Top Ten Transition Tasks
As with any aspect of teaching and learning, the number of things we can put into place are endless, however I'm going to share here by top 10 tasks for curricular transition between KS2 and KS3. Let me know if you use any of them already or if you implement them, and how it goes!
1. Develop a transition project between schools.
Of course this task comes in at the top of my list - not that I intentionally ordered them - because it is perhaps the chief thing schools already do in terms of curricular transition. Host a meeting between key staff in primary and secondary clusters and decide on what works for you. In the past, I've worked with 3 primary schools, all of which have been able to commit to different inputs; we were able to agree on a select set of non-negotiables so that the project would fit around the differing demands of each school. For us, this meant that each primary school would read 'The Giant's Necklace' by Michael Morpurgo; would allow a KS3 teacher to come and teach each Y6 class in term 6; and would provide a 'Pride Piece' of writing for each pupil to the secondary school.
Input from me and the secondary school included - of course - delivering KS3 style lessons to Y6 in term 6, as well as the delivery of the first unit of Y7 which continued with an author study of Michael Morpurgo under the theme of 'Innocence and Experience' (the thematic title under which the primary schools able to commit more time to the project worked in term 6). Additionally, 'Pride Pieces' were stuck into the front of English exercise books at the beginning of the year and used to set and maintain standards of writing for each individual child.
2. Moderate student work and SoLs across phases.
Even if you can only make this happen remotely (share exemplar work and mark schemes from years 5-8 - assess and make notes independently - review via email or web chat) it is SO worth doing. It ought to go without saying that anything which helps to gain a better understanding of teaching and learning in the phase which directly precedes or follows the one you teach in is going to be of benefit.
Admittedly, the first time I shared student work in a forum like this, I was worried. Reading the lengthier pieces of writing from students working at greater depth in Y6 was almost enough to make my cheeks flush with shame - they were immaculate, accurate, more engaging than a lot of KS4 work I've seen. However, it was in these meetings that my confidence was really boosted by teachers of Y5 and 6 who were able to point out how well students were doing in areas I was taking for granted.
Perhaps the most interesting insight that was reinforced by these meetings was that whilst KS2 seems to have a more clear focus on skills, KS3 seemed to be more based on content. Of course this may well be completely different in every other group of schools, but in my then position as KS3 Lead for English, I realised that we needed to adapt the curriculum so that there was an explicit recognition of the many skills students had gained by the end of their primary education, and an explicit expectation that they continued to use and develop those, as well as learning the content we taught in KS3. Oddly, KS4 always seemed to go back to a skills focus and I do wonder if this is why so many secondary English teachers find themselves lamenting that Y10 students have given up using capital letters, commas and full stops accurately, when Y6 students visit on Transition Day and are able to use the full range of punctuation to create specific effects.
3. Introduce cross-phase enrichment and intervention programmes.
Paired reading between Y5 and Y7. Y9 directing key scenes from a Y6 play. KS3 teaching KS2 something they have been studying.
If you know me in practically any capacity, I've probably chewed your ears off about Rising Stars, but that needs at least one blog of its own!
4. Teach a lesson in a different phase.
Whether as a part of your transition unit or not, teach elsewhere. I'd made arrangements in my previous post for Y6 teachers to come and teach Y7 classes in early October, followed by a paired look through students' work. As a follow on from having KS3 teachers teach Y6 in the Summer term, this seemed like the obvious other piece in the puzzle.
Not only does this again offer a brilliant insight into how our teaching styles and planning structures compare, and therefore how we can further bridge the gap between primary and secondary teaching of English, but it also makes for some very interesting self evaluation.
5. Jointly plan.
In a dream world, I imagine that Y6 and Y7 teachers would jointly plan units of work across those two years. I imagine that Y7 would become a 'transition year', successfully bridging learning between these two core phases of education. I imagine that there would be shared approaches to teaching that combined the best of both worlds.
Picture this: a Y6 curriculum that starts off clearly following on from on Y5, and steadily builds towards the changing expectations of Y7 - not just for a week, not even just for a term, but steadily and surely throughout the year. Conversely, picture Y6 students entering Y7 after the summer holidays: they are overwhelmed by the new setting and new systems, but when they settle into their English lessons, they recognise the language their teacher is using, they recognise the way they are expected to lay out their work, they recognise the structure and content of the lessons. KS3 doesn't have to be a rush. We have 3 glorious years to prepare students for GCSE study, so we don't need them to be au fait with AOs or exam style questions until then.
6. Create a map of new learning across all phases.
As a secondary practitioner, how do you know what your students ought to know in advance of coming to you? Do you need to teach them how to use commas? Do they need a lesson dedicated to starting sentences with adjectives? Do they know how to select quotations from a text and embed them into their writing?
A lot of primary schools have very clear maps of new learning introduced in each year group. For examples, comma usage tends to be taught in year 3, so by year 7, it should be expected that students can use commas accurately, although some students might need to revise explicit rules.
In secondary English, do you know what learning is new? Do you know what is embedded? Do you know what will need revision? In my experience the answer to this is no. It's not an easy answer to change, either. Whilst this may seem like one of the simplest tasks to complete, I suspect it would take a whole lot of discussion and picking part of the KS3 curriculum and outcomes to get the basics down. As a starting point, comparing features of prose is one of the things that came out as needing more focus in secondary school, along with the more complex reading skills that are more of the bread-and-butter of secondary English teaching.
7. Make a standardisation folder across phases.
Ever asked yourself any of these questions? How can I further challenge this Y6 student working at greater depth? This Y8 student can't write in sentences - how do you teach that explicitly and what else might they struggle with? If this student's work looks like this now, how can we expect that to correlate with their GCSE grade?
I strongly suggest developing a cross-phase standardisation folder. Include in it work that is at the expected standard, working towards the expected standard, and above the expected standard, for every year group. If you can find-tune it more than this, that's great, but this will go a long way in supporting staff to support students needs better. Build up the bank of work to include reading responses, speaking and listening, non-fiction and fiction writing.
Whenever you find yourself looking at a student's work and wondering how to tackle a problem that is not normally in your remit, the standardisation folder will be the perfect place to find out where to start.
8. Invite staff from a different phase to complete self-evaluation activities.
In the previous multi-academy trust that I worked in, I invited the primary Literacy Lead (a longstanding Y2 teacher) to join me on a learning walk, in a book-look, and to lead some student voice activities with year 7. This was done in the first half of the year and was of course, largely in order to focus on curricular transition. As with the other joint activities I've suggested, this made for a very interesting experience as we inherently had different focuses.
In particular, some of the questions my colleague asked lower and higher attaining groups of Y7 were revealing: lower attaining students were enjoying English more than they had in Y6 as they felt that content was more important than explicit teaching of skills; higher attaining students felt frustrated that there were so many things they new and wanted to show off, but they weren't being explicitly asked to use them. Also, lower attaining students found peer assessment a really positive experience as it felt like a middle ground between working alone and showing their work to a teacher, so the process gave them confidence; higher attaining students felt that peer assessment was useless and they only really respected feedback that was coming from a teacher. Suddenly, my work on peer assessment structures shifted from providing the right structures to make the feedback meaningful in my eyes, to emphasising the benefits of peer feedback to the students to make it more meaningful in their eyes.
9. Agree on a shared language for learning.
If students in Y6 are really good at using a 'polishing pen' to improve and edit their work, but then struggle to meaningfully respond to DIRT tasks or green pen feedback, call it the same thing.
If students in Y6 know that a 'WOW word' is an impressive piece of vocabulary that is used to improve the quality of their writing, but in Y7 they don't seem to know what is meant by 'using a variety of appropriate and interesting vocabulary', call them the same thing.
If students in year 6 are able to select a phrase from a text that supports an idea they have about that piece of writing, but then in Y7 they look dumbfounded when asked to 'select a quotation' or 'find a piece of evidence', call them the same thing.
10. Have a centralised system for organising transition events.
If you've ever tried to organise an in-school event with KS2 and KS3 that involves more than two schools, without a centralised system, you'll know how ridiculously frustrating this can be!
I've organised events before by having to: email all schools invited to ask for feedback on suggested dates, terms, days and times; deiced on a time and date; submit a request for the activity to be approved by my SLT; confirm date and time to other schools; wait for other schools to submit separate requests to each of their SLTs; wait for confirmation from each school; start again if one or more schools cannot commit to the date and time decided.
If you're in a MAT, it should be easy to submit one request that involves all schools and is discussed in a higher-level meeting.