Tackling transition anxiety: co-constructing a KS 2-3 transition residential

Key features

  • Key stage 2 to 3 transition
  • Co-construction of the residential by pupils
  • Low-cost camping on a school site

What is the link between transition to the ‘big’ school and telling scary stories in the tent at night with your new friends? Walney cluster Year 6s can tell you! The Walney Learning Away partnership primary school Year 6s were given the opportunity to co-construct their own transition residential.

Small groups of pupils from each Year 6 class from the five primary schools involved were trained in leading the co-construction process, before running the planning event with their own class. Using the ‘Diamond 9’ approach, activities were chosen and ranked according to how well they might help the children tackle what they thought was challenging about the ‘big’ school. Year 8s crunched the data as part of their maths studies and then fed back to the primary schools.

 

Walney’s big learning idea

The Walney partnership’s ‘big idea’ was to improve transition at all key stages in a young person’s learning journey through working away from the classroom. The co-construction approach was developed with Year 6 pupils in transition to secondary school. The six schools involved were Walney School, St George’s C of E Primary School, Victoria Junior School, Ormsgill Nursery and Primary School, Barrow Island Primary School and Cambridge Primary School.

 

The main features

Built into their plans was the intention to use their Learning Away programmes as a catalyst for developing learning resilience and authentic opportunities for planning, co-construction and collaborative research. A group of pupils from each school were led through the co-construction process by Caroline Vernon, the headteacher at Victoria Juniors, who coordinated the approach. Activities before, during and after helped to relax the students. After brainstorming what the pupils thought might be scary about going to the ‘big school’, the pupils were then asked to think how a residential might help them to cope with these challenges.

 

What were the main learning outcomes these activities were intended to achieve?

  • To design a programme of residential activities through student voice;
  • To consider the skills and attributes required for a successful outdoor residential.
  • To consider the skills, attributes and experience required for successful transition.

 

What were the main ‘co-construction’ activities provided for the pupils?

  • An introduction to Learning Away and an outline of the expectations for a cross-phase residential.
  • Outdoor residential – a discussion about previous experience of camping and the range of tasks involved. In mixed key stage/school groups, list the skills and attributes necessary for ‘successful camping’, share content.
  • Transition – discuss expectations and experience of transition to Key Stage 3. Carousel activity responding to various key questions regarding transition to secondary school, share findings.

“I liked meeting new people because when you are performing a task like that you have to make new friends and work as a team.” (Year 6 pupil)

  • Outdoor residential – consider those activities pupils would like to include in an outdoor residential, list. Share with whole group. Consider team list of activities, add activities which would ensure that camping skills are developed and activities which would assist in transition. Colour code activities listed to identify which would enable students to meet peers from other schools, meet teachers from secondary schools, face new challenges, learn new skills, and have fun!

“It was hard to pick the activities because the choices were good. We had to listen to each others’ views and come to an agreement which meant we had to work together.” (Year 6 pupil)

  • Outdoor residential – individually, students complete a Diamond 9 to identify priorities for residential activities. Share with group. Produce a Team Diamond 9 to document a consensus of priority residential activities. Teams agree key roles for effective teamwork, systems required to ensure all team members have an equal voice, a method for agreement on activity choice. Share the Team Diamond 9 with the whole group.
  • Students instructed how to use support materials to lead the workshop in their own schools – to produce a maximum of six School Diamond 9s for the residential activities.

“We especially enjoyed performing the workshop to our classmates. It was very nerve-wracking, but it helped that we knew the people we were performing it to and they knew us.” (Year 6 pupil)

How were the learning objectives supported before/after the activity day itself?

  • Staff in each school were provided with a digital presentation and all resources needed to carry out the Planning Workshop in each school. Staff were encouraged to allow students to lead the workshops.
  • Secondary students devised a system to collate the School Diamond 9s. The students produced a ranked list of activities for residential planning.

“The girls were really motivated and confident on their return from the workshop. They took on board many of the ideas about presentation skills and ensured that all pupils were listening attentively. I was impressed by their increased confidence and their smooth delivery.” (Year 6 teacher)

This same Year 6 teacher listened as a group of four pupils from two different schools worked together. She reported: “They ran their meeting building on skills from other group work in class chairing, including, consulting, recording and voting with skills that would put an adult meeting to shame. Finally, the Diamond nine technique was use to rank the activities the students felt were most important including those that would promote the learning that would help them with their transition challenges. In my group, after putting up the tents and cooking, telling scary stories in the tent at night came third!”

These students were then given a PowerPoint presentation and returned to their own schools and classes to lead their peers through the same process they had experienced. Caroline Vernon found it “scary to watch so many young people modelling her so closely!”. The results were then sent to the Year 8s who processed the information; presenting it back to the classes as combined report from which to plan their residentials.

 

In their case study report CUREE, Learning Away’s external evaluators during 2009-11, commented:

“Pupils were involved throughout this process and had a strong voice in determining the transition issues they felt should be addressed – such as making friends with people that would be within at their new school. Six key transition skills were identified by the process, including confidence, communication, bravery, respect, responsibility and joining in. The group used PowerPoint presentations to co-coach each other and collate the views of all participating students (160) to co-design activities and prepare other pupils and staff for the residential. This included asking participants to undertake some preparatory tasks, such as creating a flag which displayed the skills of each set of pupils sharing a tent.

The in-depth preparation behind each activity made people ‘safer to try new things’ and the fact that the children were involved in this preparation helped build ownership credibility and confidence amongst the children. The children who acted as co-constructs and ‘teachers’ of participating pupils and teachers back in their own school said the experience had given them an insight into the different approaches to learning. One teacher explained that this has had a huge impact on the pupils’ engagement with their own learning and one of the pupils said that they were proud of the residential because they had helped to co-construct it. Another pupil explained that they now ‘realise the value of teachers’ work’ . Increased engagement was particularly noticeable in vulnerable and challenging pupils, for example one boy shared with a teacher how he feels under pressure when learning in the classroom but enjoyed learning outside so felt he got more out of it. Another looked after child from the pupil referral unit was able to blend in with the other children and ‘not stand out’ like she does in school. The teachers attributed this to making it clear she was an equal participant at the residential, which made it easier for her to make friends. A child with significant help and sleeping issues had been very nervous about camping but in the event ‘had laughed himself to sleep’ with the help of his tent mates. The teachers also felt that many children now understand how there are different ways of learning and that it can be fun.”

“The pupils are now taking more responsibility for their learning in school and being more proactive as learners. Their sense of achievement also became apparent as many had never been away from home before or never eaten at a table before. Some had never slept in a bed away from their parents’ bed. Specific skills and achievements (i.e. communication) were recognised by creating ‘skills bracelets’, which the boys valued just as much as the girls. A further benefit of the programme was that pupils were able to meet their potential secondary school teachers, which their existing teachers hoped would help children feel there was someone there who knew them in their new school. Another aspect that proved beneficial was the location of the residential (in the school grounds). One pupil who had failed to join in previously in residentials or even day trips away from school managed to stay the night as he knew he was only 100 yards away.”

 

Staff reflection/evaluation

Staff felt that the workshops, involving and led by the pupils, had successfully met objectives. It was noted that the pupils were very excited about the residential opportunity and could see the value in meeting and getting to know peers and teachers in a fun, outdoor setting. They felt that this activity would really support them in transition to Key Stage 3. The pupils valued having an input into Residential Planning and had enjoyed leading workshop sessions.

“It was really fun being a teacher, it was challenging too because it was so different to being a pupil in the class. I didn’t realise how much you have to think about what you’re going to say to students so that they will understand what you mean. Teachers need to know how to speak in front of other people and understand what you’re teaching so you know what they need to learn.” (Year 6 pupil)

Key questions – to develop teaching and learning

Follow up evaluation and discussion by the staff team has found the following impacts and raised further questions for planning subsequent years:

  • Pupils’ engagement increased due to co-construction of activities and reward system – how could we facilitate co-construction activities within our school practice?
  • Working together towards a shared goal created a community amongst primary and secondary teachers and enabled them to view education in different contexts – how could we increase cross-phase working?
  • Teachers are engaged with new ways of teaching and integrating experiences in and out of the classroom – how do we share this practice and embed it into the way we work?
  • Teachers are increasing their use of outdoor learning across the curriculum – how do we share this practice and embed it into the way we work?
  • There was a marked difference in the attitude and confidence, in working with others, post-residential, for pupils with EBD – why was this? What can we learn about strategies, how can we share findings and plan effective opportunities for EBD pupils?
  • The children had more respect for teachers having seen them have fun outside of school – how can we create these situations in school/more frequently?
  • Students were keen to share each others’ successes and they were more supportive and positive towards each other post residential … “they admired each others’ new found skills”. Do we need to reconsider curriculum priorities?
  • Children felt outdoor activities were fun and you didn’t think about the learning you were doing, even though you were learning. They felt the focus should be on calm outside too and that working in small groups was much better than whole classes – how can we use this to impact on the learning environments/structures we use?

 

Key questions for secondary schools – to maximize the benefit of Learning Away residential experiences on long-term transition success

  • Increased pupil confidence (including a LAC pupil who gained confidence from being in a co-constructor/ambassador role) – can we provide additional/modified transition activities which will build and retain this confidence?
  • Teachers and TAs had a ‘head start’ in building positive relationships with vulnerable students, leading to a more positive start to Year 7 – how were these relationships used to support long term transition/learning success? Would secondary staff like greater input to the Camp Plan to incorporate activities they can build upon in Year 7?
  • Learning Away has given Year 7 students a ‘head start’ and helped them to build new relationships – how was this maximized upon?

 

How did we know whether the learning objectives were achieved?

Approximately 400 pupils had a voice in activity selection. Individual, Team and School Diamond 9s demonstrate an understanding of the skills, attributes and experience required for a successful outdoor residential and for seamless transition into Key Stage 3. Feedback from pupils suggests that they valued having an input into the residential design and the opportunity to meet peers and lead workshop sessions.

“It’s better if we are involved in planning because then we get a say in what we like to do. It would make the children more interested in the residential, so that they will be more excited when they do go.” (Year 6 pupil)

Conclusion

Involving pupils in planning their learning opportunities can be very powerful. They have a much greater understanding of the aims for the residential and it will be interesting to evaluate their feedback following their visit; were they more engaged in activities because they had a greater understanding of the purpose? Will their evaluation demonstrate a more in depth view of their learning in each of the opportunities offered? Did they value the residential more because they understood its purpose?