Pre-teaching Intervention: looking at another way to help children keep up
by Dan Polak, a primary school teacher from Devon
Recently my school has been involved in a project based around the idea of ‘pre-teaching’. The idea was developed in the belief that pre-teaching new lesson material to specific children could reduce the need for ‘catch-up’ or even ‘keep up’ intervention, normally done after a teaching episode. Some suggest that children may feel more positive about intervention prior to the lesson and therefore, that it may boost their self-esteem. When schools intervene after a lesson, the child has already struggled with a concept and could, potentially, feel deflated when they miss another part of the curriculum to re-visit work they’ve already found difficult.
The idea of pre-teaching is to anticipate these problems and identify the children who may need extra support prior to the lesson. The project was run by Babcock (the organisation that runs school education in Devon), and our advisors gave us this article to read, which chronicles one teacher’s experience of using pre-teaching successfully.
I was initially unsure about how to select these children from my Y6 class. Three children, who have participated on a daily basis throughout the project, were chosen because they often seemed to struggle with working independently. I also told the whole class some details about the project and invited them to join those pre-teaching sessions they thought would help them access the following lesson’s content.
While my class go outside for ten minutes before break to do a daily physical activity (DPA) with my teaching assistant, I invite my project children to stay with me to discuss the maths lesson, which takes place after break (we move their DPA slot to the afternoon). I usually tell the class what I plan to do in my pre-teach session and normally have two or three extra children who choose to join us.
There are many ways to ‘pre-teach’. You can run through a question you’ll ask in the following lesson. You can play a game using the skills that may be needed. You can cover the language that will be useful to their understanding. I normally choose to teach a common misconception, as these children will then be able to help others when they make these familiar mistakes. This has been exceptionally effective in raising the status of these learners, who aren’t usually called on by other children to help them. They are often seen by their peers as having a low status in the classroom, but since the project began, more children are choosing to ask them for help. They know that, as a result of a pre-teaching session, these children are likely to have the keys to unlock a problem.
One of the first times I used pre-teaching was to help guard against the common error of using ‘average’ as word to describe just the mean, and to remind children about how to work out each type of average. The lesson involved a question where I wanted the class to find different averages based on real facts about the Tudor reigns. The resource I used is:
I wanted each child to be able to find the mean, mode and median of these Tudor reigns (including noticing when there is no mode). My project group stayed with me and I started with this on the board:
Can you explain each one?
One child said that he knew the mean was the average and he thought the others might be too, but couldn’t tell me how to work them out. The others couldn’t explain what the words meant at all. We took their ages, (11, 11, 10, 10, 10) and worked out each average with a brief explanation of each one. I felt like ten minutes was a very short time to introduce this whole concept and I had barely covered the very basics by the time the bell had gone and they went to break. I felt like I had talked at them, and not been able to really get to grips with the understanding of averages.
However, when the class came back in after break, I was struck by the confidence of the children I had worked with. Each child from my session was able to confidently tackle another averages question with different numbers, sometimes helping others with their understanding. The pre-taught children had immediately been given an opportunity to broaden their shallow understanding by having to re-phrase it to others. When their peers asked for help, they responded by referring to the pre-teach session but also used these discussions to truly understand what they were trying to explain. One of my weakest mathematicians worked with my strongest and helped! They really helped.
I pulled her aside and asked about how the pre-teach session had helped her access the lesson and she said something illuminating and that I didn’t expect. She said that she usually feels like she spends the first part of a lesson trying to work out how to do something everyone else seems to be able to do. With this lesson, she said: “I feel I have a shortcut.”
At the beginning of the project, my class had taken the sample 2016 KS2 papers. My lowest score was 25 out of 110. After six weeks of this project, I was interested to see whether it was having a significant effect on my class, so we took an edited version, with the numbers changed but the same questions. The whole class had made fantastic progress, which I believe owes a lot to the fact that I have mini-experts in the class each day.
The greatest progress was made by the three project children. They occupied the top three places in the class in terms of how many marks they had gained between tests. That 25 turned into a 68. An extraordinary level of progress, but I wasn’t surprised because that child has turned into a different mathematician. I can see it in how these children behave in lessons. They are valued and confident, something which is typically lacking in a lower achiever’s lesson experience. Another child improved by even more, from 35 to 80. Another went from 42 to 77. On average, they improved by 41 marks. Or 43. As they would tell you, it depends on which average you use.
Page header by Wikimedia Commons (adapted), in the public domain