Lessons learnt from Early Years on how to engage parents with their children’s learning
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by Essex Research School at Lyons Hall Primary
Gabrielle Deed, Director of Essex Research School, reflects on practical ways her school uses the ‘Recognise, Reveal and Respond’ process when designing pre-assessments to inform teaching for a new science unit.
I’ll never forget listening to John Hattie at a ‘Visible Learning Conference’ where he was discussing the statement ‘Children already know 40% of what we teach them’. This is a nagging doubt for teachers when planning a new topic, particularly when not all children have the same prior-knowledge and experiences. As such, it is vital that pre-assessments are used to identify what each child knows as well as any misconceptions (often acquired through personal experiences) which could be a barrier to learning. Data from effective pre-assessment can serve as a roadmap for teachers to adjust lessons, ensuring a more personalised learning experience for their class.
The ‘Recognise, Reveal and Respond’ process outlined in the new ‘Improving Primary Science’ Guidance Report is an excellent scaffold for teachers to use to assess and respond to children’s prior learning and misconceptions.
At Lyons Hall Primary School, we have a carefully mapped-out science curriculum with clear progression in knowledge and skills. Opportunities are intentionally planned for children to revisit learning to promote retention of key knowledge. Medium-term plans contain prior knowledge and the new learning that children should have in each year group, as well as common misconceptions. This ensures teachers know what they need to assess in pre-assessment activities.
A variety of science pre-assessment activities are used to elicit the children’s scientific knowledge. Some are deliberately designed to encourage children to articulate their understanding of scientific concepts such as:
- Structured collaborative discussions: ABC (agree with, build on or challenge); responding to ‘Concept Cartoons’ or ‘Odd One Out’ scenarios. Children who are initially unsure, often find their ideas are confirmed by their peers and can then build on what has been said. Teachers can gain valuable insights by stepping back, observing and listening, focusing on what is being said and the vocabulary that is being used. Further diagnostic questions can be asked to encourage the children to explain and justify their thinking, and identify possible misconceptions.
- Sorting activities: completed with pictures, objects, statements and vocabulary. The teacher can listen to the justifications that the children are giving each other and ask them to give explanations. An ‘open sort’ is particularly valuable as children can only sort according to what they already know.
A sort can be ‘closed’ if appropriate. For example, when assessing understanding of key scientific vocabulary, we often ask the children to work collaboratively to sort words onto a ‘Fried Egg’ model (based on Senninger’s ‘Comfort, Stretch and Panic’ model). The words they feel confident to explain are put into the ‘yolk’, words they have heard before but are not confident to explain are put in the ‘wobbly white’, and words they have never heard before are put on the ‘crispy edge’. This helps to identify any vocabulary that needs to be explicitly taught.
The insight gained from these pre-assessments makes it easier to adapt science planning. Well-designed tasks for all pupils support smoother learning progression by focusing on areas children need most support in. If the whole class is missing expected prior knowledge, teachers will plan additional lessons to close the gaps. If it is only a smaller group or an individual who is missing expected prior knowledge, teachers often use pre-teaching so the children can access the main lesson with confidence. Sometimes children just need a recap of previously taught concepts, so these are planned into the ‘Do Now’ part of the lesson.
Sharing feedback from pre-assessments with the children and why they are revisiting certain learning points can boost their confidence and enhance a supportive learning culture. Children know their prior knowledge has been acknowledged and that they will be given the support they need.
By using effective pre-assessments, teachers plot their roadmap to direct and move learning forwards. Check out recommendation 5 of the new guidance report [linked here] for scenarios and ideas to use in school.
Bethune, A. (2018). Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. Bloomsbury Education, London
Education Endowment Foundation (2023) Improving Primary Science Guidance Report, London: Education Endowment Foundation
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge, New York
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