Ofsted have clearly stated that parental engagement can raise achievement in schools. There is no better avenue for cementing this engagement than through parents’ evenings.
However, in order to fully engage, parents need to be aware of the language used by teachers. Below is your guide to getting through, helping you to become familiar with key terms. The language used in mathematics can be particularly obscure and so we have focused more on this area than others.
LOs (or LIs)
You may have heard teachers referring to this LO and that LO. This acronym represents the ubiquitous Learning Objective. The reason teachers often refer to this is that almost all lessons start with, or at least involve at some stage, a Learning Objective. Some schools use ‘Learning Intentions’ instead of ‘Learning Objectives’ but they are essentially used in the same way.
They give children a clear idea of what they are learning about in that particular lesson. Further instructions can then be viewed through the lense provided by the LO, focusing children’s thoughts on the topic under consideration.
A key aim of the maths national curriculum, this term points to maths being an interconnected subject in which children need to be able to move through different areas with ease. The subject is necessarily broken up into different categories but this should not stop children making connections between them. It should also not stop children making associations between what they are learning in maths to other areas of the curriculum such as the sciences.
Being comfortable with such interconnection is essential for pupils’ current and future enjoyment of mathematics. As a result, teachers encourage such thinking through a variety of questioning and activities in the classroom.
Assessment for learning (Afl)
There would be no good in ploughing ahead through the curriculum without ever checking if your child understood what has already been taught. Consequently, teachers use a variety of assessment methods to gauge children’s understanding of a particular topic. When talking about your child’s work, they may refer to ‘Afl’, which captures all sorts of activities designed to help teachers assess where children are comfortable. Such checking tells teachers if they need to cover topics again or move on quickly to challenge children when required.
Gathering this information allows teachers to make your child’s school experience as fun and engaging as possible.
When looking through your child’s books, you may notice that there are comments from other children. In asking children to ‘mark’ other children’s work, children are more likely to consolidate the key points of the lesson in their own mind. This is a strategy used by many teachers.
Hopefully, you will notice that these comments are mostly positive with systems such as ‘two stars and a wish’ encouraged so that children do not become overloaded with points for improvement.
There has been much talk about the use of bar modelling in the classroom over the past few years. It has been popularised by the Singapore Maths teaching method which supports children in their problem solving. Rather than solving the problem by itself, bar models expose the mathematical structure that is present within a problem. Helping to visualise the problem, it aids children in breaking the problem down into more manageable steps.
There are two major types of bar model.
The part/ whole bar model:
Comparison bar model:
We will have more advice on bar modelling over the next few weeks to get you up to speed. At least you may now have some idea of what it is if mentioned by your child’s teacher!
The national curriculum refers to the broad template of knowledge that schools must use in their teaching. Contained within the curriculum are statutory sections of knowledge that must be taught. For example:
Alongside these sections are notes and guidance labelled as ‘non-statutory’. These sections provide example content, but schools are not required by law to use such examples:
Teachers may point to the national curriculum as justification for why your child is studying particular topics in maths.
Assessing your child’s progress
Until 2014, primary school children were assessed using national curriculum levels. However, these have now been removed and schools are expected to implement their own system for assessing children’s progress.
As a result, there are differences in how schools are assessing progress. Some have stuck with the old national curriculum levels, whilst others have moved towards a system that reflects something like the below indicators:
Working below expected level
Working towards expected level
Working within expected level
Working beyond expected level
Ask your child’s class teacher what system they are using to gauge progress. Once you are aware, you will be even more informed of where your child stands.
Some schools have taken to setting children, particularly in upper Key Stage Two, so that children with similar levels of ‘ability’ are in the same class for maths.
Schools have several reasons for doing this. Arguably, setting children makes it easier for teachers to pitch work appropriately, allowing them to focus on a particular ability level. However, some evidence suggests that setting children at an early stage has very little impact on progress, even for those in the supposedly ‘higher’ grouping.
Either way, it is good to know whether your school is using setting. At the very least, you will then be aware that your child is in a different class surrounded by different children for part of their day.
TAs & LSAs
Teaching Assistants (TAs) or Learning Support Assistants (LSAs) are extra adults that work in classrooms alongside the teacher. Usually, one or two TAs or LSAs are assigned to a class. As they are present for most lessons, they play a key role in helping all children in the class succeed.
During parents’ evening, the class teacher may refer to activities that your child has completed with a TA or LSA. These activities can occur during class or outside of class time (such as during assemblies). These adults provide a vital extra pair of hands, boosting the confidence of children, supporting and extending them when necessary.
During parents’ evening, teachers may refer to plenaries when discussing your child’s learning. These occur at the end of a lesson and provide children with an opportunity to take a step back to think about what they have learned. In this period, the class will usually be asked to reflect on what the Learning Objectives were and whether or not they are now comfortable with them.
As well as reflection, children may be asked to engage in other activities that showcase their learning. Designing ‘learning trees’ or ‘reporting’ to their partner what they have covered are popular tasks in this regard. All these activities help the teacher to gauge pupil understanding and encourage children to recognise their achievement.
We hope that these explanations are helpful when it comes to your conversations at parents’ evening.
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Find yourself baffled by the maths terms that are mentioned in your child’s school? Take a look at our Maths Dictionary For Parents!