Using Ankiapp to help students recall information.

The 15 Minute Forum returned tonight and was led by Science teacher Phoebe Bence. Last year Phoebe was in her second year as a teacher and completed a Research Innovation Project. This was completed in conjunction with Brian Marsh at the University of Brighton and was one of a series of evidence-based research projects run at Durrington High School.

The basis of Phoebe’s research was concentrated on the premise that ‘students don’t remember anything that we (as teachers) have taught them’.

picture1In addition, as Science (and other GCSEs) move towards a purely linear, terminal exam the amount of content has increased. As Phoebe stated, the 2015 Science GCSE exams included 47-53% of questions which were purely based upon knowledge recall. Even when students had to apply their knowledge, they were still required to recall sections of knowledge before then applying them to the question. As a result, the ability of her students to recall knowledge became of paramount importance for Phoebe. This is supported by Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve which reflects how much knowledge is ‘lost’ by a student as time elapses. Importantly, however Ebbinghaus also identifies that reviewing ‘chunks’ of knowledge at regularly spaced intervals will result in an increased amount of that knowledge being retained by the student.


There is strong evidence to state that reviewing knowledge and retrieval practice are effective learning strategies. The Learning Scientists include retrieval practice as one of their ‘Six Strategies for Effective Learning’ and identify flashcards as one effective tool. However, it was also important for Phoebe to use a strategy with her students, that they were engaged by and would therefore ‘buy into’. As a result, she focussed on the use of Ankiapp, which is a desktop flashcard app. There were two reasons for this; firstly, Phoebe had used this app when trying to learn a foreign language and had first-hand experience of how useful it was; and secondly that this app uses an advanced algorithm to calculate the optimal spacing time between reviews.

Students complete the question, from the flashcard, and are then asked to rate how ‘easy’ they found that question. The ‘space recognition algorithm’ used by Ankiapp has been developed by their ex-neuroscientist and, based upon the students’ response, determines how soon the same question is repeated during the students’ review.


As students practice the questions on more occasions, the time intervals between questions increases. This allows students to practice those questions which they find ‘harder’ more often, whilst continuing to review the ‘easier’ questions intermittently to ensure that these are not forgotten. This also allows students to have a completely personalised and bespoke set of flashcards.

The next challenge for Phoebe was to show her students that this method of reviewing their knowledge was effective and useful. To do this, she set her students a ‘test’ of questions which she deemed as ‘hard’ but linked to the content that they were studying. The students sat this ‘test’ and their performance was graded. Phoebe then, showed the students how to download Ankiapp and explained to her students how to use the app. She also provided the students with a set of flashcards specifically based upon the ‘test’ that they had just set. Over the next two weeks, Phoebe set the students homework to use the app and nagged them during their lessons. At the end of the fortnight the students sat the same test. The picture below, shows a students’ initial test paper and then their second attempt having used the app everyday.


Overall Phoebe’s research found that the students did value the use of Ankiapp as an effective method of improving their knowledge recall. During her initial pilot study only 39% of her students used the flashcards. However, at the end of her study (over the academic year) on average 69% of her students used the flashcards. On average students who said that they had used the flashcards scored 9.5 marks higher on the ‘test’ paper. In addition, 82% of Phoebe’s students stated that they found Ankiapp the ‘most useful’ or ‘one of the most useful’ revision methods that they had used when preparing for their GCSE exam.

If you would like to use Ankiapp with your classes, follow Phoebe’s instructions below.







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What to do with lazy boys?


Like most secondary schools, as we approach the mock exams and then the summer exams, we are spending a great deal of time thinking about and talking about Y11.  As we do, one questions seems to make an annual appearance – what are we going to do about the lazy boys?

A quick google search of ‘lazy teenage brain’ throws up a number of articles and TED talks about the differences between the teenage brain and the adult brain (as shown by MRI scans), and how these differences explain the ‘lazy teenager syndrome’.  Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore presents a convincing case in her TED talk, ‘The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain‘.  These ideas are also explained in this article in The Telegraph.  So does this mean that they really can’t help it and that we should just accept their laziness?  American psychologist Dr Robert Epstein suggests not.  In his paper ‘The myth of the teen brain’ he suggests that these snapshots of brain activity are not enough to draw such big conclusions from, and that other factors such as culture, social expectations and nutrition are more likely to be responsible for teenage behaviour.


In reality, the cause of teenage behaviour is likely to be a combination of a wide range of factors e.g. brain activity, hormones, culture, social expectations, nutrition, friendship groups, parenting etc, many of which we can’t control in school.   So, as we always do,  we should look at the factors that we can control.

At Durrington, Y11 have just had their ‘Tracking Point’ report.  One of the things our teachers report on is the ‘effort’ of each students.  Having identified a group of ‘Y11 lazy boys’ I had a look at their reports, and identified the teachers who have given each of these students a ‘consistent’ or better effort score in their subject.


I then asked these teachers, what they do to keep these boys focused and working hard.  Here is a summary of their responses – these are real teachers, talking about real ‘lazy boys’ that they are currently teaching and having success with:

  • Make sure they know I want the absolute best for them.
  • Highlight them on my seating plan as a constant reminder to me.  Include on here their most recent assessment grade, so I can show them (when there is progress) that effort = good grades.
  • Sit him near the front where I can keep an eye on how he is working.
  • Sit him next to a hard working role model.
  • Expect him to perform well every lesson!  No let up!
  • Talk to them all the time about how they are doing and where they want to be in the future.
  • In corridors, say ‘Hi’ and as they leave say ‘Have a great day’ – to show them that you care about them as people.
  • Never not let them do their best!  If they don’t, I make sure they do it again in their own time…..and I’ll make sure I hunt them down!  I am unflaggingly (if not brutally) honest with them in terms of their progress!
  • Remind him that he is very capable and anything less than his best is just not acceptable.
  • Draw attention to the progress he has already made.
  • The minute they are looking switched off, ask them a question to re-engage them.  Use stories to contextualise the content and re-engage them e.g. ‘you know when…..’ or ‘this is an awesome fact’ or ‘did you know that…..’   Just be relentlessly passionate about your subject!
  • Share their successes with other members of staff e.g. tutors, company leaders, and ask them to mention it to them.  Again, this shows that you care.
  • Set a detention when they don’t do their homework, but also when they don’t put enough effort in to their homework.
  • If need be, make sure they are on report for effort.  I then sometimes surprise them by putting all ticks at the start of the lesson and saying to them ‘I just know you are going to be awesome this lesson’ (you can always change it if they are not!).
  • Scaffold your questions, so the first few are straight forward – allows them to experience success and then build on this.
  • Keep stating your expectations, as soon as they are at your door ‘(name) I want you sat down, 2 questions, done in 2 minutes…go, go, go!’
  • Direct questions at him, and don’t allow him to opt out.
  • Check his work as soon as he has finished and give him feedback – praise what he has done well and tell him how to improve it.
  • Constant reminders about homework, especially the lesson before it is due to be handed in.
  • Better with a physical ‘paper copy’ of the homework, rather than having to download it etc.
  • Use ‘live marking’ during the lessons a great deal with him to address misconceptions and re-frame his responses.
  • Talk to him about his hobby (football) when I see him outside of the lesson – helps to build rapport.
  • He enjoys the element of competition, especially with his mates, so I use this to my advantage.
  • Give him space – set him off on a task and then come back to check it in a few minutes.  I don’t constantly nag nag him, otherwise he will switch off (but I do monitor that he is on task).
  • I make sure that he completely understands the task, before he starts working on it.  Then I find that he is more confident about asking for help when he gets stuck.
  • I make sure that I break the  task down into very clear ‘chunks’ – and then monitor that he is OK with it 5-10 minutes later.
  • Praise him for good work and effort, but not just for the sake of it.  Previous experience has told me that saying ‘Good, well done’ for doing something really easy, just patronises them and annoys them – rather than motivating them.
  • He really appreciates a phone call home when he has worked well – he likes to please his mum!
  • Parental contact is so important as it creates a ‘united front’ – we are all working in the same direction.  It also gives me the opportunity to explain to them how they can support at home, with things like homework.
  • When his effort wanes in class, I don’t pander to him – a few strong words seems to do the job!
  • I nag them until they realise it’s not worth not working!
  • Directing questions their way is very important – sometimes it seems easier to ignore their lack of effort…..I never take this approach
  • He likes to be recognised as an individual and responds really well to a good sense of humour.
  • I have always been brutally honest with him and his parents, when he has been underachieving.
  • I specifically invite him to targeted revision sessions – I think it helped to build our relationship, by him knowing that I was prepared to go the extra mile for him.  In turn, he put in more effort.
  • I have taught him for 2 years, prior to Y11.  This is so important, as it allows me to build a relationship with him….which is so important for these students.
  • If I know they are being mentored by somebody from the pastoral/company team, I make sure that I tell them about homeworks etc, so that they can support me with this.
  • Use controlled assessments to your advantage, by getting them to understand that these are ‘banked marks’.
  • Draw comparisons between his work and the work of others when it has been insufficient or not reflective of what he is capable of.
  • He has a tendency to be fairly quiet and slip off the radar.  He knows I won’t let this happen!
  • Provide interesting, visual prompts, to spark his enthusiasm.
  • Show him work that he has done in previous lessons, that was better than his current work and get him to articulate the difference.
  • For homework, I ensure that he knows exactly what he has to do and that he has all of the available resources to do it.  This gives him the confidence to then go and do it.

For me, this from science teacher Becky Owen just sums it up:

“Letting them know that above all else you like them, are invested in them and their future and that you aren’t going away!  You will continue to push them and support them, no matter how many times they don’t do the homework, task etc. This year I have been a lot more strict on routines during the lesson and made it very clear that my standards for effort are high.  I’ve also stopped patronising them and telling them a sub-standard piece of work is amazing.  If its not good enough I’ll tell them, then tell them how to improve it to make it better.”




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Developing the Early Teacher

Guest post from Lianne Allison (Assistant Head/The Angmering School and Director/The South Downs SCITT)

In Education you can be so busy that you don’t take time to reflect on your own practice. Teaching is a tough career and it can be a default response that the colleagues around you need to “toughen up”. What if you could help them do just that if you responded to them in a way that built their resilience and maybe keep Early Teachers in the profession by doing so? I had the pleasure of hearing two great speakers this week at the NASBTT (National Association of School Based Teacher Training) Conference. Pat Black from Bath Spa University has years of experience of working with trainees and she described different stages of being an early teacher and the support the trainees need.  On reflection I could see how this applies to trainees, NQTs, RQTs, new colleagues to schools and even weaker teachers that need support.  Below I have described the cycle in terms of NQTs and the support they need.

Felicia Wood from Kate Cairns Associates Ltd is an experienced teacher and she talked at the conference about how we need to consider relational security. When Early Teachers are building their skills then this can be a stressful time and leads to “emotional” responses. When this happens we need someone to help us feel safe and that it’s okay to get things wrong. Rather than indicating they can’t cope then we need to “soothe” by helping them prioritise, plan, mark or just show an interest in their day: “How was that Year 9 class you were worried about” or “did you manage to get that marking done”.


Pat talked about how she breaks things down in small steps when she is building skills and does it step by step. If things go wrong then she asks “What happened?” “How does that make you feel?” “What are the elements we can address immediately?”

There are 4 stages (for which I’ve tweaked the names and changed to NQT mentoring) that can describe the development of Early Teachers.  For each stage, I have summarised how the NQT might be feeling and then how the mentor should respond, in order to support their development.  Each stage is summarised below:





The importance is the move from mentoring with direct suggestions and clear guidance to coaching conversation, where you asking questions, with a view to challenging the NQT to continue to develop their practice..

Early teachers need to learn from each other and schools need to provide opportunities for them to work with like minded people:


At tired points then remind them of the Bill Rogers strategy of focusing on the good in each class and not dwelling on the bad. I never let mine use collective nouns and say they hate a year group or a class. I remind them that there are lovely children in every class and if they can build relationships and develop positive language then the whole class will (probably!) become wonderful:


Send them to see some “less brilliant” teachers. Who doesn’t learn best from poor practice? Sending them to the best teachers in the school makes Early Teachers feel inadequate as they won’t have seen all of the ground work that has been put in for weeks, months and years before, to make that teacher so successful.  It will all seem effortless, but of course, it isn’t.  Even better is to do a coached observation (you do an observation with them), or watch an IRIS observation together.  You can then point out the little things that are having a positive/negative impact on the lesson – the things that they might miss :


Get them skilled up in teaching so check they are good at the basics. Give them opportunities to practice on each other – and encourage them to do lots of practice in the basics:


Support them with marking and feedback and protect them from over-zealous school marking policies. Teach them to interpret the policy to fit with the time available and the most effective way of marking/ giving feedback to students:


Keep them reflecting and developing their practice and finding out what works and what doesn’t.  Encourage them to read educational books and journals.  Why not set up an NQT book club?


If you are wondering why an Early Teacher is stuck with their teaching development, when you think they could be excellent, consider shifting their mindset. Fixed mindset people are fearful of getting it wrong so get stuck, because they don’t want to take risks and risk failure. Get them to read Carol Dweck’s book and reassure them that the failure is an important part of learning….including professional learning!

Remember be kind above all and don’t expect Early Teachers to be perfect. It’s okay to get things wrong. You as mentors, colleagues, school leaders are the guardians of our wonderful profession. Look after these teachers and support them to be excellent and to stick to teaching as a career.


Further information about The South Downs SCITT is available here:





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Relationships Matter


A few weeks ago, Carl Hendrick wrote this great blog about the importance of relationships.  Carl sums up the importance of teachers building strong relationships with students:

“It’s not a teacher’s job to be liked or popular, but it is their job to ensure students can achieve their potential and ideally, open their minds up to wonders of Shakespeare, Newtonian Physics or Minoan civilisation. If the strength of the relationship between teacher and pupil is the determining factor in how well students engage with their subject then maybe we need to talk about this rather than focussing on a set of ‘what works’ interventions that no matter how well evidenced, won’t work if the teacher has ‘lost the dressing room.”

He is of course, spot on.  Reading this, I was reminded of some work Andy Tharby and I did last year.  We interviewed a selection of some of our most effective teachers, to try and elicit the key to their success.  Unsurprisingly, many of them talked about the importance of relationships.

Here are some of the things that they suggested are key to building effective relationships with students:

  1. Have the highest possible expectations of them – students will, by and large, either live up or down to your expectations of them.  So expect excellence in everything they do -their work, their behaviour, their effort, the presentation of their work, their manners.  Everything!
  2. Know their names – take the time and effort to learn their names.  This demonstrates that you have a genuine interest in them as people and makes it much easy to direct questions at them, or give them specific praise.
  3. Praise their effort – not their intelligence, or doing the basics, but the effort and hard work they put into their work.

4.  Make it your business to know them, as students but as people too – find out what they can do, what they struggle with, what frustrates them etc.  Only then, can you really know how and when to push them that bit more, or when to step back and let them struggle, or when to go in and offer some support – to avoid them slipping into the panic zone.

MELCstruggle5.  Do smile before Christmas – you have to spend a lot of time together, so be nice!  Young people are nice, interesting and funny! Enjoy their company – and show them that you enjoy their company!  Don’t take yourself too seriously….but never forget the seriousness of your job.

6.  Always be the adult and accept that they are children – so model respectful language, always show them dignity and how to be nice to each other.  Don’t linger on an issue, deal with it and start afresh next lesson.

7. Build bridges – find something to connect with them, especially the students who can be more challenging. This could be as simple as finding out that they attend the local swimming club outside of school and taking an interest in how they are doing, by asking them about it.

8.  Engage them by showing a passion for your subject – don’t worry about engaging them with fun, gimmicky activities.  Demonstrate a real passion for your subject, and make this enthusiasm for your subject infectious!  I want my students to be amazed at the wonders of science, as I am, and enjoy my lessons for this reason!

9. Be an eternal optimist – see number 8!

10.  Believe in them – make them believe that they can achieve way beyond their expectations.  You might be one of the only adult in their lives that does this.

11.  Talk to all of them about their work – look at it, talk to them about what’s so good about it and then push them to improve it and make it even better.  If you expect them to work hard at it, you should value what they are doing.  Don’t just do this with the ones that crave your attention.

12.  Find their small successes and celebrate them – we can’t just expect them to be motivated, we have to build their motivation by acknowledging their successes.


13.  Be honest with them – if their work or effort is poor, don’t patronise them by telling them it’s OK.  Tell them the truth and then support them to improve it.

14. Never give up on them – help them to build grit and resilience, by keeping them going – even when the going is really tough….and when they might be really tough on you!  Show an unfaltering belief that they can get there.

15.  Know your subject inside out – not only will this mean that you teach it really well, but it will also make students confident about your ability to teach them really well.  They want to feel secure that they are in safe hands!

16.  Say hello to them (by name) in the corridor – because it’s a nice thing to do.

Finally, remind yourself of this on a daily basis, from the brilliant John Tomsett:

“Ultimately, never forget that the best pastoral care for students from the most deprived socio-economic backgrounds is a great set of examination results.”


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Bright Spots – 3rd October 2016

There have been four full teaching weeks since the start of term and during that time our new staff have been adapting to new practices, standards and most importantly students. This year, at Durrington, we have 13 NQTs, 12 Recently Qualified Teachers (RQTs) and 8 new staff, joining from other schools. In total this contributes to nearly a third of our teaching staff being ‘new’ to the school in one way or another. As such, it has been vital that these staff adapt quickly and maintain the high standards that we set ourselves. What has been pleasing, is that Chris Runeckles and I have already seen some excellent practice being demonstrated by these new staff.


Harry Bannister (Lead Teacher of Media) was demonstrating an excellent questioning technique with his Year 11 class whilst analysing poetry. This is a challenging skill for our students, as the style and structure of language is not one that they are used to. However, Harry was probing their thinking through carefully constructed questions aimed at making the students think but also allowing them to provide an answer. He would then  follow-up his initial questions with another question, to elicit more information from the students’ response. This ‘serve and return’ approach means that students begin to make connections between their new knowledge and what they already know, as well as emphasising the point that you expect in-depth and developed answers in your lessons.

In Kathy Hughes’ (NQT) Year 9 Maths lesson, her questions were focussed on the ‘why’ of students’ answers. She was reviewing a mini-test that students had completed, by asking students to provide their answers. Importantly, however, Kathy did not just accept the answer as correct but questioned the students as to ‘why’ that was the correct answer. This meant that the students had to explain their thinking and show their understanding of the mathematical concepts, further embedding good practice or identifying misconceptions which resulted in a ‘lucky’ correct answer.

In Science Jaimie Scanes allowed her students clear thinking time after she had posed her questions. She was not afraid of the ‘silence’ that initially followed her question, but instead gave her bottom set Year 8 students reflection time which ultimately meant that they provided sensible answers to her questions.

English teacher Jemma King was skilfully drawing out meaning from a poem by leading her students through imagery and metaphors.  By never settling for the first response she was able to add real depth to student understanding of the piece.  The students felt completely comfortable to give their responses and as such answers could be developed and extended in front of the class without students becoming self-conscious.

Jason Ramasami showed his experience when questioning a Year 9 SME group over the tricky subject of relationships and leaps of faith.  By becoming part of the discussion and showing his own thought processes to the class as to how he himself had come to conclusions, students were given the scaffolds to make their own leaps and be ready to contribute when asked.


Rob Harrison (ICT) was leading a peer critique based upon leaflet designs with a Year 9 class. This was a good example of peer feedback but also linked to ‘live marking’ using Rob’s ‘expert’ knowledge. Initially, Rob displayed a students’ work on the projector screen and asked the class to critique the strengths and weaknesses of the work. He would then probe students’ thinking for more information before offering his own feedback based upon his expectations of the work.

Elisa Tembras (NQT) was discussing the Citizenship controlled assessment with her Year 11 class. Each student had been provided with a clear checklist of strengths and weaknesses linked to the mark scheme. From this, Elisa was conducting 1:1 conversations with target students focussed on the best ways to improve their work and maximise their marks. This not only allowed the students to improve their work, but also strengthened her relationships with those ‘at risk’ students within her class.

In Jemma King’s Year 11 English lesson, her class were conducting DIRT based upon the feedback that she had provided. What was great about this activity, was that students were immediately engaged with the activity and allowed a new member of staff to set high expectations with her students.

Richelle McDonnell (NQT) proved that literacy feedback isn’t just for English teachers with extended answers were being marked for spelling and punctuation errors.  By dealing with the misspelling of key terms early in the term through live marking Richelle was ensuring her students would not carry misconceptions for too long and embed bad habits.


Beth Clarke (NQT) started her Year 7 History lesson with some key questions that were based upon what the students already knew in relation to the events leading up to the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This allowed her to find the ‘sweet spot’ between what the students could remember and thus knew, and allowed the students to ‘hook’ their new knowledge onto the concepts that they already understood. This then allowed Beth to pique the students’ curiosity by asking them to predict ‘What they think Harold Godwinson should have done when faced with the invasions of Harald Hadraada and William the Conqueror?’

In Drama, Natasha Newington (NQT) explained the task to the students and then asked individual students to explain the task back to the class. This was a simple, but effective way of ensuring that the students knew what they were going to accomplish.

Michael Kyle (NQT) was using a different approach to explanation in his Year 8 Science lesson. This was a top set and Michael was challenging the students thinking, in relation to chemical bonding. Michael’s explanation was clear, as he ‘chunked’ the material into the key sections and only delivered one aspect at a time to the students. This avoided their working memory being overloaded and allowed them to see the links between different concepts. In addition,  he set very high expectations of himself and his students’ explanations in terms of subject specific vocabulary. In addition, Michael was using a ‘dual coding’ approach to explanation, by incorporating images/diagrams to sit alongside his verbal explanation.

Tim Brinded in history made sure not to finish his explanations too early.  Teaching Year 7 he made sure he left nothing to chance in terms of student understanding.  His explanation was extremely clear and precise, showing an understanding of having thought about the bits the students would find confusing and ensuring they were decoded.


Teaching a low ability group last period on a Friday NQT Annie Hewett successfully walked the challenge tightrope.  The questions students were completing were right in the struggle zone.  No student was disengaged but equally the struggle was obvious as students were being challenged to complete ever harder questions, rather than repeating skills over and over.

Kate Haslett (NQT) showed high expectations of her new Year 10 class when tackling Anglo-Saxon England.  The students were clearly stretched in operating in the unfamiliar world of 1000 years past, but the material was presented with the complexity it demanded with no unnecessary gimmicks or dumbing down in sight.


What was noticeable with all of the new staff, was that there lessons were clam and purposeful when we walked into their rooms. It was clear that each member of staff had set clear expectations for the students and were expecting their students to meet these standards. This was reflected in a number of ways:

  • addressing uniform issues
  • insistence of well-presented work; pencils for diagrams, pen for writing
  • calm but effective use of voice and language
  • use of non-verbal commands to address issues of low-level disruption

In addition there was a clear focus on developing students’ vocabulary, both their Tier 3 (subject specific) and Tier 2 vocabulary, which may be words that the students are familiar with but in a different context.

It has been a really positive start from our ‘new’ staff, which bodes well for a successful year ahead.



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Making a positive start

Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by Rob Suckling.  Rob is a Geography teacher who is in his second year of teaching and his 15 minutes were based upon his reflections of his NQT year. The focus of all of Rob’s points, was centred on making a ‘positive start’ with his students.

A key aspect of Rob’s presentation was about building strong relationships with his students. For Rob, this was a vital element of being successful with his classes and promoting good outcomes. He achieved this through a number of ways:

Name recallname

Rob described how he has tried to avoid the panic of not ‘knowing’ a student by using name association with his students. Initially, this involves actually finding out information about the student, thus building a stronger relationship. Rob used an example of one of his Year 10 students, who plays rugby. Having discovered that the student plays in the second row, Rob is able to discuss rugby with the student, which strengthens their relationship and helps to engage the student in the lesson.

Seating plans

Rob stressed the need to use a clear seating plan and evaluate it regularly. This is not just an easy way of recalling names, but also helps to manage low-level behaviour and allowed him to maintain authority of the class. He has also used the seating plan as an effective way of support students’ learning. By pairing higher and lower starting point students, it allows lower starting point students to raise their level of challenge and aspire to produce better quality work. A note of caution has to be applied to this strategy, as it is still important for higher starting point students to challenge themselves and aspire to produce work that goes ‘beyond their best’.

Be proactiveChalk drawing - Reactive or proactiveRob described one of the most powerful interventions from his NQT year, as being when he made phone calls home. This could have been for positive or negatives reasons. However, the important aspect of this was that by being proactive and addressing the situation, he earned the support of parents and ensured that the students did not see his lessons in isolation. This resulted in stronger teacher:parent:student relationships and ensured that student outcomes were increased. In addition, by making positive phone calls home, Rob found that students responded well to and valued this positive praise. It is important to note, however that the students must first earn this praise and not simply expect a phone call home for meeting the basic classroom expectations.


Rob spoke about what he referred to as ‘boot camp time’, the first few weeks of the Autumn Term, which set the tone for the year ahead. Rob stated that he felt it was important for students to understand and realize the standards that he would expect and what was expected from them in his lessons. This linked to the quality of work that was expected from the students and had direct links to last weeks’ 15Minute Forum ‘The Benchmark of Brilliance’. However, it is important to remember that any challenging piece of work must remain accessible and where appropriate scaffolds should be provided for individual students.

Consistency  consistency-is-key

An overriding theme of Rob’s talk was the word ‘consistency’. He approached this in a number of ways, but the message was always clear; ‘students respond better when they are met with consistent standards and expectations’. This could be in relation to the quality of work that you expect from the students, the setting of homework or the application of policies within the school.  By being consistent the students feel more secure and you are able to build positive relationships more effectively.

Having discussed some strategies that Rob used in his classroom to make a positive start, he reflected on his first year as a form tutor. Here Rob emphasised the following points:

  • Value the role of a form tutor in the same way that you value your role as a subject teacher.
  • Treat form time as a ‘mini-lesson’ and plan engaging activities in the same way that you would plan a lesson.
  • Create flexible but engaging weekly plan – this could involve discussion based activities using resources such as ‘This day in History’ or ‘The Day’ (newspaper).
  • Maintain standards in form time which are the same standards that you would set in your subject lessons.

Another aspect which Rob found effective last year, was through developing a presence around the school. In a large school, such as Durrington, Rob only taught a small percentage of the students through his lessons and therefore only developed relationships with those students. However, he stressed that it is important to engage with the wider school through extra-curricular activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Through this activity, Rob engaged with a different group of students, many of whom are now in his GCSE group. This has led to a much easier transition at the start of the new year and a stronger, positive relationship.

Rob finished with some ‘personal recommendations’ but as equally important, as they helped balanceto contribute to a positive work: life balance. Rob described how he would ‘chunk’ the term into weeks so as not to feel overwhelmed by a seven week term. Importantly he aimed to complete as much work on site rather than take it home – although this would not and should not apply to everyone. Finally, he gave himself things to look forward to where he would ‘switch-off’ from work such as The Great British Bake-Off or the latest Fifa release.

Overall, it was important to see that Rob had reflected on his first year of practice and has provided some very useful tips for new (and existing) staff.





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Benchmark of Brilliance

The first 15 Minute Forum of 2016-2017 was led by Gail Christie who is the Curriculum Leader for Art and Design at Durrington. In an unusual move the 15 Minute Forum was not held in its normal classroom but convened in the Art department. This was for the important reason that Gail wanted the staff to see what the students actually see when her department are talking about ‘excellence’.

The Art department has a vast array of student work on display, but as Gail stated it is not a ‘display’ but an ‘exhibition’. In her words displays ‘just get looked at’,  whereas exhibitions are ‘discussed and analysed’. The idea of this is that students are immersed in the work, they are able to produce, rather than feeling that everything has been produced by an ‘expert’ whose level they will never reach.

Each aspect of the ‘exhibition’ is linked to a particular topic that students study and has the aim of providing stimulus and ideas for the students to use in their work. However, in many cases not all of the work on display has to be classed as ‘excellence’. Many of the walls feature work from a whole class and are used during lessons. Gail discussed how, she will bring classes out to view the work during lessons and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the art that has been produced. This allows students to break down the ‘fear factor’ of the task and helps them feel less intimidated when they are asked to produce a similar piece of work. This is an important aspect for our students at Durrington, as it provides them with confidence. It also gives them an opportunity to see work that has been produced by people that they know, which again allows them to believe that they can produce work which is of the same or higher quality.

At this point Gail stressed the important point that, it is not as simple as only showing the students ‘excellence’. Once the students have seen the work and discussed it, the teachers then need to carefully break down the task and model strategies and techniques which students can use. Austin’s butterfly provides a key example of how, having aspired for excellence, a student can achieve this through careful modelling, explanation and feedback.

This strategy has also been used in the Geography department led by Ben Crockett. Ben recently blogged about their approach here. The principle in Geography was the same as demonstrated by Gail. The department wanted all of their students to produce a high quality piece of writing which would set the ‘benchmark’ for the year ahead. As can be seen below the students were allowed to draft their work on a separate sheet of paper, thus removing the fear of crossing out and editing as they went.



Following this the Geography teachers provided feedback, focussed on improving the students’ explanation of their points and basic SPaG issues. Finally, the students rewrote their work into their exercise books, having responded to the teacher feedback, to produce their best possible work at this stage of the year. Ex-Durrington teacher Andy Tharby wrote about how he had used a similar technique in his English lessons here.

One of the most important aspects of Gail’s talk was the collection of sketchbooks from last years Year 11 students, which proudly hang from the cupboard doors in the Art department. Again these provide ideas and stimuli for the current students, but rather than being a ‘one-off’ piece of work they are an on-going reflection of the ‘excellence’ that our students can produce. Regularly throughout the year, Gail will allow her classes to look at the sketchbooks and take photographs on their phones, in order to provide a continuous reminder of the ‘benchmark’. The aim is that this inspires the students to, at least equal that level and, hopefully exceed it. The great thing about this is that it could, with careful planning, be replicated in every department – not just a practical based one.



What is great about this approach from Gail in Art and Design is that it sets the tone for the year ahead and allows all of the students to see what they are capable of. Then throughout the year, it provides a reference point for students to assess whether they are going ‘beyond their best’ and thus progressing. It also provides inspiration for students to continually strive to produce their best work, as being surrounded by ‘excellence’ should inspire them to produce ‘excellence’.



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