Facing significant challenges – routinely overcoming them – with Learning by Questions (LbQ) bringing a fresh and increasingly important momentum.
Peel Park Primary School in Accrington faces significant challenges – and routinely overcomes them – with Learning by Questions (LbQ) bringing a fresh and increasingly important momentum.
Located in a deprived urban area, its children start their education with plenty of setbacks and few advantages.
Yet none of this deters head teacher Alison Padgett and her staff, whose pupils consistently perform above the national average when they leave the school after key stage two.
Alison and maths lead teacher John Coombs believe they and their students are benefiting enormously after six months trialling Learning by Questions (LbQ). And they are equally enthusiastic about the continuing development of the unique learning technology.
John says: “LbQ is one of the most exciting things that has come into the school for a good few years. It’s something that can be seen as having a really big impact on how the children learn for years to come.”
Alison adds: “We have been very impressed and delighted that we are on the pilot scheme.”
Peel Park has a long and distinguished history and, by all accounts, an exceptionally bright future. It was built in 1910 on the site of the old Accrington Stanley football ground and old sepia pictures of the club can still be found in the school.
Alison says: “We are a very large primary school, with about 620 students. About 25 per cent are ‘premium children’, so we are in a deprived catchment area. There is a lot of unemployment and rented housing.
“This means there are plenty of challenges. The children come in quite academically low, particularly in speaking and listening. Many come to us not speaking in full sentences. They do a lot of pointing and speaking in just one word, so we have much work to do in that area. Also, they can struggle socially in terms of getting used to routines and making new friendships.”
The school tackles these major issues with chippy, can-do professionalism.
Alison explains: “As the children work through the school they pick up very quickly. We are very consistent in our approach. Our children start a long way below the national average, but by the time they leave key stage one they are more or less in line with national. And by the time they leave us at the end of key stage two, they are actually above national.
“So, they get a lot of value-added as they work their way through the school, which is really pleasing to see. But it’s not just about academic levels, it is also about holistic personal development. Certainly, helping children fill their learning gaps is hugely important, but so too is overcoming the barriers they bring with them. We don’t just want to churn out good maths and English students – although this is obviously a key aim – it’s just as much about creating citizens for the future, children that show respect, and look after one another in a very supportive way.”
LbQ progress report
LbQ was introduced to Peel Park in September 2017, and has been up and running since October. During the ensuing six months the digital tablets have been regularly used in at least two or three lessons a week, mainly in maths.
John says: “LbQ has been a very valuable tool for the school and has had a positive impact.
“We have roughly 90 children in each year group and we have been using LbQ with year five and six because that is where the initial content was developed. Year five have used it for maths, and year six have used it for maths and English so in the region of 180 pupils are benefiting from LbQ in the school at the moment. Maths is the primary focus, with English as an addition. The team at LbQ have been putting more and more content in English, but so far our trial has principally been in maths.”
Regular feedback sessions with the LbQ development team mean the roll out of the technology can be handled smoothly, effectively – and with an emphasis on collaboration.
“We were at a meeting recently and talked about how good it feels to be part of the development because we have been involved in the pilot scheme and we been able to feedback with the things that we like, plus the things we think they could do to improve it, which is always taken on board,” says John.
“We are lucky to be part of the trialling of LbQ and to be in a position to help shape it. The expertise we have in the school enables us to put our knowledge into it. It’s not only one or two teachers that go to the meetings with the LbQ team, it’s everybody who uses it. And they all comment on the positive impact it has had on their pupils.”
John continues: “The LbQ team seek constructive feedback because that is what is going to make the technology and questions more successful – and why they are rolling out the pilot scheme at schools like ours.”
Alison adds: “What’s refreshing about the LbQ team is that they have not come with the idea that they have the perfect programme already. They understand that it’s a work in progress and we believe that their work is well on the way to becoming a very, very good tool.”
Benefits for pupils
The LbQ system involves students using tablets in the classroom that operate in real-time, sending feedback to the teacher as the children answer each question. This immediately tells the teacher which students aren’t coping and which are performing strongly. As a result everyone can work through the questions at their own pace. More able children can be pushed, while less able ones are prompted by the intuitive software. If the teacher’s intervention is necessary, he or she can act on the spot. The system also removes the need for lesson planning and, crucially, the time-consuming task of marking.
John says: “The pedagogy is the idea of initial feedback and instant intervention when you can see somebody is struggling. At the moment we have the idea of working towards mastery in maths and the LbQ system helps because it starts with quick understanding, then fluency, then builds up to reasoning and problem solving –this is essential progression that is designed into the software.
“It means each child is challenged to their individual level and you can use LbQ as a whole class resource. It’s engaging because it’s using technology that the children always enjoy, but it’s a very worthwhile piece of technology. It isn’t just a game for them to play. The questions are progressive and they help the children to see a range of different style of questions around the same topic area.”
Alison adds: “We really like the fact that it’s self-paced, so the children are working at their own speed. The more able children can push ahead, whereas those that need more support can take their time and work their way through it slowly, without being pushed on before they are ready. So it helps with further planning because you can see who you can challenge and who needs that extra support.”
Teachers manage the lesson using an electronic dashboard, or matrix which enables them to clearly see the progress children are making.
Alison continues: “LbQ gives the teacher an ongoing assessment. In the past, you would deliver the lesson and then mark the books afterwards and think: ‘Oh, he hasn’t got it, but she has’. However, with LbQ you get real-time feedback so you can intervene immediately in the actual lesson, rather than having to wait until the next day to pick up on misconceptions or mistakes.”
John picks up on this immediacy: “LbQ gives you the ability to identify individuals, or a group within the class, or even the whole class. You can then ask them to come back on a certain question, and look at it again, together.
“It’s a really clear way to see the style of question or the type of question that has created a misconception that you can correct. In fact you can do more than just correcting, you can use the children you know have answered the question correctly to help the children who haven’t.”
Benefits for teachers
LbQ assists teachers as much as students. Clearly, freeing up time that would otherwise be spent on marking is a crucial advantage, but by no means the only one.
John explains: “In addition to the marking benefit, your overall assessment is quicker because you can instantly see progress, or lack of it. In terms of planning, this saves a great deal of time because LbQ is a ready-made resource. It is now becoming our go-to place to find a certain objective because you know that the quality is there. As a result, you aren’t having to look for three differentiated areas of a task.”
Alison believes the benefits of LbQ are particularly useful for primary school teachers.
She says: “We have primary teachers who enjoy maths and might have done maths as a degree, but many other teachers haven’t got that deeper understanding so the fact that LbQ questions have been specifically designed to move those children on is a real bonus. When teachers have planned lessons in the past, they could possibly have missed out on certain steps because they haven’t got that underlying knowledge.”
The LbQ software’s intuitive prompting function has also impressed Alison and John.
John explains: “Within the questions they try to predict any misconceptions that might come up with the feedback that the programme gives the children. This means that if they give a wrong answer and it is due to a misconception, the system will explain that misconception in the hope that they can understand it themselves and then progress from there.
“The feedback is inbuilt. This is very helpful and something the children came round to very quickly. With previous programmes, the children got used to answering and just moving on and I would say within a couple of weeks they actually started to realise that the feedback was beneficial. It wasn’t just telling them that they were wrong, it was actually giving them advice and support as to how to get to the right answer.”
The only issues Peel Park has with LbQ relate to the school’s ability to provide the technology in sufficient quantities.
Alison says: “Because we are such a big primary school, our problem is the actual hardware and being able to fund it so that all the children can access it as much as we would like. We have three year five classes and three year six classes, so they can’t all use it at the same time because we simply don’t have the hardware. It’s for us to look long term and see how we can sort out funding to build up our facilities. But, from the results we are seeing so far, it is definitely something that we need to plan into our budget for a considerable few years.”
Two children at Peel Park who are prospering as a result of LbQ are Caitlin McGrath, aged 10, and Mason Nichols, 9.
Caitlin says: “What I like about the tablets is that when you get a question wrong a couple of times and you are struggling on it, your teacher knows straight away and they can come and help you.”
Caitlin adds: “The feedback that you get when you get a question wrong is really helpful because it doesn’t tell you the answer, it tells you how you should do it and then you have got to work it out yourself from there.”
Mason comments: “ I like it because you get a good understanding about each part of maths, like fractions or times tables. And also, you can’t skip the questions. If you don’t get it, you don’t just give up, you can still do it because the tablet helps you to think about how to get the question right.”
Both Caitlin and Mason are impressed by the easy-to-use tablets and look forward to lessons when they know they are going to be using LbQ.
Caitlin says: “It’s so much easier than having to write everything out. You have just got it in front of you and you can get on with it at your own pace.”
Mason adds: “It is easier to work with because your hands don’t have to ache when you write.”
Another feature of LbQ that appeals to Caitlin and Mason is that it allows children to answer questions more quickly or slowly depending on their ability.
Caitlin says: “It is good because if someone is not very good at a question and goes slower, you aren’t waiting for them. And if all of the class is slower, then you can just go onto the next question when you are ready. You can learn more because you are getting on with more questions.”
Mason agrees: “It’s good because you don’t have to wait ages for people to catch up. Some people are faster and some are slower, but it doesn’t hold anyone up or put pressure on anyone to go faster.”