Blog Archive

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'

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Book Looks - Defining Expectations and sharing a vision for learning

As we reaffirm our high expectations with students regarding our Mangotsfield Way core values, it is essential to set the bar high regarding the standard of classwork and most specifically books. This blog post is not simply about presentation - whilst much could be written about the importance of a neat and well presented book, there is a wider rationale for the focus on quality classwork. The main aim is to ensure that students recognise the shared vision that their books form a 'learning diary', in which they are regularly offered opportunities to record core knowledge, retrieve and apply said knowledge using a variety of strategies, have open channels of communication (feedback) with their teacher and peers and finally recognise their own path of progress.

But how can this be achieved?

First and foremost, it is about marrying the wider school expectations with individual subject routines. In other words, our whole school priorities must be universally applied but in a way that is sensitive to the needs of our individual subjects . It is agreed that ALL BOOKS should:

1. Have 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. Try Now tasks routinely and often (every 8 lessons of learning) 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.

So these non-negotiables' aside, how do we model the standard that we expect from students? Our new recognition system is one approach - publicly recognising students whose classwork is either exemplary, or those who have made a concerted effort even if its not the neatest book in the class. 

Many departments have started work on displays that allow for longer term recognition - do we have an opportunity here to build into these our department expectations surrounding books? WOW walls are a possible strategy here (see the blog post from 2018 Mango Moments - WOW wall). However, is displaying the work enough? I recently read an excellent article on how creating classroom displays of students work only truly has an impact if you share with students why its exemplary. This may be through permanent annotations that form part of the display or through discussions directly with students. Is this enough to maintain day to day expectations though?

So how can we transfer this message to books?

One consideration is that presenting students with the 'ideal book' does not allow for much flexibility between departments. Therefore, should we as departments be providing students with our own autonomous versions, or a hybrid of the two? 

In primary schools, well my sons for certain, they provide all students with annotated examples of book expectations based on literacy and numeracy (see photo opposite). We often assume by secondary level that students should be well trained but often this is when we see standards drop. 

So how would this look in your department? Imagine you have been asked to select ONE students book to represent you as a teacher? What would it include? Why have you chosen this one? How many of us naturally select that of a HAP for example? 

We also need to ask ourselves the harder questions of what does a good book for a LAP look like? How can we ensure that missed work is included, especially in period of high absence. 

In some departments, electronic workbooks are an alternative approach and the use of Google Classrooms is essential here. The dialogue between teacher and student becomes a permanent record and amendments can be made through directed feedback. 

In other departments, its through structure DIRT time in which students receive a checklist of improvements to make. But the balance must be right, too much emphasis on presentation and not enough on content can render this process ineffective. 

Modelling is therefore the most common approach. Keeping examples of previous students work is a must, I have a cupboard full of GCSE books in particular that I can retrieve at any point with my current GCSE classes to demonstrate the quality of learning I wish to see. Creating a bank of images on our Google Drives is a more 'modern' approach and then embedding said examples into Google Slides becomes a breeze. Please see the growing bank of examples the Humanities Department has begun to collate for this very purpose: Book Presentation Google Drive.

Please consider as a department what are the essentials for your subject, in addition ensuring that the wider priorities of 'growing independent learners who take pride in their work' and 'embedding formative assessment to identify and close gaps' are evident throughout. 

Saturday 11 July 2020

Guided Reading - there's more to it then just decoding key words!

All new vocab is stored for approximately two seconds before it needs to be rehearsed to be retained. This leads to barriers if you wish to present to students a complex piece of text, containing an abundance of new vocabulary, unless you have a plan for how to tackle it. That is where guided reading comes in; "Guided reading is an instructional approach designed to help students build an effective system for processing increasingly challenging texts over time" (@MrHand_, Twitter 2020).

At primary level, it is done in small groups of students (4-6) and benefits from the learners being near the teacher. The readers then receive immediate feedback on their interpretations of the text and the students are primarily responsible for reading. At secondary level, it has evolved into whole class practice, through carefully structured tasks where the teacher focuses on vocabulary as well as extended text. To develop students confidence with vocabulary it is important to:

1. Ensure all key words are shared at the start of the lesson, and built on throughout the lesson with definitions, concrete examples and even challenges of 'what it is not'.
2. Complex words are broken into parts so their context or origin is discussed.
3. Retrieval activities and quizzes are regularly used, include concept mapping, to encourage students to revisit the vocabulary.

'Say it again, say it better' is an excellent tool to use in this scenario ( In this example, students have to reframe answers to demonstrate their understanding of the vocabulary for the lesson to then progress. It can form a great hinge point in the lesson. It is also important to consider the 3 Tier Hierarchy of vocabulary when planning. Plan which words we need to teach. Which tier 2 and 3 words do students need to read, comprehend and remember? Which key words are intriguing? Which are important? Which are compulsory to the students making progress?

"Word rich students, come from word rich classrooms which are designed around word rich curriculums" (Alex Quigley, Closing the Vocabulary Gap). He argues that vocabulary is one of the most important factors in academic performance. This is why we at Mangotsfield have redesigned our curriculums to be knowledge rich and culturally broad, to allow those students who are 'word poor' to become 'word rich'. 

So what practical strategies can we explore? 

In Geography, we have designed our new KS3 curriculum to include more frequent opportunities for students to engage in intriguing non-fiction challenging texts. We are using a set format that allows the text to be the central focal point of the work, but 'guides' student through its content using specific questions, as shown below.
These are best printed on A3, to ensure students can truly focus on the text centralised. Most importantly, the directed questions go in order of the text and include an arrow that links to the specific section the question is asking for reflection on. This allows for students to avoid misconceptions or confusion over which part of the text they are exploring. 

In is also important to ensure that students engage with key words presented at the start of the lesson. Presenting students with the opportunity to record both important and impressive words, allows them to build their own word bank that can be referred back to at their own discretion during extended writing tasks. 

For fiction based texts, the Guided Reading spinner is an interesting approach to take. Whilst the questions appear fairly standard on the example opposite, they can be made more specific based on the chosen text and also randomly generated in class to provide a more spontaneous period of discussion (or with the use of a Kagan Structure such as All Stand Consensus or Numbered Heads Together). 

As always, if you are interested in any further reading can I recommend the following two blog posts:
1. A discussion by Alex Quigley on why its important to train teachers on how to deliver vocabulary.
2. An interesting post by David Didau on the important of teaching to Tier 3 vocabulary and its importance in academic success.

CPD - Week 7 - "Effective teaching relies on honest introspection" - how far have we come?

"Effective teaching relies on honest introspection", a philosophy adhered to by Education Professor. Matt O'Leary (Birmingham University, 2014). This quote epitomises the theme of the final blog post for this academic year. If we do not take the time to reflect on the journey we have all been on this year, professionally, we might not fully appreciate quite how far we have come as a T&L community.

For me, one of my greatest professional achievements during this extraordinary school year, has been my involvement in developing our virtual CPD platform. Starting in Term 5, an urgent agenda item focused on how to best prepare ourselves to tackle for the huge gaps in learning our students were developing. Through carefully planned CPD, we hoped to trigger discussions that centred around a strategic approach to closing the gaps for all Mangotsfield students. Due to your overwhelming willingness to share good practice, we now have an extensive bank of strategies for retrieval practice and formative assessment and for the application of both via Google Classrooms. 

I want to extend my thanks to each and everyone of you who has contributed, shared, discussed, debated and engaged with the weekly CPD. I have proudly observed how far our T&L community has evolved during this time. 
To that end, I have handed a large section of this final post over to you, my wonderful colleagues, with your own views and reflections on this terms CPD and most specifically the implementation of Google Classrooms, We hope to continue the momentum with this virtual platform into the next academic year, and will continue to deliver 'soundbites' of T&L discussion through it. If you wish to post your own reflections on the Google Classrooms discussion board.

Laura Markwell recalls: "Google Classroom is a tool I have used frequently over two years and have very much become absorbed in it since school closed. In my mind it is like the gateway to the student brain, gone are the days of students 'losing' work on their computer and missing their deadline because as a teacher we have access to all of their work all of the time. This is one of the biggest perks of it, particularly for coursework based subjects. Yes it takes time to grasp how to work, however it is time well spent. We need to move with the digital times and I am looking forward to making the most of it next year with both KS3 and KS4 using multiple different tools". 

Caroline Bates recounts: "I've enjoyed rediscovering Google Classroom. It does so much more than when I first used it which has made the process of communicating with students easier. I really like that I can pin point the areas I want to feedback to a student on. There are of course still teething issues with helping the students to understand how to use certain features, but this can be ironed out over time as we all become more familiar with it". 

Gemma Gilpin summarises: "I love how simple it is to set a task/assignment and add resources. This includes that it can be kept very simple or that you can choose to add layers to make it so much more interactive. I’ve been using Google Classroom for at least four years now and I’m no expert, I still make mistakes and I’m learning how to do it better/easier/quicker all the time. The tips and video’s shared by colleagues have been inspirational - thank you". 

Tristan Hawkins celebrates: "I've really enjoyed using the Google Classroom, especially for the virtual sports day. It has developed into an online community where students and staff have been able to share achievements and experiences using various forms of media". 

James Gilpin expresses: "I like Google Classroom. I was sceptical at first, however having used it both as a History teacher and as part of setting the Prefect Programme up for this coming year (and more recently for making a fool of myself in sports week), I have to say I am a fan. I like its versatility but also its simplicity. It is not overly complicated to use and if you get stuck you can just ask Google!". 

As the much needed summer break approaches, I want to wish you all a very well earned rest. Next academic year I would love to welcome more of your contributions to the blog so please do send me any of your thoughts on readings, blogs, articles, video clips that you stumble across. We hope to launch in Term 1 with some exciting news on professional development and the expansion of the Google Classroom community. Please look out for my additional blog post this week on Guided Reading, an area requested for further investigation by some colleagues. 

Stay safe and have a wonderful summer rest, 

Sunday 5 July 2020

Cops and Robbers - a 'soundbite'.

"Understanding the research around retrieval practice is important, but it is only half of the puzzle because it needs to be implemented and embedded in the classroom to ensure impact" Retrieval Practice, Kate Jones (2019). As many of you have fed back via our Google Forms and Exit Tickets, the burning questions for many of you are 'What does this look like in my classroom'. 

Cops and Robbers was mentioned by a couple of departments as an avenue they wish to explore further when it comes to formative assessment. As such, here is a brief instructional piece. The 'cops' column is for students to record as much as they possibly can on a previous topic, within a specified period of time. Once they have completed this column, they move to complete the 'robbers' section.  This is where everyone needs to move out of their seats, swapping and sharing their ideas and content. The tope is that students will read a peers 'cop' column and will identify something they have missed, or not had time to write down themselves. They should therefore record this information in the 'robbers' column. An additional task, as shown on the left, can include encouraging the students to consolidate their information into a succinct summary in which they identify what they perceive to be the most important knowledge.

What is most important of all is that students are encouraged to collaborate. This should not be sold as a competition, but as recall and encouragement to work with others. This strategy can be adapted for those that require more support, as shown opposite. LAPs in particular, might benefit from support through headings, as shown opposite. The principle of retrieval is still the same with collaboration and specific memory recall and structure.

Sunday 28 June 2020

Whole School CPD - Week 5 - How do we apply formative assessment in our own subject areas?

It would be very remiss of our CPD platform this term not to review how each department is considering the theme of formative assessment and to showcase the expert application of strategies. It is with great pleasure that I am able to present to you all this week a plethora of worked examples from Mangotsfield itself, thank you to every department who kindly sent their contributions through. It is hoped that seeing said strategies 'come to life' will allow us to greater understand their potential and make the transference between subject areas swift.

One note, I will be using 'one universal language' when referring to the names of these strategies. When our students return to us in September, we wish to use the same terms for each strategy across the school so as to avoid confusing our students. We therefore will not be referring to these as 'assessment' tasks in lessons; that is bound to overwhelm them. The emphasis should be on  utilising these as fun, enjoyable learning activities so when using these strategies we want to sell them as low stakes, captivating and appealing.

So what was each department asked? 
1. What is your current departmental model for formative assessment? 
2. Which new strategies are consistently used and which are you looking to embed? 
3. What worked examples are you able to share?

So let's see them all in action, first up English:

Within our department, concretely embedded into our curriculum are three key strategies; 
a) Kagan structures ( are built into all SOLs students are given lots of opportunities to vocalise their responses both to the teacher and to each other. This gives the teacher the ability to move around the class and give instant feedback to student response. 
b) Low-stakes quizzes are used on a daily basis. They give the teacher the ability to gauge the extent to which students have a handle on any given text, future lessons and starters are planned accordingly – i.e. Q’s on a poem – if students struggle then a future lesson re-teaching that poem is planned. 
c) Purple book assessments occur on a fortnightly basis. Students complete an extended piece of writing. Following this teachers mark and give students a broken down targeted task. As per Daisy Christodolou these tasks focus on teaching a component skill of the bigger picture task (

Following on from previous weeks CPD, we have as a department identified three further strategies to embed; Barrett's Taxonomy, Retrieval Grids and Analysis Grids (please see Johnny's excellent blog post on Barrett's Taxonomy is you are interested in some further reading, its a game changer -

Ryan has produced examples of Retrieval Grids that are based on the key poems Year 10 need to know for their exam. The competition element, to ensure these are received positively by students, is through the use of a points score system, based on Kate Jones idea of how long ago students must retrieve the knowledge from.

Now for Maths:

In Maths we routinely use a range of strategies to help us assess students formatively. In every lesson you can see evidence of Questioning (Hinge, Diagnostic, DQs) which to us is a very powerful tool that allows us to drill down, expose and manage misconceptions, review prior learning and pave the way for next steps. We also regularly utilise the use of whiteboards with our questioning activities to help drive and adjust the lesson around student responses.

Weekly Skills (Diagnostic) are more recently used by some teachers for some groups - these allow teachers and students to understand where the gaps are in prior (and current) learning. Question Level Analysis is used after summative tests to help ‘fill gaps’/address misconceptions, see example opposite.

Moving forward as a department we have identified the following areas for development. We wish to:
1. Adapt ‘Variation Theory’ tasks to become more strategic with results recorded as raw scores. 
2. Use (Short Low Stakes) Quiz Assessments.
3. Produce exit slips/questions/summaries.
Please do approach the Maths department directly if you are interested in examples of Hinge Questions that they use and exit slips that they are currently working on producing.

Onto Science:

The Science department routinely provides written feedback to our 'Explain Tasks' via dot marking and followed by Try Now, on average every eight lessons. Please see John's post from 2019 on this initiative ( Verbal feedback and/or self-assessment occur routinely every lesson. This occurs through the following range of strategies:

  1. Low Stakes Quizzes, self-marked with a raw score.
  2. “We do it” (I do, We do, You do) moments following teacher science explanations e.g., Think-Pair-Share, multiple choice, true or false, one word answers.
  3. Scaffolded writing tasks, chunked into a supportive scaffold using Bloom’s Taxonomy - students can track the difficulty level more easily. See the examples below for guidance students receive for how to structure their answer. This is often followed with a modelled answer by the teacher. For anyone interested in exploring the 'Success in Science' policy further then please contact the department directly.
  4. Plenary - Students self-assess mark and correct work using teachers answers to scaffolded writing, followed by “Today I have achieved…” Reflection discussion.
As we review our current formative assessment strategies, we have identified the need to increase the level of interleaving of older content that occurs in our low-stakes quizzes as well as clarifying strategies for revision lessons and activities.

Into Humanities and first up RS:

Opposite are examples of the formative strategies we use routinely at the start of all lessons. In the case of the low-stakes quizzes, the intention is to check recollection of key knowledge that has been gradually built up across the unit, which then helps to consolidate the bigger picture and identify misconceptions and/or gaps.

The image task, similar to concept mapping, links to prior learning that has taken place in the unit and draws in the new learning they will be exploring, so if there are issues this is something to revisit to avoid faulty learning of the new information. 

After information has been introduced to the students we will often use Kagan Structures to encourage the students to verbalise the information they have encountered. Oracy of the new learning allows for greater 'live observation'. The teacher can move around the room and listen into discussions before each group feeds back ideas which can be further probed. The responses allow for the teacher to establish whether the class are ready to move on and use this information or whether further teacher exposition is required. It may be that shows some students are ready for independent practise while others need further teacher support.  

Moving forward, strategies such as retrieval grids and Cops and Robbers from Kate Jones 'Retrieval Practice' ( are the key focus for development and embedding.

Followed by History:

As Kate Jones points out in her book 'Love to teach' (, good practice with formative assessment is to rotate a small collection of strategies for formative assessment so that students become confident with their routine use. For that reason, in History the following strategies are consistently utilised:
1. Five question low-stakes quizzes. 
2. Kagan structures such as All Stand Consensus and Hand Up, Stand Up, Pair Up.
3. Thirty question retrieval quizzes - which are being brought down from KS4 to KS3. These develop over time but only once they have answered every question correctly. We treat this as a competition and get the students to compete against one another. Our centralised tracking system allows for the quick collation of students scores so they can see live in the lesson their progress. When a student becomes aware that they must get all questions right before they can move on, they become more determined and focused to retrieve the core knowledge.
4. Plenary activities that are linked to the driving question to review key learning.

Within our classroom routines we are also known to use Just a Minute and No Opt Out Questioning.  GoogleClassrooms is an key strength, we have been setting all home learning using this virtual platform for this term. Students are provided with feedback on submitted work and we can track their performance. Moving forward, Analysis Grids appeal as a new approach to source interpretation.

And now Geography:

Geography have clearly embedded routines in which all lessons begin with low stakes quizzes, in which past knowledge is retrieved. We are looking to modify these in the new academic year to ensure we pose five questions that not only reflect on past knowledge but draw links to the new learning too. Kagan structures have been part of our departmental expectations for a couple of years now, namely all write round robin and rally table to ensure that students collaborate their discussions.

Within KS4 we consistently use Knowledge Checkers;
focusing on the use of ten questions that ask students to learn core knowledge before its consolidation to an exam question and Concept Mapping to ensure that students become familiar to tier 3 vocabulary. Concept Mapping was used primarily in Year 11 to encourage them to make links between prior knowledge.

Moving forward, our identified strategies as part of our curriculum shake-up will be Retrieval Grids and Analysis Grids. As per the directions in the previous blog post on analysis grids, we are focusing on the skills element of our curriculum as the focal point; this can be graphs, images, diagrams or maps (wouldn't be Geography without a map). Our example opposite shows the use of a complete OS Map with multiple questions designed to probe the source. Having now read Johnny's excellent post on Barrett's Taxonomy, we could tier the questions around the source as such.

We have begun work on both of these, examples are shown opposite. The Retrieval Grids will be used as part of our tracked formative assessment at KS3, alongside a more skills based task, and have been designed around an allocated points system based on the length of time students are being asked to retrieve knowledge from. As we are moving towards a spiral within a spiral curriculum, inspired by the History department, we are often exploring 6-7 themes per term under the umbrella on one continent so it is essential we ensure that students recognise the links between these themes across the years by retrieving it routinely.

So what are MFL working on?

In MFL we test students’ vocabulary by means of a fortnightly test with 10 low stakes questions. These vocabulary tests are directly related to the sections of the knowledge organiser the pupils have been studying for homework that week. Additionally, ‘No Hands Up' questioning aka Cold Call questioning is core to MFL departmental ethos. In this way, we provide students with instant feedback and constantly inform ourselves about the students’ understanding. We also use every speaking and listening activity we do (which occur in almost every lesson) as a means of formative assessment to assess pronunciation and understanding of core concepts and vocabulary. 

As a department, following this terms CPD we are each working on preparing templates in both French and German for the following formative assessment strategies; Hinge Questioning, Retrieval Grids, Say it Better, Just a minute and All Write Round Robin. We hope to have these ready to share soon.

PE have been hard at work:

We are looking to re-write our KS3 SoL including implementing a new tracker to monitor progress against four assessment outcomes. In each block of work/sport, we would look to use one formative assessment strategy to help us assess students against each outcomes.
  1. Knowledge and understanding (Could be a low stakes quiz on rules or terminology etc.)
  2. Practical application of skills (Visually assess, with verbal feedback)
  3. Practical application in competitive context (Visually assess, with verbal feedback)
  4. Analysis and evaluation (Questioning)
As a department, we frequently use Kagan Structures within GCSE or theory lessons, generally to share ideas help prepare students to answer exam questions. Alongside this there are 10 question low stakes quizzes, based on areas of weakness highlighted from a department Question Level Analysis.

We are interested in embedding further Google Classrooms to set rules questions for students. The wish is that students will then be more independent at checking their knowledge and understanding against the required assessment outcome.

What are Art planning to do?

Kagan structures play a key role in our project discussions, this creates formative assessment opportunities. Peer, self and teacher written feedback is expected for each project as formative feedback/review to impact progress, quality, refinement. The use of Kagan encourages students to share their ideas, receive that peer support and feedback before moving on to consolidating their designs. Our current review focuses on identifying opportunities for further formative assessment in the margins of our knowledge-rich PowerPoints. Exit cards have been recognised as a further development of strategies for the 2020-21 curriculum.

Health and Social Care are reflecting:

In terms of H&SC formative assessment can be less apparent in a lot of the work we do and that is because 3/4 of the course is coursework heavy. This obviously leads to a lot of independent work using the resources given rather than retrieving knowledge through assessments. However for the 1/4 of the course that is exam based formative assessment will become key, with our particular focus going to be at the start of every lesson when we do this topic. So for example making use of low-stakes quizzes, Challenge Grids, Cops and Robbers from Kate Jones etc in order to build as much knowledge into the long term memory.

A final thought:

THANK YOU! To all departments who have been able to send through their reflections. I am very aware that there are many other examples of good practice out there and that some of our smaller departments have not had the opportunities to meet to discuss. As a collaborative Mangotsfield community, I am sure it goes without saying that if you wish to find out how any of the strategies shared work further then please do contact departments directly.

Moving forward, it is important to spend some time reflecting on how these strategies can be presented via GoogleClassrooms. With the uncertainty that September brings, our use of this virtual platform to consolidate core learning completed in school will be more important than ever. In our final weeks of this term, we aim to marry together these two key priorities to ensure we are in the strongest position possible for blended learning in September.