Will an increase in adult interaction avoid a “plateauing” of autumn born children’s progress and attainment in reception?

By Fameeda Patel

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Introduction

I carried out a study over the past year in order to find out about the level of adult interaction and its effect on pupil achievement. I wanted to find out whether more targeted adult intervention would support Autumn born children in their learning and progress.

The reason the focus was on Autumn born children is because over the previous year I noticed their level of progress had “plateaued” from the start of spring term onward. Now there are a number of reasons for this some of them being perhaps teachers and practitioners have an ‘expectation’ of Autumn born and let them ‘get on with it’, other reasons could be the level of home support the children have and their home life. For this project I focused on the teachers and practitioners, ensuring Autumn born children were exposed to just as much as support and interaction as summer born children.

 

Context of the school

This School opened in 2013 following the amalgamation of a former infant and junior school. It was awarded National Teaching School status in April 2014 and works with other local schools as part of the Gants Hill Partnership Teaching Alliance. The school is much larger than the average primary school, with three classes in each year group. Pupils from minority ethnic groups make up nearly the whole school roll. The majority of these pupils are from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other Asian heritages. The vast majority of pupils speak English as an additional language.

 

Methods

Ethnographic Research

“Ethnography literally means ‘a portrait of a people’. Ethnography is a written description of a particular culture – the customs, beliefs, and behavior – based on information collected through fieldwork.” –Marvin Harris and Orna Johnson, 2000.

Ethnography is a qualitative research method often used in social sciences, particularly in anthropology and in sociology. It is often employed for gathering empirical data on human societies/cultures. Data collection is often done through participant observation in which the researcher becomes a part of the community on which research has to be done. Data can also be collected through interviews, questionnaires, etc. Ethnography aims to describe the nature of those who are studied (i.e. to describe a people, an ethnos) through writing. It can also be called a “case report”. Ethnography can be widely used in education. It helps in addressing the educational problems of a particular groups. The researcher has to become a part of the particular group in order to conduct ethnographic study where the focus is to get familiar with group’s culture and then sense the underlying problems.

Action Research

Action research is a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions.

Action research is any sort of systematic inquiry conducted by those with a direct, vested interest in the teaching and learning process in a particular setting; it is truly systematic inquiry into one’s own practice. It can be described as a process that ‘allows teachers to study their own classrooms… in order to better understand them and to be able to improve their quality or effectiveness’ (Mertler, 2012b, p. 4). Action research provides a structured process for customizing research findings, enabling educators to address specific questions, concerns, or problems within their own classrooms, schools, or districts. The best way to know if something will work with your students or in your classroom is to try it out, collect and analyse data to assess its effectiveness, and then make a decision about your next steps based on your direct experience.

A review of research which informed this study

Using the notion of ‘scaffolding’ and working within a child’s Zone of Proximal Development, this study is about the structured adult intervention that increases the effectiveness of learning and leads to an enhanced development of communication and language.I believe that high quality interaction with children sure does develop their progress and attainment. My view is supported by Priscilla Clarke (2015) who states that it is the quality and timing of teacher interaction that has the potential to make a real difference for all children.

According to The National Strategies of Early Years, Adult-led activities are those which adults initiate. The activities are not play, and children are likely not to see them as play, but they should be playful – with activities presented to children which are as open-ended as possible, with elements of imagination and active exploration that will increase the interest and motivation for children. This tells us when an activity is playful, children are motivated and interested. From the onset, this study ensured that the quality of interaction was such that children did not feel as if they were targeted and being involved in ‘mundane’ activities. It is important for activities to be exciting for children, while for the teacher and practitioner it is something which can be used as a form of assessment and supporting a child’s development in a targeted area.

Social constructivists such as Vygotsky (1978), Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976), Mercer (2000, 2008) and Robson (2012) argue that interactions between adults and children, where language is used as a tool, are the building blocks for the development of children’s thinking skills. High quality interactions between adults and children where there is genuine dialogue promotes ‘inter-thinking’ and shared enquiry (Wagerif, 2010). This states language is a key aspect of interactions and as this study’s main focus was on developing communication and language, it supports the notion that for a child to make the required progress and attainment, adults need to be vigilant in using language as a key tool for modelling, extending, discussing and scaffolding in whatever area a child needs support in.

Evidence from research tells us why targeted early years interventions are so important. What happens to a child during their early years lays the foundation for the rest of their life.

An overview of actions

1. Targeted interventions 3 sessions a week.

2. Regular assessment of the group of Autumn born children every 2 weeks.

3. Maximizing practitioners timetables to increase the number of opportunities they have to interact with these children.

4. Encouraging and supporting practitioners to develop and alter intervention plans.

5. Support practitioners by having clear expectations of interactions and interventions.

6. Providing clear plans, resources and targets for children in intervention group.

 

Impacts

The above graph shows the impact of this project showing the correlation between the intervention sessions. A child with 3 sessions of high quality interaction per week has attained a progress in 3 bands compared to a child with 1 session per week making one band of progress. It proves that the higher number of sessions a child has per week, the more progress they make in their attainment.

This project contributed towards the children being in line to achieve the following data:

  • PSE 97% good level of development or higher.
  • C&L 96% good level of development or higher.
  • PD 97% good level of development or higher.

Implications

1. Interventions are important for children to make progress but just as much time needs to be put into other areas such as observations, group activities and children exploring.

2. Effective timetabling is crucial to implement the most productive use of interventions.

3. It is important to recognize that Autumn born children do not necessarily make the best progress in the class just because they are older, but may need just as much support and intervention a summer born child may need.

4. The term ‘intervention’ needs to be re-examined, with a focus on quality of interactions replacing a call for ‘specialist intervention’.

Considerations

  • Do you have a network which you could join to have support and guidance in your study?
  • Do you have an area of learning or something you have noticed in your setting which needs attention that could be used as a study?
  • Are you keeping all staff that are involved up to date and supporting them to achieve the goals of the study?