Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by Director of English Kate Bloomfield.   Kate is not only a fantastic teacher and Head of English, but also an expert juggler!  Kate explained how the experiences of the novice juggler, exemplify the learning process – and so give us much to reflect on as teachers, to inform our own teaching.  It was a very hands on session – with Kate teaching a drama studio full of adults how to juggle for the first time, from a single ball, to two balls and then three balls!  Part 2 is next week!

The key points stressed by Kate follow and show very clearly how learning anything is supported by our 6 pedagogical principles.

A skill that looks difficult; many people believe they will not be able to learn it. Mindset is key: “I can’t do this yet.” (challenge)

Big picture overview first – then broken down into stages. Master 1 ball; master 2 balls; master 3 balls. (modelling, explanation, scaffolding)

Step by step, and little and often (5 minute chunks done regularly – muscle memory works similarly to the forgetting curve) (scaffolding, feedback)

Mistakes – mistakes – lots of them! They are part of learning. Dropping the ball is learning – as long as you pick it up and try again. Failure is when you drop the ball (make a mistake) and give up. (challenge)

Bad habits – particularly those which become entrenched – are difficult to eliminate, but not impossible. (explanation, modelling, feedback)

‘Short cuts’ tend to lead to dead ends! (explanation, challenge, feedback)

Further debunks the myth of being a visual OR auditory OR kinaesthetic learner. This is a multi-sensory process. We learn by seeing, listening AND doing. (3 routes into the brain are better than 1!) (deliberate practice)

Saying things out loud while you are learning and reviewing can really help. (deliberate practice)

Paired work can help – particularly in diagnosing errors. (A coaching buddy) (questioning, feedback)

It’s useful to have ‘common pitfalls’ pointed out and made explicit. (explanation, modelling, feedback)

Explicit teaching is important, but equally important is the individual practice you put in outside of this. (deliberate practice)

Rates of learning vary across ALL students! Don’t judge yourself by someone else’s rate of progress. Every time you practise, you are a step nearer to mastery. (challenge, mindset, deliberate practice)

Threshold breakthroughs are important to recognise and celebrate (and remember for the next time you are struggling) (scaffolding, feedback, challenge)

Learning never stops! Once you learn a basic 3 ball cascade, test yourself on how many times you can do this. Once this is mastered, a whole new world is opened up: 4 balls, 5 balls, hoops, clubs, tricks, paired juggling, bounce juggling…..! (challenge)

For me – the most significant pedagogical aspects of this are in the areas of MINDSET and SCAFFOLDING. Perhaps this is why, for me, the scaffolding, sequencing, staging process of learning is so important. When I think of the lessons I have observed which have impressed me most, they have been ones where the learning process has been broken down and sequenced carefully to enable complicated concepts to be approached and conquered by students. When this bedrock is in place, learning takes off.

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Teaching Talk – Pause Lessons

In this episode of teaching talk, Jason Ramasami talks to maths teachers Morwenna Treleven & Frankie Pimentel about the importance of pausing and repetition.

Treleven and Pimentel – Pause Lessons from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

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Teaching Talk – Choosing to talk with Andy Tharby

In this episode of Teaching Talk, Jason Ramasami talks to Andy Tharby  about the importance of teachers talking about their practice – and the dangers of talking about ‘best practice’.

Andy Tharby – Choosing to Talk from Jason Ramasami on Vimeo.

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Why Modelling?

Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by our Director of Science, Steph Temple.  Steph started the session by apologising for her powerpoint and saying that she wasn’t much of a powerpoint person…which probably explains why she was leading this session!

Modelling is one of our 6 pedagogical principles, but as Steph explained brilliantly in her session, they do not work in isolation.  They are very much interlinked.  So whilst modelling is important in terms of showing students how to apply the knowledge and skills that they have been taught, it also very much interwoven with explanation and questioning.  When we are explaining things, especially in science, we model our thinking to help students understand these complex ideas, whilst questioning them to gauge their understanding.

So, why do we model?

So that students know what to do with the knowledge and skills.

For example…

  1. How to construct an essay, exam answer, conclusion to an experiment etc.
  2. How to do  calculations

So that students have a deeper understanding of the knowledge you are imparting to them.

By modelling what you and they are thinking –they remember it

When are we best at modelling?

  • When you know your subject If you don’t fully understand the subject how can you then explain and model ideas, and expect your students to develop a deep understanding?  You won’t.  You will simply end up teaching at a very superficial level and won’t be able to really extend their thinking or pre-empt any misconceptions.
  • When you know the specification and exam question structure/type inside out  – this then allows you to model the thinking required to understand the content at the required level.
  • When you have practised over and over again go powerpoint free and practise how you are going to model what you want the students to understand, using just your boardmarker and whiteboard.  This will enable you to find out any sticky bits and perfect your modelling.

Do you think about how you use your board?

  • Do you write too much?
  • Do you regret rubbing bits off that are then sometimes useful for the next part of the explanation?
  • Poorly organised?  Sometimes using tables, maps and diagrams instead of lots of text can really help to simplify what you are trying to explain.
  • Do you tell them exactly what you are doing and question them as you are doing it?

Steph then went on to describe two different methods of procedural modelling – modelling to students how to work out empirical formula.   Firstly, the method that a number of inexperienced teachers or teachers who are lacking confidence about the subject matter use, simply putting a prepared worked example up on the board:

The problem with this approach is that it misses the narrative behind the steps – and you’re not actually modelling – you are just showing a finished product.  So it’s at this point that Steph turns her projector off and gets her pen out:

Each step of the solution was modelled – through discussion and questioning…what’s the first step?  Why do you think I did it like that? What’s the next step?  What mistakes do you think people often make here?  You might also make a mistake in the process, and that is fine as you can model to students how to correct it.  By approaching it like this, you are modelling the process and your thinking.

Steph then went on to talk about modelling the thinking behind constructing and understanding graphs, such as the ones above.  Again, the problem with just presenting students with the finished product like these, is that you miss the thinking and the processes behind putting them together, which will hinder their understanding of them. It’s far more effective to build them up a step at a time, explaining and unpicking each stage as you go:

By building it a step at a time, you can also ensure that students are secure with the key knowledge e.g. that energy is supplied to break bonds and released when new bonds are made. Once this is secure, you can continue to build the graphs and explain that whether a reaction is endothermic or exothermic depends on the net difference between these two. Once you have done this, you can reveal the actual graphs and discuss how your diagram aligns with the finished product.

How can we support the development of modelling?

At Durrington, subject teams meet once a fortnight for a ‘Subject Planning & Development Session‘.  During these sessions, the teams talk about what they will be teaching over the next fortnight, and how to teach it well.  The science department uses this as an opportunity to share how they model particular topics, as shown by the agenda for their forthcoming session on Monday:

You can read more about how science do these sessions here and here Steph talk about her session here:

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She doesn’t shout at no girls: the gender gap

Teaching is full of perennials.  Just like the irises in my back garden they dutifully arrive every year come what may, blooming for all their worth and giving us that secure, fuzzy feeling that there are some things we can always rely on.

Like data showing that our boys are performing less well than our girls.

The gender gap, unlike my lovely irises, is one of many teaching perennials that we would rather stopped reappearing.

This year, rather than wringing my hands and sharing weary truisms with my fellow educational gardeners, I decided, together with the rest of the teaching and learning team at Durrington, to investigate further.  The stimulus data was a Y10 tracking point, one of four that we have for Y10 this year.  The data showed a fairly stark gap in attainment between our girls and our boys.  Granted the KS2 data revealed a similar gap, but as that may in essence reveal that our primary colleagues may have encountered similar problems to us in getting the very best from our male students, the gap still felt like one worth probing.

It is not the first time we have made an effort to tackle this most thorny of issues, and as detailed in Shaun Allison’s blog about lazy boys we had previously collected the thoughts of our staff who have a track record of getting the most from our most reluctant male students.  This provided many common sense approaches that had worked for these staff in getting the results we all wanted from this group.

However, what I was after was some hard evidence and a strong steer as to what might work best with teaching boys.  Here, I found, was my first mistake.  Unwittingly I was characterising the boys in Y10 as somehow different from girls and in need of a separate approach if we were to get the best out of them.  As I delved into the research I found the reassuring and distinguished voice of Tim Oates saying much the opposite. In this summary of a keynote speech that he gave, Mr Oates suggests that the idea of formulating separate strategies in order to be successful with boys is a flawed one, in fact he says it is “absolutely wrong”.  In essence he says we should find the best teaching strategies and they should be applied to all, regardless of gender.  As a result we should be wary of the “it’s important boys get the chance to verbalise their thoughts” type of approach.  By adopting this sort of strategy, we are lowering our expectations of our young men and accepting that they will not work as studiously as their female counterparts on tasks such as extended writing.

As often happens research evidence doesn’t give us the easy answers we may hope for.  What it does do often, is get us thinking.  The most interesting journal article I came across was this one here by Debra Myhill and Susan Jones.  The research is fairly small scale and explores student responses to a single question regarding student perception of whether their teachers treat boys and girls the same.  What comes across is teachers seem to bring substantial gender bias into the classroom with them, and that may be a large contributing factor to creating the gender divide in education.  Now we all like to think of ourselves as above such obvious and seemingly illiberal tendencies.  However, stop and think about how you question, how you give feedback, how you discipline.  Could you honestly say you do not apply a gender specific approach in any of your strategies?  It certainly brought me up short and made me realise the extent to which my own deeply ingrained biases influenced my own classroom.

With this article and Tim Oates’ words ringing in my ears I took to the corridors and conducted, with colleagues, between 20 and 30 observations with a single focus on gender difference.  Were boys and girls taught differently?  Did they behave differently? The results were very interesting.  As with most single focus observations you suddenly start seeing what was always there.  The answer was yes, there was substantial difference both in terms of the approach of staff towards male students and the manner in which boys behaved.  The results are summarised below, based around our 6 teaching principles:

Boys v Girls

The results were shared this week with our curriculum and company leaders to take back to their departments and discuss at Subject Planning & Development Sessions.  As you will notice we were not giving the answers, but rather observations and questions.  A real mistake here would be to suddenly issue edicts that all staff must question boys and girls differently based on what we have seen.  What we wish to see is an equity of treatment of both genders and most importantly the same expectations being applied to all.  As far as possible we want a gender neutral approach, use what we know works and don’t accept sub-standard work as a genetic inevitability.  Most importantly perhaps, we want our staff to think about how they might be bringing gender bias into their classrooms and consider how they might be, perhaps unconsciously, changing their approach or expectations based on gender.

Next week we also discuss the Myhill and Jones article at journal club, a voluntary staff forum for a bit of open discussion based around some research.

The problem here is clearly bigger than Durrington’s Y10 students and is influenced by so many variables that to comment on cause is far beyond my knowledge or capabilities.  The aim here is more to deal with what is in front of us.  We are trying to connect the dots between data, research, our school context and some intuition, while all the time looking to avoid giving hastily concocted solutions and stick to our principles.  By doing so hopefully we can help our boys buck this particular perennial trend.

Produced by Chris Runeckles

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Why playdough is not the way forward when teaching geography

Many thanks to Durrington geography teacher Hannah Townsend for this post, where she reflects on the importance of challenge and high expectations in KS3.


I recently read a post on a GCSE geography teachers’ forum asking for advice about how to deliver a fluvial landform formation interview lesson. I was shocked when I read all the responses encouraging the teacher to use cake or playdough. The interviewee took these comments seriously and suggested she was going to ‘get baking’! It was suggested to her from a more experienced teacher to ‘get a Victoria sponge and a flapjack and some wet wipes. The kids scratch at the cake and flapjack, the sponge flakes up, the flapjack doesn’t. The flapjack is the hard rock and the sponge is the soft rock. Hey presto – formation of a waterfall’. Well no, that is not how a waterfall forms- ask any one of my year eight students! There was a lot of support for this approach from numerous geography specialists. When I suggested adopting a more technical approach with written modelling of the process in sequence and an exam style question to check understanding I received a reply: ‘they are year 7’ implying I should have lower expectations.

The diagram below is a suggested teacher activity for y10, that I found online.

The photo above shows the year 10 outcomes from the online exemplar of ‘good practice’. The arrows are vague and do not touch the features so marks would not be given in exam; students are using terminology such as ‘bendier’ rather than sinuous, which my year 8 students would use.  It’s a classic example of the students spending too much time on the task i.e. playing with play dough, rather than the core knowledge, understanding and vocabulary.

The above extract from our Year 8 success criteria, demonstrate the expectations we have of our students.

High expectations play a crucial role in my daily teaching. As part of my daily teaching, I strive to ensure all my lessons have high expectations for all students- both in terms of their learning and behaviour. When students enter my classroom, there is always an activity on the board for them to silently get on with for the first ten minutes of the lesson. This is an independent task and gives me the opportunity to circulate the classroom, live marking students’ work as they attempt the questions. The students find this beneficial because it enables me to correct them whilst they are in the process of writing and extend their understanding by adding in questions to challenge them. One way that I have built challenge into these tasks, is to ensure that I verbally suggest that students can start working on the challenge questions (which get progressively harder) and skip the other questions. This is aimed at my higher starting point students but my wording allows any child to adopt this strategy. This has resulted in students asking me ‘can we start on the challenge?’ on other tasks throughout the lesson too.

In light of reading the comments on the forum, I reflected on my recent assessment with year 8. When the students were learning how fluvial landforms are created, I initially show them the success criteria for excellence. We them simplify this into a list of bullet points. For this assessment, key criteria were the inclusion of erosion processes, locating the stage in the river, sequence and clear explanation. The assessment was a three-stage process, explaining how waterfalls, oxbow lakes and deltas form. At the start of each of these lessons the students recalled the success criteria for excellence and used this as a checklist for their work. This ensures that all students are challenged, as the expectation for all is to aim for excellence. When the expectations are high, the students then strive for this. Live marking is then used to help to scaffold students’ answers if they are less sure.

The year eight students I teach all used ‘resistant rock’ and ‘less resistant rock’ and gave an example of each. This was more complex than the blog referring to ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ rock. Their answers were well-sequenced and used numbers to show this. The students used geographical key terminology such as ‘hydraulic action’ and explained how these processes work. To extend the students in my planning, I had studied an A-Level mark scheme of waterfall formation and then incorporated the additional parts- such as potholing into my teaching. The students listened to my explanation of how each landform was formed and made notes. I encouraged students to ask questions and used questioning to check students’ understanding throughout. If the students did not get it the first time, I re-explained it, but paused after each step, checking which areas the students did not understand. The students had to draw sequenced diagrams and were taught exam technique such as the difference between label and annotate and the importance of the arrow head touching the feature being labelled.

There is a time to model with stimuli- I’ve used a sponge in the past to indicate a porous rock contrasted with an impermeable surface to show the water accumulating on the surface- but this isn’t my standard approach. I test students’ understanding by questioning them, live marking to get them to extend their answers and getting students form year 7 onwards to answer GCSE style questions most lessons. This means that students know the importance of including geographical vocabulary in their work; to classify into social, economic and environmental and the difference between command words such as describe and explain.

When responding to feedback, this piece of work was given as an example. The students identified its many strengths and then considered areas to develop, such as a waterfall being an erosional landform rather than process. They used this to help them to improve their own sequences.


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Creating a culture for academic excellence

more able

In this week’s 15 minute forum, English teacher Andy Tharby discussed how we can create and sustain a fertile culture for academic excellence.


Our school is situated in a coastal town and has an intake that covers a large social demographic. We are currently asking an interesting question: how can we help students from all backgrounds and academic starting points achieve academic excellence? One small but significant group of students have been at the forefront of our attention – those who achieved highly at KS2, but are making less progress than those who arrived at lower starting points.

In The Hidden Lives of Learners (2007), the researcher Graham Nuthall (2007) theorised that there are three interlinked worlds that shape a student’s learning:

  • the public world of the teacher;
  • the highly influential world of peers;
  • the student’s own private world and experiences.

If we are to help more students achieve academic excellence and aspire to the top then we need to tap into each of these worlds. In an ideal school, these three worlds would work in tandem to reinforce and support each other. The curriculum would be challenging and coherent; the teaching would be inspiring and stretching; students would be influenced by each other to value academic learning; students would believe that they can and will become a success.

As we know, there are so many aspects to a student’s home life that can provide a barrier to success and aspiration. Ultimately, the best we can do is to get the school culture right. From the moment a child walks through the gates in the morning, until the moment he walks out, he should be immersed in a world that values and celebrates academic learning. This culture should infiltrate every nook and cranny of school life.

Teaching and curriculum

There have been plenty of books and courses written about how to get the most out of high-ability students in lessons. I would suggest that there should be three key principles: content, thinking and shaping. (See here for more details.) In other words:

Is the content of lessons and the curriculum sufficiently challenging?

Do students work from tasks and questions that ensure that they think deeply about this content?

Do students know how to shape their knowledge into successful work – such as extended writing and performances and products?

It is very important that we define high-level content very precisely. Have a look at the wonderful An Inspector Calls resource used in English lessons, for example. The challenging concepts and vocabulary are clearly labelled:


AIC resource


Another sensible approach is to teach sophisticated vocabulary explicitly and expect to students to use it in their written and oral work. Geography teacher Hannah Townsend does this from Year 7:


Self concept

‘… the effect of achievement on self-concept is stronger than the effect of self-concept on achievement’

Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds, Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice, 3rd edn (London: Sage, 2011), p. 148

It is important that high-achieving students come to see themselves as high-achieving students. The answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ needs to be ‘Someone who is doing well at school, and wants to do even better’. Even though the best way to help students feel that they are doing well is to help them to achieve (as Muijs and Reynolds point out), our interactions with students can smooth the way for this process. A well-timed one-to-one discussion, a quick call to a parent or a touch of public praise at the right moment can make all the difference – especially with those who struggle to believe in themselves.

These questions are useful:

How can we help our high-starting students to see themselves as high-achievers?

What kind of conversations and interactions will have an impact on them?

How can we improve their confidence and sense of self-efficacy in the task at hand?

How can we tackle ‘imposter syndrome’?

How can we better help able, disadvantaged children to feel part of the ‘bright set’?

School and peer culture

School and peer culture are linked in complex ways. Peer culture is a mysterious thing; how we adults envisage our school might not be how many students see it when they are together. This division is likely to create unseen tensions, especially for those who have yet to decide whether to seek acceptance from the whole school academic culture or from the glamour of the rebellious peer group.

To tackle this we need to ensure our academic culture seeps into every crack – in the corridors, in lesson arrivals and departures, in assembly and in every interaction and conversation. School must be a safe, calm and happy place. Kindness and politeness must take precedence. If we want children to embrace the world of academia and knowledge, then this must be an easy choice – in every way, school must be more civil and civic than the streets. If we want our children to go on and succeed in the world, we also have a duty to teach our students the habits and behaviours that will help them to gain access to this world. These are interesting questions to ask:

How do we encourage students to aim for the top and support their wellbeing as they do so?

How do we make academic achievement and a love of learning even more socially desirable?

How should adults model language use and social interaction?

How well do we expect these behaviours in our students?

In all, if we are to encourage more and more students to aim for the very top, then we must all play our part in the wider school culture – however immeasurable these actions may be.

The first place to start, as always, is in the way that we model and encourage language use – both in and out of lessons.



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