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‘Pre-Teaching’ and ‘Assigning Competence’ in an Expert Group

By Mark Gibbons, headteacher at Windmill Primary School and chair of the Expert Group for Early Reading, Literacy and Numeracy and Lydia Purdy, senior teacher and Mathematics lead at Birchwood Primary School

Being part of an ‘Expert Group’ has felt slightly weird, because none of us in the Early Reading, Literacy and Numeracy group has considered themselves to be an ‘expert’. From the outset though, there has been a willingness from each of us to collaborate and to contribute.

Our principal aim in being part of this group is to give children in our schools the best chance of achieving what they should be achieving, but an important secondary aim for us is to trial new things in our schools and to share the outcomes trust-wide, for the benefit of as many children as possible.

We started by inviting some ‘proper experts’ to advise us:

Ruth Baker-Leask, who is an author, a teacher, a director of Minerva Learning Limited and chair of the National Association of Advisers in English (NAAE) @RuthBakerLeask

And Dr Vivien Townsend, who is an experienced primary school teacher, a member of the Mathematical Association (MA), the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM), and the National Association of Mathematics Advisers (NAMA) @vivientownsend1

Ruth pointed us in the direction of ‘Building Communities of Readers’ (research that focuses on establishing a love of reading) and ‘Bringing Words To Life’ (strategies for teaching vocabulary in a more direct way).

Viv recommended we focus on ‘pre-teaching’ and ‘assigning competence’ in Maths.

We were not unfamiliar with the idea and the practice of pre-teaching, but many of us have experienced the challenge of fitting this into the school day.

The phrase ‘assigning competence’ was new to some of us though. Viv explained that it isn’t always about increasing knowledge; it can be increasing confidence, awareness or exposure, for example.

Lydia wanted to explore how vulnerable children at Birchwood could be supported to be active and influential participants in maths lessons, using pre-teaching in advance of maths lessons and assigning competence within maths lessons.

She set up weekly booster sessions before school, for children lacking in confidence or identified as having gaps in knowledge, focusing on the pre-teaching of concepts that will be taught within maths lessons that week. She has used Mathematics Mastery diagnostic tests to assess prior understanding and potential gaps.

To test the concept of ‘assigning competence’, she has focused on daily 10-minute Maths Meetings to regularly rehearse and practise key skills. She has also used the talk task element of the daily Maths lesson to show a child that they have something valuable to contribute, which also builds the child’s confidence.

Lydia is already seeing that targeted children are increasing in their confidence – barriers have been broken down and children have a better belief in themselves as learners. There is also better engagement from them at the start of maths lessons. They are more readily offering contributions during lessons and more willing to respond to questioning. They are showing greater independence in maths and a willingness to think mathematically and tackle challenges.

We are really pleased to be sharing plans and findings from our trials (and tribulations) between colleagues from 7 CAT primary schools that are part of our group, and we will share a report with all schools at the end of the academic year.


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