Bright Spots – 4th December 2019

Today James Crane and I walked around the school and saw some fantastic practice going on in our classrooms.  Here is a summary.

In science Fahim Rahman was starting his lesson with a retrieval quiz that included questions on their current topic, but also what they did earlier in the year and last year.  He also had the section of the content checklist displayed up on the board, for students to see where this lesson sat in the whole topic – which really supports their self-regulation.

In English Paul Sluman was exploring ‘A Christmas Carol’ with his Y10 class.  Paul was skilfully using elaborative questioning to encourage his students to think more deeply about the characters e.g. ‘Who is Fan’s son?  What’s he like?  What does this tell you about him?

Up in history, Emily Hitchcock was using a Y8 assessment as a great opportunity for whole class feedback.  Having marked the students’ work, it was clear that they were missing marks because when the question asked them to make inferences, they were making inferences, but not linked directly to what the question was asking them – ‘Infer from source A how slaves were treated once they arrived in the Americas‘. So this was a great opportunity for Emily to model what they needed to do in order to address this common mistake.

Art NQT Helen Kingwell had done some fantastic planning with Y7 in previous lessons, in terms of designing a Matisse shoe.  As a result of this thorough preparation, the students were able to work with confidence and independence this lesson, preparing the paper templates for their designs.  A great example of a sequence of lessons progressing effectively.

In the hall Y7 were enjoying a dance lesson with Paul McCafferty.  Working in pairs, they were able to develop and improve their performance, because Paul had provided them with a ‘pre-flight checklist’ on the board, that told them what they had to do to improve in terms of action, space and dynamic e.g. use a different body part to perform an action.  Students understood the purpose of this checklist and were using it well in their pairings.

In maths, Sara Stevens was doing a great job of live modelling how to find the ‘nth term’.  Whilst modelling the strategy, she was also sharing out loud the metacognitive strategies she was using to solve the problem.   By the end of this, students then had a worked example in their books, that they could then use to solve a similar problem – a great way to reduce the cognitive load.

Finally in geography, Sam Atkins had just been having a great discussion with Y11 on managing water pollution.  The students were then asked to discuss the issue in pairs, but this was really well structured by Sam.  Rather than just a loose discussion between the pairs, Sam gave them three topics to discuss and told them that each pair had to have two bullet points for each topic, after 5 minutes.  This created a far more purposeful discussion.

It was fantastic to see so many examples of our teacher threshold concepts being mobilised so effectively during this lesson.  No gimmicks, no fuss – just really strong, evidence informed teaching.


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Collaborative Planning: Thoughts from the Maths Hub Shanghai Teacher Exchange – Part 2

Natasha Corrigan has just spent two weeks in Shanghai taking part in the NCETM Teacher Exchange. She has travelled along with a group of other primary and secondary maths teachers to observe teaching in a range of Shanghai schools. Following on from her thoughts after week 1, here are her reflections after planning and teaching a lesson to the Chinese students.

In my second week in Shanghai I have visited a different middle school and another primary school. I have observed 6 lessons and taught one lesson. The highlight of my time at the middle school has to be the collaboratively planning, discussion of the lesson and then teaching it. I am going to talk in detail about this as I feel I have learnt the most from this during my second week. Throughout my time in Shanghai the detail and effort put into the questions during lessons has stood out. Every question is there for a reason and the level of challenge and variation helps move students on whilst also supporting them in initially grasping the concept.

We were given the topic of multiplying and dividing algebraic fractions. We were also given the textbook. We started by designing questions to draw out misconceptions and key learning points of the lesson. At no point did we look online, this actually made the designing quicker and more precise in what we wanted to achieve. The key points we identified were 1) multiplication and division of algebraic fractions generalisation from fraction generalisation 2) cancel common factors to simplify answers 3) factorise first if possible to help identify common factors. We used the textbook to guide us and make sure we had all variations of questions including the difference of two squares, knowing that x – 3 = -1(3 + x), using monomials and polynomials. We discussed the misconceptions we have seen previously and designed true or false exercises and diagnostic questions to include these within. We also only included 7 practice questions in the whole lesson but cleverly designed them so there was a reason for each one. We ended up with a very clear lesson that we felt covered all properties of multiplying and dividing algebraic fractions.

We then joined all of the maths teachers for a lesson discussion meeting. They called this the secret to efficient teaching. In this meeting teachers present on lessons for the following week and teachers question and critique the lessons before they are edited and then taught to their classes. I’m not going to lie I was nervous about presenting our lesson but once I started explaining, I felt confident about our chosen tasks and questions. We explained why each question was there and how we would assess students throughout the lesson. The feedback we had was to include cancelling common factors before multiplication (something we hadn’t realised was encouraged due to examples in the textbook) and to conclude at points when a new idea has been discovered. For example, cancel common factors to simplify algebraic fractions. After their first example of this, we concluded as a class before moving on. This is something I definitely will do more of in my teaching from now on, nothing is assumed, we must generalise and conclude throughout all learning. The examples we used were praised and we felt a lot better going home that day. The idea of this type of presenting lessons ahead of teaching is a really good one. At my school we have shown collaboratively planned lessons in meetings but I wonder whether we have asked for critiques in the same way and made sure they are edited before everyone teaches. We can also let admin take up time in meetings meaning this discussion doesn’t happen. Here they have this meeting separately, maybe this is a way to protect this time.

Tash Shanghai

I felt nervous in the morning of the lesson even though I knew we had planned a good lesson. As soon as we started however, it was amazing. The students were fantastic and didn’t make nearly as many mistakes as we would expect in our own classrooms, perhaps because of a combination of revisiting topics regularly and having better knowledge (from lots of practice). They did however make a few and by using mini-whiteboards we were able to identify these and use students to explain and correct. The work we did in the lesson was minimal and the students were working hard throughout. I’ve always heard people say that the students should be working harder than us but have never felt as if I’d mastered it; today it felt like they were. The hard work has gone into the planning of the lesson. The delivery is just fun!

What an amazing experience. To have gone through this process of planning, discussing and teaching in a truly efficient way I have learnt so much. Best CPD I have ever taken part in. I hope we can improve our own collaborative model of planning in my school and continue to design better lessons for our students.

Natasha Corrigan is an Assistant Principle at Sir Robert Woodard Academy, Lancing and a Maths Secondary Mastery Specialist. She is @tashawidmer on Twitter.

The teachers from Shanghai that Natasha visited will be returning to teach at Sir Robert Woodard Academy in March 2020 – look out for Sussex Maths Hub Open Classroom events at and @SEMathsHub

Deb Friis


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A case study of a Cognitive Load Theory Inquiry Question

Over the last 2 years at Durrington, we have been taking a disciplined inquiry approach to teach appraisal. This approach has stemmed from the work of John Tomsett, and is intended to support teachers to think deeply about and improve their own practice. This approach is framed through the development of an inquiry question by all teaching staff, as part of their appraisal. Questions have a consistent structure as shown below:


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


As part of their appraisal staff meet with their line manager and determine an area of their practice they wish to develop, determine a period of practice and a focus group to concentrate their efforts on. Over the course of the academic year, staff then evaluate the impact their change in practice has had. Importantly this approach is not about teachers carrying out “action research” and then making grand inferences from any findings, that must be applied school wide – it is simply a vehicle to drive small but significant improvements in individual practice. You can read more about this approach here. Over the summer the research school team at Durrington evaluated the impact of the inquiry approach, and while deeming the approach to have been successful and worthwhile, we did note that “keeping inquiry questions live” during the year, in the face of other demands on teachers’ time, was a challenge. As a result, this year staff were asked to consider their inquiry questions in relation to four main threshold concepts that we are using to frame out teaching and learning priorities:


  • Formative assessment (feedback and questioning)
  • Metacognition (modelling and practice)
  • Vocabulary deficit (challenge, practice, modelling, explanation)
  • Cognitive load theory and memory (explanation, challenge and practice)


Staff with inquiry questions focusing on similar concepts will then meet as a group on INSET days (and be provided with support in between these) to discuss their question, share ideas/challenges and discuss/evaluate implementation. Unsurprisingly, and most likely due its ever-growing prominence in the field of education, cognitive load theory was a popular choice of focus for a large number of staff. One of our Geography teachers, Hannah Townsend, was one of these, so I asked her if she would be happy to talk about why she chose cognitive load theory as her focus area, and what she plans to change in regards to her own practice as part of her inquiry. If you want to read more about cognitive load theory, then I would recommend reading Andy Tharby’s blog on the topic here.


Hannah’s inquiry question is as follows: “What impact does adapting teaching in accordance with cognitive load theory delivered over a year have on students’ ability to apply procedural knowledge for Year 11 M ability students?”. When I asked Hannah why she had chosen this, Hannah focused on the vast quantity of content in GCSE Geography and the resulting tendency for lessons to be content heavy, and subsequently overly cognitively demanding for students, especially middle starting point students. The focus on content coverage can result in over loaded PowerPoints, teaching in large chunks and multiple teaching resources such as worksheets and infographics. Hannah was wary of this limiting impact this has on students’ opportunity to practice knowledge and skills, and transfer information to their long-term memory – vital for students to be successful.


Hannah therefore is keen to reduce the amount of cognitive load in her lessons so that the capacity of the working memory to process new information is not overloaded and said information can be transferred to the long-term memory. Hannah has subsequently outlined the following strategies to support her in doing this:


  • Reduce lesson content in regards to superfluous information and knowledge so that students have core knowledge for success. This will also include reviewing PowerPoints so that they are not unintentionally overloading. For more information on effectively using power points take a look at another of Andy’s blogs here.


  • Continue to break down the subject content, sequencing the delivery so that sub-tasks are taught separately and then explained together as a whole. This should ensure students are not overwhelmed. Also teach concepts as building blocks- from simple to more complex in chunks; pause regularly to check understating and provide students with the opportunity to practice.


  • Stop talking when students are writing and ensuring students stop writing when I am talking to reduce extraneous cognitive load.


  • Make use of the Knowledge Organisers so that students have access to core knowledge when completing tasks.


  • Continue to dual code so information is presented with words and pictures, such as using case study diagrams to support retrieval of case study facts and figures (such as below).

DC example.png

As stated earlier this is not an action research project, however it is important that any changes to our practice are evaluated to ensure they are having desirable outcomes. In academic circles such evaluation would often involve the use of a control group (i.e. a group of students not exposed to the change) to allow for comparison, however the ethics of such a structure in the educational setting is a minefield. As such Hannah has decided on using end of year 10 assessment data for her target students (with a particular focus on their 6 and 9-mark questions) as her baseline, and then will assess future attempts at similar questions to determine if specific knowledge and skills have become more embedded in their writing.



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Thoughts from the Maths Hub Shanghai Teacher Exchange

Natasha Corrigan is currently in Shanghai taking part in the NCETM Teacher Exchange. She has travelled along with a group of other primary and secondary maths teachers to observe teaching in a range of Shanghai schools. Here are her thoughts after her first week away.

In week one I have spent 3 days in a middle school and 1 day in a primary school. I have seen 8 maths lessons ranging from year 4 to year 8, I have taken part in lesson feedback teacher research groups, had a Q and A with some year 9 students (in fluent English), I have taught an English lesson, and have been spoiled with food and presents.

The first main shock was just how proud the schools are to have us, and how welcoming they are. We have had our names displayed on the front of the school, present bags from both schools, a huge goodbye ceremony, but mainly just being looked after so well and supported in everything that we have wanted to do throughout the week. They have wanted to learn from us as well as us learning from them. 50 years of work has gone into designing and refining the maths curriculum and they are still pushing to make it better.

School takeaways

Lesson length and 10 minute break between
Every lesson is 35 min in primary school and 40 min in secondary. This is in EVERY school. The music plays and the students are focused, silent, ready to learn on their lovely individual desks that can be moved around easily to make any formation of groups. When the music plays again, the lesson is over. For 10 minutes students are children. They slide around the corridors, jump down flights of stairs, play with each other. It was great to see and reminded me of students in my own school however I would be telling them to be sensible and quieter at break time. Maybe we don’t give them enough time to just be themselves? Every moment of the lesson is focused so the time can be short and pacey. The break is key in making sure they can stay focused in lessons. I think I am going to trial this within my double lessons to see if the focus in the second half improves by giving them a 10 minute break.

The curriculum has been designed over years by experts for every school. All schools have the same textbooks. The examples used in lessons are there for the teachers so when they are planning they are looking at how they will introduce the concept and reach the examples. The one key concept in each lesson is also identified so no one tries to teach too much or extra content. Every teacher knows what students have done before and where they are going next, something we find difficult and end up spending so much time re- teaching. Do something at the right time in the right way, seems simple enough if we had textbooks. They would also support anyone who needs help with subject knowledge.

I was interested when talking to teachers about how they plan lessons. They do not all collaboratively plan as I had thought they might. They say they use the textbook and then plan for their own classes. They use real life examples in every lesson when they are appropriate. If not necessary, they do not. They spend a lot longer with the introduction of the concept. For example in a lesson on the meaning of percentage, 20 minutes was on what percentage is. They read out percentage sentences, they wrote percentages down, they saw percentages shown on different real life graphs. They did all of this before comparing some percentages. Also in a circumference of a circle lesson, 30 minutes was spent showing real life examples of circles, students measuring diameter and circumference of coins (discovering pi), watching a history of pi video. Everything is done in depth and not rushed over before fully understood. The teacher is still free to be completely creative with their own lesson design. They also often create their own extra questions to push and challenge students (we saw some incredible algebraic fractions questions being used with year 8, students in A level would struggle with these) but the textbook gives consistency, continuity and the minimum every child must study.

Variation of questions has been something I was really interested in seeing as we have talked lots about this over the last few years within my mastery training as well as in school with colleagues and it is increasingly featured online in many resources. The intelligent practice and variation between questions here has been far greater than I expected. It is very well crafted though and the jump is big enough for students to have to think more but not too big that they get lost. I feel perhaps I have had too small jumps between questions that students are not having to think hard enough and this is something I am going to try to be better at when I return to my own teaching.

Students do Maths, English and Chinese homework everyday for the following day. This is then marked and teachers will intervene by finding students at lunch time or after school and they will reteach the lesson to them. When we taught an English lesson, one of the questions a student asked us was how can students be good at maths if they only do 10 minutes of homework a day. This was after we shared how much maths homework on average year 7s do in England. Now I know we do not have the means to intervene daily, or to set homework everyday with our greater workload than the teachers in Shanghai have (10 lessons a week). I do however want to trial setting a few questions at the end of every lesson for the following lesson. I will then at the beginning of the next lesson get students to mark them quickly. Whilst the students who got them correct can continue with the reconnect (starter), I will intervene with those who have struggled. This is not a perfect solution but is something I would like to try that may help our students get the amount of practice they need.

Natasha Corrigan is an Assistant Head at Sir Robert Woodard Academy, Lancing and a Maths Secondary Mastery Specialist. She is @tashawidmer on Twitter.

The teachers from Shanghai that Natasha visited will be returning to teach at Sir Robert Woodard Academy in March 2020 – look out for Sussex Maths Hub Open Classroom events at and @SEMathsHub

Deb Friis

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Rigour in the PE curriculum

Chris Runeckles explored ‘Curriculum and Sequencing’ in a recent blog, which can be found here –

Both this and Chris’ blog are designed to explain our newly created graphic (shown below) which exemplifies and clarifies what we consider to be the key aspects of curriculum thinking and planning. Building on work by Christine Counsell, it identifies rigour, sequencing and coherence as the key curriculum considerations.

As writing about all subjects is particularly challenging, this post examines rigour through the PE lens.

curric thinking

Rigour in PE

Essentially rigour means the way in which high levels of challenge are maximised across the curriculum.

I am a PE teacher and for me, and other PE teachers may disagree, rigour in PE is all about progressive challenge throughout key stage three in preparation for the step up to key stage four. The problem with creating a curriculum sequence which allows all students to be taught the practical units simultaneously is spacing. In PE our curriculum must cater for groups of students to complete units of work at different times throughout year, for example, one group may be taught badminton at the very start of year 7 and another group may not be taught the unit until the very end of year 7 due to only having 1 sports hall and needing to teach 14 groups the badminton unit. This presents its own unique problem surrounding curriculum design let alone rigour. Students are taught in form groups in year 7, mixed gender sets in year 8 and single sex sets in year 9, this coupled with the movement between groups allow the level of challenge to be appropriate in relation to the skill level of the individuals on any given task

In order to try and maximise rigour we teach skills that underpin the activities throughout year 7. Introduce principles of the game and the tactical elements in year 8 before introducing the GCSE specification and the application to the full context in year 9. Alongside this we embed subject specific tier 3 vocabulary starting with definitions in year 7, application to physical activity in year 8 and the evaluation and analysis in year 9.

Posted by James Crane

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A walk through ‘Making Every Lesson Count’

This week Michael Chiles has produced an excellent ‘A walk thru…’ series of documents for each of the six pedagogical principles featured in ‘Making Every Lesson Count‘.  Michael explains his thinking behind these documents here:

Since Shaun and Andy’s release of Making Every Lesson Count it has been an integral part of our approach at school, focusing on applying the six principles every lesson, every day. The practical strategies have enabled us to use CPD time to review our approach to each one of the principles and look to share the best approaches in departments to implement the different strategies. This has enabled us to embed a more robust and consistent approach to teaching and learning.

One of the barriers to implementing CPD that is robust and focused on the ‘main thing’, such as the six principles, is time for teachers to engage with and continually review the implementation of strategies. After the initial discussion around the principles, teachers want a handy guide to be able to quickly refer to. This is where Oliver Cavilglioli’s work on providing visual clarity has been integral in providing an approach that will enable teachers to be able to quickly review the strategies for each principle over the academic year, using the A3 walk thrus. This has led to me creating a series of 6 walk thrus for each principle to provide a visual step by step guide of five strategies that teachers can implement in the classroom.

Here are Michael’s six ‘walk thrus’:


Michael has very generously shared these as powerpoints for you to download, using the links below:

On the 19th May, we are hosting a one day workshop on the 6 principles.  Details and booking here.

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Five ways that the implementation of evidence-informed practice can go wrong

By Andy Tharby

It is early September, the first INSET of the school year. The school hall is a hive of expectancy, brimming with freshly rested minds and newly bronzed bodies. After a few moments, a member of the senior leadership team responsible for teaching and learning rises to the lectern. It takes a few more seconds for the hall to quieten to a hush. He clears his throat and begins:

“Our teaching and learning focus for the coming half-term is going to be retrieval practice. We expect teachers to implement this in every classroom and we would like every lesson in every subject to begin with a quiz based on prior learning. Thank you.”

He sits down again and the meeting swiftly switches to a discussion of the school’s new behaviour policy. Job done.


Although the example above is intended to be satirical, it is an unfortunate truth that poorly planned and insufficient implementation is rife in schools. It is one thing to know that a certain piece of evidence is likely to improve learning across a school or a department, but quite another to implement it in a way that will ensure that it has the intended impact. The EEF have produced a very useful guidance report entitled ‘Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation’. The following paragraph comes from its introduction:

Implementation is a key aspect of what schools do to improve, and yet it is a domain of school practice that rarely receives sufficient attention. In our collective haste to do better for pupils, new ideas are often introduced with too little consideration for how the changes will be managed and what steps are needed to maximise the chances of success. Too often the who, why, where, when, and how are overlooked, meaning implementation risks becoming an ‘add on’ task expected to be tackled on top of the day-to-day work. As a result, projects initiated with the best of intentions can fade away as schools struggle to manage these competing priorities. (p. 3)

The report begins by outlining two foundations for good implementation: treat implementation as a process, not an event; and create a leadership environment and school climate that is conducive to good implementation.

It then provides guidance on four vital stages of implementation:

Explore – define the problem you want to solve and identify appropriate programmes or practices to implement.

Prepare – create a clear implementation plan, judge the readiness of the school to deliver that plan, then prepare staff and resources.

Deliver – support staff, monitor progress, solve problems, and adapt strategies as the approach is used for the first time.

Sustain – plan for sustaining and scaling an intervention from the outset and continually acknowledge and nurture its use.

The remainder of this post will explore five mistakes that are often made when implementing a new teaching and learning strategy or evidence-informed approach. As an example, we will use the implementation of retrieval practice (currently in vogue) across a school; however, the five mistakes discussed below could apply equally to any other new school-based initiative:

1. The initiative solves the wrong problem. Retrieval practice may be simple and fashionable, but can it really solve the problems you have at your school? Might it solve problems in one area of the school but not another? If retention of information in the long-term memory is your issue (and it often is) then you should probably think about implementing retrieval practice, but if the issue concerns a general lack of student effort or perhaps problems students have with structuring and sustaining extended writing, you might be better off shifting your focus to these instead. It is wise to remember that a strategy like retrieval practice is a solution to a learning problem and that ‘lack of retrieval practice’ is not necessarily a problem you need to solve.

2. Insufficient or untimely training. Before implementing your change, you need to prepare thoroughly – which takes much planning and forethought. You should take the time to create a shared understanding among teachers and leaders of how and why retrieval practice can work effectively. This initial training should have a wide reach across your staff force. Ideally, you should aim for conceptual change: your teachers need to understand that retrieval practice works on the principle that using your memory improves your memory. To do this, they will require an overview of the available research evidence on retrieval practice, many practical examples of how it has been implemented in a variety of contexts and an understanding of the limitations of the evidence and associated practice. If training is not provided up-front, then you will find that teachers develop inflexible knowledge or misconceptions – for example, that retrieval practice is always synonymous with quizzing. Your teachers, therefore, may struggle to adapt their delivery to suit subject, topic and class differences.

3. Too much flexibility. As part of the training process, you will need to share the active ingredients of the strategy – in other words, the key elements that cause retrieval practice work. This will ensure that the practice in your school maintains fidelity with the original research findings. For example, you might choose the ideas that retrieval practice tasks should be low stakes, should be challenging but achievable and should centre on important concepts within the topic and the subject. If you give too much flexibility and do not stipulate the active ingredients – i.e. you create the conditions for what might uncharitably be dubbed a ‘free-for-all’ – it is likely that you will see one or more of these unintended consequences: teachers who do not implement the strategy at all; teachers who implement the strategy wrongly or poorly; or teachers who implement the strategy in place of other more effective approaches.

4. Too little flexibility. Schools and classrooms are incredibly complex places. Interventions will look very different in different contexts. Retrieval practice will not look the same in English and maths for example. It is also unlikely that a new implementation will be rolled out perfectly in the first instance; it will almost certainly require some adaption and careful reconsideration. If the implementation of retrieval practice becomes based on a series of hard non-negotiables, then it becomes difficult to shift the focus if or when this is required. It is important that room for flexibility and time for evaluation are built into any implementation; however, these should not be at the expense of the active ingredients, otherwise your evidence-informed intervention might mutate into something quite unexpected, perhaps even a Frankenstein’s monster of the original findings. It is also worthwhile pointing out that if you have chosen to become an evidence-informed school or practitioner, then you will have to accept that the evidence is sometimes contradictory and that you are willing to be proved wrong.

5. Switching to something new too quickly. It takes time for any new implementation to reach every corner of a school and have a genuine impact on student learning. Any new implementation will have its enthusiasts and early adopters but it will also have those who, for a number of reasons, do not accept the change in the first instance. It is important to monitor the impact of the implementation to celebrate and acknowledge success, and to provide further CPD and coaching opportunities where needed. Probably the worst thing you could do is to move on to a completely new focus next term. All new implementations require time, patience, honesty and regular renewal or rejuvenation if they are to fulfil their potential. By its nature, implementation is always a slow burner.

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