Helping teachers to ‘create a supportive environment’

By Chris Runeckles

The Durrington Research School team are writing a series of eight blogs about The Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review recently published by Evidence Based Education.  The report is the first step in the development of the organisation’s ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’. The aim of this project is to transform teacher professional development by creating a feedback system that encourages continual improvement. This first report lays out a model of teaching learning; it will be followed later by a set of tools that will help provide teachers with diagnostic feedback as they work towards specific goals; it will culminate in the development of networks of educators who will generate, share and apply the evidence. 

Half of our blogs, published on our Durrington Research School sister site, will be examining the evidence reviews included at the end of each chapter, while the blogs on Class Teaching will be more focused on interpreting the advice for teachers. 

This week we will be considering the implications of chapter two, ‘creating a supportive environment’, for teachers’ professional learning.  The review divides this chapter into four elements:

2.1 Promoting interactions and relationships with all students that are
based on mutual respect, care, empathy and warmth; avoiding
negative emotions in interactions with students; being sensitive to the
individual needs, emotions, culture and beliefs of students

2.2 Promoting a positive climate of student-student relationships,
characterised by respect, trust, cooperation and care

2.3 Promoting learner motivation through feelings of competence,
autonomy and relatedness

2.4 Creating a climate of high expectations, with high challenge and
high trust, so learners feel it is okay to have a go; encouraging
learners to attribute their success or failure to things they can change

This is a highly complex area of teacher practice.  This is made patently clear by highlighting just some of the language included in the elements above, including: relationships, respect, empathy, cultural beliefs, trust and motivation.

To effectively intervene in, and positively influence these areas of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil relationships and interactions is notoriously difficult, and filled with subtlety and nuance.  So much emotion is at play here as is the personal bias we, and our students, all carry into the classroom.

In fact, the report itself raises the possibility that teaching skills and behaviours in this area should belong in the more advanced end of the teacher development curriculum.  Even going as far as to say that it may be possible for competent teachers to be quite effective in promoting learning for most students without really paying much attention to this dimension.

However, as someone who regularly leads teacher training and CPD in a diverse number of areas, relationships, and in particular student motivation, is something that is continually discussed as a barrier to successfully implementing teaching strategies.  Therefore, we must not shy away from engaging with this dimension, as it is one of the combination of elements that makes up great teaching.  Yes, it is difficult and nuanced but we are in a profession that is all about human interaction, so we ignore it at our peril.

What is also very difficult is to give teachers tangible actions or CPD activities in this area.  I have myself used Deci and Ryan’s (2008) self-determination theory in training, but in contrast to something like Sweller’s (1994) cognitive load theory, there are far fewer easy take-aways to give teachers to incorporate into their practice.  What ends up happening is a bit like this blog, a discussion of the issues and a recognition of the problems.  This is why I am particularly excited to see the toolkit that goes with this dimension.  To have some activities for teachers to engage with that will give them diagnostic feedback in this area and strategies to make improvements to their practice is really exciting.

I certainly do not want to preempt these tools, and so would instead suggest a good starting point would be for some self reflection in each of these areas, through a series of potentially quite challenging questions.  These are challenging because we all want to feel that the environment we create is supportive, so to consider the alternative is uncomfortable.  The following questions do not represent everything in this dimension, and would be best considered after reading the report in order to gain the necessary context.

  • How well do you know the specific SEND needs of your students?
  • Do you know, and take account of, the cultural identities of your students?
  • Do you ever use sarcasm when talking to students during a lesson?
  • Do students pay attention to, and respect each others’ thoughts expressed in your classroom?
  • On an average day, in an average lesson what are the motivation levels like amongst your students?
  • Do you ever lower your expectations of students based them being part of a particular subgroup (for example students in receipt of free school meals)?
  • Do you avoid asking challenging questions to students who seem less confident?
  • Do students feel safe to take risks and accept failure in your classroom?

Inevitably these questions will lead to further questions and equally not necessarily any easy answers.  However, an awareness of an issue is essential to addressing it and so the thinking that goes with them should provide a useful starting point to what comes next.  Hopefully, this next phase will be supported by the ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’.  If the initial report is anything to go by then we can’t wait to see it.

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From Distance Teaching to Recovery Teaching

The teachers at Durrington have done a fantastic job of adapting their pedagogy to distance teaching during the Covid pandemic.  As we look towards the future and the prospect of students returning to school, the Durrington Research School team have been thinking about the subtle changes teachers will have to make to their teaching when students return fully to school.  If all goes to plan and students return to relative normality, they will not have experienced this normality for six months.  They will need our support with this.

Here are our thoughts around recovery teaching.  We have broken it down into specific areas, outlined the issues that we think teachers will be facing and then offered some possible classroom strategies for teachers to consider.


We can’t assume what the gaps in learning might be when students return.  We will need to assess this accurately and find out exactly where the gaps are.

At the same time though, we can’t allow assessment to dominate the curriculum so the bulk of this will need to be periodic formative assessment.

We are missing assessment data that we would normally have for Y10 going into Y11.  How can we identify target students without this?

Strategies for teachers:

  • Ensure that robust and standardised assessments are in place early on in September to identify the learning gaps, relating to work covered in the closure period.  These may well need to be narrowed in focus, testing just the core parts of the curriculum needed to unlock the next parts of the curriculum.  Attempts to uncover all learning in all areas is impossible as would be the reteaching of it.  Therefore, choices will need to be made of what is most important to know and therefore to test.
  • Plan for rich formative assessment exercises in lessons to assess where the gaps are for individual students, especially disadvantaged students e.g. checklists, questioning, quizzes.
  • Class student surveys via Google Forms work very well to assess and compare student levels of confidence on topic/tasks – they often ‘catch’ things that quizzes etc miss.


Good explanations are built upon prior knowledge, which can usually be relied on from well sequenced previous lessons, that most students will have been exposed to.  This won’t have been possible during the closure period.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Take more time than usual with explanations and don’t assume prior knowledge – there will be huge variability in the room, due to the varying degrees of engagement with distance teaching.
  • Start explanations of new material by carefully eliciting and building up the required prior knowledge through questioning and re-teaching etc.


During the closure period, there is a very high possibility that significant misconceptions will have developed, as you won’t have been there at the point of instruction to pick up any errors in understanding.

Strategies for teachers;

  • A judgement will need to be made here.  In some cases, if it becomes apparent that there are significant misconceptions in an area covered by distance teaching, it might be better to simply re-teach it.
  • Even if it is not re-taught, when you are reviewing material covered during distance teaching, or they are using it in new ways, you will need to unpick misconceptions and give very specific feedback (class and/or individual) to correct them.


Homework offers an avenue to revisit material covered during the partial closure and address gaps, however we must consider the following:

  • What will be the focus of the homework – what topics will they cover?
  • What does the homework hope to achieve – knowledge recall or practice etc
  • Students may lack the knowledge that they would normally have to complete the homework. At best there is going to be large variation between students dependent on their engagement during the partial closure.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Use formative assessment strategies to identify common gaps in knowledge for your classes and develop homeworks that are tailored to these. Consider how you can provide support and scaffolding with the homework (potentially through the use of loom videos or worked examples) to support students completing homework.
  • Ensure that homework is not set that assumes knowledge that students may not have.
  • Be careful in trying to fill online learning gaps through homework tasks – non-engagers with online learning are likely to be those who will miss homework.
  • Further Reading – here.


The opportunity for retrieval practice will have been reduced during partial closure. As a result, students would have forgotten lots.

This is also true of spaced practice which will have also contributed to forgetting of curriculum content.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Regular retrieval quizzing in lessons to support and encourage recall, which will in turn help to build memory. 
  • Opportunities for teasing out prior knowledge need to be carefully planned and given time, as many of these ‘memory connections’ will have been lost.  New knowledge then needs to be carefully built upon this.
  • Using pause lessons to revisit prior content rather than relying on starters or homework.


The metacognitive development of young adults is stimulated when metacognitive processes are modelled by peers, parents and most importantly teachers. Despite best efforts with online modelling it is likely that students will not have practiced their metacognitive  thinking as much as they would have in the normal classroom.

The need for self-regulation has increased as a result of the lockdown as students need to recognise their own areas of weakness.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Ensure that when planning lessons, opportunities to explicitly model metacognitive thinking (through processes such as “think aloud”) are incorporated into lessons and that students are then given the opportunity to practice these skills themselves.
  • When preparing lessons consider if  students are being explicitly taught how to plan, monitor and evaluate how they are going to approach a task and use this language explicitly.
  • Consider the rate at which support for students to do this is removed – likely to need more support at the start than would be usual such as checklists that encourage them to self regulate.
  • This is also an opportunity to build on some of the self-regulation skills students have built during lockdown.  Some students will have may improvements in this area and this best practice needs to drawn out and shared.


Online teaching materials are likely to have been different to what would have been taught in school. Units may have been altered or missed entirely – subsequently skills and knowledge from one unit that may have been built upon in future teaching may not be there.

Decisions will need to be made in terms of priority.  The whole of the lockdown curriculum cannot be retaught without something else going.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Based on work as part of your curriculum team  consider where gaps in learning due to the partial closure may directly  impact on teaching of new content/skills etc and ensure that lessons are adapted to develop the required base knowledge first.
  • Review curriculum map, with a particular focus on what would have been taught normally post March. Consider where this material would link to later teaching in the curriculum and identify where these links may have subsequently not developed.
  • Once this is done actions may involve just re-planning of individual lessons or altering order of curriculum where possible.
  • Build more pause time into your curriculum.

Classroom Routines

Routines may be forgotten and some habitual behaviours may have been lost during the partial closure period.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Make routines and expectations crystal clear at the start of the year and keep referring back to these.
  • Opening lessons can be used to model and practice basics – e.g. basic expectations, questioning routines, book presentation, literacy expectations, etc.


Students might be more reticent about answering questions in lessons, due to their perceived lack of understanding as a result of school closures.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Be more patient than usual when questioning students in lessons and be prepared to scaffold more.


Students may have gone several months without physically writing anything down.

Some students will not have engaged with the academic discourses of the classroom for some time. This may exacerbate vocabulary gaps and students may be inclined towards non-academic and informal language.

Strategies for teachers:

  • Provide multiple opportunities for writing in early lessons
  • Give clear SPag expectations and guidelines.
  • Use assessment to identify SPaG, writing issues and liaise with SEN-department where necessary.
  • Use sentence starters, writing frames and planning structures to support extended writing in the early weeks of term.
  • Revist vocabulary from last year to identify gaps.
  • Support and encourage students to speak in full sentences and scaffold their use of academic vocabulary through questioning and feedback.

Useful Resources:

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Helping teachers to ‘understand the content’

By Andy Tharby

Earlier this month, Evidence Based Education published an exciting new report entitled The Great Teaching Toolkit Evidence Review, the first step in the development of the organisation’s ‘Great Teaching Toolkit’. The aim of this project is to transform teacher professional development by creating a feedback system that encourages continual improvement. This first report lays out a model of teaching learning; it will be followed later by a set of tools that will help provide teachers with diagnostic feedback as they work towards specific goals; it will culminate in the development of networks of educators who will generate, share and apply the evidence.

The report itself presents a model for great teaching that composes of four broad dimensions:

  1. Understanding the content
  2. Creating a supportive environment
  3. Maximising the opportunity to learn
  4. Activating hard thinking

Over the next four weeks, the ‘Class Teaching’ blog will consider each of these components in turn, looking at implications for teachers and their professional learning.  This week we will look at ‘understanding the content’, an often overlooked area of teacher development, which has been further divided by the review into four elements.

1.1 Having deep and fluent knowledge and flexible understanding of the content you are teaching

1.2 Knowledge of the requirements of curriculum sequencing and dependencies in relation to the content and ideas you are teaching

1.3 Knowledge of relevant curriculum tasks, assessments and activities, their diagnostic and didactic potential; being able to generate varied explanations and multiple representations / analogies / examples for the ideas you are teaching

1.4 Knowledge of common student strategies, misconceptions and sticking points in relation to the content you are teaching

Questions for teachers and leaders

As yet, Evidence Based Education have not published the diagnostic tools that will accompany this project. In the meantime, teachers and leaders who want to start thinking about putting these ideas into practice might begin by considering the following questions when planning for next year.

  • Do teachers have deep and connected knowledge of all the topics they will be teaching next year?
  • How can you identify the gaps in teacher content knowledge? How can these be addressed?
  • Are teachers able to ask higher-order questions? Does their subject-knowledge enable them to promote higher-order thinking?
  • Do teachers have theoretical knowledge of the domain of learning? In other words, do they understand the role of key elements such as memory, metacognition, literacy and formative assessment in the learning process? How could CPD provision address these?
  • Can teachers explain how and why the curriculum should be sequenced?
  • Do teachers have a strong grasp of students’ existing knowledge and skills in all topics? Are teachers able to write plans that depend on correct sequencing and planned reactivation of prior knowledge?
  • Do teachers know how to select learning activities at the right level of challenge that will enable them to assess student learning?
  • Do teachers have opportunities to develop their repertoire of explanations, models, analogies and representations? Do they know how to employ these to fit the requirements of students?
  • Do teachers have multiple explanations, examples and other strategies at hand for when students ‘don’t get it’?
  • Does your CPD approach provide opportunities for novice teachers to be explicitly taught these explanations, models, analogies, representations and examples or are teachers expected to learn these through ad hoc means alone?
  • Do teachers know the common misconceptions surrounding each topic? Are lessons and learning activities designed to address these areas?

Potential CPD activities to develop these areas

As we all start to plan for the upcoming academic year, schools will need to think about how they provide teachers with CPD opportunities that will help them to enhance their content knowledge. Inevitably, this dimension of the toolkit has implications for how schools and wider networks deliver subject-specific professional development. The following practical CPD strategies may help schools, subject areas and teachers to put the evidence into immediate action.

Consider carefully the differences between generic and subject-specific CPD, and where these overlap. What do all teachers of all subjects need to know about the theoretical domain of learning? What do all teachers need to know about teaching the topics on the subject curriculum? A strong model of CPD is likely to be one that prioritises both and recognises the inherent relationship between the two.

Ensure that subject-specific CPD becomes the cornerstone of teacher development. Two useful questions to ask are ‘What are we teaching next?’ and ‘How do we teach it well?’ Subject expertise and smart leadership are crucial in making this happen. When the expertise is not available within the institution, teachers and leaders will benefit from looking outside their immediate context and engaging with outside agencies, networks and other educators. It is important to recognise that teachers’ subject knowledge needs are often very different – how will you ensure that all teachers receive the bespoke development they require?

Treat your CPD provision as a teacher development curriculum. Think carefully about sequencing and building upon prior knowledge. If you are leading a new team, use content knowledge surveys to diagnose the needs of your department. Design CPD sessions so that expert teachers can share and model expertise, but also ensure that opportunities for practice and feedback are built into this cycle

Provide opportunities for discussing and sharing common errors and misconceptions at a granular and topic-specific level. Use these discussions as the basis for improving explanations, analogies, examples and representations in your subject area.


If you are interested in the ideas expressed in this blog, then please take a look at the ‘Curriculum, Teaching and Assessment’ training programme that we will be running at Durrington Research School from January 2021.

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According to a curriculum leader I line manage, there is a phrase of mine that fills him with horror.  Whenever I say: “something that’s been on my mind for a while is…..” he knows a big job is coming his way.

He suffered it earlier this week.  The reason being I’ve been trying to get it clear in my head how on earth we are going to revisit the curriculum covered during lockdown.  It is an issue for his subject, but similarly across the school.  As it stands spaced practice principles run through our curriculum in several ways across different subjects.  I’m assuming a certain amount of cognitive science understanding in this blog, but essentially the principle of spaced or distributed practice involves repeatedly coming back to the information that we are learning in various short sessions, spaced out over time, rather than ‘cramming’ it into a single intense period.  The sort of strategies designed to achieve this at Durrington include:

  • Lagged homework that revisits content previously taught as opposed to what is being taught currently.
  • Retrieval practice quizzes that test knowledge learnt weeks and months previously.
  • Summative assessments that require knowledge from all topics taught across that year or keys stage.
  • Cyclical curriculum design that revisits concepts, building on them each time.

In normal circumstances this works pretty well.  It enables us to exploit the lessons of cognitive science and strengthen student memories of the content they have learnt by regularly putting them through the process of recalling information from their long-term memory into their working memory.

However, for this to be effective it relies on the concepts having been taught in the first place.  There will always be those students who missed that lesson that will fall through the net, but for the majority these spaced practice activities running through the curriculum will be enough to supplement the initial teaching and build deep knowledge.  My suspicion is that if we adopt a similar approach to the curriculum taught during lockdown that we may well come unstuck.

As with many schools we have experienced a spectrum of engagement with our provision.  We’re pretty proud of what we have offered, five Google Classroom lessons every day since day one, following the existing timetable. Curriculum leaders and teachers have worked tirelessly to ensure the quality of these has been exceptional.  However, despite all the measures put in place, not all students have fully engaged.  Therefore, it is not the case of the odd student who wasn’t in for that lesson.  There will be a number of students for whom a retrieval practice quiz will not strengthen memory, it will simply reveal what they do not know.  As a result the normal approach of using spaced practice woven into the teaching of new content isn’t going to be enough.

Perhaps then the pause lesson could be our new (old) best friend.  In terms of spaced practice, a pause lesson would be a chance to recall knowledge and engage in practice around content previously taught.  The teacher would take a break from the topic being taught (usually eliciting some student grumbling) and return to something taught previously.  However, in this post-lockdown iteration they will need to change.

Essentially we have prototypes of these new lessons running across our school at the moment.  Y10 are spending some time in school at the moment, completing 2-hour lessons in shifts.  During these lesson no new content is being taught, instead teachers are establishing student knowledge, coherence and confidence with distance learning topics, doing some re-teaching where needed (which is a lot) and dealing with the concepts the require the most teacher modelling in order to be successful.

Now, in order for our curriculum to move on and keep the necessary coherence and appropriate sequencing we cannot front load all of this work for all year groups to September and then simply carry on as normal.  Equally, we cannot just jettison the curriculum covered over lockdown.  I teach history and I’m not prepared to simply say that my Y8 students going into Y9 just won’t really understand the causes of the First World War that well.

Therefore, dotting pause lessons into the curriculum across the year might be one useful solution to this enormous headache.  These pause lessons would represent the chance to take a section of the lockdown curriculum apart and then put it back together again.  It would work best with some prep, maybe a homework involving a quiz or student checklist to give the teacher some insight into student knowledge and understanding.  Then the teacher could work to either teach from scratch or fill in the blanks.  This would not so much be revision as catch-up.  Think the student who missed a big chunk of the year and you need to bring them up to speed.

Within this model choices will need to be made.  To go back history example, not everything connected to the causes of the War could be included, but the essentials could.  Making these choices of what to teach would be part about teachers and leaders picking the absolute core knowledge, and part about formative assessment of pupils to find out their areas of greatest weakness.  By finding the parts of the curriculum most in need of attention in this way, some of the fog would be lifted, allowing the rest of the curriculum to make more sense.

This is pretty commons sense stuff so will be nothing that most have not already considered, and is fraught with other problems.  Not least the intense pressure on how much we always need to cover in our curriculum.  However, to salvage the March to July curriculum, we need a plan (and my curriculum leader needs to get his thinking hat on).

Posted by Chris Runeckles

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A thousand little moments

In a recent ‘Best Bets’ podcast hosted by Caroline Creaby (Director of Sandringham Research School), Marc Rowland talked about what the most successful teachers and schools do with their pupil premium students, based on his own experience of working with hundreds of schools up and down the country.  The above quote from Marc really resonates, because it’s so true.  If you’re a pupil premium student who gets dealt a good hand when the timetable is being created and gets to be taught by great teachers, you’re going to experience those little moments Marc describes most lessons.  As a result, you’re probably going to do well in school and feel really good about yourself as a learner.  We know this, because we know that teaching quality makes a difference to student attainment.  In a recent presentation for researchEDHome, Dylan Wiliam shared the evidence to support this:

If we take a group of 50 teachers, students taught by the most effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers learn in six months what those taught by the average teacher will learn in a year. Students taught by the least effective teacher in that group of 50 teachers, will take two years to achieve the same learning”

“In the classrooms of the most effective teachers, students from disadvantaged backgrounds, learn at the same rate as those from advantaged backgrounds”  (Hamre & Pianta, 2005)

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to watch brilliant teachers in action will recognise those little moments Marc is talking about, that will almost certainly contribute to this increased rate of learning.  They are those seemingly small things that really skilled teachers intuitively do, to push their most vulnerable students just out of their comfort zone, to make a real difference to their self-efficacy and learning.  This might include:

  • Talking to them with genuine interest and care.
  • Valuing what they have to say and the work that they produce.
  • Say hello to them in the corridor and ask how their day is going.
  • Really carefully and patiently framing their explanations around what the students already know.
  • Not allowing them to sit quietly and ignore a question, but encouraging them to have a go at answering.
  • Not accepting a safe superficial answer, but probing them to think more about their answer.
  • Not accepting work that is poorly presented and doesn’t really reflect what they are truly capable of.
  • Using retrieval quizzes during their lessons.
  • Encouraging them to use appropriate tier 2 and 3 vocabulary when answering questions.
  • Not dumbing down their language when speaking to them.
  • Giving them very specific praise about the work they complete – but only if it is worthy of that praise!
  • Giving them very specific feedback that will improve them as a learner – ‘I really like your opening sentence for this piece of writing, but I think you could probably expand this idea in the last sentence and explain why it happened’
  • Sharing high quality work that they complete with their peers and explaining why it is so good.
  • Subtly but precisely modelling how to tackle a problem and providing them with a worked example.
  • Simply, but effectively helping them to self-regulate their own learning.  There are lots of examples of this here, but this will include asking simple questions to help them plan, monitor and evaluate their work.
  • Encouraging them to aim high – ‘I know you can do this, because last time we tried a question like this you did it brilliantly’.
  • Using aspirational language – ‘Well, when you go on to do A levels…’

The problem is of course that our disadvantaged students haven’t been experiencing these little moments whilst schools have been closed, as they have been deprived of face to face contact these great teachers.  In a recent rapid evidence review by the Education Endowment Foundation, regarding the implications of Covid-19 closures, it was found that the closures are likely to reverse the progress of the past decade, that has been made with disadvantaged learners.  This same analysis suggests the gap could widen by between 11% and 75% between March and September.  The Chief Executive of the EEF Professor Becky Francis characterised the situation by saying that Covid-19 had “created the test of a generation”.  However, she also said a successful response is not out of reach for the profession, as long as it is “collaborative, intelligent and sustained”

So as the doors begin to open for students again, especially for our disadvantaged students, we need to be lavishing them with these little moments.  Yes, there will of course need to be  ‘catch-up interventions’ for some, but the most powerful experience we can gift them, to begin the reversal of the ‘Covid Slide’, is being back in front of their great teachers.   We’ll welcome them back into school, celebrate the amazing effort they have put into the work they completed at home, skilfully unpick the learning gaps that will have inevitably emerged and then slowly, but surely, begin to fill these gaps and restore their confidence as learners.  We’ll do this and we’ll do it brilliantly as a profession, because there is no other option and that’s just what we do.  We fix things.

Shaun Allison


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Back to Teaching Year 10 this Summer

It is likely that over the next few weeks that we will start having groups of year 10 students back in school and we will be teaching them some curriculum content during this time. It is highly unlikely that we will be teaching them in the same groupings that they were previously in, and they will have done a massively varied amount of work in the time that they have been out of school so far.

So what do I do with a small, but potentially very mixed class who I may not know or have built any previous relationships with, where I do not know what they can do in advance? How can I give them a worthwhile maths lesson?

I think that this is where the principles of Teaching for Mastery will be useful, and I want to be sure that this is a very different type of lesson from the usual “revision” lesson that we may have delivered previously. The NCETM (National Centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics) sets out some of the principles and pedagogies of Teaching for Mastery as follows:

  • Mathematics Teaching for Mastery rejects the idea that a large proportion of people ‘just can’t do maths’. All students are encouraged by the belief that by working hard at mathematics they can succeed and that making mistakes is to be seen not as a failure but as a valuable opportunity for new learning.
  • Facility with procedures and algorithms without a deep and connected understanding does not constitute mastery. Mastery is achieved through developing procedural fluency and conceptual understanding in tandem, since each supports the other.
  • Significant time is spent developing a deep understanding of the key ideas and concepts that are needed to underpin future learning. The structures and connections within the mathematics are emphasised, which helps to ensure that students’ learning is sustainable over time.

We can bring these aspects into our teaching of “one-off” lessons to make them as useful as possible to the students in them, and they will also help us to plan these carefully in advance when there are so many unknowns. I will try to plan any lessons I teach around the following structure:

  1. Reassurance and motivation.

Our students have not been in a school environment for a long time now. They need to feel supported, reassured, and motivated to make the most of this time. I also need to remind them of classroom expectations and how these will work in the new environment. I will need to start with a task that gives them an early feeling of success. Tom Bennett and Tom Sherrington have recently written interesting articles on these topics.

  1. Low-stakes quizzing

I need to then gently assess what my students already know about the topic. I will most likely use diagnostic multiple choice questions, maybe with mini-whiteboards, and this will be very low-stakes testing. I need to keep the students feeling reassured. Misconceptions will be discussed and mistakes will be celebrated as ways in which we can all learn, and those students who perform well will gain a deeper understanding of the topic by considering these misconceptions – this is an important part of the lesson for all students, however much they already understand the topic.

Mini-whiteboards will be a vital part of this lesson as they allow me to see clearly from a distance the work the students are doing, very useful for social distancing purposes. I won’t ask them to hold them up (unnecessary clatter and potential copying) but will be able to get a good view of their work from the sides of the room. I have also found that students are often far more willing to take risks and try things out on mini-whiteboards than in their books – perhaps it is the impermanent nature of the writing.

  1. Keep the whole class together

My lesson will then progress in very small steps through my chosen topic. I will use “I, We, You” to model examples, but I only want my students to spend a very short time on the “you” stage at the moment. We will talk a lot about the thought processes required to find the solutions, and I will try to refer this back to how they work independently at home, hopefully helping them to become more self-regulated and successful when they are in that situation.

  1. “Reflect, Expect, Check, Explain” (Craig Barton)

I then want to move into some more independent “intelligent” practice. I am currently reading Craig Barton’s second book and I think the processes he outlines could work really well in our one-off lessons. He suggests instead of a worksheet of pretty much random questions on a topic, or ones that increase in difficulty but are otherwise unrelated, we think about carefully sequenced sets of questions with links between them. Thankfully there is a large collection of these sets of questions on Craig’s website The students need to apply what they have learned to answer the questions, but also make conjectures about the links between them, by asking “what is the same and what is different?”, and trying to discern the underlying mathematics behind these links. Students will work in periods of silence so they get the chance to think deeply on their own, but will also have the chance to discuss their thoughts both in (socially distanced) pairs and as a class. This way of working has a real advantage in that those who are struggling with the method will have a chance to work through lots of similar examples for fluency practise, yet still hear the thoughts of others who have managed to do the same examples but also gain a deeper insight into the underlying maths. I can keep the whole class doing the same task, they will experience deeper insight at the point when they are ready, and through discussion they will all have the opportunity to think about these insights. I will not be giving them many colours of differentiated worksheets!

  1. Formative assessment

Once we have had a good look at the links and discussed what we have found I will need to see what they can now do. I will not at this stage presume they have learned the content we have been covering. To wrap the lesson up I will probably use more multiple choice questioning, on a carefully though-out set of specific misconceptions. I will also ask the students to each think of two questions to ask me about this topic – a great idea from Craig Barton that avoids that pointless “Does everyone understand?” question. I will probably give them some other questions to have a go at on their own at home, and give them a way of getting their solutions to me so that I can feedback to them at a later date. We will discuss the forgetting curve and how important it is that they don’t just go away and not think about this lesson again. I will give them some Hegarty Maths clip numbers for further fluency practise. We may even discuss flashcards if they might work for the topic.

If relevant we may look at some exam style questions, but this lesson is to be about promoting confidence, building lasting foundations and a deep understanding, not about getting them exam-ready. We need to make sure this is a positive experience for the students we have in at this strange time, and re-ignite their passion for learning and maths, rather than cause them more anxiety.

It will be strange having very small groups of students in this fashion, but even writing about it has made me itch to get back in the classroom and be teaching students properly again, and to see that lightbulb go on when they finally make the connections that I have been trying to impart to them.

Deb Friis
Deb is a Maths Teacher and Research Associate for Maths at Durrington High School. She is also Secondary Co-Lead for Sussex Maths Hub. She tweets as @runningstitch










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Making every conversation count with Mark Enser

In the next vlog in this series, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby talk to Mark Enser, author of ‘Making every geography lesson count‘.

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How To Tackle The Changing Landscape of Physical Activity

Throughout our lives we are constantly reminded of the importance of physical activity. The common misconception surrounding exercise, in some school settings, is that it can improve cognition. This is a somewhat grey area, with studies showing improvements (John Ratey – and others showing no effect on cognitive performance (Institute for Effective Education –

However, the research surrounding the benefits of exercise on health is unparalleled. Physical exercise can improve heart function, the efficiency of body systems, increase stroke volume, prevent obesity, release the feel-good hormone (serotonin), the ability to control emotions, develop teamwork and co-operation skills, provide opportunities to socialise and reduce the risk of some illnesses such as diabetes.

As we find ourselves in these unprecedented times the importance of being physically active has not been forgotten. However, in our virtual school settings the time spent on physical activity is at best, variable across the country. Some children are taking part now more than ever, some are doing minimal amounts and some are not engaging whatsoever. Some children used to walk to and from school on average for 25 minutes each way When at school children needed to move from classroom to classroom, walk to seating areas or the canteen for breaks, have 2 hours of PE lessons a week, walk home again and some attended extra-curricular sports clubs at lunchtime and/or after school. All of which are not occurring at present. This is an area that needs to be addressed. In the video below Louise Wallis-Tayler a PE teacher from Durrington High School outlines how children can remain physically active from home. In the video Louise reminds the students how much physical activity they should be doing, the benefits of exercise on their health and gives some ideas on how to remain active at home throughout this difficult time.

James Crane, Deputy Leader of Physical Education and Dance, Research School Associate, Durrington Research School

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Making every conversation count

In this first #MakingEveryConversationCount vlog, Andy Tharby and I talk about our book ‘Making every lesson count’.  We talk about:

  • What made us write the book.
  • Why we think it’s useful.
  • How we’ve implemented the six principles.

Over the coming weeks, Andy and I will be in conversation with some of the other ‘Making every lesson count’ authors and sharing them here.

Shaun Allison

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The role of homework when we return…

Like the majority of curriculum leaders much of my thinking over the last 4-6 weeks has centred on ensuring we provide the best online learning experience possible for our students, however as time progresses my thoughts have turned more and more about what to do when schools do ultimately re-open. At the forefront of these thoughts has been how to address the inevitable learning gaps that will have developed during the school closures. Mark Enser spoke about these gaps earlier this week during in TES webinar which can be found here. In his talk Mark discussed how, despite our best efforts, gaps in learning will develop during this period of distance teaching, due to the limits of remote teaching, the varying independent study skills of our students and the extenuating circumstances surrounding our disadvantaged students. Mark goes on to talk about how important these gaps are, as they are likely to have implications for students understanding of threshold concepts and schema, while also practically impacting on exam content.

When I brought this topic up during our most recent virtual department meeting, the conversation naturally leaned towards the role that homework could play in supporting this. Conversations I have had with other leaders have also referred to the part that homework may or may not play in supporting that transition back into learning.

Whilst I do not doubt that homework will form a significant part of our return plans, I am fearful that we run the risk of overestimating the role that homework can play and putting it on a pedestal it cannot fulfil. The benefits of setting homework have been closely studied, with the EEF guidance indicating that homework can instigate 5 months of additional progress. There is a consistent picture that pupils in schools which give more homework perform better, and therefore homework will be a useful tool in closing the learning gaps. However the picture is more complex, as correlation does not necessarily mean causality. Although homework setting is likely to be having an impact there are lots of other variables that may influence achievement within those schools that set large amounts of homework. Furthermore below the average 5 month benefits identified by the EEF, there is wide variation in the potential impacts depending on the type and how the homework is set.

EEF homework

We have to consider that if students have struggled to learn the content through remote teaching, than simply resetting the work as homework for the sake of homework is likely to encounter the same barriers and achieve very little. So we therefore need to think carefully about how and what we are going to set as homework if we want it to have the impact we need.

Now, like most of us at this time, I don’t pretend to have the answers or silver bullet solution, and what I outline below is only what we have discussed within our team and between subject leaders at Durrington.

In geography we intend to initially use our homework to identify the gaps that have developed, and then secondly to target and fill these. The research behind homework suggests that targeted and focused interventions are likely to be more successful, and therefore identifying what is required will be essential. To do so we plan to set regular low stake quizzes (likely through google forms) and also asking student to self-evaluate their confidence/knowledge against topic checklists or knowledge organisers. This will then allow us to adapt our curriculum and teaching to address these, while also creating bespoke follow up homework tasks that target areas of concern that we/our students identify – homework will not be set for the sake of it! In addition as we begin to teach new topics, we also plan to create a spacing effect by maintaining at least some of the homework focus on the material covered during lockdown.

Finally, while we do not do things solely for the purpose of examinations, we also have to consider the loss of time and exam practice for our GCSE cohorts. The knee-jerk reaction would be to set lots of exam questions as homework tasks, however in doing so we have to consider the following; how can we model the self-regulation and metacognition required when answering exam questions and secondly the marking load this could create. As such when setting exam questions for homework, the geography team are also going to accompany these with a video of a staff member tackling the question or a similar question to guide student’s regulation and metacognitive thinking. An example of one of these videos can be found here. In regards to the marking load, while students will be expected to attempt some exam questions in full, we will also ask students to plan answers to some longer answer questions, where they will show their metacognitive thinking and the subject knowledge/content required to answer the question. This will give us a great insight into students understanding of the content/question and their thought processes without the need to mark an overwhelming 6 and 9 mark questions.

help marking

In Art & Design, Steve Bloomer and his team, have also been thinking about homework on our return. They intend to do something similar by creating checklists for students to review as part of their homework to identify gaps in their project work and where they need to gather more evidence of skills etc. These checklists will the form the basis and guide for the homework students will do subsequently. In addition to this the team plan to designate some of their SPDS (subject meetings) to regularly review sketch books identify gaps in student skills and then adapt their teaching and homework setting to address these. This is an excellent example of how these fortnightly SPDS can be used to support the necessary adaptions we are all going to have to make when we do return. In regards to their year 10 groups, the Art department have begun to consider how their homework norm may need to change. Traditionally the homework they have set has been around sketch book work, however during lockdown much of the teaching and learning they have been doing has had to focus on sketch book work due to it being more accessible to students. This has meant that larger/practical work has had to take a back seat, due to lack of specialist materials, equipment and space. Once students return the expectation of sketch book work may need to be reduced, and students given greater opportunity/time to work on their larger pieces. This point serves to emphasise how we may all need to think about how we have done things traditionally and how this may need to change.

Homework will most certainly play a part of addressing the learning gaps we know are developing during this time, but in the same way that our curriculum and classroom practice will need careful thought and planning, it is essential that we don’t just throw homework’s at the problem in the hope that something will stick.

By Ben Crockett, Head of Geography and Research School Associate, Durrington High School

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