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#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…….

Spacing, Interleaving, the Testing Effect and Distributed Practice (the Diet Coke version)

dr evil

I haven’t released a blog in a while and this blog was ready to be released a few months ago. However the school Timetable and Euro 2016 took up all of my recent time.

I am very conscious that many may claim that what I am describing here does not truly represent Spacing/Interleaving/Testing/Distributed Practice (delete as appropriate) so I am claiming up front that this is the Diet Coke version.

I just wanted to share a strategy I am trialling with  my Year 9 Maths class (Set 6/6). There is a far higher percentage of eFSM (or Pupil Premium students) in my group (27%) compared to set 1 (6%). Half of my class are also August babies (!) so are clearly still trying to catch up with their peers. I feel the pressure teaching this class because I need them to close the gap with their peers before the GCSE years. In short I have been looking at any strategies which may enhance their learning. I have been coming back to spacing, interleaving and distributed practice after reading some super blogs like this by @shaun_allison and @atharby, this by @LearningSpy and this, this and this by the learning scientists @AceThatTest.

The above blogs give a far more accurate account than I ever could but the short version is that it is based on the work of Ebbinghaus undertaken in the 19th Century. We often rage at the rate at which students forget whilst perhaps overlooking that this is exactly how the brain works.



What is perhaps more remarkable is that if we can revisit work at the point of forgetting (by spacing the content) we can increase the amount of content we/our students remember.forget

So if we space (and interleave) the coverage of the curriculum we would expect our students to remember more than if we just covered it in blocks and moved on.

The testing effect can be shown by this clever study by Roeder and Karpicke (2006).

testing effect

Intuitively we may expect group 1 to have the greatest recall. And they do in the short term (testing after 5 minutes). But delaying the final test until a week later shows a remarkable effect.

test results

There are a few caveats though. For the testing effect to be truly beneficial the stakes for the learners need to be a low as possible.

So how could I use the spacing and testing effect with my Year 9 class?  The answer lay in the “do now” that we religiously do at the start of the lesson. The “do now” idea comes from Doug Lemov and I wrote briefly about it here.

This is what my “do now”s looked like last year:

do now 1

The 5 questions I would invariably make up on the spot and it was roughly based on what we had been studying over the course of the year up to that point. It was very ad hoc though it usually would be a different 5 each lesson.  I would go through each question and then ask how many pupils got 5/5, 4/5 etc. In the middle of this year I realised that with a few tweaks the “do now” could potentially be really powerful in terms of improving learning. It just needed further thought.

The do now changed to this:

do now 2

The letters related to areas of the curriculum we had already covered, for instance a) was adding/subtracting fractions. I knew I needed to better track the type of questions (for spacing) and the success, or lack of, that pupils were having. The “do now” soon morphed from a simple a lesson starter into a key component of the lesson which would often take around 15 minutes . The question type (standard form, adding fractions, collecting like terms etc) was probably seemingly random to the pupils but I was looking to genuinely space them.  Pupils saw the “do now” as being as integral as the new content that would be covered later in the lesson. They quickly tuned into the fact that we were constantly revising our work and that this was a good thing!!

Another simple but important tweak happened after reading this comment on a David Didau blog by Dylan Wiliam:


I wanted to track the relative success of each question type but I wanted to keep it as low stakes as possible. I also continued to show workings (and model my metacognition) for every question (if pupils got them wrong) to take advantage of the hypercorrection effect. I decided I would ask for a show of hands after each question to indicate who had got it right just so that I could see what we are good at, or not so good at, as a class. I stopped asking for hands up at the end for 5/5, 4/5 etc to try to remove the ego and the competition from the task. I tracked success using this format:

my marking.png

Once I started recording their % on a lesson by lesson basis I could visually see how I was spacing the different areas covered. I could deliberately build in “forgetting time” before including a recent topic in the do now. Of course it is not perfect. 3D shapes is a broad topic and success on a few questions on edges, faces and vertices doesn’t quite do it justice. Adding fractions is far narrower in terms of possible questions. And yes, the idea that I am testing work on the point that is about to be forgotten would be a bold claim. But it is what I am aiming for.

Pupils tracked their success using this sheet which they kept in their books and got out at the start of every lesson and filled in after each question:


This gave two benefits. Firstly pupils could gain in confidence by seeing that there were many areas of Maths that they were remembering at any one time and secondly the crosses may go on to represent areas of weakness that would need further work before their end of year exams. This was the pupils’ ready made revision list for their exams, tailored towards their weaknesses.

One huge benefit to this system was that it would, in theory, differentiate between what pupils genuinely couldn’t do and what they just couldn’t remember.

Another tweak from running something similar last year was that if close to 100% of the class was getting a question right, rather than just thinking “they can do this so remove it from the rota for good”, I would space it out and increase the challenge the next time I included it. Also, if pupils were struggling, I would continue to work through the correct answer with them but then resist the temptation to include it next lesson. Rather, I would leave for a few lesson before testing again.

Another benefit to pupils tracking their own success was that closer to the exam I could pair pupils up and by using their own “do now trackers” they could teach each other some of the topics that each were struggling with. I gave 30 minutes to this one lesson and I was amazed at how well they responded to the challenge and how supportive they were of each other.


The biggest barrier to implementing anything that takes advantage of the spacing and testing effect is the finite nature of curriculum time. Many teachers will feel that there is barely sufficient time to cover the curriculum, let alone to frequently test and cover work already completed.

I think we just have to find the time. In Maths this means moving away from massed practice to distributed practice. Rather than doing 20 questions on adding fractions following the explicit teaching, pupils do 5 and then move on. Whether they do 5 or 155, they are going to forget (so why waste time doing another 150!!!). By saving time here I can test them on adding fractions a further 15 times during the course of the year. So they still do their 20 examples. It is just distributed rather than massed. This barrier, and the reason to power through, is perfectly summed up by Brown, Roediger III and McDaniel in their book “Make it Stick”:


Post Exam reflection (added in recent weeks)

The exams are over and the results for my class are generally very positive. Interestingly they have performed better on the Maths paper than they did on the Numeracy paper (which was applying the Maths knowledge in a range of contexts). Whilst I am pleased that many have done well in the Maths, if I was going to repeat this next year I would provide more exposure to the reasoning type of questions rather than focussing purely on the procedural side of Maths. However, my hope would be that many of the pupils will have more Maths knowledge lodged in their long term memories to apply to reasoning style questions in the future.

Did many (all?) of the pupils do better than if I had approached the year in a  more traditional manner. Of course I can’t answer that but I feel the answer is yes. I know from the day to day lessons that their confidence in their ability in Maths has improved and this is so important for many that at the start of the year “just can’t do Maths”.

Hopefully over the next two years many of the pupils will go on to achieve a C (or better) in their GCSE exams.

Next year I am going back to teaching just Science. I need to think about how I can make use of the spacing and testing effect in a content heavy Science curriculum. I have a few ideas. None as innovative as this from @MissDCox but hopefully I will blog some ideas I will be trialling. For further reading on designing a spaced curriculum try this by @dan_brinton and this by @davidfawcett27

Thanks for reading. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Marking; planning for feedback- identifying then closing the gap. My #TLT15 session

My session at #TLT15 was potentially a hard sell. There are so many concerns with the rush for many SLT teams to push very onerous marking schedules on the staff because red pen in books is hard evidence to show the impact the teacher is having on progress over time. Or does it? Or is it merely evidence that teachers have marked their books? Many schools have ridiculous (in my view) marking policies which dictate that books need to be collected in fortnightly with next step comments in all books. This misses the whole point of feedback.
My session aim was to show how marking books (or rather seeing the specific output in a well-judged formative task) was not only good practice but vitally important for many reasons. As I said, a hard sell perhaps.
I started off the workshop by briefly looking at the distinction between formative and summative assessment. The slide below summarises what formative is (and is not) and I borrowed a line from @Edutronic_Net (Chris Waugh) “can we give feedback before the race is run?”


I read a blog (I can’t recall whose blog it was) comparing formative assessment to tasting the soup as it is being made in a hotel kitchen (and being able to adjust accordingly) and summative assessment to tasting the soup when it is on the restaurant table.
One of the key aspects of our job as teachers is to do all we can so that when pupils undertake summative assessments, the gap between what we want them to know and what they do know be as small as possible. Formative assessment provides those opportunities to spot and act on gaps “before the race is run” or before the soup is finished.
In fact, the more I start thinking about teaching in terms of gaps, the better my sharper my planning is becoming. I am more aware of what gaps, misconceptions and misunderstandings pupils may have as we move through a topic and try to foresee problems and incorporate into my teaching.
I was so disappointed to see the following question in an end of topic Maths test (earlier this month):

The Maths test was set by the maths department and I had prepared my students by absolutely hammering the basics. I have a current low attainment set (I refuse to use the term low ability). But I had not taken a good look through the test. I knew that my students could divide with their eyes closed and it was no surprise that most pupils did this.

Only one pupil actually got the right answer (though made a careless error in the calculation stage).


I was so annoyed that I had allowed this gap to go unaddressed all the way to a summative assessment. I should have had the end in mind, anticipated the gap and closed it before this point. This wouldn’t have necessarily have had to have been addressed through book marking but I should have anticipated the gap and closed it before this point. I will obviously try to go through why they were wrong but I am less likely to be successful as pupils are more interested in their percentage and whether they are going to move up a set. We also have to move on.
I then showed these slides to emphasise (as if it was needed) how important feedback is to learning.



The Sutton Trust have feedback as providing an extra 8 months a year. This may seem huge but think how ineffective the learning would be if we just delivered the content and that was that. If feedback isn’t vital then pupils could stay at home watching instructional videos. No checking for understanding, no adaptation of the teaching, no finding gaps to close. Frankly, I’m almost surprised it is only 8 months.
The next slide is from our Marking, Feedback and “closing the gap” policy.

This hopefully shows what feedback is if it is truly effective. The next slide show feedback on a continuum from teacher to learner. When looking at different types of feedback it may (or may not) be useful to place the type of feedback on the continuum.


Some types of feedback benefit the learner more than the teacher whilst some types of feedback benefit the teacher more than the learner. However, if the feedback benefits the teacher it will only be effective feedback if he/she does something useful with it and adapts/modifies/changes as a result so the benefit is placed on to the learner (or learners). For instance I would place Hinge questions (I am a big fan) closer to the teacher end. This is because if you asked a hinge question and 80% of your pupils answered correctly you’d take that as a signal to move on. Handy for you as a teacher but less handy for the 20% that haven’t got it. I would also put the use of an app like QuickKey (I am a big fan) closer to the teacher end. For an explanation of what it is click here.


As you can see from the slide, this feedback tells me that the class were very weak on q4. A good teacher will see this as a signal to reteach the content that underpins question 4. This is of course good practice but 29% of the students have already “got it”. Something like peer/self-assessment (if done well) would be more towards the learner end of the continuum. Each pupil can receive handy feedback on what they did well and how to improve but the teacher will not be privy to all of this so won’t have the overview of how the class are doing.
But Marking? There are many well written blogs flagging up many of the pitfalls with marking.


They include The Marking Frenzy by @TeacherToolkit, The Fetish of Marking by @LearningSpy and What if feedback wasn’t all it is cracked up to be? by @Andyphilipday. A quick google search and the following pictures come up:

(the bottom left is from @katie_s_ashford and she used it to show how crazy her early career marking was).

So why am I pushing for marking?
• It connects you to their learning in a powerful way (I do appreciate how cheesy that statement is but I think it is true). When people talk about knowing their students, seeing some work output is absolutely critical in achieving this).
• It is part of our professional duty.
• If pupils are doing work that is never seen by anybody, ever, why would they bother producing their best.
• Pupils value it. It shows you care about their learning so helps to build positive relationships.
• Pupils’ presentation and effort can be influenced by whether they think anyone will take a look at it.
Does that mean we should mark everything? Of course not. But we should mark and formatively assess some of their work. Be selective and reflective (credit @headguruteacher).
But the main reason that I advocate marking is that I think it would go slap bang in the middle of the continuum.


Marking can be the sweet spot in the middle of the continuum in that it can benefit the teacher and the learner equally.
Nothing informs the teacher more than seeing the output of a well designed formative assessment.
Nothing informs the learner more than quality feedback to close the gap (if it is acted upon).
What is the cost of marking books?
If a set of books of 30 takes 10 minutes each then that is 6 hours.
If each book takes 5 minutes that is 2 ½ hours.
If each book takes 2 minutes then that is 1 hour.
If we mark key formative assessments can we do it quicker? Maybe.
A lot of pupil output does not need to be marked by the teacher. This blog has some strategies which can help to reduce the marking workload.
The next slide, summarising research by Hattie and Timperley was stolen from this brilliant book by @shaun_allison and @atharby (it really is a must buy).


No offence to Hattie and Timperley but personally I feel that it is not always helpful to think of feedback in this way. I think it is far easier to think of the key formative principle when marking as being “fishing for gaps”.



The above graphic is from our Marking, Feedback and “Closing the Gap Policy”. It is important to point out that it is closing the gap policy rather than a close the gap policy. On occasions the gap can be very wide and we need to nudge the pupils onwards (closing the gap) rather than trying to close massive gaps. The arrows (sort of) represent this moving on of pupils.

I then digressed slightly and talked about 2 strategies that I had employed to make my marking of formative tasks more meaningful and more manageable. There is nothing more crushing than giving up a Sunday afternoon to mark a class set of books and see the pupils on Monday morning summarily ignoring the red pen comments. It is soul destroying and is a reason many, many teachers fall away with their marking. Massive time input for minimal or zero impact.
DIRT has helped redress the balance between time taken to feedback to the pupils and the time they spend acting on it. When we formatively assess we spot gaps. We feedback on how to close the gaps. With DIRT the expectation is that pupils will now actually act on the feedback to close the gap. Impact. And combining this with symbol marking makes the process so much more efficient.














Then (finally) came the question that was at the heart of the workshop “Is the gap worth closing?”


If we are going to commit to marking (and I think we should and must) then we’ve got to make sure that what we are marking and feeding back on is worth it (for us and the pupils). How much thought do we give to the tasks that we give the pupils? Does it allow them to display excellence (and if they don’t hit “excellence” then we can give them feedback to close the gap towards excellence)? Are we fishing for the right gaps?
If we looked through schemes of work/learning then I am confident the summative assessments would be signposted. But what about the formative tasks?
Some schools use Blooms or Solo as a planning mechanism. I am a big advocate of using SOLO as it helps me plan my lessons ensuring they have enough challenge and are focused on what pupils will learn rather than what pupils will do. Once the “what” is in place I can then think about how I am going to deliver and what I am going to ask the pupils to do to meet the expected outcomes. In short, SOLO allows “constructive alignment , a deliberate alliance is then made between the learning activities we plan and the learning outcomes we expect.” – see @dan_brinton’s brilliant blog on Better Learning Intentions for more.

Slide45 Slide46 Slide47
So after planning I know I want my pupils to be able to do the following “so thats” (no all, some, most- my expectation is that all can get there):


I then think about the learning activity (and I already have ready made assessment criteria- the so that outcomes).
Last year this was a task I decided to formatively assess because I felt there was potentially some important gaps to spot and close.

Here is a good example I showed on a visualiser the following lesson:


And this was the DIRT task that students had to complete:


Such a key concept. Gaps well worth closing.

Of course, the use of SOLO or Blooms is totally optional. When we plan our formative tasks we should think of 2 things:


If we are going to commit to marking (of course being selective, we cannot and must not mark everything) then we’ve got to make it worth it. Working with the end in mind means we are going to give our feedback at the most opportune point and before the race is run. We don’t waste all our feedback at the end. Working with the end in mind will mean different things in different subjects. In English it might mean an essay on Curley’s wife, in D&T it could mean the making of a designed product.When we step in and what we do at the point of stepping in will be different in each subject.
In content heavy subjects, planning formative tasks that “let you see how the learner is thinking” is a great starting point (disclaimer- I know we cannot actually see how learners think).
Before giving out a formative task to mark, question is it worth it?

Slide53 Slide54 Slide55 Slide56 Slide57
The above example borrowed from @sureallyno would give some rich and varied gaps, all of which are “worth” investing the time to fill.
Last week I decided to give my Year 10 class this 6 mark exam question as a formative task.

I am pretty confident that my set could tell me what type of absorber blocks the three types of radiation. When I saw this question I knew this would let me see how well they could apply that knowledge in a (fairly) novel context.
When I took their books in I was amazed at the variety of gaps. I was surprised just how difficult many had found it. I had only found this out by reading each response. It gave me a better understanding of my pupils and their thinking and it gave me a priceless opportunity to close the gap. I could have set this as an exit ticket and “marked” that but I find that when you take in pupil books (fairly) regularly they maintain high standards of effort in all undertakings in their books.
We then touched on scaffolding.


I used the analogy from @bodil’s blog on providing scaffolding which is less like a stabiliser and more like a balance bike. If I want to assess a pupil’s knowledge on a topic (such as radioactivity) then I need to ensure that what they produce represents how they think. It is important that scaffolding is given, when necessary, to allow students to articulate their thoughts. This may be as simple as going straight to pupil x and giving her a sentence to get started. This may be putting some sentence starters or connectives on the board. The scaffolding should assist them in competing the task WITHOUT doing any of the thinking for them (more balance bike than stabilisers).
To finish I shared the “evolution” of my personal marking journey.

Slide60 Slide61 Slide62 Slide63

The highlighting of good work (or what went well) is a fairly new development for me. I was aware that I was so focused on “closing the gaps” that I was perhaps neglecting to flag up what pupils had done well. One way of doing this is to highlight some of the best work and to ask pupils (as part of DIRT) to explain why I had highlighted that particular part. It reinforces the good work and also makes students think. As a Science department we are going to experiment on using highlighters for good work, and for work that could be improved, and this will perhaps be added to the policy next year.
The place where I am in my marking journey (apologies for that pretentious statement) is to continue to question exactly what I am giving as my formative tasks. Are they manageable in terms of workload and will they give me gaps worth closing?

The last slide was just sharing the principles of our Marking, Feedback and “Closing the Gap” Policy. For more about our policy, please click here.


Then time for reflection.

Massive thanks to @davidfawcett27 and @MissJLud for inviting me (and for organising such a special event). Thanks to @GoldfishbowlMM for showing me around and sharing his clicker. A huge thank you to @CristaHazell, @LizBPattison, @basnettj, @GeographyMrI, @Nikable, @LS_Herts and @vip_computing for their “live” tweets. A huge thank you to everyone that turned up for the workshop.
Mostly though, a big thank you to my wonderful wife for going through the session with me a few days before and offering me superb feedback to act on (before the race was run).

Attitudes of Successful Learners

This blog is about the creation and launch of the “Penyrheol 10 Attitudes of Successful Learners” and is part three of a trilogy (Lucas and Coppola eat your heart out). Part 1 is here and covers how we created a document called “10 features of effective lessons” which highlighted and distilled (some of) the best practice that happens in our classrooms at Penyrheol. The document is here: 20140423-142108.jpg Part 2 is here and is a follow up blog looking at a) how we went on to embed the 10 features in our day-to-day and teaching and b) our plans to produce a pupil version provisionally titled “10 features of effective learners” from a suggestion by Peter Blenkinsop (@ManYanaEd). This blog picks up on the latter strand and I am hopeful that the evidence base for what we are trying to do is strong. What we trying to do hinges on these slides that I showed pupils in an assembly last year (from Nuthall’s paper on Cultural Myths & Realities of Classroom T&L: a personal journey) new slide 2 slide 4 Everyone in the school community must buy into the idea that pupils can improve and that the harder they work, the more positive classroom experience they will have and this will lead to better academic outcomes. This idea has recently been blogged about by Tom Sherrington (@Headguruteacher) here where he describes hard work being the X factor in schools. Tom says ” I’d suggest that, if we could measure it, the range on the scale of students’ default-mode effort level is greater by far than any other factor – teacher quality, for example.”. I think that every school should ban the term “our pupils” as in “our pupils don’t do homework” or “our pupils don’t work hard enough” or “our pupils just don’t want to learn”. The reason I would ban them is because no matter what school you are talking about these statements would be untrue. No matter where the school is these statements are sweeping generalisations and they are also defeatist (and possibly reflect a fixed mindset of the teacher). There is no such thing as an “average” pupil. If we drew a graph of effort in any school in the UK (or further afield) we would probably get something like this: effort standard No matter the school is, the student population would likely fit neatly on to a bell shaped curve. Some schools may have the curve to the left and some schools might have the curve to the right. If the above graphic represents an “average” comprehensive school then as well as securing the best possible set of qualifications for the cohort, the school must look to move the curve to the right: effort shifted In fact, it is a no-brainer. Shifting the curve to the right would mean that the cohort would certainly achieve their best possible set of GCSE results. Easier said than done though right? So, we had/have three jobs. The first was to identify, as a school community, the features that we feel the best learners have (those that mean the make best possible progress). The second is to share these with the whole school community and ensure everyone understands what they are and why we are doing it. The third is to help all of our pupils “embed” these behaviours so they become better learners and they leave our school having attained their personal best (academically) and with an excellent, default work ethic. No prizes for guessing which of the three will prove the most challenging. Job 1 and 2 As a starting point I took this document from this blog by Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison) and took the ideas to our school council: mindset-planner-descriptions The pupils liked a lot of the ideas and came up with some suggestions of their own. From this we got draft 1 of the document which is: original I then took the original document to an SLT meeting and a HODs meeting, as well as discussing it with the Science department. I also shared the idea that we would have a whole school focus on 1 of the 10 “behaviours” each half term. In those ,meetings the following points were made:

  • 10 is too many (though it did match nicely with the “teachers” version)
  • We needed to include something on meeting deadlines
  • There was no mention of setting or striving for targets
  • The term “Behaviours” should be replaced
  • If we focus on one each half term does that mean that it will only be important for that haf term? what about the other 9?
  • The layout isn’t great (i took umbrage at this point as my B in GCSE graphics speaks for itself)
  • There is just too much information there for pupils. Each of the 10 should have 2 bullet points max.

I was really not keen on the last point but one HOD reminded me that I should thrive on feedback…. Eventually we settled on version 7: version 6 This document will be on the wall in every classroom in school. Each department has defined what progress looks like in their area and this will be combined with the 10 attitudes document (idea of defining progress from OLEVI course): Poster It is stating the obvious but just putting these posters up in classrooms will have next to no impact. this is where job 3 comes in. Despite some legitimate reservations we have decided that we will have a whole school focus on one of the 10 for each of the six half terms in the upcoming academic year. The plan will be to repeat these same 6 each year. This will help embed them year on year. Whole school focus for half term 1- Always complete homework.homework pin We have decided that this should be the focus for the first half term so that homework expectations and routines are put in place (and then maintained for the rest of the year). From a subject teacher’s point of view this means setting regular, meaningful homework that adds to the learning experience of all of our pupils without being overly onerous. This means setting homeworks for all of our learners. If we are not setting regular homework for the pupils in lower sets (because of an expectation that many will not do it) then we communicate low expectations to a number of pupils in the cohort which many will live down (arther than up) to. This is why it needs to be a whole school push, to ensure that homework expectations apply for all of our students. It also needs to be a whole school push because the pastoral team will know the pupils that will need support getting into good habits. This might mean encouraging them to attend homework club in the library or contacting parents to discuss what we can do in partnership to ensure homework completion becomes the norm. The pastoral team will also have to assist in the chasing up of late or substandard homework. The hard work we do in half term 1 will reap benefits later in the year. From the pupils’ perspective of course, the onus will be on them to complete top quality homework on a regular basis. If the whole school pulls together then we can definitely shift the bell curve right (no matter where it currently lies): homework both To accompany this focus we will make a short video explaining the importance of homework, our expectations and how pupils and parents should use their homework diary to ensure deadlines are met. The link will then be emailed home to all parents/guardians. Whole school focus for half term 2- Thrive on pin This year sees the launch of our Marking, Feedback and “Closing the Gap” Policy (read about it here). Each department has their own, subject specific version which adheres to the school’s principles. The pupils should certainly see a difference this year as each department actively ensures that written feedback is acted on by pupils so that they “close the gap.” Having read a number of departmental policies over the summer by this stage of the term pupils will be having regular DIRT time (amongst other strategies) in their different subjects to close the gap and take their learning forward. This term will be a focus to embed the importance of acting on feedback and the development of a shared language of feedback. Again, a video will be made and sent home to parents/guardians. We need all of our pupils to value every ounce of feedback and no matter where our curve is, we can and will shift it right. feedback full Whole school focus for half term 3- Take responsibility.responsibility Whilst this has to be on our radar all year, this half term we can have a focus on how responsible pupils are for their books, equipment, learning and meeting deadlines. Hitting deadlines is key for KS4 pupils especially. Again, the pastoral team will assist in ensuring pupils know how to record and meet deadlines. Whole school though, the focus can be on something as simple as ensuring pupils take their books home. If we keep a class set of books, lesson after lesson,  just in case a pupil loses their book then again I think we communicate low expectations. The pupil’s name is on their book so it is their responsibility to carry the correct books and equipment to school each day. Pupils have to be allowed, encouraged and steered into good habits. Again, a video will be made and a link sent home. Whole school focus for half term 4- Support the progress of others.progress of others Again, having read many departmental Marking, Feedback and “Closing the Gap” policies meaningful peer and self assessment will be more consistent across the school this year. By this stage pupils should understand how and why it happens with a drive on kind, specific and helpful feedback. The whole school focus can look to further embed the language and purpose of assessment. Again, a video will be made for the wider community. Whole school focus for half term 5- Be inspired  by the success of your peers .inspired The whole school focus during this term will be to create an “excellence wall” like those found at Belmont School, Durrington High and Les Quennevais: ethic Each department can contribute and the only stipulation will be that the work must represent excellence for the pupil and must be the result of hard work. The idea will be to showcase work from pupils at various stages of current attainment. The idea here is to show the school population what is possible with effort, perseverance and paying heed to feedback. The message to all pupils will be “if your peers can do it then why not you?” Whole school focus for half term 6- Work hard At first glance it may some counter intuitive to have this at the very end of the year, especially as getting pupils to work harder (and shifting the curve to the right) is the whole purpose of the entire initiative. Hopefully, all of the “joined up” work we have been doing during the year in terms of homework routines, use of feedback, being more responsible etc will mean that pupils will be making a more focused and concerted effort in all aspects of their schooling. It means they will have shown more grit to complete homework, meet deadlines and improve their work via feedback. The reason that this will be a focus in the final half term will be because this is when the pupils will be given their reports which includes a final effort grade. It will come as no surprise that there is a strong correlations between the top effort grades and pupils that have hit, or exceeded, that target grade. This is the time to make that link crystal clear. This can be done via the report home which happens during this time. This means that 4 of the attitudes don’t have a focus. I think it is clear that something like pupils having high expectations of themselves would be an everyday part of the interaction between teacher and pupil. It doesn’t need a half term focus because it will be a focus for every single day that our doors are open. There is no additional workload for staff because it is what we would be doing anyway. The only change is to try to pull everything together so we have a common hymn sheet to sing off. There is no magic wand for shifting pupils’ attitudes to their work and the results will not be seen overnight. But long term, if we succeed in helping every pupil work harder as their default then that will mean greater academic success and a willingness to work hard at whatever they turn their hands to when they leave school. I welcome (and thrive on) any feedback…. .

What could/should happen to work that the teacher doesn’t mark?

This blog post could be filed under “the bleedin’ obvious” but here it is for what it is worth. In our school we have recently been looking in detail at a marking, feedback and “closing the gap” policy. To read about it, and to download a copy click here. One of the fundamental principles of the policy is that the “marking load” needs to be managable and that we need to focus on marking and giving feedback on targeted pieces of work (and this feedback is acted on to “close the gap”). A legitimate question is what should happen to the work that we don’t mark? How do pupils know if the work they have produced is good quality? How do they know the work they have produced is right? These were questions I also struggled with during a book scrutiny when I once picked up a book that had not been marked (by the teacher or a pupil) for over 20 lessons.

Shaun Allison (@shaun_allison) has written a great recent blog on Mindset, Attitude and Behaviour and in it he talks about ensuring pupils self check the answer (tick or correct) their work as we go through answers with them. This is a similar mantra to the Accountable Revision section (linked with Show Call) in Teach Like a Champion 2 by Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov). Here “check or change” is the phrase used to ensure that what has been discussed is acted on and to make students more accountable for improving their work (more on this later). For a review on this “must buy” book please click here. Ross Morrison-McGill (@TeacherToolkit) wrote a recent blog on “What not to Mark?” and again this got me thinking.

There is lots of guidance on how, why and what to mark, but what about guidance on the work that doesn’t get marked?

The message to teachers is clear- marking needs to be selective and of a high quality. Feedback needs to “close the gap”. But again, what happens to the work that we don’t mark? When it comes to lessons, I firmly believe the following two things: a) all pupils should know what they are supposed to be learning in the lesson (or series of lessons) and b) pupils should have some idea by the end of the lesson (or series of lessons) whether or not they’ve been successful. I don’t see anything contentious with those statements. This means we have to be crystal clear with our students about what they are learning about and then formative assessment during the lesson should inform pupils (and the teacher) whether they are being successful with regards to stated outcomes. Please note, I am not saying that all pupils should be successful every lesson. Rather that they should know whether the work that they have produced represents success against the “expected outcomes”. If every pupil is successful every lesson (and we observe them being fully engaged in their learning) then it is likely the work is not challenging enough and they are merely engaged in work they can already do. David Didau writes (brilliantly and provocatively as always) here on this subject.

I mark my students’ books after every lesson (RAG123- for more read this by @Listerkev or this and this by me)  I do believe, counter intuitively, that I am in a position to comment on what should happen in lessons where formal marking will not happen. The reason is covered in this blog here. So, what should pupils/teachers do in the lessons when we will not be formally marking their books?

a) Live Marking. This can take on many forms. It involves the teacher circulating around the class and marking/assessing/annotating work as the pupil completes it. This should be done to promote thinking or to put the pupil back on to the right track and should of course always be linked to the expected learning outcomes of the lesson. It is very rare that a teacher can do this in sufficient quality and depth with every pupil each lesson. live This is from the appendices of our marking, feedback and “closing the gap” policy.

b) Verbal Feedback. I think this goes without saying. This should happen as often as possible. vfThis is also from the appendices of our marking, feedback and “closing the gap” policy.

c) Peer/Self Assessment (or Gallery Critique). This is when the work is assessed against clear assessment rubrics (usually called success criteria). There are a variety of ways to come up with the success criteria for a piece of work and one of the best ways is to show some exemplar work (perhaps even from one of the pupils) under a visualiser and the class, with guidance, can deconstruct the work to come up with success criteria. Work is then assessed by the pupil or their peer. Our Science Department have decided that all peer assessment done via 2 stars and a wish. This is a good idea for consistency. Invariably some pupils will struggle to give quality feedback, although this skill should improve over time. This is where gallery critique comes in to play. This ensures that each pupil’s work gets feedback from at least 2 of their peers. peer-selfThis is also from the appendices in our marking, feedback and “closing the gap” policy.

And finally: d) Peer/Self Marking. This is often confused with peer/self assessment. The difference here is that the answer (generally) is right or wrong. Peer/Self marking can often be seen as the poor little sibling to the more virtuous peer/self assessment. Whilst they are different there is nothing wrong with self marking. If books are collected in to assess work (perhaps 10 questions) that could have been self marked then that is not efficient use of a teacher’s marking time. If pupils are self marking then they are getting instant feedback on their work. The act can be as academically rigorous as the task that is set or the question that is asked. The whole process of self marking can be made more rigorous by making pupils accountable for their revision (revision in terms of improvements rather than relearning work). As Doug Lemov states in his book, all pupils should be active during self marking (or accountable revision). They will either be ticking their work (checking) or writing in the corrections when they are wrong (changing).This links well with Technique 10 which is Own and Track. This technique is about trying to create a culture where pupils will automatically correct/revise work and are therefore more accountable for (eventually) having the right answer. This can be as simple as this Maths example: The pupil had Q5 wrong (they had highlighted 5) when the correct answer was 15. The pupil had correctly identified that 15 was a factor of 30 and 75 but for some reason they went for 5 rather than 15 (getting HCF and LCM confused). When going through the answers the pupil then underlined the correct answer. This is far better than just having a cross by the pupil’s work. This would have been even better if she had written a small note in the margin about the difference between HCF and LCM. This is a similar example from Physics (the questions are on the previous page in the student’s book): The example below shows the difference when accountable revision doesn’t take place: Does the pupil actually know what a light year is? Maybe, maybe not. Would it have helped their learning if they had written in the correct definition? It certainly wouldn’t have hurt. My challenge is to ensure that I have a classroom climate where revision is something my pupils automatically do whenever they self mark their work. The fact that the above 2 examples come from the same student shows that I don’t yet have a climate of accountable revision. Pupils need to “own” their work and I need to track to ensure it happens.

Tasks/questions can be set that can pick up common misconceptions. A task could be “In one sentence define respiration and state where it happens”. It is possible that some students would state in their answer that respiration occurs in the lungs. This (respiration is breathing) is a classic misconception which can be hard to shift. This response (along with a correct response) could be written on the board or shown with a visualiser. The class can agree that it happens in cells as opposed to the lungs. Pupils that gave the correct answer can tick their work (check) whilst pupils that wrote lungs can insert the correct answer and make a note in the margin, perhaps something along the lines of “respiration and breathing are different processes” (change). This highlights WHY their original answer was wrong and may help to break the misconception that the pupil may have had. In Geography it could be tick your answer if you got it right (check) and add in the correct definition of depostion in the margin if you got it wrong (change). In History it could be tick your answer if you got it right (check) and rewrite the sentence to include one piece of evidence we just discussed if you got it wrong (change). In English it could be tick your answer if you got it right (check) and write down in the margin what writing in the third person means if you got it wrong (change).The bottom line is that all work (particularly written work) can be assessed in some shape or form during a lesson. We should take every opportunity do this and to make it meaningful revision a part of our classroom culture.

  • It means that work (and books) are marked between the formal marking of the teacher.
  • It means that pupils will know if they have been successful or not, and if they haven’t they know what aspect of the work they have been struggling with.
  • It means that making mistakes and having misconceptions are perfectly acceptable but there is a clear drive to get the learning right and to amend/change/revise until things are right.
  • It means the classroom mantra of “if it’s not excellent it is not finished” plays out in reality rather than just being a nice sounding piece of rhetoric.

The only piece of written work that can’t really be assessed is copying chunks of text from a book/the board into your books. I’m sure we would all agree that in the overwhelming majority of cases that this is a complete waste of learning time.

Feedback welcome as always.

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