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Teaching and Learning Blog

By James Collins, Deputy Headteacher

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  • February 2021 BLOG

    Published 22/02/21, by James Collins
    In this month’s teaching and learning blog, we are going to focus on the world of differentiation and how we can use blended learning tools to assist in preparing resources to use inside and outside of the classroom to support all learners. Ada
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  • December 2020 BLOG

    Published 09/02/21, by James Collins
    ‘My journey on itslearning’ In hindsight, the lockdown in March made me realise that although I had been using itslearning for the past 6 months, I was still a complete rookie and had no idea how to use the online format to its full po
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  • November 2020 BLOG

    Published 02/12/20, by James Collins
    Teaching from home into the classroom Teaching from home into the classroom is a daunting thought. Even the most experienced classroom practitioners may struggle when pulled out of their comfort zone and thrust into the world of talking to a webca
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  • October 2020 BLOG

    Published 06/11/20, by James Collins
    Tweaking for a better Blend As we move forward in the coming weeks, through the dark cold months of November and December, I very quickly wanted to reflect on the journey we have been on with our blended learning policy at Crookhorn before I pass
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  • September 2020 BLOG

    Published 01/10/20, by James Collins
    In the first of our teaching and learning blogs of the new academic year, I thought it was important for us to reflect on how we are all trying to adapt to the different situation we find ourselves in and how our pedagogy must adapt for the foreseeab
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  • February 2020 BLOG

    Published 02/03/20, by James Collins

    Long story short… during a recent review with James, I mentioned that it has been a while since we had any direct training/advice on classroom management techniques that deal with LLD or poor behaviour in the classroom.  By the time the meeting had finished I had been tasked with writing February’s blog (note to self, keep mouth shut).

    As with any homework, I scrolled the internet first, to copy someone else’s, and gathered some information.  I then emailed a bunch of staff for their thoughts and ideas on the classroom techniques that they use to keep LLD to a minimum and keeping those students with a reputation for poor behaviour, on task.  Below is a list of my findings.  What I found most interesting was that many experienced staff had similar thoughts and ideas (most of which, have been around for a while, but are certainly worth revisiting!).


    1. Planning – If you haven’t done so already, read page 57 of PLAN, MARK, TEACH.  I promise you that you will read further!

    One re-occurring theme has been the importance of a well-planned lesson. This is vitally important when dealing with challenging groups.


    1. Give the group a bite-sized, do now task, the moment they walk in through the door (plan this carefully).  Don’t give them a second to be a distraction/distract others.  The first 5 minutes is when you set the tone!! (no wiggle room)
    2. Greet the students upon entry, “Welcome, your task is on the board, you have 2 minutes to get out your equipment, including your planners, and begin” (some teachers find this most effective to do at the door).
    3. Be enthusiastic!  Passionate teachers often get the best results.  Sweep students up in a wave of enthusiasm, take them on a journey, they will learn without realising it…and hopefully never forget it!
    4. Catch students doing the right thing.  “Thank you for putting your jacket on the back of the chair and getting out your equipment”.  This can sometimes be more effective when done privately… “I noted how you came in calmly and sat down today, thank you/well done Darren” (naughty boys were always called Darren – fact!)
    5. The importance of consistency cannot be underestimated (one could write a book on this) in every area of our profession.  Have the same procedures every lesson!  This creates boundaries and students will soon realise what is expected of them.  Follow through…If you say it, make sure that you do it (Never say anything that you can’t follow through with).
    6. Use non-verbal signals – a nod, a smile, a stare, a frown, a raised eyebrow, or a gesture is often all that is needed.  Similarly, moving into closer proximately to a student who is showing signs of distraction can be a non-intrusive deterrent.
    7. Walkabout your class - don’t always deliver your lesson from the same spot (certainly, don’t sit or stand behind your desk).  If you have something on the board, walk to the back of the class to explain it.  Students will not only know if you are watching them or not, it will also give you a student’s eye view of your classroom/lesson.

      These are all well and good, but… I am struggling to be an authority in the classroom. I don’t’ get the respect from the students that I need for them ALL to make progress. I spend far too much time dealing with behaviour issues and not enough time teaching/paying attention to the students that deserve it the most... I hear you cry!!

      OK, it’s hard! What will work for some students, will not work for all students. Just when you thought you were winning, they blow it all back in your face, treat you like…It also takes time, years in some cases. It is no coincidence that some of the better “classroom managers” have had over 20 years in the profession (oh and they still get it wrong from time to time!!).

    The following may help you increase your dominance and assertiveness

    1. Own your classroom!!  Set rules/procedures and stick by them. 
    2. Put a seating plan in place.  Put the most challenging student right at the front.  If your tables are grouped, try to get them working with well-behaved students
    3. Be authoritative in your speech and body language
    4. “Fake it until you make it” Be absolutely confident and in control, even though you don’t feel like it.
    5. Wait for absolute silence!  I sometimes look at my watch, or I hold eye contact with the student/s that are still talking.
    6. If someone starts talking when you are…stop (this is most effective halfway through a sentence) It takes practice, but don’t worry about losing your train of thought…apologise to the class “I’m sorry, I got distracted and have lost where I was”.  Remain silent and still, maintain eye contact until you get the response you want
    7. Pose questions rather than telling a pupil off “Why have you not started your work?”
    8. Use their names, especially when complimenting them.
    9. Problem solve together, ask questions as if you don’t know the answer…work things out together.
    10. Avoid sarcasm, what you might think is light “bants” will harm student-teacher relationships
    11. Use reminders and warnings about rules before you start an activity
    12. Make positive phone calls home.  Pleasantly surprise their parents.  Ask them to congratulate their son/daughter/name of student in their care!


    The following are some golden nuggets from staff…and students (I asked a few year 11s for a hand…some of their insights were fascinating!)

    1. Be honest, admit when you’re wrong
    2. Take the class you enjoy teaching the least and decide to make them your favourite.  Make a huge effort to plan their lessons perfectly.  Remind yourself to be super positive and energetic before they arrive.  If the students believe you love teaching them, it transforms them
    3. Don’t be their friend!  They will look to you for boundaries, guidance and compassion.  You can’t give students those things correctly if you are trying to be their friend (they will also walk all over you)
    4. Consistency – be firm and fair with every student, no favourites
    5. Have a sense of humour!
    6. Don’t winge (about marking, they have produced the work, now you’re moaning about it)
    7. Teach for understanding and not for grades
    8. Recognise and thank students that work hard, compliment them
    9. I tell the class that I am not strict, I am clear (they aren’t allowed to disagree)
    10. Expectations, expectations, expectations
    11. Challenge the behaviour that you don’t want to see… ”what you don’t condemn, you condone”
    12. Be consistent, follow up
    13. Engage. Respect works both ways. 
    14. Embody the cornerstones
    15. Know when to withdraw and observe
    16. Reflect, in the moment and thereafter
    17. “I have asked you once already, now I’m going to walk away for a couple of minutes to give you some time to think about “it” (behaviour/actions).  Please can you help me and yourself out and make a good decision”
    18. I have always approached behaviour management by going in incredibly firm, having supremely high expectations and then easing off once they are safe in their boundaries.  Go in hard and then back away softly, enabling the magic of working relationships to begin.
    19. Keep expectations high; students will soon learn what is expected of them!
    20. Be consistent, if you warn a student and they carry on, then sanction them…ALWAYS follow through.
    21. Show an interest in what students do outside of your lesson…students really respond well to you if they feel you really do care about them and their achievements/progress/interests
    22. It’s all about relationships; connect with them, but remember, they are not your mates.
    23. Learn names and use them for praise and criticism (work out quickly whether to do this privately or publicly depending on the individual)
    24. Use humour about yourself or the work, but not the kids
    25. Have a poster/quote/photo up that invites conversation or a comment/question, this helps them to see you as a person and not just a figure of authority to push against.
    26. Enforce a rule where students are not allowed to laugh at another student, even if they are laughing at themselves.  This really goes a long way to encourage students to make mistakes and feel ok being wrong.  This creates a much more caring and accepting classroom environment. (try not to get this confused with having a good sense of humour, which is important, just understand that “we don’t laugh when someone gets something wrong, or can’t explain something very well”).
    27. Put your hand up if you have a question or an answer.  I don’t tolerate calling out!!  I also make an effort to compliment a student who follows this…” thank you for being patient and putting your hand up”

      I do not wish to mention names, but I would like to thank all the staff that contributed to this blog…and students…and of course my good friend, the internet!
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    Published 03/02/20, by James Collins
    As many of you know, we have lots of staff here at Crookhorn who love to spend the very limited spare time they have outside of their normal working day doing further reading or research and gaining further qualifications. As is often mentioned, lear
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  • December 2019 Blog

    Published 06/01/20, by James Collins
    I bet your confused now, arent you? Lets face it: theres something wrong hear. Your already wondering how many of these errors their are. You our, arent you? Were not used to seeing this sort of thing in print though. You could cheat. You could cu
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  • November 2019 Blog

    Published 03/12/19, by James Collins


    The November Blog will take the concept of planning further and will focus on the importance of the drafting as well as the importance of the single paragraph outline, which looks at the power of the topic and concluding sentences as the main framework of a plan. There will also be some examples teachers have shared with me about how they have trialled this with their classes so you can ask questions or have a chat with colleagues who are giving this a go.

    Writing is a process, or at least it should be. It involves thinking, jotting down ideas, refining these ideas, thinking about the structure, linking ideas and much more. One problem is that writing is often neglected in the classroom – it’s seen as time-consuming and ends up being relegated to a homework task with little or no proper preparation. This is not going to help our students in these more rigorous, writing-based exams.

    If we want our students to become good writers, then we must spend more time in the classroom teaching them how to write. This doesn’t simply mean getting them to write more, as that isn’t teaching. Of course, practice is important, but you can only practice something if you have a clear idea of what your goal is and how to reach it. One of the key things to good writing is a willingness to go back over what you’ve written, edit, receive feedback, revise and rewrite. At first, it can be difficult and sometimes even painful (especially with our students), but, with practice, students will come to realise that what they are producing is improving by leaps and bounds. It’s not simply a matter of reading through a piece of writing looking for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors; it’s about reading through it to see how it can be made better. In a way, a piece of writing should never be finished – it should just be one step further on. 


    Even if students sit down with a blank piece of paper in front of them (or, more likely nowadays, a blank screen such as I had at the start of this!), they need to have some idea of what they want to write. For most writing, there needs to be a purpose and an idea of who the reader is going to be. This is all part of the planning stage. Often the planning will take longer than the actual writing, but if the result is a better piece of writing then there is nothing wrong with that at all. Planning can take all sorts of shapes and forms, such as brainstorming ideas; noting down important facts or pieces of information to be included or annotating a piece of text with important inferences that can then be ordered into a piece of critical and evaluative writing.

    When it comes to paragraphs and compositions, a quick outline can help students structure their ideas and understanding for larger essays. Outlines enable students to develop their writing as a cohesive whole and visualise a beginning, middle, and end in their writing. Outlines can also help students distinguish essential versus non-essential material and, importantly the sequencing information.


    An outline has the following benefits:

    1. Provides Structure
    2. Eliminates Repetition
    3. Improves Adherence to Topic
    4. Aids in sequencing

    Teachers should model a quick outline for the class before requiring students to complete outlines on their own.

    Before beginning outlines, you might give students a Topic Sense (TS) and Supporting Detail (SD) and have students identify which is the TS and which detail is SD. For example:

    __________ Mitosis is a process of cell division.

    __________ In the cell nucleus, chromosomes are separated into two identical sets.

    This might be a do now for a science class put on the whiteboard before the students come in. Once students can identify the topic sentence, the class might follow up with a conversation to articulate their reasoning.

    Another activity would be to give students four sentences and have students sequence the sentences for a paragraph. For example:

    _______ Harriet Tubman helped slaves to freedom.

    _______ John Brown led a small rebellion against slavery.

    _______ The anti-slavery movement began to grow in the 1850s.

    _______ Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election.

    A third strategy that can be used as a quick do now or exit ticket is to have students identify the topic sentence and eliminate irrelevant details by listing different information or giving students an entire paragraph of information.

    All of these activities help students to think about the elements of paragraph writing and building stamina and critical thinking for essay writing.

    The Hochman Method Quick Outline is, therefore, this simple formula:

     TS; 4 details from the t + CS.

    Note the dotted lines for the textual details. The dotted lines suggest to students that they do not have to write in complete sentences, rather include keywords and phrases. The TS and CS are solid lines that require a complete, specific, and detailed sentence.

    The Quick Outline template above is for a single paragraph.

    Additional lessons for outlining include:

    • Students are given details and must generate a topic sentence.
    • Generating a concluding sentence from a given topic sentence and details.
    • Given a paragraph and convert it into a quick outline by picking out the key details
    • Given a topic, generate a Quick SPO (Single Paragraph Outline) independently.


    Once students start writing, they need to understand that this is just the first draft – that finishing the writing is only the first step to getting a piece that is good enough. Drafting is a kind of practice exercise for a final draft. What you are asking them to produce in a draft is a rough version of how their final writing will look like.

    It is most unlikely that their first attempt will be outstanding, and so you should plan to get them to re-write the draft at least once. The process of making changes to a draft is called re-drafting. Before this, they must develop their understanding through feedback.

    It is vital to firstly check that students understand the feedback you have given them. If they do not understand, they will not make the necessary improvements needed. If you are giving feedback through live marking, then it is easy to check for understanding. If they are responding to feedback you have given them in your written marking, then make sure you target students who you know might need further support immediately as you circulate the room. Ask them to let you know if they do not understand their feedback which will help you know where to go first. Ask the students to identify the major problems which they need to work on. There might be many problems but try to get students to focus on the main problems through your feedback as that will help them make the greatest improvement to their work. They then redraft the writing or a section of the writing again.

    My thanks to Caroline Nailor and Katy King for providing some excellent examples of how they have started using this in their lessons which have been photocopied for you and come with this blog. If you would like to speak to them further about how they have introduced this, please do go and speak to them and gain their insight.

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  • October 2019 BLOG

    Published 07/11/19, by James Collins
    Failing to plan? Then you’re planning to fail! This blog mirrors and outlines the content of the MasterClass that was delivered to ALL Y11 on 16th October 2019. Starting with the entirely imaginary mathematical formula, that: k+p+tm=s
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  • September 2019 Blog

    Published 09/10/19, by James Collins

    The Writing Revolution

    ‘Research – particularly that of psychologist Anders Ericsson – tells us that for practice to improve skills, it has to have a specific and focused goal and must gradually link together a series of smaller goals to created linked skills.’ - TWR

    A fundamental part of teaching is the innate desire to impart knowledge and experience to others. We have the great privilege of being a shaping force in a student’s life and all want to guide them towards success. The Writing Revolution (TWR) is full of methods to help synthesise the teaching of skills in small and manageable steps linking towards the greater goal of exam literacy. However, it is not just for literacy-based subjects, it can be used to help students gain order and discipline in their thought processes.

    The planning and refinement of ideas is a key skill the students need in order to secure a standard pass. As soon as a sentence appears on your laptop screen you are planning its revision and refinement. Yet, this hidden phase of sentence creation comes intrinsically from many years of experience and practice, which is something our students do not have. Hochman and Wexler focus on regular repeated exercises to gradually develop the key skills needed to write fluently. Editing and adapting the construction of sentences are key to building fluent readers, writers and speakers.

    The TWR’s six writing principles

    1. Students need explicit instruction in writing.
    2. Sentences are the building blocks of all writing.
    3. When embedded in the content of the curriculum, writing instruction is a powerful teaching tool.
    4. The content of the curriculum drives the rigour of the writing activities.
    5. Grammar is best taught in the context of student writing.
    6. The two most important phases of the writing process are planning and revising.

    Through the writing principles, we are encouraged to plan into our MTPs the explicit instruction of sentence creation as part of the wider learning topic. By creating an expectation of writing about the topic currently studied, the students learn the grammatical skills whilst developing opinions and knowledge for their upcoming test. It is encouraged that upon introducing a new writing activity, begin by modelling and have the students practise orally so that they can first formulate the idea out loud before they need to write it down. This will encourage them to practise self-editing without the stress of written ‘failure’.

    A key skill our students struggle with is understanding the difference between a sentence and a fragment. The inability to express a complete thought often derails the results of our ‘forgotten third’ as they struggle to put their knowledge into complete sentences. TWR has many techniques to help these learners and one I have found success with is providing sentence fragments from the previous lesson as DO NOWs.

    Example: You may give them ‘settled near rivers’ as a key bit of information they need to remember. The students then need to draw on the content they’ve learned to provide the subject of the sentence: ‘early Americans settled near rivers’. You could further develop this with the extension of the ‘because, but, so’ exercise or alternatively include the use of subordinating conjunctions (although, unless etc.) to change the meaning of the sentence. If struggling, the students can first practice the task aloud to a partner as comprehension is often easier to develop when heard.

    An offshoot of this is the difficulty of developing the detail of sentences. I am constantly writing probing questions on their work in order to get them to develop their opinions. Rather than simply providing sentence starters you can practice the ‘because, but, so’ exercise to ensure they extend their sentences.

    Example: You begin with a sentence stem that is directly about your topic (Scrooge is a representation of the entitled upper classes). The students then have to expand using the conjunctions because, but and so. This not only teaches them to add extra detail to their work but also encourages them to formulate their opinions/accumulate their knowledge on the subject. If done regularly, they develop the habit of extending their sentences with specific points about the subject, leading to greater retention in understanding.

    Another valuable exercise is the commonly used sentence jumble. Rather than spend your life cutting out pieces of paper simply reorder sentences that contain key information for the lesson.

    Example: The students first task is to unscramble the sentences correctly before working out what the new information means. You can do this on mini-whiteboards to assist with the visual delay from working off of a central PowerPoint and the ability to erase mistakes builds confidence. They are practising the creation of sentence construction and the intrinsic skills of editing and re-drafting.

    Whilst this information doesn’t stem from a new fountain of knowledge, it will help to ensure consistency throughout subjects to aid students development. Building confidence in the creation and expansion of sentences encourages the students to not only develop their writing but also their reading, listening, speaking and questioning. All key skills are tied into meta-cognition, so the more we can encourage them to actively think about their learning the more they will learn.

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  • June 2019 BLOG

    Published 11/07/19, by James Collins

    At Crookhorn we put tremendous value in the way our classrooms look and how they should help our students learn. Over the last three years, we have had the ‘clear the clutter’ campaign to make sure our classrooms are clean, tidy and professional and I think this has had a significant influence on how our classrooms look today. We have also asked our teachers to really consider what is displayed on the walls, so they support students and teachers with some key, fundamental aspects of their learning.

    Classroom environments can both support and enrich the learning of all children.  As well as being rich, enabling and welcoming, the classroom environment can be a learning tool, a way of engaging children and building the class community. It can create a sense of ownership and be used to support and promote learning as well as celebrating children’s work. With thought and planning an effective classroom environment is used as an interactive resource supporting teaching, learning and assessment.

    I think the first consideration when planning the learning environment for your classroom is that what you put up around the room can really help set the mood of your room. It’s no secret that schools can be quite daunting places for many students. Having a calm, visually appealing learning environment can go a long way to helping students feel welcome and valued. We have promoted the fact that our classrooms should be SEN friendly, especially with the fact that 25% of our cohorts have recognised barriers to learning. Natalie has done training for us recently on some of the strategies and I urge you to look back over the Power Point I have attached to familiarise yourself with her guidance. The key ideas being for us to analyse our seating plans carefully to make sure the SEN students are in an appropriate place so teachers can easily access them and key vocab with definitions on the walls which students can quickly access.

    The second consideration is that we should consider displays as learning tools and not distractions. One of the best things about children, in my opinion, is their ability to absorb knowledge like a sponge. It’s vital that students are exposed to content in as many ways as possible while they’re at College. We know that students can often absorb information subconsciously from visual prompts when they are tested in other spaces. Whether it be information walls, thought-provoking posters, or simple diagrams, your students will appreciate the reminders when their knowledge and understanding requires consolidation.

    That being said – you can’t just jam-pack your walls with information! Research also suggests that you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. Research by Fisher, Goodwin and Seltman showed that children can be more distracted by the visual environment, spend more time off task and demonstrate smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed. It is important to avoid clutter! Keep at least 20 percent of your wall space clear, and leave ample space between displays so they don’t look disorganized. Resist the temptation to keep adding displays; it’s better to swap them rather than keep adding more.

    So what do you do? How do you find the right balance?

    If you are going to be teaching and directing your students’ attention toward a particular place quite regularly (such as the whiteboard), it’s a good idea to limit the content around this area. This allows students to more easily focus their attention on you. This area should be restricted to just the vital learning tools that you often need students to remember!

    The areas where children will not be receiving direct instruction, such as the side walls and the back of the classroom are often spaces that can be used. It is important to direct the students to the relevant learning wall when appropriate.

    It is essential that any print placed on your walls can be read!  If in doubt, do the squint test.  Stand about six feet away from your board and squint at it.  If you can’t see the key words or read the definitions of what the key words mean then there is very little chance the students can either which means then the learning wall becomes redundant.

    When creating a language-rich classroom, learning walls are particularly valuable. The language used within them sets the standard for the vocabulary we want our students to use. So, what are some good ideas for language-rich displays?    

    Word walls have long been a classroom staple, but how do we decide which words to showcase? An effective display should be clearly organised; it shouldn’t just be a messy collage of random terms. The words we want to focus are referred to as tier 2 and tier 3 words (Academic word list). Tier 2 vocabulary consists of tricky words that are regularly used by mature language users, found and used in any subject across the curriculum. Tier 3 vocabulary, on the other hand, refers to subject-specific terminology, like onomatopoeia or evaporation. A great idea is to build your walls around tier 2 or 3 words that relate to themes or topics that you are exploring in class. If you are teaching maths and doing averages you might want to create a learning wall around tier 3 terms like ‘median’, ‘mode’ and ‘range’. 

    One of the best ways of preparing your class for new language is through familiarising them with common roots and affixes. Once a student understands that the prefix ‘min-’ means ‘small’, they’ll be able to independently see the links between words like “minion” and “minor”. There are many strategies and templates you can get from the internet which can be used to help you plan out a learning wall for promoting these words.

    It was noted by OFSTED that our learning walls are very effective resources to support and check that students understand the work. They also stated that classrooms are used well by pupils, particularly pupils with SEND to help them with their work. Our learning environments are crucial to making sure students are supported in the classroom but they are only effective if you refer to them, you make them relevant to your learners and they are easy to access for all students.

    My thanks as always for taking the time to read this and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

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