Planning for Challenge


At our INSET day yesterday, Andy Tharby talked about a framework teachers can use, when planning for high starting point students – content, thinking and shaping.  You can read more about it here (and I strongly suggest you do, it’s an excellent post).

To help teachers think about this when planning their lessons, or sequence of lessons, we have produced this simple planning sheet that they can use, should they want to:

p4c1p4c2This is not a lesson plan – it simply allows teachers to jot down some ideas in response to the prompt questions, with a view to shaping their ideas around these the three themes.  For some teachers this won’t be necessary, they will simply plan and teach along these lines intuitively – and that is fine.  For others though, particularly if they are teaching a challenging topic or very bright students for the first time, it might be a useful prompt. We think they might also be useful for teachers to share and discuss at ‘Subject Planning & Development Sessions’ – a great opportunity for teachers to talk about and share ideas around how they are approaching teaching these students.

A PDF copy can be downloaded here.

Posted by Shaun Allison






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Teaching Talk – Tom Pickford and Ryan DeGruchy on challenge in PE


In this episode of #TeachingTalk, Tom Pickford and Ryan De Gruchy talk about how they are developing challenge in PE.

TT6 Pickford and DeGruchy – Tailoring Challenge in PE from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

Produced by Jason Ramasami

Posted by Shaun Allison

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Content, thinking and shaping: three principles for working with brighter students

Reflecting English

untitled_artworkImage: @jasonramasami

In 2013, Ofsted published a pretty damning report about the provision available for more-able students at secondary schools in the UK. One statement from the report rings true to me:

Many students become used to performing at a lower level than they were capable of. Parents or carers and teachers accept this too readily.

The report argued that there are three main challenges for schools: to ensure that our most able students do as well academically as those of our main economic competitors; to ensure that students become aware, early on, of the academic opportunities available to them; and to ensure that all schools help students and families overcome cultural barriers to attending higher education.

I think it is fair to say that individual teachers cannot solve all of these problems alone; however, there is probably much we could be doing better. If I am honest, I…

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What do teachers do to help the clever ones get even better?

Little Mr. Smarty Pants

Little Mr. Smarty Pants

On Friday, Andy Tharby and I walked around the school.  We visited lessons of Y11 high starter students, who were doing particularly well in that subject.  We noted some of the things that these teachers were doing, that would probably contribute to the success of these students in their lessons.  Here are some of our observations:

  • They make students think deeply by asking them challenging questions about their responses to an initial question e.g. ‘What was the importance of…?  How did this influence…?  What did this lead to?’
  • There is an expectation that students will use subject specific complex (tier 3) language to articulate their ideas and when they do, this is explicitly commented upon by the teacher e.g. ‘Thanks John, I really liked the way you used the word….because…
  • They ask other students to develop the responses of their peers to questions e.g. ‘Have you got anything to add to that?  How could that response be expanded?’
  • Through the strong relationships they have built with students, they establish a culture in their classrooms, where students are expected to work really hard and focus fully on their work.  There is an atmosphere of academia and common purpose in these classrooms.  This is not a stifled atmosphere though.  Students feel comfortable and able to ask questions and offer responses, even if they are not sure – because that is the norm.
  • When looking at examination questions and how to answer them, the teacher meticulously discusses, questions and models how to get maximum marks – and why students often miss out on marks.  Nothing is left to chance.  This process is used to co-construct a model answer together that students then have in their books, to act as a reference point for future questions.  They are able to do this because they clearly have an in-depth knowledge of the specification and the expectations of the mark scheme – they have made it their business to know this.
  • When tackling exam questions in class, they will ensure the knowledge required to answer the question is secure first of all and if not – go back and re-teach it.
  • Scaffolding is used judiciously.  It is used to set the standard in terms of high quality and subject specific writing, but does not constrain the students.  For example, students were given a model beginning to an answer, that they discussed and stuck in their books.  They then had to finish the answer – in the same style and detail.
  • Live marking is used during the lessons to make students think about and develop their written responses.
  • Knowledge retention and recall is supported through regular low stakes quizzing at the start of the lesson.

This was only a snapshot of the experience of these high starting point students.  That said, it appears that when they are taught well,  teaching is framed around high aspiration, academic challenge, focused support and a relentless belief and expectation that the students can and should get better and better – even if they are already doing well.

This is possible because the teachers are passionate about their subject, know their subject inside out, use effective pedagogy in a way that suits their context and have strong relationships with their students.

Linked articles – Another six things – stretching the high starters.

Posted by Shaun Allison


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Resilience, patience and getting the support I need.

Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Dave Hall (Drama Teacher).


GRIT and resilience is a key focus at the moment with students and something which we are working on developing with our Year 7 students in this academic year. Shaun Allison has posted about how Durrington are using the work of Angela Duckworth to develop GRIT in our students. However, this is also an important trait which we need to nurture within us, as teachers.

In order to deliver effective teaching and learning, teachers need to develop resilience and patience.

  • ‘They are never going to learn.’
  • Will I ever get this class in working order?’
  • ‘Am I capable of getting them to behave?’

Some or any of these doubts or worries about your teaching will not only affect us, as teachers, but also negatively impact on the outcomes of our students. The ability to develop resilience, over the course of an academic year and during the course of a career, is an important ability. However, it is not an individual trait. Instead, resilience is developed through the interactions between people within schools. At different times of the year, and at different times of our careers, teachers will need to be more resilient than during previous times. A study by Patterson, Collins and Abbott (2004) has shown that resilient teachers have the following characteristics:

  • Have personal views that guide their decision making.
  • Place a high value on professional development.
  • Mentor others.
  • Take charge and solve problems.
  • Stay focussed on children and their learning.
  • Do what it takes to help children be successful.
  • Know when to get involved and when to let go.
  • Are not wedded to one best way of teaching and are interested in exploring new ideas.

Mentoring others is an important aspect as this allows resilient teachers to support and guide their peers, without being judgemental. In addition, the ability of resilient teachers to ‘stay focussed on children and their learning’ allows those teachers to strive for the very best outcomes for their students. The final characteristic links to Dweck’s work on a Growth Mindset and is intrinsically linked to the teaching and learning approach at Durrington. Dave spoke about his view that Durrington encourages and nurtures resilience in its staff by:

  • listening to the views of the teachers and staff;
  • providing opportunities to mentor and support colleagues;
  • providing a shared experience (where everyone is involved) in the teaching and meeting the needs of our students.

Becoming more resilient


Dave posed the question ‘How strong are your relationships in school?’ As, has previously been written about relationships between staff and students are important in promoting strong outcomes. However, the relationships between staff are also vital in developing effective teaching and learning. In order to become more resilient it is important to emphasise the positive. Studies by Gilham et al.(1995) have shown that by changing ‘explanatory styles’ positivity can be learned. For us, as teachers, it is important to remember that:

  • we operate as part of our student’s lives;
  • we can tackle whatever challenges are created on a day-by-day basis;
  • we reflect on how we have benefitted our student’s lives;
  • we are able to respond to change and handle difficult situations.

Dave spoke about the importance of reflecting on our success and not simply focussing on the negatives or disappointments. It is important to speak positively. Studies have shown that being positive and reflecting on the successes can:

  • act as protective factors against depression (Tindle et al., 2009);
  • lead to less disruption of normal life, distress and fatigue (Carver, Lehman, Antoni, 2003).

It has been found that when faced with challenges, resilient people act purposefully and creatively, to find multiple strategies for any problem. As teachers, we are pretty good at this!


In order to become more resilient and ultimately achieve the best outcomes for our students, it is important to remember why we became teachers. The passion and commitment that teachers show on a daily basis, can be lost under the weight of the demands of teaching. Teaching is not an easy profession, but by nurturing resilience we can support and sustain our practice.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds




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Teaching Talk – Dave Hall on Modelling and Student Buy-In

teaching-talkIn this episode of #TeachingTalk, drama teacher, Dave Hall talks about how he uses modelling and his passion for his subject, to enthuse students about drama.

TT5 David Hall – Modelling and Student Buy-In from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

Produced by Jason Ramasami

Posted by Shaun Allison

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The importance of questioning

picture1Kyogen’s man up a tree

‘A man up a tree hangs from a branch by his mouth; his hands cannot grasp a bough, his feet cannot touch the tree. Another man comes under the tree and asks him the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West. If he does not answer, he does not meet the questioner’s need. If he answers he will fall and lose his life. At such a time, how should he answer?’

The Gateless Gate (13th century)


Tonight’s 15 Minute Forum was led by Dr Tim Brinded (second year History Teacher) and focussed on the importance of questioning in the classroom. Tim began with the Koan above, which is associated with The Rinzai tradition of Buddhism from the 9th century. Essentially it is a nonsense question which encourages the student to recognise the limitations of logical thought and instead requires them to solve the problem by achieving an inner understanding, leading to transcendence.

The word transcendence is derived from ‘trans’ (meaning beyond) and ‘scandare’ (to climb) and links strongly to our role as teachers, to allow our students to reach beyond their current academic level and to achieve the best possible outcomes. This is heavily linked to Dweck’s concept of a growth mindset where we, as teachers, attempt to express to our students:

  • To see their faults and help them to work on them
  • To challenge them to become a better person
  • To encourage them to learn new things.

What is the importance of questioning in the classroom?

Paul and Elder (2000) state that ‘Thinking is not driven by answers but by questions. Had no questions been asked by those who laid the foundation for a field…the field would never have developed in the first place’. In order to keep a field of thought (or a concept/topic) alive teachers have to constantly ask questions of it, rather than simply allowing that field to close down. Teachers are then able to challenge existing or established answers through questioning to challenge students’

Research by Smith (1998) states that language-rich classrooms are more conducive environments for learning and thus progress. Objective studies conducted by Smith have shown that young children have a higher IQ at a younger age if their parents regularly spoke to and questioned them, compared to those whose parents did not engage them. In our classrooms, the ability of students to be able to express their views and thoughts is generated through our questioning of them.

As well as these two functions, there are more basic functions of questioning in our classrooms:

  • To develop interest and motivate students to become actively involved in lessons.
  • To develop critical thinking skills.
  • To review learning.
  • To stimulate students to pursue knowledge on their own and ask their own questions.

Cotton (2001) outlined these functions of questioning and states that ‘Instruction which includes posing questions is more effective in producing achievement gains than instruction carried out without questioning students’.

What types of questions can we use?

Essentially there are two categories of questions that we use within our classrooms:

  • Lower cognitive questions: lower order, convergent or closed questions.
    • Usually require memory recall of previously learnt information.
    • There is often only one right or wrong answer such as ‘When was the Battle of Edgehill?’ The only answer to this is October 1642.
  • Higher cognitive questions: higher order, divergent or open questions.
    • These require students to analyse information and apply their knowledge.
    • An example would be ‘what were the consequences of the Battle of Edgehill?’ There could be a range of possible answers to this question, but they would all require the students to think and engage with the learning.


However, the research conducted by Cotton (2001) and Hattie (2012) showed that:

20% of classroom questions are higher cognitive questions

20% are procedural questions (‘have you got your books with you?)

60% are lower cognitive questions.

Immediately, this suggests that teachers need to increase their use of higher cognitive questions, in order to stretch and challenge their students’ thinking. However, it is not to underestimate the value of lower cognitive questions.

Benefits of closed questioning

Practice at retrieving new knowledge or skill from memory is a potent tool for learning and durable retention’

Brown et al., 2014

Retrieval of knowledge is an important aspect of embedding knowledge and Ebinghaus’ ‘Forgetting Curve’ shows the impact that regular quizzing can have on the retention of knowledge. As a result, lower cognitive questions play an important role in developing and embedding the core knowledge that students need to be able to successfully engage with higher cognitive questions.

Benefits of open questioning

Cotton (2001) states that divergent questioning results in the following, amongst high school students:

  • On-task behaviour
  • Speculative thinking on the part of the students
  • Relevant questions posed by the students.

However, he also states that ‘Simply asking higher cognitive questions does not necessarily lead students to produce higher cognitive responses’. This view is supported by Lemov (2015) who states that ‘without sufficient factual knowledge this (divergent questioning) will lead to unfounded speculation’. As teachers, it is important that we plan the use of open questions carefully and attempt to foresee the potential pitfalls of our questions.

The importance of teacher reaction to students answers

‘To raise your hand is a critical act that deserves some reflection…In a micro-sense, every time students raise their hands, a milepost passes…To raise your hand is to mark the passage of an event worthy of action…’

Lemov, 2015

Lemov’s quote is an important one and something which has to be seriously considered by teachers. Lemov is stressing the importance of the student answering the question, not from the actual level of knowledge but from the act itself. This student has shown a considerable level of cognitive effort and has gone through the following processes:

  • attending to the question (thinking)
  • deciphering the meaning of the question (understanding)
  • creating a covert response (forming the answer in their own mind)
  • generating an overt response (raising their hand and then speaking their answer).

It is vital that, we as teachers, recognise this but once a student has actively engaged in the learning that we develop that learning further through:

  • Probing – eliciting further information by asking more questions
  • Counterfactual answers – asking students for alternative answers or different points of view
  • Playing devil’s advocate – to challenge the students’ conviction with their answer

In essence, we are trying to develop greater levels of critical thinking within our students.

How should we ask questions?

Wait Time

It is also important to consider how we ask questions to our students. Studies have shown that on average a student is given 1 second of thinking time before being required to answer a question. By extending the ‘wait time’ for higher cognitive questions we can:

  • Increase the number of higher cognitive responses
  • Increase the length of responses
  • In crease student achievement
  • Generate greater participation and increase student-student interactions.

Cold Calling

Lemov refers to the ‘culture of engaged accountability’ where every student knows that it is a possibility that they will have to answer a question. However, in order to achieve this a ‘safe’ classroom environment needs to be created. The advantages of selecting students to answer (rather than hands-up) are:

  • It sets clear expectations in your classroom – everyone participates.
  • It removes the chance of relying too heavily on one or two confident students

As with all teaching strategies, a mixed approach is beneficial. Calling a students’ name first can be beneficial; as it focuses them on the question. In addition, posing a demanding question at the beginning of the lesson and stating that you will select students to answer it in 10 minutes or at the end of the lesson, provides the opportunity for all of the students to think about the question.



In summary questioning in lessons is an important aspect of teaching because it:

  • drives learning
  • creates a language rich environment
  • reviews learning
  • encourages engagement and motivation
  • develops critical thinking

However, the type of and way in which we use questions needs to be carefully considered if we are to maximise the potential of our students.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

Tim Brinded 15 min forum from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

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