Bright Spots

We have got off to a great start at Durrington High School and visiting lessons over the past few days made it clear why this has been the case. In all of the lessons that we saw, the students were settled and working purposefully on high-challenge content.


We have three clear T&L foci for this year:

  1. Explicit vocabulary instruction.
  2. Retrieval practice.
  3. Metacognition and self-regulation.

At INSET last week we revisited the strategies that we can use for the first two foci and explored for the first time as a whole school how we can use our understanding of metacognition and self-regulation to better support students’ learning. As the year progresses, we look forward to sharing the many effective strategies that teachers are using with regard to these foci from across the curriculum areas.

Our first stop of the day was with Bex Owen in her year 11 science lesson. Bex was demonstrating some very clear engagement with both metacognition and explicit vocabulary instruction with the use of GCSE exam questions. Bex had a series of questions displayed on her board and was talking through what these questions were asking her to do before attempting to answer. For example, one of the questions started with the command verb ‘explain’, so Bex said aloud how this told her that she must not just state a response but go further to give reasons. This kind of modelling can be effective for two reasons: Firstly, it would help Bex’s students know what they should think about as they read an exam question, thus paving the way for more accurate answers. Secondly, Bex’s succinct reminder of what ‘explain’ means would ensure that all students could access the science task, including those who came to the lesson with more limited word knowledge.

Along in drama, April Cross was delivering a lively lesson to her year 9 students. The class were all participating in a group game in which they has to select a fellow student to ‘splat’. The student who was slowest to respond had to sit out the rest of the game. Building relationships between teachers and students, whilst also asserting authority over your classroom, is one of the most fundamental tasks that we have to negotiate at the start of each academic year, and one that can come with many challenges. In this particular lesson, April’s students were learning to accept the rules of her classroom even when they did not agree. For example, when a student lost a round of the game she was clearly displeased and started to voice her displeasure. April responded with “You can be upset, but you still have to sit down”. This was an excellent way to handle the behaviour: April calmly acknowledged the student’s feelings but then showed that this behaviour would not get the desired result. This kind of classroom management is what enables our students to have successful lessons every day.

In maths, Sara Stevens was with her year 11 group. Sarah was targeting questions at the students using a mixture of cold calling and hands up. There is some advocacy for only ever using a cold-calling approach to questioning in classrooms, but as Sarah’s lesson demonstrated, if used judiciously, sometimes allowing students to offer an answer can go a long way in creating a very engaged class and enabling some excellent peer modelling. In this particular lesson, Sarah was directing targeted questions about the calculations on the board and then offering direct verbal feedback to students’ responses. Sarah also showed confidence in telling a student when they had made a mistake and then immediately offering the correction. As research evidence indicates, this task-based feedback can have a powerfully positive effect on learning and students’ confidence in their work towards a specified goal.

In the English corridor, Kelly Heane’s year 8 class were busy with some creative writing. Kelly had used a metacognitive strategy by deconstructing a creative paragraph that she had written herself. As Kelly read through the model with her class she shared the decision making process that she went through a writer, for example using past and present participles as a way of varying the start of her sentences. Consequently, Kelly’s students were able to gain knowledge of how a writer thinks and then put this knowledge to use themselves. To further support her students, Kelly used her decisions to create a criteria. The students therefore had a two scaffolds to use, which remained on the board, to support their work. The use of scaffolds that are been built up (and removed) gradually means that learners can devote their cognitive space to the task at hand. This was clearly the case in Kelly’s lesson where every student was busily engaged with their work.

Up in history, Joanna Collins was expertly explaining the tricky concept of proportional representation to her year 9 class. Joanna had recognised that in order to be able to respond to a question about the disadvantages and benefits of this system in Germany, the students would need a rich knowledge of what the phrase itself represents. To this purpose, Joanna dedicated some well-spent minutes to talking through how proportional representation would work in the UK, and the problems this may cause. Joanna was very careful to use ideas that her students already understood, for example deciding on bin collection days, in order to scaffold their understanding of this new conceptual vocabulary. Building up this knowledge through direct instruction meant that the students could then progress to the more demanding task of applying the idea to a different context and tackling it in a more evaluative vein.

Over in geography, Rob Suckling was leading his class through their first task of the year: creating their benchmark of brilliance. Using a similar approach to Kelly in English, Rob used a model paragraph (this time one produced by a former year 9 student) and with the class explored why this was a first-class piece of work. From this deconstruction, Rob identified the component parts that would combine to produce a high-quality piece of geographical writing, including the us of connectives and key vocabulary, and formulated the criteria. The students then used this criteria to scaffold their own writing. Rob will check this and feedback to the students next lesson, being sure to address any misconceptions. They will then redraft until they have an example of their best work ready to use as the benchmark for all future pieces.

Similarly, in design and technology Ray Burns was using the high standard set by previous students to exemplify expectations to his new year 8 class.  As is common practice for our art and D&T teachers, Ray was using the ever-changing corridor displays as a teaching aid.  He had taken the class out of the classroom and was using a display of photo frames to help students understand the finished product they were aiming towards.  By doing so he was ensuring the students were in doubt as to the high quality work that was expected of them.  Through questioning of the students Ray was drawing out the different styles they might choose themselves and the key considerations for their plans.  Ray also took the opportunity to define a key piece of tier 2 vocabulary – target market – while questioning the students, ensuring they understood the definition and the context.

In French students were applying some of the principles of metacognition with Emma Bilbrough.  I visited the lesson right at the start and found the students completing a task that required them to use inflections to ask questions.  In the previous lesson students had made a list of vocabulary key to asking questions.  The task required them to use a combination of clues from the board and the vocabulary from the previous lesson to create their own questions.  By doing so students were being required to monitor and evaluate their own learning.  Specifically they were required to check whether they had mastered the new vocabulary sufficiently to apply it in context.  The activity was very student-led with Emma live marking as she circulated.

Once again a walk around Durrington’s classrooms has uncovered some excellent practice and a start to the year that we can be proud of.  The aim this year will be to improve this further by continuing to develop our key foci and principles.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s