Mobilising the Evidence

One of the most important roles for Research Schools such as us, is to support teachers and leaders who work in schools and colleges to mobilise the research evidence that is out there, so that it can make a positive difference to the students we teach.  At our INSET day today, five of our fabulous teachers did just this.  They shared how they have taken the evidence we have shared with them over the last couple of years and implemented it in their classrooms.

What evidence?

Over the past couple of years, rather than flitting from one topic to another during INSET days, we have tried to focus on some key themes that we believe, if embedded across the school, will have a significant impact on student learning.  They are:

So today, five of our teachers talked about how they have done this.  Here is a summary of each presentation.

Retrieval Practice – Alex Mohammed (Science)

Like many teachers, Aex has been thinking about how he can support his students with retrieving and recalling knowledge from across the whole specification, in preparation for the new terminal exams.  He also wants to support students with elaborating on their responses, by linking together ideas and thinking more deeply about what the topic they are being taught.  So Alex, has turned to the ideas of retrieval practice and elaborative interrogation.

In order to do this, Alex has thought about the questions he asks students at the start of the lesson.  In the example slide above, you can see that he starts the lesson with a variety of recall questions.  The black questions relate to what they have studied in recent lessons (this is for a Y11 group).  The red questions go back to what they studied in Y10 – Alex calls these ‘link back’ questions.  When choosing his ‘link back’ questions, Alex tries to pick questions that have a common thread.  So for example here, they are all linked to blood and the circulatory system.  This encourages students to understand the links between the topics they study, an important aspect of elaborative interrogation.

As a result of this, Alex has noticed the following:

  • Students appear to have an increased knowledge of the specification.
  • Students are becoming adept at making the links between topics
  • They are also becoming better at self-prompting, leading to more elaboration in their answers.
  • Through having a ‘How Science Works’ push within these ‘link back questions’, students are becoming more familiar with the key core skills within science and other subjects.

Knowledge Organisers & Explicit Vocabulary Instructions – Beth Clarke & Kate Haslett (History)

In history, following Fran’s input at our November INSET day on explicit vocabulary instruction, Beth and Kate set to work on implementing these ideas in history.  They came up with a very clear plan of what they wanted to do:

Explicit vocabulary instruction

  1. Identify and agree tier 2 words, using the academic word list.
  2. Identify and agree tier 3 words.
  3. Discuss ways of implementing STI (see Fran’s post in the link above) and how to share strategies at Subject Planning & development Session (SPDS)

Knowledge Organisers

  1. Review what we already have in place for units of work.
  2. Use guidelines to make decisions about future knowledge organisers for history.
  3. Discuss three ways of using knowledge organisers in lessons and when to share strategies at SPDS.

Their starting point was their existing knowledge organiser (example above).  After much discussion, they decided that this had too much content on one page and wasn’t really in a coherent format.  So they set to work on splitting this up into three topics:

Each topic now has it’s own knowledge organiser, with 10 key people/events for students to focus on.  They also used this to clarify key tier 2 terminology that was used in exam questions.  Here’s an example:

Once they had produced them, the history team then discussed a consistent way of using them.  Students are given them at the start of the topic and are encouraged to use them to produce flashcards and dual coding activities (more on this later).  They are also referred to in lessons and used as a revision tool for quick quizzes at the start of lessons, where students are expected to spell the word correctly and recall the meaning.

To develop the use of the knowledge organisers further, when students produce a piece of extended writing, in response to a question, they highlight the words/names/events they have used from the knowledge organiser.  This reinforces the importance of these words/names/events.

Beth and Kate then went on to describe other ways in which they are developing explicit vocabulary instruction:

Sentence stems

Students have to complete a sentence that has been started for them that uses the new vocabulary.  For example:

1.In Anglo-Saxon England, the burh was …

2.The housecarls in Harold’s army were …

3.The submission of the earls at Berkhamstead was …

Test Sentences

Students are given the new vocabulary in two sentences.  they have to decide which sentence is using the new vocabulary correctly.  For example:

Example 1:

1.One way in which Anglo-Saxons lost their land was through forfeiture.

2. One way in which Anglo-Saxons rebelled against Norman control was through forfeiture.

Example 2:

  1. The housecarls in Harold’s army were untrained men obtained from the land.
  2. The housecarls in Harold’s army were highly trained and professional.

Dual coding

Students are encouraged to use visuals and writing to help them remember key events.

Geographical Literacy – Sam Atkins (Geography)

Sam has been looking to tackle the following challenges in his classroom:

  • The breadth of vocabulary in KS3 students
  • the ability of students to:

–Know and understand the contextual meaning of tier 2 (geographical) words




These are important issues to tackle, as by doing so students will be able to articulate a wider range of responses and therefore produce higher quality responses.  Sam is seeking to eliminate the common response that we often hear from students:

“ I know what I want to say, I just don’t know how to say it”

Like Beth and Kate, Sam has been using test sentences:

This usually includes 10 key words for a particular topic and is used as a homework task.  the same words are then reinforced by using sentence stems:

Sam has also been trialling an approach that brings together a number of metacognitive approaches, when supporting students with interacting with a text:

As you can see from the photograph above, students a given some text about a particular topic (in this case, the North Pole) that they read and stick in the middle of a double page spread.  They then do 4 things with this text:

  • Image – they turn the information in the text into an image, supporting the idea of dual coding.
  • Summarise – they pick out and summarise the key points from the text.
  • Elaborate – in this section, the student elaborates on the points made in the text further e.g. what are the risks to the north pole ecosystem?
  • Question – do they have a question they would like to ask the author, to find out more?

What has Sam noticed since implementing these approaches?

  • Students will continue to misspell words, even when re-writing alongside the model example. Repetition is crucial.
  • Accuracy in identifying the correct test sentence, does not always translate into accuracy when completing sentence stems. Effective practice is crucial.
  • Knowing what summarise/elaborate means, does not always mean knowing how to do it effectively. Modelling is crucial.
  • Students will ask questions about a text, to which the answer is already apparent. Explanation is crucial.
  • Initial attempts at dual coding by students may result in over-elaborate diagrams. Effective feedback is crucial.

Explicit Vocabulary Teaching – Tod Brennan (English)

Tod started his presentation by telling us a story of an actor friend of his who missed out on a number of roles.  When asked during auditions to ‘be bashful’ he would break into ‘Hi Ho’ from snow white and the seven dwarves, or bash the script on the table.  Why?  Because, he simply didn’t know what the word bashful meant.  He was an intelligent individual who had done really well in life, but just hadn’t been exposed to that particular word.  How many of our students don’t understand an exam question (even though they may have the subject knowledge) or might miss out on opportunities like this in the future, simply because of a limited vocabulary?

Tod has been addressing this by explicitly teaching tier 2 vocabulary (see example above).  He has been using direct and clear explanations, using ideas and examples that the students will probably understand.

He then develops this, by testing their understanding of this new vocabulary:

As can be seen from the slide above, Tod uses a number of approaches to support this.  For example, matching the words with the correct meaning, using new vocabulary to complete a sentence and writing a synonym for the new vocabulary.  By using a variety of approaches like this, students become immersed in this new vocabulary.

What has Tod noticed since implementing these new approaches?

  • This is just the start of their journey to using these words naturally.
  • It will be a battle, many students don’t encounter these words regularly and are unlikely to encounter them again.
  • It is therefore important that I revisit these words with them, and that we do it often.
  • A plan for the whole year’s vocabulary would enable this.
  • On a personal level I will use MCQ’s to further discussions about why certain words are wrong, and tease out small differences between synonyms.


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