It is coming up to the end of the school year and my thoughts are now starting to turn to the transition arrangements for the new Year 12s. Many questions are occupying my thoughts. How will they respond to being back in the classroom after so long? Will the extended break have had an impact on their approach to learning? How will they be feeling about their GCSE grades? What anxieties and other mental health issues might they be dealing with? Longer term, will they know how to revise for exams and will some students need more support than usual with that process? What will they actually remember about maths!?
We always send transition material to the students we’re expecting to join Year 12 in September, but this year I sent it much earlier – before the Easter holiday – to encourage students to stay engaged. It is obviously hard to monitor the completion of the work, but I’ve followed up with a few messages and extra activities. I hope this will reinforce that we’re looking forward to seeing them and that the current situation is only temporary.
Undoubtedly, when they arrive, there will still be some gaps in their knowledge and understanding. Even those with grade 8 or 9 in GCSE Maths will not have completed their revision, so they won’t necessarily be at the same level as similar students in previous years.
I’m anticipating a more gradual start to our curriculum, spending a bit more time exclusively on key algebra skills before moving onto new content. Not only because these are important skills, but also to ease them more gently back into education. I’m aware this will need to be carefully managed because there is still a lot of new content we will need to cover. I’m going to give them a carefully designed baseline assessment, so I know where the gaps in their knowledge lie. I’ve written bridging material intended for self-study that guides students through very gradually and builds confidence in the key skills. I plan to use the results of the baseline assessment to direct individual students to appropriate sections of this bridging material and use IT to provide additional support.
On the subject of IT, one positive I’ve found to the current situation is that I’ve been using technology more effectively. I find it’s easy to put off learning new skills and embracing different approaches, but when schools closed, some of these suddenly became essential practice so I quickly moved to adopt them and I’m so glad I did. I can see the benefits in terms of my own productivity, students’ learning and engagement and also in collaboration with colleagues.
I’m planning on continuing to use some of these once we’re back at school and I’ve updated our schemes of work to encourage the rest of the team to explore some of the resources available. Another consideration at the back of my mind is the possibility of a future school closure, or the possibility that these new Year 12s have to begin the course virtually: I’ll be ensuring from the start that all our Year 12s are able to access the online platforms we use.
It’s been interesting to observe how the current Year 12s have dealt with having to learn more independently. It’s something I’m always trying to develop in my students as they progress through the sixth form, but the past few weeks have made me consider refining my approach. I will be thinking strategically next year about the type of work students could be doing independently and the amount and type of marking I do. For example, instead of always teaching the key concepts in class, I’m going to set more independent learning of the basics for homework, thus freeing up lesson time for focussing on problem solving and modelling skills.
I believe this will prepare the students better for their exams and for university study; I hope it will have the added benefit of reducing my own workload.
Finally, it’s going to be more important than ever to be considerate of the mental health of staff and students. Returning to ‘normal’ schooling is bound to pose challenges and anxieties for some and I don’t want to put any unnecessary stress onto anyone, including myself. I’ve got ideas, but I’m prepared to be flexible if my plans don’t work out. I’m going to keep reminding myself that everyone is in a similar situation with regards to their Year 12s. There will be challenges but we can support each other and be kind to ourselves.
Author: Katie Wood
Katie Wood is a highly experienced teacher, examiner and successful author. Katie has successfully written for OUP numerous times, including our A Level titles, as well as our brand new Oxford Revise for GCSE Maths.