Identifying gaps in learning and supporting catch up

Sarah Eggleton suggests some strategies and tips to help you plan how to assess your students, identify learning gaps and start the catch-up process for those who need extra support at the start of the new school year.

We know that the pandemic has hit those children who are disadvantaged the hardest, but it will of course have an ongoing impact on the learning of all our students in the years to come. So where are our students up to and how do we approach catching up on what we’ve missed?

In our school, we craft a skills/knowledge curriculum, so our aim will be to try to capture what students can remember and have gained knowledge-wise and what they can already do and what they need to extend skills-wise.

Here’s what we’ll be doing with KS3, not including new Year 7s, when we return to the classroom in September.

Bridging gaps in knowledge

We’ll be using quizzes and ‘5 minutes on’ tasks to refresh knowledge and interleave information we know they knew before they left school but have likely now forgotten. These will be low stakes, fun and fast. 

Knowledge completely missed is trickier.

For example, our KS3 students missed out on a unit of work on poetry during lockdown – key knowledge needed to access the GCSE curriculum and future years in KS3. We can’t go back over one topic at the risk of missing out another completely, likewise we can’t miss something out completely.

During school closures, we did set work to do at home, and for some students that work was completed to a high standard. In my department we use some lesson time to celebrate success with students and staff presenting some of the ‘best’ work and recapping information gained by completing these tasks.

We ask students to note down key terms to create their own knowledge organisers and complete low stakes quizzes on them in the following weeks. This ensures the work that has been completed by students at home is utilised (and crucially embedded into the long-term memory).

For those who didn’t manage to engage at home, this offers a second chance to capture the knowledge and learn it; this time with some face-to-face teacher help and a level of accountability via low stakes quizzing. 

Closing skills gaps

I’m always grateful that we have core skills in English that crop up over and over again – it means our students are comfortable returning after gaps not using one skill or another. For example, if we complete a unit of work on writing and then complete one that uses more reading skills, they are able to recall the skills needed to analyse language. We also use an interleaved approach with the skills so we would reference those skills in all our Schemes of Work regularly.

While students were working from home, our work focused on writing as it was easier to teach, requiring fewer teaching resources, unlike reading which students need extracts or books for. This meant our analysis skills had a long break. We tried to counteract this with the use of Instagram and a ‘daily read’ with three questions to encourage engagement with texts. 

Again, we aim to emphasise a fun ‘low stakes’ environment for the students to return to – to avoid causing students stress and them switching off or panicking if they can’t do something. Therefore, similarly to how we will build knowledge, we will practise the skills we can remember and celebrate successes.

One example could be reading a short paragraph and exploring the effects of language using mini whiteboards so students can make mistakes and easily correct them. We might increase the scaffolding to begin with then, remove it step by step. We will capitalise on our existing reading lessons in KS3 to encourage conversation around reading and reference success criteria orally, modelling in our verbal answers what we expect to see in our written responses. 

Scheme of Work preparation

We are looking in detail at mapping out these knowledge/skills catch ups in preparation of our English Scheme of Work.

We will ensure they are well spaced into the new learning students will experience as part of our English programme of study.

It is also worth noting that one of the key things students will have missed during the pandemic is concentrating for long periods and writing independently for extended periods of time – the actual ability to learn and engage in a school environment.

I’ll be keen to explore how to ‘retrain’ students and build in increasing periods of time for extended independent written work as part of the Scheme of Work. This will include making sure the majority of activities in the first half term were well chunked and no more than around 20 minutes, building up to 45 minutes of independent writing/response by the time we reach the end of a half term.

Do you have any ideas for identifying gaps in learning and catching students up this year? I’d love to hear some thoughts!

Finding and bridging learning gaps, teaching plans and resources, strategies for time management or managing stress – whatever your priorities for the new school year, we’re here to help you get prepared and inspired for September. With exclusive discounts on teaching resources, support for wellbeing in the classroom, online and face-to-face professional development, and much more, start the new school year with Oxford by your side.