With just a matter of weeks left of term for most of us, I’ve been considering what our greatest gift is to those ‘next teachers’ who will be inheriting our current classes in 2022-23. I’ve been particularly inspired by a recent podcast we recorded with the wonderful Emma Turner, which you can listen to here. In this episode, Emma suggests that those of us involved in curriculum design should make time to identify the ‘bread, eggs and milk’ of each curriculum area. By this, she means those essential ingredients that are key to a young person’s development, like knowing their number bonds, or holding a pencil with an appropriate grip. In contrast, Emma refers to ‘face cream and pomegranates’ - those curriculum areas that are nice, but not absolutely paramount in terms of a child’s future success. This might include knowing the properties of a trapezoid, or being able to write a haiku. With these ideas in mind, and given the short time we have left of this academic year, where are you going to choose to put your focus: pomegranates or bread?
Hopefully you shouted “Bread!” enthusiastically at the end of that paragraph. Now, what ‘bread, milk and eggs’ looks like to you might be different than what they mean to me. Nevertheless, I thought that readers might find some examples useful. For the sake of the blog, I’ve just honed in on Maths and Writing. It goes without saying that none of us should be leaving this stuff to the end of the year to worry about. But, given that we’re still reeling from the effects of a pandemic, we all know that our students are still facing big gaps despite our best efforts to address these throughout the year.
Now is absolutely the time to refocus on place value and numerical fluency - and within that, automaticity of key facts and calculation procedures.
We want out littlest learners having a deep understanding of numbers to ten. Can they subitise like demons for numbers up to 5 at the very least? Can they comfortably order numbers to ten? Can they play with these numbers – e.g. recognising the ‘fourness’ of four - telling you that four is 4 and 0, 3 and 1, 2 and 2? As they move through KS1, can our younger learners recall all their number bonds to 10 and 20? Have they developed a secure understanding of tens and ones? Towards the end of KS1, are they able to instantly describe the effect of adding or taking away a multiple of 10 from any 2-digit number, knowing that the digit in the ones column will remain unchanged? Can they also do this through that ‘terrifying’ 100 threshold? Can they use their number bonds to bridge through any multiple of 10, or to recognise how multiples of ten combine to total 100? Do they have age-appropriate (and efficient) mental and written strategies – in particular for addition and subtraction? Have they learnt their multiplication and division facts by heart for the 2x, 5x and 10x tables? Have they got a decent understanding of what a fraction is, and what numerators and denominators represent in a fraction? Do they get that the larger the numerator, the smaller the parts? Can they spot simple equivalence between two quarters and one half?
In Lower Key Stage Two, we need to have ensured that the learning from KS1 is secure. If you’re in Year 3 or 4, you will have spent a lot of time revisiting the content already mentioned this year. As we move through KS2, have their mental and written strategies (for all four operations) continued to shift in line with our calculation policy? Have children developed a secure understanding of place value with larger numbers (in line with the NC expectations)? Similarly to my point about the ‘100 threshold’ in KS1, can they jump back and forth mentally through different place value thresholds by adding or subtracting powers of ten (e.g. 785 + 600)? Can they continue to use basic number bond facts to derive bonds with larger numbers? Have they nailed that concept of tenths, and then hundredths, and really understood the ‘ten-ness’ of our place value system – e.g. ten hundredths making one tenth, ten tenths making one whole, and so on? Has their fractions knowledge continued to move on, with children understanding the concept of improper fractions, and how these relate to mixed numbers? Is their understanding of equivalence even more developed now? Are they able to solve some age-appropriate calculations with fractions? How is that times tables knowledge going? Are they as swift with their division facts as they are with their multiplication facts? Can they use these multiplication and division facts when multiplying or dividing with powers of ten?
This is not an exhaustive list, but these are just some particularly ‘big-hitters’ to consider in the final weeks of the term. Let’s look at Writing now.
For Writing I’m going to think more about key aspects of writing rather than age-specific goals.
Handwriting and presentation
It’s easy to dismiss handwriting and presentation as ‘shallow’/unimportant, but any teacher knows that being able to write legibly and with fluency is absolutely key in a child’s journey as a writer. A lack of confidence in this area can hinder a child’s speed, stamina and ultimately, their self-esteem.
Anyone who has taught during the pandemic will have noticed many children having under-developed fine motor skills. Are children having enough time to practise the appropriate pencil-grip and handwriting techniques? Are there some children who actually need to stop trying to join for now, just so we can work on getting their basic letter formation right? For those who we want to be joining, have we made sure there are no incorrect joins still happening, which the next teacher will end up having to un-teach? Are children beginning each line of their writing back at the margin? Do children definitely know the difference between all their upper- and lower-case letters, and where these sit on the line? Are letters of a consistent and legible size? Are all children leaving appropriate spaces between their words? Have we taught good habits for how we want children to cross out and correct their mistakes? Do children use a ruler correctly when underlining dates or titles?
Phonics deserves a huge amount of curriculum time in ‘normal times’ so it deserves even more of our attention right now. Obviously everyone uses their own scheme, but are there any units/phases that need a revisit before the end of the year? Are they heading up to the next teacher spelling the vast majority of those statutory/high frequency words correctly?
As a side-note to this, what about writing their own names correctly? Can all children do this properly - demarcating their first and last names with a capital letter at the start? Do they spell the days of the week and months of the year correctly, or are they all going up spelling ‘Wednesday’ in their own unique way?!
Do children actually know what a sentence is? Do they demarcate their sentences correctly, with basic punctuation? I encourage you to read part one and part two of these blogs from Daisy Christodoulou about the most common issues with Year 5 writing, as these issues have their roots right back in KS1 and lower KS2. The most common issues with children’s sentences are ‘fragments’, ‘run-ons’ and comma-splicing. All of these issues come back to a basic misunderstanding of what a sentence actually is, so forget trying to cover any fancy genres this term and focus on the basics!
Even in my efforts to narrow your focus in the weeks ahead, I’ve given you far too much to think about. It’s illustrative of how packed the primary curriculum is at the best of times, and how important it is for us to not let ‘pomegranates and face-cream’ to get in the way of giving our young people what they really need - first and foremost – bread, milk and eggs.