Wendy Francis-White, assistant headteacher at Hawkedale Primary, explains how schools can maintain personalised learning using AI technology
You know you have a school you can be truly proud of when it is described by one of your pupils to Ofsted inspectors as ‘like a big family’. That’s the special place we’ve created at Hawkedale for our pupils to learn and grow.
Over the last four years, our school has grown too. We’ve expanded from being a single form infant school with three classes to a primary school welcoming 146 pupils, with a further 30 pupils due to start in September 2020.
This is a journey that an increasing number of schools will undertake. Many grow to keep class sizes as low as possible or address the ongoing shortage of school places that families in some areas are concerned about.
We’ve worked hard at Hawkedale to make sure we continue inspiring pupils to achieve all they are capable of as we expand. And we’ve made good use of some innovative technology along the way.
The important home-school link
One of the real advantages of working in a relatively small school like ours is that you can really get to know your pupils well and build close relationships with their parents too.
Our size has always enabled us to understand our pupils’ strengths and spot when they start to struggle. Our teachers often know instinctively what kinds of support are most effective at inspiring and motivating individual children and groups to make progress. We share this information with parents too.
We wanted to keep that personal touch at the heart of the school as it evolves and the latest AI technology is helping us to do this.
A different perspective
We have seen first-hand how an influx of new pupils can change a school community and raise different issues that need to be addressed.
With more children to focus on and support, AI is helping us provide more information to teachers about how their pupils learn. This is particularly true in the area of literacy, the foundation of learning and achievement in any school.
Without a strong vocabulary, or comprehension and decoding skills, children can often feel cut off from an early age, unable to enjoy a story or work from a textbook to complete a task alongside their peers.
With our sudden growth, we noticed an increase in the number of children arriving in school with low vocabulary and more pupils struggling to develop the literacy skills they needed. Although our teachers have a very good sense of what is behind the issues, the more help you can get to spot any concerns earlier, the better, especially with a growing cohort.
With all the advances in AI in recent years, it is no surprise that it should also be able to help in the classroom.
We discovered an innovative eye-tracking tool that follows a child’s eye movements as they read a set text and then compares it with 30 years of research on other children’s eye movements. The tool spots if a child may be at risk of specific reading difficulties such as dyslexia, identifies if it’s phonics or another issue they are struggling with and helps teachers determine if they have developed the relevant reading skills for their age.
One of our pupils had been scoring below average in literacy practice questions for her SAT assessment, which was a real concern. Using AI, we could identify that it was phonics and reading comprehension she was struggling with, which meant her class teacher could focus the intervention on these specific areas. The child’s parents were brought in to help too and as a result of the targeted support from home and school, the pupil went on to achieve a higher than expected score in her SATs.
Another child clearly loved reading but tended to choose books that were aimed at much younger children. Both parents and her teacher had concerns that the child’s behaviour might indicate dyslexia.
The AI tool, however, showed that in fact, her reading ability was above average and that while she seemed to enjoy less challenging books, she was perfectly capable of reading a broader choice of material.
Knowing this, her parents and teachers started to encourage the child to select books that she would enjoy, but would also match her reading abilities. In this case, the AI helped us prevent a child from potentially coasting.
As a school grows physically, it will naturally adopt new approaches to raising pupils’ achievement and different methods of managing change. Advances in AI give expanding schools another important tool they can use to help teachers understand the issues children experience and put the right support in place to make a difference.
For Hawkedale, using this technology means that no matter the size and shape of our school, our focus on meeting pupils’ needs will always remain at the heart of everything we do.
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