Bright Spots – what can we learn from our Curriculum Leaders?

Curriculum Leaders play a pivotal role in developing teaching and learning at Durrington, as they work with their teams on a daily basis to ensure high quality teaching inspotlight their subject areas. Over the past week, I have visited each of our Curriculum Leaders to gain an understanding of how they approach their lessons and what experiences the students receive from these teachers.

In Art and Design, Gail Christie was teaching a Year 7 group. Gail was modelling to the class how to add tone and contrast to their paintings. What was noticeable in this part of the lesson, was that the whole class were gathered around Gail’s table watching how she was applying the paint. This direct modelling allowed the students to see first-hand how to complete the activity. However, at the same time Gail was constantly questioning the students; ‘How am I holding the brush?’; ‘Why am I applying the paint here first?’ All of these questions allowed the class to explain the processes that Gail was undertaking and gain an understanding of how to replicate the process on their models. The students were then given the opportunity to practise these skills, whilst Gail monitored their progress and provided immediate feedback.

Over in Maths, Emma Mason, was modelling a concept which students had not covered for a number of months. Revisiting material is an excellent method of retrieval practice and forces students to ‘Think Hard’ about their knowledge and move it from their long-term memory into their working memory. In her lesson, Emma was modelling Venn diagrams on the interactive whiteboard and questioning the students through each stage. Noticeably, Emma was targeting questions to specific students – a mixture of PP/FSM students and reluctant responders – thus ensuring that all of the students were engaged in the activity. One particular exchange in the lesson was as follows:

  • Student – “the answer is the probability of B”
  • Emma – “Why can’t it be the probability of B?”
  • (same) Student – (after pausing, thinking and looking at the model) “Not all of B is shaded in, therefore it can’t be the probability of B. It must be the probability of not A”

Through the use of a clear and well explained model, as well as specific questioning Emma was able to address the student’s misconception and improve their understanding.

In Business Studies, Chloe Wheal, had also modelled a difficult concept to her Year 10 students. Chloe had explained the stages of the Boston Matrix, in manageable ‘chunks’ before providing opportunities for the students to practise the skill. It was particularly evident that the students were able to work independently on this task, having initially been provided with a clear explanation and model. The students were then able to refer back to the model to check their progress and understanding.

In Drama, Emily Isham’s Year 8 students were choreographing a dance routine to a High School Musical track. After the students performed their routine, Emily gave the students specific goals to improve their work. Through specific and direct instructions Emily focussed the student’s thinking on the ‘formation’ of their routine. By doing this, the students were able to enhance one specific aspect of their routine rather than try and focus on the whole routine and struggle to identify areas to improve. This allowed for greater progress from the students and a much improved second routine.

In Geography (Ben Crockett) and French (Pam Graham) had a specific focus on vocabulary and challenge but in different ways. In his Year 8 lesson, Ben, was explaining how a meander forms along a river’s course. This was a tricky Year 8 group, but Ben was challenging the students to use specific Tier 3 vocabulary, such as lateral erosion. Through the ‘Bounce’ questioning technique, Ben was able to elicit further information from student’s initial answers and use previous word associations to extend the student’s vocabulary. In French, Pam, was teaching another tricky Year 8 group. In this lesson the focus was on the difference between masculine and feminine spellings of words. Pam was using explanation questions to challenge the students to explain why one pronunciation or spelling would not be accurate in a specific context. She then increased the level of challenge for the students by asking them to adapt their vocabulary from the present tense to the future tense. All of these approaches made the students ‘think’, which ultimately engaged them with the work and developed their depth of understanding.

Sharon Nixon (SME) was using a range of questioning techniques with her Year 9 class during their discussion about World Views. Sharon was not relying just on those students who had their hands up, but was also ‘cold calling’ on those students who were sitting quietly, to ensure that they were engaged in the discussion. Through this, Sharon was able to check all of the student’s understanding and allow students to gain confidence by being praised for their contribution.

When I visited Steph Temple’s Year 11 Science lesson, the thing that struck me the most was that the students were secure in their core knowledge. Steph was teaching about the work of Mendeleev and the Periodic Table and setting a high level of challenge for her students. However, the students were engaged in this discussion and were asking questions which went beyond the basic level of knowledge. The students were enquiring into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the topic, which they were only able to do if they were confident in their core understanding (which elements are more reactive). This meant that the students were then able to apply this knowledge in a range of different contexts and think at a deeper level. Dan O’Brien (History) was also challenging his students to apply their knowledge in different contexts, by investigating churches in Anglo-Saxon Britain. Dan was using an Anglo-Saxon map of Chichester (a city which is familiar to our students) and probing the student’s knowledge through a range of descriptive (What can you see on the map?) and explanation questions (Why is it there?). This activity allowed students to revisit previous lessons and successfully apply their knowledge in different contexts.

Kate Bloomfield’s Year 11 English students were also being challenged to think about their work, but from the perspective of how to approach exam questions. Kate was conducting metacognition with the students to break down the exam questions and to help them structure their answers. This is an important skill for the students, as they need to be able to successfully apply their knowledge to different contexts, which are prescribed by the examiner. Kate was achieving this through specific instructions such as “The question states ‘from line 16 to the end’. On your extract draw a box around line 16 to the end and then reread this section”. This helped to focus student’s thinking just on this section of the extract and then to concentrate their thinking on the question’s focus – Hale feeling nervous and unsafe. Kate’s next task, for the students was to find five quotes from this section of the text to show nervousness and a lack of safety. Helping the students to unpick the exam questions, is an important skill which sits alongside the subject-specific knowledge that students need.

Over in PE, Tom Pickford was teaching Year 11 in the final period of the week. When I arrived, the students were fully engaged in their game of ‘Bench Ball’ and there was very little direct input from Tom. However, what struck me about the activity was the way that the students were supporting each other. After one student had missed a few baskets, another student came up to him and said:

  • “Next time, aim at the top right corner of the black line on the backboard.”

Quickly the ball arrived and the student followed the instructions to score the basket. What struck me about this exchange, was that the students were taking the lead of the activity and were confident at supporting each other to develop their skills. This could only have taken place because Tom had set the right conditions within his lesson and provided clear instructions during a previous explanation.


Having visited all of our Curriculum Leaders during the week, I noticed several things that their lessons had in common:

  • High expectations of all students
  • Excellent relationships with their classes
  • High levels of subject knowledge
  • Lots of questions, using a range of techniques
  • Specific explanation and modelling focussed on the lesson’s content
  • Lots of deliberate practise

It is from the work of the Curriculum Leaders that their Curriculum teams develop successfully and maximise the outcomes for their students, not only in their (the Leader’s) classrooms but in their subject as well.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

This entry was posted in Bright Spots, General Teaching, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

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