World class leadership with Baroness Sue Campbell

img_4114Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the SSAT National Conference.  It was a great two days with some inspirational speakers – many of whom I got some great ideas from.  The highlight though was listening to Baroness Sue Campbell.  Sue was made Chief Executive of Youth Sport Trust in 1995 and has been Chair of UK Sport since 2003.  She started her  talk with the Olympic medals table (left) which illustrates the amazing legacy that this remarkable leader will leave.  Sue said that whilst financial investment into UK Sport had undoubtedly played a role, more important was culture.  In Sue’s words ‘Culture is about people and a belief’.  However, she also pointed out that you can’t just impose this belief on people, you need to learn about the people you are working with and take them with you.  This is what the best leaders do.

img_4115The best leaders create an environment of success, that allows people to succeed.   They do this by having a strong awareness of their own purpose:

“If you abandon your moral purpose, you don’t really have a purpose”.

Sue talked about where she found her inspiration for success and leadership.  She looked around a number of sports and successful people and got snippets from all of them, however, it was only when she really explored Formula 1 racing that it all became clear.  This showed Sue what it really took to become world class and she was able to distil this recipe into three clear areas.  Sue related these three areas to three key questions that the most successful F1 teams were able to answer.  They are great reflective questions for us as school leaders too.

img_41161. Can you eat your lunch off the garage floor?

Everybody in Schumacher’s team wanted to be world class, including Schumacher, the mechanics and the man who slept the garage floor.  Everybody knew their role and everybody wanted to do their role as well as they possibly could.  As a result, the garage floor was spotless and you could eat your dinner off it.  When questioned, the garage cleaner talked with passion about how he kept it so clean and why this was so important.  Some questions for school leaders:

Does everybody in the team know their purpose and place in the overall success of the team?  Does everybody in the team feel so well motivated and a part of the team that they want to be world class? 

2. How long does it take to change a tyre?

Everybody involved in the pit stop spent hours and hours practising their small part of the job e.g. taking the wheel nuts off, getting the wheel in position, removing the old wheel etc.  Their aim? To take 0.01 seconds off the pit stop time.  They would give each other feedback about how to improve and coach each other about how to improve.  They understood that the success of the team was down to everybody getting 0.01 better – the idea of marginal gains.  Huge changes in performance are hard, but small changes are manageable.

Do you encourage and support everybody in your team to get 0.01 better?  Do members of your team give each other feedback and coach each other to get better and better?

3. How long does it take to make a decision?

Engineers would scrutinise data and make split second decisions that would mean the difference between 1st and 4th place.  For example, with two laps to go, they calculated the amount of fuel they had left and concluded it was just enough to make two laps, without a time-consuming pit stop.  They did – and won.

Do you use data sensibly and then use this to make the right decisions for your team?

img_4117Sue talked about the importance of personal excellence, when the team are striving for world class.  As a leader, she would support this by asking questions of her team, rather than just giving instructions about what to do:

  • What do you do?

What could you do?

What stops you?

She also talked about being flexible with staff.  Find out what their strengths are and use these for the good of the team.

Sue finished her talk by leaving us with a question:

“Does every kid leave your school and think ‘You know what? I’m OK'”

Sue really is an inspirational person and it was a privilege to listen to her.

Many thanks to Sue Williamson, Tom Middlehurst and everybody else at SSAT for organising a great event.

Posted by Shaun Allison





















Posted in Leadership | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What to do with the clever ones?

cleverLast Friday we had an INSET day.  Our focus was thinking about how we can push and challenge those students with a high stating point, so that they make even more progress.  Our starting point was to think about something we often get wrong in education – thinking that correlation and causation are the same thing.

The previous week, I had been fortunate to hear David Didau talk at the West Sussex Deputies Network conference.  David mentioned how The Welsh Education  Department had been trying, a few years ago, to identify why students in Wales, were underachieving compared to students in England.  They noticed that boys were underperforming compared to girls, and so saw this as a possible cause.   This was useful as it seems entirely feasible and is of course, easy to plan interventions around.  It’s convenient.  The problem is though of course, that it’s a correlation, not a cause.  Upon further examination of the data, they found some more inconvenient truths i.e. that there was a correlation between right/left handedness and academic achievement and whether you lived in an odd/even house and academic achievement.  This highlights the problem we have.  Making every student in Wales move into an even numbered house, is unlikely to fix the problem!   But we do this all the time – identify an issue, look for a correlation, mistake this for causation and then plan interventions around this perceived cause.  It’s a familiar story, that results in our time and efforts being directed at the wrong thing.


The aviation industry doesn’t do this.  When a fatal crash happens, they scrutinise the available data from the ‘black box flight recorder’ and find out the exact cause of the accident – and address it.  As a result, fatal crashes are very rare (as shown in the graph above) and are seldom repeated.

So when looking at the achievement of high starting point students, there are many things that could affect their attainment – their home circumstances, their friendship groups, their experience in primary school – many of which we can’t, as teachers, influence.  However, one thing we can have an impact on is how we teach them, so we focused on that.


From – Making every lesson count


Do we know the H sections of the specification inside out and talk about how to teach it well?

Our ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’ provide a perfect opportunity for teachers to talk about the more challenging aspects of the curriculum and how to teach them well:

  • What are the really abstract ideas and how do we make them concrete?
  • How should we chunk up our explanations of this difficult content?
  • What are the bits that they find really difficult?
  • Is there a really good image or piece of writing I can show them, that will really get them thinking about the topic?
  • What are the common misconceptions that students have around this topic and how can we overcome them?
  • What surface knowledge do students really need, in order to fully understand this challenging content?


Do we show students precisely and step by step how to get full marks in H questions? 

The most effective way to do this is not by having a pre-prepared answer to a hard question on a powerpoint to show students, but to actually work through the question on the whiteboard.  By doing this, you can share your thought processes with them, ask them questions, make mistakes and correct them etc.  The best PE teacher, won’t just show a student a video clip of a great javelin thrower and tell students to copy this.  They will model it to them and break it down, step-by step, either themselves or with a student, stopping and starting, pointing out key parts of the process, asking questions etc.  The same should apply when modelling an answer to a really hard science question, or a history essay etc.


Do we give students access to lots of hard exam questions on a regular basis?

When tackling the really hard questions with students, it is tempting to just give them one or two to try – with the reason given, often something along the lines of ‘You won’t have many questions like this, so we’ll just do one or two’.  This is an odd idea.  Usain Bolt competes in the Olympics once every four years, but puts in huge amounts of practice every day.  We should take the same approach with our high starting point students – give them the opportunity to practice the hard questions lots and lots, so when it comes to the exam, it’s like second nature.


Do we promote deep thinking through ‘think hard’ questions during our lessons?

Martyn Simmonds discussed the reasons why we ask questions as teachers:

  • To test understanding of a new concept.
  • To deepen and develop understanding.
  • To ensure that students take a share in the cognitive work of the classroom.
  • To help you form and sustain your classroom culture.
  • To create curiosity.

The second bullet point ‘to deepen and develop understanding’ is especially relevant for high starting point students.  We need to think about the following when planning challenge through questioning in our lessons.  The students:

  • Need to know that these questions are explicitly hard.  So tell them ‘this next question is difficult and you’ll find it hard, but that’s OK as we’ll go through it together’
  • Need to know that ‘struggling’ is ok and that the classroom environment allows them to take risks with their thinking.  By sharing your mistakes, or common student mistakes, as you model (see above) they will become more comfortable with struggling themselves.
  • Need to feel supported to challenge themselves – so praise the effort and hard work they put into challenging questions/ work.

Some things for us to reflect on as individual teachers and subject teams to strengthen our questioning:

  • Do you know what students with a high starting point should know and be able to do in your subject?
  • Do you include this in your teaching and ‘scale up’ in both KS3 and 4?  So, when teaching KS3, do you stretch students into KS4 content and likewise into KS5 when teaching KS4?
  • Do you know the hardest questions they will be expected to answer in their exams, in your subject? Can you get full marks on those questions?  Have you tried recently?
  • Do you plan specific ‘think hard’ questions for students to do in lessons, in order to support their learning in these areas? Do you expect students to complete these or they an added ‘extra’?


Do we give them quality feedback on how to develop and improve their work to the highest standards?

Martyn has been looking at feedback and marking across the school.  At Durrington, each curriculum area outlines how and when they will carry out effective feedback, to fit the context of their subject.  This is in line with guidance that Sean Harford (OFSTED National Director) has given to his inspectors last week:


Martyn reported that it was great to see subjects thoughtfully shaping their feedback, around strategies that work best for them – including verbal feedback, written feedback and self checking.  Students were also able to articulate clearly, how they received feedback about how to improve in each subject, and how this has helped them.  We just need to ensure that we keep this under review in all subjects, so that feedback/marking is:

  • Effective in terms of helping students to improve their learning.
  • Manageable and sustainable for teachers.

Chris Runeckles has been talking to Y11 and Y7 high starting point students about their experience in school – one of the areas was around feedback.  The good news, in relation to feedback, is that the majority of students said that there is an expectation that they should respond to the feedback their teachers give them and that they do respond to it.   They also reported however, that the feedback they receive, doesn’t always make them think hard. So this is something we can work on – making sure that the feedback we give higher starting point students, actually makes them think hard, so that they deepen their thinking and understanding of the subject.

Chris has also been visiting the lessons of teachers, that our Y11 high starting point students reported made them think the hardest.  He has noticed the following things in these lessons:

  • Expertise reversal effect – students were given limited instructions about “how to” when it came to tasks, because this had already been established.  This freed their working memory to be getting on with the thinking required for the task.
  • Culture – every conversation between students was about the subject.  This was a significant observation.  The students were so engaged with the subject, that it was all they wanted to talk about.
  • Expectations – talking to a student he was clear the environment had improved his attainment.  He stated that the ‘high expectations of the teacher and everybody else in the classroom, just made him believe that he could do it’.


Posted by Shaun Allison

Posted in CPD Events, General Teaching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

CLA – What does it mean?


Tonight’s  15 Minute Forum was led by Rosie Gaskell (Deputy Inclusion Manager/CLA Support) and focused on the meaning of CLA.

Children Looked After (CLA) refers to those students who are:

  • living in the care of the local authority
  • living with foster carers or in residential children’s homes

In addition, these students may:

  • continue to have intermittent contact with their birth family/person(s) with parental responsibility
  • not always be placed with siblings or have contact with their siblings.

From our point of view as teachers, it is important to consider the emotional impact intermittent contact or no contact with their family can have on our students, and the effect that this has on their ability to learn.

As with all groups of students, every CLA student will be different. However, CLA students may have experienced significant trauma in their lives which teachers need to be sensitive to. For many students who have experienced trauma, they will be hyper-vigilant and may experience flashbacks. As teachers, we need to identify our CLA students and ensure that we monitor their reactions. The connection between the topic and a students’ previous trauma may not be immediately obvious and students may react in very different ways. Rosie used an example of a CLA student who reacted aggressively and negatively when studying catsthmdml8w2o in a lesson, however I previously taught a child who had survived (his parents did not) the Indian Ocean Boxing Day Tsunami and wanted to share his experiences with the class. As with all of our students it is about building effective relationships (which Shaun Allison (here) and Carl Hendrick (here) have previously written about. If we achieve this then CLA (and all) students feel ‘safe’ and are able to achieve their potential.

However, for many CLA students, their complex backgrounds mean that they may not be as equipped as other students to deal with the daily stresses of school life. Rosie used the analogy of three glasses of water:

  • the first glass (almost empty) is a student who has had a stress-free morning and therefore has lots of capacity to deal with being late, or forgetting their pen. As a result, he or she is able to rationally approach the ‘stressful’ situation and find a manageable solution.
  • the second glass (two-thirds full) is apicture1 student who may have already had an argument with their parent in the morning, but still has capacity to deal with a teacher who speaks to  them about being late or having their shirt untucked, and is able to manage the situation successfully.
  • the third glass (almost full) is the potential CLA student who is trying to process seeing their birth-family for the first time in six months and therefore doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the stresses of school life. As a result, this student reacts in a way which is seen as negative.

These associated behaviours can manifest themselves in a variety of ways and may not always be overtly obvious to a teacher, such as:

  • aggression
  • manipulation
  • swearing
  • avoidance – truanting, lateness, minimal eye contact
  • anxiety
  • lying

Nevertheless, through building strong and effective relationships with these students, teachers can build ‘trust’ and allow the students to be successful.

How can teachers be successful with CLA students?

  1. Get to know the student – build a bridge between the student and you as the teacher. Get to know the student, outside of your lesson. Talk to the student in the corridor or at break or lunchtimes and show an interest in their hobbies or ideas.
  2. Think about your seating plan. Where is the best place for your CLA student(s) to sit?
    • Some students prefer to be at the front of the class, as they feel that they are ‘attached’ to the teacher and therefore feel more comfortable.
    • Some students prefer to be at the back of the class, so that they can see the whole room and therefore feel safer.
    • Some students prefer to be next to the door, so that they have a clear and direct exit if they feel anxious or unsafe.
  3. Model the behaviours that you expect from the student. If you raise your voice, they may respond in the same way as they believe that is what is required in that situation. Alternatively, some students may run away because they link a raised voice with negativity.
  4. Be honest and seek support when students portray difficult or challenging behaviours. Use the pastoral teams that exist within the school to provide extra support for the students. In addition, ensure that you complete the Personal Education Plan forms accurately. This will enable the appropriate intervention to be used with each individual student.

Nevertheless, as with a lot of students, be prepared for failure when building relationships with students. CLA students will have particular and complex needs which may result in them ‘knocking down’ the bridges that you have built over and over again. But, if we want to be successful with these students, it is our duty to keep trying and believe that we can give these students the best possible start to their adult lives.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

Posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bright Spots – What can we learn from practical subjects?

gdl-spotlight1Chris Runeckles and I wanted to examine how practical subjects address the teaching principles of modelling, explanation and practice. We chose to focus on practical subjects, as both of us teach Humanities subjects, and we wanted to consider how written based subjects could use practical based subjects to enhance their teaching. In particular, we chose to focus on modelling, explanation and practice as these are three key elements of teaching within practical based subjects. However, these three pedagogical principles cannot be seen in isolation, as they are often aided by the other principles outlined below.


Art and Design and Technology

In Art and Design and Technology there were very clear examples of how modelling can be effective in developing the independent practice of students. Emma Wade (Subject Leader Product Design and Food Technology) was explaining to her Year 8 students the next stage in producing their photo frames. She had gathered the class around one table and was modelling how to ensure that the front and back parts of the frame were aligned. What was clear from Emma’s explanation was that she had broken down her modelling into small, manageable chunks. After a review of the previous lessons’ instructions, Emma demonstrated each stage of the model in front of the class. She gave clear and explicit instructions as she modelled such as “Make sure that the edges line-up exactly”. At the same time, she was showing the students what she meant by her instructions on her own product. This enabled the students to physically see what they were producing and what the instructions looked like in ‘real life’. Emma finished her explanation by showing the class what a finished product looked like. This not only made her instructions concrete, in the eyes of the students, but it also allowed the students to see ‘excellence’ and therefore aspire to achieve the same standard.


Across the corridor in Graphics, Ray Burns was teaching his Year 8 group. Ray was using the same technique as Emma, of grouping the class around one desk but this time the students were completing tasks as Ray modelled the ‘best practice’. Again, Ray had broken down the explanation into manageable ‘bite-size’ chunks for the students to follow. Clear, explicit instructions followed such as “Draw a horizontal line all the way across the middle of your page”, “Write ‘pencil’ in the top box” and “Write ‘pen’ in the bottom box”. The students were easily able to follow these instructions and therefore had created an accurate template. The students then moved outside into the corridor, where Ray continued to model the task using A3 paper. However, this time he involved the class in a much more direct fashion. Throughout the next phase of his model explanation, Ray questioned the class. He used a combination of descriptive questions – what am I doing? – and explanatory questions – why am I doing this? – to enable the students to construct the explanation with him. This enabled Ray to physically construct the model example in front of the class, but to also assess the students’ understanding of how and why they were going to complete the task. It also allowed Ray to address any misconceptions that students may have had in relation to their drawing technique, such as ‘Why shouldn’t I draw the foreground first?’.

In both cases, students were allowed to practice the techniques following the modelling of the task. What struck me about both lessons, was how quickly and effectively students were able to begin the task following the explanation. There were very few students who needed to question what to do or how to do it, with the vast majority of students content to begin their practice. This allowed the two teachers to move around the class and provide feedback to the students as they were practising. The amount of verbal feedback that students are provided with was very noticeable in Gail Christies’ (Director of Art and Design and Technology) Year 10 lesson. Her students were fully engaged in deliberate practice, constructing a self-portrait from black and white photographs. When speaking to the students, it was evident that Gail had clearly modelled the task in previous lessons, but was now able to engage in a constant dialogue with the class and individual students. Gail’s feedback was focussed on improving the students’ technique such as, “Use small brushes for under the eyes” or “You need to show more contrast in your colours by using more white”,  and involved reviewing the modelling that had previously taken place. These constant tweaks to the students’ practice ensured that the outcome was of the highest possible quality.


Often the last subject on the bright spots walk due to the cold and muddy conditions it involves, PE teachers can teach us a lot about modelling, practice and explanation.  Chris Moyse has previous produced an excellent post about what we can learn from PE staff.

Head of PE, Tom Pickford, was teaching his Year 10 students about antagonistic muscles. Whilst this was a theory lesson, the students were still involved in a practical element. Tom had asked his students to complete some press-ups on the floor and when they returned to their seats he questioned them on what they had learnt. Tom used a clear, systematic questioning technique by asking probing questions such as ‘When were your muscles working? or ‘When were your muscles contracting?’. These questions were related to what the students had just done (the model) and encouraged the students to verbally demonstrate what they had learnt. He then proceeded to model different ways in which muscles are working or not working using a range of contexts, such as lifting a dumbbell or performing a crucifix manoeuvre on the rings as a gymnast. This was a clear way of modelling one piece of information, but in a variety of contexts, using concrete examples. As a result, his students would be more confident when applying this knowledge in an exam situation.


Ryan de Gruchy (NQT) was teaching a Year 11 basketball lesson. The students were engaged in deliberate practice (a match situation) which allowed them to practice their new skills and understanding. What is important about a match situation is that the context is ever-changing and as such the students need to be able to constantly adapt their understanding and apply it in different ways. Ryan further enhanced this aspect of the lesson, by increasing the challenge level, through changing the game scenario to incorporate 1v1 marking. In addition, he was providing constant feedback to the students which led to subtle, but important improvements in their shooting or passing techniques.

RQT Nathan Poole demonstrated how modelling is second nature for PE teachers and is a vital part of their teaching toolkit.  Nathan was teaching a gymnastic lesson, focusing on vaulting.  Nathan (while admitting gymnastics was not his strongest suit) modelled three different vaulting techniques while the students watched.  What was clear was that the students watched carefully.  The students expect to physically see what they are about to perform in PE lessons and therefore pay full attention to it while it happens.  Once Nathan had demonstrated what he wanted to the students immediately started practicing themselves.  All students engaged and all students produced something approaching the model.  Something written subjects I’m sure would like to replicate!  During the practice Nathan noticed that some students were using the wrong technique and re-modelled what he wanted the vault to look like.  Again the results were clear with immediate revisions and improvements made by the students. The visual nature of the modelling and the practice clearly play a large part in the success of this, but this idea of checking and remodelling is one that has implications for many subjects.

Performing Arts


Watching Beth Maughan teach music was a great example of how students expect to practice until they get it right in practical subjects.  Students were working on a blues composition for an assessment.  I was watching two boys practice their piece.  What the keyboard gives better than any teacher is immediate feedback when you make a mistake.  Playing a wrong note is hard to miss and students will continually practice a sequence until they complete it mistake free.  Therefore the boys were happy to keep doing it, keep getting it wrong and repeat until it got better.  The process was painstaking but I asked them whether either of them played keyboard out of school and neither did.  Here were two students prepared to do something they were unfamiliar with, fail at it, but not be put off trying it again.  Thinking how we can find the metaphorical “wrong note” to flag up to students where they are making mistakes is important if we are to see students not only practice but practice perfect, using the process to improve rather than embed mistakes.  Model answers are key here for many subjects so students can see the “wrong notes” when writing an answer or completing an equation.

Drama teacher Dave Hall demonstrated the subtlety of getting explanation right.  A trait of drama teachers is their skill of using their voices and bodies to tap into what will best help students understand them.  Dave played the role of the director stopping the students mid-performance to help them understand how to improve.  Here the tone of his voice was key.  It is not always what you say but how you say it.  The students needed calming from the performance in order to take on instruction.  Dave’s voice started so softly the silence was essential in order to hear his words.  The students reflected this calm and listened.  As his instruction continued he became more animated and forceful with what he said and drawing his students into the discussion.  This is a real takeaway for teachers, we are all ultimately performers at the front of our classrooms and seeing someone who really knows what that means doing it is a great bit of CPD for us all.  He also explained what he wanted at a forensic level of detail, giving extremely specific instructions that left nothing to chance in terms of what the expectation of the students was.

Also teaching drama was head of performing arts Emily Isham.  Emily was teaching students about how to convey different attitudes and emotions within the same basic action, a handshake.  Emily felt the students weren’t quite getting it during the practice so stopped and modelled what she wanted.  She used a student to help her do so, modelling the two different styles she wanted.  Having done this she then continued to explain the what they were required to do, interspersing explanation and modelling.  This again showed what we can learn when observing drama teachers.  They use non-verbal and verbal cues extremely well and use the skill of performance to demonstrate what they are looking for.  Here then is another adaptation for written subjects.  When we model, always include the students directly in what we are doing, we know where we are going but allowing the students to help lead us there will increase their buy-in to the finished product.  Also be very explicit when explaining to students to different stages we are going through and the value that they give to the finished product.

What our observations have shown is that modelling is very much a key aspect of teaching within a practical based subject. However, this should also apply to those subjects which are written based. The importance of modelling allows students to see and understand what their work should look like. As teachers, modelling allows us to demonstrate the ‘best’ technique of producing a benchmark of excellence. Nevertheless, it is important not to presume that students know how to do something they have never been taught before. Through a combination of explicit modelling and directed questioning, teachers can set the bar high and students will be able to reach that level.

Overall, it is easy to highlight the differences between our subjects and emphasise the problems in taking ideas from one and using them in others.  This is often for good reason and the principles of teaching must be applied in a way that works for that subject.  However, teachers of certain subjects have certain characteristics and often develop mastery of a particular skill because it is essential to their discipline.  By observing these skills and taking those common characteristics that work we can find the ways to adapt our own practice.  This is particularly true when it comes to observing teachers of practical subjects demonstrate modelling, explanation and practice.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds and Chris Runeckles

Posted in General Teaching | Leave a comment

Effective Revision Strategies

picture1 led the 15 Minute Forum tonight, as a late replacement, for a member of staff who was ironically leading a Year 11 Revision session. The focus of the session was to share some effective revision strategies which could be used by teachers with their students.

I wanted to start by actually thinking about the word ‘revision’. During my teaching career, revision has always been the word to use when students reach the end of a course or the end of a topic. A quick Google search led to the following definitions of the word revision:

  • to correct faults and make improvements in (a book etc)
  • to study one’s previous work, notes etc in preparation for an examination etc
  • the act of rewriting something

However, should this only happen at the end of a two-year cycle? Actually, what we should be thinking about is reviewing students’ knowledge and understanding on a regular basis. The same quick Google search led to the following definitions:

  • to look over, study, or examine again
  • to look over, study, or examine again
  • to go over or restudy material

In essence, the same meaning, but when I use the word reviewing students see this as a more frequent episode rather than revision at the end of the course.

As a school, we are basing our exam preparation programme around the work of the Learning Scientists and particularly their ‘Six Strategies for Effective Learning’. 1479145004517Each of these strategies have supporting evidence from cognitive psychology to prove that they do help students learn and more information about each strategy can be found here. However, I wanted to focus on techniques that teachers could use within their own teaching, but link them to one of the six strategies.

I started by thinking about ‘elaboration’ and ‘retrieval practice’. This involves providing ways for our students to explain and expand upon their ideas, but also supporting them with practice to bring information into their short-term working memory. I suggested the following:

  • Low stakes quizzes – start your lesson with a quiz which reviews the previous lesson, last weeks’ lesson and last months’ lesson. This helps students to retrieve key facts, figures or vocabulary without the pressure and anxiety of a formal assessment. It also allows teachers the opportunity to probe students’ knowledge further by asking questions which force students to expand upon a one-word answer.
  • Use past exam papers – allow your students to see and practice as many past papers as possible. However, ensure that this is done under timed conditions as much as possible. Again, this helps students retrieve information as they have to think about their answer and make links between different lessons. Importantly, you are also able to complete some meta-cognition with your students, by identifying how students should be answering the question. When you finish, always share the mark scheme – but unpick it with the students. Students need to know how they should write their answer as well as what they should include.
  • Did you get 100%? If not, why not? – If students got an answer wrong do they know why? If they don’t know why something is wrong, then they will not be able to improve their answer on the next attempt. Always ask students to explain why they didn’t get 4/4 on a question, once you have shared the mark scheme with them and then write a full-mark answer.

A second key aspect of reviewing topics or content is using memory aids. This links to the Learning Scientists’ idea of dual coding. Essentially, this is a way of combining words and visuals or representing writing in a different way. picture3Within  my subject (Geography), we have developed a strategy of using case study diagrams to help provide a stimulus for students to remember large amounts of information. However, this can also be achieved through the use of timelines or mnemonics. The key to this approach is that students’ thinking is stimulated by a small amount of information. Through their thinking and elaboration students are then able to expand upon their ideas, make links between concepts and produce a much better answer.

This links into the idea of summarising information, or breaking down large amounts of information into manageable chunks. Mind-maps are a very useful method of summarising whole topics onto one A4 sheet of paper. However, an important teaching point is to always ask questions as the students complete their mind-map.

  • Do students understand why one image links to another?
  • Are students able to explain why one aspect is joined to another aspect?
  • Can students explain why you have started a different strand on the mind-map?

If students are able to answer these questions then they are able to recall the information but also understand the different elements of the topic.

The final part of the session focussed on some more practical aspects of reviewing/revision. The first one was timing; always start the reviewing early. picture4As I mentioned at the start of this blog, reviewing should be an on-going process. It can take place daily, weekly and monthly not just at the end of a topic or two-year cycle and could take the form of a ‘Pause’ lesson. Repetition is vital if students are to become confident and secure in their knowledge and understanding. It is important to remember that a student may achieve full marks in one week, but may not achieve the same amount of marks on the same test, three weeks later. Forgetting is an important aspect of learning, which links to the work of Daniel Willingham and his work on improving students’ memory. It is also important to consider the order that you review things in. I like to review topics in a different order to that which I have originally taught them in. This helps to strengthen students’ understanding as they have to explain links to previous concepts and think harder about their knowledge.

I think it is important that we consider an approach to reviewing knowledge that allows students to recall information quickly and effectively. However, this will only become second-nature to our students if we utilise a range of approaches and above all repeat, repeat, repeat with our students.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

Posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching | Tagged | Leave a comment

A walk around English, maths and science


We are very fortunate to have Dr Brian Marsh as a school governor at Durrington.  Brian has been a science teacher and a Deputy Head and is now Principal Lecturer (Education) at the University of Brighton.  Brian leads the science PGCE at the university and has a research interest in teacher professional learning.  He has been invaluable to the school in recent years, supporting us with our teacher research projects and this year, getting a bespoke school based masters programme off the ground for us.

With this in mind, it was a pleasure to walk around the English, maths and science departments with Brian last week, visiting lessons and enjoying so much good practice.  Some particular highlights follow.


  1. Relationships were clearly strong in all lessons – this made it easy for staff to challenge students and push them to think hard and learn from their mistakes – and students felt safe to do so, because of the classroom culture created by the teacher.  Students were being skilfully kept in the ‘struggle zone’.  Many aspects from this post were exemplified.
  2. Scaffolding – this was being developed through modelling and questioning and allowed high order concepts to be explored and high order tasks to be completed. Examples of exam questions being broken down into sequential steps was seen on a number of occasions.  Teachers then planned to remove the scaffolding to give greater independence to the students, as their confidence grew.
  3. Feedback – this was personalised and specific rather than generic and bland. We saw written feedback in books – DIRT marking was acted upon, feedback sheets and very effective live marking with immediate responses from students.   Verbal feedback was also regular and very specific.  Two particular example of effective feedback – a Year 10 English group who had undertaken an exam question in the previous lesson – had their books marked overnight and highlighted feedback for improvement given – the students had an excellent structure to help them improve, which they then did that lesson.  Similarly, in science a Y10 class had just completed an assessment.  Their teacher had given them all an improvement target, based on their individual performance and weak areas, which they then had to answer a question on – having had some input from the teacher on that topic (in order to fill the ‘knowledge gap’)
  4. Challenge – although these were only snapshots of lessons the majority of lessons were characterised by concepts and content that stretched the students. Of particular note was:
    1. the demand at KS3 was very high (often described as the forgotten key stage, it is so important to get challenge right in KS3, to build strong foundations for KS4)
    2. work undertaken in a high starting points maths class (sectors and secondly powers) where the students were supported to achieve high demand outcomes.
    3. low starting point science class, where students were supported through scaffolding to work with the abstract concept of photosynthesis, right at the start of the lesson.  They were having to ‘think hard’ from the outset and weren’t being patronised by a dumbing down of the curriculum content.  Expectations were high.
  5. Allowing the struggle – in these high challenge lessons, teachers very skilfully ‘allowed the struggle’.  They would ask a difficult question, and when the student struggled with the answer, they didn’t just jump in and save them, by giving them the answer.  They allowed them to struggle, waited and maybe asked another question to prompt their thinking, until they got there.
  6. Challenging of misconceptions – where students expressed misconceptions these were sensitively explored and corrected. Time was taken to get clarity.  On a number of occasions, we heard the first answer from a student to be wrong but through effective questioning the student was able (and often publicly) to self-correct- with confidence. It was good to observe learning environments where students are able not just to make mistakes but can learn from those mistakes in a supportive atmosphere.
  7. Modelling – we saw new skills and concepts modelled by the teacher supported by skilful questioning. A particularly good example was a table completion activity in Year 11 English based on comparing texts, where the teacher questioned students on the two texts and then used their responses to model what information to put into the table.  As they grew in confidence, the teacher then allowed them to move on to doing this themselves.
  8. Questioning – a mix of closed and open questions were appropriately used. It was good to see that from time to time, answers being put back into the body of the class, in the shape of further questions, so that commentary came from students and their thinking was further developed – and superficial responses were not accepted.
  9. Use of teaching assistants – just under half the lessons observed involved a teaching assistant. In all cases the teaching assistants support was to the whole class as well as individual students giving opportunity for the teacher to interact with those students who required support.


Posted by Shaun Allison


Posted in Bright Spots | 1 Comment

Developing your presence in the classroom

Sam Hodnett led the 15 Minute Forum tonight. Sam is a second-year English teacher and she spoke about developing a presence in the classroom. Sam had reflected on her NQT year and was able to identify some of the frustrations that she had felt as an initial teacher.

Sam began with her experiences as an NQT, when she would observe teachers and feel frustrated that she  was not able to be as calm as they were with the same students.picture1 She stated that, as an NQT, she would often ask the question ‘How do you achieve a calm, positive atmosphere with these students?’ when inside she was frustrated that she was not able to do the same. However, over the course of the year, Sam was able to develop strategies and techniques that she could use in her classroom.

A key and important strategy is to start developing your presence, before the students enter your classroom. Sam stated three important features of that initial moment when you see the students and your lesson begins:

  • Stand at the door and greet the students
  • Greet the students by name as they walk in
  • As you walk in – smile and relax.

Essentially you are building relationships with your students, which is a vital way of ensuring that your classroom is a ‘safe’ environment for the students to think, learn and progress in. However, you also need to set high expectations of the students and ensure that they are ready to learn as soon as they enter your classroom.

As part of her NQT year, Sam had taught drama and therefore she had thought about how body language plays an important role in the presence that teachers have. Sam discussed how body language can set the tone ofpicture2 a conversation. Often students react and respond to body language in ways that, we as teachers had not anticipated. In addition, students identify aspects in our demeanour that we may not initially be aware of . For instance if we fold our arms, students may identify this as non-approachable whereas teachers may view it as a natural way to stand. In addition, eye-contact can play an integral role in developing trust with our students. For many students this can be difficult, but for teachers it is a way of ensuring that the students know that we are focussed on them.

Sam wanted to also stress the important message of ‘Staying Calm’. It is vital that teachers  remember that they are the adult and the professional, however aggrieved  they may feel by the actions of the student. An important point is to place the emphasis on the student to choose which behaviour/action that they want to take. John Lamb has spoken about non-confrontational behaviour at a previous 15 Minute Forum. In addition, teachers need to separate the student from the incident so that they are able to address the student as an individual. An important technique is to also accentuate the positives from the actions of other students, so that the individual student understands that the standards set by the teacher can be achieved. Essentially teachers should aim to praise students for doing the right thing.

The next section of Sam’s presentation focussed on the teachers’ voice and how they use it within their classroom. Sam stressed the importance of not always ‘shouting’ or being seen to be ‘shouting’ by the students. Presence can be established through subtle changes in the tone of your voice, so that students understand when you are pleased or displeased by their actions. In addition, presence can be established by not using your ‘voice’. Non-verbal commands are equally important in establishing presence in the classroom. A ‘look’ or a movement of your head, can be enough to gain the correct reaction from the students. In addition, your position in the room can also establish ‘presence’ without speaking.

Sam finished by talking about the word ‘approachable’. She identified how it is vital that students feel that they can ‘approach’ you as their teacher. To achieve this, it is important to be open and encourage purposeful discussion with your students.  In addition, teachers need to show an interest in their students if we are to develop positive relationships. An easy way of achieving this is to show passion and enthusiasm for your subject.


Strong presence can be equated to strong relationships with your students. If the students have a strong and robust relationship with their teacher, then the students will be more willing to challenge themselves and your ‘presence’ will be focussed on improving their performance. However, it is important to remember that with many students a strong and robust relationship will take time to develop. In addition, some of our students will knock down the bridges that we are trying to build with constant regularity. As teachers, we have to be strong enough to constantly rebuild these bridges.

Posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching | Tagged | 1 Comment