Blog Archive

Friday 22 March 2019

The Teaching Schools Bitesized Research - John Bowyer

The latest version of the Teaching School's bite sized research is available on the link below. John Bowyer presents the first outcomes of research including hot topic of 'Why do students give up so easily?'. There are clear research findings and discussions over how this looks in our classrooms.

Please use the link below to access the research paper:

Decoding Exam Questions - Two contrasting approaches

With less than two months to go until the GCSE exams are upon us, many Year 11 students are
requesting support and guidance with the most common of issues - what do exam questions really mean? Although we have spent many years preparing them, and we all have approaches that work best for our subject areas, I felt it valuable to shine a spotlight on two approaches used in Humanities that students have responded positively to.

Iceberg Questions in History:

The Iceberg Diagrams teaching strategy helps students gain awareness of the numerous underlying causes that give rise to an event. It’s often difficult for students to see these causes because they rest “beneath the surface.” The visual image of an iceberg helps students remember the importance of looking deeper than the surface in order to better understand events in the past or present. This strategy can be used as a way for students to organise their notes as they learn about a period in history, as a way to review material, or as an assessment tool.

How does it work?

1. Select an Event

Select an event that students are exploring in class. It can be an event from literature, history, or recent news. Students should already be familiar with this event.

2. Introduce the Iceberg Visual
Ask students to list what they know about icebergs, or you can show them a picture of an iceberg. The main idea you want to establish is that what one sees above the water is only the tip of the iceberg; the larger foundation rests below the surface. 

3. The Tip of the Iceberg
Ask students to list everything they know about the facts of a selected event in the “tip” area of the iceberg. Questions they should answer include: What happened? What choices were made in this situation? By whom? Who was affected? When did it happen? Where did it happen?

4. Beneath the Surface 
Ask students to think about what caused this event. In the bottom part of the iceberg (under the water), they should write answers to the question, “What factors influenced the particular choices made by the individuals and groups involved in this event?” These factors might include events from the past (i.e., an election, an economic depression, a natural disaster, a war, an invention) or aspects of human behavior or nature such as fear, obedience to authority, conformity, or opportunism. This step is often best done in groups so that students can brainstorm ideas together.

CUBE Questions in Geography:

Over the years we have all moved towards sessions that look entirely at exam technique. It has a big impact: students feel more equipped to 'think like an examiner'. What was the answer, decode the exam questions using a strategy called CUBE.

In order to teach students good exam technique, it is vitally important that we, as teachers, fully understand the requirements of the exam paper. So surely so should the students? That is what CUBE aims to achieve.

How does it work?
Students need to be made aware of what the acronym itself stands for, it should become part of their routine and mantra when faced with an extended exam question:

C - Circle the command word(s) and define how these impact on the style of writing required in the answer.

U - Underline the knowledge/content required and demonstrate not only what the knowledge is but how it applies to this exact question.

B - Box the evidence/examples needed so that the answer has proof that supports earlier points made, within Geography this is often a case study of a place that has been explored.

E - Explain the question in your own words (i.e. a conclusion that reiterates the key points).


Within the examples above, students can either annotate an exam question using distinct colours to demonstrate and create a plan for how to respond to the different layers/elements required. Alternatively, students can be given a template during which a teacher led discussions supports how to CUBE and this is then used alongside the student as they attempt to answer the question.

For further reading or ideas, follow these links below:
1. Teacher Toolkit - Developing Exam Techniques for the 1-9 GCSE's - I particularly like the BUG technique here.
2. Teacherhead - FACE IT, a formula for learning - discussing how to advise students of exam revision and preparation.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Questioning - to plan or to react?

It was last Friday lunchtime and whilst sat with our ITT students in Humanities, a discussion regarding Kagan structures turned into a Q&A regarding 'what makes effective questioning in class' - and yes we nerds were happily discussing T&L during our lunchtime!

It triggered one main question in my head that I have often battled with - do you plan the questions you wish to as students during a lesson OR take a more reactionary approach and see where the lesson takes you, thus relying on your own instincts and ability to probe deeper in response to the students, their level of engagement and intrigue?

I for one, at the start of my teaching career, would often write my top ten questions for the lesson into the necessary column in my lesson plan only to find I often got absorbed into the lesson itself and would ask a completely different set - I would query how you can predict what direction some elements of your lesson will take and therefore how you can plan ALL questions you wish to ask students in your lessons? I for one love following the students lead and often allow them to lead the questioning through pose, pause, pounce, bounce.

Returning back to advising our ITT students, we advised that whilst planning questions is often reassuring, one must also trust in their own subject knowledge to question and probe students spontaneously. This lead me to my weekends research and I stumbled across these great tips on the Teacher Toolkit blog (

To paraphrase from their site......10 Questioning Strategies:
  1. Make a statement and ask pupils to agree or disagree with you, justifying why.
  2. Ask a table to respond collectively to the rest of the class.
  3. Scan the room for the “right child” for the question.
  4. Pose a question for groups to discuss. Listen in and paraphrase back to the class on their behalf.
  5. Avoid questions which begin with “Who” (e.g. “Who can tell me…”, “Who wants to explain…”). These can provide an opt-in and opt-out vibe. Use No Hands Up instead.
  6. Add “Why” or “How” once a response has been given, even if a response isn’t what you’d expected.
  7. Create optional choice questions (but be careful with the options you provide!).
  8. State something incorrect, asking pupils to prove why you are wrong.
  9. Vary questioning with lower order (recall questions) and higher order questions (thinking questions).
  10. Finally, don’t over question. Questions are a tool for your assessment and to generate thinking. Cherry pick your questions and remember, if they still don’t know after you’ve probed their thinking, just tell them.

Why are these good strategies?

Teachers spend much of their day posing questions. Mix questioning approaches up and ensure a balance of open and closed questions to keep responses interesting and useful.

Sunday 10 March 2019

Retrieval Practice - Tom Sherrington's Latest Post

As we all focus intently on preparing our year 11 cohort for the most hectic and important period in their young lives, we often turn to discussions surrounding revision strategies, overwhelming demands on content recollection and exam technique. Tom Sherrington certainly read my thoughts on this matter with his most recent post on 'Retrieval Practice'. 

Whilst we must all ensure these strategies are not used as a 'sticking plaster' approach this late in the academic careers of Year 11 (there are many strategies that are implemented even at primary school level), it would be remiss of me to highlight their value now whilst in the midst of planning Easter Revision courses, Intervention Sessions and 1:1 tutoring. I certainly know I will be implementing some of the strategies into my GCSE classes this week!

For those looking for a quick read (although the full article is linked below should you prefer to go straight to the source), Tom suggests the following strategies:

1. Quick Fire Quiz - 1-5 or 1-10 knowledge checkers that students have a time limit to answer and can be actively recorded on mini whiteboards, post-it notes.
2. Paper Quiz - Everyone gets a copy of the questions and can write down their answers at their own pace, in their own order but within the time limit.
3. Silent Self-Quiz - Students can be checked for definitions of key words and then can mark them privately and repeat if necessary within their own time.
4. Paired Quiz - one student can be given a series of questions on cue cards or the Kagan structure of Quiz-Quiz-Trade can be used within this scenario.
5. Self Explanation - Students are given a few silent moments to explain something to themselves before questioning begins. Mental rehearsal helps students to self-check and build perseverance.
6. Demonstration and Performance - Ask students to show you what they know through a technique, a procedure or a routine.
7. Elaborative Interrogation - Focusing retrieval on 'how' and 'why' question stems that allow for a deeper level of thinking.
8. Tell the story; rehearse the explanation - Provide students with a list of key vocabulary that often needs to be retrieved in order and ask them to devise a story that links the words together. They then add layers of explanation each time they re-tell the story.
9. Summarising - 30 or 40 word challenges are often a useful strategy to ask students to summarise their knowledge and understanding concisely and specifically.
10. Map and Compare - Ask students to produce a memory map of key aspects and then encourage them to self-check against their knowledge organisers, glossarys, specifications or revision checklists.

All credit for the strategies in this post must go to Tom Sherrington and further discussion of how to implement all ten can be found at:

Sunday 3 March 2019

A spotlight on ADHD

Continuing our series of posts, highlighting various SEND categories, this post focuses on students diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (or ADHD). Firstly, we should be aware that its symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe so it is not a 'one size fits all' solution that we 
will be looking into. In the past, many of students with this disorder would be described as lazy or boisterous, however their needs are very complex as ADHD rarely exists on its own.

ADHD, is a condition that makes it unusually difficult for children to concentrate, sit still, follow directions and control impulsive behaviour. Here are behaviour signs of ADHD you might observe in school in two categories.

Inattentive Symptoms of ADHD:
  1. Makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, overlooks details.
  2. Is easily distracted or sidetracked.
  3. Has difficulty following instructions.
  4. Doesn’t seem to be listening when spoken to directly.
  5. Has trouble organizing tasks and possessions.
  6. Often fails to finish classwork.
  7. Often avoids or resists tasks that require sustained mental effort, including doing homework.
  8. Often loses homework assignments, books, coats, rucksacks, sports equipment etc.
Hyperactive or Impulsive Symptoms of ADHD:
  1. Often fidgets or squirms.
  2. Has trouble staying in his seat.
  3. Runs and climbs where it’s inappropriate.
  4. Has trouble working quietly.
  5. Is extremely impatient, can’t wait for their turn.
  6. Always seems to be “on the go” or “driven by a motor”.
  7. Talks excessively.
  8. Blurts out answers before a question is completed.
  9. Interrupts or intrudes on others’ conversations, activities, possessions.
As the graffic below demonstrates, we often only consider the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ADHD. So what can we do about this?

  1. Because students with ADHD are susceptible to distractions, seat the student close to the teacher. Make sure he or she is seated away from easy distractions, such as doors or windows.
  2. Give the student frequent and immediate feedback or consequences about behaviours.
  3. Catch the student being good and give them immediate praise. Ignore negative behaviours that are minimal and not disruptive.
  4. Use rewards and incentives before punishment to motivate the student and to help keep school feeling like a positive place. Change up the rewards frequently to help prevent the student from becoming bored.
  5. Allow student frequent physical breaks to move around (to hand out or collect materials, run errands to the office or other areas in the school building).
  6. Allow some restlessness at work area. Allow students to stand up at his desk if it helps him stay on task.
  7. Tape a post it to the student’s desk with written lesson instructions. 
  8. Reduce the student’s total workload. Break work down into smaller sections.
  9. Give concise step by step instructions. Avoid “overloading” with too much info.
  10. Allow the student to hold a small “stress ball” or silly putty or something tactile for him to manipulate. This slight stimulation often helps keep an ADHD child focused.
For further reading, or a clearer view of the graffic, check out the link below: 

Saturday 2 March 2019

EAL - A follow up!

Our previous EAL post, mostly due to the superb examples from Ryan, has proven very popular and as result the viewing figures have triggered a follow up post with some excellent advice from Julie Poole. Let's remind ourselves of the facts first of all:

Julie writes:
At first bilingual children need to understand their new language environment and become familiar with the sounds, rhythms and patterns of English. They do this by watching and listening and then internalising and processing what they have observed. This is sometimes called the silent period. During this time children may take part in classroom activities and communicate by non-verbal means. This processing may take up to 6 months.

It takes about two years to gain near native proficiency in social English. It takes 5 to 7 years to gain near native proficiency in academic English. It is then advised that they follow these steps:

1. Echoing
First attempts will be echoing words or phrases they hear around them. This is one reason why EAL students are placed in higher sets so that they have good models of English.

2. Formula Phrasing
Children will begin to use words, phrases or short sentences for use in a variety of social and classroom situations.

3. Functional Vocabulary
Their repertoire of names and things will be extended. They will also start to use these words to perform different language functions e.g. “Book” may mean “where is my book” or “I have a book,” depending on the context.

4. Basic Sentence Construction 
Children will begin to put together their own sentences of two or three words, usually involving a verb with a subject and/or object.

5. Extended Sentence Construction
Basic sentence construction will be extended through word substitution or the addition of adjectives, prepositional phrases, pronouns and clauses. There will inevitably be errors in the use of plurals, tenses and pronouns, depending upon the structure of the first language.

Once familiarised with the essential info, you may be asking yourselves 'How can we support said students'? Firstly, please see our previous post and the excellent examples shared by Ryan. If you wish to examine other examples of EAL resources used in school, check out the EAL folder on the Shared Resources drive: \\MAN-FILE-001\MAN-TeacherResources$\EAL\Teaching Resources
Within the folder are both practical strategies and worked examples.

In addition, you will hopefully have noted the EMAS shortcut which has recently been re-added to your desktop. EMAS ( is a bilignugual EAL resource library, which we at Mangotsfield School have access to. A gentle reminder that the log in details for this are:
Username: mangotsfield
Password: Bristol169

Accessing the Talking Tools
1) Load our website address into Google Chrome.
2) Click on the Resources login at the top of the page
3) Enter the above username and password

Please note your password is cAsE Sensitive and must be entered exactly as above.

For any further support, please do contact Julie Poole.