Offering a little lift

4th April 2008 at 01:00
Tests leaving a bitter taste in your mouth? Sweeten up your Sats season with a dose of creative revision

Sats: part of the rhythm of the school year, like nativity plays and sports days, only not so much fun. A little preparation, however, can help secure a stress-free time for all.

Give parents and children the full facts to minimise anxiety. Sats are about holding schools to account, not pupils. Level 4 is the target, but Level 3, for some children, is a real achievement. Homework is important, but so is down time - chilling out with a DVD, or just hanging out with pals. Recommend internet revision sites (see panel, right) and open the IT suite after school so that children without home internet aren't disadvantaged. Half an hour's revision followed by 15 minutes' play is a good balance.

Take an investigative approach wherever possible. We revisit all writing genres using a Pals checklist (purpose, audience, layout and style) and children work with good texts - often their own excellent writing. Focus on sentence structure - if that is sound, everything else falls into place. Stress the importance of reading their own writing aloud (even quietly during a test) to ensure every word counts. Finally, train the children in working to strict time limits, including speed planning.

For reading, focus on two and three-mark answers, explicitly sharing the mark scheme and exemplars from past tests. Children can use wowo (wipe on, wipe off) boards to share answers, agree marks and suggest improvements. Answers structured "something + something + because" stand a good chance of getting two or three marks.

In maths, revisit computation methods, emphasising the most efficient, but allowing children to use the ones they are most comfortable with. Apply them in lots of different contexts, including children devising their own, such as: "If you were being tested on grid multiplication, what might the Sats question be?"

Assessment for Learning techniques ensure you don't waste time teaching them what they already know. For science, give groups a box of electrical apparatus with the instruction: "Show us what you know." Each group feeds back to the whole class - peer learning at its best - and the teacher identifies any gaps. This kind of structured play can be used profitably at any time, not just in Sats season.

We also take photos or make videos during science investigations and use them the week before the test: "What is Lauren doing in this photo? What might she find out? What vocabulary would she need?" Scientific vocabulary is enormously important in garnering marks, so display it around the room and on table-top "revision mats" (but make sure such displays are masked during the actual tests). A science version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, complete with lifelines such as ask the audience, can enliven the process of learning vocabulary.

Include staff role-play: "Mrs Griffiths and Mrs Fripp put one sugar in their tea. It dissolves in one cup but not the other. Why?" Or make a statement, such as: "Exercise increases heart rate", and ask the children to prove it - like real scientists. Practice papers are useless unless followed by a full debriefing. We might tackle one question at a time, share possible strategies and, for wrong answers, give them another go straight away while it's still fresh in their minds.

The week before Sats we host our "big breakfast", where children come in a little earlier for staff to wait on them, just to say: "You're working hard and we're going to pamper you a bit."

The tests themselves are taken in familiar classrooms - no GCSE-style tables in the hall. Performance-enhancing biscuits and fruit are also offered to aid concentration and energy.

At the end of the last test we take our Sats heroes bowling to say: "Whatever the outcomes, we think you're wonderful." The photos from their afternoon make a great display

Kevin Harcombe is head of Redlands Primary School in Fareham and National College of School Leadership Primary Headteacher of the Year 2007.

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