There’s a big difference between learning in a classroom and learning from home. Just ask the millions of students and teachers who have experienced both this year.
It’s highlighted what we know, but what we don’t is not often thought about. Schools exist in the way that they do because classroom environments are where students learn best.
It therefore comes as no surprise that during school shutdowns, some students simply don’t learn as much as they would at school. Sure, remote learning works well for some students, but for many others — primarily disadvantaged students from the poorest 25% of families and often in rural areas — it does not.
Research has found that these disadvantaged students learnt at about 50% of their regular rate during school closures in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT. Meaning about 1 month of learning was lost over a two-month lockdown. The achievement gap also widens at triple the rate in a remote context, compared to a regular class. A significant difference.
Many of these students were already falling behind before the crisis. And in states where lockdowns didn’t happen to the extent of the east of the country, or at all, disadvantaged students are often still behind their more advantaged peers.
It’s a problem that we shouldn’t ignore. The implications will be long lasting and have a real impact on students. After all, the types of opportunities that students will have in the future workforce are directly linked to the competencies they have attained by age 15.
While it’s clear that bringing disadvantaged students up to speed is vitally important, what isn’t so obvious is the ‘how’.
The Grattan Institute recently released a report that explored exactly this.
The document details strategies that can effectively bring disadvantaged students back up to speed along with recommendations for governments and schools to consider to further support these students.
In the report, two high priority initiatives were identified to address COVID related learning losses. These initiatives were given priority based on criteria, including being shown in research to significantly improve student learning, having a record of successful implementation across many schools and ease of implementation.
The report makes particular reference to implementation as a key criteria as it’s often the biggest challenge in education reforms. If an initiative doesn’t actually work in practice, it’s a complete waste of time and money.
With just two initiatives meeting this criteria, we can see just how difficult it can be to find easy to implement, effective solutions to education related challenges.
Let’s take a close look at the two initiatives recommended.
Small group tuition was the first high priority initiative identified. The report recommends Australia launch a six month, $1 billion tutoring blitz to support 1 million disadvantaged school students recover from learning lost during school shutdowns.
Research shows that this approach can increase student achievement quickly, especially for disadvantaged students. And run effectively, the Grattan Institute believes that these sessions could increase learning by five months by the end of the year.
In the UK, four recent evaluations of one-on-one tutoring found the average learning improvement was between three and five months. Slightly larger groups of 2-5 were also shown to be highly effective with benefits similar to one-on-one tutoring.
The report recommends that sessions should be held 3-5 times per week during school hours or before/after school for up to three months, with students attending in small groups of three. In rural environments, online programs have also been effective.
While much of the research around tutoring comes out of the US and the UK, there is a growing body of evidence from Australia that is showing similar results. In one small South Australian literacy program, for example, students in a tutoring program had more learning growth than their peers in standard English classes.
This above average growth is thought to be linked to the one-on-one time that a tutor can spend with each student, working to meet their individual needs and provide regular feedback.
This is something most teachers would love to be able to provide to each of the individuals in their class, but in reality, time makes this really hard.
So how would tutoring programs practically work in the classroom? Well, the Grattan Institute recommends university graduates or former teachers for the job. There are many benefits to this — including those to the economy. But if funding isn’t available to support the initiative, is it possible to achieve?
Small group tuition can be done in the classroom — if you have the right Learning and Teaching model.
In a model like Maths Pathway, small group tuition is achieved by firstly providing teachers with the information that they need to provide small group tutoring, but also to ensure classroom structures are in place to allow teachers to dedicate their time to small groups during a lesson.
The Maths Pathway Learning and Teaching model refers to this practice as ‘targeted explicit teaching’ or ‘mini-lessons’. Before we can explain how they work, you first need to know that the Maths Pathway model is based on a personalised approach to learning. So every student who uses Maths Pathway has completed a diagnostic that identifies their gaps and competencies then the model delivers each student the maths that they are ready to learn.
So when you walk into a Maths Pathway classroom, you might see every student working on a different concept — rather than the whole class working on the same age based content. This is how the right structures are set up in the classroom. With students receiving the content they need from the model, teachers are free to work with students one-on-one, in small groups, or in whole-class activities.
The model also provides teachers with live data on every student — and this is where the mini-lessons come in. Teachers can quickly see which students in their class are working on similar concepts, then use the mini-lesson planner lessons provided to run a mini-lesson. In these sessions, students can explore concepts in even more depth, learning from their peers and discovering different approaches to problem solving.
For teachers, this is another opportunity to work closely with students to see how they are tracking with concepts. (One-on-one time with every student is also built into the model to dive even deeper into individual progress.)
Part of what makes this work so well for teachers is the fact that there isn’t an additional administrative burden on them to collect, analyse and sort data to determine where each student is at, and which students could be grouped together for small group tuition. Having lesson plans for every key concept also helps.
A model like Maths Pathway, is one really effective way to support small group tuition in the classroom — as well as other really effective practices like personalised learning, Rich tasks and professional development.
The second high priority initiative identified is tried and tested literacy and numeracy programs. These programs include a specific teaching technique for skills, like teaching phonics for reading. The program itself packages up the effective technique with structured content, materials and training for teachers.
The Grattan Institute suggests that when done well, these programs can improve learning by up to 6 months over a six month period.
Programs like the ones described are also wanted by teachers too. ‘Differentiated materials and resources’ were the number one instructional support teachers identified in a 2020 national survey to help students catch up after remote learning. This isn’t surprising.
Research shows that there’s an eight year spread of ability in a typical Year 7 classroom. And after the disruptions caused by COVID-19, we can expect these gaps to widen further.
This can be very challenging for teachers to deal with in the classroom. The targeted teaching needed to address this spread of ability requires teachers to have high levels of data literacy, good diagnostic skills and high-quality curriculum materials to help them teach to every student in the classroom.
How can we give teachers all of these resources to address the spread? Are there programs that exist that can help?
How does it work in the classroom?
As mentioned above, the recipe for effective targeted teaching comes down to three key ingredients — data literacy, diagnostics and high-quality curriculum materials.
These seem like three separate skills or resources that need to be individually sourced. Like a good assessment tool, combined with a bank of curriculum materials. But the Maths Pathway model combines all three.
The model doesn’t rely on teachers having to carve out more time to complete diagnostics or analyse data. It provides teachers with the right support, including these three ingredients, to increase their impact in the classroom.
Maths Pathway leverages technology to deliver an advanced diagnostic as well as ongoing formative assessments to provide granular data on each student’s gaps and competencies. The data is delivered to teachers in easy-to-read dashboards with actionable information you can use in the classroom.
By identifying each students’ learning profile — what they have mastered, what they are ready to learn next, and what gaps may exist — Maths Pathway gives students the high quality, curriculum mapped content they are ready to learn which consists of carefully scaffolded learning activities that work to build students’ understanding, fluency, problem solving and reasoning skills. Leaving teachers more time to focus on what matters — teaching their students. And with professional learning embedded in the model, teachers will have access to regular PDs to continue to build their knowledge.
In 2020, more than 3,700 teachers and 67,000 students have used the Maths Pathway model. Our 2020 Impact Report shows that these students learnt 1.26 years of maths in 12 months — almost double the average of 0.65 in a traditional class.
This further shows that students who have fallen behind during the pandemic have the opportunity to cover more content with Maths Pathway, rather than falling further behind.
In fact, students who were using Maths Pathway during school shutdowns have managed to maintain the same growth rate. You can read more about it here.
If you and your Learning Team are wondering what to do about the gaps that have formed in student learning during COVID-19, please reach out to us. Our team can talk you through our model and how it can work at your school. Complete the form below and someone will be in touch. Or use the links below to learn more about how our model works.