There’s a lot of anxiety about the post-pandemic return to school. Particularly concerning making up for lost time and addressing gaps in learning. When it comes to teaching and learning strategies for pupils who've missed significant chunks of education, non-association independent schools are best placed to teach their mainstream counterparts how to prepare for, manage, and support students who return to school with gaps in their learning. It’s their bread and butter.
A common misconception is that schools should be accelerating students through their learning.
Let me share anecdotal evidence of teaching and learning strategies implemented by non-association independent schools that suggest otherwise.
Recently, I spoke to a headteacher who recounted how she was carrying out a work scrutiny, looking at students’ books. Now, this headteacher is a trained English teacher. That’s her subject specialism. As she checked through the books, she found a lesson in a particular book which she thought covered enough material for four lessons. In other words, she felt that too much had been crammed into a single lesson when it should have been spread out more effectively over the course of four lessons instead.
She tried to explain that to the teacher, explaining that she needed to break the content down into four separate lessons when the teacher raised the issue of time.
We don't have time.
And that is true for a lot of independent schools. They don't get to have pupils join the school at the beginning of a key stage. They don't have pupils for the full seven years of primary school or the full seven years of high school. Sometimes pupils are referred to them in year 10, or year 11. Or sometimes pupils are referred to them after they've had a gap in their education of one or two years. So there's always a sense that time is very limited. There’s very little time in which to get things done. And that can tempt teachers to want to fly past the content.
The bottom line is, watch your speed. Slow down. It doesn't matter if you fly past all the content and finish it in time for the exams. Your pupils will get nothing out of it.
The Conscious Competence Model
There are various ways of looking at this problem in order to establish good teaching and learning strategies to cope with gaps in student learning. For instance, one way would be to consider the way people learn or the way we gain skills.
For this, there's a theory in psychology called the Conscious Competence Model. It explores how people develop skills.
To begin with, it suggests that before we start learning anything, we are all unconsciously incompetent. So we don't know what we don't know. For example, before you start learning how to drive a car, you know you don't know how to drive a car. But you don't know how much you don't know until you start learning.
At the next stage in this model, the second stage, this is when you start learning something new. As soon as you start learning something new, you realise just how much you don't know. So you suddenly become conscious of how incompetent you are. This stage is known as conscious incompetence. You’ve been exposed to all of this new information and you realise, you don't know how to do this.
In order to get to the third stage, which is called conscious competence, you need to spend time working on the new content, on the new material, on the new skill. Looking at it from different angles. Practising it. Being given multiple opportunities to work on the same skill. Until you get to a point where you're consciously competent, and you are able to do whatever task you’ve been set. But you still have to think about it as you’re doing it. Again, taking the example of a newly qualified driver, even though they're driving, they're also thinking, about what they’ve got to do. Remember the clutch. Remember to indicate. It’s like a repeated set of instructions running through your mind.
Once you’ve achieved some level of mastery, where you know longer have to think about what you’re doing, you have achieved unconscious competence. When you’ve done something so many times and you're so good at it, that it’s become second nature.
With this in mind, I encourage all teachers to think about the Conscious Competence Model. If you walk in today and introduce a topic to a pupil, you have just moved them from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. At this point, they suddenly realise just how much they don't know. If after this lesson you say, okay, we're done, and move on to the next topic, you’ve just left them hanging there. And if you continue to do that for the next several topics, all you have done is develop a situation where all your pupils are bewildered by just how much they don't know. So you get nothing out of it.
Teaching and Learning Strategies to Address Gaps in Learning
Independent Schools work with pupils who've missed education. Many with huge gaps in their learning. Right now we're dealing with a situation where pupils in mainstream schools have missed a term of education. So comparatively, this is small potatoes when compared to the gaps that independent schools are used to dealing with. And I think they could teach their mainstream colleagues a thing or two, in order to help them cope with the situation they now face.
Non-association independent schools have numerous teaching and learning strategies for making sure that they can support pupils who have missed huge chunks of education. To help them make some progress. To learn something. Of course, not all of the strategies will work for everyone. But I think it would be a good idea for those working in mainstream education to connect with people working in the Independent School sector. Specifically, non-association independent schools, because they specialise in working with pupils that have missed education.
And they do a great job of it.
Firstly, they take the time to find out their students’ starting points. And they do this really well. For mainstream teachers who are dealing with pupils returning to school after the lockdown, finding out starting points will be very easy, because the pupils are already part of the school. What independent schools have to do is talk to referral agencies to find out what primary school the pupils went to. It's hard work. But in mainstream schools, teachers can just find out from the teacher next door to get an idea of what was learned during a particular period, what was offered online, what packs were sent home, and how well pupils engaged with those packs. So they know the starting points.
Additionally, independent schools tend to use initial assessments as well because sometimes pupils arrive with a record of what they have achieved in the past, so you know what their attainment was, but there’s still a need to check where they are now and identify any gaps. That’s why they use initial and diagnostic assessments to find out where and at what levels pupils are working, what topics they’re confident with, and what topics they need help with.
The final part of this strategy is perhaps the trickiest one: planning. Targeted planning. Finding a way to address the areas for improvement of all the pupils in your group, and making sure you spend as much time working on that as possible. And if there are any pupils who have areas for improvement that are unique to them, establishing ways of providing one-to-one tuition for them to address those areas.
We’re Only Scratching the Surface
This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more teaching and learning strategies that independent schools employ to help these pupils. And plenty more that mainstream teachers can learn from their colleagues in the independent school sector.
I recommend mainstream teachers take the time to connect with staff from these types of provision.
Interesting and enlightening conversations await. Contact us today to start your journey.