Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…

notworkedLast month, the wonderful Jill Berry tweeted me the above.  This got me thinking about things I used to do in my own teaching, that I’ve now ditched. Why? Well one of the many great things about twitter and reading blogs, is that it makes you reflect and think about why you do the things you do in the classroom. As a profession we’ve become a bit brainwashed, for a variety of reasons, into introducing new teaching strategies, without thinking about why and if they’re actually going to make a difference to student learning.  So, I imagine we’ve all got a few bloopers in our closet.

blooper def

With this in mind I thought I’d share a few bloopers that either I’ve been guilty of, or I’ve seen done by others – and more sadly, some I’ve probably encouraged others to do! If that’s you…I apologise!

Be prepared to wince.


  • Copying the learning objectives – A precious waste of time! Serves no purpose in terms of learning, in my opinion.  The time could be much better spent on a relevant and engaging task e.g. look at a visual prompt and come up with questions you want to find out about it. I do think it’s a good idea to discuss and unpick learning objectives at the start of the lesson, and use them to find out what they already know….but don’t get them to waste time copying them.
  • Differentiated Learning Objectives – these have become quite common place around schools – all, most, some being a common way of doing it. But, the more I read and think about the idea of Growth Mindset, the more I realise that this approach is putting a ceiling on expectations.  A much better approach I think is to have high standards for all, communicated by single and concise learning objectives, and then differentiate the responsive way (see Andy Tharby’s superb blog on this) to support students to get there.
  • Brain gym – It’s all been said really hasn’t it?? Patting heads? Rubbing stomachs? What were we thinking??


  • Wordsearch Starter – Aarrgghh! Rife around the time of the KS3 Strategy, the only thing that this assessed was letter recognition! Never saw the point of it.  Thankfully now as rare as a dodo.
  • Differentiation by coloured sheet – Again, I’m sure many of us have done this – 4 different sheets for different abilities in the class!  Many things that trouble me about this!  Firstly the teacher spends most of the lesson organising coloured sheets instead of monitoring progress and giving feedback.  Secondly, many kids will opt for the wrong sheet – for an easy life! Thirdly, again it goes against the spirit of the growth mindset and limits expectations.
  • The teacher plenary –  At the end of the lesson -“So this lesson we’ve learnt X, Y and Z, haven’t we? Excellent! See you next lesson“. We’ve all done it, but I don’t think this is particularly useful for either the students or teacher.  What we should be doing is finding out what students are struggling with and responding by adapting our teaching accordingly – throughout the lesson, not just at the end.

U.S. Open Championship - Final Round

  • Group Work/Peer Learning – Now don’t get me wrong, group work/ peer learning can have a place in sound learning, if planned and implemented very carefully.  Two things (below)  should make us proceed with caution though:

group work

And this quote from John Hattie:

“80% of feedback a student receives about his or her work in primary school is from other students.  But 80% of this student provided feedback is incorrect!”

  • Independent Learning – Linked to the above really, the notion that students can learn successfully without input or support from the teacher is an odd one…but often encouraged! About 15 years ago I worked on a county project with other science teachers where we planned a whole scheme of work, based on students finding out themselves and from each other, without any input from the teacher!  Suffice to say they didn’t do very well! In truth, they probably did OK with the very simple ideas, but certainly didn’t grasp the more tricky scientific concepts.  What we should be doing is developing independence by effective teacher input, modelling, discussion, questioning and then providing students with the opportunity to practice what we have taught them.  Then they will be able to move towards mastering the ideas with a greater degree of independence.  More from David Didau on this here.
  • Pacey Lessons – Again, something that was frequently stressed to us as teachers – “Lessons need to be more pacey”. There’s a big problem here.  I’ve seen a number of lessons where the teacher has tried so hard to make the lesson pacey, by introducing so many different activities, that actually the students have no time to practice the skills they are being taught and so consolidate the learning.  Learning is tough and takes time.


  • Lack of modelling – This is a recent bugbear of mine.  All too often we are so obsessed with telling students what they’ve got to do and what the assessment criteria are, without actually showing them how to do it.  A PE teacher wouldn’t dream of letting students just throw a javelin, without careful modelling first.  Similarly an art teacher would model a particular painting technique and a science teacher would demonstrate a practical.  But, all too often when it comes to skills like extended writing, we just expect students to do it – without any modelling.

spudUPDATED: 9th February….

  • “The kids loved it…..” – Inspired by this post from David Didau. This highlights the daft ‘engaging’ things that have been done in the classroom, in the name of learning… reality though they are just about entertaining.  David cites a brilliant example of this – a teacher getting their students to find hidden potatoes in the classroom, thinking that this will teach them about the Irish potato famine.   I asked my 10 year old daughter Eve about this.  Her assessment? “It sounds like a fun thing to do, but I don’t think I would learn much about the famine in Ireland“.  David got quite a bit of stick about this article – I’m baffled as to why!


  • Bored students – Now clearly none of us want our students to be bored during our lessons.  That’s not the point here.  The best teachers can address the most mundane topics with humour and interest (usually because they have a great knowledge of the subject). However, we do have to acknowledge that learning will often be hard, challenging and not always enjoyable.  This is fine –  the reward for students should therefore be  the sense of achievement they get when they overcome these challenges.  Then we’re doing our job – producing gritty, resilient learners. Angela Lee Duckworth discusses:



A couple of others from teachers on twitter

  • Marking every question a pupil has done myself. Most maths pupils can mark themselves! MrMathsTeacher
  • Accept that because I have delivered it they may not have learned it!!!!! Phil Walklate

It’s great to see teachers engaging more with research and thinking about why they are doing what they are doing, based on whether it actually works.  It’s also encouraging to see OFSTED acknowledging that prescribing a particular style of teaching, is not sensible – as outlined in their recent subsidiary guidance document for inspectors:

ofsted new guidance

Despite the turbulence that is going on around education, I do think in some ways it’s quite an exciting time.  There seems to be a growing number of teachers on twitter and blogging who are seizing the profession back, by doing what we know works best in the classroom and encouraging others to do likewise – based on experience and research based evidence. This is a good thing and needs to be encouraged.

For us at DHS, we’re doing it by focusing on the 4 areas of pedagogy that we think makes the biggest difference to student learning:


So thanks Jill for making me think about this – please feel free to add your own bloopers by leaving a comment.

To help you think, a bit of a tune…..

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9 Responses to Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…

  1. Marooney, Sue says:

    Excellent oh guru!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Pingback: What’s working in my classroom at the moment? | isitworthsharing

  3. Jill Berry says:

    Enjoyed reading this, Shaun, and it’s nice to know that since I left headship I haven’t lost the knack of coming up with ideas that OTHERS have to implement…..

    The only thing I would say is that sometimes we can beat ourselves up a bit over things we believed in and felt were worthwhile at the time. It’s great that you focus on what you’ve learnt and how you’ve rethought here. I’d suggest that all our experiences have gone into making us the teachers and leaders we now are, and no experience is wasted, as long as we ARE receptive, prepared to rethink and to learn.

  4. Couldn’t agree more Jill. We always do what we think is best at the time….and then reflect and learn from our mistakes. In doing so we refine our practice.
    Twitter and the many wonderful blogs out there encourage that reflection.

  5. mrbenney says:

    Talking when the pupils are working (and being chuffed because everyone was quiet and listening). Except they weren’t listening. They were doing their work.

  6. CraftyTeacher says:

    I have dropped many of these things too! My students do peer assess, but only in terms of looking to see if things are missing or could be added. They have a crib sheet to use, so actually, they are only doing what I do. I do praise the post it note though!

  7. Pingback: 2014 – blogging best bits | Class Teaching

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