It is that time of year again – when we start planning for next year. I do not mean planning lessons; I mean planning for transition. I think most teachers would agree that getting transition right is crucial and often schools do try to make time for transition meetings or handovers, but reflecting on transition conversations that I have had in the past these have often focused mainly on passing on where pupils are now. Having thought about this a lot recently, I wonder whether perhaps we should be less worried about where pupils are and more worried about where they are not and how they come to be there. In this blog, I will try to unpick this a little further and offer some practical examples of what can be done to ensure a successful transition for our pupils.
So what is the purpose of a transition meeting?
Essentially, we want staff to have a really good understanding of their pupils so that they can get the best possible start to their learning journey in the Autumn Term. A transition meeting or is about having a dialogue which leaves the new teacher with a clear idea of pupil strengths and weaknesses and how best to support them in their learning.
Getting to know pupils and their maths
Currently the Herts maths team are living and breathing diagnostic testing. We have been working tirelessly to consider the misconceptions that children often carry with them and to write assessments to support teachers in identifying these and consider how to address them. I think these are a create way to inform transition conversations, but whether you choose to use diagnostic assessments or not, an effective transition will leave the new teacher with a clear picture of the strengths and weakness of the class as a whole and identify where learning has not been fully secured. It will identify the misconceptions that need to be addressed for groups of pupils and individuals so that they can plan to address these over the coming year.
Here is an example of a page from the Year 3 to 4 transition guide. Teachers in Year 4 can clearly see where any gaps in the class coming to them will impact in Year 4 ESSENTIALmaths sequences. Recommended pre-teaching shows some sequences where this was last taught that they can go back to for suggested teaching. There are also further questions to support teachers to diagnose specific difficulties - perhaps to be used as a hingepoint question at the beginning of a lesson, or the week before teaching so sequences can be adapted ready.
Additionally, I think that teachers need to diagnose beyond incorrect answers and possible misconceptions. Working at a school this week, on an intervention project, I saw first-hand how important this is. Child A was quite happy to answer a question, knowing that she did not understand one of the key words in it. Only when directly asked if she knew what “fewer” meant did further diagnosis begin. She didn’t know what this word meant and had not asked for clarification. A quick check with her class TA, who I was working with, confirmed that she very seldom asked for help with anything. Next year’s class teacher needs to know not only that she could not answer a question containing the word fewer, but also crucially, that she doesn’t ask for help if she is unsure. This is a crucial transition nugget. Just imagine how long it could take the new teacher to work this out, and during that time, the learning that could be lost.
Now it would be great if new teachers could spend 1:1 time with all their pupils discussing and unpicking their approaches to maths, but I would consider that I am aspirational rather than wholly unrealistic. I would prioritise. Is there a particular child who is hard to engage with or difficult to work out mathematically? 1:1 time spent between this child and their new teacher, perhaps working on a diagnostic question or supporting an intervention as an outcome of the diagnostics could pay huge dividends in terms of supporting the new teacher to plan to meet that child’s needs next year.
In terms, of the rest of the class, is there a way to make the most of a few transition questions during the Summer term? Perhaps a “moving up day” activity or a piece of work that could be handed up to the next teacher could include one or more of the following:
A low entry problem
Using low entry problems is a great way for pupils to show off what they do know and can give a real insight into their depth of understanding and connections that they make. An example of a low entry could be - write the three hardest calculations that you can which have the answer 3. All pupils should be able to access the task, but the key is that pupils should be encouraged to think widely and creatively.
A show me your method problem
By answering a few well-chosen calculations, pupils can show the strategies that they would use and the new teacher can evaluate both accuracy and efficiency.
A reflection question
By asking pupils to reflect on their maths learning, they can be encouraged to identify what they have done well and when they have needed support and further how that support is best provided to them. Pupils could be asked to reflect on their maths learning using questions such as:
“What do you want your next teacher to know about your maths?”
“What did you find most difficult in maths this year?”
“How can your next teacher best support you in learning your maths?”
The key is to find a way to present key information to the next teacher in a way that is not overwhelming, but which will support them to be able to meet pupil needs next year.
Finally, I know that teachers are often asked during transition to identify how close pupils are to age related expectations and I am not saying that this is a bad thing, but I would urge reflection on what happens on receipt of this information. It is important that expectations for pupils are not limited and discussion of the Pygmalion effect this week with colleagues got me thinking. For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Pygmalion effect, it is the phenomenon whereby higher expectations of a group lead to an increase in performance. In research conducted by Rosenthal and Jacobson, teachers were arbitrarily informed that a particular student was "bright" or "dull" and noticed that this changed the teacher’s behaviour towards them and students themselves exhibited behaviors in line with their labels. I guess my thoughts immediately shifted to the converse – golem effect, whereby lower expectations lead to a decrease in performance the “self-fulfilling prophecy”. Yes – I want teachers to know how to meet the needs of their pupils and Yes – I also want teachers to have high expectations for all pupils.
Top tips for successful transition
- get to know pupils
- get to know their maths
- use information provided to plan to meet pupil needs
- have high expectations for all