As pupils and teachers enjoy their Easter break, those teaching in Year 6 will be acutely aware of the time left after the break to prepare for SATS.
Given that these tests are designed to show pupils’ attainment by the end of their primary schooling, perhaps schools should go about their usual business and students sit the tests in May without any particular preparation. However, this is rarely the case.
Teachers help pupils by revising content that has been covered over the last two years. This is important since we teach maths in topics for much of the time and pupils need to bring those topics together when deciding how to answer a particular question on the reasoning papers. Students also need to be aware of how the test will be administered and be familiar with working under timed conditions in silence.
SATs results are hugely important to schools which can be unfortunate if teachers are feeling pressured to produce certain results since they can pass this on to pupils. Parents can also unwittingly pass their tension about the tests on to their children. Every year, there are stories of Year 6 students feeling stressed about sitting these tests.
It is worth emphasising that, while the tests are important, they provide an opportunity to practise balance which is so important for everyone throughout life. As students get older, there will often be stressful situations to deal with and they will need strategies for when this happens. Exercise and movement, getting outside, taking breaks, socialising, watching or reading something funny or sharing jokes and continuing extra-curricular activities that require focus are all useful ways to deal with stress.
Clearly, pupils need to practise SATs questions and understand how to tackle entire SATs papers but there is also room for other types of activities.
The SATs arithmetic paper presents 36 questions for pupils to complete in 30 minutes. Pupils, therefore, need to work efficiently and confidently. Arithmetic questions lend themselves well to short burst activities.
Dice or digit cards are great resources for creating arithmetic questions. You do not need to spend hours preparing questions and pupils can take turns to use a calculator to check the answers. You can use these during warm-ups or when you have a spare five minutes.
How Many Ways?
Pupils can sometimes revert to using standard written methods such as columnar subtraction or short multiplication when it is not the most efficient way to work out the answer. Asking pupils to find different ways to work out the answer and then discuss different methods encourages them to think about the best way to work out a particular calculation.
Even for questions where a specific approach is being encouraged, since it is written in the form of a standard written method, pupils can check by using an alternative method which encourages number sense.
Getting pupils to estimate an answer can be an activity in itself. The closest estimate to the answer can be the winner. They can carry this out in pairs or groups where all have to agree on the estimate.
Providing examples of questions that have wrong answers is a great way to emphasise the importance of checking against estimates and that the answer is sensible.
Pupils use reasoning to decide why the answer must be wrong without doing the actual calculation, although they can use estimates. Wrong answer questions are best tackled without writing materials so that pupils are not tempted to work out the answer itself.
Writing materials can then be provided if you want to challenge pupils to work out where the errors have occurred in the calculation.
Because pupils are not working out the actual answers, they are ideal for when pupils are lining up, waiting in line or transition times such as getting ready in the morning or at the end of the day. It is worth saving examples of incorrectly answered questions by taking pictures while marking.
Groups of pupils can create loop cards so that the question appears on the right-hand side of the card and the answer from a different question on the left-hand side. They can then give these to other groups to play the game. It is worth laminating these products so they can be re-used.
These can be created by cutting up SATs questions and adding them to individual cards. The answer to each card is placed in a box on a different card so that eventually pupils end back at the beginning. Pupils can work in pairs so they have to justify their reasoning to their partner.
The cards can be laminated and hung up or stuck around the classroom, hall or playground. Larger spaces are preferable since other pairs cannot hear their peers’ discussions.
You can also create these in the smaller format of loop cards that pupils can use to create a loop on their desks.
Create an Image
When pupils face questions on the reasoning paper, the difficult part can be working out what calculation is needed.
Creating images can help with this confusion. Pupils are presented with a SATs question and they need to create an image that will help them make sense of the question. This could involve bar models, annotations on a provided diagram, number lines or timelines or even a basic drawing involving stick people!
Some questions lend themselves to using SPOT:
Write a Sentence containing a blank for the answer
Create a Picture or image to make sense of the question
Use the picture to decide on the Operations needed in the calculation
Test to see if the answer makes sense and is sensible by using estimates and revisiting the question
To learn more about SPOT, click here.
How Many in Ten?
Having to complete an entire arithmetic paper in 30 minutes or a reasoning paper in 40 minutes can be daunting for some pupils so giving them ten minutes and asking them to work as quickly as possible allows them to practise under timed conditions but can be less intimidating than an entire test.
Incorporating lots of short-burst activities will ensure that pupils are familiar with a range of topics and allows you to discover and focus on weaker areas that may not be so obvious when always working on full papers. When pupils do complete full papers, make sure there is time to focus on corrections rather than the overall score.
Encourage pupils to keep a note of the types of questions they keep getting wrong or whether they need to check for sensible answers or use estimates. You can then create fluid groups of pupils who need to focus on a particular topic or skill. Pupils also become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses which is an important skill for all of us.
For a free example resource of Division Calculation Errors, click here:
For ready to use quick burst SATs Arithmetic activities for addition and subtraction of integers, click here: