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Teaching and Learning Blog

By James Collins, Deputy Headteacher

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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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  • May 2019 Blog

    Published 14/05/19, by James Collins

    My thanks this month go to Sean Russell, who has written a fascinating blog. Please read the article and any comments/feedback would be gratefully received. Over to you Sean...

    Whilst many of the points I am going to discuss are linked to the way we teach science at Crookhorn, I see many ways in which they have cross-curricular implications. Before I discuss these ideas I want to make a few points about what we are all likely to have in common within our subject areas;

    • Ideas can be abstract and difficult to understand.
    • Students have to remember these abstract key ideas/knowledge for a long time... (KS3 à GCSE)
    • Many GCSE marks are for the application of understood ideas. We must be imparting these skills early from year 7 onwards.
    • There is a lot of ideas to remember and apply, we must build the skills needed to address this but also the resilience in individual learners.
    • All students have to be able to deal flexibly and adaptively with these issues.

    The model we have adopted and adapted this year in science I call the ‘precise learning model’. I am implementing this model because I believe it will help address the points discussed above.

    It follows the formula below;

    1. What do the students need to be able to do/understand to be successful in this lesson? What are the key bits of knowledge they need to have secure in their minds? What precisely is it that they need to get?
    2. What prior learning do they have/ do they need in order to attempt this lesson? I need to check they have this foundation before introducing new knowledge.
    3. How am I going to teach them this new knowledge? How can I do this and build resilience?
    4. How am I going to check they “get it?” If they don’t what intervention/reteach will I introduce to ensure all students access the precise learning points for my lesson?
    5. How will they then apply this information to a new possibly unfamiliar situation? I need them to solve problems in their final exams, therefore, I need to teach them in a way that makes them a good problem solver.

    Below is a diagram we use to summarise this model in science.

    I have found that teaching this way has two main benefits:

    1. It gives their learning a purpose that is obvious to them.
    2. Provides opportunities for learning to become embedded and remembered.

    The part about embedding and remembering is so important. We need ideas to be understood and remembered well enough to be able to build upon them later. So our teaching has to be carefully planned around them understanding key ideas.

    But we must plan activities that are designed to support memory. (on top of the interleaving stuff we are all probably doing anyway).

    In Summary, I think we need to be really clear about the difference and relationship between ‘teaching’ and ‘problem-solving’. When this becomes clear, and like second nature this model becomes efficient at achieving the outcomes mentioned above.

    I found the following information online very recently so from here the writing is no longer my own.  I think this article has links to what we are doing currently in the science department and other interesting information, which as you will see has implications for anyone in their classroom.

    I would suggest reading the article multiple times. As you will see this is one way to maximise the movement of new information from short term to long term memory. There is no known limit to the amount of information the human brain is capable of storing. However, this is only true of information that is held in our long term memory. Therefore, it is a matter of use/reuse it or lose it!

    A sensory stimulus leads to chemical and electrical changes in the brain; these are the basic memory traces in our short term working memory.  Cognitive Load Theory suggests there is a limit to the number of these traces that can exist at any one time in my working memory.   Whilst by no means certain and there is variability between people; about 4-7 memory traces can be held in the short term working memory at any one time.  However, the size of each of these traces/memories can vary from small to huge; it still counts as just one.  This will be important to remember when we look at elaboration and generation later on.  These memory traces soon disappear unless transferred from the working memory into the long term memory

    Implication 1
    When teaching directly, don’t overload pupils’ limited working memory with “extraneous” information.  Keep the instructions and information focussed particularly when pupils are meeting new material.  This requires discipline from the teacher and careful thought about what information is needed, in what order.

    The transfer to long term memory involves stabilising the traces by organising them and linking them to associated information, already known.  This is the start of building up a mental model or schema.  Once learnt the information is pretty much permanently stored in our long term memory; storage strength is strong.

    Implication 2
    As new knowledge needs to be connected to prior knowledge, the order of teaching information must be very carefully sequenced.  Planning the sequential development of knowledge, the learning flow, is the critical first step in planning a series of lessons or scheme of learning.  If the sequential development of knowledge wasn’t important to supporting learning we could literally look at what pupils need to know or be able to do and teach the constituent components in any random order we like.

    The real problem we have is often retrieving the information and bringing it back into our short term working memory; retrieval strength is weak and it takes time and effort to build up the retrieval strength through memory cues.  Once sufficiently strengthened these cues allow, almost without thinking, the recall pieces of information from long term memory; that is, automaticity.  Part of learning, therefore, involves forgetting and then recalling.  The more effort that is required in the recalling the greater the retrieval strength becomes.

    Implication 3
    We need to create opportunities for pupils to recall previously taught material, retrieval practice.  The retrieval process could involve low stake testing/questioning.  Start by retrieving the information taught in the lesson; a set of end of lesson multiple choice questions on the key information (quick and efficient but not requiring a great amount of effort to retrieve as the answer is one of the options provided) or a series of short response answers (require more effort as the pupils must use only their own memory cues) can be used.  The correct answers should then be given and pupils mark their own work.  This brings in the hypercorrection effect; pupils remember the corrected answer for longer than if they had guessed correctly in the first place.  Retesting a day, week, month or months later keeps improving the retrieval strength.

    Once recalled or retrieved the memory is now pliable; we can now reform it and add in additional knowledge which will deepen our understanding.  In SOLO Taxonomy terms, the pupil is moving from multi-structural (lots of pieces of information) to the relational (the pieces connected together coherently) the to the extended abstract ( a more holistic understanding based on underlying principles or rules).

    Implication 4
    We need to develop a spiral style curriculum where pupils are able to revisit key ideas over time; spaced learning.  On each of these occasions, teachers should require pupils to retrieve prior learning with the minimal number of external cues possible.  There is then the opportunity to develop an iterative process where pupils can expand the mental model/schema/understanding of a particular area of the curriculum or life, in general.

    Finally, we need to own the knowledge; the deepest test of understanding.  Can we coherently and correctly apply our learning to explain a particular phenomenon?

    Implication 5
    Periodically you should ask students to write a paragraph or two in response to a question that will test their new learning.  Why can seagulls dive through the surface of water but not ice given both consists of H2O particles?

    The last part here is an example of how we might use application in order to problem solve, as I mentioned earlier.

    Thanks for reading, now go and apply what you have learned.


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  • April 2019 Blog

    Published 14/05/19, by James Collins

    This month, I am very privileged to have a guest writer for the teaching and learning blog, as Carl Jones-Taylor has stepped into my shoes and has written the blog for April. As you all know, Carl is our assistant Head of House and also a fine tutor and is presently studying for his master’s qualification. Carl has a real passion for developing metacognition within Crookhorn and this month’s blog describes what he has learnt so far and some of the key aspects he has brought into his own teaching to help to improve his students learning habits. Carl, the floor is yours…

    Metacognition is defined as “higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.”

    Metacognition is unpicking the process with the students of what they are doing and why they are doing it.


    When I first started looking at Metacognition and what it entailed, I spent a long time trawling through various websites looking for something that would fit.  Eventually, I decided to use the Education Endowment Foundation.  This was for a number of reasons.  This organisation was established to provide validity and reliability to research carried out in education.  If I was going to find something it needed to be worthwhile and valid. They claim that: ‘Metacognition and self-regulation approaches have consistently high levels of impact, with pupils making an average of seven months’ additional progress.’  As a concept, this can be applied to any subject, any lesson and even added to our MTPs.  Taking it even further, the students can then start making cross-curricular links. The second reason I chose this variation was the simplicity of the process.  Trying to encourage disadvantaged students to invest their time in anything is challenging so the simple nature of this version helps. The following diagram helps really understand how metacognition should be used with students in the classroom and how we can get students to really evaluate, plan and monitor their own work.

    The final reason for this decision was that the cyclical process means that the students don’t just stop once they have completed a task or topic.  The whole thing is not a linear process that stops once they have ‘done it’.  It encourages them to revisit the skills or knowledge, especially as part of a spiral curriculum.  I have used this structure in a lesson with Year 7.  All of them could tell me when they had previously attempted a similar task before immediately opening their books to find it.  They were then able to tell me what worked last time and what they need to work on.  They don’t have a teacher telling them everything in an exam; they need to be able to think for themselves.  Resilience and flexibility can be developed by them having to think for themselves whilst making the links between prior learning and what they are doing now. 

    One of the most important aspects of this strategy is the teacher modelling how to use this structure.  My tutor group have seen me attempting science and maths explaining my thought processes as I go.  Explicitly teaching how to use this method is also essential as it demonstrates the necessary and appropriate level of dialogue expected of the student.

    It takes time for these skills to embed.  Metacognition is not a quick or instant fix.  It is a strategy that needs to be developed over time to ensure the students can use it naturally becoming part of their thought process when faced with any task.

    I want to thank Carl for writing this extremely interesting blog and I know he will be highly involved with Dave Lemon in extending the use of the metacognition strategies within tutor time which I truly believe will help develop the Crookhorn learner for years to come. If anyone else is keen to write a guest blog on an area of teaching and learning please do contact me as I know there is so much expertise and passion within our teaching staff on different topics that we would all find interesting, especially after all the educational reading done recently in staff training.

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  • February 2019 Blog

    Published 22/03/19, by James Collins

    In the book ‘Leverage Leadership’, one of the core ideas is that effective teaching is not about whether we taught it, but about whether the students have learned it. Through a rigorous assessment structure, we are duty-bound to check the learning so we can analyse why certain students are struggling in topics and develop actions to respond to this. With our recent training looking at curriculum intentions and design, this should have led to us reflecting on how we assess our students and making sure the planning of our assessment map is correct. Below are some key points I want all teachers and Heads of Subject to consider when planning out the actual assessments that sit behind this assessment map.

    1. Align assessments with the curriculum

    In many respects, this seems obvious! I doubt many teachers deliberately set out to create and administer assessments that are not aligned with their curriculum. And yet, for a variety of different reasons, this does not seem to happen, with the result that students sit assessments that are not directly sampling the content and skills of the intended curriculum. In these cases, the results achieved, and the ability to draw any useful inferences from them, are largely redundant. If the assessment is not assessing the things that were supposed to have been taught, it is almost certainly a waste of time – not only for the students sitting the test but for the teachers marking it as well.

    2. Define the purpose of an assessment first 

    Depending on how you view it, there are essentially two main functions of assessment. The first, and probably most important, the purpose is as a formative tool to support teaching and learning in the classroom. Examples might include a teacher setting a diagnostic test at the beginning of a new unit to find out what students already know so their teaching can be adapted accordingly. Formative assessment, or responsive teaching, is an integral part of teaching and learning and should be used to identify potential gaps in understanding or misconceptions that can be subsequently addressed. At Crookhorn, we always stress the importance of the reteach and if our assessment doesn’t allow us to work out what and where it went wrong, then the assessment has very little value.

    The second main function of assessment is summative. Whereas examination criteria certify student achievement, in the school context the functions of summative assessment might include providing inferences to support the reporting of progress home to parents, or the identification of areas of underperformance in need of further support. SLT, Heads of Subject and Heads of House use this data to develop action plans to support students, so again if the data is unreliable, then this could lead to wasted time.

    3. Use the most appropriate format for the purpose of the assessment

    The format of an assessment should be determined by its purpose. Typically, subjects are associated with certain formats. So, in English essay tasks are quite common, whilst in maths and science, short exercises where there are right and wrong answers are more the norm. But as Dylan Wiliam suggests, although ‘it is common for different kinds of approaches to be associated with different subjects…there is no reason why this should be so.’ Wiliam draws a useful distinction between two modes of assessment: a marks for style approach (English, history, PE, Art, etc.), where students gain marks for how well they complete a task, and a degree of difficulty approach (maths, science), where students gain marks for how well they progress in a task. However, it is entirely possible for subjects like English to employ marks for difficulty assessment tasks, such as multiple choice questions, and maths to set marks for style assessments. As departments why don’t you consider if your assessments are too one dimensional (which might just suit a certain type of student) and if they are, how can you mix it a bit?

    4.  Assessments that allow all students to succeed

    Apart from summative assessments such as GCSE’s, we should always look to support students as much as possible in any assessment we give them, to really make the assessment a formative experience for both the student and teacher. I absolutely do not believe that we should make students sit in silence with no help at all for all their assessments, but we should make sure students are given support where needed and that support should be consistent across the class. Assessment should be about learning, right up to the GCSE itself so my advice would be always try to make the assessment fair but never leave a student behind to just fail.

    5. Identify the range of evidence required to support inferences about achievement

    We must avoid assessing too much and concentrate on assessing the key concepts that we have decided is vital to student success. Sarah talked on our training day about how many of us have still found it hard to narrow down what we teach to what is manageable and most important for our students to achieve at GCSE level. We find it difficult in practice to sacrifice breadth in the interests of depth, particularly where we feel passionate that so much is important for students to learn. I know it has taken several years for our curriculum leaders to truly reconcile themselves to the need to strip out some content and focus on teaching the most important material to mastery level (reteach and repetition!)! but this is fundamental to our development as curriculum leaders. Now we must do the same with assessment, and make sure that we assess what matters, and develop our future teaching from there.

    6. Moderation of assessments

    The purpose of moderation is to ensure that teachers are making consistent judgments about standards. In order to do this, they have to have a shared understanding about the expectations for each standard so that a particular level of achievement (for example, giving a student a grading of secure in Year 8 if they are on track for a 4) is awarded to student responses with the same characteristics, regardless of who marks/grades them.

    Moderation is an essential part of ensuring integrity in assessment tasks. It is through this process, particularly at the assessment design and point of assessment stages, that issues of assessment validity and reliability are identified and improved.

    I hope you have found this blog useful when thinking about how we use assessment at Crookhorn to really develop our planning because this I believe is the most important purpose of assessment. If you have any questions about your future assessments and how they were planned, or how you should plan you're reteaching because of the results, have a discussion with your Head of Subject for advice and guidance.

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  • January 2019 Blog

    Published 10/02/19, by James Collins

    Our coaching programme is one of the main tactics we use at Crookhorn to develop our vision of teaching and learning towards ‘Excellence as Standard’. Last year 92% of the teaching staff felt that coaching had a positive impact on their practice in the classroom. This is obviously great and what we now need to focus on, is the benefits now becoming embedded into our daily practice. We know as a teaching body, our GCSE results have been disappointing over the last couple of years, and the only way we are going to improve these results is to improve the quality of teaching provision our students receive on a regular basis.

    Every term, we meet as a group of coaches and discuss the key coaching themes moving forward and also recapping some of the essential techniques we have been working on with staff. In our training this term we looked at some more strategies used in ‘Teach like a Champion’.  The first is Cold call which is where we target students for our well thought out planned questions, moving away from hands up as this often allows students to hide in a lesson and let certain students dominate. This is also one of the strategies to check if students have actually learnt what you have taught them. Check for understanding has been promoted through how we use mini whiteboards, exit tickets and other questioning techniques. We also discussed if we were seeing staff moving towards live marking in the classroom as we know this has a real benefit to our students. The students often tell us that this type of feedback, which is short, sharp and in the moment really helps them. At Academic Board last week, we discussed the worrying performance of the boys and disadvantaged students in GCSE’s, and the research shows us that when we use these techniques I have recapped above, it has a positive and substantial effect on their performance. In a recent Blink, it was stated that in too many classes, the boys ‘have a place to hide’ because our teachers are not targeting them with questions or checking what they have learnt. Reflect on your own practice now, are these strategies really established in your teaching and if not, what do you need to do to make it embedded? If you feel the students are not making the required progress in your lessons would some of these strategies help if you focus on making them part of your daily routine?

    In my last blog, I wrote about how we must improve our student’s vocabulary and some ideas on how to do this. In our examination system in the UK, the amount of writing and quality of writing will determine the academic success of our students. As coaches, we discussed the strategy of Show Call which is a technique where a teacher uses student work to project on the screen and students and the teacher give feedback on what was done well, and what can be done to improve. This is developing the idea of a ‘culture of error’ and also gives students live feedback on how to improve their work. When you use this technique, think carefully about what works to choose, is it exemplary, or does it demonstrate a common error; or does it have a good balance of strengths and weaknesses that will be good to go through. Planning where you use show call, is essential. This might be after a section of writing has been completed, after a reteach and rewrite on a piece of writing, or maybe partway through a task- to give the students quick feedback and help them make quick progress. Consider also how many students you will choose to show call. If you have not used one of the college visualisers yet, please speak to your HOS who should have access to one. Our aim is to make sure all teachers have a visualiser so we can all be using them as part of our routine.

    I know a fear we have at Crookhorn is how we get students to write for a sustained period of time and also producing a high-quality piece of writing. As a result, we need to think about building up their stamina for writing just as you would build stamina for running or swimming: start small and scale up. Make the initial task about one minute’s worth of writing and make that expectation clear. You can add that by the end of the next lesson, you know the students will be writing confidently for at least 5 minutes, and it will not be stressful to them, because you will be training them in small steps. The most important thing is to have students’ practice being successful at writing steadily through a block of time when asked to, not only because seeing themselves succeed convinces students that they can, but because it makes a habit of writing steadily through the time allotted whenever asked. The idea is that when you say go, they write straight through because they can’t imagine anything else!

    Another way to make sure students hit the ground running is to make sure they have some decent ideas to work from, making it all but impossible to fall back on “I can’t think of anything.” Before you say go, ask students to do a lightning-quick mind map and two-minute discussion. Then, very quickly, say “Now that you’ve got some ideas, you may begin. Go.” Give them the expectation that their pen should be moving for the majority of the time (let them know that there will be pauses for thought and student reflection if needed). This is useful because it’s visible and therefore clear and easy to manage on your end.

    Writing is one of the most effective ways to process information, but all too often we run out of time for that end-of-class reflection.  Instead, try building in time at the beginning of class for writing.  Following your teacher input, allow students to write about the objective or concept, and then build in time for students to discuss their written thoughts with one another.  Creating a space for writing at the beginning of the class, as opposed to the tail end of class, gives priority to the importance of writing and allows you valuable check for understanding time as well, that might help shape how the rest of the lesson is facilitated. If a student has not put in the required effort, you have the time for an immediate rewrite. As teachers, we often accept mediocrity as we are just happy they have done it, but we must all get better at saying that at times, that is not good enough and that they must do it again. This is a key learning process, and we must not shy away from it.

    We finished off our coaching training at looking at the ‘Door to Do now’ technique. This is making sure we have an efficient and effective way of making sure students enter the class and then start work immediately. Meet them at door, expectations are made and make sure all materials needed for them are on their desk. The students have a clear seating plan that they know, and the first task is in place for them to be getting on with.

    There are many research papers and studies about improving boys’ performances over the last 50 years. There are also thousands and thousands of articles about how to improve disadvantaged students’ academic achievements. They all agree that the biggest influence on improving these groups of students is quality first teaching. We all entered education to make a difference and we have chosen to work at a College like Crookhorn because we know we can positively change lives through education, and we will do that through the high-quality provision that what we deliver in the classroom. Please give these strategies and techniques a real go, work on them on every lesson you teach and talk to your coach if you are struggling to embed them in your daily practice.

    You can click on any of the blue links which will take you straight through to extra reading on the strategies discussed. Any feedback on the blog, or just how you are getting along in your teaching is always gratefully received.

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  • December 2018 Blog

    Published 06/01/19, by James Collins

    As an SLT we are currently reading two books which we then discuss as a group and then decide on how we can implement the key findings from the research carried out. ‘Teach like a Champion’ by Doug Lemov and ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ by Alex Quigley are both excellent books and ones I would highly recommend to any teacher. I want to highlight some of the key messages I have learnt from these books over the next couple of months and I will start with the key findings from Alex Quigely, which will support the presentation that Chris King gave earlier on in autumn term and will supplement the INSET training Tim Bezant will be leading on next week.  

    Like most teachers when I taught GCSE PE, as soon as my students were finished in the exam hall I always used to go through the exam paper and guess on how I felt they would have done. Alex Quigley discusses doing exactly the same thing in his book and talks about the time when he was teaching GCSE English Literature paper and he believed that there was a real gift of a question on the theme of dreams in Of Mice and Men. When they came streaming out of the exam he excitedly asked them if they’d done it but none of them had. Why? Because it contained the word ‘futility’, and they had no idea of its meaning. This is just one example of how a limited vocabulary can be a significant barrier to academic success.

    In our INSET training we now know that in order to comprehend a text we need to know an estimated 95% of its vocabulary. This might sound surprisingly high but think about the last novel you read, how many unfamiliar words did you encounter? One or two at most? Certainly few enough that your understanding and enjoyment were not impeded. 5 percent of words might be about 10 per page – at that kind of frequency our ability to comprehend disintegrates rapidly.

    Conversely, the more words you know the easier you’ll find it to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words. If you know 95 percent of the words not only will you understand the text but you have a good chance of learning the other 5 percent. If you know fewer the 90 percent, then you’re probably stuffed. This leads inexorably to the Matthew Effect: This idea is that children who learn to read in the first three years of their education become fluent readers. They read more, learn more vocabulary which then enables them to read more and comprehend more advanced texts and so they advance further. The children who fail to learn to read, read less, are less fluent, have a poorer vocabulary, comprehend less and the gap just keeps on growing. It is the principle of ‘The rich get richer and the poor get poorer’.

    Obviously the best way to build vocabulary is to read, but apparently we only learn about 15% of the vocabulary we encounter in written texts so we need to read a lot to make sure we encounter words on multiple occasions before they’ll become part of our working vocabularies. According to one source, if you read for twenty minutes a day you’ll encounter an estimated 1,800,000 words over the course of a year whereas reading for only one minute a day will result in only 8,000 words. Now I’m not sure of the source or of the maths but if it’s only slightly true then this suggests something important. Is twenty minutes a day doable? I know Martha Coates in her role of literacy leader is going to be developing our DEAR time to make sure that students are reading the high quality books which develop their vocabulary and I am sure we are all on board in making sure this is a success. 

    Many of us our now considering the key vocabulary we need to make sure the student’s understand when planning our MTP, but how should we be choosing these key words?

    Alex Quigley discusses that vocabulary can be usefully divided into 3 tiers:

    Tier 1 – high frequency in spoken language (table, slowly, write, horrible)                                                 
    Tier 2 – high frequency in written texts (gregarious, beneficial, required, maintain)
    Tier 3 – subject specific, academic language (osmosis, trigonometry, onomatopoeia)

    We don’t need to worry about tier 1 – students usually arrive knowing the basics and if not they will quickly pick them up in conversation with their peers. I also believe that as teachers we’re pretty good at recognising the fact that our students won’t know most of the Tier 3 words so it is important to teach them to our students specifically. Tier 2 words are often the issue- these are usually words that students will already have a conceptual understand of, even though they’re unfamiliar with the vocabulary. We need to consider these words carefully in our speech and our teachings. Isabelle Beck suggests there are 7,000 word families which are very high frequency in written texts and very low-frequency in speech. These are words that feature heavily in textbooks and exam papers. They are part of the language of academic success; without these our students will struggle in the new exams. The Academic Word List (AWL) was developed by Averil Coxhead which produced a list containing 570 word families which were selected because they appear with great frequency in a broad range of academic texts but would be uncommon for many students to understand. If you are interested take a look at her website.

    Obviously as a classroom teacher, you can’t teach all this as you wouldn’t have time to do much else, but giving students access to challenging texts will expose them to much more Tier 2 vocabulary than they will encounter in dumbed down, ‘student friendly’ texts. If we want to make sure students learn this vocabulary we should concentrate on the ‘golden triangle’ of recognition, pronunciation and definition.

    •Recognition – how is the word spelt? The ability to use phonics to decode new vocabulary and then to be able to reproduce the spelling makes a big difference.

    •Pronunciation – how is the word said? Making students say it aloud and use it in a sentence increases the likelihood they’ll remember it.

    •Definition – what does the word mean? It might sound obvious, but if you know the meaning of a word, you’re much more likely to remember it.

    If we were to design a vocabulary building programme that concentrated on the words with the most instructional potential and highest utility then we might make a real start in closing the language gap between word-rich and word-poor children. And because we’re focussing on building vocabulary, it makes sense to teach students prefixes, suffixes and roots to help them puzzle out the meaning of new vocabulary more easily.

    I am certainly looking forward to our INSET training on the 15th of January by Tim Bezant where he will be covering the technical side of prefixes and suffixes and how to increase our own understanding of them. It should be really interesting beneficial for us all to grasp as we are all teachers of English.

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  • November 2018 Blog

    Published 04/12/18, by James Collins

    Many of our students are about to receive their mock results. For some, this will be a time for them to feel relieved that their efforts so far have paid off. For others, they won’t be happy with their result. Ultimately, the result itself doesn’t really matter. It’s how the students respond to their result that counts. The hope is that our students will find the balance between fear of failure and over-confidence in order to best prepare them for their final exams. In this post, I explain the methods I and others have used to ensure that students respond positively so that they will achieve their desired result in the future. The importance of giving effective feedback has never been more pertinent in this pressing time of their school careers.

    Effective feedback from you will include the specific achievable steps (targets) to improve their performance. For example, the use of technical vocab, the identification of knowledge gaps, fluency, evaluation skills and ineptness of planning might all be included in your feedback. If a student is missing most of these, you have to give them a place to start.

    Students’ lack of engagement with these steps/targets you give them also seems to be caused by their own perceptions of themselves as learners. They often see themselves as a “grade 4” student, for example. This makes it harder for them to come to terms with any grade that doesn’t fit with that label. Following a positive result, they can then become idle in their success. A negative result can leave students thinking it can’t be done. It’s vital that we spend time before giving feedback to help students understand what they should be looking to achieve, both in terms of short and long-term practices. They need to know and be constantly reminded that ‘progress‘ is not linear and that their path to success will not be a straight one.

    Students need to see the bigger picture. One exam result can seem like the entire picture to some of the students. In order for these steps of feedback to be meaningful to your students, they need to understand their own learning situation. By this, I mean that your students need to be able to see what their current level of achievement looks like compared to their past achievements. Have they dipped? Plateaued? Accelerated? Where are they going? And how is this related to their end goal?

    They should also be made aware of how far a student like them should be expected to achieve by the end of the course. Think about some of your students from previous years who have achieved similar mock results, but have then gone on to have even greater success when they have followed a specific plan. Share that plan with your current students, breaking it down into practical steps, which when followed, led to your previous student achieving the desired result.

    By making the steps simple, your current students are able to see further progress as realistic. This provides them with the motivation required to increase performance in preparation for the exam. Because the feedback conversation is focused on future achievement, rather than past failure, your student’s mindset is far more receptive and they should react more positively.

    Additionally, students need to feel supported. Many students’ will know that a poor result is their ‘fault’, but guilt and remorse will only make them dwell on negatives. This distracts from the positives and creates a barrier to forming a solution-focused mindset. Instead, ensure you are giving effective feedback by using as many comments as possible about what your students have achieved. By beginning the feedback conversation in this way (and feedback must be a conversation, not just one-way) your students will be encouraged to feel as though they have a platform to build upon for future success. They will also see you as being on their side, rather than just being there to find faults.

    What actions can we take to prepare our students to receive feedback? I think it is important for students to consider some questions before they receive their mock papers back. Here are some questions I would consider asking:

    1. What do you stand to gain from success in this subject?
    2. What is your end-of-course target?
    3. What was your target for the mock exam?
    4. If your two targets are different, then explain why
    5. What practical steps did you take to move towards your mock exam target?
    6. Which of those practical steps paid off?
    7. Which practical steps would you change or not use again? Explain your reasons.
    8. If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself three months ago, what advice would you give?

    Many of these I have got from Sander when he has been working with the students in his MADE sessions. You may change the wording of the questions, or even add/remove some of them. However, it is fundamental that we as a teaching team create a dialogue with each student about their own journey. The questions are really just conversation starters.

    After giving feedback on the mock exams, it’s crucial that you put a plan in place to ensure that every single student can be monitored and so that their performance on exam day is not left to chance. The plan should be specific, realistic and time-bound if it is to work. But most importantly, the onus should be on the students to solve the problem. You will need to use the mocks to see where the gap in learning is specific to one or two students or where it has a broader base, which requires a rethink of future planning. What material are they struggling to commit to long-term memory? How will you help facilitate this?

    Steps you can put in place:

    • Students should respond to feedback as early as possible – create improved answers or redo the mock exam from scratch.
    • Set aside specific times for one-to-one conversations with each student (if logistically possible). This should happen as soon as possible.
    • Share results with colleagues in other departments and the Head of House to see if there is an issue beyond your subject.
    • Students should create an action plan for the final exams. This can contain exam dates, when they will begin revising, successful revision methods, any future assessment dates.
    • Book another one-to-one for 6 weeks time to see how students have got on individually. Did they bother to stick to the plan? Where’s the evidence? Did it work? How do they know? What do they now need to focus on? Is parental involvement necessary at this point?


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  • October 2018 Blog

    Published 14/11/18, by James Collins

    I heard an interesting talk this week in London about how important it is that as educationalists, we plan for how our students access the learning in our classrooms, acquire the material and knowledge necessary and apply what they have learnt in different contexts. These 3 key aspects of learning should be a day to day practice at Crookhorn but there is always a need to reflect on how well we do these parts of our practice, and whether or not we are guilty at times of slipping into the assumption that they are always done well.


    How do your students access the learning in the lessons you deliver? We often make the wrong assumption that all our students are accessing the learning as we are the ones standing at the front and regaling them with our knowledge. This is a dangerous assumption! When we do the regular feedback and marking walks, it is evident in the classrooms where the teacher does a lot of talking from the front, that there is little in the way of quality knowledge in the exercise books. The question is then simple; how do these students prepare for the examinations with little access to the knowledge that they need to revise from?

    We recently had a ‘Blink’ from the Deputy Head from Court Moor School, who had the specific brief to look at the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms. He fed back that when the students were actively engaged with a task and they were accessing the learning in a more independent way, he could see real engagement and progress. When he saw the ‘stand and deliver’ style of teaching, with students sitting and listening to a teacher for a period of time, he could not see the same engagement and progress. Not only that, but the students were clearly disengaged and the behaviour was starting to ‘bubble’.

    As we move towards the November mocks, I want you to forensically plan the homework or revision that will help the Year 11s to be successful in these exams. Are you factoring in how they have access to the knowledge and skill they will be expected to demonstrate? This is not just about giving them a revision book, this is about being very clear about what the students need to be relearning to enable success in your subject. Are you making sure they are taking home with them their exercise books so they can revise independently? I have recently looked in some exercise books and read through some of the student’s work/assessment/revision notes. If the standard of these notes is not good enough, are they really going to be able to revise? I have also come to realise that for some of us, we don’t make sure the assessments they do throughout the year are either stuck in their book or given to the students. If an assessment is done correctly, with great feedback and obvious learning from a student, surely this is an important part of their revision.

    We all know the middle/low attaining, disadvantaged boy whose notes and books will not help him revise well, and then we are disappointed when they do badly in their exams. Perhaps you could take some photos of some really good notes/mindmaps/flashcards and put them on its learning for all the class to use if their own notes don’t help them. Perhaps we can set some GCSE Pods with follow up questions to aid learning? Some of our teachers are thinking outside the box a bit and using visualisers or videos of themselves to record good revision tasks and add them to ‘its learning’. We need to consider that not all the students are the same and not have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to how they should revise.

    I have recently emailed Heads of Subject to check in with them about what homework is being set in their subject, as I wanted to know that homework and revision was being done in a precise and forensic way to really aid learning, rather than just asking students to just revise or set an ineffective task driven time filler. We as a College have invested heavily in our online learning support package, with ‘its learning’ and GCSE Pod two fantastic ways to support teachers in getting more students to access their materials. How as a teacher are you using these platforms? Are you putting your lessons on ‘its learning’ if students miss a lesson? Are you setting suitable and appropriate GCSE pods that are either supporting current learning or setting up future learning? If you need help with either GCSE Pod or ‘its learning’, please come and see Adam or myself and we will happily support you.


    If we are making learning more accessible, we need to make sure students are acquiring the learning. Aside from testing them in assessments or mocks, how do you know that students are making progress in your classes, and thus acquiring the learning? Have you really embraced the strategies that we have been promoting in coaching and using them on regular basis? A simple check for understanding strategies really should tell you where the students are up to with their acquisition of learning, and then what needs to be done to support and challenge students further. When you open up your exercise books, can you see that students have made progress and how can you see this? What are the obvious weaknesses from the class as a whole or from certain individuals once you have looked in the books or checked their understanding in class and what are you going to do next? This is where our planning and MTP’s are so important, as it’s live planning and specific to your students, not just carrying on and doing the same old lessons with the same old PowerPoints because that’s what’s it says on the SOW.


    The final aspect is how students can show they can apply the learning in different contexts. How do we let the students show they can apply the learning, and how do we plan for this application. How do we check that they can do it and then move them forward? One of the most important ways that we can check they have understood is through the planning and implementation of key questions. In the planning stage, teachers should carefully consider what questions will unpick what students have actually learnt and then allow them to show that they have made progress towards the learning outcomes. In our CPT on a Tuesday afternoon, consider the key questions first when planning out your next MTP, as this should be the basis of how you can see if students’ progress in your lessons.

    As usual, please ask any questions or let me know any thoughts about the blog and I hope the questions I have posted helps you reflect on your own practice in the classroom.

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  • September 2018 Blog

    Published 17/10/18, by James Collins

    This summer I read a really powerful article called ‘Great teaching, the power of expectations’ by Tom Sherrington. I felt that the article was particularly pertinent to what we are trying to achieve at Crookhorn College and I have used this as the basis of this month’s blog so you also get a chance to reflect on what he has written. The vision Sarah outlined at the start of the term about expectations and standards must be the bedrock of what we deliver at Crookhorn and I hope you find this article useful. Please let me know your thoughts.

    As each new term approaches, it’s worth reflecting on the powerful Bill Rogers concept that, as teachers, ‘you establish what you establish’.  This means:

    • If we establish that we expect high standards and reinforce them continually with tight routines in lessons characterised by rigour, depth, drive and a clear sense of purpose, that is what we get.  If we establish that we will insist on polite, respectful interactions, listening to whoever is speaking and acting in a supportive, mature fashion, then students will learn the boundaries and respond.
    • Conversely, if we establish that, despite our intentions, in reality, we’ll let things go, accept mediocrity, sloppy writing, half-finished work and allow lessons to drift without addressing the behaviour issues, then that is what we get.  If we establish that calling out, ‘low-level disruption’ and rudeness will go under-challenged or only weakly addressed, these become embedded behaviours all too easily.

    We establish what we establish.

    Having high expectations, communicating them and reinforcing them is such a powerful feature of great teaching.  When you sweat the small stuff, make the details count; show that you really believe that excellence is possible from everyone – the pay-off is significant.  It sounds obvious but it can be easier said than done. Let’s explore the details.  Where do expectations come into play?  Here are four examples:

    Behaviour management.

    There are hundreds of details to this but teachers’ expectations are the absolute bedrock of creating a fertile learning environment where everyone feels safe and can engage in productive learning with a teacher firmly in control and able to lead great questioning exchanges.   There are teachers who command enormous respect from students for being someone ‘you don’t mess with’; someone whose lessons are characterised by warmth, encouragement, friendliness but also complete order, discipline and high expectations.

    When you observe a teacher who has mastered this aspect of the craft, it’s interesting to note that, nearly always, their expectations are enforced at the earliest lowest levels. They’re not shouters; it’s not about being angry or over-controlling.  It’s about firm, warm, insistence:  sustained eye contact, a firm look, gesture or gentle command – keeping everyone listening, focused, attentive, picking up on drifting.  There are teachers that students don’t want to be late for, whose lessons you don’t call out in, where you definitely take all your equipment.  Not because of fear or because you’ll get a detention; but simply because it’s expected.  A teacher’s personal disapproval and botheredness is the most significant consequence.  Of course, you need to back this up with other consequences if necessary but that’s not where you start.

    At the beginning of a term, the key is to establish the expectations with routine rehearsals: how we enter class; how we move around in the space; how we conduct questioning sessions; how we show respect for each other… all the details.  And then you have a clear framework to reference… “remember our rule – One voice” – and so on.

    The pitch of the curriculum content and resources.

    Tom has written about this in various blogs including ‘The Anatomy of High Expectations’ and ‘Stretch and Challenge ‘.  The pitch of your curriculum materials is a concrete expression of your expectations.  If you set students the task of doing a gentle intro cover page, colouring in a diagram of the safety apparatus, the message is different from setting them something with depth to it.  His son’s first homework at secondary school asked the question ‘what’s the difference between science and philosophy’.  If you want students to learn a poem or speech by heart, they can – but you need to expect it first.   If you want them to engage in a French conversation without using their notes, making them delve deep with their retrieval practice, they’ll respond – but if you don’t expect them to be able to do it, they never will. High expectations take form in what you ask students to read and the topics you select: never patronising; never dumbed-down.  Pitched up, bold and demanding – that’s the way to go.

    Attention to detail and depth in responsive questioning.

    This is an area for daily consideration.  The way you respond to students’ answers embodies your expectations.  It’s always ok for students to offer half-form responses, to be unsure or not to know something.  But…it’s not ok to leave it there.  If we expect students to know things, to form details answers and give in-depth responses, we need to lead them in that direction through probing questioning and the ‘say it again better’ strategy explored in the previous post on questioning.   If you accept poor answers without response or simply flit from student to student getting bits and pieces of responses, you set a low standard for the depth of thinking.  If you always probe, go deeper and insist on higher quality answers as a follow-up, you set a standard that students aspire to.  For me, this shift is one of the most significant in teaching:  something you do every single day to drive up standards in learning at a fundamental level.

    The standards of student work.  Quality, volume, depth

    As with questioning, setting expectations in terms of students’ work output is essential. Unless you spell it out in advance, you leave them to guess.  It pays to explore this upfront. “If you do work that I think is awesome, what will it look like?” Setting out the parameters for length, depth and key features of what excellence looks like is extremely helpful as a guide.

    But then you need to respond to what you get.  If you don’t seem bothered about hand-writing, joined and on the lines and full stops and capital letters, it deteriorates.  If you don’t insist on ruled lines and pencils for diagrams, it falls away.  If you don’t insist that maths problems are set out with a new line for each step, attention to columns and giving quantities with the correct units, these details cease to be routine.

    If the first draft is unacceptable — doing it again is a powerful first step to setting standards.

    If I ask children about the teachers they’ve loved and respected, for sure there is a correlation to those who set high expectations.  It’s a powerful motivator; the teacher is bothered; they believe in you; they know you can achieve excellence – and, yes, they’re unashamedly demanding about it.

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  • June 2018 Blog

    Published 16/05/18, by James Collins

    As we are approaching the end of the term, it certainly feels that time is precious.  This is especially true at Crookhorn and as the timetable has rolled over and we get our new classes for the next two weeks, we now have an excellent opportunity to set new learning opportunities for our students. There never seems to be enough class time.  We have so much to accomplish; there is so much our students need to master before they move on to future challenges in FE and then the world of work. Like many, I have struggled with the balance of what I can do in the classroom, and what can be done outside of the classroom. When I see or read about teachers that get this balance right, I think the students become far more independent learners and thus more successful over time. This policy of blending the learning between what is done in class and what is done at home via e-learning or more traditional ways is something I want to focus on in this blog.

    I believe the key to success when considering blended learning is planning homework to support the learning. Firstly, let’s consider our training from a few years ago- Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy. This is something that has helped our planning and I would even go a step further, it is a necessity for any Crookhorn learner. Scaffolding, and moving from receptive skills to productive skills is the foundation of any strong learning classroom. Students who can move from describing something to creating with it, in a whole new context, often do well. When we don’t have enough class time to thoughtfully guide students up the pyramid, from one cognitive domain to the next, there are problems. There are gaps in their learning. They arrive at the next level, and they struggle.


    The first strategy is to construct thoughtful lessons that guide students up to the taxonomy. We generally spend a lot of class time working on those level cognitive domains.  We may spend sacred class time explaining the simple past time, showing students how to form it, and quizzing students on the forms. Then, what do we do? We ask students to go home and ‘create’ something in the past time. When we step back and look it at, it really doesn’t make any sense, does it? We spend an hour in class ‘teaching’ the past time, and 5 minutes explaining the homework they will do creating with the past time.

    The second strategy is to move those low-level skills out of the classroom and work on those higher-level skills in the classroom.

    This strategy is the foundation of the ‘Flipped classroom’. I believe that class time should be about applying, analysing, evaluating and creating because that is where students need the most support. At home, they can study videos on the basics of the learning outcome and then class time then becomes about applying what they learned. And, yes, in the beginning, there is an adjustment period.  After all, this is a strong shift in the paradigm of teaching and learning. However, not long after, students see the real value in learning outside of the classroom and applying that learning in the classroom. Class time is not only precious for teachers; it’s precious for our students as well.

    There are different models for implementing blended learning, and the method used will vary depending on your classroom. I recommend starting with one method–if you see positive effects, that you have more time to collaborate in class and your students are more engaged then continue. If not, then use this opportunity as a way to learn more about your students and their needs. As teachers, we need to constantly reflect on our methods and encourage self-assessment with our students, all part of learning and growing together. Getting started can take some risk and exploration, and definitely time. At Crookhorn, we believe strongly in a culture of error and taking a risk, so go for it, take the chance and see if it helps. Speak to your coach about it, plan something and get them to give you some feedback on it.

    Here are some different ways to use technology to “blend” or “flip” learning that in my experience have worked well. These tools can offer innovative or creative learning methods in your classroom, opening up the time and space for where and when the learning occurs.

    1. Flipping and Blending with Videos- In the past when I heard “flipped classroom” I thought that meant simply assigning a video for students to watch. It can be, as it was originally considered the traditional way of flipping the classroom, but there has to be the follow-up, accountability and more than just simply assigning a video.

    2. Game-Based Learning and “Practice” as Homework Alternatives- Perhaps you want students to simply play a game or have some practice beyond the school day. There are lots of options available, some of which enable students to create and share their games as well. A few of these that you are probably familiar with are Kahoot or Quizlet.

    3. Discussion beyond the College Day and Space

    There are tools available for having students brainstorm, discuss topics or write reflections which can be accessed at any time and from any place.

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  • May 2018 Blog

    Published 18/04/18, by James Collins

    Over the last couple of weeks, Sarah and I have spent some considerable time speaking and interviewing prospective candidates who want to come and teach at Crookhorn. Whenever I am asked to describe teaching and learning here at Crookhorn, I tell the candidates we concentrate on 3 key elements, which are planning good lessons, giving our students the best possible feedback on how to improve and then working on becoming better teachers in the classroom. It sounds basic but that is probably because it should be, and I truly believe that this, in correlation with our drive to reduce teacher workload, will have a positive impact on student achievement and progress. This month, the coaching team will be looking in more detail at how planning lesson objectives and outcomes can really shape our teaching.

    In ‘Teach like a Champion’, Begin with the End teaches us an effective way to plan lessons focusing on the lesson objective being the focal point at the start of planning. This strategy helps to move us away from planning a lesson to lesson, or simply that last minute planning the night before based on what to do rather than what do the students need to master in this sequence of learning. In this manner, the teacher knows that students master lessons as a unit and not as an individual days work. It also encourages students to look back on missed or misunderstood objectives so that they do not fall behind for future objectives since everything builds on itself.

    Begin with the End is an excellent strategy because of how much it involves the Cognitive learning theory which focuses on the way that students learn and store new information. This strategy focuses most effectively on planning with the intent to teach students to master an objective. Through unit planning, the teacher focuses on repetition in the lesson, based on building upon knowledge acquired in previous lessons. This influence of repetition forces the students working memory to store information multiple times knowing that students brains are selective in what they transfer to long-term memory. By Begin with the End, teachers are ensuring that they plan for students to be given multiple chances to retain more information through interleaving knowledge and skills so that these transfer from their working memory to their long-term memory.

    We have come a long way since the days of the WALT and WILF at Crookhorn and I think given the importance of objectives in bringing focus, discipline and measurability to a lesson, it’s worthwhile to think about what makes an objective useful and effective. In Teach like a Champion, they build their objectives around the ‘4 Ms’. The strategy is designed to help with planning that ensures academic achievement; it uses four simple criteria to determine if a lesson will be effective at reaching the required goals. The 4 Ms are: Manageable, Measurable, Made First, and Most Important. Each aspect is simple, which makes this an easy strategy to implement, yet extremely effective in classroom planning. By combining the four aspects, it ensures that a lesson is effective from start to finish.


    As with any lesson, it is important to decide before beginning a lesson if it is manageable for the class and for the time allotted. Too often, we see teachers set learning objectives that might be set over a couple of lessons or even over a topic, but we would have a much greater chance of success if we build a series of day to day objectives that are achievable and realistic which supports the process of conceptualising the steps necessary to achieve mastery. I believe this is vital for many Crookhorn learners, as they build up their confidence and belief as they work through the smaller, more manageable objectives. 


    This strategy suggests that teachers create objectives in such a way that the outcomes can be measured at the end of the day. This lets the teacher measure how well he or she achieved the objective, based on how well the students grasped the material. This also lets the teacher know if the class is ready to move on or needs to spend more time on the material. There are many ways our coaches are encouraging how we as teachers check for understanding and one of the suggestions given is to use an exit ticket, or a short CFU at the end of class to gauge the understanding of the material taught during class. Alternatively, it can be focussed around the students response to a key question that is then live marked during the independent part of the lesson. As we know with our current exam structure, one of the most prominent aspects of education has become the students’ abilities to remember information given to them and recall the information on a test. If a student does not remember the information immediately after it is presented, the chances are very high that the information will not be accessible during the following assessments either. By making sure each objective is measurable, it allows the teacher to see how well the students can apply the information learned, in order to use it as a basis for further planning and learning.

    Made First

    This aspect addresses a common mistake amongst teachers – choosing an objective off a pre-planned activity. “Made first” suggests that teachers choose the objective before anything else. By doing this, it allows for teachers to base the activities around the material that needs to be learned, which is the most effective way to design a lesson. 

    Most Important

    This aspect is short and straight-forward. Each objective should be designed to help students on their path to success. Only the most important information needs to be presented, in order to leave room for other information that is considered most important as well.

    I hope this blog helps you consider how to use lesson objectives when planning out your future MTP’s, and please talk to your progress partner about how to do this in the future. As usual, any comments gratefully received.

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  • April 2018 Blog

    Published 21/03/18, by James Collins

    When teaching and learning are “visible” – that is, when it is clear what teachers are teaching and what students are learning, student achievement increases. This is the key point in an article I read recently from the excellent John Hattie. John Hattie’s idea is something that as leaders we have become very aware of over the last few years and something that was very evident when I heard him speak at the ASCL conference in March. As you know we have started to embed in various areas of the curriculum, what we believe are really essential practices all aimed at making learning explicitly ‘visible’ to teachers and students. For example the use of live marking; creating a culture of error; medium-term planning; the focus of question level analysis after an assessment and the necessity of re-teaching areas after checking a student’s understanding are all techniques based on high-level research and they are undoubtedly the key as we work towards the ‘Excellence as Standard’ in our teaching and learning.

    John Hattie’s work on the factors that make the biggest impact on student achievement is an interesting read. One of the high impact factors is the feedback students receive in the classroom (Read an article by Hattie on feedback here). In the article, he describes that the more specific the feedback, whether it is from the teacher, from fellow students or even feedback that they are giving themselves, the more impact it has on the student’s development academically. Although feedback is among the most powerful of influences on learning, it can also be amongst the most variable. Hattie goes on to describe 6 key things;

    1.      Giving is not receiving: Teachers may claim they give much feedback, but the more appropriate measure is the nature of feedback received (and this is often quite little).

    2.      The culture of the student can influence the feedback effects: Feedback is not only differentially given but also differentially received.

    3.      Disconfirmation is more powerful than confirmation: When feedback is provided that disconfirms then there can be greater change, provided it is accepted.

    4.      Errors need to be welcomed: The exposure to errors in a safe environment can lead to higher performance

    5.      The power of peers: Interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback is needed.

    6.      Feedback from the assessment: Assessment (…) could and should also provide feedback to teachers about their methods.

    Hattie describes the art of effective teaching is to provide the right form of feedback at, or just above, the level at which the student is working. Feedback should lead the student to move from the task towards the processes or understandings necessary to learn the task.  From there the aim is to take the student to extend beyond the task to more challenging goals. I think this can be summed up by asking the following questions to your students to consider when you give feedback;

    “What do I know and what can I do” (Level 1)

     “What do I not know and what can’t I do and what can I do about this” (Level 2)

    “What can I teach others (and myself) about what I know and can do” (Level 3)

    The article describes the benefit of regular, smaller chunks of feedback where students then change/amend their work. When compared to strategies such as longer school days, smaller class sizes and more money spent per student, research shows that rapid formative assessment is considered to be the most cost-effective. We must all consider this in our approach to live feedback, which my fellow coaches and I are trying to develop in teachers daily practice. Get that green pen in your hand, and give short sharp pieces of feedback to students and get them to redraft, improve or consider the feedback on the next piece of work and how they will change their practice as a result of it and we will see more progress!

    To finish, I just want to highlight some excellent practice I have seen recently in maths and how this is having an impact, not only on student progress but also on teacher workload- two key issues for all of our teachers. Jo Poulter has a very clear and easy way of giving her students feedback, she has found this has reduced the time she is spending marking, the students find it useful for them and they have improved their knowledge and skills because of it, so a winner all around. The theory is very simple, the students do a task or an assessment, which Jo marks, and gives a score to. She then completes a feedback sheet, which gives the students guidance on how to answer the questions they got wrong, and the students go back and attempt the questions again on the original paper, in red. She then gives them some similar questions to show that the students have learnt, which can be peer marked or by Jo when she is walking around during response time. If you don’t believe me in that this saves time, please go and speak to her and look at her books, which are excellent. Below are some pictures to give you an example.                               

      First mark   Feedback/hints  Reteach-extension/Progress check

    As usual, please discuss these ideas with your coach and any feedback is gratefully received. The research shows that this makes a huge difference to the students we teach so definitely worth a go!

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