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Classroom strategies to help primary pupils progress

Classroom strategies to help primary pupils progress

DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION AND SKILLS News Release (2007/0098) issued by The Government News Network on 1 June 2007

Teachers identify 'invisible children' and 'comfort zones'

The first report in a major new series of practical progress reports for teachers and learners was published today by Education and Skills Secretary Alan Johnson.

Keeping up - pupils who fall behind in Key Stage 2 looks at the experiences and behaviour of pupils aged between 7 and 11. This particular group of children ended Key Stage 1 doing well in English and maths, achieving the right level for their age; but as they move through Key Stage 2, they don't develop their skills and abilities as they should, and the rate at which they progress slows down.

The report identifies common characteristics of children who are making slower progress than expected at Key Stage 2 in English and maths. They typically represent a small proportion of pupils in any classroom.

The report includes recommendations on practical classroom strategies which teachers can use to identify so-called 'invisible children' and 'children in the comfort zone' and to help them get back on track.

This report is based on detailed investigations in 39 schools and on interviews with hundreds of teachers and pupils, carried out by a small team of educational experts, all of whom have a background in teaching.

Secretary of State for Education and Skills Alan Johnson said:

"This practical report takes hands-on learning from the classroom about strategies that work, and gives that knowledge back to the frontline. I hope that all schools will use this practical report to target different kinds of support at children with different needs.

"I want to remove the barriers which prevent any individual child from reaching their full potential. Schools are coming up with innovative strategies to overcome the barriers that these children face. These reports will help all teachers to personalise their classroom teaching to the needs of specific groups.

"Clear evidence about what works will help teachers to drive up individual attainment. This is part of an approach to learning that enables teachers to achieve exactly what they want - the best for every child in their class - using their expertise and the support that already exists in the system.

"These reports are just one tool - schools have access to a range of support for children who need it, such as catch up and reading recovery classes; soon, this will be supplemented by one-to-one tuition for children who are in danger of falling behind."

"We need to make sure that no-one is left behind at any point - from the most gifted and talented children at the top of the class, to the quiet child who is well-practised at hiding from the teacher's gaze at the back of the class."

Schools Minister Jim Knight said:

"The children described in this report are doing well at age seven, but their progress slows as they grow up and move through Key Stage 2. It's important that we give children at this crucial age all the support they need to continue moving up.

"It's not clear why some children's progress starts to stall at this age; teachers say that some parents stop reading with their children at this age, and others say that some parents start having problems helping with homework when class work gets harder.

"But what is clear is that groups of children display similar behaviour and attitudes to learning; and that there are easy practical things that teachers can do to help. With these reports, we want to help all teachers learn from each other about classroom strategies that work."

Sheila White, Headteacher of Wyborne Primary School in Greenwich said:

"My staff completely recognise the term 'invisible children' - the teachers know who they are in our school. Taking part in this investigation and discussing the findings from this report with my senior leadership team has revolutionised the way we monitor and track pupil progress. We are using approaches identified in the report and I strongly believe they will be of immense use to all my staff."

The reports also highlight how important parental support is in helping children progress and succeed. In general, the parents of children making slower progress are described by schools as "harder to reach": for example, the parents of these children tended not to participate in maths workshops set up by schools, and more fathers than mothers attended.

In maths, some mothers told teachers that they felt unable to help their children with their homework; where parents did help, they often used different methods of calculation which confused their children.

In English, the children said that their parents helped them with their homework; however, in the cases where their parents' help was not so useful, they relied on their brothers or sisters or friends instead.

Key findings from the report are:

Invisible children

* are quiet and undemanding; the description of them as 'invisible children' comes from teachers

* don't mind if they don't receive immediate attention and will sit for long periods waiting for it

* are uncomfortable with open-ended questions

* many have strategies to avoid the teacher's gaze in the classroom

* some, mainly boys, are often bubbly and keen to respond but are unlikely to think before responding

Classroom strategies to help include:

* not using 'hands up' across the whole class - instead the teacher chooses who should answer

* discussing questions in pairs before answering

* offering 30 seconds thinking time before an answer is expected

* helping pupils to understand the day-to-day goals they are set

'Pupils in the comfort zone'

* are anxious about taking risks and seeming to be wrong

* prefer routine and working on 'right or wrong' tasks

* work neatly and don't like untidy work in their books

* don't like answering questions in front of the class

* lack self-confidence

Classroom strategies to help include:

* coaching in small groups with immediate support available to tackle any problems as they arise

* working in a range of different groups, where children take on different roles

* opportunities to develop assertive skills e.g. in drama

* encouragement to take risks

Pupils whose progress is slow in English at Key Stage 2:

* are often boys

* rarely read for pleasure and often can't name a favourite book

* would like their parents to come to parents' evenings

* seek help from friends and siblings as well as parents

Pupils whose progress is slow in maths at Key Stage 2:

* are often girls

* are generally well behaved

* judge how 'good' they are by the numbers of ticks and crosses in their books

* have difficulty in applying their knowledge in new situations

* use standard written methods as they lack confidence in their ability to use mental calculations to work out problems

* can struggle with maths vocabulary e.g. recognising that the words 'sum' and 'total' mean 'addition'.


* The report is available from Friday 1 June at

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