Guest Blog from Jack Tavassoly-Marsh, Senior Assistant Headteacher at Farnham Heath End School.

Guest Blog from Jack Tavassoly-Marsh, Senior Assistant Headteacher at Farnham Heath End School.

As a Research School, we are very keen to work with colleagues from other schools and share ideas about effective teaching and learning. Last term, we had the pleasure of welcoming Jack and a team of Heads of Departments from Farnham Heath School to Durrington. The aim of the visit was to discuss our subject-based CPD programme (SPDs), as this is an area that Jack is looking to develop at his own school.

At Farnham Heath End School our aim is to become more research aware and evidence-informed. Historically, we have ran CPD sessions that relate to the needs of our staff and the school, and most of these sessions were in the main hall. It wasn’t until a meeting with Chris Moyse that we realised that we were actually offering occasional professional development and not continuing professional development for our staff.

Earlier this academic year, we went to a route-path CPD system that focused on specific areas of pedagogy across the academic year, and staff were provided with a choice of which route to follow. Feedback from staff was more positive, but certainly not glowing, and there was a sense that whilst the sessions were planned, delivered and evaluated, the impact that they were having was still rather minimal and certainly not matching the effort and time that was going into planning and delivery.

Therefore, we decided to look further afield at different strategies to allow staff to put their own subject knowledge and subject pedagogy at the centre of their continuing professional development. This led us to Durrington Research School and their use of Subject Planning and Development Sessions (SPDS). We were specifically intrigued by the focus on the subject-led model for CPD and allowing staff time in their subject teams to actively plan to make learning great over the next two weeks (each SPDS is done fortnightly)

At Farnham Heath End School, we decided to stop the route-path CPD model mid-year and move towards the SPDS model to allow department teams time to plan for improving their subject knowledge and pedagogy. Using the guidance questions from DHS, our subject leaders ploughed into leading the first two SPDS. Several early attempts failed, with subject leaders reporting that the outcome of the session wasn’t what they were looking for, with too much discussion taking place and not enough concrete subject development. However, like with effective classroom practice, the issue was a lack of modelling. We hadn’t modelled what an effective SPDS looks like and, therefore, we felt it hugely important that we needed to see a SPDS in the flesh.

Hence I decided, along with six subject leaders, that we needed to see the SPDS in action at Durrington Research School. Fran Haynes, part of the Research School, offered for us to come down and see a SPDS as well as providing a one-hour session for us on the rationale behind the SPDS at Durrington Research School, discussing the potential pitfalls and how the SPDS link into the line management structure of the school. A few questions were answered immediately, such as:

  • How do you plan for years 7 – 11 in one hour?
  • How the SPDS are best led?
  • How do they link in to the school’s development plan and subject aims?

Firstly, at Farnham Heath End School, we are in the very early stages of moving towards SPDS as a CPD model, and at the start our subject leaders were trying to cover all years in one hour. This was impossible, and it was good to hear that at DHS they focus on one year group, or a particular topic that is being taught over the next two weeks. This immediately made more sense, and as long as there was a strategy behind which year group to focus on and which topic/s to cover our subject leaders had a greater idea from where to start.

Secondly, it is clear that the SPDS are not always led by one person, but the areas that focus on subject knowledge tend to be led by one person who is the expert in that area/topic. Lastly, it was also clear that agendas are sent out prior to the meetings and these were decided on through the line management structure of the department, allowing for a clear strategy for the SPDS for each department area.

It was then the moment of truth, we were all off to watch a SPDS in action. Three of us headed to PE and the other four headed off to science. In the PE SPDS, we listened to one of the teachers going through the topic of ‘levers’, with a focus on how the department will teach this to the students. A focus was on the examples being used for each lever, the acronyms being used to remember them and what the specification focuses on in terms of content. The rationale for this section of the SPDS was clear. All PE students will be taught levers in the same way, with the same examples and the same acronyms. The expert was effectively teaching the department how to teach this topic, a new topic that has dropped down from the A-level specifications. The benefit would be consistency for all students. Whatever class they are in, they will get the same enacted curriculum as the desired curriculum. This demonstrated subject knowledge development and great planning for the team.

In the science session, it was split into chemistry and physics sessions, with staff then going through a recent mock exam. This was different, with the focus being on the difference between the new specification’s content and mark scheme, versus the legacy specification’s content and mark scheme. Teachers were asked to complete answers to the exam questions. The leader of the session then went through the mark scheme and the staff were able to mark their own answers, focusing on whether they had met the criteria on the new mark scheme for the new specification. Again, there was a focus on consistency across the department, putting subject knowledge first, with all the department aware of what is and isn’t required from the new exams.

The Farnham Heath End School subject leaders were enthused, motivated and could now see how the SPDS will start to work here. As mentioned, we are in the early stages, with a full launch from September 2018. However, we have already seen the geography department focus on how they will provide knowledge retrieval practice in a consistent manner at the start of lessons from years 7-11. The maths department have focused on specific ways that they will teacher certain concepts, so that all staff are teaching with the same method. We started off trying to plan for the next two weeks for each year group, and now have a much clearer notion of what SPDS will actually look like in practice.

Our next steps are to evaluate how the SPDS run at Farnham Heath End School through the summer term, with regular discussions with the subject leader team to share effective practice and the successes and pitfalls through the process. The rationale is now even clearer, providing teachers will time to put their own subject knowledge and subject pedagogy at the centre of their CPD, with a focus on ensuring that the enacted curriculum for all students is the same as the desired curriculum. A challenge, but one that we are very much up for!

The greater challenge is to ensure that the content being covered and the subject pedagogy being discussed is evidence-informed as well as the strategy behind it.

Fran Haynes

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Formative feedback in art

The eternal quest to find the perfect feedback balance is something teachers at all levels wrestle with both at a strategic and day-to-day level.  In this week’s teaching forum head of art and technology Gail Christie shares an insight into how teachers use formative feedback in her department.

Art feedback 1

The research evidence behind the power of feedback, and particularly formative feedback, is extremely strong, and comes from several sources, be that John Hattie’s meta-analysis, the EEF toolkit, Daisy Christodoulou, or Dylan Wiliam.  However, the devil lies in the detail and the positive effects only relate to good feedback, in fact when it goes wrong the positive effects can quickly be reserved.  This problem is supported by a meta-analysis by Kluger and DeNisi which found that 38% of feedback studies included actually had negative effects.

When picking through the feedback minefield I always find it useful to keep this particular Dylan Wiliam quote in mind:

“The first fundamental of effective classroom feedback is that feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor.

Gail’s approach to formative feedback certainly abides to this principle.  The art and technology departments create a reciprocal feedback loop with their students through which precise feedback from the teacher allows students to make specific improvements to develop their work, and deepen their knowledge, skill and understanding.

The department use a variety of feedback mediums, which include:

  • Post-its stuck into sketch books giving formative comments (several examples included in this blog).
  • Back-of-sketchbook checklists in which a few formative targets are included for self-regulation (also included below).
  • Constant verbal feedback during lessons.
  • Whole class feedback using worked examples.
  • Peer verbal feedback.

Art feedback 3

All of these strategies have the potential to go wrong, so the way Gail’s team ensures effectiveness is through explicit teaching of the strategies and modelling of the processes.  For example, in most lessons an excellent example will be shared with the class.  Students will gather round and critique the work.  The teacher will lead the students through this initially but as time goes on the students will take a greater and greater role in the feedback being given.  This then allows them to give more useful and accurate feedback when working with their peers.

Art feedback 2

Ultimately, the success of the formative feedback relies on a strong culture, like so much of what works in the department.  The processes are used from year 7 so that by the time students are in GCSE classes they are familiar with the expectations and procedures.  Similarly, the comments in the sketchbooks work due to the pride and care students take with these books, and with the constant additions and revisions they make to them.

Art feedback 4

The message here then is a fairly simple one.  If formative feedback is to have the positive effect we all know it can we need to ensure a few key principles exemplified by the art and technology department:

  • Make it precise.
  • Use a variety of different mediums to transmit it.
  • Explicitly teach how to provide and use it.
  • Ensure students value and use it.

Simple!

Posted by Chris Runeckles

Posted in General Teaching, Teaching Forums | 1 Comment

Improving our subject knowledge

In the Sutton Trust research review (2014) ‘What makes great teaching?’ (extract above) the subject content knowledge of a teacher is at the top of the six components of great teaching.

‘Teachers cannot help children learn things they themselves do not understand’

Deborah Ball, 1991

Despite the strong evidence base that sits behind this statement, very few teachers have access to CPD that keeps their subject knowledge up to date.  Here at Durrington, we have been addressing this to an extent with our fortnightly ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’ (SPDS).  During these sessions subject teams meet to discuss what they are teaching over the next fortnight and how to teach it well – more on this here.  Whilst this inevitably includes some input on subject knowledge, it is not quite the same as explicit subject knowledge development for teachers.

Deputy Leader of Geography, Sam Atkins, has been looking to address this.  Once a half term, geography teachers will be issued with a geographical article that links to what students will be taught in the next half term.  So, for example, in the autumn term, Y7 will study a unit of work called ‘Impossible Places’ which examines how humans inhabit inhospitable habitats.  To support this, this week Sam has shared this article from the New York Times – ‘China’s Last cave Dwellers Fight to Keep  Their Underground Homes’.

The geography team will then read this article and at the next SPDS discuss points such as:

  • What was the key new learning from this article?
  • How does this link to and enhance the knowledge that students have?
  • How can it be explained effectively to students?
  • What are the challenging aspects of the article?
  • What misconceptions could there be?

To an extent, this is a formalisation of what the department have been doing in recent years anyway. They are a team of passionate geographers, who often email each other with interesting articles, news clips and videos – so the culture within the team was right for this kind of approach.  However, there was no guarantee that this would go any further than the email inbox.  By structuring it in this way, there is a real likelihood that through discussion and collaborative planning, it will enhance the subject knowledge of the geography team.  In terms of making sure this is a manageable undertaking, there is a schedule for who is responsible for finding a piece of ‘required reading’ for each key stage 3 unit of work, each half term.

So, what does Sam hope will be the benefits of this approach?

  • An enhanced and up to date subject knowledge across the team of geography teachers.
  • Expands your subject hinterland as a teacher, so that you can respond and adapt flexibly to classroom questions and discussions.
  • Maintains an academic interest in your subject and so re-professionalises teachers.
  • Sharpens your appetite to find out more about your subject.
  • Models a love of your subject to students.
  • Contextualises the geographical knowledge of students, using contemporary examples.
  • Facilitate better explanation as many of the articles lend themselves to storytelling.

Posted by Shaun Allison

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Making tutor time count

Tutor time is a feature of most secondary schools, yet despite the amount of time students typically spend with their tutor every week (95 minutes at our school) it is not always used effectively. At busy times of the school year, tutor time too often gets pushed to the bottom of the agenda by teachers and school leaders whose priorities lie elsewhere.

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This week’s blog, therefore, centres on the work of Laura Freeman, an NQT at our school whose exemplary work with her Year 7 tutor group has helped them to make a smooth transition to life at secondary school. Here is Laura’s recipe for success …

Teach tutor time as if it is a lesson. Laura takes tutor time as seriously as an ordinary lesson. She plans the sessions carefully and uses them as an opportunity to improve her students’ knowledge and understanding. At Durrington, all tutor groups watch and discuss a series of weekly news videos which cover complicated and sensitive news items – for instance, the recent talks between North Korea and South Korea, and the Parkland High School shootings in Florida. Laura uses her skill as a teacher to break these topics down and field questions from the class. When she does not know an answer, she helps the class develop strategies for finding out.

She also makes it her mission to use these regular news discussions as an opportunity to get to know her students individually. The question ‘How do we feel about this?’ has proved especially powerful when working with her group.

Make links between lessons and tutor time. In her work as a citizenship and social and moral education teacher, Laura makes deliberate references to content and activities that she knows her classes have covered in tutor time. This way, she helps students to form connections across the curriculum. For instance, in one form time activity on ‘dual-coding’ Year 7s were shown how to organise their knowledge into visual-spatial organisers. In later lessons, Laura took the time to show her classes how they could transfer this new study skill into their lessons with her.

She also feels that referring to tutor time activities in lessons helps to improve her status as a new teacher at the school which, in turn, supports behaviour and engagement. The fact that she knows what’s happening in their tutor time means that children see her as a credible member of staff.

Support organisation skills. One of the hardest aspects of joining secondary school is keeping on top of homework. Laura helps her form to embed excellent homework habits in a number of ways: by giving them a daily opportunity to remind each other when the homework is due; by discussing the content of homework tasks; and by promoting pro-social skills – e.g. prompting students to go and see teachers to apologise if they have not completed their homework.

Create competitions. Laura constantly supports academic learning through vocabulary, note-making and word competitions. She makes it fun – but keeps it focussed on school.

Devise seating plans with care. Laura is strict with her tutor time seating plan. She uses it not only to foster exemplary behaviour, but also to ensure that the pairings are designed to encourage and support quieter and less confident students in the group.

In all, Laura’s approach to being a form tutor hinges on three things: knowing the students individually; making links between tutor time and the wider academic curriculum; and combining care with high challenge.

By Andy Tharby

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Challenging Year 7 Disaffection in Maths

Recently, we have been talking to maths teacher Frankie Pimentel about her MA work based in KS3 maths, and in particular the changes in students’ attitudes about their maths learning as they move from KS2 to KS3. Frankie’s findings so far are, of course, pertinent for the maths classroom but also step into the broader realm of teaching and learning at KS3 as a whole.

Frankie’s early interest in this area was prompted by her realisation that there was growing disaffection with maths among her Year 7 cohort. As Frankie explained, her Year 7 classes just did not seem to enjoy their lessons. This dissatisfaction was made even more stark for Frankie after spending some time in primary schools and witnessing the pleasure with which the KS2 students engaged with their maths learning at this level. To dig a bit deeper into this contrast, Frankie asked her Year 7 students to complete a questionnaire about their maths lessons, the aim of which was to identify the reasons why the students did not transfer their enjoyment of maths from primary school to secondary school, and what maths teachers can do to change this negative trajectory.

The results of the questionnaire were revealing. Firstly, it was clear that students felt unmotivated in maths at KS3, and that they recognised this as a change in attitude from their primary school experience. Furthermore, the questionnaire went some way in uncovering the causes of the decline. Contrary to the popular myth that maths is a tricky subject for many students and thus they disengage because of the difficulty, it became apparent that the students were repeating material they had already learnt and embedded at KS2 and so in fact were not being challenged enough. Frankie’s time spent in primary school corroborated this finding. After a thorough investigation of the KS2 curriculum, Frankie could see that by the time students got to her in Year 7 they already had in place some understanding of many of the more complex mathematical concepts, for example algebra, that she had assumed were brand new. This in turn raised Frankie’s awareness of the assumptions that are frequently made in KS3 classrooms regarding students’ starting points. Teachers often believe that KS3 students, in particular Year 7, have no or very limited knowledge of the KS3 curriculum, when in fact they often have a very firm foundation from which they can  progress. Indeed, this misconception is not only found in the maths classroom, but spans across multiple subjects.

Accordingly, Frankie has changed her teaching practice. Expectations of what students can achieve in Year 7 maths lessons are much higher, and Frankie and her team are more meticulous in identifying the students’ starting points in Year 7, and use their increased knowledge of the KS2 curriculum to inform this process. Additionally, the maths team are making use of the new mathematics specifications at GCSE to ensure less repetition of learning that is already embedded for students, thus meaning that they can move on to more complex material when appropriate. This greater depth of accuracy and awareness of previous learning means that the challenge is higher in all teaching groups, regardless of starting points.

Frankie’s next step in her MA studies will include a second questionnaire for Year 7 students to help explore how these curriculum changes have affected their attitude towards maths lessons. So far, the anecdotal  impact of these changes include the observation that more students are willing to have a go at tackling questions and are less fearful of making mistakes. Perhaps more importantly, Frankie has noticed that the students’ motivation has increased as they encounter genuine success with their learning.

Questions and Practical Suggestions:

  1. Look Backwards and Forwards: Many teachers refer to the curriculum in higher  key stages to help ensure lessons are challenging, but it is just as crucial to purposefully increase your knowledge of the key stage curriculum below. For example, if you teach KS3 then develop your knowledge of the curriculum demands made on students at KS2 and KS4. This will enable you to have a much more precise understanding of where your students have come from, and how to develop the knowledge they have already acquired.
  2. Make Students Aware of What You Know: Mention to the classes what you know about the curriculum from the lower key stage. Get students to recall this knowledge and make explicit links in your explanations of new content.
  3. Show Students Where They Are Going: Frankie recommends showing classes, including year 7, a GCSE level question (or question from the next key stage) at the beginning of the lesson so that students can see what they will be able to do at the end. This centralises the expectation of challenge as the heart of the lesson.

Fran Haynes

 

 

 

 

 

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Excellence Academy

As with several corners of education, how best to cater for higher ability students is currently the subject of substantial conjecture.  My position, as the member of staff with overall responsibility for this cohort at Durrington, is that the provision in the classroom is head and shoulders the most important factor in determining their success.

Furthermore, some out-of-class interventions for cohorts of students who may have previously been labelled “gifted and talented” have been widely criticised as ineffective, and at worst elitist.  Add to this the wider arguments over setting and streaming and the barely constrained spectre of the grammar school debate and it becomes one of the trickier areas for school leaders to negotiate.

ExAc

This week’s Teaching Forum shares an initiative we have been running at Durrington since September 2016 to provide something extra for our highest ability students.  The after-school programme is known as Excellence Academy and is run by English teacher Russ Shoebridge together with Geography teacher Hannah Townsend.  I caught up with Russ this week to talk about how it was going.

At Durrington our students are taught in predominantly mixed ability classes, a couple of subjects stream and others have one high ability set with the others mixed.  As mentioned the relative merits of streaming and setting have been widely debated.  The EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests that grouping higher ability students together has a positive effect but this is not the case for lower ability students.  While not all teachers agree with this analysis, we broadly reflect this approach in our ability groupings.

The original premise of Excellence Academy was that as our KS3 students spent the majority of their time being taught in mixed ability tutor groups, we wanted to find a method of bringing the highest ability together.  There were a few reasons for this:

  • We wanted to expose them to the same subjects they experienced in their timetable, but with an increased level of challenge.
  • We wanted to exploit the positive peer effect of the rich discussions that these students would have together when placed into a single group.
  • We wanted to develop a competitive debating culture at Durrington.

In order to achieve these aims the Excellence Academy started in September 2016.  Initially it was just for year 7 and has since expanded to year 8 and year 9.  The groups are relatively small with 16 regular attendees in year 8 and 20 in year 9 this year.  The students have been selected predominately on prior attainment, but we have also looked at current attainment and effort scores to help find the right students.  Further to this, we have prioritised disadvantaged students in any decisions about who to involve.

Russ has shaped a model where students meet fortnightly after school for an hour.  The sessions alternate between a subject specialist delivering a stand-alone lesson and learning and practising the skill of competitive debating.  One example of a subject specific lesson would be a history session with year 7 based on the statement “Can the USA dropping nuclear bombs on Japan ever be justified?”.  The rationale for the subject-led meetings are that it has to be a teacher from that subject delivering as they are the only people with the expertise to challenge the students.  This has required Russ to build a list of willing recruits from across departments to get involved.

The debating element has really taken off and has been a great addition to our extra-curricular provision.  This year the student debates have included:

  • Parent showcase evening where Excellence Academy students debated against each other.
  • Rotary Speaks competition.
  • PiXL Up for Debate competition.
  • Worthing Mayor’s Youth Debate.

Certainly the feedback from the students has been hugely positive about these events.  In fact, the students regularly write about their experiences on the Excellence Academy blog that you can find here.

A full evaluation of the impact of Excellence Academy has not been completed.  However, there was a correlation between the students who attended most regularly and those that made the greatest progress through the year when compared to their peers.  It must be said though that this is very much correlation rather than causation.

Russ feels that through the subject sessions and particularly the debating there have been a range of other benefits to the students involved.  He specifically highlighted:

  • Students being given a safe space to be unashamedly engaged with learning.  He particularly spoke of one male student who elsewhere in the school projected an image of lower engagement but when in Excellence Academy was completely changed.
  • Building students’ capacity to speak confidently in public.
  • Providing more introverted students with an opportunity to discuss their ideas with others.
  • Building a peer culture of critiquing ideas.

Excellence Academy does not claim to be the solution for high ability students, nor is it a fully evaluated intervention.  However, we are tentatively positive about the effect it is having and are keen to see where it takes us next.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

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Bright Spots: SPDS

One of our greatest successes at Durrington High School is our subject planning and development sessions (SPDS). These are fortnightly, subject-specific CPD sessions in which curriculum teams meet to develop subject and pedagogical knowledge and ideas. To ensure the most effective practice and use of SPDS time, the general structure of the sessions is:

  • Identify a focus for the SPDS based on upcoming curriculum content over the next two weeks; this will probably be narrowed down to one year group.
  • Before the SPDS, the teacher leading the session identifies the knowledge or skills that students are likely to find most challenging, or common misconceptions. The teacher then plans ideas for tackling these potential issues.
  • The SPDS is used to ensure that the everyone’s subject knowledge is up-to-date, accurate and comprehensive so that all students are effectively challenged in lessons.
  • In the SPDS, effective pedagogical strategies for the topic are modelled and shared.
  • All teachers leave the SPDS with a consistent approach to teaching the identified area.

Over the past month, we have joined with SPDS across the school and seem some excellent practice in place.

Maths

In maths, the team were looking at time, distance and speed graphs – an upcoming topic for Year 7. Natasha Bedford had modelled some ideas for teaching this topic on the board, and the team then looked through GCSE examination papers to explore the kind of questions students would be asked in Year 11. They then used this knowledge to decide how to teach the topic to Year 7, thus demonstrating how KS3 is planned so that it supports students steadily over time in order to get ready for the demands of KS4. This was a great example of a team using CPD time to allow teachers to explicitly model teaching to their colleagues.

Business/ICT/Computing

Upstairs, Chloe Wheal and her team were discussing the importance of feedback, which the EEF identifies as having the greatest impact on student outcomes alongside the explicit teaching of metacognitive skills. Chloe was sharing specific ideas about what effective feedback could look like in their subjects. Jack Griffiths then shared some ideas for live modelling and his plan for live marking five books every lesson, prioritising FSM students, so that after a fortnight all students have received some quality feedback based on a conversation with their teacher.

History

Over in history, teachers were grappling with how to approach a new evaluative question with Year 11 students from the 2017 GCSE specification.  The team were collaboratively building a writing structure for the students’ written response, and this entailed a great deal of healthy debate and questioning. This SPDS was a great example of how the sessions should be shaped to current needs of the students: In this case a tight focus on exam teaching and pedagogy took precedence over subject knowledge as fits the Year 11 lessons for the next two weeks.

Geography

In geography, Ben and his team were reviewing their KS3 schemes of work by reviewing what they need to teach in light of the new GCSE specification, and identifying where skills could be integrated in the earlier years. The team had prepared a basic knowledge organiser beforehand to use as a checklist for each unit, thereby enabling them to trim and prune their SoW accordingly. Although not a typical SPDS, the plan going forward is to use the fortnightly session to develop pedagogy and knowledge organisers for the KS3 lessons they have agreed and mapped out. It was rewarding to listen in on the criteria the team were using to decide what should or should not be taught at KS3 geography. For example, a unit on sweatshops was kept in place with agreement from everybody in the team because ‘it is an important part of being a citizen’. This is great example of designing a curriculum that takes students beyond their own experiences and knowledge – an important part of Durrington’s curriculum policy.

MFL

Upstairs in MFL, Pam Graham and her team were in full flow thinking about how to best support their Year 11 students with their upcoming speaking exams. The team mocked up a French speaking exam in order to replicate what students and teachers will experience  in coming weeks. David was the student for this exam, and was put through his paces by MFL Curriculum Lead Pam Graham. As David and Pam went through the challenging exam procedure, the rest of the team listened and observed carefully, and made diligent notes on how Pam (the teacher) performed. Particular attention was paid to her control of timing and requirement to avoid rephrasing questions, as this could lead to a detrimental effect on the student’s final mark. After the assessment had finished, Pam explained what she found difficult and the team contributed potential issues that they had identified. This then led to a discussion of how to avoid these pitfalls in the real examinations. This SPDS, in which the Pam’s actions were foregrounded rather than those of the students, was a perfect example of subject-focused CPD in which teachers’ skills and knowledge are developed through collaborative pedagogical thinking. Furthermore, all of the team left the session with confident, consistent and clear ideas about how to prepare their Year 11 students in their very next lesson.

You can read more about Durrington’s use of the SPDS CPD model here and here.

Fran Haynes

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