Knowledge Organisers: Making them worth more than the paper they’re written on

As we have previously blogged about here and here, we at Durrington are currently implementing knowledge organisers across the whole school. At the moment, we have knowledge organisers in place in all subjects for Year 9 and Year 10. The knowledge organisers themselves are disciplinary, by which we mean they are subject specific and so show variation according to the curriculum that they support. However, we have also tried to ensure consistency through adhering to the following principles:

  • The knowledge organisers include judiciously selected tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary. This vocabulary will be taught explicitly to students.
  • The knowledge organisers incorporate the building blocks for learning in that subject that all students are entitled to know and understand.
  • The knowledge organisers are designed to aid retrieval practice and metacognitive learning.

Here are some examples of the knowledge organisers that we are currently using in different subject areas:


We are very aware that knowledge organisers by themselves are fairly meaningless; it is how they are used for planning, teaching and testing that will have the intended positive impact on our students’ outcomes, experiences and future opportunities. Consequently, we are keen to share the simple yet effective ways in which different subjects are utilising their knowledge organisers in lessons, as described below.

In geography the team are collating the words that students most frequently misunderstand or confuse (these are words from the knowledge organisers). The students then take a two-part quiz: In part 1 they choose the correct explanation of the word from three options, and in part 2 they identify the word in the correct context from two options. This is a great example of how the vocabulary from the knowledge organiser is being taught explicitly to students and misconceptions are being tackled at the same time.

In history, the curriculum leader emails out weekly slides, comprising a section of the knowledge organiser, to be used across the department. These slides ensure that there is consistency to the use of knowledge organisers and retrieval practice in every history lesson. The students complete the slide-task, for example filling in blanks in sentences with appropriate tier 3 vocabulary, and then use the knowledge organiser to self or peer check their response. The tasks in themselves are simple but they effectively focus the students’ efforts on improving specific areas, for example accurate use of tier 3 historical words and phrases.

Maths are using their range of knowledge organisers to support homework tasks. Firstly, the students can access their maths knowledge organisers are any time using our online system Connect. This means that students have scaffolding in place for when they are working outside of the classroom. Furthermore, every fortnight the maths team set a homework that is based on retrieval quizzing. The students are required to use the knowledge organisers to find the answers to upcoming quizzes and then actually sit the quiz in class on the due date for the homework. Students who score less than 12 out of 15 are then supported in making flashcards on the questions, again gaining the information from the knowledge organiser, and use these to retest until they are successful. This strategy demonstrates how knowledge organisers can be used to support learning through the testing effect.

The science team have carefully selected the tier 3 vocabulary that they feel is imperative to scientific success and published these on their knowledge organisers. In class, the teachers explicitly teach this vocabulary using a morphological approach, i.e. by drawing students’ attention to prefixes such as mono, hetero, pent etc.. The beauty of this approach is that once the vocabulary has been decided there is no need for any further resources or planning. It is simply a case of the teacher taking a few moments of the lesson to highlight the prefix in order to activate students’ prior knowledge of this word part (or teach it for the first time) so that students can go on to decipher the likely meaning of the entire word.

Finally, in English the team are making frequent use of their knowledge organisers to retrieve the contextual knowledge, key themes and authorial methods linked to literary texts. In addition, the English team are also making students use identified tier 2 vocabulary by linking it to characters and plot situations from multiple texts, thereby giving the students ample and varied examples of the words in use. Knowledge organisers in English tend to be produced on PowerPoint and use a grid format. This makes it incredibly quick and easy to extract sections, put this on a slide and blank out boxes ready for students to fill as a 5 minute starter every lesson.

Our use of knowledge organisers is a journey and one in which we have only taken the first few steps. To move forward we will:

  1. Share examples of effective practice from the our colleagues in other curriculum areas, especially the practical subjects where the use of knowledge organisers may well yield some very different ideas for practice.
  2. Talk to students and make them a greater part of the knowledge organiser dialogue in our school. In particular, we want our students to have a secure understanding of how knowledge organisers work to support retrieval practice and vocabulary instruction, where they can find them and how they can use them for effective learning outside of the classroom, for example self-quizzing.
  3. Make knowledge organisers accessible for parents and carers via our VLE, online Connect system and through making them a key component of conversations at upcoming parents’ evenings.
  4. Reflect on how to improve and develop the work that we now have in place ready for our new batch of knowledge organisers that are required for later this year. In particular, we will consider the need for accumulation of knowledge across units of work and year groups in order to meet our end goals for every student who is part of our school.

If you are interested in learning more about our approach to teaching and learning please take a look at our upcoming training days here.

Fran Haynes.



















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Cracking homework

Homework has been on my list of whole-school responsibilities for some time now.  In fact, this will be the sixth year in which I’ve been charged with leading on all things connected to learning outside of the classroom.  Other than revision that is.  Although that is partly me as well.


So surely five years has been enough time to crack homework.  You could reasonably expect to see a school in which all staff set purposeful and meaningful homework that has watertight consistency across subject teams, students are intrinsically motivated to complete it and so do so without prompting, detentions are a thing of the past as every piece is handed in on time, to a high standard, and the learning train travels smoothly on towards its destination of brilliant outcomes for all.

Perhaps not.

However, while the homework utopia described above may be out of my reach no matter how long it remains my responsibility, I certainly feel we are much closer to it that we were when we started.  As one curriculum leader who will remain nameless said to my colleague: “We have gone from a school where students generally don’t do their homework to a school where they generally do.”

There are multiple causes of this positive shift.  The starting point was to improve the quality of the homework that was set.  Research evidence tells us that, for secondary school children, homework has a significant positive effect.  Sources such as the EEF Toolkit, Hattie’s meta analysis and Paul Kirschner all support this idea.  However, while they and others suggest homework is worthwhile, the huge and somewhat obvious caveat to this is that only good homework is worthwhile, rubbish homework is not.  Therefore the starting point for improving homework was to make sure that if students were being asked to spend their time completing it and expected to value it, then it must be high quality.

In order to achieve this lofty objective we asked departments to write homework policies that ensured that all homework set met one or several of the following four principles:

  • Embed – consolidate learning that has taken place in the classroom, e.g. revision for assessment or learning key knowledge.
  • Practice – refine knowledge and procedures learnt in the classroom based on feedback from the teacher, e.g. DIRT activities.
  • Extend – move learning beyond what has been achieved in the classroom, e.g. adding breadth to their existing knowledge.
  • Apply – use learning from the classroom to complete a specific task, e.g. writing a practice exam question based on content covered in a lesson.

These principles allowed leaders to articulate what was and was not purposeful homework in their subjects.  What it is has also led to is most departments developing generic and centrally produced homework that all teachers set at the same time.  Due to our curriculum focus being on the long-term retention of knowledge (both declarative and procedural) the majority of homework set tends to fall into the embed category.

Below is a typical example taken from a recent homework report I ran:

Romeo and Juliet revision Please focus your attention on Romeo and Juliet this Easter holiday. You must use the knowledge organiser (you can download a copy below) to create flash cards. You must use retrieval practice techniques to learn the content. We will do a test on this on the first lesson.

If you would like to watch a version of Romeo and Juliet, I have also included a link below.

Good luck.

In terms of monitoring quality and setting consistency we use an online platform called Connect.  This communicates homework to parents/carers and students and allows leaders to run reports looking at all the homework set across the school, within a department or by an individual teacher.  This allows for regular audits of the homework being set to ensure it meets one of the four principles.

Sitting alongside these principles is the problem of motivation.  One of the lessons of self-regulated learning as explained in the EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report is that without motivation self-regulated learning will not take place.  In other words if they can’t be bothered and don’t see the point of homework they are unlikely to do it.  While intrinsic motivation is the gold standard we are unlikely to achieve this with the majority of our students and therefore have to rely on extrinsic motivation to get them on board.

The first step is to make them value homework and the see the purpose and benefit of doing it.  In order for this to happen we must make sure the output is as strong as possible.  In a recent blog Alex Quigley posed some excellent reflective questions for schools to consider when asking themselves whether the homework they were setting was good enough and students understood its purpose.  They were:

  • Are the students in possession of all the resources required to undertake the task independently?
  • What are the existing beliefs about home learning (students & teachers) that we need to recognise/challenge?
  • How can we best leverage parental support for home learning that is effectively communicated?
  • How do you plan to provide specific and timely feedback to students on their home learning?

I recently shared these with SLT for discussion and with line managers to take back to their subject leaders.

The final question is particularly pertinent and underpinning our principles is the non-negotiable that all homework must elicit feedback.  This can be in whatever form is most appropriate, be that peer marking closed questions, adaptation to teaching or detailed formative comments.  However, for students to value homework they need to know that the teachers place equal value on it.  Ensuring feedback is an essential facet of this.

Lastly there is the question of what to do about students who persistently fail to complete homework across several subjects.

The problem here falls broadly into those that are not willing and those that are not able to complete it.  For those not able due to a learning barrier or due to a chaotic home not conducive to completing work, we must provide support in completing it.  We run a support session once a week in our LRA (library) where biscuits, hot chocolate and support are offered for those students we identify as needing extra support.

For those that we identify as simply choosing not to do it we use tough sanctioning.  We want to create a culture where homework is valued by all and as such we must ensure that alongside all the work we doing on raising the quality and value of homework we must also send a clear message that not doing your homework is not acceptable.  As a result we conduct fortnightly homework sweeps on any incidences of missed homework logged on Connect.  Appearing on this sweep leads to increasing sanctions following each appearance.  Here we seek to support the classroom teacher as following up 6 or 7 students who have not done their homework is a huge drain on their time, which we want them to spend planning brilliant lessons.

The picture is still far from perfect, but is improving.  As I often tell our staff and students, homework is here to stay so we might as well get it right.

Posted by Chris Runeckles


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Supporting Retrieval Practice with Cornell Note Taking

The benefits of retrieval practice i.e. the act of having to retrieve something from your memory (often with the help of a cue), in terms of supporting long term memory, have been well documented. Similarly a number of classroom strategies that support this, such as starting each lesson with questions from last lesson, last week and last month and the use of flashcards, are common practice for many teachers.  One strategy that is less well documented is Cornell note taking.

Devised by Professor Walter Pauk of Cornell University in the 1950s, it is a way of students setting out their notes to support retrieval practice.  Furthermore, it requires very little planning and preparation from the teacher – the best kind of new approach.

My interpretation of this can be seen in the the diagram above. Students should get into the habit of having three sections to their notes.  Whilst the original approach was aimed at helping students to take notes e.g. during a lecture, I have adapted it slightly to fit with what happens in a secondary classroom.  I think it works well.  The right hand side is used for their normal class notes – nothing different here, just whatever you would normally do in your lessons.

On the left though, they should have a thin column (I guess the margin would work fine for this).  This is where the magic happens!  At the time of studying, so either during the lesson or at the end (but not much later than that), they note in here some cues such as key words and/or questions, that would require them to think about and retrieve key knowledge from the lesson. So for example, I was teaching the endocrine system to my Y11 class today, so some questions could be:

  • Why are hormones referred to as chemical messengers?
  • How are they similar and different to nerve impulses?
  • Name 5 endocrine gland in the body.
  • For each gland, name a hormone it produces.

The idea is when they come to revise (a significant time after the notes were produced), rather than just passively re-reading their notes, they go to the left hand column and either try to retrieve the definition of the key words from memory, or answer the retrieval questions.  Thus, supporting retrieval practice.  This is a far more effective use of their time, compared to simply re-reading notes, which is not very challenging, doesn’t require much thinking and is unlikely to support learning.

The final section is for them to summarise the key points of the lesson, in 3 bullet points.  This is pretty self explanatory and whilst simply summarising has limitations in terms of supporting learning (see Dunlosky in the ‘further reading’ section below) , this could also be used for self-testing.  Students could try to retrieve from memory the three key points from the lesson, write them down, and then check with the bullet points they wrote originally in the ‘summary’ section, if they were correct.

In addition to the benefits in terms of retrieval practice this approach supports, it’s also possible that the metacognitive process that takes place during cue and question generation, engages students more in the content being learnt.

It’s certainly something I’ll be giving a go with my Y11 group.  If you are interested in developing teaching approaches that support long term memory, you might be interested in the ‘Improving Memory’ training programme we are hosting at the Durrington Research School, starting on the 1st October.

Further reading

  • How to study in college’ (10th ed.), Pauk, W., & Ross, J. Q.
  • ‘The importance of retrieval failures to long-term retention: A metacognitive explanation of the spacing effect.’ Bahrick, H. P., & Hall, L. K.
  • ‘Improving Students’ Learning.’ Dunlosky et al

Posted by Shaun Allison

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Knowledge Organisers: Tackling the Misconceptions

Last week, Andy Tharby wrote about Durrington’s journey with knowledge organisers and in particular how we are using these to improve retrieval practice. Andy’s blog generated a lot of interest, perhaps because it taps into the current debate regarding the possible advantages and dangers of using knowledge organisers as a central resource for classroom learning (and because it is expertly written, of course).

One of the major issues we at Durrington have faced on this journey is ensuring a cohesive approach to using knowledge organisers in a way that tackles some common misconceptions about their design and use. Below is an outline of our experiences so far.

The Pros and Cons

At Durrington, we are aiming to have knowledge organisers in place for all units of work, in every curriculum area and for all year groups. This, of course, is an ongoing process and something that we hope to achieve over the next two to three years. To support this process, we have used the EEF’s implementation guide so that we can maximise the chances of this change being successful and having the desired impact on students’ outcomes.

We see knowledge organisers as having a lot of positive potential, especially with regards to our knowledge-based curriculum (you can read about this here). However, we are also highly aware that in order for this potential to be fulfilled we have to be judicious, informed and reflective in terms of their production and our expectations of how knowledge organisers are used by teachers and students. We do not want it to be the case that teachers dedicate a huge amount of time to producing knowledge organisers that are either ineffectively designed in the first place or created with expertise and attention but then fade out of consciousness as the year unfolds.

In the exploration phase of our implementation plan, i.e. when we were systematically investigating the practices tied into the use of knowledge organisers, it became increasingly apparent that there is not any robust research evidence that supports their use. As an evidence-informed school, this was a clear issue for us. Firstly, the current dearth of research evidence underpinning knowledge organisers means that there is also a lack of guidelines for best practice, or even concrete ideas about how they might be effectively used in classrooms of different contexts. Accordingly, any school that is thinking about implementing knowledge organisers as a whole-school approach, or even departmentally, faces somewhat of an abyss when it comes to knowing exactly what to do. However, the experiences of schools that have adopted knowledge organisers seem to align so closely with our T&L principles that it was deemed a path worth pursuing. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that the research evidence does not exist yet, meaning that nothing has been tested either way.

Tackling the Issues

After much research and careful thought, we decided to ask all curriculum areas to create knowledge organisers for the units that will be studied by Year 9 and Year 10 students in the first term of this academic year. Crucially, however, we also decided that the knowledge organisers needed to be the mechanisms for our three current whole-school T&L approaches: retrieval practice, explicit vocabulary instruction and developing metacognitive learners. By emphasising that the knowledge organisers should be developed and used in a way that supports our three evidence-informed T&L foci, rather than as a different pedagogic approach altogether, we felt that we were reducing the risk of them becoming obsolete bits of paper stuck in books, or at worst injurious resources that would narrow the curriculum.

In summary, we have come to believe that knowledge organisers as an isolated pedagogical tool are probably not the way forward, but using knowledge organisers as a way of enabling teachers to incorporate retrieval practice, explicit vocabulary instruction and metacognitive learning in their lessons seems very fruitful indeed.


So far, the whole-school implementation of knowledge organisers has not been easy – they require a substantial amount of time and expertise, and tend to throw up more questions before any answers emerge. There have also been lots of very understandable doubts that we have struggled to quell with ease. However, some of these concerns were rooted in misconceptions that we have been able to overcome. These misconceptions include:

  1. I can’t fit everything a student needs to know on one side of A4.
  2. I don’t know what to put on a knowledge organiser.
  3. I’ve already got excellent resources, why would I need a knowledge organiser as well?
  4. It doesn’t work in my subject.
  5. They take too long to make.
  6. Surely I can just photocopy the exam specification?

Expectations for Using Knowledge Organisers at Durrington

To tackle these misconceptions we consistently emphasise that the fundamental purpose of our knowledge organisers is to put our three T&L foci into practice. Accordingly, we have identified the following attributes as expectations and reiterate these regularly through CPD channels such as INSET:

  1. All knowledge organisers include specific tier 2 and/or tier 3 vocabulary. Teachers will teach this vocabulary explicitly in lessons.
  2. Knowledge organisers distil and clarify the building blocks for learning in your subject ready to extend in classroom learning.
  3. Knowledge organisers do not replace other lesson resources. Rather, they make it explicit what students need to know automatically and be able to apply and develop in lessons.
  4. Knowledge organisers are based on cultural capital. Exam requirements are important for student success, but learning should also go beyond this. Knowledge organisers, therefore, should identify the knowledge a student should remember in ten years’ time about that subject.
  5. Knowledge organisers are disciplinary, i.e. they are subject specific. A knowledge organiser from history will look very different to a knowledge organiser from textiles. Knowledge organisers can be text-based, visual or a mixture of both formats as best suits the needs of the curriculum it supports.
  6. Knowledge organisers are designed in a way that makes them mechanisms for retrieval practice, explicit vocabulary instruction and metacognitive learning in lessons and at home.

The Journey Continues

Perhaps the best part of our investment in knowledge organisers so far has been the collaboration it has engendered. Rather than seeing the lack of prior knowledge organisers as a hindrance, we at Durrington are using this opportunity to galvanise a pioneering spirit. There are many questions that are still unanswered, and this means that curriculum time centres around discussing, questioning and debating what we should teach in our subject and why. There is no side-stepping the fact that the creation of knowledge organisers does take a very long time, but we believe that will be time well spent.

If you would like to find out more about our approach to explicit vocabulary instruction and other areas of whole-school literacy please sign up to our training day here.

Fran Haynes

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Using knowledge organisers to improve retrieval practice

At our school, all subject departments are in the process of creating knowledge organisers to support each unit of work. For the uninitiated, a knowledge organiser is a simple tool that provides clarity for both teachers and students. A successful knowledge organiser summarises and condenses all the most vital, useful and powerful knowledge on a single A4 page. We do not have a standard knowledge organiser template; each department designs them in a way that suits the bespoke needs of the subject discipline. For example, here is the knowledge organiser the English department have designed to teach John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to Year 9:


Knowledge organisers are all the rage at the moment. However, if they are going to help support learning and retention, departments and teachers must be very clear about their purpose and how to use them effectively. Used well, a knowledge organiser can support students in grasping the foundational concepts that will pave the way for future learning. Used badly, then it is little more than a list of disassociated, indigestible facts – another thing to glue neatly into the back of an exercise book and forget about. At our school, knowledge organisers are used as a focused curriculum guide for teachers and a revision tool for students. They also lie at the heart of our literacy strategy: departments use them to list the relevant Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary that will be taught in the lessons.

Once the most important facts and concepts have been taught, the knowledge organiser can be used as the basis for retrieval practice. In simple terms, retrieval practice involves using a cue – usually a question – to test previously covered material. The act of dredging up knowledge from memory, or retrieving it, increases the likelihood that it will be remembered next time, and the harder it is to recall this knowledge, the more powerful the effect. Testing not only shows what a student knows at a given point in time but also increases the likelihood that the material will be remembered later. Studies also show that the best way to revise is to repeatedly test yourself; it is a far more powerful method than reread­ing or restudying the material. Quizzing, multiple-choice questions and flashcards are all effective forms of retrieval practice.

In a recent INSET, we discussed how knowledge organisers can be used to support retrieval practice:

  • Design the knowledge organiser in a way that makes quizzing easy. For example, make sure that key words and definitions are in separate boxes so that children can cover them up and test themselves.
  • Retrieval practice needs to be cumulative. Don’t just test something once and assume it has been learnt for ever. Make sure that key concepts from the knowledge organiser are repeatedly tested and that the questions are reworded and rephrased so that students have to think carefully about the answers.
  • Use knowledge organisers to support self-checking after completing a task. 
  • Teachers can use knowledge organisers for on-the-spot questioning. Hold your knowledge organiser in front of you and use it to ask students quick fire questions. This takes no planning and provides a great way to help them to automatise their knowledge.
  • Students can highlight what they know on the knowledge organiser to gauge their learning and track their way through the curriculum. You could even collect these in and then use this feedback to help you to plan future lessons and revision sessions.
  • Use the same knowledge organiser for all students but differentiate delivery. It is important that all students are challenged to learn everything on the knowledge organiser. Remember, that many students will learn far more than that specified on the knowledge organiser.
  • Do not allow students access to knowledge organiser when they are tested. Retrieval practice must come from memory, not notes in an exercise book.
  • Do not test everything at once. Break it up and test it bit by bit. Make sure they achieve success on these tests as this will breed confidence.

There are plenty of ways to use knowledge organisers to support retrieval practice and more. Please add any other ideas you have in the comments below.

If you would like to know more about retrieval practice and other evidence-informed strategies for boosting memory, we are running a three-day training programme at Durrington Research School – on 1st October 2018, 6th February 2019 and 10th June 2019. The course will help you to understand and evaluate the evidence and, more importantly, support you in implementing and mobilising it in your classroom, department and school. For more information and booking, please follow this link.

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Bright Spots

We have got off to a great start at Durrington High School and visiting lessons over the past few days made it clear why this has been the case. In all of the lessons that we saw, the students were settled and working purposefully on high-challenge content.


We have three clear T&L foci for this year:

  1. Explicit vocabulary instruction.
  2. Retrieval practice.
  3. Metacognition and self-regulation.

At INSET last week we revisited the strategies that we can use for the first two foci and explored for the first time as a whole school how we can use our understanding of metacognition and self-regulation to better support students’ learning. As the year progresses, we look forward to sharing the many effective strategies that teachers are using with regard to these foci from across the curriculum areas.

Our first stop of the day was with Bex Owen in her year 11 science lesson. Bex was demonstrating some very clear engagement with both metacognition and explicit vocabulary instruction with the use of GCSE exam questions. Bex had a series of questions displayed on her board and was talking through what these questions were asking her to do before attempting to answer. For example, one of the questions started with the command verb ‘explain’, so Bex said aloud how this told her that she must not just state a response but go further to give reasons. This kind of modelling can be effective for two reasons: Firstly, it would help Bex’s students know what they should think about as they read an exam question, thus paving the way for more accurate answers. Secondly, Bex’s succinct reminder of what ‘explain’ means would ensure that all students could access the science task, including those who came to the lesson with more limited word knowledge.

Along in drama, April Cross was delivering a lively lesson to her year 9 students. The class were all participating in a group game in which they has to select a fellow student to ‘splat’. The student who was slowest to respond had to sit out the rest of the game. Building relationships between teachers and students, whilst also asserting authority over your classroom, is one of the most fundamental tasks that we have to negotiate at the start of each academic year, and one that can come with many challenges. In this particular lesson, April’s students were learning to accept the rules of her classroom even when they did not agree. For example, when a student lost a round of the game she was clearly displeased and started to voice her displeasure. April responded with “You can be upset, but you still have to sit down”. This was an excellent way to handle the behaviour: April calmly acknowledged the student’s feelings but then showed that this behaviour would not get the desired result. This kind of classroom management is what enables our students to have successful lessons every day.

In maths, Sara Stevens was with her year 11 group. Sarah was targeting questions at the students using a mixture of cold calling and hands up. There is some advocacy for only ever using a cold-calling approach to questioning in classrooms, but as Sarah’s lesson demonstrated, if used judiciously, sometimes allowing students to offer an answer can go a long way in creating a very engaged class and enabling some excellent peer modelling. In this particular lesson, Sarah was directing targeted questions about the calculations on the board and then offering direct verbal feedback to students’ responses. Sarah also showed confidence in telling a student when they had made a mistake and then immediately offering the correction. As research evidence indicates, this task-based feedback can have a powerfully positive effect on learning and students’ confidence in their work towards a specified goal.

In the English corridor, Kelly Heane’s year 8 class were busy with some creative writing. Kelly had used a metacognitive strategy by deconstructing a creative paragraph that she had written herself. As Kelly read through the model with her class she shared the decision making process that she went through a writer, for example using past and present participles as a way of varying the start of her sentences. Consequently, Kelly’s students were able to gain knowledge of how a writer thinks and then put this knowledge to use themselves. To further support her students, Kelly used her decisions to create a criteria. The students therefore had a two scaffolds to use, which remained on the board, to support their work. The use of scaffolds that are been built up (and removed) gradually means that learners can devote their cognitive space to the task at hand. This was clearly the case in Kelly’s lesson where every student was busily engaged with their work.

Up in history, Joanna Collins was expertly explaining the tricky concept of proportional representation to her year 9 class. Joanna had recognised that in order to be able to respond to a question about the disadvantages and benefits of this system in Germany, the students would need a rich knowledge of what the phrase itself represents. To this purpose, Joanna dedicated some well-spent minutes to talking through how proportional representation would work in the UK, and the problems this may cause. Joanna was very careful to use ideas that her students already understood, for example deciding on bin collection days, in order to scaffold their understanding of this new conceptual vocabulary. Building up this knowledge through direct instruction meant that the students could then progress to the more demanding task of applying the idea to a different context and tackling it in a more evaluative vein.

Over in geography, Rob Suckling was leading his class through their first task of the year: creating their benchmark of brilliance. Using a similar approach to Kelly in English, Rob used a model paragraph (this time one produced by a former year 9 student) and with the class explored why this was a first-class piece of work. From this deconstruction, Rob identified the component parts that would combine to produce a high-quality piece of geographical writing, including the us of connectives and key vocabulary, and formulated the criteria. The students then used this criteria to scaffold their own writing. Rob will check this and feedback to the students next lesson, being sure to address any misconceptions. They will then redraft until they have an example of their best work ready to use as the benchmark for all future pieces.

Similarly, in design and technology Ray Burns was using the high standard set by previous students to exemplify expectations to his new year 8 class.  As is common practice for our art and D&T teachers, Ray was using the ever-changing corridor displays as a teaching aid.  He had taken the class out of the classroom and was using a display of photo frames to help students understand the finished product they were aiming towards.  By doing so he was ensuring the students were in doubt as to the high quality work that was expected of them.  Through questioning of the students Ray was drawing out the different styles they might choose themselves and the key considerations for their plans.  Ray also took the opportunity to define a key piece of tier 2 vocabulary – target market – while questioning the students, ensuring they understood the definition and the context.

In French students were applying some of the principles of metacognition with Emma Bilbrough.  I visited the lesson right at the start and found the students completing a task that required them to use inflections to ask questions.  In the previous lesson students had made a list of vocabulary key to asking questions.  The task required them to use a combination of clues from the board and the vocabulary from the previous lesson to create their own questions.  By doing so students were being required to monitor and evaluate their own learning.  Specifically they were required to check whether they had mastered the new vocabulary sufficiently to apply it in context.  The activity was very student-led with Emma live marking as she circulated.

Once again a walk around Durrington’s classrooms has uncovered some excellent practice and a start to the year that we can be proud of.  The aim this year will be to improve this further by continuing to develop our key foci and principles.

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Learning from our most successful teams

Today’s INSET day had a very clear focus – ‘Getting better at getting better’.  The quotes above were shared, because they summarise what it means to be a teacher at Durrington:

  • Regardless of our experience, we are all committed to getting better at our job – as teachers and as leaders.
  • We use evidence from research to make sure we are focusing our time and effort on what is most likely to improve learning.
  • We do all of this because our students deserve no less.

In order to support our ongoing improvement as a school, we turned to our most successful curriculum teams and considered what is it about these teams that make them so successful?  The following seemed to be common features.

  • Through strong leadership they have a sense of belief and pride that they can be world class.  This manifests itself in a clear vision for the future and a moral duty to provide the best possible educational experience for our students.
  • They have the highest expectations and standards, in terms of what they expect from all aspects of their work.
  • There is a strong sense of collaboration.  They want to learn from each other and there is a strong sense of everybody moving in the same direction.  This is most evident in how these teams approach their fortnightly ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’ (SPDS)
  • The leaders of these teams are not afraid to be candid with team members.  When something is not as it should be, they will have a conversation with the colleague, but most importantly, support them to address the issue.  Time is not wasted either not addressing the issue, or giving a mixed message!
  • There is a collective responsibility to be the best, driven by a sense of moral purpose – a good education opens doors for students, so let’s make sure we give them every opportunity to get one.
  • They look after each other.  If somebody is struggling, this will not go unnoticed and help will be at hand.
  • They talk about teaching and how to get better at it…a lot!  Again, this is why they use SPDS so well.
  • They monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their CPD (SPDS).  They don’t just hope that it is making a difference, but look to see if what they are discussing and sharing as a group of teachers, is making a difference to student learning.
  • They are outward looking.  So, they will look at other high performing teams in their subject, as well as the research evidence and use this to inform their practice.  However, they are selective with this.  They don’t simply try to implement everything.  Instead they think about what is most likely to have the biggest impact in their context and then implement this.
  • They implement carefully. More on this here.
  • They analyse and evaluate their performance forensically (assessments, student work, exam results etc) and use this to identify specific and focused improvement points.  They know what needs to improve.
  • They don’t try to improve everything.  They have a small number of improvement points (based on where they think there will be most gains) and are then relentless in terms of their focus on this e.g. improve the long term memory of students.
  • Having identified improvement points these are then translated into classroom actions (informed by evidence), that teachers need to implement on a day to day basis e.g. improve the long term memory of students, using retrieval practice questions at the start of every lesson.
  • Having agreed on these actions, they then ensure that they are implemented with fidelity across the team – with feedback given when this is not the case.

There are many other things that contribute to the success of these teams, but these features seemed to be key.

We then went on to discuss two of our teaching and learning foci for this year, metacognition and explicit vocabulary instruction, and  how we will be using ‘disciplined inquiry’ to implement these in the classroom.  This involved teachers thinking about these key questions:

  • What’s the problem I’m trying to solve?
  • What does the research evidence say about this?
  • What am I going to do differently in my lessons?
  • How will I monitor my progress?
  • Who’s my critical friend/s?
  • How will I share my success/challenges?
  • How will I evaluate impact?
  • What’s my inquiry question?

Here’s to a great 2018-19.

Posted by Shaun Allison

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