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Teaching and Learning Blog

By James Collins, Deputy Headteacher

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  • September 2021 BLOG

    Published 04/10/21, by James Collins

    It’s certainly been a busy start to the new academic year, and it has been fantastic to get back to some sort of normality in terms of teaching and learning. I think we have all been yearning to return to the classroom and teach like we did pre-March 2020, and it has certainly been exciting for us all to be back doing what we got into the job for, which is to engage students in our subject area and light fires inside them to give them the passion to learn. In my very privileged position of being able to drop into some lessons, I have been delighted to see the high quality of teaching that our students receive on a lesson-by-lesson basis, and let’s hope this continuity of being in College and learning in a classroom from our expert teachers continues to be the case in the coming months.

    We have learnt a huge amount about pedagogy from our enforced time away from the College classrooms and the importance of taking this learning forward into our day-to-day practice cannot be underestimated. The vision Sarah outlined on our first day back in regards to our Blended Learning philosophy is clear, and we must all play our part in fulfilling this vision for what learning should look like in the coming years if we are to support the College in this vital area.

    Pre-Covid, we were really making huge strides with our coaching, and without a doubt, we were all making progress in improving on our delivery in the classroom. On our recent disaggregated training, we had 3 sessions for teaching staff that focussed on the following;

    1. Feedback and marking
    2. Blended learning
    3. Improving the quality of student’s literacy

    There have been some wonderful examples from each area that I wanted to share with you from the last couple of weeks that really highlight excellent practice from within the staff.

    Feedback and marking

    In our training session, I highlighted to you some key steps to making sure you are giving good feedback. If you reflect, are you following these steps, and are you doing them well?

    • Look at your itslearning planner- when is the most effective time for you to give students feedback? Plan this into your planner
    • Work out how you will regularly ‘CFU’ and how this ties in with your more formative feedback.
    • Plan for students to have time to respond
    • Plan for how you will check that response
    • Consider what you have learnt from the students' responses to help with future planning. This should go in your review notes.

    We then discussed the benefits of live marking, and some steps to put in place to make sure this is successful and thus reduce the amount you are having to mark outside the classroom.

    1. Put in place a rota- a row at a time, a group of students each lesson
    2. Plan for it – independent study time when students do not need whole class input
    3. Put in place measures to support students who need help during this independent work– BYOT, research materials etc..

    The last part of the training was looking at the use of the visualiser. A visualiser allows teachers to show all students what is expected and can give the whole group some instant feedback. I have seen teachers use this to great effect, taking a piece of work that is of a good standard, showing students where it could be improved, and allowing students time to check their own work and make corrections/additions.

    In your pigeonhole with this blog are great examples of feedback and marking which we have either seen in exercise books or screenshots of how people are using itslearning to support their feedback to students.  

    Blended learning

    There is no doubt that the quality of our planning is in a far better position now compared to pre-covid. Staff are working much more collaboratively, and the plans are much more accessible to both students and staff alike. Adam ran a session during our training about a couple of key points we must all remember when developing our Blended Learning pedagogy.

    To provide a true blended learning experience, additional resources can over time be built into the plans that allow students to pursue aspects of their learning on a topic to greater depth or resources that might help students master their understanding of the knowledge connected to a topic that they have struggled with. We should be getting into the practice of setting differentiated homework targeted and assigned to groups or individuals, especially when we have mixed attaining groups.

    Putting the revision planners up for GCSE courses enables this additional aspect specifically if supported with complementary resources from GCSE Pod etc.

    Teaching through the plan

    We must all get into the habit of familiarising students with activities and resources that we are using. Students will need to access these when it comes to independent study and by going through this with students, it makes them understand what they can use in the future. I have recently used the tactic of having their do now task on the board ready for them, take the register whilst they are doing this and once the task is completed, show them the plan for the day, all the resources, and any homework set. I then click on the resources as and when I need them. I also encourage the students to have the plan open on their phones as we are working. I have found that this really helps certain students who might need to go back to certain resources or slides that are not up on my main teaching board.

    Review notes

    I have had a few conversations about review notes recently and the purpose of these. These are an expectation of the College and should be done at the end of each ‘big question/application’ of your plans. I believe that good practice would mean you reflect on the learning at the end of each lesson, and if there are identifiable points that will help you with your next lesson, they should be made in the review notes section. When I am writing my review notes, I concentrate on a few points.

    1. What have I learned from that plan that I can take forward in my future planning?
    2. Which students have I highlighted as struggling and need CFU and live marking as a priority? What students have I checked in with today, which books have I checked today?
    3. Use of review notes to summarise the understanding or struggles identified in the live marking session.
    4. Where I am up to with my plans- what’s my pace like, what do I need to revisit in future lessons.

    Once I got in the habit of writing these quick notes at the end of the lesson or day, it really helped me with my future planning.

    Literacy focus

    Katy King went through the key points of the main foci for this academic year during her session. We have now streamlined our literacy action points to the following 3 main strands.

    • Quality of reading and developing the reading strategy across the College 
    • Oracy work and how this is built into the literacy strategy
    • Mechanics of writing (sentences structure, appropriate vocabulary, appropriate punctuation, and paragraph structures)

    Katy will be writing the October blog to really develop our understanding further in these three areas and give us examples of what is happening in colleagues’ classes to help us with our teaching. I have seen some great examples of a couple of key strategies from the ‘The Writing Revolution’ that staff are using regularly. Attached are some scanned pages from the ‘TWR’ that are important for us to read before we use these ideas.

    The Single Paragraph Outline (SPO) is used extensively, and if used correctly, can be superb for students to use. The SPO is used to plan a paragraph and is not a writing structure/frame. Staff can use this to help students with a road map that they can follow to plan the beginning, middle, and end of a unified, coherent paragraph. I have also included the process of turning this planning of using an SPO into writing a coherent paragraph. The TWR sheets I have scanned show you a clear route for how to use this in the classroom which you will also find in your pigeonhole.

    Because, But and So is an activity that is simple yet requires students to think analytically. It’s also the first conjunction activity you should give to your students. It will prod them to think critically and deeply about the content they are studying and allow you to check their comprehension. Have a look at the examples and talk to your coach about how you could implement these into your teaching.

    Thank you all for the time, effort, and commitment you are showing to improving your teaching. It’s hard to change habits, it takes time and patience, but it is all worth it if it helps our students achieve the very best they can. Any questions or feedback, please do send them to me or your coach, and we will be happy to help.

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  • June 2021 BLOG

    Published 05/07/21, by James Collins
    Blended Planning We continue to see great developments in blended planning across the College, with many exemplary examples across all subjects. From our work and experiences this year, we have adapted the wording of our Blended learning Protoc
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  • May 2021 BLOG

    Published 18/05/21, by James Collins
    How do we engage students successfully back into learning in the classroom? A good place to start is the first chapter of Boys Don’t Try, which many of you have borrowed from the staff library as part of your professional development. One of th
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  • April 2021 BLOG

    Published 19/04/21, by James Collins

    It was in February 2020 when we last had a teaching and learning blog about behaviour management, when Chris Watson shared with us some useful tips from staff about the setting of routines and dealing with behaviour situations that are common to us all. Dave and I thought it would be a good time to return to this as we approach a new term and to continue to make sure we are all playing our part to make sure standards in the classroom remain at a very high level.

    Tom Bennett recently said that if we get behaviour right, everything else is possible. He stated that behaviour is the beginning of safety, equity, dignity, curriculum, opportunity and learning, not an afterthought or something that only matters when students misbehave. We also know as professionals that when our teaching is of the very highest quality, this helps our students remain on track and enjoy being in the classroom.

    Since the students have returned to us full time before Easter, it was clear that some students have partially or entirely lost the learning and behaviour habits that we had instilled in them whilst at College previously. It was also clear that students with less privileged backgrounds struggled from going from few or no boundaries to the structure and routine of being back in the classroom. This proved a challenge for some students who pushed boundaries with staff at times.

    There are some points that Chris mentioned in his blog that Dave and I believe support all teachers and ultimately help the students in the classroom to become better learners. If all teachers consider these at the start of term and we, as staff remain consistent with these principles, this will lead to a successful term for us all.

    1. Planning

    Chris talked about the importance of planning and strongly recommended us to read page 57 of PLAN, MARK, TEACH. This is vitally important when dealing with challenging groups. Chris described how important a ‘Do Now’ task was for the students, to settle them down straight away. The pace of the lesson is crucial, and the differentiation to make sure all students are challenged in the right way will keep students on track. Really consider your planning, have you supported the students who need guidance so they don’t feel disengaged or disheartened and can make progress? Is there challenge and rigour for the more and most able students so they can stretch themselves with their learning? As professionals, we understand that when this level of planning is absent, this can often lead to the most challenging of behaviours.

     2. Bring it back to learning

    Whenever I ask students why they come to Crookhorn and what the point of turning up everyday is, they generally always say ‘to learn’. We drum this into them during transition and in SLT and pastoral assemblies. Refer the students to our OPEN MIND and Cornerstones philosophies, this is really important. Are they showing respect for their teachers and classmates, are they taking responsibility for their own learning, how can they prove they are committed to the learning and ultimately, are the achieving their potential? Use these terms with them, remind them what it takes to be a Crookhorn learner.

    3. Define what you mean by good behaviour

    There is an opportunity here at the start of term for you in your classroom to re-evaluate what you want behaviour to look like. We as teachers should define what behaviour is ideal in our classrooms, be concrete with your rules. Vagueness is the enemy here. If you are vague, you’ll barely be aware of when behaviour goes wrong; and students will not grasp what is expected of them. What does fantastic behaviour actually look like in an assessment or when students are coming into your classroom?

    4. Good behaviour must be taught, not told

    The best teachers actively teach the behaviour they want to see, as if it were a curriculum. Do you want students to be kind, or work hard, or listen hard in assemblies if you are their tutor? Teach them to do so, don’t just tell them. Set the example, highlight when students have done something well and share. Chris mentioned in his blog about praising students when you notice good behaviour, so other students know what this looks like.

    5. Build routines, habits and norms

    When dealing with students you should consider these questions:

    1. What behaviour do you want them to think is normal? Then, tell them what it is and teach them what normal means in many circumstances. Challenge them when it is not met. Show them how to do it. Correct them every time they can’t or won’t do it. Never let it slide. Define the new normal by bringing it to life.
    2.  What habits do you want them to develop? If you want them to be punctual, clarify what punctuality means. Insist upon it. The more a behaviour is demanded, and challenged by its absence, the more practice students get performing it, until it starts to feel habitual. We seek, ultimately, to change their behaviour habits, not just their behaviour. 
    3. What routines do they need to learn in order to succeed as learners and human beings? This is crucial. In order for it to be as easy as possible to behave, students should be taught the specific sequences of behaviour they are expected to demonstrate.
    4. Build the habit of phoning home, and not just when things are difficult. We know the positive phone call when a student has done well is so important when building a relationship with parents, so when things aren’t going so well you have a relationship in place and parents are more likely to support.

    6. Make boundaries meaningful. 

    Students need to know that deliberately misbehaving will result in consequences. When behaviour is poor, or fails to meet the standard, it must be challenged. Students need to know a line has been crossed. These lines can be managed by many means. Sanctions can act as a deterrent but only if consistently and fairly applied, and when there is a high expectation that they will occur. Rewards too can have a small, short-term motivating effect. Both sanctions and rewards are an essential part of our system- please use them consistently.

    We know that a well-planned out lesson delivered by an enthusiastic and motivating teacher in a classroom is the best way students learn, of this there is no doubt after what we have been through. I honestly believe the vast majority of our students believe this too now (which is a silver lining in these difficult times!). I have attached Chris’ blog again if you want to refer back to the top tips.

     If you would like any further support within this area, please contact myself, Dave or Chris and we will be delighted to help.

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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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  • January 2021 BLOG

    Published 20/01/21, 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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  • December 2020 BLOG

    Published 16/12/20, 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
    Read More
  • 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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