Blog archive

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.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

How do I ensure I plan effective lessons for an online environment?

 DQ: How do I ensure I plan effective lessons for an online environment?

It was Wednesday of the first week of this new lockdown when I stumbled across the diagram above on edutwitter. It instantly spoke to me, its simplified, cyclical approach provided much needed reassurances for how to approach the planning of live lessons. I assume that we all felt an element of panic in that first week, despite my 16 years teaching experience I felt decidedly disjointed. The main concern I had was over how to ensure my live lessons closely mirrored the routines and expectations I had established in school, so that minimal learning was lost. Let’s explore the elements of the above that are to do with planning...

  1. Plan the curriculum: Ensure that the students are informed of the bigger picture. What are they learning and why are they learning this? Closely mirroring what students would have received should they be in school naturally feeds into greater engagement. This might look different depending on whether you are live teaching specific key stages or using e-learns but what is allowed for is support for both the students and you as a teacher to check for completion, gaps, next steps and engagement.

  1. Plan the inputs: My mantra here - do not overplan! Keep to the basics; 

  • Promote retrieval by starting with a do now task - knowledge retrieval, low stakes quizzing, GoogleForm etc.

  • Introduce the content but with minimal teacher talk - the feedback has been that listening to a ‘lagging’ teacher can cause students to switch off straight away. If its new knowledge, can you find a video clip that delivers the much needed content or an article the students can read and discuss in a Guided Reading format? Just ensure you present the new information in small chunks and with worked examples. 

  • Ask lots of questions - cold calling has taken some adjustment when you wish not to lose time to students writing their answers into the chat. In the classroom, posing the question and then stating the students name ensures all are kept on their toes but online naming the student first and then posing the question is more effective for maintaining the pace. 

  • Model excellence (see I-We-You lower down).

  • Explicitly teach vocabulary - by my own admittance, this I neglected in the first week and it came back to haunt me with vengeance. Whilst delivering a discussion on mitigation and adaptation to Year 11, I immediately launched into a discussion of strategies and asked the students to categorise them under the headings above. But how could they when we had not retrieved and consolidated what the two ideas meant to start with. After my do now task, I now explicitly pick the three key words for the lesson and check/reinforce their meaning in the GoogleChat.

  • Check for understanding - ensure students have the same opportunities you would afford them in class to apply their knowledge. How are you going to ascertain their level of understanding if they do not produce any written evidence?

  • Provide regular feedback (listen to the feedback video in the e-learn).

  1. Plan the students tasks:

  • Consider setting up a GoogleSlide document that the students all have editing access to. Allocate each student one slide (named) but formatted the same way on them all. As they produce the work, under your instruction, you can observe their progress and they can collaborate with each other. This also provides great access to whole class feedback that is live and mid lesson as you can switch from slide to slide with ease and pace.

  • With KS4 producing exam questions from scratch has proven tricky to produce to a good standard. Students have therefore benefitted from the use of ‘say it again, say it better’ but in a written format. Provide them with an exam answer that is not quite good enough - ask them to make it better by focusing on developing the answer, improving its SPAG and rearranging its format. The feedback from this approach has been overwhelmingly positive, as long as students are provided with their own GoogleDoc that they can edit and adjust easily.

  • Continue to model using I-We-You. Ensuring that students have the standard required modelled is teaching 101. Using the tools at your disposal, produce the ‘I’ (the part you as a teacher write) and display throughout the lesson on a GoogleSlide or GoogleDoc presented on the meet. The ‘We’ can easily be built upon in the GoogleChat. Ask students to produce their own answers by typing in the chat, but do not let them press enter until you instruct them to do so. Read through all the answers submitted and produce an answer using the ‘best bits’. 

  • Often students are nervous to share ideas in the forum of a chat or verbal contributions. A good way to pose a question, give a time limit and then a countdown to hit enter. Impromptu polls are best developed using the raise hand - this is a great tool to support that important hinge question before you move learning forward. True or False quizzes work well with the raise hand also (click it if you think a statement is true, don’t if you think it is false). 

Please be reassured, these are all suggestions and this is a steep learning curve for us all. My final word of advice, what works for one class might not work for another. You must adapt, mould and trial new ideas one at a time. Give them time to embed and do not expect results immediately. Be aware of student wellbeing, IT access and the general level of engagement so far - reflect at the end of each lesson on what went well and what you would change. Finally, talk to colleagues, talk to your mentors, talk to your departments. Share the workload, share ideas and engage in the camaraderie that Mangotsfield is known for. 

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Making every moment count - how to avoid lost learning by the English Department

Now more than ever, we are continually reminded of the impacts of lost learning. Daisy Christodoulou tweeted that, based on recent evidenced research into Year 7 writing levels, the average student was 22 months behind where they should currently be. This stark reminder of how students prolonged absence from school, and the realisation that virtual learning does not replace the learning environment that prospers when students and their teacher share the same physical space, has led us at Mangotsfield to the need to reassert that making every lesson, and indeed every second count is beyond important. This term, CPD will be run by various departments, whose expertise within specific areas has been recognised. To ensure we all are reminded of the need for lessons to start with pace, that students are engaged on their immediate arrival into a classroom and to utilise every second with a love of learning, the English department have kindly shared their thoughts.

Johnny Suttle expertly writes: In the English department we feel it’s really important to make every single moment of each lesson count. Simply put there are two simple reasons we want to do this:
  1. To establish pace and rhythm in every lesson.
  2. To enable us to recap content or embed vocabulary without eating into too much lesson time.
Lesson Starts: A good pace to a lesson is vital, but the first few moments are possibly the most vital of all. It sets the tone for the learning experience and informs students of your intentions for how they approach learning in your classroom. It generates the feeling amongst students that they are moving along and that they are going somewhere in the lesson. This instantly gives the lesson more meaning and purpose to them, they can get their teeth into it and consequently a well-paced lesson holds their attention and students who are paying attention learn. 

The beginning of a lesson when the students enter the room is the first indication they get of what type of lesson is in store for them. It is where you establish the expectations you have for your lesson and to borrow a saying ‘what you permit, you promote’. If you let your students come in and have a lazy, laid back start you are permitting time wasting, you are signaling that time in your classroom is easy come easy go. On the other hand if you are communicating your expectations to the students that every second in your room counts then they will respond in similar style. Making such a start routine also has hugely beneficial results on behavior management. A pacey lesson give students fewer opportunities to misbehave. In addition you can use the activities that create a prompt and efficient start to build routines into your lessons and routines are the bedrock for behavior management. As Tom Sherrington says ‘if everyone knows how to respond and what happens in various situations, then it allows the focus to be on learning'. So this leads us to look at English. How do we start every lesson in a manner that has established a routine in which students arrive in our classrooms and know how they are expected to act and respond and therefore begin learning the moment they walk through the door.

KS3 English Lessons:

Each of our KS3 lessons commences with a vocabulary starter and are employed purposefully to build tier two words. Alex Quigley, in his excellent book ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’ talks about the importance of embedding and building a student’s vocabulary and talks about tiers of words. Tier one words are the ones used in basic everyday conversation, Tier three words are ones that are very specific to a subject I .e. ‘oxymoron’ in English or ‘Sodium Chloride’ in Science. Tier two words are the words that fall in between. The more complex words that allow us to express ourselves in a more nuanced way but with which students may not be familiar. An example would be looking at the difference between the words ‘sad’ and ‘dismayed’. If our students were to read this word they would need to first be able to recognize it and then to be able to articulately convey the more intricate emotions provoked by a sense of ‘dismay’. Equally in their own writing we need them to use this vocabulary appropriately. We want students to understand a sentence such as ‘the man was dismayed when his house burned down’ doesn’t really make sense and that they would need a broad enough vocabulary of tier two words to instead employ a synonym of ‘sad’ that would more accurately describe how someone would feel in this situation. 

So hence the importance of these starters. However we also have an English curriculum to get through and only three lessons a week to see the students. To be able to fit in the building of this important vocabulary as well as the main content requires us to make every second count. To achieve this and to embed links between the vocabulary and the main lesson focus we have split our KS3 curriculum into six themes that link to themes also found at GCSE. For each theme we have compiled a list of 15 tier two words which are linked to that theme and which we want our students to use. Then the first slide in every lesson has the driving question, and tasks based around this word (see example slides below). This ensures that the moment a student walks into the classroom they can get out their book and start building their vocabulary. Five minutes spent on this task and five minutes of feedback eliciting student response and they have built their vocabulary yet still have a significant amount of the lesson left to learn the main content. We are also savvy in our choices of the tier two word picked from the list in each lesson. We aim to pick ones that match the content of lesson so that having encountered the word in the starter they can then practice using it in the lesson. This allows us to tie our prompt start into the rest of the lesson further add a sense of purpose write from the first minute.

A final thought on KS3 (and indeed KS4) is we also frame our verbal directions and questions directed at the students through these words. Take the words in the starter above as an example I might wait outside my room and say ’I am going to be vociferous in demanding you enter my room right now’! 

KS4 English Lessons:

In a similar manner we need to maximise every minute of our KS4 lessons as there is so much information for us to get through and for students to retain. We therefore use our starters to help us interleave the content we have previously studied alongside new material. 

Our starters meet one of Rosenshine’s key principles of instruction in that they allow us to review learning on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Rosenshine notes that it is 'important to strike a balance between covering a lot of material and also providing time for sufficient practice' and that is what we aim to do. Each term KS4 lessons have what we term a ‘main focus’ and a ‘recap’ focus. If for example the main focus is preparing them for their Language Paper 1 exam then the recap focus will be the starters used to retain knowledge of a text they have covered the previous term, perhaps Macbeth. The battle here again is to maximise time. We need to keep the Macbeth information fresh in the students mind but we have to teach them the new Language exam content, as Rosenshine says we need to strike a balance. This is where a prompt lesson start is so important. If the recap starter slide is on the board from the moment students walk in the door, they can get started instantly and just as with KS3 there can be 5 minutes spent on independent work, 5 minutes eliciting feedback and 50 minutes of lesson time remains, at the same time the lesson has started with that strong rhythm and pace that conveys purpose to the reader.

The slide opposite is an example of a typical recap starter. One of the key factors in the success of such a starter is how open ended it is. If a student arrives early they can really sink their teeth into this and are able to recall lots of different aspects of the play (quotes, events, contextual information) to support their point. However even if a student arrives late they are still able to make a start at the task as they can quickly select a word and then you can use questioning to draw out their thinking. 

It is important that a starter can be attempted in whatever time the students have available as otherwise a student who is already late and disengaged will feel there is not point trying to start and then even if the lesson pace is fast for everyone else it will have been a slow is demotivating start for them. These are all too often the students who we really need to engage and get on board from the moment they enter the room.

To further make the most of every moment in the room we have sought to use starters to combine skill practice with knowledge recall as the slides above demonstrate. It is a vitally important skill in English to be able to analyse quotations and explain what deeper information the words in the quote might tell you. 

Combining a quote to analyse as the starter with a retrieval grid gels the skill and the knowledge recall perfectly. The questions in the grid pushes them to recall knowledge which they can then use to help them annotate the quotation. A starter like this allows us to set up an English lesson as follows. The main focus will be a Language exam that centres upon analysing quotations from an extract.

Before we begin that content we recap Macbeth and analyse a Macbeth quote using the retrieval grid quote combination seen above. We have then, in the space of ten minutes recalled information about one topic, practiced a skill for that same topic (language analysis) and prepared students for the skill they will be using in the main focus of the lesson (language analysis again). It is a lovely way to make every moment count.

Interesting Further Reading regarding maximising the pace of lessons:

1. Teaching Walkthrus – Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli

2. Teach Like A Champion – Doug Lemov – also this interesting blog

4. An interesting blog by a head teacher of Batchwood School in St Albans -

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Book Looks - Where are we now?

Throughout this term, many a discussion has focused on 'reviewing learning meaningfully to ensure all students are challenged to do their best'. One of the clearest indicators of how effective this has been is within students' books, as we strive to create a resource that is proficient for them to revise from and in addition shows a clear feedback loop between students and teachers. The concept of a 'learning diary' is one that has seen incremental improvements over the course of this term amongst the bulk of our student cohort, but unfortunately this is still partially lost on a small number. In this weeks blog post we explore examples of strategic approaches to raising expectations from a variety of departments to ensure students recognise teacher led book expectations. 

Let's remind ourselves, what should all books have?

As shown opposite in this excellent PE department example, all books should have:

1. Clear driving questions throughout, underlined with a ruler, showing evidence that students have been provided with the opportunity to respond and reflect on their learning.

2. Evidence that students are regularly exposed to Tier 3/ subject specific vocabulary - whether this be through the use of glossaries, guided reading, word banks or the expectation that students include specific words within their writing.

3. Be presented in a way that makes them readily accessible for retrieval work and for revision. In other words, that students are able to use them as a source of knowledge - no loose sheets, use of DIRT time to ensure classwork is complete. 

4. Contain Try Now tasks routinely and often (every 8 lessons of learning) to allow students to reflect on their work and challenge them to extend.

5. Corrections are made where necessary, with the use of green pen to provide peer or self feedback.

How have departments been maintaining these standards?

A unified approach to achieve some of these areas is necessary in order to jointly reinforce and support each other with these expectations across the school.

Use your Recognition Boards and Displays: Through the use of positive recognition, we can model the standard expected. Despite the need to socially distance from students, there is nothing preventing us from displaying to students how we wish for books to look. Classroom displays that contain student work with DQs underlined, key vocab used routinely and with student led corrections made can be a powerful tool. Referring back to said displays may be necessary frequently to begin with, but soon the routines and expectations will filter down to everyday classroom life. The Science department have displayed their recognition board in a prominent location, visible to all students who enter the D block, and thus developing a culture of peer led expectations presented through positive reinforcement. 

Sharing Best Practice: As mentioned in the previous blog on this topic, physical examples of other students' work is often the easiest and quickest solution. Keeping copies of books from previous years might not be an immediate solution, but if a colleague has delivered the same task/lesson at an earlier point to you and can share a strong example from their student cohort, physically sharing that book with your

class is a very quick win. One important point to note; try not to always select the student with the most beautiful handwriting, which is fatefully selecting style over substance. Instead consider an array of samples that show varying abilities but model what is expected; use of key vocab, DQs underlined, student led corrections in green etc.

Provide checklists to those students who require more support: A selection of departments are utilising the use of checklists shared at the starts of lessons, either on students' desks, embedded into PowerPoint's or on a post-it to remind the more forgetful students. Please see the example below from the English department:

Lesson start


     Open the book to the next page or draw a line under the last lessons work.


     Copy out the driving question.


     Copy out the date.


     Underline the driving question with a ruler.


     Underline the date with a ruler.


     Complete the DO NOW/Settling task.


Include DIRT time within your lessons: Within Humanities, DIRT time is routinely provided, often to accompany a Try Now task, to ensure students are provided with the appropriate opportunities to make their books 'fit for purpose'. There are a range of formats used from checklists (shown opposite) to playing TAG!! The process behind TAG is one of student/peer led feedback. Students must:

Tell their partner one aspect of their book that they admire.
Ask them a question on a piece of work they feel needs developing.
Give them a clear target to work that allows them to show pride in their work.

This format has only been used since September with a small cohort of students (Year 9 Geographers) but is showing promise after some clear training of students about 'constructive feedback'. Many of us at Mangotsfield have our own departmental or personal methods for raising expectations and ensuring pride in books is explicit, so please do share your top tips in the GC comments section.

Do we know what individual students 'best work' looks like?

On numerous occasions, I have queried whether a student is capable of presenting their work any neater? Whilst a particular pet-hate of mine is students who doodle or graffiti in the margin (surely my lessons are far too entertaining and challenging for them to have time to do that!), there are some students who clearly do work hard to present their work neatly but it might still fall below what I personally call neat. This juxtaposition would be much easier to interpret if we had an indication of what each individual student could truly produce and then this was used to hold them accountable. 

We are not saying that all books must be excessively neat, with immaculate handwriting as for some students this is setting them up to fail. What we are asking is that students are challenged to produce their best, through high expectations, and that books are giving status as a fundamentally vital resource to support student learning. 

Tiff Partridge has kindly shared some research from her previous visits to primary schools. As a result, the English department in the past have trialed an 'expectations' lesson, in which students are asked to produce a uniform piece of work. Whilst we recognise there are issues with asking some students to copy out work, as a singular activity, to ensure a benchmark of that students' standard is recognised, it has its merits. If you wish to have a look, please visit the following link and consider as a department discussing what you might ask of students if you were to create a 'benchmark task'