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Establishing your starting point, supporting staff and working with home are the keys to effective implementation, as Daniel Saturley explains…
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How can practitioners support children by catering for their individual next steps? Is there an effective way of understanding what children need to do next to move forwards in their learning that can be used during a child-initiated learning?
Over the past two years, practitioners in my department have become skilled at utilising objective-led planning with nursery and Reception children – and this is how we’ve achieved successful results…
Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m teaching grandma to suck eggs, but how will you know what children need to do next in their learning without first understanding what they can already do? It’s important to develop this understanding for children as individuals using a number of methods.
You might draw upon formal assessments carried out to support a taught strategy, like phonics teaching – or baseline assessments, which are routinely carried out at the beginning of the year.
You might also receive useful information from the child’s family. Most importantly, though, understanding should come from practitioners carrying out skilful observations of what children can do independently.
It’s vital that skilled practitioners develop a secure understanding of what a particular child should work to achieve, or overcome, as a next step that can be planned for appropriately.
Once you know what children can currently do you can start planning for the next steps in their learning. This is a difficult process, but is far easier if staff members have the confidence to trust their judgement. This requires support from senior leaders and colleagues, and effective CPD.
The best CPD isn’t always about going on training events, as this takes staff out of the classroom and costs money! Instead, planned and purposeful CPD should be developed by senior leaders to follow the needs and actions of the school by developing the skill set of staff.
At my current school we’re lucky to have exceptional teaching assistants who go out of their way to take on new initiatives.
As a result we’ve been able to work together, largely after school hours, in team meetings to hash out ideas and discuss what works, and what doesn’t, whilst considering the appropriateness of next steps as a professional group.
This seems to help give staff the confidence to take action and show initiative in the development of next steps and implementation.
Only once you understand children’s individual next steps are you able to start planning ways to encourage them to achieve them. The most purposeful way I’ve found to do this is known as ‘objective-led planning’, which is as simple as the name suggests.
Our approach involves a planning grid that details five or six specific next steps, informed by recent observations, and all children are assigned an objective to work towards based upon their age and stage of development.
So, you may pick up on an overall trend, eg communication and language skills, and break this down to three clear objectives that are differentiated for the three groups of children.
This allows staff to quickly see that some children should work to speak in clear sentences, and others should link two sentences together using the word ‘and’, whilst the final group are encouraged to add intonation and expression to their ideas.
These skills could then be followed by staff as they work with individual children.
The idea is that this forms a useful and simple addition to the planning process that a teacher can create for colleagues. It means children’s objectives are easily accessible and can be targeted whilst staff are carrying out their regular daily duties.
You can also set aside allocated time for your team to follow objective-led plans in order to highlight the specific needs of children to teaching assistants.
On our format we provide open-ended question prompts and ideas for staff to follow whilst working alongside children. This gives them an idea of how they could sustain interactions and weave the objective into the activity explored with the child.
This is important because this method requires staff to integrate and play with children during their independent ‘continued learning time’.
The process involves working alongside children whilst attempting to guide their learning through the process of sustained shared thinking, which centres around two or more people working to solve a problem in an intellectual way.
In doing so, children explore their own child-initiated learning whilst being guided to achieve the objectives set out.
For example, you might decide that a child needs to improve their understanding of the order of numbers zero to 10. So, this is written down on an objective-led plan, which can be followed by the team.
During the morning a teaching assistant could then be planned to ‘follow up on objective-led plans’, which draws their attention to a child playing in the mud kitchen.
The staff member would be able to quickly identify the next step for that particular child, and work alongside them to guide their learning towards the objective. This might involve drawing numbers between zero and 10 in the mud or ordering number tiles/stones.
This approach is useful because it can be utilised to develop an objective in any learning area. We often utilise objective-led planning to cater for the speech and language needs of specific children by following objectives related to communication and language.
It’s also useful for developing the Characteristics of Effective Learning because it allows practitioners to home in on elements of a learning style that would benefit from being developed.
Objective-led planning also fulfils the requirements of senior leaders by adding another dimension to the planning and monitoring cycle.
It allows you to quickly show evidence for the work that has been done with children and it is an effective way to improve the progress of formidable learners.
It also doubles up as a working document that can be filed away and brought out to show other professionals, or external agencies, who may wish to see the provision and practice in place for specific children.
Objective-led planning works best when practitioners sustain a strong relationship with parents and carers because this allows children to be supported at home.
At my school we ask colleagues to carry out learning observations during, or soon after, an adult interacts with a child and follows the ‘objective-led planning’.
We prefer this to be carried out using our online parents share system because it allows us to evidence the work we have done with children, in order to meet the objective specified, whilst passing information to busy families.
An example of this was an activity I undertook recently with a reluctant speaker. I worked with this child to talk with a friend using new sentence openings.
I carried out an observation and encouraged her family to provide similar sentence starters for her at home. By doing this, parents are better able to understand the stage their child is working at and follow up our suggestions to support them.
Again, for this approach to be effective, it’s important to have staff who feel confident when using their professional knowledge to provide next steps which can be actioned in the home.
However, provided you support your team via appropriate CPD they will enjoy feeling valued and involved in the observation and next step system whilst developing the parent partnership process for the good of learners.
Spend some time looking closely at the stepping stones your children need to work on in order to move further along their learning and development journey.
If you plan carefully for these and allocate time for yourself and others to follow them up in and out of doors, I think you will be surprised by how far the children progress in a short amount of time.
This is particularly true of the Characteristics of Effective Learning and Communication and Language, which I feel are most usefully developed via this planning approach – it allows children to be taught things without them even noticing via the process of sustained shared thinking with others.
Daniel Saturley is EYFS lead at St John the Evangelist C of E Primary School, Oxon.
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