and participate in their learning.
Teachers should encourage pupils to be self-reflective of their own behaviours.
Pupil behaviour has multiple influences, some of which teachers can manage directly.
Understanding a pupil’s context will inform effective responses to misbehaviour.
Every pupil should have a supportive relationship with a member of school staff.
Technology has the potential to improve assessment and feedback, which are crucial elements of effective teaching.
However, how teachers use information from assessments, and how pupils act on feedback, matter more than the way in which it is collected and delivered.
Using technology can increase the accuracy of assessment, or the speed with which assessment information is collected, with the potential to inform teachers’ decision-making and reduce workload.
Technology can be used to provide feedback directly to pupils via programmes or interventions, but in all cases careful implementation and monitoring are necessary.
Feedback via technology is likely to be most beneficial if it is provided in addition to, rather than instead of, other forms of feedback.
Technology has the potential to increase the quality and quantity of practice that pupils undertake, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Technology can be engaging and motivating for pupils. However, the relationship between technology, motivation, and achievement is complex.
Monitoring how technology is being used, including by checking that all learners have the skills they need to use it effectively, is likely to reduce the risk that technology becomes a tool that widens the gap between successful learners and their peers.
Some forms of technology can also enable teachers to adapt practice effectively, for example by increasing the challenge of questions as pupils succeed or by providing new contexts in which students are required to apply new skills.
Using technology to support retrieval practice and self-quizzing can increase retention of key ideas and knowledge.
Technology has the potential to help teachers explain and model new concepts and ideas.
However, how explanations and models are conveyed is less important than their clarity and accessibility to pupils.
Introducing a new form of technology will not automatically change the way teachers teach.
Interactive whiteboards are a good example highlighting the need to consider the pedagogical rationale for adopting a form of technology, and for carefully planning the training required to enable teachers to use it effectively.
Technology can help teachers model in new ways and provide opportunities to highlight how experts think as well as what they do, but may be most effective when used as a supplement rather than a substitute for other forms of modelling.
New technology can often appear exciting. However, it can become a solution in search of a problem unless it is introduced in response to an identified need.
It is often useful to link the introduction of new technology to wider planning, for example, a review of assessment policy.
Schools should consider the pedagogical rationale for how technology will improve learning.
The principles of how to use technology successfully are not distinct from questions of how to teach effectively or how children learn.
Without a clear plan for support and implementation, technology is much less likely to have an impact.
This includes considering what initial training will be needed, what time and resources are required, and what ongoing support should be available.
Decisions about whether to introduce technology should also include an analysis of the costs of implementing the technology, alongside the expected benefits.
Develop teachers’ knowledge and understanding through high quality professional development and resources.
Senior leaders should provide teachers with time and support to make sure approaches are implemented consistently.
Teachers can use tools such as ‘traces’ and observation to assess pupils’ use of self-regulated learning skills.
Metacognition shouldn’t be an ‘extra’ task for teachers to do but should be built into their teaching activities.
Teachers should explicitly support pupils to develop independent learning skills.
Carefully designed guided practice, with support gradually withdrawn as the pupil becomes proficient, can allow pupils to develop skills and strategies before applying them in independent practice.
Pupils will need timely, effective feedback and strategies to be able to judge accurately how effectively they are learning.
Teachers should also support pupils’ motivation to undertake the learning tasks.
As well as explicit instruction and modelling, classroom dialogue can be used to develop metacognitive skills.
Pupil-to-pupil and pupil-teacher talk can help to build knowledge and understanding of cognitive and metacognitive strategies.
However, dialogue needs to be purposeful, with teachers guiding and supporting the conversation to ensure it is challenging and builds on prior subject knowledge.
Modelling by the teacher is a cornerstone of effective teaching; revealing the thought processes of an expert learner helps to develop pupils’ metacognitive skills.
Teachers should verbalise their metacognitive thinking (‘What do I know about problems like this? What ways of solving them have I used before?’) as they approach and work through a task.
Scaffolded tasks, like worked examples, allow pupils to develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills without placing too many demands on their mental resources.
Explicit instruction in cognitive and metacognitive strategies can improve pupils’ learning. A series of steps—beginning with activating prior knowledge and leading to independent practice before ending in structured reflection—can be applied to different subjects, ages and contents.
While concepts like ‘plan, monitor, evaluate’ can be introduced generically, the strategies are mostly applied in relation to specific content and tasks, and are therefore best taught this way.
A series of steps—beginning with activating prior knowledge and leading to independent practice before ending in structured reflection—can be applied to different subjects, ages and contents.
Self-regulated learners are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and can motivate themselves to engage in, and improve, their learning.
Developing pupils’ metacognitive knowledge of how they learn—their knowledge of themselves as a learner, of strategies, and of tasks—is an effective way of improving pupil outcomes.
Teachers should support pupils to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning.
There is a large dip in mathematical attainment and attitudes towards maths as children move from primary to secondary school.
If pupils lack a well-rehearsed and readily available method to solve a problem they need to draw on problem-solving strategies to make sense of the unfamiliar situation.
Manipulatives (physical objects used to teach maths) and representations (such as number lines and graphs) can help pupils engage with mathematical ideas.
However, manipulatives and representations are just tools: how they are used is essential.
They need to be used purposefully and appropriately to have an impact.
There must be a clear rationale for using a particular manipulative or representation to teach a specific mathematical concept.
Manipulatives should be temporary; they should act as a ‘scaffold’ that can be removed once independence is achieved.
Assessment should be used not only to track pupils’ learning but also to provide teachers with information about what pupils do and do not know.
This should inform the planning of future lessons and the focus of targeted support.
Effective feedback will be an important element of teachers’ response to assessment.
Feedback should be specific and clear, encourage and support further effort, and be given sparingly.
Teachers not only have to address misconceptions but also understand why pupils may persist with errors.
Knowledge of common misconceptions can be invaluable in planning lessons to address errors before they arise.
Schools should focus first on developing core classroom teaching strategies that improve the literacy capabilities of the whole class. With this in place, the need for additional support should decrease. Nevertheless, it is likely that a small number of pupils will require additional support.
There is a strong and consistent body of evidence demonstrating the benefit of structured interventions for pupils who are struggling with their literacy. The first step should be to use accurate diagnosis of capabilities and difficulties to match pupils to appropriate interventions.
High-quality assessment and diagnosis should be used to target and adapt teaching to pupils’ needs.
Rapid provision of support is important, but it is critical to ensure it is the right support. Diagnostic assessment can be used to inform professional judgement about the best next steps. Diagnostic assessment makes teaching more efficient by ensuring that effort is not wasted on rehearsing skills or content that a pupil already knows well.
A range of diagnostic assessments are available and staff should be trained to use and interpret these effectively.
This approach can be used for high- and low-attaining pupils and for whole-class and targeted interventions.
A fluent writing style supports composition because pupils’ cognitive resources are freed from focusing on handwriting, spelling, and sentence construction and can be redirected towards writing composition.
Extensive practice, supported by effective feedback, is required to develop fluent transcription skills. Spelling should be explicitly taught and diagnostic assessment should be used to focus effort on the spellings that pupils are finding difficult.
Pupils should practise sentence-combining and other sentence construction techniques.
Purpose and audience are central to effective writing. Pupils need to have a reason to write and someone to write for. Writing can be thought of as a process made up of seven components: planning; drafting; sharing; evaluating; revising; editing; and publishing.
Effective writers use a number of strategies to support each component of the writing process. Pupils should learn how, when, and why to use each strategy. For example, pupils’ planning could be improved by teaching the strategies of goal setting and activating prior knowledge.
The strategies should be described and modelled before pupils practise them with feedback. Support should then be gradually reduced as pupils take increasing responsibility.
Reading comprehension can be improved by teaching specific strategies that pupils can apply both to monitor and overcome barriers to comprehension. These include: prediction; questioning; clarifying; summarising; inference; and activating prior knowledge.
The potential impact of these strategies is very high, but can be hard to achieve, since pupils are required to take greater responsibility for their own learning. The strategies should be described and modelled before pupils practise the strategies with feedback. Support should then be gradually reduced as pupils take increasing responsibility.
Texts should be carefully selected to support the teaching of these strategies.
Fluent readers can read quickly, accurately, and with appropriate stress and intonation.
Fluent reading supports comprehension because pupils’ cognitive resources are freed from focusing on word recognition and can be redirected towards comprehending the text.
This can be developed through:
Purposeful speaking and listening activities support the development of pupils’ language capability and provides a foundation for thinking and communication. Purposeful activities include:
Schools should focus on core classroom teaching strategies, which improve literacy for the whole class. However, even when excellent classroom teaching is occurring, it is likely that a small number of children will also require more focused literacy instruction to make expected progress.
The first step should be to use accurate diagnosis of capabilities and difficulties to match pupils to appropriate interventions.
There is a strong and consistent body of evidence demonstrating the benefit of one-to one or small-group tutoring using structured interventions for children who are struggling with literacy.
Collect high quality, up-to-date information about pupil’s current capabilities, and adapt teaching accordingly to focus on exactly what the pupil needs to progress. This approach is more efficient because effort is spent on the best next step and not wasted by rehearsing skills or content that a child already knows well.
Teaching can be adapted by:
Transcription refers to the physical processes of handwriting or typing, and spelling.
Children must develop their fluency in these skills to the point that they have become automated. If children have to concentrate to ensure their transcription is accurate, they will be less able to think about the content of their writing.
A large amount of practice, supported by effective feedback, is required to develop fluency. Achieving the necessary quantity of practice requires that children are motivated and fully engaged in the process of improving their writing.Spelling should be explicitly taught.
Teaching should focus on spellings that are relevant to the topic or genre being studied.
Pupils’ writing can be improved by teaching them to effectively plan and monitor their writing. Teaching a number of different strategies is likely to help, depending on the current skills of the writer.
These include: pre-writing activities; structuring text; sentence combination; summarising; drafting, editing and revising; and sharing.
Teachers could introduce these strategies using modelling and structured support, which should be strategically reduced as a child progresses until the child is capable of completing the activity independently.
Reading comprehension can be improved by teaching pupils specific strategies that they can apply to both check how well they comprehend what they read, and overcome barriers to comprehension.
These include: inference, questioning, clarifying, summarising, and predicting.
Teachers could introduce these strategies using modelling and structured support, which should be strategically reduced as a child progresses until the child is capable of completing the activity independently.
The following should be considered when teaching a phonics programme:
Both decoding (the ability to translate written words into the sounds of spoken language) and comprehension (the ability to understand the meaning of the language being read) skills are necessary for confident and competent reading, but neither is sufficient on its own.
It is also important to remember that progress in literacy requires motivation and engagement, which will help children to develop persistence and enjoyment in their reading.
Children will need a range of wider language and literacy experiences to develop their understanding of written texts in all their forms. This should include active engagement with different media and genres of texts and a wide range of content topics.
A focus on developing oral language skills is especially important for the development of a range of reading and writing skills in this age group.
Useful speaking and listening activities include:
Develop a clear, logical, and well-specified implementation plan:
Thoroughly assess the degree to which the school is ready to implement the innovation.
Once ready to implement an intervention, practically prepare for its use:
Allow enough time for effective implementation, particularly in the preparation stage; prioritise appropriately.
High quality targeted support can ensure that children falling behind catch up as quickly as possible.
Small-group support is more likely to be effective when children with the greatest needs are supported by the most capable adults; adults have been trained to deliver the activity being used; and the approach is evidence-based and has been evaluated elsewhere.
In addition to using evidence-based programmes, some specialist services are likely to be best delivered by other professionals, such as speech and language therapists.
Ensure clarity of purpose about the different assessments used in your setting. Collect a small amount of high quality information to ensure that:
Use assessments to inform, not replace, professional judgement.
Monitor children’s sensory needs to ensure they do not impede learning.
Avoid using assessments to label children and split them into fixed groups.
Effective parental engagement is challenging but has the potential to improve children’s communication, language, and literacy.
Promising strategies include encouraging parents to read to children before they can read, then to begin reading with children as soon as they can; and running workshops showing parents how to read and talk about books with their children effectively.
Less promising strategies include occasional home visits or homework tasks.
‘Self-regulation’ refers to children’s ability to manage their own behaviour and aspects of their learning.
A number of approaches to developing self-regulation exist, including the ‘Plan-Do-Review’ cycle.
Embed opportunities to develop self-regulation within day-to-day activities.
Monitor the development of children’s self-regulation and ensure activities remain suitably challenging.
Writing is physically and intellectually demanding.
Expressive language underpins writing and should be prioritised.
Provide a wide range of opportunities to communicate through writing and develop children’s motivation to write.
Support children to develop the foundations of a fast, accurate, and efficient handwriting style.
Monitor the product and process of children’s handwriting and provide additional support as necessary.
Early reading requires the development of a broad range of capabilities.
Using a number of different approaches will be more effective than focusing on any single aspect of early reading.
Promising approaches to develop early reading include storytelling, activities to develop letter and sound knowledge, and singing and rhyming activities to develop phonological awareness.
Prior to the introduction of systematic phonics teaching, activities to develop children’s phonological awareness and interest in sounds are likely to be beneficial.
Language provides the foundation of thinking and learning and should be prioritised.
High quality adult-child interactions are important and sometimes described as talking with children rather than just talking to children.
Adults have a vital role to play in modelling effective language and communication.
Use a wide range of approaches including shared reading, storytelling, and explicitly extending children’s vocabulary
Pupils can have strengths in one area and weaknesses in another. So it is important that you build up an accurate picture of the current understanding of all your pupils.
Feedback should help the pupil develop as a learner, not just improve on the specific task that you are providing feedback on—and teachers can provide feedback at different levels.
Provide feedback as comments rather than marks. Marks can demotivate low attainers and can make high attainers complacent; in contrast, comments show both how they can do better.
Be aware of the vocabulary demands of a topic and make a conscious choice about the words that you are going to teach and when to introduce them. Focus on the words that pupils really need to understand and make sure they understand them well. Less is more: a deep understanding of fewer words is better than understanding lots of words at a surface level.
Teach new scientific vocabulary explicitly. Direct instruction has benefits, but this is not just about rote learning; you need to show pupils how words are linked and how to use them in a range of contexts.
It is important that the texts pupils are reading are at an appropriate level, but challenging and interesting; pupils should have the opportunity to engage with authentic scientific books and texts.
The use of authentic texts does not mean that all pupils need to be reading journal articles but they should have access to quality texts from a range of sources, including news articles and parts of popular science books.
Writing about science is more than communication alone; it supports pupils in their learning because when they write about science they reflect on their understanding, formulate their own ideas, and combine ideas in new ways.
It is important that you are clear about the skills or knowledge that you are trying to develop in your pupils with a particular practical activity. Think through the best approach to developing these things and plan how to sequence it with other learning.
It is unreasonable to expect lasting learning of a scientific concept from a single, relatively brief practical activity. Practical work is an important string to your bow, but as a successful science teacher you will use it alongside a range of other activities. An experiment may be the centre-piece of a lesson, but don’t forget the activities that go with it.
Science, for humans, is the most powerful way of discovering truth about the world. A scientific attitude is an attribute that will serve pupils well in life.
Every time you do an experiment, you can model some aspect of scientific reasoning. Even if the main purpose of the experiment is to develop a particular scientific theory or a scientific skill, you can point out how you are using scientific methodology.
There are different ways to expose pupils to the processes of practical science, from virtual experiments to open-ended projects. Virtual experiments, such as the PhET simulations from the University of Colorado at Boulder, allow pupils to quickly change variables, see patterns in data, and understand relationships.
An approach to practical work that requires more time involves open-ended projects, with pupils pursuing a project of their own choosing over an extended period of time. Providing project opportunities within the constrained curriculum, especially at GCSE, is challenging. But there are opportunities for project work outside the timetable and in STEM clubs.
The limit of the working memory means that it can quickly become overloaded when dealing with a new task. Any task that exceeds the limit of the working memory will result in cognitive overload and this increases the possibility that the content may be misunderstood and not effectively encoded in the long-term memory.
Learning everything to do with a topic during a single time period is not as effective as distributed learning. Spaced review involves revisiting a topic after a ‘forgetting gap’ and strengthens long-term memory. A simple way to manage this is to build in review time, including reviewing learning from the previous lesson at the start of the next one or over longer periods (at the end of each week, month, or topic). This also links with retrieval practice. and combining spaced review and retrieval practice can lead to great benefits in retention in the long-term.
Repeatedly re-reading a text is not an effective way of learning. It is much more effective for pupils to try to retrieve what they already know about a topic, or what they have recently read about it, from memory. Retrieval practice involves retrieving something you have learnt in the past and bringing it back to mind. You can use retrieval to review past learning before introducing new related learning.
Encourage pupils to elaborate on what they have learnt. Elaboration involves describing and explaining in detail something you have learnt. This approach supports learning by integrating new information with existing prior knowledge, helping to embed it in the long-term memory. This is useful as pupils progress in their understanding of a concept.
Scientific knowledge is difficult to learn because we are constantly moving between observations we can make with our senses, the explanations for observations, and the symbolic representation of these explanations. You can use models to link observations to explanations and representations.
As a science teacher you have many models in your repertoire. Models should only be used if they aid understanding—and there are plenty of concepts that can be taught without the use of models.
Think about the models that you are going to use before, during, and following lessons. A useful way of doing this is the Focus, Action and Reflection (FAR) approach.
For pupils to get the most out of models they need to understand how models relate to reality and why they are used. This is an important step in developing their ability to ‘reason like a scientist’.
Metacognition is not just ‘thinking about one’s thinking’, but also monitoring one’s learning and, importantly, making changes to one’s approach to a task as a result of the monitoring. Encourage pupils to engage in the Planning-Monitoring-Evaluation cycle as part of science lessons.
Show your pupils how you think. You can provide a useful example for pupils by making your thinking processes explicit. You can do this by working through problems in front of a class, talking through how you are approaching the problem, the kinds of strategies you are trying and why you’ve chosen them, and how you are monitoring if they are successful.
Promote metacognitive talk and dialogue in the classroom: Discussion requires careful structuring and pupils need explicit instruction on how to have effective group discussions.
Science is about how the world works and long before children start a formal education in science they build their own understanding about the phenomena that they meet on a daily basis. These preconceptions are built through sensory experiences and social interactions. These self-constructed ideas may or may not align with scientific understanding and, if they do not, are called misconceptions. Pupils usually need to go through a process of adjusting their ideas, or even replacing them with more scientifically correct ones.
First, find out what your pupils’ preconceptions are. Well known misconceptions are a useful place to start. Once you have identified their preconceptions, you can begin to help pupils develop their thinking. A useful way to develop thinking is to provide evidence that may conflict with pupils’ currently held ideas.
Throughout teaching sequences it is useful to revisit misconceptions and remind pupils of what they thought at the beginning, getting them to revisit these early ideas and acknowledge any changes in their thinking. Some misconceptions can take time to shift, so it is important to use formative assessment to check that thinking has changed in the long-term.
Start by assessing needs and talking to parents about what would help them support learning: targeting is likely to be needed to use resources effectively, and avoid widening gaps. Target and communicate carefully to avoid stigmatising, blaming or discouraging parents. Focus on building parents’ efficacy: that they are equal partners and can make a difference.
Encourage a consistent approach to behaviour between parents and the school, for example, by sharing expectations with parents.
Offering more structured, evidence-based programmes can help to develop positive behaviour and consistency where needs area greater.
Plan carefully for group-based parenting initiatives (eg, regular workshops): a convenient time and location, face-to-face recruitment, trusting relationships, and an informal, welcoming environment are the most important factors for parents to attend group sessions.
Consider offering regular home visits for younger children with greater needs. This can be an effective approach for parents that struggle to attend meetings in settings, and for building relationships.
Well-designed school communications can be effective for improving attainment and a range of other outcomes, such as attendance - Examples include weekly texts sent from school to parents, and short termly letters.
Impacts from such approaches may appear small, but they are generally low cost, straight-forward to introduce, and can prompt wider engagement.
Messages are likely to be more effective if they are personalised, linked to learning and promote positive interactions, eg, celebrate success. Communication should be two-way: consulting with parents about how they can be involved is likely to be valuable, and increase the effectiveness of home-school relationships. Currently around half of parents say that they have not been consulted.
School communications may be particularly important for engaging some parents/carers who could play an important role but may have less contact with school.
For young children, promoting shared book reading should be a central component of any parental engagement approach. Home learning activities such as practising letters and numbers, are also linked to improved outcomes.
Tips, support, and resources can make home activities more effective, for example, where they prompt longer and more frequent conversations during book reading.
Book-gifting alone is unlikely to be effective, but carefully selected books plus advice and support can be beneficial for supporting reading.
Support parents to create a regular routine and encourage good homework habits, but be cautious about promoting direct parental assistance with homework (particularly for older children).
Parents can support their children by encouraging them to set goals, plan and manage their time and emotions. This type of support can help children to regulate their own learning, and will often be more valuable than direct help with homework tasks.
Schools should be optimistic about the potential of working with parents: There is an established link between the home learning environment at all ages and children’s performance at school.
Schools and parents have a shared priority to deliver the best outcomes for their children. However, evidence on effective strategies that schools can use to engage parents in their children’s learning is mixed. If the aim is solely to improve academic outcomes, classroom interventions working directly with children currently have more evidence of effectiveness at improving learning than parenting interventions with the same aim.
Working effectively with parents can be challenging, and is likely to require sustained effort and support. Most schools say that they do not have an explicit plan for how they work with parents; fewer than 10% of teachers have undertaken CPD on parental engagement.
Therefore, schools should start by critically reviewing their aims and current approaches: focusing on areas that have better evidence different approaches are needed for different ages; talking to parents who are less involved about what support they would find helpful; and planning and monitoring progress towards their aims.
To be published on 6th December 2019