Some things about teaching

Today I led a session for our trainee teachers on great teaching.  We talked about lots of things, but in particular we talked about these four slides.  Between them, I think they sum up what great teaching is all about.

This one had to be included of course:

These three great questions from Rob Coe:

As well as these nine things from Dylan Wiliam:

And finally of course, this from John Tomsett:


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Teaching Talk – Deliberate Practice with John Mulhern

In this episode of Teaching Talk, maths teacher John Mulhern talks about how he has focused on developing the ‘deliberate practice’ that takes place in his lessons:

TT7 John Mulhern – Deliberate Practice from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

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Why is STEM important for all?


The 15 Minute Forum returned this week and was led by Phoebe Bence (Science Teacher and STEM lead). Phoebe began by talking about the many and varied roles of a teacher. It is relatively easy to identify that teachers have pastoral roles, prepare students for achieving in exams, teaching life skills and raising aspirations. However, a vital role of a teacher is to prepare students for their future and the world of work.

The challenge for us, as teachers, is that the future world of work will look very different to the current one. Phoebe discussed the changing fortunes of Kodak (which was used by Matthew Syed in this article) as an example of how tomorrow’s economy will not be the same as today’s. From 1900, when it patented the Box Brownie, Kodak was a revolutionary company, innovating and developing photographs on film, to the point where they were globally successful and a multi-billion dollar company. However by 2012, and following many years of stagnation, Kodak went bankrupt.

What this shows us is, if an organisation or individuals stop adapting to the changing conditions around them, then they will very quickly become obsolete in those conditions. As a result, teachers have to prepare students for a world of work which does not yet exist. Jobs exist today, that were never thought of when we (the teachers) were students. Equally, jobs will exist in the future which cannot be conceived of at present. There are many examples in the modern world of how science and technology have developed at a rapid pace and generated new inventions over a very short time-scale. These ‘new’ inventions are now part of everyday life and within such fields as automobiles, healthcare and manufacturing the next ‘new’ invention is already being conceived.

So the key question is ‘How do teachers prepare students for an unknown future?:

  • Be honest with students about skills:
    • skills are important and should be cherished by students;
    • teachers should encourage students to engage with harder skills;
    • teachers should encourage students to think more deeply about concepts/topics and to challenge the current way of thinking;
    • teachers should not allow students to ‘opt out’ of hard subjects or skill sets.
  • Broaden their perspective of STEM subjects:
    • STEM is not just science, technology, engineering and maths;
    • STEM infiltrates every subject area from a language app which translates foreign words, to 3D printers changing art subjects;
    • teachers should show students where technology links to their subject and how valuable it can be.
  • Teach them to be problem solvers:
    • many of the skills that are taught to students in their current education, may look very different (and many will be obsolete) in their future careers;
    • the important aspect is that teachers teach students how to ‘wrestle’ with a problem and find a solution to that problem.
  • Encourage students to see themselves as STEM learners:
    • there is no set profile for a STEM learner – as teachers we should be engendering a passion for our subject for all students;
    • teachers can create the right environment which allows all students to be encouraged by STEM based learning;
    • the current national drive focussed on encouraging more girls into STEM careers can be encouraged within schools.

The aim of all of these things is to make students valuable to future employers.

How can this be achieved in the classroom?

As teachers we can:

  • make links within our subjects to show how technology has and will change each subject area;
  • show that there does not have to be a dichotomy between the Sciences and the Arts; scientists can be creative and there is a role for STEM in all aspects of education.
  • show that STEM subjects can be and are inter-disciplinary;
  • encourage students to persevere with tasks and to challenge their way of thinking about the world in which they live.

The future economy and world of work will look very different to the current one. We, as teachers, have a duty to prepare our students for that world so that they can be successful in it.

Next week (March 13th), Durrington will be hosting a STEM week with a range of activities taking place across the school and subject areas teaching lessons with a STEM theme. It should be an exciting week.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

Posted in 15 Minute Forums, General Teaching | Tagged | 2 Comments

Planning for Challenge – Part 2

At our last INSET day, Andy Tharby talked about using a planning framework for high starting point students, that focused on three areas – content, thinking and shaping – you can read about it here.  Like many schools, we have been guilty of flitting from one topic to another each INSET day.  In doing so, we don’t really give teachers the opportunity to return to, reflect upon and engage with deliberate practice, in just one area of their classroom practice.  With this in mind, we stuck with the same topic for today’s INSET day – challenging high starting point students.

Andy has been working with a group of Durrington teachers who are interested in developing their teaching of high starting point students.  The group have already met once, and have had an interesting discussion, raising some interesting points that are worth all of us reflecting on.:

  • Is it socially desirable to be a very high achiever at school? (Or is a B good enough).
  • The answer lies in changing the culture – as well as in classroom practice.  What can we all do to create a more aspirational culture in our classrooms?
  • Trips, assemblies, form time, outside speakers and enrichment all play an important role.  We don’t often have subject themed assemblies, where we talk to students about what makes us passionate about our subject and what career paths our subjects can take us down.
  • The requirements for reaching A/A* and 7/8/9 are very different in each subject – e.g. practical versus academic subjects.  Subject Planning & Development Sessions are an ideal time to discuss and share ideas around this.
  • High starting point students need to investigate the links between topics.  we need to support them with this through our teaching.
  • Further challenge needs to be available to all, not just the high starting point students (otherwise we are in danger of ‘capping’ them).
  • What are they reading?  Can we do more to encourage them to read newspapers and other thought provoking material.

The starting point is for subject teachers to talk explicitly about the subject knowledge that students need to know, if they are going to reach the highest grades.  Andy shared this example of some of the key challenging content that students need to know about ‘An Inspector Calls’:

Teachers can then use this as a checklist of key teaching points to explore in their lessons.  Similarly, the science department have been thinking very carefully about the higher level content that students need to know, in order to access the highest grades:

So whilst it may sound obvious, if we are going to be successful when it comes to teaching to the very top we need to do two things:

1.Define A/A* content as a subject teaching team – discuss it, unpick the misconceptions and make sure everybody is confident with it.

2.Make students aware that it is A/A* content.

Andy then went on to share two other ideas that are key to success when teaching at all levels, but need some thought when we are teaching high starting point students.  They are both simple and require very little preparation – so are sustainable as well as effective.

  1.  Think Hard

If we want our high starting point students to be challenged, we need to think about getting them to think hard!   If every teacher gave some thought to asking one extra ‘think hard’ question every lesson, across the course of a day/week that would create a far more challenging and richer experience for these students – an extra 25 really hard questions to challenge them every week!

2.  Break it down

Whilst showing students examples of excellent work is useful – it is not enough on its own.  They need to know the complexities involved in the process of getting there.  In order to do this we need to do is to break expert performance into its component parts and practise these separately.  In the same way that young people learn how to play football.  They don’t go straight into an 11 a side game, but learn how to master the basics – trapping the ball, passing, staying in position, tackling, shooting etc.  Similarly, we shouldn’t expect students to produce a perfect piece of work, such as a piece of extended creative writing, first time.  We should break it down and discuss each part in turn and then allow them to practice each part, as we build up to the whole.

Finally, Andy shared some examples of how teachers have been using the ‘Planning for Challenge’ framework to develop this area of their practice.  One is included below:

Posted by Shaun Allison





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Workload Matters



Teacher workload is a hot topic of discussion in schools at the moment – and rightly so.  The DfE have recently published the results of their ‘Teacher Workload Survey 2016’, which is available here.  This report contains some alarming results:

  • 93% of respondents to the survey stated that workload in there school was at least a fairly serious problem;
  • 52% cited workload as a very serious problem;
  • The average working hours in a week for all classroom teachers was 54.4 hours.

Our profession is creaking, and whilst we all hope that the DfE and OFSTED will work together to address some of these issues, school SLT have a key role to play too.  At Durrington, we have always believed that a key role of the SLT is to provide the conditions in which teachers can focus on their core purpose – to teach great lessons and continue to develop their professional practice.  An essential part of this is monitoring teacher workload and making changes to ensure that teachers are able to use their time effectively.



The DfE, in partnership with OFSTED and the Professional Associations have produced a really useful leaflet (above) to encourage schools to reflect on things they should and should not be doing, with regards to addressing teacher workload.  The full version can be downloaded here.  This is a must read document for all SLT.

Have we completely cracked it at Durrington?  Almost certainly not, but here are ten things we have done to try and make a difference.

  1. A tight but loose approach to teaching – we do not stipulate to teachers how to teach.  Our message is simple – implement these six pedagogical principles in your classroom, in a way that suits you.


As a result teachers don’t waste time planning their lessons artificially to fit a rigid, prescribed structure.

2. Subject Planning & Development Sessions – once a fortnight, subject teams meet to talk about what they will be teaching over the next fortnight and how to teach it well – more here.  This is the most effective form of CPD we have done in years.

As a result teacher meeting time is not spent on admin and information items, that can be shared via email, but instead it is focused on collaboratively planning effective teaching.

3.  A subject specific approach to feedback – we don’t have a generic marking policy that states the regularity with books should be marked across all subjects. Instead each department has written their own feedback policy that states (a) how feedback will be given in that subject (written/verbal/self-checking etc) (b) what the feedback will focus on e.g. classwork, homework, assessments and (c) how frequently this will happen.

As a result teachers are focusing on the feedback that works best for their subject and not just having to slavishly cover exercise books in red pen, simply for the sake of it.

4. No written comments for subject reports – teachers simply give a grade for effort, homework and progress – no superficial, written targets that are not really useful for students or parents.

As a result parents and students still get regular and useful information about how they are doing, but it takes teachers a fraction of the time to write a set of reports.

5. Teachers aren’t expected to keep folders of evidence such as appraisal evidence files or intervention logs.

As a result they can use their time to plan effective lessons that will prevent underachievement from happening in the first place, or address it effectively in lessons.

6.  INSET days are used for collaborative work – teacher time isn’t wasted by sitting in a hall for the whole day, listening to the same input when their needs will all be very varied.  Instead, most of the day is given over to subject teams to work and plan together.

As a result subject teams are able to work together to share effective practice and share the load of planning.

7.  Highly effective Curriculum Leaders make life easier for their teams – they do this by doing the simple things, that make a big difference to their teams by helping them to plan effectively.  For example:

  • Printing class sets of homeworks at the start of every term and storing these centrally, so teachers don’t have to.
  • Updating the schemes of work every year with dates on them, so teachers know where they should be, by when.
  • Encouraging a culture of sharing, by emailing shared resources around the team.
  • Emailing regular bulletins to remind people about where they should be in their teaching, what’s coming up e.g. homeworks and assessments and what they should be focusing on.
  • Making sure that their team have the best resources to support effective teaching e.g. regularly reviewing the text books that are used.

As a result teachers feel organised and supported – as much of the planning is being done centrally for them.

8.  Department reviews – like many schools, all teachers in all subjects used to be observed at set points in the year, as directed by the SLT.  Now Curriculum Leaders decide when these observations will take place and what the developmental focus will be.

As a result observations are supportive, developmental and fit with the priorities of the team.  The team have ownership over the process.

9.  Revision Sessions – we used to do a he number of revision sessions, every night for all subjects, for Y11 from now onwards until the summer.  As a result, students didn’t know which ones to go to and teachers were exhausted and exasperated as the students they wanted to attend their sessions, didn’t turn up.  This year we are doing far fewer sessions and focusing on quality rather than quantity.  More here.

As a result teachers are not having to prepare huge numbers of revision sessions and students are not torn between which sessions to attend.

10.  An evidence informed approach – rather than wasting teacher time on things that we think might work, we look at the research evidence and use this to inform what we do.  For example, when it comes to revision, we use strategies from cognitive science – see here.

As a result teacher time is not wasted on less effective strategies.  Furhermore, they don’t have to trawl through hundreds of research journals to find out what works – we do that for them.


Most importantly, we will continue to keep teacher workload under review as a school and make changes that will hopefully look after our most precious resource – our teachers.

Further Reading

DfE reports from the three independent review groups – essential reading and advice for all school leaders:

Posted by Shaun Allison

Posted in General Teaching, Leadership | Tagged | 4 Comments

What to do with Year 11 revision?

Tomorrow will mark 42 school days until the first GCSE exam for our current Year 11 cohort. They will have an extended assembly promoting the importance of this period, receive a study skills booklet, a revision programme and a magnet (to easily display the revision schedule on their fridge). However since last year, we have reviewed our revision package for Year 11 in an attempt to make it more effective and sustainable for students and staff.

The key question is “Are lots of extra revision sessions beneficial?”

The immediate answer to this is yes…

There is an increasing amount of evidence to support the importance of students revisiting material.cog2 The work of Daniel Willingham has shown how students need to transfer information from their working memory to their long-term memory to enable this information to be retrieved at a later date, rather than be forgotten. Once this information  has been stored, a schema can be used to easily retrieve this information. This would take the form of revision sessions, using a range of activities and questions to retrieve the information from the student’s long-term memory.

The work of the Learning Scientists has also shown how a range 1473265582162.jpgof strategies can be used to retrieve information from student’s memories. The six strategies suggested by the Learning Scientists are embedded in cognitive science and are easily adapted to a classroom context. The concept of retrieval practice uses exam questions and flashcards to test a student’s knowledge, whilst elaboration encourages students to explain and apply their knowledge in different contexts. All of which would take place in revision sessions in the build up to a student’s  GCSE exams.

However, should all of this take place in extra revision sessions?

The problem with extra revision sessions is that they place huge pressures and strains on staff and students. In previous years, Curriculum Leaders have been asked to offer revision sessions for Year 11 students. However, the majority of our students will be taking GCSE exams in 9 subjects so it is impossible for them to attend a revision session in each subject each week after school. This led to many subjects being forced to run revision sessions on more than one day, before school or during lunch times. This was problematic for both staff and students:

  • Students:
    • would be forced to choose which subjects to attend;
    • would prioritise subjects that they viewed as important to the detriment of others;
    • would be able to have a ‘fall back’ option of a different revision session if they didn’t want to attend on that day – often leading to the students not attending at all;
    • would be under huge strains by starting their day at 8 a.m. with a revision session, completing 5 hours of lessons, attending revision sessions at lunch and after school and then doing their own revision at home.
    • would feel that if they attended lots of revision sessions then they would not need to do any extra work at home.
  • Staff:
    • would be holding revision sessions on several days during the week;
    • would be starting their teaching day earlier or finishing later;
    • would be forced to compete with other teachers/subjects;
    • would feel disengaged when only a handful of students attended.

Therefore, instead of this free for all approach, we have decided to approach the Year 11 revision programme differently.


Each subject has reserved one after-school session per fortnight. The core subjects have a separate day each, whilst the option subjects have been grouped so that only a handful of students would face clashes. We believe that this will be beneficial because:

  • Curriculum leaders will be able to use all of their teachers on one day and provide a range of revision groups – such as A/A* or moving to a C.
    • This will enhance and improve the quality of the provision that subjects can offer.
    • The number of students in each group will be smaller and therefore a more bespoke revision session can take place.
  • Intervention strategies for underachieving students can be used effectively for specific subjects with specific teachers.
  • Students will not be forced to choose which subject they should attend and are able to prioritise the subjects where they need extra support.
  • Students will know that each subject will only be offering extra revision on one day and therefore will need to be more responsible for attending that session.
  • Students will be expected to be more independent in their revision, and not rely on their teachers all of the time.

The added advantage of this revision timetable is that there are extended gaps between each subject revision session. This links to Dunlosky’s research where he highlighted the benefits of distributed practice. The concept of spacing out a student’s revision has been shown to be highly effective in boosting student’s memory and performance in assessments.

The importance of these extra sessions is to provide support for those students who need enhanced provision to achieve the best possible outcomes. The focus of our day-by-day revision programme will be on high quality first teaching in every lesson. Many of our subjects have already developed a curriculum which is interleaved, so our students have had regular retrieval practice of topics and material from the beginning of Year 10. In addition, regular low-stakes quizzes are embedded into lessons and through questioning students are challenged to elaborate on their answers. Therefore, our Year 11 students have been involved in a revision programme for many months in their lessons and will continue to complete revision in their lessons over the next few months. A fundamental message will be that high levels of effort in lessons and with homework tasks is more important that attending lots of extra sessions.

What will happen in our Year 11 revision programme?

These three research informed strategies will definitely be happening in our Year 11 revision programme:

  • low stakes quizzing – using flashcards, memory apps such as Ankiapp, or simply a set of 5-10 questions at the beginning of the lesson, so that students transfer as much information as possible from their long-term memory to their working memory;
  • practice testing – exposing the students to as many types and styles of exam questions as possible, so that they become familiar with the expectations of the exams;
  • elaboration through questioning – asking the students ‘why’ something is the right answer, so that they have to explain their thinking to develop their understanding.

…and three activities which will definitely not be happening, as Dunlosky’s research shows that they are ineffective:

  • summarising notes
  • highlighting and underlining
  • just rereading notes (with no follow-up activity)

42 school days may appear as worryingly close, however we want to maximise the potential of these days without overloading our students and increasing their (and our staffs’) anxiety levels. Actually, we are viewing the 42 school days as a final push with Year 11 to build upon and enhance the revision that has already taken place, rather than a desperate cramming session.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds




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Managing difficult behaviours

This week’s 15 Minute Forum was led by John Lamb (Assistant Headteacher) and Jack Griffiths (Year 7 ICT Progress Leader).

John started with a focus on teacher’s approaches to different scenarios:

If student X cannot complete an activity such as an equation in Maths, teachers will plan a different way of approaching that activity. This different way of approaching the task will allow the student to become ‘unstuck’ and move forward in their learning.

What this means, is that teachers plan to help students understand a concept or a topic in their lessons. Importantly we should also plan for good behaviour. In a previous 15 Minute Forum, John had presented the idea of a 10-step plan for good behaviour (here).


Importantly, the use of consequences appears as ‘Step 9’. This means that 8 other strategies have been attempted, before the teacher resorts to sanctions. The focus of this idea is that prevention and reduction of behaviour issues is better than reacting to those issues.

Jack then discussed how his approach to behaviour management has changed in his time at Durrington, having reflected on his practice following John’s previous 15MF. Jack discussed that his PGCE had not prepared him for non-confrontational behaviour picture3management approaches because he had been told – “You need to make sure that they know what you being angry is like.” However, Jack’s approach to managing difficult behaviour is now one focussed on ‘finding a way to avoid it in the first place’:

Language of choice – An important aspect of this approach is the ‘use of language of choice’. This involves giving the student the choice as to their next step – If you choose do this…then you are choosing for this to  happen – and avoids negative responses to ‘surprise’ warnings.

Separating the behaviour from the student – It is important to remember that the majority of a student’s behaviour is not directed at you (the teacher) personally. Therefore, when a student does show behaviour which is not acceptable,  a subtle change of language can be empowering. By stating that ‘we’ (the school) do not accept this kind of behaviour means that it is not you reacting but the school. This removes the personal nature of the issue and increases the chances of a positive outcome.

Don’t shout – In the majority of situations, shouting will be counter-productive. The students may respond by shouting at you, laughing at you or having a brief improvement and then behaving even worse. A different approach could be to listen to the student when they arrive. If the student is agitated on arrival, an immediate confrontation could exacerbate the issue. This has proven successful with one particularly challenging Year 8 student:

  • the teacher spoke with the student in a detention;
  • the student said that he felt pressured when he arrived and the teacher spoke to him as soon as he had set foot in the door;
  • the teacher and the student agreed the following:
    • the student would enter the room, take his seat and write the date and title
    • the teacher would not speak to the student until he had done those things (unless he was being deliberately disruptive or refusing to meet the agreed expectations)
  • this non-confrontational approach has been successful in recent lessons and allowed for that student to stay in the lesson (and make greater progress).

Bring your personality – Often difficult behaviours can be managed through the enthusiasm and passion of the teacher, because the issues do not regularly arise. The important aspect of this is that effective working relationships are developed between the teacher and the student to allow for successful outcomes (even when the student does disrupt).

Focus on the positives (not the negatives) – Catch the students doing something right. Praise the students for doing the right thing and then discuss where the student may not have got it right. This allows more positive language to be used and avoids direct confrontation, but still addresses the issue that has been created.

But it is vital that…

Expectations remain high – It is important that the students meet your expectations, but that teachers guide and support students to reach these expectations. When sanctions have to be implemented (and remember this is step 9) it is important that they are consistently applied and enforced. However, by approaching this in the right way difficult behaviours can be effectively managed.

Despite all of these things, teachers need to remember that students will misbehave and that these approaches are not a ‘magic wand’. However, by adopting non-confrontational approaches small issues, do not need to become big issues; and big issues can be dealt with effectively.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

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