Imagine your Year 6 teacher has won the big time Euro Millions lottery and won £125,000,000. They have told the SLT and governors that if they want to contact them, they will be on a Caribbean island, but here is some money to provide a supply for the term so they don’t have to give any notice. You have been asked to step into the role of Year 6 teacher and you have never done it before.
I imagine that running through your head might be something like ‘Crikey! What the blinkin’ heck am I supposed to do? How do I get these little cherubs ready for the bloomin’ SATs? What the heck are the best ways to teach in Year 6? What don’t I already chuffin’ know?!” … or words to that effect.
Well, I have known several teachers in the last twelve months in this situation (not winning the lottery, but being asked to take Year 6 at short notice or having never taught in that year before) and I wanted to help anyone who has to go through this in the future.
I gathered together a crack team of Year 6 teachers from a range of schools – @mcmahonpaddy @MrTRoach @hil3494 and @crazycath1 – and christened them my Year 6 Avengers. They would help me come up with some key points that all teachers new to Year 6 need to know. We sat and chatted for an hour or so and this is what they came up with:
Don’t take anything for granted. Start everything from the beginning and move on quickly. Just because they have been taught it in previous year groups, doesn’t mean they remember it.
Go back and make sure that what should have been taught is secure. Make sure with Year 6 SATs style question.
Use resources like Test base to practice test questions for starters to lessons. Show the children that these questions are nothing to be afraid of. Make them everyday occurrences and reduce the fear and anxiety.
Use the White Rose planning. The problem solving and reasoning tests are great preparation. The ‘Maths no problem’ books matches up with the White Rose planning. It has a text book and workbook for guided practice/independent work.
Target Maths has differentiation included in it and is useful for pitching work at the correct level.
Single stage assessments from Assertive Mentoring are useful. They have end of year expectations and this can be used to teach anything that is not understood.
Get through the whole curriculum before Easter then do revision in the weeks after Easter and before the tests.
Pitch and expectations
Find texts that challenge the best children in your class and pull the others up to that level rather than easier texts.
Answers HAVE to be precise and exact. In the past, techers would be able to say ‘weeeeeelllll… I kind of know what they mean’ and give them a mark. Now, answers have to be exact, precise and detailed otherwise children will not be given a mark. It is a tough love that you must administer, but it is better to be honest with your class and practice being exact.
When using comprehensions, write complete sentences. Children have to be very specific. They are not allowed to just be able to get the ‘gist’ of the piece of writing now, they have to be accurate.
Have a read of Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov.
Use RIC (Retrieval, Interpretation, Choice) with high quality, difficult texts daily to encourage detailed answers.
Read different genres: newspaper articles, biographies, interviews, magazine articles, etc.
Use the question stems from Maddy Barnes to generate questions at a suitable pitch: http://bit.ly/gazneedle02
Use the appendix from the Natonal Curriculum for grammar. Look for these aspects in ALL year groups. Make sure other year groups are teaching what they are supposed to be teaching. No longer can the Year 6 teacher be expected to pull it out of the bag as has happened in some schools in the past.
Grammar should be taught in context with a high quality text.
Model your writing so that it includes everything that is needed (use the interim teacher assessment frameworks as your guide), even to greater depth. Don’t make a simpler text. All children are expected to be at least at the expected standard.
Don’t differentiate texts. They all have to take the test at the end of May.
Writing – find out what the kids like and aim grammar and writing through that so they are engaged. Use videos from the literacy shed to engage and develop their writing. Use hard texts with complicated sentences to show them how they should be used for effect. Practice sentence games, for examples, the ones in Pie Corbett’s Jump… series of books.
Write every day.
Progress for all children is more important now than ever before for teachers and schools. Schools are being judged more on progress that children make so every child counts. Use the primary accountability document and @jpembroke’s value added calculator (http://bit.ly/gazneedle1) to know exactly what each child is expected to attain.
Your class time table should stay as similar as possible. You need to get the English and maths into other areas of the curriculum. Use the other areas to stimulate the children. Get grammar into art!
TESTS, THE RUN UP AND SATs WEEK
When planning to do practice tests, block out a week at a time, like a SATs week. Always complete them in the in the mornings when children are at their most alert.
Always complete a test before Christmas so the children don’t feel over faced with taking a test. Mark the maths test and SPaG together with the children so they can see how it should be answered. Complete a test at the end of the half-term after Christmas and, again, mark with the children. Complete 1 or 2 tests in the half-term before Easter depending on the length. Complete the final practice test 2 weeks before the SATs. In the 4 day week before SATS (which is always a bank holiday Monday week) just do revision on the topics that your class have found the trickiest to remember.
Use the carrot of ‘summer is going to be great’. Keep your class on board. Make sure you build in breaks in English/Maths and try to keep some ‘creative’ subjects. The children need to have that down time for the maths and English to embed.
Make tests as comfortable as normal for the kids. Do the tests in the classes they are normally in. Don’t decamp to the hall.
Application for extra time in SATs opens on 23rd January. Make sure you fill in the application form correctly.
In some schools, teachers (not TAs) come off time table for SATs so that kids feel comfortable with them. The classroom is divided into quarters and teachers are assigned tables so children know which teacher will read to them and don’t have to wait for a long time before anyone gets to them. This is to reduce their anxiety.
Do something off topic in SATs afternoon so your class can relax. Don’t cram in the afternoon. Try cricket, PE, art or any ‘fun’ activities to keep the mood light and to remind your class that school can be fun.
Give your class a flapjack and some juice in the morning during SATs week when they come in so to relax them.
Repeatedly tell your class to just do their best. They have nothing to worry about at all.
Do not, under any circumstances, pass on any anxiety that the staff may have to the children.
Test technique is imperative to teach to the children. Show them explicitly how to answer specific types of questions; find and copy one word; you can turn the paper for geometry questions; make sure pages are not stuck together; watch the clock; check and check and check your work again. There is no place for someone sat idle in a test.
If children are taking five minutes on any question, leave it. Move on to the next question and come back to it if you have time
Focus on the easy questions and easy texts first.
I asked each teacher, if they had some top tips for teachers new to Year 6, what would they be?
- Gather evidence from writing early
- Keep children focused and motivated in light of the end of Key Stage expectations
- Get the balance right
- Don’t presume things that have been learnt are still understood
- Teach them test technique
- Make tests as comfortable as possible for children
- Pitch work as high as possible – higher than your highest children and pull others up
- Find out what the children can’t do and plug the gaps
- Write every day
- Expect the highest standards in their work
- Continue to teach PE and art. Kids love it.
- Don’t be alone. Speak to other teachers and SLT.
- Be honest: with SLT and parents so there are no surprises.
- Routines are key. Get them right at the beginning of the year and use them throughout
After reflecting on this conversation with some great teachers, I think that many of these principles can be applied across the school. High expectations, writing every day, not presuming previous learning is still understood and developing good routines are not just for Year 6. These, and many more of the key ideas from this conversation, can be, and SHOULD be, used throughout school.
To finish, I would like to borrow a metaphor from @moonmaddy she said that Year 6 teachers should be lighting the candle on the cake. To explain further: EYFS should be making a list of ingredients and going to the shop to buy them, KS1 should be mixing the ingredients and baking them, KS2 should be taking it out of the oven and placing the icing and sprinkles on top of the cake and Year 6 teachers should be lighting the candle on top. Without the support of the whole school, Year 6 teachers cannot light the candle.
If you find yourself in the position of being thrust into Year 6, good luck and my final piece of advice would be ask questions, of yourself, of your staff and of the children. And if you need any help, just ask…