For those of us teaching the early years, making sure that our students enter the upper grades of Primary School with the required reading skills to achieve well is a top priority. It is easy to fall into the trap of starting on a sequence of teaching, working our way through the content without a clear idea of when we will hit which points in learning. We know that we want to get through it all by the end of the school year, but may not set targets for where we will be at the end of each half term or term. It is important to be very clear about what you want your students to learn and how you are going to get there.
Setting Targets gives you a sense of urgency. It makes you focus on what is really important and become more willing to let go of the things that aren’t going to get your students to the goal. Once you have a target in place you don’t want to waste a single minute of your day. There are no ‘fun Fridays’ or ‘easy days’ just because you are a little tired. As Leonardo and Kate said in Titanic – make each day count.
Having a time frame to get your students to where they need to be brings a greater emphasis on ‘bang for your buck’ pedagogy. When you have 10 weeks to teach 20 graphemes that children can recognise with automaticity, you can’t mess around with self-directed or inquiry learning where children ‘come to the learning’ in their own time and way. Explicit instruction is absolutely necessary to build those strong foundations. You also can’t chop and change your approach willy nilly. While you do need to adjust your teaching as you go along in response to what your data is telling you, this is more of a ‘course correction’ rather than a ‘oooh, look at that cute phonics station setup’.
When you have targets to achieve you become much more aware of each student’s progress and monitor learning more regularly. In my current classroom, we engage in formative assessment with each child one on one for phonics once per week. It is so easy to let our impressions of what is happening guide our decisions. Once children need to respond on their own you can see which students are leading whole group responses and which students are being carried by those around them.
Setting targets and monitoring progress closely and regularly allows you to provide extra support to the children who may become your ‘spotlight’ children. Monitoring closely and adjusting your approach allows you to help them keep up and not have to be caught up later. This extra support can take the form of targeted homework, extra practice in whatever available moments there are in the day or time out with a support staff member. As a general rule, when 80% of your students have learned 80% of the content, it is time to move on. You need to the know who the 20% are who will need some tier 2 support to keep them on track.
Of course, there are some cautions with this kind of targeted approach
- Remember that you are first and foremost teaching children. I am a firm believer that a data driven approach IS a child centred approach, but this is just one aspect of the child. Their little spirits must always be respected and supported in all learning.
- The pace of learning needs to account for the fact that children need time to process new learning. You can’t introduce something new every day and except that children will cope with this. Teach then practice, teach then practice for everything.
- Some children need more practice and review than others. Build time into your day and program for these children to get what they need.
- Share targets and upcoming content with children and families. Create a sense of team by actively discussing goals and encouraging participation with inclusive language such as ‘We are team of learners. We need EVERYONE joining in’.
- Full participation is necessary for the whole group to move on together. Behaviour management is extremely important to creating a high performing classroom.
Making the shift from ‘strategy’ to ‘strategy with targets’ will mean that you and your students can focus on learning goals with purpose and a clear direction. No matter the context of your school you can create a learning environment where everybody grows and achieves. This might not be easy, but your road will be smoother when you have clear targets for learning.
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