Teacher Inquiry Questions

At Durringtion High School, our teachers are currently thinking about their inquiry question, as a part of the appraisal process.  Each teacher reflects on their classroom practice and identifies an aspect of their teaching that they want to refine and develop over the coming year.  This is then used to create an ‘inquiry question’ that will help to drive and focus the development of this aspect of their teaching, using the following structure:

‘What impact does [what practice?] delivered [over how long?] have on [what outcome?] for [whom?]’

Here are two examples of inquiry questions that teachers have used previously:

  • What impact does interrogative questioning delivered during the course of the year have on deeper understanding of key concepts to improve attainment for my KS4 classes?
  • What impact does explicit teaching of and retrieval practice of Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary delivered over a year have on quality of exam responses (4-6 mark questions) for middle attaining girls in my KS4 classes?

By making this one aspect of their teaching the focus of their deliberate practice over the course of the year, teachers are much more likely to embed the approach and develop their teaching, than they are if they try to focus on too many things. With the latter approach, it becomes difficult to focus on so many things, the focus isn’t sustained and the impact is minimal.

This approach also gives teachers ownership over their CPD,  as they have selected the inquiry question themselves.  This brings with it a greater personal investment in sustaining the focus on improving that aspect of their teaching, as it’s something they have chosen to focus on.  This can also make lesson observations more focused and useful.  Rather than just being generic, observations can have a single foci, framed around the inquiry question, which the teacher can direct e.g. ‘when observing the lesson, can you look at how well I follow up student responses to questions with a more challenging question to promote thinking?’  This can provide really useful feedback for the teacher.  Some curriculum areas have come to a joint decision and all have a similar theme to their inquiry question e.g. the maths team, might all choose to focus on metacognition, as it’s a priority for that team.  One of the advantages of this approach, is that it allows teachers to discuss specific pedagogical approaches, within the context of their subject.

From a whole school perspective, there are clear benefits.  Every teacher is focused on and getting better at, mobilising an aspect of evidence informed teaching.  The cumulative effect of this across the school is enormous and has the potential to have a significant impact on the learning of our students.

In order to ensure an alignment between whole school teaching and learning priorities and the inquiry questions, teachers are asked to frame their inquiry questions around one of these evidence informed themes:

  • Metacognition
  • Memory
  • Formative Assessment
  • Disciplinary Literacy
  • Cognitive Load Theory

As this is now the third year of us taking this approach, a number of teachers are sticking with the inquiry question they had last year. This is fine – real and embedded change takes time, so it might be entirely sensible to continue to focus on the same aspect of teaching.

The diagram above describes how our school CPD programme supports this approach.  Once teachers have finalised their inquiry question, there will be three points during the year, when they will meet with other teachers who are focusing on the same theme – in a ‘Teacher Inquiry Group’.  So for example, any teacher whose inquiry question is based on disciplinary literacy will meet up and discuss this theme.  Each ‘Teacher Inquiry Group’ is facilitated by a member of the Research School Team.  During these meetings teachers will:

  • Explore some of the research evidence on this theme, by reading and discussing a paper on it.
  • Pick out the key ideas from this paper.
  • Share and discuss approaches they have tried – including what seemed to work and what didn’t.
  • Commit to trying out a new approach based on the research evidence and discussions they have had.

This also gives teachers the opportunity to hear about the  approaches that are being adopted in other curriculum areas.  This compliments our ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’, where curriculum teams meet every fortnight to discuss ‘what are we teaching over the next fortnight and how do we teach it well?’  This gives a good blend to our CPD – fortnightly subject specific input, alongside termly cross-curricular sharing. Between the ‘Teacher Inquiry Group’ meetings, members of the Research School Team are available for one to one coaching, to help sustain the work.

The ‘inquiry question’ approach to CPD ticks many of the boxes that the research evidence around effective CPD points us towards:

  • Targeted – individual teachers identify a specific aspect of their teaching that they want to develop.
  • Sustained – time is given over the year for teachers to reflect, discuss and share how this is going.  Furthermore, they stay with one specific area to develop over the year.
  • Collaborative – there are opportunities to discuss and share ideas with peers.
  • Evidence Informed – the inquiry questions are all framed around evidence informed approaches.
  • Blended – there is a blended approach to the CPD e.g. Input from the Research School team at the Teacher Inquiry Group meetings on a piece of research evidence, is then supported by ongoing and personalised coaching.

A commitment to continuing to improve as a teacher, is an integral part of the culture at Durrington High School.  The ‘inquiry question’ approach is a key part of this.

Shaun Allison

Shaun Allison is Director of the Durrington Research School and Head of School Improvement for DMAT.  He is co-leading two training programmes this year – ‘Curriculum, Teaching & Assessment‘ and ‘Leading Learning‘. 


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Fiefdom without a kingdom

Fiefdom: a territory or sphere of operation controlled by a particular person or group.

If you were to type the word fiefdom into Google you would be given the definition above, but also the example sentence– “a mafia boss who has turned the town into his private fiefdom”. Now I am not saying that teachers should start likening themselves to mafia bosses, however much of what we do relies on us creating our own fiefdoms within the school environment. The size of these fiefdoms depend on the individual, for a head this fiefdom is the entire school, for a curriculum leader it is their department area and for teachers it is their classroom. The best teams and teachers are able to create and maintain strong fiefdoms. This is done through the language they use in classes, the routines they establish, the standards they set, the expectations they have and the presence they have within their own fiefdom.

However, with many secondary schools having moved to a system of bubbles and zones, with teachers moving between classrooms and areas, the natural confines of a classroom or department area that delineate our fiefdoms have disappeared over night. For some staff, who are used to having their own room, this is a source of great anxiety. Even for staff used to roaming (those that do not have their own room for example members of leadership) this new way of working is posing new challenges to establishing their presence and ownership of the classroom.

For the foreseeable future things are going to be very different, for one thing we will be the outsider coming in. Students are remaining in their room and we are, most likely, entering after them, as a result the most primitive way of establishing fiefdom by meeting and greeting students at the door is gone. No longer are we able to have everything ready to go before the students enter, for they are already there – it is understandable to feel pushed onto the back foot. Established routines for setting the tone of the lesson is going to be very different, your ability to be a presence in your area between lessons will be gone (as you move from room to room), the known certainties of a respected colleague/subject leader in the room next door if you need to remove any student will be gone.

All of a sudden, our fiefdoms are looking very fragile and susceptible to attack.

So, what can we do to establish fiefdom without a designated kingdom?

Below is by no means an exhaustive list nor does it guarantee success, it is simply a summary of ideas that I have been bouncing around with our curriculum leaders and their teams.

  • Change Language – while you may not be able to refer to the room as “your classroom” any more, we can still refer to the lesson as “your lesson”. Clearly setting out your expectations and routines at the start of the year (and repeating this if necessary) in the context of this is what will happen in “your lessons” will help create a sense of ownership.
  • Where possible (i.e. after breaks) be in your bubble zone to meet students (at an appropriate distance of course) as they return to the room.
  • Use the end of lesson to establish how the start of the next lesson will work, for example asking students to write some retrieval questions down that they will answer at the start of the next lesson while you get thing set up and sorted.
  • Clearly verbalise your expectations on starting work and finishing work – i.e. in silence, clear date and title, handing books back into the box in set order of your choice. While these small details of organisation may not fully replace the impact of meeting and greeting students and dismissing them from the room in an organised manner it will go some way to establishing routines, structure and expectations.
  • Display confidence on entering the room, look to get students working as quickly as possible (see point earlier about using the end of the previous lesson). Perhaps consider altering your starting routines or task type so that it is more teacher led – i.e. through questioning, a retrieval quiz, teacher led discussion so that focus is quickly on you and you take the lead.
  • Consider how you can minimise the need for PowerPoint and other electronic displays – the quickest way to get a lesson started may be a white board and pen! This also enables a much more direct teaching approach which may be necessary in these times but is also proven to be highly effective.
  • One of the nuanced aspects of having a separate classroom for each lesson, is that the actual change of location might help some students switch on to the work of that subject. Using lesson starters or your first bit of teacher talk to get students thinking back to their last lesson in your subject may help them switch on to your subject and bring past learning to mind.
  • Ensure you have and know the system/locations for removing students to other rooms within the bubble if they are not meeting expectations. Confidently knowing where they can go will again help establish your position.
  • Detentions also create a problem – to prevent bubbles mixing it is likely that most schools will runs sanctions by year group. Having subject specific detention work that you can set and the students can do independently in the detention will allow you to maintain some ownership over the sanction, even if it not run by you or your department lead.
  • Liaise with department leads and form tutors to pass on praise and concerns which can be followed up with students. This will show that you are still part of a wider team despite being fragmented.
  • Similarly ensure that contact home is made to praise students but also report poor behaviour.

By Ben Crockett (@BenCrockett1)

Ben is an Associate Senior leader at Durrington High School.  He is also a Research School Associate for Durrington Research School and will be delivering our training on “Effective Use of the Pupil Premium Fund” with Marc Rowland.

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Recovery teaching – best bets

Our whole school INSET was more focused on operational matters than it has been for some years. As a teaching and learning team we are lucky at Durrington that we are generally given top billing for any INSET time, and I’ve got used to our hour or 90 minute slot on the first day. Understandably, this time was cut down substantially this year as we needed to help our staff understand staggered timings, hand washing and bubbles.

As a result we needed to make sure the messages we gave were as pared down and precise as possible, while still rooted in the best available evidence. Ultimately, despite all the operational messages, our core business remains what happens once our students are in the classroom and ready to learn.

What is clear is that it cannot just be business as usual this year. Lockdown has presented a number of specific challenges that our teaching needs to overcome. That is not to say we need to teach completely differently, but our emphasis needs to change. Areas of teaching have become more or less important due to students being away from us for 6 or 7 months. I tried to exemplify what I saw as the greatest challenge for our teachers with the following image:

Now, the complexity of having 25 to 30 different brains in the room that you are trying to engage with has always been one of the toughest challenges for teachers. However, the relative differences between them have never been starker. They may come in and sit down and look like a homogeneous class, but the differing experiences of those students during lockdown mean they are not equally equipped for your lesson despite what they might have in their pencil cases. You have the high attaining student who did every scrap of work asked of them and actually developed as a metacognitive and self-regulating learner during the summer months and is now ready to hit the ground running. You also have students, potentially disadvantaged students, who did no structured learning for the entirety of lockdown. And you have every variation in-between.

So what do we do about that?

The answer is the best we possibly can using the best bets provided by research evidence.

There is, as always, no one answer, no silver bullet, and we have produced a lengthy recovery teaching document giving teachers advice across a variety of aspects of teaching to help them with what to focus on this year. However on INSET we chose to focus on two key areas of teaching in the limited time we had. These were:

  1. Explanation
  2. Formative assessment

As a team we considered at length about what would be most useful to focus on, but ultimately we felt it was these two features of teaching that we wanted staff to zone in on as they thought about returning to the classroom.

I described them as the input and the output. Explanation is all about how we manage the input students receive whereas formative assessment is how we judge the output they give to assess the relative success of that input in causing learning.

The key messages around explanation were:

  • We cannot circulate the class speaking to groups or individuals as we normally would, so teaching from the front is going to be everyone’s default setting. However, do not worry about this, direct instruction has been proven by Professor Kirschner and others to be the best way for experts to help novices learn. Direct instruction is founded in explanation so let’s get ours right.
  • We learn in the context of what we already know, so prior knowledge is key to learning. The schemata (connected webs of information on a given topic stored in our long-term memories) of our students connected to what we are trying to teach them have in some cases been well maintained during lockdown and in other cases badly eroded. In order to overcome this we need to work the activate as much prior knowledge as possible before teaching new material. We can do this using strategies including:
    • Mindmaps (done from memory)
    • Questioning
    • Quizzes
    • Short teacher recaps (preferably using stories)
  • We need to consider cognitive load theory when planning our explanations. The germane load (the connection between the new material and what we already know) which we rely on to support our explanation in usual circumstances will not be present for many students so we need to work on reducing the extraneous load (distractions from the learning) as far as possible. We can do this through:
    • Chunking our explanations of complex ideas or procedures.
    • Using worked examples to support complex tasks.
    • Funneling attention towards our explanation.
    • Reducing redundant information from our explanations.
    • Limiting distractions.

The key messages around formative assessment were:

  • Consider the purpose of any assessment before planning it or enacting it. Formative assessment has the purpose of informing classroom decisions.
  • Consider the cost of the assessment before performing it. The costs will be the planning, the time taken to complete it and the time taken to mark it.
  • Consider whether the assessment will give you information you do not already have. If it won’t, don’t do it.
  • Ensure you do something with the results, if you don’t the assessment won’t be formative.
  • Let student “rustiness” wear off for a couple of weeks before starting up assessment.
  • Consider the following types of formative assessment for recovery teaching:
    • Diagnostic questions (designed to reveal what students do or do not know).
    • Multiple choice questions.
    • Low stakes quizzing.
    • Mini-whiteboards (these have been provided for students as part of their “packs”).

Having completed this section of the INSET, I was all too aware of how much information was being delivered that day and how much change was having to be absorbed. However, a consoling thought is how it is ultimately teaching that amongst so many questions can help provide some solid answers. There is a lot we cannot control at the moment, this part, we can.

Chris Runeckles is an assistant headteacher at Durrington High School.  He is also an assistant director of Durrington Research School and will be delivering our training on Metacognition and Memory

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Activating Hard Thinking

The Durrington Research School team are writing a series of eight blogs about The Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review recently published by Evidence Based Education.  The report is the first step in the development of the organisation’s ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’. The aim of this project is to transform teacher professional development by creating a feedback system that encourages continual improvement. This first report lays out a model of teaching learning; it will be followed later by a set of tools that will help provide teachers with diagnostic feedback as they work towards specific goals; it will culminate in the development of networks of educators who will generate, share and apply the evidence. 

Half of our blogs, published on our Durrington Research School sister site, will be examining the evidence reviews included at the end of each chapter, while the blogs on Class Teaching will be more focused on interpreting the advice for teachers.  This week we will be considering the implications of dimension four, ‘Activating Hard Thinking’. The review divides this dimension into six elements:

  1. Structuring
  2. Explaining
  3. Questioning
  4. Interacting
  5. Embedding
  6. Activating

These six elements help to shape a framework for great classroom practice, that will cause students to think hard.  This is important, because thinking hard strengthens memory. Teaching is a complex process though and unsurprisingly, these elements overlap, interact and influence each other.  In this post, we will pose some reflective questions for each of the six elements in this dimension.  Hopefully this will be useful for  individual teachers or teams of teachers, who are reflecting on their teaching.


  1. Alongside sharing learning goals with students, do you also share examples of the kinds of problems, tasks and questions they will be able to do, as well as examples of work that demonstrates them?
  2. Do you share with students where the learning fits into the wider curriculum?
  3. When planning tasks do you give thought to ensuring that the tasks are hard enough to move them forward, but not so hard that they cannot cope, given their existing knowledge?
  4. Do tasks promote deep thinking rather than surface thinking e.g. focusing on abstraction, generalisation and the connectedness and flexibility of ideas, rather than just the reproduction of facts?
  5. Do you sequence the tasks you set, so that knowledge and skills are accessible and developed as required?
  6. Do you spend time thinking about how you will scaffold a task for the range of students in your class, including those students with SEND and low attainers?
  7. Do you think about how you will know when these ideas and procedures are secure and fluent, enabling you to remove the scaffolding?


  1. Do you understand ‘Cognitive Load Theory’ and use this to break complex ideas or procedures into smaller steps, when presenting new material?
  2. Linked to this, do you think about how to minimise extraneous, irrelevant or distracting input (from the content or the environment) when presenting new material?
  3. Do you think about how you will modify or create new schemas (a network of connected ‘bits’ of knowledge) by connecting new ideas you are explaining to existing knowledge?
  4. Do you prepare your students for new knowledge by ensuring that their existing schemas are well-connected, fluent and accessible?


  1. Rather than thinking about the number of questions you ask, do you think about the balance between questions that promote deep and surface thinking (deeper thinking can be defined as more integrated, coherent and at a higher level of abstraction)?
  2. Do you think about the purpose of your questioning – (a) to promote thinking (b) to assess understanding?
  3. Does your questioning require students to give explanations and justifications for their answers, describe their thinking process, elaborate on their answers explore implications, ‘what-ifs’ and connections with other ideas?
  4. Do you ask questions or provide prompts, that provide an insight into whether students have grasped the required knowledge?
  5. Do you have strategies for checking the responses of all students, not just a few?
  6. Do your questions really discriminate between those who know and those who don’t?
  7. Do you use their responses to your questions to plan and adapt your future teaching?


  1. Do you use feedback about how students are performing on a task to inform the decisions you make as a teacher e.g. reteach or move on?
  2. Does your feedback help to clarify or emphasise goals or success criteria?
  3. Does your feedback make any gap between the actual and desired levels of performance clear to students?
  4. Does your feedback attribute potential success or failure to reasons the student can control e.g. effort or strategy choice?
  5. Does your feedback indicate productive next steps for students?


  1. Do you provide opportunities for students to practise any procedures that are regularly required to be fluent and accurate?
  2. Initially, do you monitor and guide this practice, to stop errors becoming embedded?
  3. Do you ‘distribute’ or ‘space’ practice over time, with deliberate gaps in between for forgetting?
  4. Do you provide opportunities for low-stakes tests/quizzes that require students to recall information from memory?
  5. Do these retrieval tests/quizzes require deep and connected thinking?
  6. Do you support other effective learning strategies such as interleaving, varying the conditions of practice, elaboration and self-explanation?


  1. Once you have directly taught what needs to be understood, do you aim to wean students off this dependency on the teacher – but only when appropriate to do so?
  2. Do you understand that using problem-solving as a teaching strategy is overwhelming and inefficient for students who do not have the required background knowledge?
  3. Do you avoid using strategies that work for novice learners e.g. presenting limited, structured content and worked examples, with expert learners, allowing them to tackle whole problems instead?
  4. Do you explicitly teach metacognitive strategies that will support students with planning, monitoring and evaluating their own learning?
  5. Do you ensure that these metacognitive strategies are taught within the context of the content they are learning?
  6. Do you describe and model your own planning and self-regulation strategies when tackling a complex task?

Posted by Shaun Allison

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Helping teachers to ‘maximise the learning opportunities”

by Ben Crockett

The Durrington Research School team are writing a series of eight blogs about The Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review recently published by Evidence Based Education.  The report is the first step in the development of the organisation’s ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’. The aim of this project is to transform teacher professional development by creating a feedback system that encourages continual improvement. This first report lays out a model of teaching learning; it will be followed later by a set of tools that will help provide teachers with diagnostic feedback as they work towards specific goals; it will culminate in the development of networks of educators who will generate, share and apply the evidence. 


Half of our blogs, published on our Durrington Research School sister site, will be examining the evidence reviews included at the end of each chapter, while the blogs on Class Teaching will be more focused on interpreting the advice for teachers.  This week we will be considering the implications of chapter three, ‘Maximising opportunity to learn”, for individual teachers practice and learning. The review divides this chapter into three elements:

  • Managing time and resources efficiently in the classroom to maximise productivity and minimise wasted time (e.g., starts, transitions); giving clear instructions so students understand what they should be doing; using (and explicitly teaching) routines to make transitions smooth
  • Ensuring that rules, expectations and consequences for behaviour are explicit, clear and consistently applied
  • Preventing, anticipating and responding to potentially disruptive incidents; reinforcing positive student behaviours; signalling awareness of what is happening in the classroom and responding appropriately

No model of teaching effectiveness could be complete without a consideration of classroom management – it is a fundamental aspect of what we do. For learning to take place it is vital that time and behaviour is managed so that students can access and grapple with material.

Element 1: Managing time and resources efficiently to maximise productivity

We will have all been in a lesson, either as a student, a trainee or an observer where the lesson seems to move from activity to activity seamlessly, and it is often a hallmark of great teaching. However, it is not something that happens by chance – great teachers plan their activities and resources to ensure smooth progressions and have invested their time to embed systems and structures to create this environment. At the other end of the spectrum most of us can probably think back to lesson where the activities/resources or systems have not allowed such a lesson, despite our best efforts and intentions. As a geographer I shiver at the time wasted and disruption caused by vast card sorts during my training and early career!

When reflecting on how we manage time and maximise productivity in our classroom, it may be worth considering the following:

  • What are the main reasons for time being wasted at that start/during transition phases of my lesson and how can I minimise this?
  • Do I plan the delivery of my instructions prior to the lesson? (Clear, simple and concise instructions allow students to know exactly what they need to do.)
  • When planning resources how can I remove the non-essential aspects to allow students to focus on the core learning?
    • For example; can I reduce the extraneous load created by resource layout/design? How can these resources be given to students (i.e. in what format and at what point in the lesson) to minimise disruption? How clear will the intended goal/output of the activity be?
  • When designing activities do I ensure that they learning intentions of the lesson are central to the purpose of the activity? (I always think back to my ITT tutor when asking considering this – his response to nearly every activity I planned was “Where is the geography in this?” and if the time allocated to the activity wasn’t producing meaningful geographic learning then it needed to be altered).
  • How do I balance variation and routines? Variation has its place in the classroom, but should not be included for the sake of entertainment over learning. It is also important that there are certain aspects of your lesson(s) (e.g. entry tasks/discussion protocols) that are regular and embedded as part of the classroom routine.

Element 2: Rules, expectations and consequences for behaviour

When a member of staff is struggling with behaviour it is often suggested that they observe a colleague renowned for their behaviour management. Often staff observe this practitioner, but struggle to come away with any tangible strategies because they did not witness them. This is not because the teacher observed does not have them in their repertoire but because they rarely use them, due to the hard work having been completed in explicitly outlining and enforcing expectations and rules beforehand. Again, it may be worth asking yourself the following reflective questions:

  • When do I explicitly state the rules and expectations of my classroom?
  • How often do I revisit and explicitly remind students of these expectations?
  • How can I use my choice of language to support student acceptance and buy-in to these rules and expectations?
  • How do I model the expectations I have to students?
  • Where possible am I consistent in dealing with poor behaviour?
  • Do students know the consequences for failing to follow rules or meet my expectations?
  • Do I ensure that these consequences are always applied and followed up? (In his “The Beginning Teacher’s Behaviour Toolkit” Tom Bennett notes that the length/severity of the sanction is less significant than then knowledge that there will be a sanction in discouraging misbehaviour).

Element 3: Preventing, Anticipating and Responding to Disruptive Incidents

As mentioned above, one of the features of great teaching is that disruption is not seen, but this is only because of the antecedent work of the teacher to anticipate and prevent it.

I think this element contains my favourite quote from the entire review – “Great teachers don’t actually have eyes in the back of their head, but their students may think they do.” At Durrington we often speak of fiefdoms, whether this be on a whole school, department area or classroom level. I am a strong believer that the classroom is the fiefdom of that teacher and it is therefore essential that the teacher is aware of everything going on in the room (“withitness” as coined by Kounin, 1997) and that students are aware of this awareness. Great teachers can demonstrate this awareness even when seemingly focused on something else, this may be through a targeted stare, hand gesture or positioning in the room, all while continuing on with their explanation or modelling they are doing. Much of these skills are tacit and become embedded in the practice of experienced teachers, however it is again important to reflect on skills within this element.

  • How do you demonstrate fiefdom or ownership of your classroom?
  • How do you use routines to establish a positive classroom environment?
  • How often do you use positive reinforcement versus sanctions to establish your classroom environment?
  • When planning for a class do you anticipate where issues may arise?
  • How often do you review/alter your seating plans to adapt to potential disruption?
  • How often do you liaise with other staff, including other teachers, SEN departments and pastoral teams to discuss and seek advice regarding challenging students?
  • Do you use non-verbal cues such as classroom position to nip disruption in the bud?
  • When writing on the board or supporting students 1:1 does low level disruption increase? How can you alter your practice to respond to this? (For example, your positioning/angle to the class when writing on the board or talking to an individual student.)


While answering these questions will not give immediate solutions to improving classroom management, their answers should give a base from which to work from. Classroom management is fundamentally individualistic as we all have our own styles and natural strengths/weaknesses. Only in reflecting on our own practice can we identify the areas that may benefit from change or greater focus.

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Helping teachers to ‘create a supportive environment’

By Chris Runeckles

The Durrington Research School team are writing a series of eight blogs about The Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review recently published by Evidence Based Education.  The report is the first step in the development of the organisation’s ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’. The aim of this project is to transform teacher professional development by creating a feedback system that encourages continual improvement. This first report lays out a model of teaching learning; it will be followed later by a set of tools that will help provide teachers with diagnostic feedback as they work towards specific goals; it will culminate in the development of networks of educators who will generate, share and apply the evidence. 

Half of our blogs, published on our Durrington Research School sister site, will be examining the evidence reviews included at the end of each chapter, while the blogs on Class Teaching will be more focused on interpreting the advice for teachers. 

This week we will be considering the implications of chapter two, ‘creating a supportive environment’, for teachers’ professional learning.  The review divides this chapter into four elements:

2.1 Promoting interactions and relationships with all students that are
based on mutual respect, care, empathy and warmth; avoiding
negative emotions in interactions with students; being sensitive to the
individual needs, emotions, culture and beliefs of students

2.2 Promoting a positive climate of student-student relationships,
characterised by respect, trust, cooperation and care

2.3 Promoting learner motivation through feelings of competence,
autonomy and relatedness

2.4 Creating a climate of high expectations, with high challenge and
high trust, so learners feel it is okay to have a go; encouraging
learners to attribute their success or failure to things they can change

This is a highly complex area of teacher practice.  This is made patently clear by highlighting just some of the language included in the elements above, including: relationships, respect, empathy, cultural beliefs, trust and motivation.

To effectively intervene in, and positively influence these areas of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil relationships and interactions is notoriously difficult, and filled with subtlety and nuance.  So much emotion is at play here as is the personal bias we, and our students, all carry into the classroom.

In fact, the report itself raises the possibility that teaching skills and behaviours in this area should belong in the more advanced end of the teacher development curriculum.  Even going as far as to say that it may be possible for competent teachers to be quite effective in promoting learning for most students without really paying much attention to this dimension.

However, as someone who regularly leads teacher training and CPD in a diverse number of areas, relationships, and in particular student motivation, is something that is continually discussed as a barrier to successfully implementing teaching strategies.  Therefore, we must not shy away from engaging with this dimension, as it is one of the combination of elements that makes up great teaching.  Yes, it is difficult and nuanced but we are in a profession that is all about human interaction, so we ignore it at our peril.

What is also very difficult is to give teachers tangible actions or CPD activities in this area.  I have myself used Deci and Ryan’s (2008) self-determination theory in training, but in contrast to something like Sweller’s (1994) cognitive load theory, there are far fewer easy take-aways to give teachers to incorporate into their practice.  What ends up happening is a bit like this blog, a discussion of the issues and a recognition of the problems.  This is why I am particularly excited to see the toolkit that goes with this dimension.  To have some activities for teachers to engage with that will give them diagnostic feedback in this area and strategies to make improvements to their practice is really exciting.

I certainly do not want to preempt these tools, and so would instead suggest a good starting point would be for some self reflection in each of these areas, through a series of potentially quite challenging questions.  These are challenging because we all want to feel that the environment we create is supportive, so to consider the alternative is uncomfortable.  The following questions do not represent everything in this dimension, and would be best considered after reading the report in order to gain the necessary context.

  • How well do you know the specific SEND needs of your students?
  • Do you know, and take account of, the cultural identities of your students?
  • Do you ever use sarcasm when talking to students during a lesson?
  • Do students pay attention to, and respect each others’ thoughts expressed in your classroom?
  • On an average day, in an average lesson what are the motivation levels like amongst your students?
  • Do you ever lower your expectations of students based them being part of a particular subgroup (for example students in receipt of free school meals)?
  • Do you avoid asking challenging questions to students who seem less confident?
  • Do students feel safe to take risks and accept failure in your classroom?

Inevitably these questions will lead to further questions and equally not necessarily any easy answers.  However, an awareness of an issue is essential to addressing it and so the thinking that goes with them should provide a useful starting point to what comes next.  Hopefully, this next phase will be supported by the ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’.  If the initial report is anything to go by then we can’t wait to see it.

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From Distance Teaching to Recovery Teaching

The teachers at Durrington have done a fantastic job of adapting their pedagogy to distance teaching during the Covid pandemic.  As we look towards the future and the prospect of students returning to school, the Durrington Research School team have been thinking about the subtle changes teachers will have to make to their teaching when students return fully to school.  If all goes to plan and students return to relative normality, they will not have experienced this normality for six months.  They will need our support with this.

Here are our thoughts around recovery teaching.  We have broken it down into specific areas, outlined the issues that we think teachers will be facing and then offered some possible classroom strategies for teachers to consider.


We can’t assume what the gaps in learning might be when students return.  We will need to assess this accurately and find out exactly where the gaps are.

At the same time though, we can’t allow assessment to dominate the curriculum so the bulk of this will need to be periodic formative assessment.

We are missing assessment data that we would normally have for Y10 going into Y11.  How can we identify target students without this?

Strategies for teachers:

  • Ensure that robust and standardised assessments are in place early on in September to identify the learning gaps, relating to work covered in the closure period.  These may well need to be narrowed in focus, testing just the core parts of the curriculum needed to unlock the next parts of the curriculum.  Attempts to uncover all learning in all areas is impossible as would be the reteaching of it.  Therefore, choices will need to be made of what is most important to know and therefore to test.
  • Plan for rich formative assessment exercises in lessons to assess where the gaps are for individual students, especially disadvantaged students e.g. checklists, questioning, quizzes.
  • Class student surveys via Google Forms work very well to assess and compare student levels of confidence on topic/tasks – they often ‘catch’ things that quizzes etc miss.


Good explanations are built upon prior knowledge, which can usually be relied on from well sequenced previous lessons, that most students will have been exposed to.  This won’t have been possible during the closure period.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Take more time than usual with explanations and don’t assume prior knowledge – there will be huge variability in the room, due to the varying degrees of engagement with distance teaching.
  • Start explanations of new material by carefully eliciting and building up the required prior knowledge through questioning and re-teaching etc.


During the closure period, there is a very high possibility that significant misconceptions will have developed, as you won’t have been there at the point of instruction to pick up any errors in understanding.

Strategies for teachers;

  • A judgement will need to be made here.  In some cases, if it becomes apparent that there are significant misconceptions in an area covered by distance teaching, it might be better to simply re-teach it.
  • Even if it is not re-taught, when you are reviewing material covered during distance teaching, or they are using it in new ways, you will need to unpick misconceptions and give very specific feedback (class and/or individual) to correct them.


Homework offers an avenue to revisit material covered during the partial closure and address gaps, however we must consider the following:

  • What will be the focus of the homework – what topics will they cover?
  • What does the homework hope to achieve – knowledge recall or practice etc
  • Students may lack the knowledge that they would normally have to complete the homework. At best there is going to be large variation between students dependent on their engagement during the partial closure.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Use formative assessment strategies to identify common gaps in knowledge for your classes and develop homeworks that are tailored to these. Consider how you can provide support and scaffolding with the homework (potentially through the use of loom videos or worked examples) to support students completing homework.
  • Ensure that homework is not set that assumes knowledge that students may not have.
  • Be careful in trying to fill online learning gaps through homework tasks – non-engagers with online learning are likely to be those who will miss homework.
  • Further Reading – here.


The opportunity for retrieval practice will have been reduced during partial closure. As a result, students would have forgotten lots.

This is also true of spaced practice which will have also contributed to forgetting of curriculum content.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Regular retrieval quizzing in lessons to support and encourage recall, which will in turn help to build memory. 
  • Opportunities for teasing out prior knowledge need to be carefully planned and given time, as many of these ‘memory connections’ will have been lost.  New knowledge then needs to be carefully built upon this.
  • Using pause lessons to revisit prior content rather than relying on starters or homework.


The metacognitive development of young adults is stimulated when metacognitive processes are modelled by peers, parents and most importantly teachers. Despite best efforts with online modelling it is likely that students will not have practiced their metacognitive  thinking as much as they would have in the normal classroom.

The need for self-regulation has increased as a result of the lockdown as students need to recognise their own areas of weakness.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Ensure that when planning lessons, opportunities to explicitly model metacognitive thinking (through processes such as “think aloud”) are incorporated into lessons and that students are then given the opportunity to practice these skills themselves.
  • When preparing lessons consider if  students are being explicitly taught how to plan, monitor and evaluate how they are going to approach a task and use this language explicitly.
  • Consider the rate at which support for students to do this is removed – likely to need more support at the start than would be usual such as checklists that encourage them to self regulate.
  • This is also an opportunity to build on some of the self-regulation skills students have built during lockdown.  Some students will have may improvements in this area and this best practice needs to drawn out and shared.


Online teaching materials are likely to have been different to what would have been taught in school. Units may have been altered or missed entirely – subsequently skills and knowledge from one unit that may have been built upon in future teaching may not be there.

Decisions will need to be made in terms of priority.  The whole of the lockdown curriculum cannot be retaught without something else going.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Based on work as part of your curriculum team  consider where gaps in learning due to the partial closure may directly  impact on teaching of new content/skills etc and ensure that lessons are adapted to develop the required base knowledge first.
  • Review curriculum map, with a particular focus on what would have been taught normally post March. Consider where this material would link to later teaching in the curriculum and identify where these links may have subsequently not developed.
  • Once this is done actions may involve just re-planning of individual lessons or altering order of curriculum where possible.
  • Build more pause time into your curriculum.

Classroom Routines

Routines may be forgotten and some habitual behaviours may have been lost during the partial closure period.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Make routines and expectations crystal clear at the start of the year and keep referring back to these.
  • Opening lessons can be used to model and practice basics – e.g. basic expectations, questioning routines, book presentation, literacy expectations, etc.


Students might be more reticent about answering questions in lessons, due to their perceived lack of understanding as a result of school closures.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Be more patient than usual when questioning students in lessons and be prepared to scaffold more.


Students may have gone several months without physically writing anything down.

Some students will not have engaged with the academic discourses of the classroom for some time. This may exacerbate vocabulary gaps and students may be inclined towards non-academic and informal language.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Provide multiple opportunities for writing in early lessons
  • Give clear SPag expectations and guidelines.
  • Use assessment to identify SPaG, writing issues and liaise with SEN-department where necessary.
  • Use sentence starters, writing frames and planning structures to support extended writing in the early weeks of term.
  • Revist vocabulary from last year to identify gaps.
  • Support and encourage students to speak in full sentences and scaffold their use of academic vocabulary through questioning and feedback.

Useful Resources:

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Helping teachers to ‘understand the content’

By Andy Tharby

Earlier this month, Evidence Based Education published an exciting new report entitled The Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review, the first step in the development of the organisation’s ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’. The aim of this project is to transform teacher professional development by creating a feedback system that encourages continual improvement. This first report lays out a model of teaching learning; it will be followed later by a set of tools that will help provide teachers with diagnostic feedback as they work towards specific goals; it will culminate in the development of networks of educators who will generate, share and apply the evidence.

The report itself presents a model for great teaching that composes of four broad dimensions:

  1. Understanding the content
  2. Creating a supportive environment
  3. Maximising the opportunity to learn
  4. Activating hard thinking

Over the next four weeks, the ‘Class Teaching’ blog will consider each of these components in turn, looking at implications for teachers and their professional learning.  This week we will look at ‘understanding the content’, an often overlooked area of teacher development, which has been further divided by the review into four elements.

1.1 Having deep and fluent knowledge and flexible understanding of the content you are teaching

1.2 Knowledge of the requirements of curriculum sequencing and dependencies in relation to the content and ideas you are teaching

1.3 Knowledge of relevant curriculum tasks, assessments and activities, their diagnostic and didactic potential; being able to generate varied explanations and multiple representations / analogies / examples for the ideas you are teaching

1.4 Knowledge of common student strategies, misconceptions and sticking points in relation to the content you are teaching

Questions for teachers and leaders

As yet, Evidence Based Education have not published the diagnostic tools that will accompany this project. In the meantime, teachers and leaders who want to start thinking about putting these ideas into practice might begin by considering the following questions when planning for next year.

  • Do teachers have deep and connected knowledge of all the topics they will be teaching next year?
  • How can you identify the gaps in teacher content knowledge? How can these be addressed?
  • Are teachers able to ask higher-order questions? Does their subject-knowledge enable them to promote higher-order thinking?
  • Do teachers have theoretical knowledge of the domain of learning? In other words, do they understand the role of key elements such as memory, metacognition, literacy and formative assessment in the learning process? How could CPD provision address these?
  • Can teachers explain how and why the curriculum should be sequenced?
  • Do teachers have a strong grasp of students’ existing knowledge and skills in all topics? Are teachers able to write plans that depend on correct sequencing and planned reactivation of prior knowledge?
  • Do teachers know how to select learning activities at the right level of challenge that will enable them to assess student learning?
  • Do teachers have opportunities to develop their repertoire of explanations, models, analogies and representations? Do they know how to employ these to fit the requirements of students?
  • Do teachers have multiple explanations, examples and other strategies at hand for when students ‘don’t get it’?
  • Does your CPD approach provide opportunities for novice teachers to be explicitly taught these explanations, models, analogies, representations and examples or are teachers expected to learn these through ad hoc means alone?
  • Do teachers know the common misconceptions surrounding each topic? Are lessons and learning activities designed to address these areas?

Potential CPD activities to develop these areas

As we all start to plan for the upcoming academic year, schools will need to think about how they provide teachers with CPD opportunities that will help them to enhance their content knowledge. Inevitably, this dimension of the toolkit has implications for how schools and wider networks deliver subject-specific professional development. The following practical CPD strategies may help schools, subject areas and teachers to put the evidence into immediate action.

Consider carefully the differences between generic and subject-specific CPD, and where these overlap. What do all teachers of all subjects need to know about the theoretical domain of learning? What do all teachers need to know about teaching the topics on the subject curriculum? A strong model of CPD is likely to be one that prioritises both and recognises the inherent relationship between the two.

Ensure that subject-specific CPD becomes the cornerstone of teacher development. Two useful questions to ask are ‘What are we teaching next?’ and ‘How do we teach it well?’ Subject expertise and smart leadership are crucial in making this happen. When the expertise is not available within the institution, teachers and leaders will benefit from looking outside their immediate context and engaging with outside agencies, networks and other educators. It is important to recognise that teachers’ subject knowledge needs are often very different – how will you ensure that all teachers receive the bespoke development they require?

Treat your CPD provision as a teacher development curriculum. Think carefully about sequencing and building upon prior knowledge. If you are leading a new team, use content knowledge surveys to diagnose the needs of your department. Design CPD sessions so that expert teachers can share and model expertise, but also ensure that opportunities for practice and feedback are built into this cycle

Provide opportunities for discussing and sharing common errors and misconceptions at a granular and topic-specific level. Use these discussions as the basis for improving explanations, analogies, examples and representations in your subject area.


If you are interested in the ideas expressed in this blog, then please take a look at the ‘Curriculum, Teaching and Assessment’ training programme that we will be running at Durrington Research School from January 2021.

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According to a curriculum leader I line manage, there is a phrase of mine that fills him with horror.  Whenever I say: “something that’s been on my mind for a while is…..” he knows a big job is coming his way.

He suffered it earlier this week.  The reason being I’ve been trying to get it clear in my head how on earth we are going to revisit the curriculum covered during lockdown.  It is an issue for his subject, but similarly across the school.  As it stands spaced practice principles run through our curriculum in several ways across different subjects.  I’m assuming a certain amount of cognitive science understanding in this blog, but essentially the principle of spaced or distributed practice involves repeatedly coming back to the information that we are learning in various short sessions, spaced out over time, rather than ‘cramming’ it into a single intense period.  The sort of strategies designed to achieve this at Durrington include:

  • Lagged homework that revisits content previously taught as opposed to what is being taught currently.
  • Retrieval practice quizzes that test knowledge learnt weeks and months previously.
  • Summative assessments that require knowledge from all topics taught across that year or keys stage.
  • Cyclical curriculum design that revisits concepts, building on them each time.

In normal circumstances this works pretty well.  It enables us to exploit the lessons of cognitive science and strengthen student memories of the content they have learnt by regularly putting them through the process of recalling information from their long-term memory into their working memory.

However, for this to be effective it relies on the concepts having been taught in the first place.  There will always be those students who missed that lesson that will fall through the net, but for the majority these spaced practice activities running through the curriculum will be enough to supplement the initial teaching and build deep knowledge.  My suspicion is that if we adopt a similar approach to the curriculum taught during lockdown that we may well come unstuck.

As with many schools we have experienced a spectrum of engagement with our provision.  We’re pretty proud of what we have offered, five Google Classroom lessons every day since day one, following the existing timetable. Curriculum leaders and teachers have worked tirelessly to ensure the quality of these has been exceptional.  However, despite all the measures put in place, not all students have fully engaged.  Therefore, it is not the case of the odd student who wasn’t in for that lesson.  There will be a number of students for whom a retrieval practice quiz will not strengthen memory, it will simply reveal what they do not know.  As a result the normal approach of using spaced practice woven into the teaching of new content isn’t going to be enough.

Perhaps then the pause lesson could be our new (old) best friend.  In terms of spaced practice, a pause lesson would be a chance to recall knowledge and engage in practice around content previously taught.  The teacher would take a break from the topic being taught (usually eliciting some student grumbling) and return to something taught previously.  However, in this post-lockdown iteration they will need to change.

Essentially we have prototypes of these new lessons running across our school at the moment.  Y10 are spending some time in school at the moment, completing 2-hour lessons in shifts.  During these lesson no new content is being taught, instead teachers are establishing student knowledge, coherence and confidence with distance learning topics, doing some re-teaching where needed (which is a lot) and dealing with the concepts the require the most teacher modelling in order to be successful.

Now, in order for our curriculum to move on and keep the necessary coherence and appropriate sequencing we cannot front load all of this work for all year groups to September and then simply carry on as normal.  Equally, we cannot just jettison the curriculum covered over lockdown.  I teach history and I’m not prepared to simply say that my Y8 students going into Y9 just won’t really understand the causes of the First World War that well.

Therefore, dotting pause lessons into the curriculum across the year might be one useful solution to this enormous headache.  These pause lessons would represent the chance to take a section of the lockdown curriculum apart and then put it back together again.  It would work best with some prep, maybe a homework involving a quiz or student checklist to give the teacher some insight into student knowledge and understanding.  Then the teacher could work to either teach from scratch or fill in the blanks.  This would not so much be revision as catch-up.  Think the student who missed a big chunk of the year and you need to bring them up to speed.

Within this model choices will need to be made.  To go back history example, not everything connected to the causes of the War could be included, but the essentials could.  Making these choices of what to teach would be part about teachers and leaders picking the absolute core knowledge, and part about formative assessment of pupils to find out their areas of greatest weakness.  By finding the parts of the curriculum most in need of attention in this way, some of the fog would be lifted, allowing the rest of the curriculum to make more sense.

This is pretty commons sense stuff so will be nothing that most have not already considered, and is fraught with other problems.  Not least the intense pressure on how much we always need to cover in our curriculum.  However, to salvage the March to July curriculum, we need a plan (and my curriculum leader needs to get his thinking hat on).

Posted by Chris Runeckles

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A thousand little moments

In a recent ‘Best Bets’ podcast hosted by Caroline Creaby (Director of Sandringham Research School), Marc Rowland talked about what the most successful teachers and schools do with their pupil premium students, based on his own experience of working with hundreds of schools up and down the country.  The above quote from Marc really resonates, because it’s so true.  If you’re a pupil premium student who gets dealt a good hand when the timetable is being created and gets to be taught by great teachers, you’re going to experience those little moments Marc describes most lessons.  As a result, you’re probably going to do well in school and feel really good about yourself as a learner.  We know this, because we know that teaching quality makes a difference to student attainment.  In a recent presentation for researchEDHome, Dylan Wiliam shared the evidence to support this:

If we take a group of 50 teachers, students taught by the most effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher will learn in a year. Students taught by the least effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers, will take two years to achieve the same learning”

“In the classrooms of the most effective teachers, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, learn at the same rate as those from advantaged backgrounds”  (Hamre & Pianta, 2005)

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to watch brilliant teachers in action will recognise those little moments Marc is talking about, that will almost certainly contribute to this increased rate of learning.  They are those seemingly small things that really skilled teachers intuitively do, to push their most vulnerable students just out of their comfort zone, to make a real difference to their self-efficacy and learning.  This might include:

  • Talking to them with genuine interest and care.
  • Valuing what they have to say and the work that they produce.
  • Say hello to them in the corridor and ask how their day is going.
  • Really carefully and patiently framing their explanations around what the students already know.
  • Not allowing them to sit quietly and ignore a question, but encouraging them to have a go at answering.
  • Not accepting a safe superficial answer, but probing them to think more about their answer.
  • Not accepting work that is poorly presented and doesn’t really reflect what they are truly capable of.
  • Using retrieval quizzes during their lessons.
  • Encouraging them to use appropriate tier 2 and 3 vocabulary when answering questions.
  • Not dumbing down their language when speaking to them.
  • Giving them very specific praise about the work they complete – but only if it is worthy of that praise!
  • Giving them very specific feedback that will improve them as a learner – ‘I really like your opening sentence for this piece of writing, but I think you could probably expand this idea in the last sentence and explain why it happened’
  • Sharing high quality work that they complete with their peers and explaining why it is so good.
  • Subtly but precisely modelling how to tackle a problem and providing them with a worked example.
  • Simply, but effectively helping them to self-regulate their own learning.  There are lots of examples of this here, but this will include asking simple questions to help them plan, monitor and evaluate their work.
  • Encouraging them to aim high – ‘I know you can do this, because last time we tried a question like this you did it brilliantly’.
  • Using aspirational language – ‘Well, when you go on to do A levels…’

The problem is of course that our disadvantaged students haven’t been experiencing these little moments whilst schools have been closed, as they have been deprived of face to face contact these great teachers.  In a recent rapid evidence review by the Education Endowment Foundation, regarding the implications of Covid-19 closures, it was found that the closures are likely to reverse the progress of the past decade, that has been made with disadvantaged learners.  This same analysis suggests the gap could widen by between 11% and 75% between March and September.  The Chief Executive of the EEF Professor Becky Francis characterised the situation by saying that Covid-19 had “created the test of a generation”.  However, she also said a successful response is not out of reach for the profession, as long as it is “collaborative, intelligent and sustained”

So as the doors begin to open for students again, especially for our disadvantaged students, we need to be lavishing them with these little moments.  Yes, there will of course need to be  ‘catch-up interventions’ for some, but the most powerful experience we can gift them, to begin the reversal of the ‘Covid Slide’, is being back in front of their great teachers.   We’ll welcome them back into school, celebrate the amazing effort they have put into the work they completed at home, skilfully unpick the learning gaps that will have inevitably emerged and then slowly, but surely, begin to fill these gaps and restore their confidence as learners.  We’ll do this and we’ll do it brilliantly as a profession, because there is no other option and that’s just what we do.  We fix things.

Shaun Allison


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