A thousand little moments

In a recent ‘Best Bets’ podcast hosted by Caroline Creaby (Director of Sandringham Research School), Marc Rowland talked about what the most successful teachers and schools do with their pupil premium students, based on his own experience of working with hundreds of schools up and down the country.  The above quote from Marc really resonates, because it’s so true.  If you’re a pupil premium student who gets dealt a good hand when the timetable is being created and gets to be taught by great teachers, you’re going to experience those little moments Marc describes most lessons.  As a result, you’re probably going to do well in school and feel really good about yourself as a learner.  We know this, because we know that teaching quality makes a difference to student attainment.  In a recent presentation for researchEDHome, Dylan Wiliam shared the evidence to support this:

If we take a group of 50 teachers, students taught by the most effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher will learn in a year. Students taught by the least effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers, will take two years to achieve the same learning”

“In the classrooms of the most effective teachers, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, learn at the same rate as those from advantaged backgrounds”  (Hamre & Pianta, 2005)

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to watch brilliant teachers in action will recognise those little moments Marc is talking about, that will almost certainly contribute to this increased rate of learning.  They are those seemingly small things that really skilled teachers intuitively do, to push their most vulnerable students just out of their comfort zone, to make a real difference to their self-efficacy and learning.  This might include:

  • Talking to them with genuine interest and care.
  • Valuing what they have to say and the work that they produce.
  • Say hello to them in the corridor and ask how their day is going.
  • Really carefully and patiently framing their explanations around what the students already know.
  • Not allowing them to sit quietly and ignore a question, but encouraging them to have a go at answering.
  • Not accepting a safe superficial answer, but probing them to think more about their answer.
  • Not accepting work that is poorly presented and doesn’t really reflect what they are truly capable of.
  • Using retrieval quizzes during their lessons.
  • Encouraging them to use appropriate tier 2 and 3 vocabulary when answering questions.
  • Not dumbing down their language when speaking to them.
  • Giving them very specific praise about the work they complete – but only if it is worthy of that praise!
  • Giving them very specific feedback that will improve them as a learner – ‘I really like your opening sentence for this piece of writing, but I think you could probably expand this idea in the last sentence and explain why it happened’
  • Sharing high quality work that they complete with their peers and explaining why it is so good.
  • Subtly but precisely modelling how to tackle a problem and providing them with a worked example.
  • Simply, but effectively helping them to self-regulate their own learning.  There are lots of examples of this here, but this will include asking simple questions to help them plan, monitor and evaluate their work.
  • Encouraging them to aim high – ‘I know you can do this, because last time we tried a question like this you did it brilliantly’.
  • Using aspirational language – ‘Well, when you go on to do A levels…’

The problem is of course that our disadvantaged students haven’t been experiencing these little moments whilst schools have been closed, as they have been deprived of face to face contact these great teachers.  In a recent rapid evidence review by the Education Endowment Foundation, regarding the implications of Covid-19 closures, it was found that the closures are likely to reverse the progress of the past decade, that has been made with disadvantaged learners.  This same analysis suggests the gap could widen by between 11% and 75% between March and September.  The Chief Executive of the EEF Professor Becky Francis characterised the situation by saying that Covid-19 had “created the test of a generation”.  However, she also said a successful response is not out of reach for the profession, as long as it is “collaborative, intelligent and sustained”

So as the doors begin to open for students again, especially for our disadvantaged students, we need to be lavishing them with these little moments.  Yes, there will of course need to be  ‘catch-up interventions’ for some, but the most powerful experience we can gift them, to begin the reversal of the ‘Covid Slide’, is being back in front of their great teachers.   We’ll welcome them back into school, celebrate the amazing effort they have put into the work they completed at home, skilfully unpick the learning gaps that will have inevitably emerged and then slowly, but surely, begin to fill these gaps and restore their confidence as learners.  We’ll do this and we’ll do it brilliantly as a profession, because there is no other option and that’s just what we do.  We fix things.

Shaun Allison


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