Blog Archive

Thursday, 14 October 2021

How can we teach children to be active, in the moment readers?

Teaching students how to dissect text through this terms focus of 'Predict and Ask Questions' has been an eye-opening experience in my honest opinion. From a non-English teacher perspective, it has been interesting to observe what our students know and what they don't - often challenging my own preconceived ideas that they have sufficient background knowledge to be able to decode a key piece of text. Our students need multiple layers of knowledge in order to better understand the text; subject specific language; disciplinary knowledge and an awareness of the world around them (just to name a few). On top of this some of our students find reading complex and unnatural as 'learning to read demands that we use brain areas that have evolved for other purposes such as language, vision and attention' (Reading Fluency, Norton and Wolf).

However, as Johnny and Kat have expertly supported us through this term, it is an area we can develop our students understanding in. Johnny is our guest blogger for this week so over to him:

As adults teaching in secondary schools we take our ability to be active readers who comprehend what we are reading for granted. Even if you are someone who wouldn’t class yourself as a natural reader you would not have got to the point you are at today without the ability to be a highly skilled reader. The problem is you have probably never been taught the skills which you use on a daily basis when you read. You will instead have picked them up over a lifetime of reading and you now activate them so automatically when you read that they have become hidden from you. So how do we teach skills we don’t know we have in the first place?

Have you ever tried reading late at night when you’re really tired, or worse (and I’m sure no teacher at Mangotsfield will be able to empathise with this) have you ever tried reading when you’ve had a glass of wine too many? If you’ve ever been in either of these situations you may have found you have reached the end of the page and you’ve realised you have no idea what you have just been reading about, you’ve taken nothing in. In this scenario you have been decoding the words but none of the key strategies of ‘in the moment reading’ that you automatically use for comprehension have been activated.

Now put yourself in the place of the students in our classrooms. It’s period 5, you’ve just come in from break and you are tired as you spent most of the last night staying up playing video games or messaging your friends on snap chat. You are also not as skilled a reader as reading has never been a big priority at home and as such the key strategies to aid your ‘in the moment reading’ are not very secure at the best of times. So you sit there whilst your teacher and peers read through a page of writing, or you read a page yourself and the words wash over you, you take nothing in. To quote Shakespeare the ‘words fly up but your thoughts remain below’...and as I’m sure we can now all appreciate ‘words without thoughts, never to comprehension go’...sorry one for the English teachers there.

So, it is our job as teachers to ensure that when we are reading with our students we are teaching, modelling and unlocking their ability to comprehend texts in the moment of reading. So, what are the strategies effective readers use in the moment of reading? Effective readers:

1. Predict or ask questions and then read on to ‘find out’.
2. Visualise and use inference..
3. Use their background knowledge and make links with the text.
4. Notice meaning breakdown and use repair strategies to understand.
5. Notice very important words, phrases and ideas and put these together to build basic meaning.

Over the course of this year we will be focusing on one of these strategies each term until we are all confident in teaching these explicitly to our students. If students are not applying all these strategies then it is highly likely that they will miss meaning, it will also mean that they are unable to read and comprehend independently. We are probably all very strong at using questioning after reading a text to explore more complex meanings, but if we ignore the teaching of these strategies then our weaker students will not have even the basic understanding to build this deeper meaning on top of. To put it simply, just reading a text and then asking questions is like trying to build a skyscraper in a swap, there is not solid foundation to start building deeper understanding.

This term our main strategy has been the ‘predict and ask questions’ strategy. As discussed in the teaching and learning briefing all around the school I have seen excellent examples of us as practitioners modelling this through a ‘read aloud, think aloud’ approach. This is excellent at showing our students the strategy in action. Now we have to get them practicing it! It is not enough to simply show them we now need to turn this around and put the onus of the strategy onto them. The need to be asking the questions and making the predictions themselves. This turns them into ‘active readers’ who are employing an ‘in the moment of reading strategy’. Please see the tips for how to get students making and asking their own predictions and questions attached to this blog.

So to sum up. We use in the moment of reading strategies all the time as we read. We can explicitly teach these to students to ensure they are better comprehenders and as a result capable independent readers. Simply modelling these strategies is not enough. Students are never going to be active readers unless they employ these strategies themselves. So here's the challenge - get your students asking their own questions, get them writing these down, make the students do the work!

Thursday, 30 September 2021

SEND - How can I communicate effectively with my TA to ensure clarity in their role?

I'm going to take you back to April 2004 - I was nearly at the end of a relatively uneventful NQT year and was attending a LA run session for new teachers on 'Strategies to support SEND'. I had been given the challenging timetable of multiple 'bottom sets' as they used to be known and was struggling with the compromise between effective scaffolding and allowing the students to access the curriculum. So I attended this session, along with approximately 20 other NQTs from across Buckinghamshire, with the hope that some light could be shone on where I could adapt my practice.

Still to this day, I recall a key quote from the session leader (a local headteacher) "If you are lucky enough to have a TA (as they are like gold dust) then you are blessed with absolute miracle workers". Now, I started my teaching career in a county where the selective school system thrived and I was lucky enough to teach in a Secondary Modern with those students who were not deemed academic enough to pass the 11 plus. Therefore, the school employed 14 TA's and they were such vital cogs in the learning machine that is a school. But, I had not received any training on how to use them, strategically, and realised I was missing a huge opportunity. So what did the session leader advise? This one simple idea:

Communicate effectively with your TA to ensure clarity in their role in your classroom. Who are they there to support? What strategies have you/they observed are effective for said student in your lesson? What level of support do you want your TA to provide? (Sometimes too much support can limit student progress). The graphic below from the EEF represents the level of input a TA can provide and the impacts this has on student independence.


Self-scaffolding: TA observes that the student is working independently and does not intervene.

Prompting: TA uses wait time (10 secs) to see if the student can get started, asks a prompt question such as ​‘Can you remember what Mr T said you need to do first?’, or gestures to a useful resource such as a model on an interactive white board or a word-bank on a table.

Clueing: TA uses a statement, ​‘The ruler will help you’, or question, ​‘How could the ruler help you?’ to give one piece of information at a time to support accessing the task. Several clues may be needed.

Modelling: TA demonstrates the next step the student needs to complete and then asks the child to take this step. ​‘I am using the word-bank to find a word to help me describe my character…’

Correcting: The TA provides answers and requires no independent thinking. Occasionally it is appropriate to do this, however, TAs should always aim instead to model and encourage pupils to apply new skills or knowledge first.

The EEF reported that ​‘Evidence suggests that TAs can have a positive impact on academic achievement’ as well as ​‘In some cases where teachers and TAs work together effectively, this can lead to increases in attainment’. Here is the link to their 2015 report on 'Making Best Use of a Teaching Assistant'.

The final thought for this micro-blog post is to consider the use of your MINT seating plans a vehicle towards the effective deployment of TAs. Whilst many are with us to support specific students, there may be opportunities to utilise their presence to work with a small group of other students. Providing them with an annotated copy of your seating plan will provide a clear reference point for whom in the class you have additionally noted as requiring support, as well as the strategies you use. Colour-tagging those with SEND K and E needs, alongside a separate colour-tag for LAPs or those with previous SEND needs that no longer provide support are a quick and universal method to alerting your TA to whom else they might be able to effectively prompt. Colour-tagging can be found under 'Classroom Tools' in the drop down menu. 

Fast forward to this academic year and I am lucky enough to teach the Year 9 nurture group for their Geography lessons. That one piece of advice still rings true - open and effective communication is the way forward. I have a print out of the lesson not only ready for the students, but for the TA, alongside access to my annotated seating plan. I highlight where in the lesson I would appreciate their intervention with students and where to hang back and, most importantly, I thank them! All this I owe to that session leader - so thank you Dad!

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Questioning - is it the central mechanism to effective classroom talk?

There is a long-held consensus amongst educators that Questioning, when effectively delivered and strategically planned, encourages students to activate 'hard thinking' as well as provide an irrefutable insight to what our students do and do not know. Mango Moments has previously discussed the use of Hinge Questioning, through Kagan Structures and strategies such as cold-calling and 'say it again, say it better'. So what can this new blog post offer you I hear you ask? Now the new term is in full swing, we often find ourselves with limited time to indulge in the evidence-based research surrounding our T&L priorities. This article hopes to provide you with a synopsis of the rationale behind key questioning strategies as well as links to other blogs/research that you may find useful.

Doug Lemov (Teach like a Champion) states that "The kind of talk that happens in a classroom largely determines the type of learning that takes place and developing an armoury of tools to facilitate that talk should be at the top of every teacher's list". If you wish to read more, this archived post from 2014 provides an excellent guide to evidence based questioning. 

To mirror this belief is the EEF Great Teaching Toolkit whose recent evidence review states that 'asking a lot of questions is not a marker of quality; it's about the types of questions, the time allowed for, and depth of student thinking they promote and elicit'. So how does this work at Mangotsfield? 

Throughout this academic year, Questioning is a key priority. Revisiting the concepts of SOLO taxonomy on INSET day provided many of us with the reassurances that spending time planning multi-structural and relational questions in advance allows us time to focus on our interactions with students and their responses within the lesson. Therefore consider planning and asking questions that allow students to:

1. Show how well they have learned the material.

2. Challenge them to think about how they learned that material (metacognition).

3. Highlight if all/some/individual students require further instruction - the value of a hinge question is unmeasured here. 

4. Help students to connect new information and material to their prior learning (Barak Rosenshine Sixth Principle of Instruction).  

I appreciate that for some colleagues, planning questions in advance may raise concerns as it removes the responsive and reactive nature of class discussions, and of course we can not stick to a script that limits students discourse. However engaging in the practice of planning our questions ensures we have fully thought through not just what we want the students to know, but also how.  Below is an excellent question formation grid as produced by Impact Wales - I have referred to this numerous times when creating for example challenge grids, similar to our English Department colleagues with Solo Taxonomy.


Last Friday, Tiff led an excellent session on the merits of cold-calling. It's a strategy named and hugely promoted again by Doug Lemov but has garnered a resurgence in favour most recently through its inclusion in the Tom Sherrington authored Teaching Walkthrus series (click on his name for an excellent video guide by the man himself). For cold-calling to work well it must be inclusive and invitational, where everyone's opinion is valued. Tiff took us through the ADAPT approach, as shown in the image below, but there are some other adaptations you may wish to consider:

1. Move then cold call - Students move within the classroom to show their opinion. After everyone is picked, they talk in their small groups about their choices and then you can 'cold call' one student from each group to feedback. The Kagan Structures of All Stand Consensus or Numbered Heads Together are excellent to support this approach.

2. Confer + cold call - Listen in to students as they are discussing and build their responses in groups. When you are happy with their understanding, ask if they will share with the class. This is similar to Tiff's 'pre-call' approach where students are given forewarning and the 'gotcha' fear is removed.

3. Quick write + cold call - Giving students 2-3 minutes to process their ideas with a 'quick write' means you can be more confident to pick the less confident students to feedback.

4. Turn and talk + cold call with options - "I want you to talk to your partner/the people at your table for two minutes about..... afterwards I will ask three people to report back".

Whilst the pre-call is superb for providing scaffolded support to students, it can sometimes eliminate the level of challenge and encourage students to disengage if their name is not picked. There are some class scenarios where the pre-call is essential, whilst relationships are being developed and to ensure less confident students are less daunted at the prospect of sharing their ideas. If we truly want to ensure that every student is engaged throughout cold calling we need to consider where within our questioning stems we place their name. For example:

"Jack - Can you identify two economic impacts of the Haiti Earthquake?" This of course has its merits to ensure that Jack is fully engaged and also provides him with some thinking time, however what about the rest of the class? Consider this:

"Can you identify two economic impacts of the Haiti Earthquake - Jack I will come to your first". Simple but effective - the whole class are listening to the question as they are unaware who will be picked. Of course it must then be partnered with thinking time as the 'first' implies you will follow up and ask someone else to develop the discussion. 

One final thought, ensure that the questions you do ask are a fine balance between retrieval and new knowledge. We often naturally prioritise ensuring that students understand the new content delivered, before we feel safely capable of moving the class forward. With our knowledge-rich curriculums it is however of equal importance to spend time questioning past learning to ensure students have succinct opportunities to retrieve. 

Friday, 18 June 2021

How can we engage SEND students with feedback that allows them to move forward?

At present much is being written in the education world about providing students with meaningful feedback (that moves students forward). It is a key component of our Mangotsfield Way after all and an integral tool in instigating student progress. Numerous articles, educational research and books have been published - but how do you know which strategies will be effective for you and your classes?  At present many of us are completing KS3 and KS4 summative assessments. Have there been departmental discussions or individual reflections concerning effective approaches to the feedback stage, especially to support and engage SEND students?

On a personal level, feedback is an area I have heavily invested research time into recently. Why? It's an area I feel I still do not get quite right all the time. Throughout my teaching career I have engaged with a plethora of feedback strategies - traffic light systems, personalised comments, triple impact marking (never again!) and more recently verbal feedback, try now's and whole class feedback. Why do I feel like this is still an area for development? Observing the engagement levels of my Year 10 GCSE class last term with their try now task, I couldn't help but feel they 'went through the motions'. I was still doing more work than them for a start! Producing personalised try now tasks complete with sentence starters, modelled answers matching specific AO's, and a detailed whole class feedback grid concerning misconceptions. This was hours worth of work. Whilst some relished the opportunity to better their work, it was evident that LAPs and SEND students in particular were hugely overwhelmed. In all honesty, the approach I took was overkill.  

But what compelled me to produce so much? Again, a moment for honesty - my concerns over their learning gaps and the quality of their exam answers. With 6 SEND K students, another 7 LAPs and 5 HAPs (out of a class of 30) - it is the true definition of a mixed ability class. My response was not the right one and so, as always, it prompted me to research options for change.

From the Education Endowment Foundation Guidance Review on Feedback, published this month, some intriguing points are raised about how little evidence there is concerning which methods of feedback are most effective within specific scenarios - until now. As feedback is defined as 'information given from a teacher to a student about their performance, and aims to improve learning', interpretation of such a widely generic statement can be the first barrier when considering the alternating audiences you are hoping to engage in this process. As shown in Figure 1 above, feedback can be for whole classes, specific groups of students or even an individual. Personalisation is key. Whole class feedback is wonderful but is only effective if students are equipped with the tools to recognise which feedback is directed at them - as is quoted in the report 'are we laying the foundations for effective feedback?' This was certainly a downfall of my recent approach with Year 10.

So how do I intend on supporting SEND students in particular with feedback moving forward? Simple routines are key:

1. Where are your SEND students sitting during feedback? 
Are they ready to receive said feedback? Directing them to sit closest to you so that you can instigate one on one discussions, check in with them first, and provide reassurances is important. Obviously, under the current covid risk assessment you would have to keep a note of any temporary seating changes, but the benefits of close proximity to you can often strengthen the message.

2. What exactly do you want each student to improve? 
Consider what exactly you want each student to improve and to what depth. SEND students require clear specifics i.e. "I can see you have used one piece of evidence to support your opinion, now I need you to add a second OR now I need you to add a contrasting opinion/quote/source". 

Verbal feedback is useful, when assessing students formatively, but when more depth is required this needs to be followed-up with a written set of instructions. When formatting your try now tasks, modelled answers are often useful. This being said, my Year 10 SEND students fed back recently that this can often distract them from thinking for themselves. One even noted "You've written everything Miss, there is nothing left for me to write!". Alternatively, provide 3 short and succinct bullet points with a clear list of either knowledge, vocab or evidence that you wish them to include.

3. Do students have the tools to be reflective learners? 
As Dylan Wiliam expertly wrote in 2018, 'we need to activate students as owners of their own learning'. We need to clarify and share the purpose of feedback so that students truly value its importance. We regularly discuss with students the deeper why surrounding our curriculum choices but do we send a shared, whole school message to students that feedback is imperative if you wish to make progress? The EEF report states that 'sharing the learning intentions of a task, provides a shared understanding of the concept of quality'.

This can also include sharing anonymous examples. Provide students with a range of examples (ideally not from their class to truly support qualitative discussions). As the EEF report details, this opportunity can be used to take students on a collaborative discussion of what does and does not make a good answer - they use the phrase 'what not to write'. 

You can use these ideas to produce with individual, peer or group rubrics of success criteria and then use I do, We do, and You do to produce modelled answers or show your expert production of an answer using a visualiser. Alternatively, there are a couple of Kagan structures that can be used in this scenario. Don't forget, Kagan works on the premise of collaborative discussion. All Write Round Robin would be my choice - all voices are heard regarding 'what should be included' and all feedback recorded and shared, adding value to the contributions from SEND students and as such their awareness of its value. 








4. How soon can I realistically provide feedback? 
If it needs to be in the moment, is verbal feedback sufficient? Will SEND students truly recall and retrieve feedback that is not recorded somewhere for them to revisit? If not, then a wish list for 'what makes a good answer' is ideal. Do not over-complicate, instead consider the mark scheme and what realistically is achievable by said student. This supports the EEF's advice that 'teachers should provide opportunities for students to use feedback, not just in the moment but at a later date'. The feedback provided should be applied independently by students in later lessons. 

In addition, have you built enough time into the lesson to ensure feedback is not regarded as an add-on. To be done well, it should not be rushed and for SEND students in particular this part is vital. Student motivation and receptiveness to feedback do directly affect its effectiveness. DIRT time done well can take a whole lesson if truly required. 

For our SEND students, many of these requirements take an extended period of time to build. Their comprehension of written feedback, ability to receive the advice you are giving and pressure from peers can all be barriers to learning. But with small, simple changes, providing them with the time and space to reflect and build, we can continue to close the gap for this core group of students. 

Thursday, 29 April 2021

How do we support the principles of metacognition within the nurture classroom/with SEND students?

Helen Gathercole writes: At the risk of alienating my audience in my first outing as a Staff Classroom blogger, I’d like to start with a humblebrag. The fact that I am writing this piece began when I overheard a conversation in which I was the subject - I won’t name names, you know who you are - that went something like this: Person 1 “Helen’s good with metacognition, perhaps she could do something on it.” Person 2 “Yes, that would be good.” Realising that I was imminently going to be asked to do something publicly, and recognising the inherent potential for embarrassment in that, I decided that I had better do some rapid reflection and research. I’ll put my hands up, metacognition is not a word that I used every day (until about 2 months ago) and I needed to make sure that my understanding of what metacognitive strategies looked like matched what this person had seen and liked in my practice.

The Education Endowment Foundation defines metacognition as “the way in which pupils monitor and purposefully direct their thinking and learning” and their Teaching and Learning Toolkit rates metacognition and self-regulation as one of the most impactful strategies for accelerating progress; second only to feedback. Helpfully, the EEF goes on to list 4 recommendations that classroom teachers can adopt in order to develop the metacognitive strategies of their students. Sadly, they decided not to augment these recommendations with examples of what these strategies might look like in practice.

Metacognition is something education professionals usually do very well; ironically, we probably do it intuitively and automatically most of the time. As highly educated people our ability to plan, monitor and evaluate - metacognitive strategies - our learning are so embedded we probably don’t even realise how our thinking has led us to a decision or an action; at least until we are taken out of our comfort zone (for example, when someone asks us to write a blog for whole staff consumption) and have to be very explicit with ourselves about how we are going to be successful. Now imagine that pretty much every lesson every day feels like you are way outside your comfort zone. Many of our SEND students have the strategy of ‘needs a checklist’ recorded on their MINT profile; they need a list of what is going to happen in the lesson just to enable them to be able to stay in the lesson without panicking, acting out and ending up removed. Student’s whose minds are already in a state of near panic over the learning they already know they will find hard cannot recognise, absorb and develop metacognitive strategies unless we teach them in a very explicit and very scaffolded way; unless we make them feel safe to ‘think aloud’.

I’d like to try to show how I’ve interpreted the 4 EEF recommendations with the SEND students in the Nurture classroom. Hopefully some of this will be strategies you recognise from your own practice, be something you would be happy to try or be something you feel would support all SEND students. And, as we all know, what benefits SEND students benefits all students. Being able to plan, monitor and evaluate - to think about thinking - are skills for life.

The first EEF recommendation is to “explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning”. In the Nurture classroom, I interpreted this as something I call ‘steps to success’.

This strategy is very good for process tasks, eg an operation in Math's. I create the steps with them, refer to the steps during modelling and constantly prompt them to refer to the steps to guide my modelling or complete the task themselves. The steps are a good at scaffolding their responses when I ask “what do we do next?” and they can be used to self prompt when stuck. The process becomes embedded as steps are gradually removed until they are no longer needed.

The second EEF recommendation is “model your own thinking to help pupils develop their metacognitive … skills”. I try to do this in the Nurture classroom by using something I refer to as ‘thinking steps’.

This strategy is more suited to creative tasks. I create the steps as I model, usually in the form of a flowchart, and I refer to them throughout any modelling; essentially rather over-acting my thinking aloud. They are a good scaffold for students to be able to respond to questions, eg “How do you know this is a complete sentence?” As with ‘steps to success’, the thought process gradually becomes embedded the more it is used.

The third EEF recommendation is “promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom.” Or, as I think of it, ‘sound like an annoying toddler’: How did you…? Why did you…? What if…? Why isn’t…? How about…? It’s about creating a climate in the classroom where students feel safe to think, decide on an idea and share it. In the Nurture classroom the students were very passive and silent because they were worried about having a go and failing. I often used odd one out games that weren’t curriculum related just to get them talking before moving onto odd one outs relating to the curriculum. Make sure there is more than one possible answer and it becomes low stakes; students soon learn that, so long as their reason makes sense, there are several acceptable answers. Plus, having a variety of possible answers, really allows us to see what knowledge they have absorbed on a topic.

The final EEF recommendation is “explicitly teach pupils how to organise and effectively manage their learning independently”. I felt that this was all about teaching students to choose the right organisation tool; many of which are things we recommend to aid revision, eg mind maps, planning frames, graphic organisers.


These can be great tools with the capacity to be differentiated for SEND students by having headings or other information prefilled. As mind maps lend themselves to organising large amounts of knowledge over a broad subject, eg the Tudors, and graphic organisers (like the one above) are more suited to showing understanding of a specific topic, e.g. maths concepts, it’s about being really explicit about why they are being asked to use a specific organisation tool. If we are really explicit about why, students will begin to make appropriate independent choices.

I suppose the recurring theme here is the need to be really explicit; to show SEND students, through modelling, how we think. We need to understand that when we model we are not just showing students how to do something; we are showing them how we thought about how to do something.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

How do we redefine retrieval for an SEND audience?

Retrieval improves retention, it seems simple really. But not for everyone. Whilst I have written many times about the merits of retrieval and the need to relay knowledge from our working to long term memory stores, we do not often consider how this strategy should be adapted for an SEND audience. 

12 times. That is how often the average human must retrieve knowledge to feel it is competently stored - but what about SEND students? Many assume it must be more, but is that always the case?

On occasion I mention my own children in this blog and it is them I should give credit to for this piece. Bear with me! My eldest (7) is dyslexic and my youngest (5) has HFA. I do not reveal this for sympathy - my boys are amazing. I say this as it is them who have given me the biggest insight into how learning for an SEND student must be 100% personalised, modified and adapted. Whilst they have been intermittently home-schooled like thousands of other children, I found my usual teacher techniques had little effect on their progress.  Despite the 2.5 year age gap, my sons are reading at a very similar level. Whilst my youngest merely seems to have to glance at words to have them committed to memory, my eldest has to retrieve, retrieve, retrieve which results in a huge amount of frustration. 

Long story short, this opened my eyes to the need for retrieval activities that fed into the stimulus to succeed for every child. With emphasis on low stakes/low pressure but ensuring continual looped retrieval and interleaving. 

In a 2019 blog post for the EEF, Prof. Rob Coe warns that 'teachers might generate retrieval questions that focus solely on the factual recall rather than promoting higher-order thinking' when designing a low stakes quiz with SEND students in mind. He goes on to state 'questions might be too easy and boost confidence without providing real challenge' - which leads me to question are we producing retrieval tasks for SEND students to ensure they feel they are making progress whilst remaining engaged? Are we prioritising confidence boosting over challenge and therefore doing little to actively close the gap?

To avoid focusing on service level knowledge, I have trialled a few alternative retrieval techniques that I found provided the appropriate scaffolded support for SEND students whilst still promoting the standard to 'teach to the top'. The first is 'Go for Gold'. Taken from a podcast by Kate Jones (guru of Retrieval Practice), she outlined how providing the tiered vocabulary of gold, silver and bronze ensures that all students recognise the complexity of terms needed, whilst not switching off those who may struggle to use the higher tier vocabulary appropriately. We have used this with our Year 11 students in geography in preparation for the ICA's, alongside the use of I do, You do, We do. I have had SEND students producing more structured and complex paragraphs as a result and their first batch of ICAs show students with complex SEND needs producing logical paragraphs with clear attempts to use subject specific vocabulary.



I have shared the 'memory lane' concept before. This was a new strategy for me during our most recent session online, that has successfully been transferred from live lessons to the classroom. Using another Kate Jones idea of 'Cops and Robbers’ but adapted to specific foci, memory lane provides the opportunity for five key sub topics or knowledge segments to be retrieved. It provides the necessary challenge of 'what can you retrieve independently', partnered with the 'now share with a partner and steal some ideas'. Again, this provides the correct level of challenge and engagement for all students but my main tip is to ensure it is used close to the initial learning episode of the new knowledge - one week to two weeks afterwards seems to work best. If you wish to extend this task, prompt students to use their memory lane to write a ‘Speedy Summary’ in which they must articulate their knowledge using compound sentences in 50 words exactly. 


The next idea is called 'Two Things' - the quickest and easiest strategy I have used yet. It requires minimal teacher talk and can be used at any time in a lesson. Simply pause and ask any of the following:


1. What are two things you learned so far today?

2. What are two things you learned yesterday (or last week)?

3. What are your two takeaways from today?

4. What are two ways today's topic relates to previous topics?


This strategy supports cognitive science research that states that retrieval should be interspersed throughout the lesson, and students can benefit from quick retrieval without taking up too much lesson time. In addition, if you feel feedback should be provided on these 'two things' then ask students to pass their books to each other, noting down their 'two things' using one of my favourite Kagan structures 'Simultaneous Round Robin'. 


The ultimate aim with retrieval practice is to avoid cognitive overload. This is especially important with SEND students, who when faced with the bombardment of lots of information can result in creating learning stresses.  In chapter 4 of 'Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning' the authors outline the need to avoid an environment where students don't make errors. Errorless learning, as they call it, is not conducive to progress and in fact we learn better from mistakes we have made. Relating back to my children now, this one was most pertinent for my eldest. His complete lack of confidence with all things literary led to minimal progress being made. He was reluctant to make even a single mistake and therefore reverted to not trying at all. The same can be said for a core group of students in my Year 10 GCSE class. They are inherently convinced that making a mistake is embarrassing and as a result shrink further away from independent learning. I have had to build strong 1:1 relationships to harness any opportunity presented to check their knowledge and understanding away from the whole class questioning moments. 

This meant a culture shift within the classroom (and around my dining table!) was needed. To show it is okay to make mistakes, I needed to do so myself. This is where 'make it better' came in. Instead of producing the perfectly modelled answer, provide students with an imperfect piece of work and ask them to consider how they would improve it. Remove the mental block that arises from a blank piece of paper, steer more towards the tools needed to develop a piece of work first and then reduce the quantity you provide students with to 'make better' each time. 


My final thought for this post considers the fine balance between retrieval, challenge and offering the appropriate scaffolded support. 'Think and Link' is a strategy that promotes retrieval of tier 3 vocabulary and knowledge whilst also carefully blending the requisite challenge that comes with exploring the links between what were previously compartmentalised pieces of knowledge. Identify two to three key pieces of knowledge, ask students to recall as much as they can about said content. Then ask them to explain how they think they are connected. It may be wise to start with two concepts first, and to model said links using I do, We do, You do again - before bringing in a third or even fourth idea. For example (using the key vocabulary below):


I do - The greater the food miles associated with the importing of food, the larger the environmental impacts. Lamb can be imported from over 11,000km away to the UK and with this comes a large carbon footprint as it is often transported by air. Air travel releases the greater quantity of carbon emissions into our atmosphere of all types of transportation.

We do - Sourcing food locally therefore brings advantages as...



As always, many of these approaches came from reflection - a process, tool and ethos that I believe is vital to teacher development. The impact of said strategies can only truly be felt through time and patience. Do not rush to implement everything in one go, and with every class/student. Personalisation is key.


To summarise:

  1. Consider the class and each student within it - building relationships that allow you to recognise which personalised approaches work best.

  2. Consider small tweaks and quick wins - retrieval should be low stakes and low stress, but with optimum challenge.

  3. Build in retrieval practice throughout lessons, not just as a tag on. Retrieval does not have to be fancy templates, consider adapting hinge questioning to build in some interleaving.

  4. Shy away from a culture of errorless learning to ensure students recognise the importance of learning from mistakes.

  5. Keep it simple - teach to the top, model and scaffold (Michael Chiles, The Feedback Pendulum, 2021).


Please do get in touch with your own ideas and strategies for supporting SEND students and with any examples you are able to share.


Friday, 19 February 2021

Exploring a love of learning in an online environment - how to adapt our favoured approaches at Mangotsfield.

When deciding on the direction that this terms' CPD should take, utilising feedback from staff voice was a must. As a result of the 33 members of staff who generously offered their thoughts on adapting to an online environment, Mango Moments considers how teaching strategies favoured to promote a love of learning can be easily adapted to engage our students whilst supporting our established routines. This blog post includes strategies to retrieve, model, engage and provide whole class feedback. It's a plethora of modified initiatives, partnered with the outcomes from my half term reads of 'The Feedback Pendulum' by Michael Chiles and 'Retrieval Practice 2' by Kate Jones. Please do let me know if you wish to borrow either of these books.

How can we encourage retrieval?
Retrieval practice is the art of trying to recall knowledge when it is not directly in front of you. As Kate Jones writes 'all information stored within short-term memory which is not rehearsed will be lost within 18-30 seconds'. Throughout term 6 of the last academic year, a great deal of time was invested in the sharing of strategies to promote opportunities for students to integrate knowledge from their working memories into their long-term memories. 

Many of the strategies we share on this blog have emerged from evidence based practice and the need to interleave our curriculum's. Our knowledge rich curriculum is built around routine moments in students learning episodes where low stakes quizzes, challenge grids, think-pair-share and brain dumps encourage and rehearse this retrieval. In Term 1 templates were shared, strategies suggested and many departments worked tirelessly to identify those that supported their individual curriculum's. But then this new lock-down appeared and based on staff and student feedback, many of these strategies were not utilised in our new live lesson format. So let's shine a reset light on how they can be adapted to work online. Below I share examples of two strategies I have trialed with my GCSE classes last term; Challenge Grids and Cops and Robbers/Memory Lane. 

In this past Mango Moments blog, Challenge Grids were discussed as a tool to allow students to revisit learning from previous topics and years. But how this can be used during live lessons involves a simple GoogleSlides twist. Produce your challenge grid as normal, my example is shown opposite. Ensure you indicate to students which questions require more depth to their answers or are retrieved from a longer time period ago and therefore equate to more points. Once formatted, copy and paste the slide multiple times, and allocate each slide to one student in your class. So my Year 10 version has 30 slides whilst my Year 11 has 27, dependent on the number of students I have.  As you can see within my second image, I can then select grid view (a small icon in the bottom left) and see every students copy of their slide. When assigning this to students, ensure you select 'every student can edit the file' and then they all have permission to work on the one document.  

The benefits of this approach? You are able to see every students work simultaneously (I can't be the only one who grows frustrated by the need to open 30 separate GoogleDocs). This saves great time when sampling students work to provide live whole class feedback, encouraging students to view each other's work and provide peer feedback and most importantly enhance engagement through the obvious public accountability of work completion. 

The drawbacks? Setting the ground rules is a must - students must be respectful of each others slides. Copy and paste is obviously a hazard, but with a quick discussion regarding the ability to look at the 'edit history' I have found students to be courteous of each others work. 

Memory Lane/Cops and Robbers is a two for the price of one. Do you need a strategy that acts as a 'do now', ensures student engagement can be moderated and also offers opportunities to retrieve - this is my go to! Providing a series of sub topics that link to the key learning for the lesson and ask students on arrival to the session to note down anything they can recall underneath these headings in the boxes provided. This is the cops part of the session. 

Once students have been given an adequate amount of time to retrieve, provide them with the opportunity to steal ideas from each other. If you format the activity as I have previously mentioned on a shared GoogleSlide, then students can skip between each others slides to steal said ideas. A note of caution here - ensure that what students are stealing is correct! Direct them where necessary to specific students who demonstrate a strong grasp of subject content, providing live feedback and demonstrating positive reinforcement in action! 

Surely there is no fix for engagement when students have their screens off? #eduwitter has been transfixed with the debate regarding safeguarding versus engagement on this exact matter over the past few weeks. Whilst the comparisons between primary and secondary school GoogleMeets has led to the creation of many hilarious memes, it is scarily apparent that with screens off there is a huge challenge over guaranteeing student engagement. I for one have been subject to those tumble weed moments when you cold call a student to be met with silence, a blank GoogleChat and then the ultimate line "Sorry miss, my hamster just ran over my keyboard and shut my computer down!" - then "How are you writing in the chat?" I always want to ask?

Cold calling
is great for keeping students on their toes, I often utilise this in partnership with the chat function. All students start their live lessons with a low stakes quiz in Geography and naming specific students to share their answers in the Googlechat has generally produced positive responses.

Whiteboard fi has been one of my top discoveries. Issuing each student with their own digital whiteboard, it allows for every student to display their answers to low stakes quizzes, worked examples live and you can instantly see which students are not engaging despite being online. I am aware there are colleagues who use similar post it note style apps with their classes, all of which follow the same premise of sharing ideas and collaboration. 

Try asking all students to share their views, opinions, ideas by posting in the chat but the catch being they can only press submit when you ask them to so there is less tendency to write whatever the first student to press enter has written. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the raise hand function is also ideal for those moments when a hinge question (true or false style) is needed to ensure the lesson can move forward, whilst also checking students haven't snuck back off to their beds once they've joined the meet. 

Guided Reading can also be utilised to encourage engagement - assign an article, poem, text, source etc (shared for all students to edit) and ask them to collaborate in small groups to highlight key words and phrases, create a suitable heading for each paragraph and produce summative comments/annotations for their peers. Whether on a GoogleDoc or a Google Slide, producing the 'Group Annotations' column and asking students to type in different colour fonts allows for quick recognition of participation. 

Setting documents for all students to edit promotes opportunities for Kagan structures. Consider using think-pair-share or All Write Round Robin as structures that are adaptable to an online environment in which students record their thoughts in the chat or on a shared document. 

Can I do, we do, you do still be used to model?

Of course! I have given it a small rename for the online environment - I have asked my students to 'make it better'. Whilst in class producing a live modeled answer to your classes might be a natural go to (especially if you have a visualiser), it is often harder to produce the I do 'live' if you have even a touch of a lagging internet connection!

Reading through the I do with the class has a limited level of impact, so following feedback from my Year 11 class in particular I found that producing an answer that was slightly sub par that they had to develop or re-write was a more effective approach when they were not physically in front of me. 

As you can see from my example above, my intention was for the students to apply their knowledge from earthquakes to an 'evaluation' style exam question. I produced an exam answer (seen in red) that would be worthy of 3 marks out of 9. Students were then asked to use the paragraph plan suggested to make it better as a class - this was the we do. Students were then presented with a very similar style exam question to that shown and asked to produce their own independently for the 'you do'. 

And how about feedback? Are these strategies promoting efficient opportunities to utilise whole class feedback? 

James Gilpin was wonderful enough to trial the shared GoogleSlide approach at a similar time to myself. I know he won't mind me mentioning that following a telephone conversation between us, he was ready to try something new with his GCSE classes. Opposite is a screenshot of his class working concurrently on an exam question. James was able to live mark to show students where they were accessing specific parts of the markscheme, provide whole class feedback and scaffold their next steps. 

As Michael Chiles states in his new publication 'The Feedback Pendulum' "create opportunities for pupils to read their peers work, which will generate greater awareness of the solutions required for their own pieces of work". As with my earlier example of 'make it better', showing students each others work alongside one where you have made deliberate errors will inform students on what they should not be doing and help them to prepare not to repeat this in their own work. 

To provide whole class feedback on work produced online is not new. After a lesson in which students produce a piece of extended writing, I will make notes on the strengths, a list of errors or common misconceptions, spelling mistakes and any other areas of improvement.

Feedback that is shared as close to the learning episode as possible is the most effective and the aim should be to move learning forward. When providing this during this current online environment it can naturally be in the Try Now format. Alternatively, produce a feedback guide such as that shown opposite. Review the responses to key knowledge checking questions and alongside the correct answer (in green), note the common class misconceptions in red. 

I fully appreciate that there are multiple strategies to digest in this particular blog. The final point from me, as is always the case, is find a strategy that works for you and your classes. What works for one cohort, does not always naturally transfer to another. Take time to trial, modify and adapt. Be prepared to make IT mistakes, I frequently have and the students have been wonderfully supportive. Throughout this term we will be asking for your ideas - please do consider the adaptations you have made. We would love to hear of your strategies, maybe you are even willing to share a snapshot of a lesson with us in a future CPD. Please send any ideas to either myself, Tiff or Clio to be shared in forthcoming CPD elearns. 

Thank you all for taking the time to read this post.