Something about year 6?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week, SATs week, reflecting on what I’ve learned so far from teaching in year 6. I tweeted @DeputyMitchell saying as much during a conversation about SATs procedures and moderation:
My first year in 6, learning so much about the different things schools can be subject to this year!
He tweeted back agreeing that it was learning curve and pointed me in the direction of a blog post he wrote, partially about year 6, after attending a course on assertive mentoring this time last year. In the post, David explains how Peter Boddy, who was running the course, spoke about ‘typical’ patterns of uneven progress in KS2 in reading, writing and maths:
Year 3 – 1 point progress (0.5 sub level)
Year 4 – 2 points progress (1 sub level)
Year 5 – 3 points progress (1.5 sub level)
Year 6 – 6 points progress( 3 sub levels)
Peter Boddy questioned why this was typically the case, why a Year 6 teacher can do this and asked whether it was because the Year 6 teacher knew how much hinged on the results. Coincidentally, I had left a comment on this very post a year ago myself:
I have to say, that I don’t know if this is the picture in my school*, but I’m not sure what to think of it. I can see how being in year 6 can be a stressful place to be and if I were to be moved into year 6 in September, I think I would feel a different kind of pressure that I haven’t experienced in year 4. However, I would argue I’m constantly reflecting on the impact of the strategies I use and in pupil progress meetings we look at progress data, analyse it, discuss what we’re doing that’s working and what we need to do next. My results are scrutinised, but arguably not by as many different groups as KS2 SATs results are. Still, I’m really very proud of the progress made by my class this year so far.
My worry is that this is sounding like an argument for more testing and league tables…?
*And I still don’t. This post works on the assumption that Peter Boddy’s picture of uneven progress throughout KS2 is a typical picture in schools across the UK. It won’t be true of all schools.
So, a year on, after teaching in year 6 myself, I admitted to David that I do feel I now have a clearer picture of assessment and I’ve felt on many occasions that I have learned so much this year. Of course, I think teachers are continually learning, but after spending two years in Year 4, I have to say that Year 6 is… different. Does it sound dramatic to say that I think it has changed me as a teacher? I don’t know, but I would suggest it has. For example, if I were to move to Year 3 now after being in Year 6, I think I would be a different teacher than if I had moved there straight from Year 4. This all leads me back to the original questions though: is there something different about Year 6 that results in children typically making the most progress this year? And if so, what is it?
- Levelling: I have levelled work more frequently, particularly in writing. (Perhaps this is partly down to the change in the writing SATs, which means that now it is done by teacher assessment of a child’s work throughout the year and not just what they produce in their SATs writing test). In fact, I broadly level every piece of writing that’s done as well as mark it and give feedback as I normally would. As a result, I have never had such a clear, up-to-date picture of where all my class are at any one time, as I have had this year.
- Targets: possibly as a result of levelling work more frequently, I feel much clearer myself about what constitutes a level 4 or a level 5. Again, especially in writing. Consequently, I can recognise what a child needs to do to move on when I level a piece of work. Of course, I gave children targets to move them on prior to being in year 6, but if I compared them, I would imagine that my targets are more specific now. Plus, targets are updated more often.
- Intervention: more specific targets leads to more specific intervention. Not only that, but the intervention set up this year has been reviewed and adapted frequently because I am levelling and targetting more often.
So ultimately there has been no magic formula. Instead it has mainly come down to changes in assessment. I think I assess frequently and accurately and use this specifically. The point is though, I really try to do something with what I’ve found out that gives children the opportunity to move on, whether it be a word bank or setting up a dedicated level 6 maths blog or an intervention group. I am in no way suggesting that teachers who aren’t or haven’t taught in Year 6 don’t do any of the above. You can see from my comment on David’s post that I was ‘constantly reflecting on the impact of strategies’ I used in Year 4, but with hindsight I have been more creative and consistent with my intervention strategies. In fact, consistency has been key this year. Again, I can, and do, only speak from my own experience.
Some people might suggest teachers teach more ‘intensely’ in Year 6, but I suppose that depends on what you mean by ‘intensely’. Yes, I certainly assess more rigorously, but has my class timetable been full of reading, writing and maths? I would honestly say no. Every science lesson is still hands on with focussed recording, we still have cross-curricular topics with children creating their own Pop Art, turning our classroom into a Scandinvian country for the day and building shelters on Disaster Zone Day to name but a few of our projects. Year 6 doesn’t just have to be about writing and maths, but when it is time for those, the targets are clear.
After being in Year 6, I think I now have the invaluable knowledge of the bigger picture about where children ‘should’ be by the time they leave primary school. This is something I can take with me to any year group. The differences in how I assess would also be something I would take with me if I were to teach in another year group. Maybe I will have higher expectations now too? I’ve now seen children make three sub levels progress in a year so I know it’s possible? Although I can’t be sure of that until that time comes.
Evening it out
So why does it take being in Year 6 to realise these changes in many cases, if the ‘typical’ uneven progress across KS2 Peter Boddy shared is true? Perhaps it’s partly down to pupils being more aware of their progress and spurred on by the imminence of secondary school? Undoubtedly the KS2 results being used so publicly to create league tables must play its part. It is hard to compltely ignore that fact and perhaps gives teachers the impetus to assess more closely throughout the year and, importantly, act on it quickly. So if that is the case, how can ‘typical’ Year 6 progress be mirrored in other year groups? Publicise all the results from every year group like the year 6 ones are? Possibly not. Give all teachers the chance to teach in Year 6 and then take what they’ve learned to other year groups? Possibly.
What do you think? Have you taught in Year 6? Did it somehow change you or give you a perspective that you didn’t get in other year groups? How? Are any of my experiences similar to yours? I would love to hear your thoughts.
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