Waking up to Desirable Difficulties at Durrington

This year at Durrington we have made some major changes to how our students start their school day. Gone are the ‘tutor times’ of old and in their place every student now engages with ‘Period 1’ – a structured programme of learning with the aim of ensuring the best outcomes for all.

Up until last year, Durrington students would arrive at school and spend 20 minutes with their form tutor in the morning and a further 10 minutes with their form tutor after lunch. Since September, we have merged these sessions so that now all students have a 30-minute lesson with their tutor every morning instead. During these lessons, students engage in tasks that cover a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach here at Durrington:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

We feel confident that bringing these underpinning principles of effective learning to the fore will benefit students across the whole curriculum and help them to succeed in all subject areas.

Accordingly, we have implemented a very structured weekly programme:

Content Aim
‘In the News’

Students watch a range of news clips from the week with their tutor and then work on specific evidence-informed vocabulary tasks to discuss the items viewed.


We want to develop students’ background knowledge and provide an opportunity for explicitly teaching tier 2 vocabulary in a range of contexts.
KS3 DEAR (Drop Everything and Read)

KS3 students have two ‘drop everything and read’ sessions per week. However, this is not a case of students simply bringing a book and reading in silence. Instead, one session is dedicated to reading aloud and the second session is spent reading a personal choice of book but with structured questioning.


We hope to continue developing the wider reading culture that is already a strong feature of school life at Durrington, but to also model evidence-informed reading strategies to ensure no student is left behind. There will be more about this in next week’s classteaching blog.
KS4 DEAR (Drop Everything and Revise)

KS4 students have two lessons per week learning about and practising evidence-informed strategies for revision and independent work away from the classroom.


We want to ensure that the time students are spending revising is as productive as possible. See below for more details on how we have endeavoured to make this the case for Year 10 and Year 11 this year.



Every student still attends a traditional assembly at least once a week.


It is important to us that students are aware of their place and role in the school and wider community, and assembly is a crucial site for this sense of belonging and responsibility to be fostered and maintained.


Friday Challenge

This is when students work as a team with their tutor to prepare for a whole-school memory challenge. For example, this half term all tutor groups have been memorising the countries of Africa. There will be a quiz at the end of term to test students and tutors to see who can remember the most.


This provides an opportunity for students to develop their cultural capital (challenges have been designed with this in mind) and practise essential learning skills such as retrieval practice. Additionally, we did not want to lose the vital pastoral care that is intrinsic to effective tutoring, so the Friday challenge provides a way for students to build relationships as a group and with their tutor that are vital to wellbeing in school.


Our programme with Year 10 and Year 11 students aligns with Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties which you can read more about in Ben Crockett’s Durrington Research School blog this week. Bjork and Bjork identify three problems that learners face which mislead them into thinking they are learning effectively when in fact they are not:

  1. Subjective impressions: Bjork and Bjork state that we can often feel that we are learning when we are not because of what we are doing. The researchers provide the example that rereading a chapter a second time can provide a sense of familiarity and perceptual fluency that is interpreted as understanding but is in fact just low-level priming.
  2. Use of cues: Students can encounter information coming to mind readily and interpret this as learning when in fact it is a product of cues in the environment that will not be present at a later time.
  3. Challenge: Conditions that rapidly improve performance often fail to lead to long-term learning, or in other words retention and transfer of knowledge. Conversely, conditions that create challenge often optimise long-term retention and transfer but are a lot less popular because they are slow.

We are using P1 to try to support our KS4 students in overcoming these challenges. Crucial to this is the introduction of desirable difficulties, which Bjork and Bjork describe as conditions of learning that apparently create difficulty but actually lead to more durable and flexible learning. We have tried to create these ‘conditions’ in the ways set out below.

  1. We have varied the conditions of learning by requiring students to revise specific-subject material with their tutor, i.e. outside of the subject classroom and not just with their subject teacher. This has taken a lot of preparation and coordination by assistant headteacher Steph Temple so that tutors feel supported in dealing with content outside of their specialism but has, so far, proven totally achievable.
  2. We show students how to interleave rather than group topics. For example, most recently Year 11 have been working on the English Literature GCSE text ‘An Inspector Calls’. Using knowledge organisers, students have created banks of revision materials based in topics such as characterisation, themes, context etc. Crucially, the tutors have then modelled to students how to interleave these revision materials by mixing up their topical resources rather than revising in blocks of topics.
  3. The students have P1 DEAR for 30 minutes twice a week which allows for spacing rather than massing their study.
  4. Finally, the revision resources that students have been making and using are specifically flashcards with questions or instructions on one side and the answers on the reverse. This is so that students use self-testing rather than presentations as study events.

Bjork and Bjork emphasise that the desirable element of desirable difficulties is fundamental, and explain that desirable difficulties trigger encoding and retrieval processes to aid learning, comprehension and remembering. Essential to this is the fact that students must have the required background knowledge in place – asking them to revise content they do not already know would create undesirable challenges that would thwart learning . This is why the KS4 DEAR programme has been carefully designed so that students are only revising knowledge that has already been fully taught in subject lessons. For example, Year 11 students are currently covering topics they studied in Year 10.

So far the new P1 KS4 DEAR looks very promising, and, although it is too soon to evaluate the impact, we are hopeful that P1 will benefit students both in their school outcomes and beyond.

Next week we will take a closer look at the KS3 DEAR programme and how this is supporting literacy across subject areas.


Fran Haynes

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Improving Teaching Through Purposeful Practice

Up and down the country, it’s a time when teachers are thinking about appraisal.  At Durrington, we use this as an opportunity for teachers to think about an aspect of their teaching that they want to make a focused effort to develop.  The starting point for this is for teachers to come up with an inquiry question that identifies what they want to focus on.  For example:

What impact does the use of a metacognitive approach to planning 16 mark questions delivered over a year have on the attainment in these questions for my year 11 class?

What impact do model/co-construction/practise teaching cycles delivered over 1 year have on English Language reading results for Y11 students?

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 vocabulary instruction delivered 2.5 terms have on literature component 1 mock exam results for PP Year 10 students?

Having identified their inquiry question, the idea is that teachers will engage in deliberate practice to embed this into their teaching over the course of the year.  In ‘Peak: Secrets from the new science of success‘ Anders Ericsson describes deliberate practice:

“Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there”

Peer support will be a key part of this at Durrington.  During INSET days teachers will meet with colleagues who have an inquiry question with a similar theme e.g. metacognition, cognitive load theory, formative assessment, to discuss and support each other.  We think this has huge potential for our school.  Imagine if every teacher focuses on making an important aspect of their day to practice significantly better with purposeful practice like this?  Magnify this up across a whole school and the potential impact on learning is huge.

Practice with Purpose’ by the Deans for Impact, is a really useful document that will support this work.   Although it is aimed at novice teachers, it provides a useful framework for all teachers to use:

  • Push beyond one’s comfort zone – choose an inquiry question that will require you to make small adjustments to your teaching, beyond what you usually do in the classroom on a day to day basis.  This should be informed by research evidence, to give you the best chance of making a difference to student learning.
  • Work toward well-defined specific goals – be very clear about what you want to change and the impact you will be looking for.  Looking at the examples of inquiry questions above you will notice that they all identify a specific aspect of practice to change, a time scale, the difference it will make and how the impact will be evaluated.
  • Focus intently on practice activities – this takes discipline and is difficult, because changing habits is really hard and this is what’s required when we make changes to our teaching.  So, finding strategies to remind yourself to practise is important.  This could be as simple as a post-it on your computer reminding you to ‘ask more elaborative questions‘.
  • Receive and respond to high quality feedback – this is a key part of the process.  Ask a colleague to come and observe you and give you specific feedback on the aspect of your teaching you are trying to develop e.g. how many questions do I ask? Who do I ask? Do I encourage thinking by asking follow on questions?  How much thinking time do I ask?
  • Develop a mental model of expertise – make sure you have a clear idea of what the research evidence says about effective learning and how what you are looking to develop in your teaching will support this.  Use this to build a mental model of how you will know students are learning and compare this to how your students are performing.  This will help you to make adjustments to what you are doing.


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An Introduction to Cognitive Load Theory for teachers

By Andy Tharby

This post is a quick and simple introduction to John Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory for teachers. It will seek to answer the following three questions:

1. What are working memory and long-term memory and what roles do they have in learning?
2. What is Cognitive Load Theory?
3. How can teachers better design lessons and resources so that cognitive load is reduced?

A simple model of human cognition consists of two related types of memory:

Long-term memory. This is a huge storehouse of vocabulary, concepts and procedures that can be likened to a filing cabinet or hard drive. Here memories are stored and organised in ‘schemas’.

Working memory. This is the limited space in which we think and process information, analogous to a page on a notepad or the processor on a PC. Most researchers agree that the (magic number) four is the maximum number of new pieces of information that can be thought about at any one time. For challenging tasks and content, this capacity is likely to be lower.

One of the aims of education is to transfer information from the working memory to the long term memory. Yet there is a problem, known as the ‘bottleneck’. If working memory becomes overloaded then new information is less likely to enter the long-term memory.

The aim, therefore, is to ensure that cognitive load – the quantity of information a student is holding in their working-memory at any one time – is maintained at a commodious level.

There are three aspects of cognitive load which are usually considered to work in tandem.

Intrinsic load is related to the inherent difficulty of the subject matter being learnt. It is influenced by how complex the material is and how much a student already knows about the topic. For example, 2 + 2 + 4 has less intrinsic load than 93 x 543, whereas understanding the workings of the human respiratory system has more intrinsic load than knowing where the lungs are situated in a human body.

Extraneous load is any extra and unnecessary thinking that students have to do that does not contribute to learning. Unlike intrinsic load, extraneous load is related to how the subject material is presented rather than its inherent difficulty. As teachers, we can either heighten or reduce its effect.

The third type of cognitive load, germane load, is desirable. It is the load placed on working memory that contributes directly to genuine learning – the nourishing and productive thinking that causes our students to form and consolidate long-term memories.

It is important to note that there are no reliable studies (yet!) that have reported ways of creating genuine and durable changes to a child’s working memory capacity. Rather like height or eye colour, it seems that we are stuck with that we have been born with. Some students have significantly less capacity than others; however, it remains true that all of us have a limit to the amount we can think about at once.

To combat working memory deficiencies we can …

1. Outsource working memory by providing scaffolding that fades away incrementally.

2. Provide the conditions that help students to practise key skills and concepts to automaticity.

3. Centralise the development of long-term memory through careful curriculum planning.

Day-to-day planning, resourcing and teaching may be enhanced if we try some of the following approaches:

1. Teach in short bursts followed by practice. If a process consists of many parts, then these should be grouped together and taught in separate chunks. We should isolate the parts, teach them and then provide opportunities for practice before we bring them together as a whole.

2. Avoid split attention. Strain is placed on working memory when a child has to mentally integrate information from different places. Resources should include colour-coding, integrated labels and arrows. Related pieces of information should be placed in close physical proximity.

3. Reduce redundant information. Remove superfluous images and text from PowerPoints and other resources. Try to ensure that students are not expected to be listening to a teacher and reading text at the same time, and avoid speaking over the top of students whilst they are thinking about something else. Give lean and focussed feedback.

4. Limit distraction. Cognitively challenging tasks should usually be completed in silence. Avoid too much sensory stimulation during tasks like extended writing or solving complex, multifaceted problems.

5. Use worked examples. These are completed or partially completed problems or tasks that students study before and during the initial teaching of a new skill or process. These should be gradually faded away so that students gain independence.

6. Dual coding. Dual coding theory holds that if material is present in visual and verbal forms simultaneously then it is likely to improve learning, but will not cause cognitive overload.

To finish, it is important to reassert that the implementation of these strategies should not lower expectations or reduce the inherent challenge and vision of the curriculum. The scaffolding and support should always be gradually reduced – and re-instigated only if learning is incomplete or misconceptions remain. The philosophy should persist that all students can learn anything, so long as lesson material is presented in a concise, logical and sequential fashion with lots of opportunities for practice. And, of course, so long as students remain motivated to learn.

The mantra ‘less is more’ should guide our thinking about cognitive load.

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Thinking About Formative Assessment

Starting at a new school is difficult. There are systems to learn, lots and lots of staff and students to get to know, and relationships to build up. And then there’s the actual teaching. I’ve picked up two KS4 classes this year and whilst I know what maths they have theoretically been taught, I need to quickly find out what they actually know – particularly with my top set Y11s. This is where formative assessment comes in. Checking for student understanding is one of Rosenshine’s (2012) “Principles of Instruction” and Dylan Wiliam reminds us that any assessment can be formative, and assessment functions formatively when it improves the instructional decisions that are made by teachers, learners or their peers.

There are a couple of techniques that are helping me to find out what my classes are secure on and what they are not.

  1. Recall questions at the start of the lesson

I always start by having between 5 and 10 questions on the board. This links well with both retrieval and spaced practice, and they can also be used formatively. These are mostly mixed topic with short answers required, and students complete them (mostly) on their own. I can go round the room whilst they are working looking for any obvious problems, and seeing the methods they are using. We will always talk through the answers together – some questions are very quick to go through, some take longer. I always ask them to explain their thinking which gives me a real insight into how they were taught before and where any gaps might be. I can then address these either right away by modelling the answer on the board, or make a note to come back to the topic later if I feel we need more time on it.

I like the mixed nature of these questions. I think this is increasingly important as students reach the latter part of their GCSE course, as they also give me an opportunity to make connections between topics to help students to build a more complete schema of their mathematical knowledge. A future development could be to make sure these sets of questions contain non-standard examples to really check deep understanding.

  1. Multiple choice questions to check prior knowledge and understanding

With my year 11s I am now at the most mathematically challenging end of the course, and we will be going on to cover the Level 2 Further Maths topics before the exams. It is vitally important that I know how to pitch these lessons and so I need to know where my starting point is.

“Specific questions allow teachers to diagnose exactly what a pupil’s strengths and weaknesses are, and they make it easy, even obvious, to work out what to do next…” Daisy Christodoulou, Making Good Progress? (2016)

To help with this I often use three or four multiple choice questions which the students answer as a class. I choose questions which will show me whether they have the prerequisite knowledge for the topic I am about to cover, and I usually find them on the www.diagnosticquestions.com site. The beauty of these questions is that the alternative answers purposely highlight misconceptions that students might have and allow me to quickly resolve these and check everyone is starting from the same baseline. I just display one question at a time on the board and after a few minutes silent thinking time I ask the students to show me 1 finger raised for options A, 2 for B etc. They can do this discreetly in front of them so they don’t influence others (thanks to Craig Barton’s How I Wish I’d Taught Maths for this technique).

I can then adapt my teaching straight away depending on what I see. If most are correct, I will ask someone to explain why, check the understanding of any who did get it wrong, and move on. Sometimes there is a real split in the answers. In this case I will usually talk through the concept again, without saying who is correct and who is not – this gives students the chance to rethink before having the chance to vote again. I can see whether they had just forgotten, or made a silly error, and usually this will clear things up. I can then go on to teach the new topic knowing that we have reviewed the basics and all of the class are at the same starting point. On the odd occasion when it is obvious that there are a number of misconceptions, I will have to then rethink and maybe reteach that concept, not the lesson I had originally planned perhaps but far preferable to the alternative of no-one being able to access the new content.

Both of these strategies are really helping me to get to grips with my new classes – formative assessment has become an absolutely vital part of my teaching.

Notes and references:

www.diagnosticquestions.com has over 43000 multiple choice questions on maths topics, and also over 25000 questions on other subjects

How I Wish I’d Taught Maths (2018) – Craig Barton

Making Good Progress? (2016) – Daisy Christodoulou

Making Every Maths Lesson Count (2019) – Emma McCrea

By Deb Friis

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Minimising the vocabulary deficit – departmental scale approaches.

Vocabulary matters – ensuring that our students are equipped to comprehend the task/questions asked of them and effectively respond to these is vital for student success, and is strongly founded on students own vocabulary bank. It is a simple concept on the face of it – students with stronger vocabulary knowledge should perform better, while those with “stunted” vocabularies are likely to be held back academically and socially.
Worryingly. as reported last year in Oxford University Press’ “Why closing the word gap matters”, a survey of 1,300 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK found that more than 60% saw increasing incidents of underdeveloped vocabulary among pupils”. Therefore addressing this seemingly growing vocabulary deficit is of paramount importance, yet the very nature and scale of the beast, makes such a task imposing. To give a bit of perspective Nagy and Anderson (1984) estimated that in printed school English there may be up to 88,533 word families, which could potentially result in nearly 500,000 graphically distinct word types, including proper names. In addition to this roughly half of these 500,000 words occur once or less in a billion words of text (Nagy & Anderson, 1984). These findings indicate that even the most ruthlessly systematic vocabulary instruction could not cover more than modest proportion of the words students will encounter.
This is not to say that we should simply avoid the issue, Assistant Research School Director – Fran Haynes, has developed a stringent school wide strategy for supporting vocabulary instruction at Durrington (you can read more about this here) but has importantly made the task manageable by allowing departments to identify the vocabulary they feel is important to their subject.

Curriculum leaders have therefore been given the autonomy to address the vocabulary deficit in ways that will beneficial for their department, focusing either on tier 3/disciplinary vocabulary or in many cases tier 2 vocabulary that commonly appears within their discipline. The theoretical basis behind taking a more disciplinary approach to vocabulary instruction is explored by Fran Haynes in greater detail here.
Despite this more manageable approach, the vast array of tier 2 and 3 vocabulary means that departments need to be selective in the vocabulary they choose to teach, subsequently determining what vocabulary to teach is of paramount importance. The approach for identifying this vocabulary is dependent on the subject, department and need of the students. English departments are perhaps faced with the most significant task in tackling vocabulary. The reality is that teachers simply cannot teach students every piece of vocabulary they will encounter. While each text may have important vocabulary specific to that piece, to support long term vocabulary instruction the English department at Durrington have focus much of their effort on what may be termed as “portable concepts” that may transcend texts. These include terms such as foreshadowing and protagonist which are likely to be relevant to the majority of texts students study. The English department use illustration to support students understanding of this, asking students to think of a way of drawing the meaning of these words. The thinking involved in this task, aids memorisation of the vocabulary.

Meanwhile in Geography student tier 3 vocabulary seemed strong with students regularly such vocabulary (such as hydraulic action and mechanisation) however their ability to answer exam questions seemed to be regularly limited by a lack of understanding of tier 2 vocabulary included in exam questions. The issue with tier 2 vocabulary is not only the vast number of words that may be used by exam boards, but also the number of derivatives of words that can be used and also the transient nature of these words from subject to subject. For example, while “factor” has a certain meaning in Geography, it has very different meaning and therefore use in maths.
The geography departments approach to this is being led by Chris Woodcock, who initially asked students to identify the words they struggled to understand across the last 2 years of GCSE papers. From this a list of tier 2 and 3 vocabulary was identified. As a department the team then took the tier 2 words identified and linked these to appropriate lessons/units of work from the GCSE specification so that the vocabulary could be taught in context, as encouraged in Fran’s blog. This year when teaching these lesson or schemes of work the Geography department will be using a slightly revised version of the Frayer Model of instruction, in which the students will be given a clear definition of the word, followed by derivatives of the word, and then be asked to give examples and non-examples of the word being used in context. The definition will be consistent across the department and agreed prior to teaching in subject pedagogy meetings, with the meetings also focusing on opportunities for the word to be used in teaching and student writing, to maximise student exposure to the vocabulary.

frayer model geog

The prospect of tackling the vocabulary deficit can, rightly, see daunting, however approaching this challenge from a disciplinary stance, enables departments to have the autonomy to identify and teach the vocabulary they believe students require. As such staff and student agency is likely to be higher and subsequently, despite an acceptance that we can never cover all the vocabulary students will face, we are likely to make more significant inroads into the vocabulary deficit and as such improve student outcomes.

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On learning how to solve the Rubik’s Cube

Watching my 9-year-old son, O, teach himself how to solve the Rubik’s cube this Summer has been one of the most instructive and thought-provoking experiences I have had as a teacher. It has been like a mini-distillation of going from novice to expert and of how we learn. He decided he wanted to be able to solve the cube back in August after finding some internet instructions for making a Lego Mindstorms robot cube-solver – I think he was fascinated by the way it took 25 seconds to scan the cube from all angles before then following a set of algorithms to solve reliably solve it every time.

He then found a YouTube video showing an easy solving method, and we watched it together. It was here that I found that both of us started to form a new “schema” of the cube and start to see it in an entirely different way. Despite being a child of the ‘80s, I had never really got into the Rubik’s Cube in my youth and initially saw it as 6 different coloured faces. It had never occurred to me before that the middle squares of each face “fixed” the colour of the face and I then began to see the cube not as being made up of faces, but as being made up of centres, edge pieces and corner pieces. (I should have spotted this before given the number of times I did the Painted Cube investigation with my classes back in my early days of teaching!) O and I managed to follow the video’s instructions to make the White Cross, then solve the White Face. At this point I was already finding I had too much to hold in my working memory, so we got an old exercise book and I (in true teacher fashion) got O to draw some reference diagrams of the moves we were following and write some notes on the algorithms we were learning. We spent most of a day of the Summer holidays working through this video (whilst I simultaneously attempted to help my younger boy build some Lego) and although we had the first two layers sorted, we were struggling to get to the final solution. Note here that our schema of the cube had changed again: now we saw it as three layers, with white on top and yellow on the bottom, with the edges and corners belonging to particular layers depending on their colours. My initial “faces” schema had disappeared.

After a lot of huffing and puffing (mostly on my part) and re-watching of the video we finally managed to get it solved. This was the only part where O was not fully engaged, and maybe he would have called it a day at this point if we’d not managed to work out the last steps of the video. I just had to finish a job I’d started, but once I did that was enough for me. I could solve the cube (as long as I had our handwritten book of move diagrams and algorithms to refer to and could have a good 10 minutes to do it). But it was here that things really started to get interesting.

Over the next few days O fiddled about with his cube, very quickly dispensing with our notes. He could reliably solve the first two layers, and told me about how he had memorised the algorithms needed – by making up words or chants using the names of the moves: “Front Inverse Right Front Right Inverse” became “FIRFRI” etc. He used his pocket money to buy himself a “speed cube” and decided he wanted to be able to solve it in under 2 minutes. He wanted to watch a YouTube video of the F2L (“First 2 Layers”) method of “inserting the corners” two layers at a time and was now using all the jargon of the YouTubers. He struggled with this though, and it made him cross, as despite his speed cube he thought it was taking him too long to do the first steps and this was stopping him from becoming as quick as he wanted. At this point I had nothing more really to do with his solving, apart from being asked to time him occasionally, and trying to remind him that in order to get really fast I thought he should probably just get really really good at the steps he knew so that he could do them without thinking.

And very soon he could. And this is where things really seemed to change again. Now he was no longer thinking in algorithms. “If this edge piece is here, and I want it here, I know that I just have to do this and this and that will move it” he was saying to me. He had started by learning a set of instructions that had no real meaning, but now he was really good at these instructions he was finding the meaning in them. He was intuitively using properties of the cube to make things quicker: “I know because this corner piece is here I’ll have to do those two moves 5 times, but if I do them in reverse I’ll only need to do them once”. I asked him about how he was seeing the cube differently compared to when he first started learning, he told me that he could now pick up the cube and by looking at the positions of the pieces see if it was going to be an easy or difficult solve. He was using the positions of the pieces to work out what to do, rather than the standard algorithms: “If I want this edge on this opposite side, I know I turn this layer away from where I want it, this layer towards, then this section away twice again” (or something similar). And he was coming to terms with the F2L method: “I can do it, but sometimes if I see the white pieces are in a particular pattern then I know actually it is going to be quicker to do the other method anyway”. He now wants to explain his methods and thinking to me, which led me to talk to him about metacognition and try to get him to think explicitly about his reasoning. When he tried to walk me through one particular step he found he couldn’t do it slowly. He had become so fluent in that particular move that he was now having trouble unpicking it himself – thinking too hard about it caused him to mess it up.

He can now solve the cube in easily under 2 minutes on most occasions which I am incredibly impressed by, and a lot of the time he doesn’t even have to look. He has shown real dedication and it has been so interesting watching him along his journey. He now wants to buy a “better” speed cube. And of course we now have a great personal analogy for successful learning and for overcoming hurdles: “You didn’t do so well in that last TTRockstars gig, but think back to when you were struggling with the F2L method and you practised, and now look at you! You can do the same on TTRockstars…”

The perils of having a mum who is a teacher….

By Deb Friis


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Metacognitive Leaners

Metacognition describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviours. David Perkins (1992) developed an idea that there are four different types of metacognitive learners. These four types of metacognitive learners (outlined below) create a useful framework for teachers. This blog aims to demonstrate some of the behaviours students exhibited during their lessons at Durrington High School during lesson drop ins, throughout all four levels.

Perkin’s four levels of metacognitive learners (1992):

  • Tacit learners are unaware of their metacognitive knowledge. They do not think about any particular strategies for learning and merely accept if they know something or not.
  • Aware learners know about some of the kinds of thinking that they do such as generating ideas, finding evidence etc. However, thinking is not necessarily deliberate or planned.
  • Strategic learners organise their thinking by using problem-solving, grouping and classifying, evidence-seeking and decision-making etc. They know and apply the strategies that help them learn.
  • Reflective learners are not only strategic about their thinking but they also reflect upon their learning while it is happening, considering the success or not of any strategies they are using and then revising them as appropriate


Traits of tacit learners observed:

  • In science, Y9 students had not reflected on the information they had written down or its wider significance.
  • In business, Y10 students were not able to explain any of the strategies connected to the task they were performing.

Traits of aware learners observed:

  • In maths, Y7 students were applying maths strategies to “real world” problems. The students managed to solve the problem but showed limited awareness of the best strategies to use.
  • In D&T, a Y9 student could identify that they always over-complicate their designs, which leads to them not finishing. However, they had not been able to act on this or change behaviour.
  • In English, Y7 students were able to describe a PEE paragraph but not explain its purpose.
  • In science, Y9 students asked elaborative questions showing a desire to think more deeply, however these were not particularly strategic

Traits of strategic learners observed:

  • In geography, Y7 students were able to make a reasoned comparison of the different methods to measure height on a map and explain why one was better than another.
  • In history, Y7 students were able to evaluate what had gone well and badly in an assessment and give a description of what they would do differently next time (lack of deep reflection on why).
  • In maths, Y7 students were selecting a particular strategy to solve a problem without prompting (lowest common multiple). They knew the strategy to use but not why they were using it.
  • In French, Y7 students were able to explain their strategies for translation. They said they would first sound it in their heads to see it was similar to an English word, then use a dictionary and then use either their books, a partner or the teacher. They were not able to explain why one might be better than another.

Traits of reflective learners observed:

  • In D&T, Y9 students were able to verbalise a strategy from a different project earlier in the year (drawing a safety line) that they had applied to their current project. They could explain the value of the strategy.

James Crane

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