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Using Maths pedagogy to inform my Science teaching

This is quite a niche blog, perhaps only of interest to Science and Maths teachers (if I am lucky). This blog owes a huge hat tip to @BenRogersEdu, @emc2andallthat and @mrbartonmaths. Ben’s blog, here, provided the nudge to trial bar modelling (along with @emc2andallthat’s blog and @DSGhataura’s tweets). Craig Barton’s wonderful book (How I wish I had taught Maths) is a must read for any Science teacher (and of course, Maths- and any other teacher to be honest) and I have more takeaways coming in a future blog.

As soon as I read Ben’s blog on bar modelling, I twigged that this would be a great way to (re)teach moles, molar mass and mass equations. It was time to revisit this with my Year 11 Applied Higher tier pupils and I didn’t want to focus on the (hated) formula triangle and just plugging the numbers in without any conceptual understanding. In the mock exam paper, all bar one of the Higher tier pupils struggled with this concept.

After reviewing the concept of moles, relative molecular mass and molar mass:

handout top

We moved onto calculating the number of moles from a known mass of given compound. This is where the bar modelling came in to play.

The question was, if you have 20g of Helium, how many moles do you have? I modelled this on the board (the key being -the mass goes on top, the molar mass on the bottom) :


Pupils then tried an example on their own (how many moles in 232g of Sodium Chloride):


Then another practice question:


and their response:


What I really like about using bar modelling for this concept is that if the top (the mass they have) is smaller than the bottom, they can see that they don’t have enough for a single mole so the answer will be a fraction/decimal/less than 1. When the top (the mass they have) is bigger than the bottom, then they can see they have more than 1 mole. Even when working with “difficult numbers” a quick sketch of a bar model can help to give a check as to whether their answer is plausible (thanks @ejsearle for that turn of phrase).

I gave the pupils a homework to pull together some key ideas and to give them the opportunity to practice bar modelling.

hwkI was pleased to see most pupils continued with the bar modelling. My only feedback was (for the final question) to the pupil on the left to try to make the bars closer to scale and the pupil on the right to sketch the bars so they have something to check against for how plausible their answer is. The bar model would show: less than a mole and a really small fraction of a mole at that. Therefore 0.09 moles is very much plausible.

Interestingly, the one pupil that nailed this in the mock wasn’t fussed with the bar model and didn’t want to use it. If they don’t use it then I hope they can visualize the likely ratio and check their answer in their head.


I knew after dipping my toe into bar modelling that I wanted to continue to use it. As part of our final unit we are looking at materials, their properties and their uses. Density is property that is always important in choosing materials for a purpose. Density also comes up in the Maths GCSE. Because of this, I wanted to ensure that my pupils had a good conceptual understanding of density (rather than just thinking it means heavy or not and plugging the numbers into a calculator). I also wanted to avoid the dreaded formula triangle (I am not a fan as you may be aware by now).

After clarifying what mass and volume are and how they are measured we completed the following worksheet. This is where the reading of Craig Barton’s book came to the fore. I wanted pupils to understand density relative to water density and whether objects would float or sink. This is the handout:


The “me” section was completed by me (who else) on the board and pupils mirrored what I did (this is similar to the worked example-problem pair that Craig advocates).


I was very selective in my worked examples. I chose something that floats, something that sinks and water. This would give the density numbers an anchor for relative comparison.

Pupils then did their examples. I was even more selective for these. As covered by @mrbartonmaths’s book, I wanted minimally different examples. I wanted them to see what the pattern of density would be when the mass is the same but the volume occupied gets bigger in successive examples. Or smaller. Or the mass increases in successive examples but the volume is the same. I also wanted them to use the bar model so they could visualize what this would look like (in terms of ratio). From my worked example we could visualize that “top heavy” models (mass in g greater than volume in cm3) sinks (density more than 1) and “bottom heavy” (density less than 1) floats.


Pupils completed this side well (though if I was being fussy I would want scaling to look more like the middle example).

By choosing these examples I was hoping (and I obviously drew their attention) they would see what happens when mass only changes between the examples and what happens when volume only changes between the examples.

Then onto some questions.

Every single pupil had a, b and c as floaters and also that a and c could be the same substance.


Question 2 really allowed us to explore what the unit g/cm3 actually means as both a and c have different masses and different volumes but each cm3 of a and c has the same mass.

Then the pupils moved onto the “boundary examples”. This is another idea stolen from Craig Barton’s book. He defines boundary examples as weird questions or normal looking questions with weird results. In Science I tend to think of them as “worst case scenario” exam questions that are at the very boundary of what we would expect. Now most pupils quickly twigged that 1kg had to be changed to 1000g (you could argue that by calling this a boundary example I have alerted pupils that there is something more at play here than a standard density question).  From here they had no problem.


What was interesting is that a small number of pupils had put 1 on the top of the bar model and 90 on the bottom and had then calculated the answer as 0.17 g/cm3. If they compared their answer to their bar model they would have seen that their answer was plausible. However, one pupil in particular knew her answer wasn’t correct as the bar model was showing it would float and she knew that lead would sink. It was very bottom heavy and this couldn’t be right, she reasoned, as she knew that lead sinks. I would argue that without the bar model, many of the pupils dividing 1 by 90 would have been less likely to spot that the answer is wrong. By including the bar model, if the number (less than 1) doesn’t jump out as wrong then the bar model might. It did with a number of my pupils.

The secondary boundary example also gave some problems. The most common mistake was to divide 72 by 3. This then led most to realise they had made an error. Or some tried some further mathematics to make the answer “work”.


Many pupils did get the answer right but it reminded us that they will be expected to apply their mathematical knowledge in their Science exams and to not just assume that each question will be standard and straight forward (so watch out for boundary questions).

We finished the lesson with a multiple choice question that I scanned using plickers. Their results will dictate how I start next lesson. The question was:


I didn’t let the pupils look back at their worksheet (perhaps a mistake) and I was a little disappointed with the results. The plickers results were:


The fact that a few pupils went for C and D shows that this concept is not fully understood by too many of the group. We will review this answer tomorrow. After Easter break I will set 2 questions, one where volume stays the same but mass increases and another where mass stays the same between 2 objects but the volume increases.

I already have my question planned. It will be:

Object R and P have the same mass. Object R’s volume is 4 times greater than object Ps.

A the density of object R is 4 times smaller than object P.

B the density of object R is 4 times greater than object P.

C it depends on the material

D The density of the 2 objects will be identical

I will scan their answers in using plickers then I will give them the opportunity to check the left hand side of the worksheet we did today and then re-scan if anyone has changed their minds.


I will be aiming for 100% (despite the time they have had to forget).


Thanks so much for reading this far. As ever, constructive critique is always welcome.

(all work shared with pupil permission).


Resources and Revision (for Year 11 Applied Science)

This particular blog is my way of sharing vital revision material (and structure) with my Year 11 Applied class. I hope it is useful for anyone else that may be browsing it.

How to Revise” blog may be useful. The full document can be viewed and downloaded here.

Suggested Revision Schedule:

blue card 1

blue card 2

(Thanks to @chemDrK for the idea- more in her blog here)

Revision Schedule (blue card) download from:

Revision strategies.

Fill in a spacing grid. Do it from memory in 1 colour. Check using your booklets and fill in missing info in a different colour. If this is repeated at a later point then you can see the progress you’ve made in remembering key content.

Try the revision questions (and check your answers).

Test yourself on the flash cards you’ve made.

Test yourself on the mind maps you (may) have made.

Self quiz (or get other people to test you).

Use GCSEPod to review areas of weakness.

Exam questions (closer to the exam).

Spacing Task (grids). These are what we have used in our spacing lessons during the year based on timings outlined here:

Scientific Detection

Download Scientific Detection (Analytical Science) at:

food 1

Download Food for the Future 1 at:

food 2

Download Food for the Future 2 at:

controlling processes 1

Download Controlling Processes 1 at:

controlling processes 2

Download Controlling Processes 2 at:

materials 1

Download Materials for a Purpose 1 at:

Revision questions (and answers) to be linked soon.

Scientific Detection Questions – Answers

Food for the future 1 Questions – Answers

Food for the Future 2 Questions – Answers

Controlling Chemical Processes 1 Questions – Answers

Controlling Chemical Processes 2 Questions – Answers

Materials for a Purpose 1 Questions – Answers

Materials for a Purpose 1 Questions – Answers

GCSEPod Playlist Links:

GCSEPod Playlist Link
SD Scientific Detection
FF1 Food for the Future 1
FF2 Food for the Future 2
CCP1 Controlling Chemical Processes 1
CCP2 Controlling Chemical Processes 1
MFAP1 Materials for a Purpose 1
MFAP2 Materials for a Purpose 2

Differentiation, Inclusion and Classroom Culture (or #TLT17 part 3)

This is a standalone blog but it also links up with parts 1 and 2 of my TLT17 session. Part 1 looked at Myths and Non-negotiables. Part 2 looked at Planning for Inclusion, Differentiation and Challenge. This short, third part looks at classroom culture and how the most responsive teachers are also the best at differentiation.

Once you have planned the lesson, taking into account possible pupil misconceptions as well as what part of the task some may struggle with, the lesson (or series of lessons) is delivered. What next? Well, it depends (of course).

A large part of the teacher’s craft is how successfully they respond to pupil need during lessons. This is described perfectly in this blog by @atharby and these improvised responses are underpinned by the teacher’s knowledge of the students.

Dylan Wiliam tweeted this fairly recently (well, OK, 2013):


This tweet really got me thinking about the difference between the teachers that are the best “formative assessers”, the teachers that are the most responsive and the teachers at who are the best at differentiation.

I don’t think there is a difference. I think real time differentiation and repsonsive teaching is exactly the same thing.

So the question is, how can we build a classroom culture where we can truly know our students and where we can respond to the needs of each learner?

  • You have got to know your students. This is such an important point which nobody would disagree with. Some prior data is very important. The best way to describe building up the knowledge of your pupils is to think about having a schema in your brain for each of the pupils you teach. This schema is made up of every interaction you have had with the pupil. Every question, every answer, every conversation. It will be made up of every single piece of work you have looked at, whether assessed with half a page of feedback given (!!) or simply read as part of whole class feedback. Or simply read as you circulate around the room.

To be honest I have always taken building up this knowledge for granted because I have taught my classes for at least 5 hours a fortnight since the start of my teaching career. For subjects that see more classes and for fewer hours, this does represent a challenge. I know some teachers that use class photos from SIMS as they mark pupil work so they can associate the work with the name as wall as the photo (thus building up the internal schema of the pupil). Our ICT department have individual pupil folders for homework and on the front of each folder is a photo of the pupil. Markbooks can come in handy as long as they contain some key assessment data. It is important to remember that the most effective testing will be when we don’t collect scores in off pupils and so keep the stakes of testing as low as possible.

  • Classroom routines and norms must be truly inclusive. You cannot be a responsive teacher (or a great differentiator -same thing) unless you run a truly inclusive classroom.

Hands up questioning should never be a regular feature. It allows pupils to opt out of thinking. And if they opt out of thinking then you can’t get, or give feedback on their thinking. Cold call is preferable every single time. It is also a great way to differentiate as you can ask a variety of pupils a question and give each a question just outside their comfort zone.

However, there must be a number of questions that are answered by every pupil in the class. Feedback of everyone’s responses must be sought by the teacher (@Doug_Lemov calls this “show me”. This could be achieved by using whiteboards. Probably the best way is through designing multiple choice “hinge questions” that tell you which pupils are right but also which pupils are wrong- and why!! This blog by @HFletcherWood clarifies what good hinge questions look like. Craig Barton (@mrbartonmaths) calls them diagnostic questions and they feature in his brilliant book.

Here is an example of a good hinge question:


If pupils answer A) then I can assume they are getting molecules and atoms confused.

If pupils answer B) then I can assume they are looking at the fact there are 3 different elements rather than correctly answering that (C) there are 24 atoms in glucose. If they go for D) it may be worth exploring, perhaps away from their peers exactly what they think the answer is (and why).

BUT, it is what happens next which is key. It is all very well thinking that 75% of pupils get a hinge question right so we can move on. What about the 25% that got it wrong? There are a multitude of things that can be done but the mistake/misconception must be put right. Pupils giving wrong answers to the hinge question allows you to be truly responsive. Read Harry’s post or Craig’s book for detail on what that response could look like. In the above example, pupils that opted for C) could design a question where A) and then B) would be the right answer whilst the teacher circulates around those that got it wrong.

Put simply, 75% of pupils getting a hinge question right is evidence that the concept doesn’t need wider reteaching. However it does mean the 25% need further input. And it is likley that the feedback is needed right now.

This simple model of feedback only works if you regularly get meaningful feedback from the whole class:


Feedback from hinge questions can be done via whiteboards, a show of fingers, rock/paper/scissors, Kahoot (not a fan) or hands up as you go through each option. I have started to experiment with Plickers to collect hinge question data. One pupil in my Year 11 class says she much prefers this as she was embarrassed to raise her hand in case she was revealing that she had a wrong answer (despite me feeling that I had achieved what @Doug_Lemov calls a culture of error in my classroom).

  • No dumbing down. It is tempting sometimes to use everyday language rather than the language of the subject, particularly when teaching some of our lower attaining students. The problem here is that the very pupils that lack this subject knowledge and vocabulary will be further disadvantaged by this. The outcome can only be incomplete schema with gaps that will make further learning even more difficult. On occasions, a teacher may think that I am going to miss out topic x because it is going to be beyond “these kids”. On occasions there is justification to miss certain topics out. It can buy more curriculum time for topics that may be more important to master for future learning. However, a teacher should see it as a challenge worth accepting to nail even the most difficult concepts with lower attainers. With great planning (perhaps tapping into departmental expertise) and responsive teaching (based on feedback from every student), why not?
  • Use desirable difficulties to build storage and retrieval strength. There may be a temptation to not use desirable difficulties (spacing, retrieval, interleaving) with lower attaining students as very often the prevailing thought can be that they are struggling enough anyway so why add in more difficulties? Again, this is myopic. I would argue that lower attaining students need to utilise desirable difficulties even more than higher attaining students. Perhaps one reason why some students struggle is because they have a more limited working memory than others. If this is the case then there is even more need to commit some key concepts to long term memory. This will make future learning easier (and reinforces the importance of dual coding in the teaching phase). It is possible that some pupils are lower attainers because their memory’s retrieval strength decreases quicker. Again, all the more reason for space retrieval. However, some additional cues could be made available if retrieval strength has dropped too much. (For more on storage and retrieval strength read this blog by @EdScientists or this by me).

A spacing task might look like this (given as spacing homeworks to my Year 10 class last year):


can be quickly tweaked to this:

eutrophi add

The difference is minimal. It doesn’t do the retrieval for them. But it might just be enough in terms of cues to help them retrieve.

In short, it is all very well saying that you respond to the needs of your students. But do you have a classroom culture where your classroom routines are truly inclusive? Do they allow you to get feedback from all your students? Do you know your students and what represents excellence for each of them?

Responsive teaching is what formative assessment should have been called. It is also what in class differentiation should be called.

Constructive comments, as always, are welcomed below.

#TLT17 Part 2 Challenge, Differentiation and Inclusion- Planning (the before).

This is part 2 of 3 of my #TLT17 session. In part 1 I acknowledged this blog by @teacherhead, this blog by @atharby and this blog by @chrishildrew. I must confess that I hadn’t realised just how much Chris’s blog had influenced much of my thinking, particularly over the use of the term ability.

Part 1 was more about the philosophy behind inclusion, challenge and differentiation. This blog is more on how we can plan lessons which are challenging but inclusive.

In terms of ensuring challenge, I use SOLO taxonomy to set my expected learning outcomes. They look something like this:

so that

I know that SOLO has its critics but for me it’s a key way that I ensure that what I am asking my students to do is sufficiently challenging.  This blog by @Andyphilipday advocates SOLO but spells out the dangers of its misuse (particularly in thinking it is a race to extended abstract). For me, SOLO works because it means that making links between well understood (and remembered) scientific facts, ideas or concepts is at the heart of what I ask my pupils to do. And this means that I set challenging tasks.

The key to my use of learning outcomes for pupils (the so that part) is that my expectation is that all pupils will be able to achieve all of them. There is no some, most, all. I may need to provide additional support to some pupils but my expectation is that all will strive to get/do/achieve/whateveryouwanttocallit each learning outcome.

Lesson planning should always start with what do I want pupils to learn (rather than what activity they are going to do). Once that is established, you design tasks that enable pupils to work with this content. SOLO really helps me design challenging tasks.

Whether you use SOLO or not (and I really do recommend using it, particularly in content heavy subjects) the most important question to ask when planning your lesson is:


Of course it may be for a sequence of lessons but you get the drift. This means looking at the content that you are teaching as well as the work that you are going to ask pupils to complete.

This photo is from @ChrisMoyse and it features in our school’s 10 features of effective lessons. The image is springing up in many of our classrooms.


But the question is, does your task design allow students to show excellence? In addition, knowing your students is vital. Our students will have different starting points so what represents excellence for one pupil might not represent excellence from another pupil. The key here is knowing your students well enough to know what excellence looks like from them AND THEN having an expectation that what represents excellence will change as the bar is raised for each and every student over time.


In terms of how we can successfully differentiate, a google search typically gives something like this:

types of diff

This list is by no means exhaustive and it can quickly become quite overwhelming if you consider every possible way that differentiation could be achieved.

For manageable differentiation (big nod to @atharby here), think about differentiation before and during. The before is when you plan the lesson (covered in this blog), and the during is obviously as the lesson unfolds.

just think


Type a is linked with your teaching (particularly your explanations) and type b is linked with the pupils and their undertaking of the task(s) you have set them. Type a is to do with the misunderstandings and misconceptions that pupils can have with the content. Type b is to do with pupils’ difficulty in completing the task (and what help/support/scaffolding may be needed).

Before -Type a- plug gaps before they appear.

This is where subject knowledge really comes into it. Over the last few years I have been a little sceptical when I have read about the importance of subject knowledge. I wondered whether having a better understanding of action potentials and potassium gates would help me teach KS4 Biology. But if subject knowledge is linked with what and how pupils think about my subject then I am fully on board. We have beautiful, finely crafted cathedrals of knowledge in our brains (our subject schema) and we try to build this schema in our pupils’ brains. The curse of the expert means we sometimes overlook what it is to be a novice with incomplete schema. We have to remember that very often we are building and linking new knowledge with shaky prior knowledge. Our pupils’ cathedrals of knowledge (their schema) are lacking the necessary foundations to build on. This is where subject expertise comes in. This is particularly true lower down the school. The better we can teach, with common misconceptions and misunderstandings at the forefront of our minds, the better the foundations of their subject schema will be. And quite possibly (well almost certainly), less differentiation will be needed further up the school. We have to plug gaps before they appear, and this means having a clear understanding of what these gaps may actually be.

A few years ago, when teaching a Year 9 maths class, we had a few lessons coming up on adding and subtracting fractions. Even with my limited subject knowledge I anticipated that working out the lowest common denominator would be the bottle neck of the learning. This would be the area that most would struggle with. This would be the area that the biggest gap could appear.


In an effort to plug this gap before it appeared, the lesson started with recap work, a starter task on lowest common multiple. In fact, through spacing, I had ensured that pupils were still comfortable with working out the lowest common multiple of 2 numbers. Once the starter had been done, and any mistakes reviewed and discussed, pupils did not struggle with choosing the lowest common denominator. That simple anticipation, made when planning the lesson, had meant that the lesson went far better than it might have. If I hadn’t done the starter then it is likely that some pupils would have struggled which could have left me thinking that I should have differentiated in the lesson.

Staying with Maths, I was teaching a lesson where, if pupils were to be successful, they would need to be comfortable with mixed units of grams and kilograms. I anticipated that this may be the bottle neck of the lesson (or the biggest gap in their knowledge) so I gave the pupils an entry ticket which they did before they started the main task. This ensured that any difficulty in completing the task would not be because they couldn’t convert between units fluently.

entry tickets

I will return to entry tickets later on.

The above examples are just one way of plugging the gap. The usual and most straightforward way would be to plug the gaps during your explanation. The best example I can give is teaching KS3 students about respiration. It is an ongoing frustration that pupils continue to conflate breathing and respiration. When teaching KS3 pupils, I will make explicit the links between the 2 processes but also explain how they are different. I will even cover WHY people conflate them (the lungs being part of respiratory system, artificial respiration etc). I won’t leave it to chance that they will be clear on the differences between the 2 processes. I will also revisit this key concept in the coming months. This should ensure my pupils get to KS4 with a tacit understanding of what respiration is (and why it is NOT the same as breathing). Again, this will limit the need to differentiate later.

This is where dual coding comes in too (see part 1). If your explanations can plug gaps and are accompanied by complementary graphics that limit cognitive load, then the need to differentiate at a later date will be reduced.

So type a (of the before) is all about knowing the common misconceptions and misunderstandings your pupils may have. And we plug those gaps before they appear. Of course it is impossible to predict every misconception pupils may have (this is where formative assessment and classroom routines come into it) but we can plug the usual, common ones. And the more years that we teach, the more aware we should be about these common gaps. These common gaps should be discussed in subject meetings. And plugged in class. Before they appear.


Before – Type b- difficulty in completing the task.

Picture the lesson: you have delivered your explanation and plugged the main gaps before they appear. Now the pupils are going to undertake their task. The trick is to anticipate the difficulty that pupils may have with the task and how they can be supported.



Scaffolding is a great term as the support that you provide individual pupils can be reduced and removed as time goes by. I stole a great analogy from @BodilUK‘s blog on scaffolding. There are 2 types of support that novice bike riders can be offered. The top right is the traditional stabilisers option. The bottom right is learning on a balance bike. Bodil rightly argues that when children learn to ride bikes, the key is that they successfully learn how to balance. Stabilisers take away the need to learn how to balance. So whilst children can have the illusion that they are successfully riding their bike, the stabilisers have done all the hard work for them. Far better to use a balance bike. The pedalling has been removed but children have to learn and master the key attribute of balance.

Selecting the right scaffolding for our learners is analogous to this. It should help them access and complete the task but it must not do the thinking for them. The scaffolding must not do the cognitive work for the learner.

If you are doing a clozed exercise (pupils fill in the blanks) and you provide the missing words at the top of the worksheet then this will support pupils but won’t do all of the thinking for them (as long as some of the words could possibly go in multiple gaps). However, if the first letter is provided like this:


then it becomes nothing more than a matching exercise. The first gap is metal by default as it is the only m. Using a resource like this removes, or massively reduces the thinking pupils have to do. It must be avoided.

I am not a big fan of closed exercises but without the first letter this is far more legitimate task. Disclaimer- I used a google image search for the resource and added the first letter myself (on paint). This is not what the resource looked like. The above was just to illustrate the point.

A few years ago I was teaching the similarities and differences between optic fibres and satellites (GCSE Physics). I gave pupils a venn diagram:


I would then reveal 10 sentences on the board and pupils would write each sentence in the relevant section of the venn diagram. In the first year that I did this, many pupils would finish in the “expected” time but some pupils (whether to do with speed of handwriting or processing issues) would not. In fact, many would have only completed 3 sentences by the time I was going through the answers. This meant that they only participated in a small part of the activity and the task design had limited their thinking.

The following year I simply used the same 10 sentences but with 1, 2, 3 etc before each sentence. Pupils then had to put the number in the correct area of the venn diagram. All pupils were finished within a few minutes. All pupils had thought about where each sentence should go. Again, it didn’t look like differentiation but without it I would have excluded some pupils from the task and left me with the feeling that I should have differentiated. This tweak is a good example of how, when planning our lessons, we need to critique every task we ask pupils to do, before we consider what scaffolding is required. I am not a fan of clozed exercises. When pupils are copying out closed exercises into their books it is a criminal waste of learning time (unless the purpose is handwriting practice). The only thinking involved is what goes into the gaps. The rest is just copying. What a waste of time. The change in approach with the venn diagram freed up precious learning time by removing pointless copying time.

Here are some more examples of scaffolding:


This could be used by some pupils as their actual graph. It could be used by others to help set out their graph. Some pupils may not need the scaffolding at all. These could be available face down on the table and pupils use the scaffolding if they need to. This still ensures that pupils plot a graph. This scaffolding can be changed to this (as time goes by as pupils gain in independence and graph drawing skills):


More examples of scaffolding are:


art check

(Post session addition)- or this brilliant one from @Pekabelo where a rubric is replaced with a standard – the expectation is all pupils work to meet it:


Or this by @atharby:


If you are teaching a lesson on fair trade in geography you may want pupils to access this information (credit to Matt Grant and also @ASTsupportAAli):

geog 1

You may anticipate that some in your mixed attainment class are going to struggle with the reading, particularly because of the vocabulary involved:

geog 2

There are 3 choices available for you pre lesson.

  1. Give some pupils a reduced version with many of the key words removed. The massive downside to this is that these are the very pupils that need to be exposed to the key academic vocabulary. If you withhold the vocabulary as it is too demanding for them then they are going to fall even further behind their language rich peers. How can they close the gap with this approach?
  2. Plough on with the text and help students as they work through it. Better than point 1 but plenty of issues here. Or:
  3. Tweak the resource:

geog 3

geog 4

Go through a few lines at a time. “Coach” pupils to highlight key words that they are unsure of. Then define them as you move through the lines.

My wife made a valid point when I showed her this. She asked what if pupils are too embarrassed to highlight and communicate that they don’t know certain words. The answer to this is to ensure that you create a classroom culture where it is ok to make mistakes and for pupils to be comfortable to admit they don’t know certain things. As teachers we set the classroom climate and we must strive to have a classroom of high expectations hand in hand with pupils being comfortable being wrong as it is just a part of learning. I know this sounds cheesy (and is) but that is what we strive for.

Post blog edit. Huge thanks to @JulesDaulby for suggesting the use of immersive reading in word 365 online (see here). Pupils that have decoding issues could use this programme. There is also free text to speech in word 2016 (see here). These “read” the words and the reading speed can be varied. Electronic textbooks can be used this way and pupils with visual impairments or decoding issues can have them for free.

It may well be that for some tasks scaffolding won’t be appropriate and what some students may need is simply more time with the teacher. When I used to teach Maths I regularly used “entry tickets” (idea from @Doug_Lemov’s fantastic TLAC2).


Entry tickets are given to pupils and they need to complete them successfully before they attempt the main piece of work. Pupils bring them up to my desk and if they get them all right they start the main task. The entry ticket task as to be linked with a key element of the main task. More detail is provided here.

The way that I used these entry tickets would be to (as subtly as possible) hand them out to the higher attaining students first. By and large, these students would finish quickly, come out to my desk, get all answers correct and move onto the main task. This then means I am free to spend more time with the students that may be struggling with the task. I could reteach a small group or make further explanations an individual basis. Whatever I do, this entry ticket has bought me some time to spend with pupils that are struggling. Very often this is more appropriate than providing scaffolding. You could argue that the actual physical entry ticket is “gimmicky” but the principle can be applied in many different ways. And it can really help make your classroom an inclusive place.


This amount of thought required at the planning stage may seem overwhelming. But as a teacher gains experience then planning to account for type a and type b will become second nature. It will just become a part of planning lessons.

This is the end of part 2. Part 3 will look at what should happen during the lesson. This will focus on ensuring we have robust, embedded classroom routines that allow us to be truly responsive.

#TLT17 Challenge, Differentiation and Inclusion – Part 1 (Myths and Non-negotiables)

This is a blog (part 1 of 3) which covers much of my session at #TLT17. Before I start, huge thanks and massive respect to the organisers @davidfawcett27 and @MissJLud for running such a wonderful event. It was a pleasure to attend and a privilege to take a session. Thanks to everyone that came to my session and in particular @chrishildrew, @Pekabelo, @LetsBuySomfings, @LisaFernandez78, @_jopayne, @senoraelliot, @RTSFCPerfArts, @LS_Herts, @NEdge9 and @CristaHazell for tweeting nice things during and/or after. It means a lot (I hope I haven’t missed anyone out).

This blog (part 1) and indeed part 2 are based on my own experience in the classroom from the last 18 years, discussions with colleagues and on a number of blogs I have read in the last few years. This by @teacherhead, this by @atharby and this by @chrishildew have been very important (and I have stolen many of their ideas).


Our Learners are very different. They have different interests and different motivations towards certain subjects and this can change depending on the day, the time of day and even the weather. They may have ALN, they may be EAL. They will all have different starting points. Research from Graham Nuthall suggests that on average, students already know 40% of the lesson content.


Unfortunately this 40% is unique to each learner. They all have differences in their prior knowledge and this combined with how they engage and link with the new subject knowledge, means that they build their subject knowledge in a way that is unique to them. If we accept how different each learner is then how on earth can we achieve our aim of inclusion and challenge for all? Is it possible? As always, we aim for perfection and hope to get as close to it as we possibly can.

In my experience these are differentiation myths:

  • Differentiation and inclusion will be obvious in every lesson.


There are many small, subtle changes that we can make to help all learners access the lesson. However, they are not always obviously observable. But that is ok as we don’t differentiate for someone in the corner of the room with a clipboard to tick off the differentiation box in a lesson observation). I would argue that the more inclusive we are, the less we will need to differentiate next week, next month and next term. Being aware of Cognitive Load Theory can really help ensure your classroom is as inclusive as possible.


Making use of dual coding when we are making explanations is a case in point.

If a Geography teacher is teaching Oxbow Lakes formation then he/she could choose one of the following diagrams to complement the teacher explanation.


Information can be processed through the visual channel (what we see) and the auditory channel (what we hear). The auditory channel is sometimes called the phonological loop and the visual channel is sometimes called the visuo-spatial sketchpad.


or put simply:

dual code oliver


Our working memory has a limit before it gets overloaded but we can increase the amount of information being processed if we carefully choose what pupils see as they listen to our explanations. They have to complement each other. This “dual coding” also helps with encoding into long-term memory. So, why is a so much the better option than b?

The big problem with option b is that many pupils will start looking and reading other bits of the diagram while the teacher is explaining another part. As the pupil reads the words they are sounded out internally and are processed along the auditory channel. The teacher’s oral explanation is also processed along the auditory channel. At the same time. These clash and cause cognitive overload. This means pupils will be left with incomplete understanding. With option a, the visual information will complement the teacher’s explanation. Extraneous information has been removed. This simple example is just one way that we can make our classrooms more inclusive and make our teaching more effective for more of our learners.

(As an aside, option b would be better on an information sheet or in a revision guide. The difference here is that when pupils read this they don’t have the teacher’s explanations competing and potentially conflicting with what they are reading.)

If the teacher opts for b) then more differentiation may be needed at a later date as pupils will have incomplete prior knowledge to build on. This is one of many examples where a bit of thought can have a big impact on student learning.

This is how I would use this image to teach Ultrafiltration and Selective Reabsorption:

loop of henle

Start with the bg picture but then to avoid students reading other parts of the diagram when you are explaining, zoom in,


make your explanation about what happens here in the Bowmans capsule, and then zoom back out to the big picture

loop of henle

before zooming into the next area for your explanation.

  • You need some, most, all learning objectives.  Don’t use these. They betray low expectations as pupils will invariably know which category they fall into. Pupils could opt out of being in the some category for an easier time. Set the bar high. Scaffolding and other support may be needed for some pupils to get them over that bar.


  • Pupils should all be doing different tasks matched to their “ability”.  30+ pupils. Good luck with that.


  • Differentiation means giving every pupil work they can do. Pupils should not be working in their comfort zone. Work should be pitched in their struggle zone. We have to make them think.



  • Many tasks =good, one task = bad. Caveat- there is nothing wrong with a single task in a lesson rather than pupils working on different levels of task but the task has to be well designed.


  • Differentiation will be something we crack. There will always be lessons where it just doesn’t seem to work for all of our learners. This is life. Reflect and refine for next time.


There are some non-negotiables.

Do not neglect the basic entitlement of students with particular learning needs. Check the SEN/ALN register. If a pupil needs buff paper that is what they have. If they have to sit near the front then that must happen. Consult  your SENCO/ALNCOfor further guidance. Tap into the expertise we have in school.

  • Know your pupils. This is easier for core subjects as they have fewer classes and see the pupils more often. The best way to know your pupils is to get up and talk to them about their work and to see their output as often as is possible.
  • Have high expectations of all of your learners. Just bear in mind that you will be communicating your expectations in every single interaction you have with each pupil. But some interactions, like the standard of work accepted and the effort shown in class that is accepted will be especially important. 
  • Make sure you have a “growth mindset” about your pupils and that this is constantly communicated with them. Some pupils may not think they are going to improve, no matter how hard they work. We must believe they will (because it is true- though some will improve in smaller increments than others) and communicate this to them. Hard work is the closest thing to a secret ingredient for their progress.


These latter 2 points link with the most damaging and limiting term we can use in school – “low ability”. In fact the term ability is a problem. It implies a fixed view on whether learners are going to achieve or not. We need to replace ability with current attainment. Low current attainment means just that. It does not communicate that attainment is fixed. It is just where they are now. If pupils are put in the lowers sets, have teachers with low expectations (“what do you expect from these kids?”) and are labelled low ability then they will surely live down to these low expectations. I am hopeful it doesn’t happen here but we must always guard against it.

From the Millennium Cohort Study – 88% of 4 year olds placed in bottom sets are still there when they leave school. As you can imagine, summer babies are heavily represented. Label them low ability when many are just trying to play catch up on their older peers. If we label them, communicate lower expectations to them and don’t give them challenging work, this will be a sure fire way of ensuring they never catch up. Finland don’t group until the age of 14. Something to think about there.

There is also the issue of the effects of being born into a low income household (in general of course):

This is from the Clinton Foundation: Studies have found that by age four, children in middle and upper class families hear 15 million more words than children in working-class families, and 30 million more words than children in families on welfare. This disparity in hearing words from parents and caregivers translates directly into a disparity in learning words. And that puts our children born with the fewest advantages even further behind. 

In our classrooms we need to set the bar of expectation high and then we may need different ladders to help each learner get there.


I am big believer in the Pygmalion Effect (and the Golem effect).




Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson’s study showed that if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from children then (surprise, surprise) the children’s performance was enhanced. This video explains the study and the findings in detail. Robert Rosenthal explained that there were four main reasons for this. The first was climate. Teachers were warmer and friendlier to the pupils that they believed were the “higher attainers”. They were warmer to them both verbally and non-verbally. The second was input. The teachers taught them more material and more content. The third was response opportunity. They tended to call on who they believed to be the higher attainers and they allowed them more time to explain their answers. The teachers helped these pupils shape their answers. The fourth was feedback. The “”higher attainers” were praised more for getting a good answer correct. They were also given more feedback on wrong answers, with a clear clarification on why the answer was wrong. The “lower attaining” students were more likely to have low quality answers accepted.

I understand there are criticisms of the study but I firmly believe that the pygmalion effect and its evil twin the golem effect are important considerations for us. Beware a self-fulfilling prophecy for our “low ability” pupils.

Ban the term “ability” – it has no place in our schools.

Part 2 will follow and will look at how, bearing in mind how different our learners are, we can still ensure our classrooms are inclusive and suitably challenging for all of our learners.

How do pupils learn?

This blog post is a new document for our school. It will hopefully share some of the most importany findings of cognitive science and give our staff a shared vocabulary when it comes to the messy business of pupil learning. It is going to be a “live” document and the “in the classroom” sections are deliberately brief. My hope is that over the next 12 months departmts can add to these sections by including what that looks like in their subject area.

The document is mainly based on the superb The Science of Learning by The Deans for Impact. Other influences are credited throughout.

The main sections are

  • How do students understand new information?
  • How do students learn and retain new information?
  • How do students solve problems and transfer learning to new situations inside and outside the classroom?
  • Other considerations

Here is the summary document:


Here is the fuller document:

The ten features of effective lessons is a useful focus on what constitutes effective practice. However, it must be seen in a wider context of pupil learning.

This Document focuses on important considerations for pupil learning that go beyond the scope of a single lesson. It looks at how students understand, retain and transfer this knowledge and skills.

what is learning

  • How  do students understand new ideas?

Students learn new ideas by reference to ideas they already know. A well sequenced curriculum is important to ensure that students have the prior knowledge needed to master new ideas. Elaboration is needed and links need to be made with relevant background knowledge. Students learn differently because of their differing amounts of background knowledge and how this new knowledge fits into this background knowledge to build schema.


classroom 1

To learn, students must transfer information from working memory to long term memory where it is stored and potentially later retrieved. Students have limited working memory capacities that can be overwhelmed by tasks that are cognitively too demanding (intrinsic load) or involve too many items to process (extraneous load).

classroom 2.png

Another way of reducing cognitive overload of working memory is to combine words and pictures when we are making explanations (see Teacher Clarity in 10 features of Effective Lessons). Research on dual coding suggest that students can simultaneous process through their visual and auditory channels which mean more information can be absorbed without causing any cognitive overload of working memory. What this means is that pictures, graphs, photos, diagrams or animations should be combined with verbal explanations. If the two types of information complement each other then learning will be enhanced. But if the two sources of information are split – such as speaking aloud with different text displayed visually- attention is divided and learning is impaired.


Further reading on Cognitive Load Theory by @Olivercavigliol

  • How do students learn and retain new information?

We want students to think about meaning when they encounter new information.

classroom 3.png

Making Explanations Stick by @shaun_allison

Spacing (and distributed practice), interleaving and retrieval practice can help students remember content over the long term. Spacing is when topics are revisited/skills practiced over time (weeks, months). If you are to retain access to new knowledge over time periods of months and years then it needs to be revisited a number of times after it has been first encountered. The challenge is doing this with finite curriculum time. This idea is not new. It is based on the forgetting curve first proposed by Ebbinghaus in the 19th Century.


Teachers often feel frustrated that students seem to forget nearly everything that they learned last week or last month or last year. The truth is that forgetting information (or more accurately a reduction in retrieval strength) is how the brain works. In reality the memory is still stored (with a storage strength) but the retrieval strength decreases over time. By revisiting information, we can increase both storage and retrieval strength.ace.png

Further reading by @AceThatTest

Spacing is even more effective if combined with retrieval practice. The art of practising recalling information from memory enhances learning because it reduces the rate of forgetting by increasing retrieval and storage strength of the information. When information is successfully retrieved from memory, its representation in memory is changed such that it becomes more recallable in the future (Bjork, 1975); and this improvement is often greater than the benefit resulting from additional study.

classroom 4

The best time to attempt retrieval of information is on the verge of it being forgotten. In action that is not easy but if we space out retrieval practice and make the time delay longer each time then learners’ understanding and recall will be massively enhanced. It is better to teach once and space the retrieval than teach once, delay for too long and then have to teach again.


This is why distributed practice is better than massed practice (in the long term). The balance must be struck to ensure enough initial practice is done to ensure conceptual understanding (not moving on too quickly).

Spacing, interleaving and retrieval practice are known as desirable difficulties. The reason they are not widely used is that they are more difficult and because of this students appear less fluent in their learning. For example, reading and highlighting notes for revision can give the illusion of fluency whereas trying to recall the material is so much more difficult but leads to greater long term retention. Rather counter intuitively, introducing certain difficulties into the learning process can greatly improve long-term retention of the learned material. The reason is that this difficulty forces learners into a deeper processing of material.



More on Optimal Spacing Gaps.

  • How do students solve problems and transfer learning to new situations inside and outside the classroom?

Each subject area has some set of facts that, if committed to long term memory, aids problem solving by freeing working memory resources and illuminating contexts in which existing knowledge and skills can be applied. The size and content of this set varies by subject. The facts could be key vocabulary in languages or times tables in Maths. If a student is trying to solve a problem and it involves the calculation 6×8 then it helps if the student knows the answer automatically. A student that has to stop and try to calculate this multiplication will add to their cognitive load and they may lose track of the larger problem.

classroom 5

  • Other considerations


However, students are not memory sticks . They need to be motivated, to see a point, to know what it’s for along the way. That’s what so much of our job is – persuading and showing what they can do with this accumulating awareness of the world (not my words, thanks @andyphilipday).

Students are more motivated if they believe that their intelligence and ability can be improved through hard work (a Growth Mindset). We can help this by praising (and rewarding) productive student effort and strategies which are under the student’s control rather than their ability. The term ability should not be used in our school. We should talk about current attainment rather than ability, particularly when describing teaching sets. Low ability is the most limiting term that we can use in school.

Metacognition is also an important area to focus on. Metacognition describes the processes involved when learners plan, monitor, evaluate and make changes to their own learning behaviours. However, this is not easy. Students do not find articulating their learning an easy thing to do. They will often say that they read, worked in as group and answered questions etc. They also don’t always judge accurately how well they have learned.

classroom 6.png

More on metacognition by @effortfuleduktr

and modelling metacognition by @johntomsett

Teaching pupils mnemonics is a very useful way of making the forgettable more memorable. Mnemonics can help chunk information together, often in a specific order, and they can give the information a naturally higher retrieval strength than they otherwise may have. This means that they are less likely to be forgotten.


classroom 7

More on Mnemonics by @joe__kirby

Thanks for reading. Constructive criticism welcome as always.



Revision- Practising what I Preach #retrievedonthighlight

Last week saw the launch of the Penyrheol “How to Revise” guide. Pupils were all given a hard copy and it was emailed home too. It was launched in an assembly for years 10 and 11.

The key points emphasised were for pupils to space out their revision and to spend their time retrieving not highlighting.

This was the last slide from the assembly:

 I really hope that pupils will be using some of the research backed ideas from the guide when they are revising. A few pupils have been “trolling” the hash tag but it proves they have been listening.



I had a great converstaion on twitter with @danielharvey9 about revision and we discused how important it was for teachers to model explicitly how revision should be done. Hopefully the days of saying “just go and revise” are long gone (and this post by @davidfawcett27 suggests it is or needs to be). So in light of all this I had to think about how I was going to structure or model the revision for my Year 10 Science classes. They have an hour and half exam on my unit on June 16th. They have a lot of content to remember. I have tried to enusre that we have revised during the year (see this blog and this blog for how I have looked to enusre that they don’t forget a year’s worth of content that I then have to reteach in the last few weeks).

Pupils have been given a revision list with the 8 topics on it (and the subtopics within it). During the year, for each topic they have a pre and post teaching checklist and they use this to identify areas that still need further work in terms of their understanding. These are very useful to inform revision. But they are not enough on their own.

I quickly realised that I needed to design their revision around the lag homworks that they had been given during the year due to their (relative) success and the pupils’ familiarity with them. Using the lag homeworks as a starting point I produced 2 retrieval revision sheets for each of the 8 topics (well, 17 in total as one topic was too big for just 2 sheets). Here is a sample of a few of them:



Pupils have been given the 15 retrieval sheets as a booklet (further 2 to follow once the final topic has been covered). The sheets are also available to pupils digitally so they can print them off (or look online) to repeat the process. However, they also need guidance on arranging their revision to ensure that they take advantage of the spacing effect. I also gave pupils this:calendar

Pupils are (hopefully) fully aware that this 14 hours of revision, spread over 12 weeks, is far more effective than waiting until the last moment and spending 14 hours revising the week before the exam. These suggested timings also allow for plenty of time to revise for other subjects (some of our pupils have up to 7 exams this summer).

Completing the retrieval revision sheets

Just like for the lag homeworks, pupils should spend 15 minutes trying to retrieve. No internet, no books. Just their brains. The prompt questions should help with the retrieval. They should use dual coding where approprate. They should elaborate as their retrieval improves. When the 15 minutes is up they then get their booklet of notes (specific pages are shown on the retrieval sheets) and check their retrieved knowledge for errors and omissions. Using a different colour pen they then add anything they missed out. This should take 5 minutes. So half a topic revised in 20 minutes. The finished retrieval sheet will look like this(this is a photo of a lag homework from earlier in the year):


I then didn’t want pupils to use the finshed sheet as something to revise from when they revisit the topic. The finished sheet can be used to check for errors and omissions when they retrieved their knowledge on a blank sheet later in the revision calendar. The process is more importent than the “finished” sheet.

I also told pupils that they need to have faith in the process. This will not be fun revision. It will feel harder than reading and highlighting. But it will work. Hopefully they will see how much more they were able to retrieve on their second and third revisit.

We shall see. Already feedback from pupils is positive, both in terms of using the sheets and in terms of following the calendar. I am hoping that pupils keep the faith.

I have put up a display in my office just to show that I am trying to practise what I preach.


It is also really pleasing that staff are using the language of successful revision. This is (draft version) what our Maths team are using as the cover for their maths practice “flash cards”.


And remember:


Post edit- If anybody would like the documents they are available to download from dropbox here:


How to Revise

I am uploading the updated Penyrheol revision guide so that it can go out for wider critique and feedback. I can then make any necessary tweaks and give it out to our pupils.

Here it is and any feedback is welcome:

page 1page 2page 3page 4page 5page 6page 7page 8

Optimal Time For Spacing Gaps (?)

This blog is linked to my previous blog on trying to apply spacing in a content heavy subject. In that blog I set out my plans to build in spacing with my Year 10 Science class by introducing lag/retrieval homeworks and spacing lessons. The homework is set some time after the topic is complete. The spacing lesson is where the topic is revisited (via tests/past paper questions etc) after another time gap. I know that spacing is effective but I had no hard evidence to guide me in deciding how long the gaps should be.

I included this table in my previous blog to give ideas for rough timings:


The problem with the table is that I am actually splitting up each topic (apart from topic 2) into an a and b so there are 15 mini-topics to think about lag homeworks and/or spacing lessons.Another problem was that the planned timings of the lag homeworks and spacing lessons was fairly arbitrary with a short(ish) gap between study and lag homework and a bigger gap between the homework and the spacing lesson and then the biggest gap to June for the exam.

I was encouraged to look at any academic paper that may give some insight into the optimum timings for spacing events.  I read Spacing Effects in Learning, a Temporal Ridgeline of Optimal Retention by Cepeda et al. After a few reads I realised that for the first time I had something concrete to trial in terms of gaps between spacing events.

The paper describes an experiment where the gap between the initial study and the restudy (the Gap) was varied and the gap between the restudy and the final test (the RI) was also varied. The research looked to trial a number of different gaps with a number of  different retention intervals. The gap + the RI = the total time between initial study and

This was different to other research that had taken place which looked at varying the gap against a constant RI. The research by Capeda et al looked to establish when was the optimum time to introduce a spacing event (the restudy) and did it change if the time from first study to test (the gap + the RI) increased. The team chose to test the optimal gap with RI lengths of 7, 35, 70 and 350 days.

The results were fascinating. The results were very much dependent on how long it was between initial study and test.

As expected, as the RI increased, the optimum gap before restudy increased. Interestingly, the experiment did not find some golden ratio between gap and RI. In fact,as the RI increased the ratio between the  gap and the RI decreased. This means as the RI increases the optimum gap increases but not at the same rate. The experiment found that the following RIs had optimum gaps of (NB- these are based on interpolating the experimental data with cubic splines):

RI Gap
7 3
35 8
70 12
350 27

I put these into Excel and produced a graph which I think gives a starting point in looking at optimal gap to RI ratio.


For instance, If you finish a topic today and the test is in 60 days then (perhaps) your optimum gap before restudy would be 10 days which leaves an RI of roughly 50 days (a 1:5 ratio or gap being 20% of RI).

If your class finishes a topic today and the test is in 114 days then (perhaps) your optimum gap before restudy would be 14 days which leaves an RI of 100 days (a 7:50 ratio or gap being 14% of RI).

If your class finishes a topic today and the test is in 250 days then (perhaps) your optimum gap before restudy would be 21 days which leaves an RI of 230 days (gap being 9% of RI).

This graph is perhaps more “user friendly” showing time from initial study to test against gap to restudy:



The changing gap to RI ratio is interesting. It seems the restudy is the point in between which best balances the time from original study to the time of the retest. The fact that the gap stays small relative to the RI suggests strongly that the optimum spacing gap is very closely linked to the rate of forgetting. Even for very long RIs (350 days), the gap is only 27 days. It seems that it is preferable to have the restudy session within a shortish time of the original study despite the fact it gives a very long RI. This is surely because if the gap was any bigger too much of the original study material would have been forgotten and retrieval strength would be practically zero. It is better to keep a relatively short gap and trade off with a very long RI. I imagine a spacing session much later than the optimum gap would be more like a reteaching lesson rather than a restudy/recall lesson.

So hopefully, the above graph gives a starting point on when to introduce a spacing activity (a lag homework, a spacing lesson, a test etc).

2 Spacing Events?

What really got me thinking was could I use the data from the experiment to design optimum spacing gaps if I was going to introduce 2 spacing events. These would be my lag homework and the spacing lesson. After much deliberation I came up with the following premise:double

If I could treat them as 2 separate gap and RIs (where a + b+ c = time from study to test) and so:

If I just look at the study and the lag homework and the spacing lesson  I need to choose a gap and an RI that gives optimum recall for the spacing lesson.

If I then look at the lag homework and the spacing lesson and the exam I need to choose a gap and RI that gives optimum recall for the exam.

My leap of faith is that these spacing gaps work together to give optimum recall for the exam.

As an example- I finished topic 2 on Monday. I want pupil to have optimal recall for the heavy revision and exam practice that will start on June 1st (roughly). This means that from Monday 31st October there 212 days until June 1st. By using the above graph I have worked out my gaps of 5 days until the Lag Homework, an extra 18 days until the spacing homework and then leaving a 185 day gap until June 1st.

At first this final RI seems too big. It seems counter intuitive to think that the optimum 2 gaps would see both spacing activities take place within a month of study leaving a RI of 7 months. However, there is a real trade off here in terms of the rate of forgetting. The bigger the gap, the more a pupil will forget making the retrieval event far less effective. “One potential danger of waiting too long before reviewing information is that
students may forget much of what they have learned previously, and this forgetting may
offset any benefits that would have occurred due to spacing.” Carpenter et al, 2012.

Next steps: I have got rid of my pretty Microsoft word table (with all of the colours) and have replaced it with the table below:


Topic 1a and 1b have been completed on the above dates but the spacing homeworks went out a lot later than the “ideal” dates. This means that the spacing lesson will also be delayed past the “ideal dates” above. However I can run with the above dates for Topic 2 so I will have something to compare come June.

My intention is to record when I complete each topic and to then use the graph to calculate the best 3 gaps to maximise retention of knowledge for June 2017.

I am not certain that these timings will be the optimum. However, I am also conscious that I don’t want huge gaps between the events as I don’t want the spacing lesson to be a re-teaching lesson.

I am just going to see how it goes and evaluate at the end of the year.

The bottom line is that I think the spacing will be of benefit. Hopefully I am on the right track and working with (potentially) optimum gaps. We shall see.

Huge thanks to Dylan Wiliam for sending me the Cepeda et al article. It was massively appreciated.
Feedback is very welcome below.


(Trying to apply) Spacing in a Content Heavy Subject


I wrote a post a few months ago on applying the principles of Spacing  with my Maths class (Sutton Trust highlights spacing as a practice which has good evidence of improving attainment) . This is a follow up blog but this one focuses on what I am trying to do with my Year 10 Science classes. This is a different proposition  as it is a content heavy course with a big exam at the end of Year 10. I am very conscious that some content is going to be a challenge for pupils to understand in the first instance, let alone remember 8 months later in their 1 hour 45 minute GCSE exam.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out the minor tweaks I have made to my routine. This blog from 2014 clarifies what I did then and I have made a few changes since. A few years ago I employed RAG123 marking (from more see this or this by @ListerKev). For whatever reason this has slipped from being my regular practice. Having read this excellent blog on Exit Tickets from @HarryFletcherWood, I realised that I missed seeing the regular output of my students and that I was in danger of being so focused on spacing the learning that I would “take my eye off the ball” in terms of their conceptual understanding on a lesson by lesson basis. I’ve read some super blogs (try this by @EdScientists- guest blogging for the Learning Scientists) on memory having a storage strength and a retrieval strength and I didn’t want to focus only on increasing retrieval strength at the expense of the pupils storing incorrect knowledge in the first place. This by @KrisBoulton (from @ManYanaEd’s prompting) has really helped my thinking here.

Where do I start? Being part of a brilliant department helps. The content for the year has already been split into 8 topics with resources ready prepared. These 8 topics are fairly similar in length. This has helped with my planning on how I could use spacing .

Over the past few years I used one of these for each and every lesson to share learning intentions:


I decided that I would have learning intentions that spanned two or three lessons rather than have one for each lesson. In broad terms, each topic would have 2 distinct learning intention documents and I would design an exit ticket for each of these, so 16 in total. These would (as far as possible) probe pupils understanding of the concepts encountered over the last few lessons. Pupils and I would also RAG123 the tickets.

Learning intentions:


Exit Ticket:


Completed Exit Ticket:


exit 2.png


exit 3.png

So far the exit tickets have taken about 5 minutes to look through for a class of 24. The feedback they give me is invaluable and at the start of the next lesson we can put right some common misconceptions. This means we only move on when the class are secure in their conceptual understanding. These exit tickets have been an eye opener and the few minutes to check through (receive feedback) and the few minutes used in the next lesson (to give whole class feedback) is time well spent.

So how can I space the content in the curriculum? @MissDCox writes here about her work in this area. I did consider looking at ripping apart the 8 topics and truly  interleaving the content. My issue was that I felt that each topic needed to be taught as a block because otherwise my pupils would struggle to knit the knowledge together into a coherent schema for each topic.

So what else could I do? My plan now was to ensure that once the topic was complete we returned to it later in the year. However, finding the time wouldn’t be easy in a content filled course. When planning each topic I worked out that they roughly cover 9 hours of work. I decided to knock this down to 8 hours. This meant keeping some resources, including some exam questions up my sleeve. The “extra hour”can then be used as a “Spacing Lesson” some time later in the year. These spacing lessons would not be characterised by a reteaching of the topic. Instead they would focus on retrieval via multiple choice quizzes and by the use of some of the resources and exam questions that I had taken out at the time of the original teaching. It is very likely that a “Spacing lesson” could cover 2 previously covered topics.

My other change this year has been to create “Lag and Retrieve” homeworks. These are given about 3 weeks after finishing a topic. I got this idea from @joe__kirby and the type of homework set at Michaeala (and an ideas shared with me by @wendymaria100). I set the first “Lag and Retrieve” homework last week and pupils were told:

  • They should take no more than 20 minutes.
  • They are to be done from memory. Looking in books is banned.It is not about using any sources other than your brain.
  • As long as they have tried to retrieve there would be no consequences if they were not able to retrieve particularly successfully.
  • These homeworks would not be marked but we would look at some examples under a visualizer in the next lesson and pupils would make annotations and changes if they had failed to recall or had recalled  incorrectly.

This post by @AceThatTest gives a great explanation about the importance of retrieving and correcting errors.

This is a blank homework. I have added a few hints in each box just in case retrieval strength is so low that they are unable to put pen to paper.

lag homework.png

And some examples of completed (and annotated) homeworks:








I love what this pupil called the homework:


I think these homeworks are a good example of a desirable difficulty. We had been studying evolution in the lesson when these were given out. Pupils would have found an evolution homework easier than trying to recall knowledge that they were forgetting. However, the long term gain in learning should be worth it.

These homeworks would be the first revisit of the topic with the spacing lesson happening at a later date.My plan looks like this:


SL stands for Spacing Lesson

Every year I try to get through the curriculum and leave a few weeks for revision. However, this year I plan to do all of the revision during the year. I nodded a lot at this tweet about @MissDCox’s  #TLT16 session:


As well as this plan I am going to continue to start all lessons with 3 questions (1 from last week, last month, last term) and to use any “dead” time at the end of lessons to have adhoc retrieval questions on a mix of any previously covered topic.

I hope this is a success and that the hard work of pupils is rewarded in their exam. Watch this space.

Final thought- With so much emphasis on memory I need to remember these wise words from @Andyphilipday:

“Students as memory sticks. Fill them up. Check it’s stored. And then access the whole lot at some unspecified date in the future.
Except they’re not. Memory sticks. They need to be motivated, to see a point, to know what it’s for along the way. That’s what so much of our job is – persuading and showing what they can do with this accumulating awareness of the world.”

Feedback welcome…….