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Teaching and Learning Blog

By James Collins, Deputy Headteacher

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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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  • March 2018 Blog

    Published 14/02/18, by James Collins

    The core focus for all teachers at Crookhorn is to plan carefully and thoughtfully, to teach imaginatively and with passion, and to feedback to students in a low effort, high impact way to ensure strong progress. We are passionate about making sure everyone can concentrate on these pillars of teaching and learning, and hopefully, this is now evident through the way the teaching week is structured, the daily dialogue we engage in and the focus of our training over the last 18 months. 

    In this blog, I want to concentrate on planning. In our Progress partner meetings and our CPT, it is important we consider some key points when it comes to future planning. I want you to really consider these points below and reflect on where you are with your planning and ultimately enable you to have a greater impact on your students learning:  

    1. Be clear and precise about the knowledge and skills you want the students to learn, not what you want them to do. It is important to shift the focus away from what activities can I get the students to do, to what we are learning and why. This is why the learning outcomes and reference to them in the lesson as a progress check are key.  Nicky Smith is a master at this- so if you are worried about not understanding how to do this learning outcomes check effectively and you get a chance, pop in and go and see it in action. 
    2. Apply the ‘why’ test to all learning activities, including homework, so your planning is designed to facilitate learning and not to keep students busy. The students also need to understand the relevance of the learning, otherwise, it is very hard to get the 'buy-in' from them. 
    3. Integrate imaginative teaching strategies, such as storytelling, into your lessons to keep your students engaged, but think carefully about when you use them to ensure they have an impact. I watched a fantastic lesson from Samuel McGinley this week, which included a quiz for them to check for understanding that was fun and got the Year 11s to really consider what they had and hadn't learnt. 
    4. Embed ‘stick-ability’ into your lesson planning. What are the key aspects that you want to stick in the minds of the students at the end? Make sure you are clear in your plans what the key questions you have planned to allow for you to know the students have learnt. This for many teachers has been the turning point in their planning, and once you have got those key questions you can then design the lesson around them. 
    5. Plan to keep students in the ‘learning zone’ to ensure they feel sufficiently challenged but not stressed or anxious. In some of the books I have recently seen, I have seen so many worksheets that I don’t think stretch some of our high attaining students. If they are not asking questions in the lessons and not struggling slightly, you know it’s too easy and they should be challenged further.  

    Expert teaching requires challenge so that students have high expectations of what they can achieve. Keeping students in the learning zone means walking the fine line between students becoming apathetic due to boredom and students giving up because of stress or a feeling that they are incapable. This learning zone is ‘High challenge, low stress, thinking required, effective learning’. Think about your upcoming assessments, is the challenge, pitch and structure going to challenge all students?


    1. In lessons, plan to get them off to a flying start, so students learn purposefully from the beginning. ‘Do now’ tasks should be an easy way to get the students engaged and learning from minute 1.  
    2. Use seating plans based on your knowledge of the students and don’t be afraid to plan a change, such as home and away seating plans based on different activities. Tim Bezant is the master of this and speak to him if you think this is something you want to add to your planning.  
    3. Plan for when you are going to feedback and then when students are going to respond and show progress. Add this onto your MTP and annotate these plans with the outcomes of this feedback. We have recently seen some brilliant examples of these MTP's in English, with MTP's that were really detailed and considered. Tina and Martha showed SB and I the class books, to show how their planning was influencing the student body of work. It was amazing to see where the planning of the feedback then developed into students reflecting on their work, and then how they improved their future writing. In science, we are now seeing teachers looking at 3 books at the end of each lesson to really understand how much learning has happened and what needs to be planned into the very next lesson. In PE, Chris Watson has looked into how Carl is marking in English and is now really considering how he gives live feedback to the students so they can make progress, which he feels has improved him as a teacher. 

    I hope this helps when you consider your future planning, and I apologise in advance for probably embarrassing the teachers who I have mentioned in this blog! As SLT, we are committed to making sure our teachers can concentrate on giving good feedback, planning good lessons and then delivering high-quality lessons to our students and I am so pleased that at Crookhorn, the focus is now on how we improve the day to day quality of education our students get.  As usual, any comments gratefully received and have a lovely Easter break. 

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  • February 2018 Blog

    Published 17/01/18, by James Collins

    For the February blog, I wanted to concentrate on one of the biggest areas and challenges of College life which is the quality and frequency of our feedback and marking. Over the last couple of months, the SLT has been looking at many of the student books and considering how we evaluate the feedback and marking we provide at Crookhorn. If I am being honest, it is still very varied and inconsistent across the curriculum, and this is an area we do need to make sure is a strength for our students.

    It reminded me of the research that the Sutton Trust carried out many years ago now that highlights why feedback is so important. If delivered well, "effective feedback" can boost learning by an extra nine months in an academic year. By effective feedback it means shifting fundamentally how teachers approach their work in the classroom - understanding where their students are in relation to learning goals, adapting their teaching in response, and planning how to plug the learning gaps. This is especially important to our disadvantaged students, which has to remain one of the key foci at Crookhorn. 

    Over the years, teachers have spent surprisingly little time discussing what happens behind their own classroom door. Hopefully, the development of CPT on a Tuesday is helping to reduce this. It is vital we spend time when we met together looking at the feedback given across our subject, what works well and what can be improved. Too often feedback from teachers is unfocused - simply urging students to do more of the same. I am still baffled and annoyed when I look in our Crookhorn books and the feedback from some of our staff is “add more detail” or “try harder”. This is not feedback!

    This is doubly frustrating as the teacher is often spending their valuable time marking the books and then writing these comments, all I would suggest being a complete waste of valuable time. It’s not what you do, it's the way that you do it that counts. John Hattie outlined in his book ‘Visible Learning for Teachers’ about the importance of high-quality feedback and shared the benefits of a rigorous approach to marking and feedback, including the fact that assessing students helps teachers to learn about their own impact. He states that feedback and marking have 3 purposes- Students act on feedback to make progress over time, they inform future planning and teaching, and students learn to value hard work and the quality of work they produce. He also argues that some of the key elements of marking that have the greatest impact on learning are:

    • Sharing the key marking points (the success criteria)- students more likely to be successful if they know where they are going and how to get there
    • Clear feedback, comments only or verbal feedback which they then respond to by correcting their work or redoing it using your comments
    • Students should know the objectives and how they are going to prove they have learnt it but why make them write it down- have them visible if needed (on a whiteboard or as a banner on PPT) but do not get them to copy it down, it is not necessary!

    I have been reading ‘Mark, Plan, Teach’ which is a book that looks at maximizing the impact of teaching and, in doing so, save time, reduce workload and teachers taking control of their classroom. The intention of the book is to encourage teachers to view their teaching process as a continuous cycle:



    As a starting point, both summative and formative marking should be diagnostic, we should allow us to make it clear to a student how to improve their piece of work and learning, rather than simply giving them a grade. When they respond to this specific feedback, it is then we will see the progress. There are many strategies that are being used by our teachers to help them with giving effective feedback and many of the ones are detailed in this link so please take a look and discuss with your coach and HOS.

    We know many of our teachers are working incredibly long hours and finding any free time to mark outside of the classroom during our working week is tough and sometimes near impossible job. I believe that hard work should be in the classroom and not away from it. It is important that before you set an assessment and then sit down to mark it, you should first consider where you are in the curriculum and the purpose of setting and marking this specific piece of work. Think about the starting point, progress and context of each student. This ‘overview’ will inform how you spend time marking to improve teaching, learning and assessment. I know many of you will point out to me about the fact that there is a frequency marking cycle that we must stick to, but as an SLT, if we can see that actually over a MTP, you have carefully considered where you are going to mark for impact and it might not be in week 3, 6 and 9 but actually 5, 6 and 9 which suits the students far better we will not hold that against you!

    Finally, I have recently read an article titled ‘Is Your Feedback Carefully Used, or Barely Perused?’ which is very thought-provoking. It is all about getting students to engage with your feedback and looking making sure that students don’t just receive the feedback but actually leads to them developing skills. It highlights that if we are not seeing much progress, the solution is not to give more and more feedback, but to help students to become better users of feedback. Students should be able to appraise their own work, set targets for themselves to develop their work and be motivated to do this intrinsically. If we consider what happens to us when we receive critical feedback as teachers, we often as adults get defensive and put barriers up, and this is nearly always the way with children so we need to consider how we structure feedback so our children are positive about making changes. Here is a copy of the link so you can have a read

    As an SLT, we will be doing learning walks every week to look at the quality of feedback our students are receiving and we will expect all teachers to firstly be up to date with their frequency of feedback and secondly by providing a high quality of feedback to aid progress. If you want any guidance or support with making sure you are giving our students the best possible feedback, then please ask.

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  • January 2018 Blog

    Published 13/12/17, by James Collins

    Improving teaching and learning is at the heart of every good school and I hope it is clear to all teachers here at Crookhorn that this is the number one priority which will allow us to achieve the ‘Excellence as Standard’ vision. I can’t speak for you, but I think my teaching has improved through the CPD time, the collaborative planning I do with colleagues on Tuesday and the reading I have done which has made me really think about how I deliver my lessons. I want to share with you each month some of the ideas, articles and strategies I have seen and I promise I will always try to keep it brief as possible as we all have busy lives, please don’t feel you have to read on if it’s not for you, I will never know and therefore I can’t take offence! 

    Recently Dave Lemon asked us to read an article at Academic Board about teaching to the top, an article Tom Sherrington wrote about teaching to stretch all students in the classroom

     A big part of that article was about Synoptic questions. Synoptic questions encourage students to combine elements of their learning from different parts of a programme and to show their accumulated knowledge and understanding of a topic or subject area. A synoptic question normally enables students to show their ability to integrate and apply their skills, knowledge and understanding with breadth and depth in the subject. It can help to test a student's capability of applying the knowledge and understanding gained in one part of a programme to increase their understanding in other parts of the programme, or across the programme as a whole. The coaches in the College have also read about a technique called ‘stretch it’ from ‘Teach like a champion’ which also highlights the technique of asking students to apply the same skill in a new setting (p108 to p116) through questioning and we will be working on this with teachers in the classroom over the coming weeks. Here are some examples for you to consider to help you when planning your questions.

    English example:

    Rewrite the following sayings in your own words, explaining, as you do, exactly what you think they mean:

     Seeing ourselves as others see us would probably confirm our worst suspicions about them. (Franklin P Jones)  

    2. Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it (Stephen Leacock)

    3. The flush toilet is the basis of civilisation. (Alan Coult)

    4. Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain nor freed a human soul. (Mark Twain)

    5. Beware the fury of a patient man. (John Dryden)

    This is a synoptic activity because it combines the need to be able to analyse language with the capability of being able to reorganise it to show a clear understanding of meaning, thereby being able to interpret the author's original intentions.

    As part of your Medium term planning, I want you to consider where you can use synoptic questions to promote student progress in the classroom. Try working with your Progress partner to get some examples you can use and then give them a go and then sit down and discuss how they went (or ask your coach to observe you giving this technique a try).


    Geography example:

    Consider how climate change has influenced extreme river flooding and the impact this has had on affected communities.

     This one is good because it challenges the idea that flooding is the result of random weather and instead asks them to make links with the effects of climate change, namely that increased global temperatures result in increased evaporation leading to enhanced monsoons in the Asian subcontinent and the amplification of Atlantic hurricanes. They can also consider the positives e.g. the flooding of the Ganges and Nile provides fertile silt to farmland that improves production. It also expects consideration of the impacts e.g. the need to build more sturdy homes and the need for flood defences.

    I hope you have found this useful and thought provoking in terms of the questions you can pose in your classrooms. This is a key strand of looking to stretch our students in the classroom and hopefully, you will see this as you practice the technique. As part of your Medium term planning, I want you to consider where you can use synoptic questions to promote student progress in the classroom. Try working with your Progress Partner to get some examples you can use and then give them a go and then sit down and discuss how they went (or ask your coach to watch you giving this technique a try).

     Good luck and feel free to come and see me or drop me an email to let me know how it is going.

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