“Nothing will work unless you do”

Screenshot_20190221-001741~2In the summer, perhaps forgotten by most teachers now as they drag themselves through the cold mornings and darker evenings, our national football team – The Three Lions – won a penalty shootout. In all major tournaments they had a penalty win percentage of 14%. The secret to breaking the curse: simple really –practice.

Of course, the KS2 SATs Maths test, doesn’t end with the Jules Rimet however to develop a positive and successful approach to this test we need to invest in practice – involve ourselves in repeated or as Anders and Ericsson in their paper The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance call ‘deliberate practice’  this is particular true of the arithmetic paper of which accounts for 36% of the total marks and is a test on the fundamentals – routine procedures like,  column addition / subtraction and of course everybody’s favourite long division.

Long before the summer of 2018 arrived, our yr6 were, like the England team, involved in practice –  a daily slot from 8.45am to 9.15am. No magic formula,  just dedicated time for the fundamentals- arithmetic skills practiced properly with immediate feedback.

The premise of this blog is to unpick why we spent our time doing this, what the research tells us about the roles and types of practice, the outcomes of engaging with it and most importantly takeaways for your very own classroom.

One of the most famous basketball coaches of all time John Wooden “The wizard of Westwood” (It would definitely be worth looking this guy up and his believes about practice) believed that ‘Nothing helped players / students learn principles more surely than through actually performing and repeating them’ (John Wooden) . For a while, a post millennial fad, we saw buzzwords like marginal gains pedalled, most prominently by Dave Brasiford – the Team Sky mastermind. If we remove the nebulous name we are left with practice, the deconstruction and application of the fundamentals. Bradley Wiggins later eluded to marginal gains being a buzzword for getting the basics right.

If we look at what cognitive science tells us, it leads us one step closer to daily arithmetic practice cementing its place in your classroom. Now the premise of this blog isn’t to unpick the cognitive science of how we remember however of we look at the very basics of how we process, remember and retrieve we will see how deliberate practice firmly embeds itself on the podium of pedagogy.

Learning involves the transfer from working memory to long term memory. Our working memory has limited capacity and importantly duration, therefore when we are carrying out complex tasks,  working memory may have to juggle several tasks at the same time. This is where it is helpful to have engaged with deliberate practice and have built automaticity with the fundamentals. So we can free up more working memory.

There are lots of brilliant blogs out there detailing the types of practice. These are my highlights: https://teacherhead.com/2018/09/09/great-teaching-the-power-of-practice/, https://researchschool.org.uk/durrington/blog/making-revision-sessions-count. However, our Year 6 engaged with what Tom Sherrington would call  Skills Practice’ daily practice in the fundamentals  – arithmetic.

So where did I ‘Break things down into practicable stages and give time to repeat it enough’ (https://teacherhead.com/2018/09/09/great-teaching-the-power-of-practice/ (Tom Sherrington, 2018)

I broke the arithmetic paper into a set of daily questions: small chunks of the bigger piece. We practiced daily from 8.45 – 9.15. Pupils received immediate feedback because I helicoptered, landed and addressed misconceptions. This is crucial to making it work as Anders and Ericsson cite ‘The subjects should receive immediate, informative feedback and knowledge of the results of their performance’ . The brilliant Alan Peat ‘I Visualise’ is brilliant for this . You can helicopter and capture moments live: feeding back with working models.

modelling 2

Over the last few weeks, there has been an explosion on Edu twitter of this type of daily maths. Chris Jacques (@MrCJ248), the brilliant @MrBoothYr6 and @PrimaryMrAndrew all sharing quite brilliant examples. @MrboothY6 coined the phrase ‘Fluent Five, which is easy to resource and has the desired impact of engaging in daily practice. Building and supporting fluency.

So grab the domains from the test KS2 test framework. Decide what you are going to deliberately practice and engaging in a cycle of practice and feedback. Engaging in this, will reap the rewards in the KS2 SATs Arithmetic test. It certainly did for us, our KS2 Maths results were significantly above national average.



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