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March / April 2023 Blog

As we approach exam season, I thought it would be a good time to explain a little bit about  our Developing Blended Learners Programme (DBLP) which we  introduced this year.

The purpose behind the programme is to instruct our students on how to become confident independent learners, blending the knowledge and skills from the classroom learning with their own additional study at home.

For a long time, I have fully subscribed to Piaget’s (eminent psychologist from the 1940s and 50s) constructivist theory which indicates that humans create knowledge through the interaction between their experiences and their ideas. This basically means that the individual is at the centre of their own knowledge creation and acquisition process. One of his famous quotes about the importance of learning is: “that you know what to do when you don’t know what to do” which sums up this approach to learning perfectly.

We have also drawn heavily on the research and findings presented by Helen Howell and Ross Morrison McGill in their book ‘The Revision Revolution’ where they focus on building a culture of revision throughout the time a student is at school, thereby creating strong  self-regulated learners.

Therefore, with all this research in mind, if we want students to be confident independent learners, we have to skill them in the basic art of self-learning, where they know how to find the appropriate knowledge and skills to help them master a topic, and we have to encourage them to go through the metacognitive process of ‘practice, adjust, practice, adjust’ so their confidence and ability  with what they know and apply grows and grows.

Once these skills are embedded, the student is then skilled as a lifelong learner, as they will always: “Know what to do when they don’t know what to do”. It is the fundamental starting point.

With all this in mind we created the DBLP with 3 core strands:

  1. How to use ‘itslearning’ as a learner
  2. Retrieval practice
  3. Aspiration

These 3 strands span all 5-year groups and indeed over the next 5 years the programme will change and change as our current Year 7’s move through, because their proficiency with the use of ‘itslearning’ and retrieval methods will be so much stronger than the current higher year groups. This will be because they have been introduced to the blended approach from the start of their secondary education.

How to use its learning and retrieval practice

These two parts of the programme are very much entwined. Itslearning provides the platform through which retrieval practice can be enabled. However, to be able to use itslearning for retrieval, the students must be taught right at the very start how to navigate the learning platform. As a result, during SMART Start the Year 7 students are given a substantial amount of training on how the platform works, how to access their learning plans within their courses, how to access and submit a H/W as well how to access the other key third party digital sites such as Class Charts, email, One Drive and Seneca.

Once the students have been thoroughly inducted into how ‘itslearning’ works they are then giving their first training in the second half of the Autumn Term - in ‘knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do’. This training introduces students to understanding how the brain works and then onto  learning techniques that really help move knowledge from the rapidly overburdened working memory to the long-term memory. The techniques include dual coding, colour association and the revision strategy of cue cards. To put this training into context, it is done with the history department and based round a number of exercises requiring the students to retrieve and revise key knowledge from the first unit they studied in September, on the Battle of Hastings.

In the Autumn term of Year 8 students are instructed on how to review the learning from previous topics by accessing the learning plans for those topics. This is done using geography and the retrieval skill of mind mapping which is introduced for the first time at this point. The work that is done in this training session is then rolled out across other departments, so students get used to revisiting previous learning plans to access and retrieve knowledge that is then summarised on a mind map.

In Year 9 the ‘itslearning’ focus is on the use of the e-portfolio. This part of the programme is all about students taking responsibility and pride in their own achievements to date and collating them in one place. The aim is to enable the students to have a greater sense of belief in their own capabilities as they will be regularly reminded of their successes and achievements.

In Year 10 the students are introduced to the revision folder within each of their subject courses. Experience has taught us as a College that if we want students to be able to revise independently then we have to enable them to know where to start. By having a week-by-week revision plan from the Spring term of Year 10 onwards (this will move to Year 9 in future), we are structuring the process of retrieval of the GCSE content for the students. We know through research done and also through experience, that students need to revisit a piece of learning 6 to 7 times before it becomes secure in the long-term memory. The art of mind mapping is revisited again at this stage through the medium of English and the art of cue cards through the medium of science.

Year 11 is then the year where the 4 years of preparation bears fruit. The students are well versed in how their brain works, using metacognition they have been able to establish their preferred retrieval technique of either cue cards or mind maps, they have revision folders in place on itslearning with week by week revision plans for all of their subjects, they have a competent understanding of how to use third party platforms such as Seneca and Bitesize as well as being able to access the learning from their own plans on the ‘itslearning’ subject courses. The students can also prepare for their mock interview day and for their College or apprenticeship interviews with confidence through the utilisation of their e portfolios.

It has taken a long time for us to work through the different important steps in this programme to get it developed to the stage we are at now. I am a firm believer that everything is possible for a child if we can equip them to know how to deal with the unknown through a set of tried and tested strategies and therefore venture forward with confidence.


This strand of the DBLP is all about the gentle ongoing encouragement to help students focus on how they want to shape their own future and the control they have in doing this. This starts right at the beginning of Year 7 during SMART start week, where the students write a letter to their future self about their future dream job and their aspirations. These are shared back to the students in Year 11 (in fact we have just done it last week with the current Year 11) so they can see how far they are on the road to their dream job, or how much their aspirations might have changed and hopefully grown rather than diminished over the intervening 5 years.

 In Year 8 there is significant input in November/December with a series of sessions on aspirations and options, as the students prepare to make their first round of option choices ready for their personalised Year 9 curriculum.

In March of Year 9 the students are engaged with SMART targeting where they review their SPR targets set in September and plan for a new set of smarter targets as they get ready to launch into their GCSE curriculums in Year 10. They are also encouraged to start thinking about their aspirations for FE College and the type of course they would like to go on and study.

In Year 10 the aspiration programme is focussed on the students work experience and how this shapes their thoughts on the career avenue they might like to pursue in the future. This now might be completely different to the aspirations they had in Year 7 when they wrote their letter to their future self, but it will undoubtedly be shaped by the experiences that they have had through the College over the last 3 and half years.

Again, just like with the itslearning and retrieval parts of the programme, Year 11 is the time to realise the foundation work that has been put into the students’ aspirations in the preceding years culminating with the final support as they conclude secondary education before getting ready to launch onto the next exciting stage of Further Education either at College or through an apprenticeship where they will be specialising further down a particular route.

This year has been the first year we have run the DBLP in its entirety. The current Year 7 and 8 will benefit from having the full extent of the programme by the time they leave in Year 11, whilst the older year groups have had tailored interpretations of the programme to help bridge the gap between where we were and where we want to be with the students by the time they leave us.

Many aspects of what we have done has been very successful already and this can be seen through key indicators such as Year 7 has had almost twice as much engagement with itslearning as the previous Year 7 cohort. Attendance for study club has gone up in all year groups, but specifically has doubled in Year 8 and improved by 50% in Year 10 whilst in Year 11 attendance for Study Club has gone from 445 sessions attended in 21/22 to over 3000 sessions by the end of the spring term in 22/23.

Likewise, our student daily attendance as a College remains steadfastly almost 1% above national attendance average and most specifically the attendance of our Year 11’s has improved significantly over the course of the year to be above national average for this cohort too.

These are all clear signs that students are buying back into their education after the pandemic and are very keen to be able to ‘know what to do when you don’t know what to do’. This is a fantastic attribute our ‘Next Generation’ to have. In particular for our Year 11’s who are about to leave us and who have had to undergo, the most dramatic transformation within the shortest period of time and under tough and uncertain conditions.

To finish off, I just want to celebrate two special achievements from April. The first is the victory of our coding team at Lockheed Martin on Saturday 22nd of April where they took part in Code Quest. Crookhorn were victorious in the advanced category where they were up against coders from FE colleges. Congratulations to  Oliver, Theo & Cory.

Secondly the achievement of 6 of our Year 10 students to be elected to the student senior team for next year. All 6 candidates performed extremely well, and their letters of application and their election videos were truly outstanding. As always in a democratic system, not everyone can be voted into the top posts but whilst 4 have secured the head girl and boy and deputy head boy and girl posts the other 2 have achieved the post of senior house prefect and deputy house captain in their House. I am extremely proud of all of them, and I am looking forward to working with them next year.


Y7 engagement with itslearning (following detailed DBLP session) - Sept to Feb

2021/2  - Y7 had 1.2 times more interaction with itslearning compared with the other 4 year groups

2022/3  - Y7 had 1.8 times more interaction….

Study Club - Attendance figures - Sept to Feb

  2021/22 2022/23 Increase
Year 7 561 477 -84
Year 8 204 412 208
Year 9 237 158 -79
Year 10 163 213 50
Year 11 445 2651  

Student Voice feedback

Y7 – following their Main Hall session with PMc

93% understood how to create cue cards

88% understood the use of colour and dual coding (phrased on the questionnaire as ‘simple diagrams’)

90% understood how to use cue cards for retrieval


Y8 – following this session on accessing past plans with PJJ

82% said the session was useful to support their future revision

94% are now confident in using the search feature in itslearning plans to locate past work


Y11 – following their mind mapping session with TSB/SPR

90% understood the purpose of a mind map

77% said the session was useful for future revision

87% understood the purpose of colour and dual coding