Getting your class ready for SATs

It is that time of year again when SATs are looming like dark clouds on the horizon. Panicked by SLT, many teachers increase their workload to impossible standards in the name of getting the children ready. But what is the best way of keeping your cool, your workload down and your classroom productive?

1.      Use assessment to your advantage

The beginning of March is the perfect time to set a mock SATs paper. It will allow you to determine whether the children can answer the questions in the time frame, which questions children are struggling with and give you time to reflect on which concepts need more thorough delivery.

Instead of marking each paper one at a time, mark only one question at a time. This will save you time in the long run, and give you the opportunity to see which questions children are struggling to answer. Make notes as you mark so that you are able to set up interventions immediately without going through each paper again.

Give the children a maximum of three targets each week. Use coloured highlighters (green, orange, pink) to show how close or far away they are to achieving that target. This will also mean that progress working on each skill/ concept can be monitored.

2.      Choose your methods wisely

We wouldn’t normally teach using teacher led methods the majority of the time, but I have seen many a teacher, both in secondary and primary, who spends weeks and even months using old exam papers. It is repetitive and boring, and probably the fastest way to turn off your children’s enthusiasm for learning.

Think about what it is that you want to teach them. Exam preparation is essential, especially things like time management, but that doesn’t have to be all you teach. If you know that your class struggle with a specific skill, then take the time to think about how it could be made more enjoyable. Although this sounds like you have to do more work, learning a skill in context is far more likely to develop a deeper understanding about texts. For example, if you want to revise tense, then travel back in time. Have the children use modal verbs as they write to friends and relatives in the present day. Let them explore the progressive form of verbs in a new environment. But if all else fails, and you have been told to take this approach, then think about whether the children making their own interactive notebooks will bring a spark of life back into your grammar teaching. Sign up for our monthly newsletter to get free interactive notebook resources in the month of April.

3.      Set aside some time for yourself

By no way was I a pro at this, especially in my first years of teaching. I was determined to be the best I could be, which meant long working days, marking that was probably too detailed, and little to no time for my family. It was only when I got married (note- not when I was in the relationship beforehand) that I made the decision to cut down my workload. It didn’t mean I was doing less than I should have- it was the old adage of working smarter.

If it was possible for the children to mark work, I would do it. In the end, I only ever let them mark reading papers in which all of the questions were based on one skill. This meant I took in scores and colour coded them on how well the children could apply their knowledge, which took far less time than marking each one individually. I never went down the line of allowing children to mark their own maths and writing work other than set times when we created the success criteria together before peer marking because children were very good at missing out vital information I would spot. However, if you have trained your class well, then it is possible to cut down your own marking by using peer and self- marking instead.

I would book spa days a few weeks in advance. The thought of heated outdoor pools, saunas, facials and steam rooms kept me going through cold winter months where I would go to work in the dark and leave in the dark. It doesn’t have to cost money though- arrange a cake decorating competition with your own children or have a duvet and film day. Setting aside time for yourself will help to ensure that you don’t get burned out before half of the year has passed.

4.      Remember that all children have the chance to do well- not just the middle ability

Before the introduction of the new curriculum, I was working as a Head of English in a secondary school. We were always talking about the C/D borderline group, which actually encompassed children who were working at grades as low as E that were expected to be working at a C grade. All of the interventions were focused on this group. I did morning coaching sessions, afternoon workshops, holiday boosters. But what really got to me was that because of a lack of resources, ALL children weren’t targeted.

This did not only happen in the school in which I was department lead. In fact, it was worse in other schools. In primary, I did get to work with a ‘high ability’ group, but it was because management thought that some of those children might not get the expected level

Sometimes schools get round this by having more able children tutor less able children, but there is little evidence this does anything for those children acting as tutors. There is more evidence that those children likely to be above expected standards get there by working with their peers. So what does that mean in a class situation?

Using Blooms’ questioning is a great place to start. I have foam dice with questions on them, which the children love to use. They read a text and then use the dice to create a range of questions and answers. These could then be used with other groups without you having to do any extra work!

I am a private tutor, and although I have a range of age groups and abilities, one common thread is that if the children don’t have the basics then they struggle to put anything else in place. One of my students didn’t know her basic number bonds, which meant that when she completed column method addition, she spent ages working out each answer. Once we sorted out that difficulty, all of her at-level work was done at a decent speed and was much more accurate

Figure out whether there are basic skills missing, even if that means you have to teach concepts that should already be known. That way everyone in your class can benefit, not just one particular group.

5.      Children suffer from stress too

We all know the effects of stress- sleepless nights, irritability, being emotional…But we don’t always think about how the stress of the upcoming assessments affects the children.

I have a friend whose daughter is in Year 6. She was told that her handwriting would hold her back from gaining ‘above expected standards’, and whilst this may be a valid point, it caused this 10-year-old to suffer from sleepless nights, too worried to even tell her parents.

We may have SLT on our backs, and this all too often can make us quick to anger or snap at the children, but remember that your lack of stress management will be felt by the whole class. I have worked for several head teachers now, and I believe the ones best at their jobs are the ones who manage to keep their worries from the class teachers. Make that your mantra in class. This way, not only are you modelling to the class how to deal with aspects of stress, you will be lowering your own too!

About the author: Now an English consultant, Jill formerly worked as both a secondary Head of English and a primary teacher.

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