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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Metacognition: Making it Happen in the Classroom

According to the EEF Toolkit, metacognition and self-regulation is one of the top two most effective teaching and learning strategies (the other being feedback), and can increase students’ progress by as much as eight months. The EEF succinctly explains that metacognition involves ‘teaching pupils specific strategies to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own academic development. Self-regulation means managing one’s own motivation towards learning. The intention is often to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from during learning activities.’ However, metacognition and self-regulation is also a notoriously tricky area to unpick and use in the classroom.

Accordingly, in April 2018, the EEF will be publishing a guidance report on metacognition, and this will no doubt be of immense help for teachers in deciding how theory can be turned into practice. Alongside this, at Durrington High School, Ben Crockett (Lead Teacher of Geography) has been trialling and implementing metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies with students as part of his Masters study, and in doing so has developed some pearls of wisdom that are a useful guide for any foray into the metacognitive maze.

Ben’s focus in implementing metacognitive strategies in Geography is twofold. Firstly, Ben is investigating the enigmatic but undeniable gap between the mind of the novice and the mind of the expert. How can we encourage and scaffold students to think like subject experts? More explicitly, how can we help students to mirror the experts’ cognitive processes when solving problems and completing tasks? Secondly, Ben is taking a more contextual-approach by asking how effective is metacognition with regards to improving students’ outcomes. To what extent are Durrington students aware of their own metacognition, and how can this awareness be developed through direct instruction in the classroom?

To anchor his action research, Ben decided to focus his investigations on the metacognitive awareness of Year 9 students. This started with a survey conducted with the target group of students, in which students had to identify themselves from a scale starting ‘never’ ranging to ‘always’  against statements such as as I am aware of the strategies/steps I use to complete tasks; I pace myself to ensure I have enough time to complete as task; and I try to relate new things to what I already know. The outcomes showed that these students had very limited self-awareness of their own learning, i.e. what they know and what they do not know, coupled with generally poorly-developed self-regulatory skills, such as the ability to monitor and evaluate their learning as they complete tasks. Most notably, the survey results identified very clearly that many students did not believe they could mirror the thought processes of experts (such as their teachers), and, more troublingly, believed that this was an impossible state to achieve.

For his dissertation, Ben has used these results to pinpoint and enact changes in classroom practice. This incorporates looking at how teachers can use direct instruction techniques to develop metacognitive skills. For example, the use of live modelling is key to students realising how experts, aka teachers in this context, think through and produce responses to tasks and questions. It is important for students to hear and see the mental processes that experts work through, and this is achieved by teachers thinking aloud as they work and explicitly commenting on why they are choosing to use particular strategies at particular points, and likewise disregarding other available options.

Interestingly, a change that Ben is conscious of making over the course of his research is to veer away from presenting students with completed ‘perfect’ examples and instead spending a greater amount of lesson time constructing a response ‘live’ in front of students. By doing so, Ben is able to challenge the students’ notion that experts are a different breed by purposefully making mistakes, and crossing these out on a whiteboard rather than deleting them so that the error is still visible. This begins to tackle the widely-held misconception that teachers can create high-level responses simply because they know their subject so well. Although subject knowledge is vital, another major factor that enables experts to create high-level responses is their metacognitive awareness of the best way to go about responding from a range of possible strategies, and to monitor how this is working as they go along. Making and fixing ‘live’ mistakes is, therefore, a powerful tool in the teachers’ metacognitive tool box.

So far, the impact of explicit and direct teaching of metacognitive and self-regulatory skills has yielded some interesting results. For example, Ben has noticed that higher-attaining students tend to be more precise in their evaluative thinking. This cohort are better able to ascertain where they will have picked up marks in an assessment and where they will have lost marks, and therefore have a more accurate idea about what the outcome is likely to be. This will lead to much more targeted preparation and revision between assessments, and lead to better attainment overall. Other students who find this evaluative thinking more challenging require a greater degree of metacognitive scaffolding. This can be achieved through rephrasing the evaluation question to make students think differently about themselves as learners. For example, Ben suggests asking a student “why will you not get full marks on this test?” rather than “what mark do you expect to get?” The former question forces the student to consider their knowledge gaps (procedural and subject) and thus engage with metacognitive thinking, whereas the latter gives the opt-out of just picking a score at random in order to get the question answered. Enabling students with different starting points to engage equally with the metacognitive discourse is key to ensuring parity in the classroom.

Four Practical Ways to Begin Teaching Metacognitive Skills in Classrooms

  1. Use the language of metacognition wherever and whenever possible, for example have we evaluated…? and have we monitored…? Ben recommends using metacognition checklists alongside content checklists to aid this shift.
  2. Seek opportunities to include live modelling in your lesson. This enables teachers to make metacognition visible, as otherwise it remains a covert, otherworldly process contained in the mind of the expert.
  3. Use tracing paper over exam questions to annotate thoughts and ideas that experts consider before attempting to answer the question. This will include consideration of what knowledge to include in the response, and what strategies to use to convey this knowledge.
  4. Metacognition must be seen by students to be as essential as subject knowledge for successful learning. This will entail careful curriculum planning whereby capacity for direct metacognitive instruction is created and embedded over time.

Fran Haynes



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A ‘Mastery-light’ Subject Curriculum Model


By Andy Tharby

Before we consider the shape and dimensions of a subject curriculum, we should first consider its purpose. In my opinion, a curriculum should always be challenging in its depth and breadth so that:

  • students acquire powerful knowledge that takes them beyond their experience;
  • students are encouraged to enjoy and take an interest in the subject;
  • students are well-prepared for terminal exams at the end of five years of study;
  • students build their academic background knowledge and cultural capital by acquiring Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary;
  • students acquire the foundations needed in each subject for further study beyond GCSE should they wish.

However, these lofty aims will not be realised unless the subject curriculum is designed  to support the incremental accrual of knowledge. Cognitive science research points us to two useful findings: first that ‘higher-order’ thinking skills cannot exist without factual knowledge, and second that we learn in the context of what we already know. According to this theory, an effective subject curriculum would be best shaped like a pyramid – with a base of foundational knowledge that rises upwards towards more detailed and refined knowledge and skill. The trick, of course, lies in getting this sequence right.

Unfortunately, this idealistic model of the progression of learning does not always sit comfortably with the internal ‘shape’ of each subject. Socio-linguist Basil Bernstein (1999) theorised that academic disciplines should be thought of as hierarchical or horizontal knowledge structures.  Hierarchical subjects, such as the sciences, ‘create very general propositions and theories, which integrate knowledge at lower levels…’ (p.160) New knowledge either refutes or is incorporated into existing theory.

Other subjects have a horizontal structure. These subjects contain a series of ‘specialised languages with specialised modes of interrogation and criteria for the construction and circulation of texts’ (p,160). English literature, the social sciences and philosophy could be said to be horizontal subjects that divide into schools of criticism, modes of enquiry and discrete categories. Other horizontal subjects, like mathematics, have separate and discrete modes of enquiry for separate problems – think algebra, trigonometry and geometry.


In practice, most school subjects contain a mixture of the vertical and the horizontal. However, curriculum planning in some subjects – such as English literature and history – is far from easy. This is because the hierarchical nature of human knowledge accumulation does not fully complement the horizontal nature of knowledge organisation within the subject. The problem is intensified by the fact that the shape of the subject curriculum is often warped by external and internal assessment requirements these days.

Most subject curricular at Key Stage 3 fall into one of the following categories:

Archipelago curriculum. Here the curriculum is taught in atomised topics that are vaguely linked by a shared discourse or a generic set of ‘skills’ – i.e. in Term 1 we cover topic x, in Term 2 we cover topic y, in Term 3 we cover topic z, etc.

Spiral curriculum. Here children return to topics at intervals and with increasing levels of difficulty. For example:

Year 7 – topic x (easy), topic y (easy), topic z (easy), etc.

Year 8 – topic x (moderate), topic y (moderate), topic z (moderate), etc.

Year 9 – topic x (hard), topic y (hard), topic z (hard), etc.

Mastery curriculum. Here children do not move on to the next topic until they have mastered the first. As student learning dictates the pace rather than the curriculum plan, things tend to move on a little more slowly. A mastery curriculum centres on essential concepts and foundational knowledge. It aims to integrate, rather than isolate, the previous term’s work. For example:

Term 1: topic x

Term 2: topic x and topic y

Term 3: topic x and topic y and topic z, etc

Of course, these examples are hideously simplified. Most subject curriculums contain a mixture of the three approaches. My fear is that majority of subjects – especially at Key Stage 3 – design the curriculum like the archipelago model (a term I have invented). As there is little expectation that children retain what they have learnt beyond an end-of-term assessment, the subject becomes more like a pleasurable holiday cruise around the islands than a learning experience. The spiral curriculum is a better design because it seeks to deepen and extend knowledge over time. However, it can lead to superficiality and repetition. There is often no time for mastery and depth in the first iteration and the time gap between iterations can cause students to forget what they covered in the previous iterations. Once again, students arrive at Year 10 having learnt very little.

Switching to the mastery model is enticing but problematic. First, it would require that a department rip up its curriculum and start again – a huge ask in a time of changing GCSE assessment. Second, a successful curriculum plan would require a huge amount of resourcing, subject expertise and training – again a capacity issue. Third, for reasons suggested above, it is not clear that a mastery model fits comfortably with every subject.

My solution, therefore, is a ‘mastery light’ approach. In short, this is an archipelago or spiral model which includes elements of built-in mastery. The first move is for subject teachers to differentiate between portable knowledge and non-portable knowledge. Put simply, portable knowledge is content that can be carried forward and used to inform and underpin new learning. You might consider it as the essential factual, conceptual and procedural knowledge needed to master the curriculum. Non-portable knowledge, on the other hand, is context-specific; it stays in one place. Take, for instance, a Key Stage 3 English class studying Of Mice and Men. Portable knowledge might include ideas about foreshadowing, tragic structure, the theme of power or strategies for writing a critical essay. Non-portable knowledge might be the names of the characters, the events in Chapter 3 or the meaning of the word ‘bindlestiff’. This is not to say that students should not be encouraged to learn and retain non-portable knowledge; just that it is not essential for subject mastery.

Once essential portable knowledge has been identified, the curriculum should allow for a range of strategies that encourage the long-term retention of this knowledge. These might include:

  • Regular retrieval practice – e.g. memory platforms.
  • Cumulative assessment – use termly and yearly tests to cover all portable knowledge covered in the curriculum to this point.
  • Lagged homework – use homework to practise previously-covered portable knowledge.
  • Knowledge organisers to make clear the progression of portable knowledge.
  • Vocabulary lists and tests.

The above strategies are simple and evidence-informed. However, they can only really be put to use when a subject has decided on the portable knowledge it will teach and which order it will be taught in. This, I believe, is the way to achieve a mastery curriculum without tearing everything to shreds and starting all over again.

Further reading:

Bernstein, Basil (1999) Vertical and Horizontal Discourse: An essay, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20:2, 157-173

Christodoulou, Daisy (2017). Making Good Progress: The Future of Assessment for Learning (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning (Austin, TX: Deans for Impact). Available at:

Willingham, Daniel T. (2009). Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass).

Young, Michael and David Lambert (2014). Knowledge and the Future School: Curriculum and Social Justice (London: Bloomsbury Academic).

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Bright Spots – Memory

Over the past few days I have been visiting lessons attempting to uncover good practice in the field of memory creation and retention.  At Durrington we have made the use of memory strategies gleaned from cognitive science one of our three teaching and learning priorities for this academic year.  This has involved devoting substantial INSET time at the start of the year to helping staff understand the strategies (Andy Tharby recently wrote an excellent blog that you find here, debunking many of the myths around memory), and then more recently having subject areas feedback on how they are implementing the strategies.  Below are some of the bright spots I found on my travels.


Retrieval practice

Science teacher Josh Beckwith had started his lesson with a series of retrieval practice questions and was at the stage of feeding back the answers to his students.  The questions began as closed questions and then became more open as students moved through the quiz.  In line with best practice students were not looking back in their books for the answers and completing the quiz purely from memory on pieces of paper handed out at the start.  The feedback from Josh was immediate, ensuring misconceptions from wrong answers were not embedded.  He also deepened understanding through some elaboration questions and explanation.

Beth Clarke was also starting a lesson with some retrieval practice.  This time it was being done through verbal questioning.  She was asking the students about the Medieval punishments they had studied in the previous lesson.  She then developed their answers through elaboration questions.  This was partly done out of necessity as it was a class she shared with another teacher and she wanted to judge their knowledge and understanding in order to inform the content of her lesson.  More generally, the history department have recently been discussing how to incorporate knowledge from previous key stage three lessons into their lessons.


In music, NQT Cyrus Dean was using mnemonics to help students remember the notes of the treble clef.  Using one of the classic aide memoirs of the music teacher, he was converting the seemingly abstract and unrelated sequences of notes into something more memorable.  These were Every Good Boy Deserves Food and FACE.  This is a method of supporting memory creation that has been used for years in schools, often we teach ideas and concepts that are abstract, and need to find techniques like mnemonics to make them memorable.  This both helps students remember the detail but also helps them understand the concept by connecting it to something tangible.

Tethering to existing knowledge

Another technique to aid the creation and retention of memory is to tether new knowledge to existing knowledge.  The example here would be when first describing a Pomelo fruit to someone it would be better to say: “It is like a large grapefruit but with green skin and pink flesh”, rather than:  “It is 30cm in circumference, green and weighs about 100 grams.”


Head of modern foreign languages Pam Graham demonstrated this strategy while teaching year 8 students how to use the verb “porter” in French.  Languages in particular have to tether new knowledge to what students already know as new languages can seem so far removed from students pre-existing knowledge.  Pam achieved this by explaining in English how the equivalent verb would work and further explained how this would be received and why it would be used in that way.  This gave context to her subsequent explanation of the French and allowed students to understand why the verb was used in a particular manner.

In art Ray Burns was also connecting new knowledge to pre-existing knowledge.  He was modelling how to replicate a picture by a particular artist.  As he was explaining the different techniques that the students would need to use in order to create a similar picture, he explained them in terms of what they had done previously.  By breaking down what was a complicated picture into its composite parts in this way, and tethering each part to something the students already understood, the task became less intimidating and allowed the students to see how they could be successful.

Worked examples

English teacher Kelly Heane demonstrated this technique when teaching year 9 students different techniques to use for creative writing.  She had a series of different methods to communicate including zoom in/zoom out and flash forward.  Each was a fairly abstract concept in isolation so Kelly had a worked example lined-up to explain each one.  Kelly had pre-written a version of each technique and shared it with the class, unpicking it as she went.  This techniques works by taking the place of the students’ working memory as they attempt to remember all the different elements needed to make the finished product successful.  Creative writing is difficult and contains many different facets, by having a worked example to refer to students do not have to remember so many different facets at the same time and therefore can be more successful as they attempt to create their own versions.

Worked examples are particularly successful in maths and this was shown by teacher John Mulhern.  He was teaching students about how they could judge whether something was fair.  Fair is a tricky tier 2 word and means something very different in maths to most other contexts in which students will encounter it.  To mitigate that John had produced several worked examples to demonstrate the practical application of the concept.  Only after two of these examples did students attempt their own versions.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

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Mobilising the evidence – Part 2

On our January INSET day, five teachers presented to the rest of the teaching staff, about how they had taken the research evidence that had been presented to them at previous INSET days and other CPD activities and mobilised it in their classrooms.  These presentations were themed around our whole school evidence-informed teaching and learning foci:

You can read more about this here.

We did the same at our INSET day today.  Our teaching and learning focus hasn’t changed and won’t – gone are the days of flitting from one topic to another.  Four teachers shared approaches they had been trialling in their classrooms, summarised below.

Effective Revision – James Crane (PE)

James talked about how the PE department have been focusing on making their revision sessions more effective.  They do this by:

  • Providing opportunities for students to practice retrieving the knowledge that they need during the revision session, often by using mind-maps.
  • Once they have done this, deepening their understanding of the topic through questioning them on their mind maps – the idea of elaborative-interrogation.
  • using this knowledge to then answer specific exams questions – supporting metacognition by discussing why they have answered the question in that way and then annotating their answer accordingly.

This process is illustrated in the example above.  The student has recalled the knowledge from memory and produced a mind-map, which has been further developed underneath, following questioning and discussion.  This has then been used to frame a response to a related exam question, which has then been annotated, again following a discussion, with points that they would include to improve it further.

Modelling writing & writing practice – Kelly Heane (English)

Kelly shared the problem she (and many other English teachers were trying to solve:

  • English Language C1/section B: students have to write 450-600 words in 45 minutes (one draft only/unedited).
  • Students do not read enough good models of creative writing/fiction.
  • Students are doing many ‘mocks’ but not improving in areas like ‘having good ideas’ / ‘responding to the chosen title’.
  • Students are given clear DIRT targets and great feedback but do not practice them enough to make a habit of something like controlled sentences/correct punctuation/ambitious vocabulary/methods

In order to address this, Kelly wanted to implement a strategy that would meet the following objectives:

  • To tether them to a ‘good start’ and act as a springboard for their own writing.
  • To model the writers’ methods, sentence structures, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary expected at a certain ‘level’ (GCSE grade 5+).
  • To not show models of heavily edited/perfect (unattainable) pieces of writing.
  • To structure each hour we spend on writing and cover key areas of the writing Knowledge Organiser.

In order to achieve this, Kelly was inspired by Sam Atkin’s presentation from the last INSET day. Sam talked about using a piece of stimulus writing that he would use to get students to think about and then produce their own piece of writing.  Kelly adopted a similar approach.

Kelly selected a piece of writing from our KS3 Anthology and shared this with the class.  They discussed and annotated as a class, what was good about the piece of writing and was worth doing themselves and where the errors were – and how they would correct them.  They were given some options about what they could do:

  • Continue this piece of writing (flashback/flashforward)
  • Emulate the style of the piece using a different character.
  • Plan and start their own piece with the same title.

Students then did this individually, having had it modelled to them by Kelly.  here’s an example:

Since adopting this approach, Kelly has noticed the following:

  • Prior tasks essential (characters, vocabulary and sentence work)
  • Students use the right hand side as a tool kit– would work well in KS3 too
  • Writing on right hand side is high quality and clearly emulates some of the strengths from the model.
  • The process fits into 1 lesson and the second lesson can be used to extend/continue the piece to reach the word count (if necessary)
  • Students developed good habits quickly – by the second time, some were ahead of me in terms of spotting/annotation and constructing their page
  • Students liked the use of ‘student friendly’ models, especially the one which had mistakes/minor plot holes
  • Knowing what ‘elaborate’ means, does not always mean knowing how to do it effectively. Modelling and practice were crucial.

Next steps?

  • How to slowly withdraw the model to leave students with just the title- reflective of the actual exam task
  • To create a clear sequence of lessons for a writing unit (incorporating this activity as well as the prior/foundation work mentioned)
  • To make sure students have practiced enough in-class (as well as practicing peer and self assessment) so that they will be able to achieve something similar at home for revision.

Retrieval Practice – Becky Owen (Science)

Becky Owen talked about the main challenge that is facing science teachers up and down the country at the moment – how do we get students to remember the huge amount of content (including over 20 physics equations) over the course of two years, in the new specification?

The answer?  Strategically planning and implementing opportunities for retrieval practice seems to be a pretty good bet!  Becky has done this through providing opportunities for retrieval at the start of all lessons, with a focus on:

  • Quick, low stakes quizzes at the start of all lessons.
  • These include questions from previous topics, subjects (in terms of biology, chemistry and physics) and years.
  • Specifically learning physics equations.
  • Maintaining this routine every lesson.

The two examples above illustrate this approach.  There are also some more subtle approaches within this.  For example, in the first slide even though Becky is teaching physics, the second question goes back to biology, which is indicated by the question being in green.  This reassures students that this is a question from another topic that was covered a while ago, so is going to present a challenge to students – and that this is OK.

With some classes who are finding science a challenge, Becky uses multiple choice questions.  She has found that this is less threatening for some students and allows them to experience success more readily – which in turn has a positive impact on their motivation:

Becky has also introduced a new approach that she gleaned from Kate Jones on twitter – retrieval grids:

This grid contains different layers of questions:

  • Green – on the current topic
  • Yellow – from last term
  • Red – from the start of the year

Students then score a different number of marks (that aren’t recorded) based on their responses to different questions.  This element of competition seems to be attractive for some classes, although Becky doesn’t use this all the time because firstly, it is more labour intensive than just asking questions and secondly it deviates a bit from the idea of a low stakes quiz.  What it is useful for though is making you as a teacher think about a good range of questions.

What has Becky noticed since adopting this approach?

  • Regular low stakes quizzes have shown students how they are  progressing, as they know themselves how much they can remember from previous topics.
  • Having a routine at the start of al lessons has improved engagement and focus from less motivated students.
  • Students are able to recall key content quizzed on much more quickly.

Next steps?  Ensuring that questions that are regularly answered incorrectly are returned to at different points in the year.

Tier 3 terminology in KS3 – Louise Wallis-Tayler (PE)

The final presentation was from Louise in PE.  The PE department want their students to be using tier 3 vocabulary fluently, to support better written responses to questions.  A common approach to this is by implementing a rushed intervention in Y11, involving lots of key-word lists, however, by this time it is probably too late.  If we want students to be fluent with this vocabulary, we need to be embedding it in KS3.  This is the approach that the PE department have adopted.

Having identified the tier 3 vocabulary they want students to be using, they ensure that they use this in their teaching.  One strategy they have employed is to subtly alter the way PE staff question students at KS3.  Instead of asking students questions such as ‘what is an axis?’, Louise encouraged teachers to incorporate the vocabulary into the discussion.  For example in a lesson a teacher might ask ‘what axis is the dancer rotating around in this movement’? This is important for two reasons: a) It puts the vocabulary in context, which is what creates meaning and therefore understanding, and b) it does not add to the workload of the teacher but rather enhances what they would have been doing anyway.  You can read more about this here.

PE have also introduced homework in KS3 that support the retrieval of this vocabulary:

Students have to learn the key words and definitions, and then be quizzed on their meaning.

As a result of these approaches  the PE teachers have found that when students get to KS4, they find recalling this core knowledge much easier and are using this tier 3 vocabulary more fluently.

Posted by Shaun Allison

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