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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'

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