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16 June 2021
By Zoe Enser

Introducing Year 7s to Secondary English - Making Transition Work

It is likely that at this time of the year there are many different transition activities already planned and well underway. Last year, with Covid restrictions still largely in place at the end the final term, face-to-face transition activities were not always possible, and some Year 6 students were still in and out of isolation. This really highlighted the benefits these sessions can bring in preparing primary students for the world of secondary. Some of the conversations I have had over the year with English teachers expressed their concerns around how their Year 7’s seemed ‘a bit lost’, ‘quite young and unsure of themselves’. In addition, some didn’t have the same secure knowledge arriving with them, having had a fragmented learning experience over the previous year.

Obviously, that was an exceptional time, and something we hope will never be repeated. Many of the reasons behind those observations from teachers were certainly relating to a myriad of difficulties all our students had experienced. However, whilst lots of normality has now returned to the lives of our students, and to our own, there is still real value in considering how we can best support students to make the step up when arriving at secondary school and ensure that as much learning time as possible is utilized.

Here are some of my suggestions for doing that.

1. Good Quality Diagnostics

I am not talking about reams of written assessments and SAT style tests here. I am talking about gathering information as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to ensure that you are able to address the needs of the individuals as far as possible.

This process can begin well before those students arrive in your classrooms, and good lines of communication with primary feeder schools, to both inform you about what they have covered in their curriculum, and any specific concerns, will have been underway for quite some time. Knowing before they arrive which students may need continuing interventions in things like decoding, supported by a good phonics programme, means you can start planning for that.

Equally, quick reading tests, whilst they won’t tell you what interventions might be needed, will tell you which students might need further diagnostics, using one of the many assessment tools designed for this. We need to aim to get those students up to speed as quickly as possible or they are going to continue to struggle throughout their secondary education.

However, it is not just those who might have the lowest starting points, but those who are still yet to acquire fluency in things like reading and writing, and that is something which will take more time to identify. The same is true for assessing what learning has stuck and what may have eroded and needs to be revisited. Good formative assessment practices in the classroom, where you really get to understand your students’ strengths and weaknesses, will continue to be invaluable.

2. Choosing the Best Scaffolds

Whilst you are getting to know your students and what areas they need more support in, we need to carefully consider the scaffolds we use. Just as we scaffold Year 7 pastorally as they learn to navigate the world of secondary, we need to put things in place to support them as they learn to navigate the different challenges of the secondary English classroom.

One of the simplest ways to do this is through whole class reading. Until we know where those struggling students are, and exactly what they can and can’t do, we need to take the lead for them when it comes to reading. There will be some who are keen to read aloud in class and I would not want to deter them, but we need to ensure we are giving equal access to the fluency and accuracy of reading which comes from teachers modelling reading. Some of these texts may be more challenging than those they have encountered before, and if we want to get them to engage with the more complex ideas and language, we need to hold them up a little. Meanwhile we can deal with those struggling readers to try to get them up to speed separately.

The same is true with writing and, whilst we are often keen to see what students can do independently and again don’t want to stifle those wanting to fly, we need to proceed with caution in those early days. Modelling and talking through the processes in detail, plus providing prompts and scaffolds for writing tasks, will allow us to get to know our students, as they make progress and continue to engage with the curriculum.

3. Developing an Effective Curriculum

Having a consistent curriculum across classes can be useful to review the work of students together when you are in the diagnostic phase. If it is a curriculum which is really well designed and closely focuses on the knowledge you know your students are going to need to be really successful in secondary English, then you can use simple principles of spaced practice, interleaving and retrieval to ensure that they have this knowledge well embedded as they move forward.

Having a coherent and carefully sequenced curriculum will also support student progress, with assessments linked closely to this, enabling us to identify in a granular way exactly what students do and don’t know and what they can and can’t do.

Finally, we need to remember that transition is not a quick process. We want students to hit the ground running, but we also need to be aware that they are going to need a bit of a hand along the way. Some students will move into secondary school seamlessly, some will take weeks, others still will seem to have made the move easily but will stumble later. If we have thought really carefully about those first few days and weeks and gathered as much information as possible about those students, giving them a helping hand, we should find that it won’t be long before they are completely up to speed.

Zoe Enser is the Specialist Adviser for English with The Education People and an Evidence Lead in Education with the EEF working across Kent.

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