Sunday, 14 February 2016

Scottish Attainment Challenge – support for practitioners

The Education Scotland website has a range of support information to help practitioners to engage with the Scottish Attainment Challenge through the National Hub. The National Hub support practitioners with information, blogs and social media and through an online community. The research and evidence pages within the Scottish Attainment Challenge area of the website aims to help practitioner engage with current research by supporting the “effective translation of knowledge into action within the Scottish Education system”.

Two research briefing papers have been produced both focus on ‘closing the gap’. The first research briefing paper was published in November 2015 and is entitled “Differentiated Learning in Numeracy and Mathematics”, the second was published earlier this month and discusses “Early Reading”. The research briefings were created using current thinking and literature and are intended to be used as a useful starting point for further research by practitioners. Here, I will give a brief summary of each research briefing paper.

Differentiated Learning in Numeracy and Mathematics (November 2015)

Differentiation provides a means to try to ‘close the gap’ in numeracy and mathematics, however, practitioners need to take cognisance of social factors as well as academic attainment. The impact of socio-economic factors on students attainment and achievement is complex, but as an education system, we need to, “view children and families living in poverty in terms of their possibility and promise rather than their deficiencies” (Ciuffetelli Parker, 2015). Heacox (2002) described differentiated learning as “one dimension of equitable teaching” which can be used to alleviate disengagement and reduce barriers to education, thus helping to ‘close the gap’.

Differentiation is not a single approach but provides a foundation on which all teachers can develop multiple starting points and learning journeys for their learners. Effective teachers differentiate through a variety of different strategies to meet the needs of their learners and involves teachers adapting the learning and teaching, and assessment strategies. These strategies can include making changes to accommodate learners needs by differentiating learning through changes to content, modification of process, or adapting the learning environment to meet the needs of all students’. Differentiation, effective assessment and monitoring of students progress are paramount in supporting teachers make professional judgements about the learners’ progress and next steps in their learning journey.

The challenge for teachers and schools remain the same for every change in practice; time, skills and resources. It has been argued that the time spent on differentiation, supports student learning and thus alleviates the need for interventions later in the students’ school career. Teachers need to be supported through strong leadership and high quality professional learning, including collaborative working in order to make improvements to support student outcomes and ‘close the gap’.

Early Reading (February 2016)

In ‘closing the gap’ in reading, it is important to acknowledge that this is a complex issue. Research has consistently reported that children from more disadvantaged backgrounds find reading more difficult and that this gap can be identified in pre-school children (Buckingham et al., 2014). Further evidence suggests that parental education and the influences of home learning (Hartas, 2013) also have a substantial impact on the gap between the readiness of children to become readers.

In order to become a successful reader, children must learn a number of interconnected skills. Hattie (2007) offers the ‘five pillars’ of good reading to be phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. The Education Endowment Foundation (2015a) suggests that it is more important to match the strategy for learning phonics to the needs of the individual than having a blanket approach to teaching phonics. This research also suggests that for young readers a phonic based approach, as part of a balanced reading programme, gives the most effective learning experiences for children.

Ellis (2015) noted, that there are a number of factors that can support disadvantaged students to become better readers. These include challenging classroom environments and learning opportunities that promote literacy and match pupil’s needs. To help reduce the attainment gap, students’ need to have high quality learning and teaching experiences and to be supported by targeted programmes or one to one support as and when required.

In conclusion, ‘closing the gap’ is very challenging and complex. All learning relies on high quality learning and teaching but within the Scottish Attainment Challenge there is a particular focus on learners from more disadvantages backgrounds. Practitioners need to ensure that they are delivering high quality learning and teaching opportunities, that engage students and that they have the skills and resources to do so. Practitioners also have to undertake regular effective monitoring of individual progress and to make professional judgements about the support each pupil needs in order to help them be successful learners.

Both research briefing papers can be found here:

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