R.E.A.L. Projects – Critique, assessment and tuning

This post is part of an ongoing series written by our PBL Lead Laura Jackson, about how we are implementing R.E.A.L. Projects in school.

As I said when I ended my previous post, I feel very excited when I see the staff project folders with exciting projects in them. There is a summary of all of these at the end of this post and I’m sure you’ll agree that these projects will give our students an exciting variety of different learning experiences during our projects week. I think it’s important to detail how we got to this place in such a short space of time.

Back in February, all staff spent time with our PBL coach, Cara, planting “seeds of passion”- to try to find a way to ignite little sparks of exciting energy to then develop and create into Rigorous, Engaging, Authentic Learning experiences.

These words are vital but how can we apply rigour? How can we ensure projects are engaging? How can authenticity be validated? All of these need to be encapsulated within a learning experience. What do they actually mean? How do we do it?

The Innovation Unit says:

REAL projects



We also had to decide how to assess each project and also projects had to be “tuned” to make sure they had been given critique, and that and questions the project leader or the critique group may have had about the project were acknowledged and addressed if needed.

Project Tuning

One of the most important parts of project work is the giving and receiving of critique. This happens at all stages of the project but the earliest stage would be at the “tuning” stage. This was also possibly the most challenging part to co-ordinate from my point of view as each project needed to be tuned but also as part of a group, who would be the critique providers. 

critique play doh

My critiqued creation from our session with Cara

In preparation for this, Curriculum Leaders took part in a Critique and Tuning workshop with Cara to allow them to take this process into their Project groups. I then led a critique workshop for the rest of the staff which ensured we all felt it. If you have an emotional connection with something then you feel more passionate about it and believe in it more. If people start changing things, adding bits, taking bits away then it changes YOUR work and YOUR emotional connection with the work.

It was important to me that all staff took part in this session and it was also a light-hearted way to introduce critique to staff, but with a serious message. If critique is given in the wrong way to anyone- staff creating, developing or delivering the project or students who are completing the project, then this would not be useful to anyone and would have a detrimental effect on the person receiving the critique. As adults, we are very protective of our own ideas and values and if they are questioned in the wrong way then it becomes a negative experience and this should not be the case. This is also true of our students we work with day-to-day.  This task made me think about how we self and peer critique in lessons and I intend to use the same session with students towards the end of the academic year, time willing.

power of protocols

Working with Cara has also introduced me to a fantastic book- The Power of Protocols which is extremely useful in terms of gaining the maximum usage out of a set amount of time.  This way of working was also used in a session I attended at School 21 in February when we were discussing enabling conditions for projects in schools. Although I first thought using protocols seemed very regimented, I quickly realised that having set times for different parts of discussion, meeting and critique work is actually extremely useful and stops a lot of time being wasted just chatting or wandering off topic.

To tune projects, there is a need to be very specific and concise to articulate the project to others. In the protocol there are also “norms”

  • Hard on the content, soft on the people,
  • Share the air (or “step up, step back”)
  • Be kind, specific and helpful

This allows all the conversation and discussion taking place to be focused solely on the project and the content.

Within the tuning protocol, there are also different roles :

  • Facilitator -Begins the session by reading through the protocol. During the protocol, the facilitator is responsible for keeping the discussion on point and reminding participants to adhere to the norms.
  • Timekeeper– Keeps time for each section and lets the facilitator know when time is up.
  • Presenter – Shares his/her work with the group.
  • Critical Friends – Includes all people present except for the presenter.

During the tuning process, the presenter gets time to present their project idea and the area or aspect they would like critique on. The critical friends then ask clarifying questions to gain a deeper understanding of any aspect of the project or specific area. The critical friends then discuss the project with the presenter taking notes on their discussion without being involved and then they respond to this discussion at the end. The response could take the form of addressing some of the issues discussed by others, drawing conclusions from what has been said or discussed or simply acknowledging the points made by others.  The facilitator introduces each part of the protocol and the timekeeper ensures the protocol timings are adhered to. Timings may differ depending on time constraints- we tuned projects in 15 minute blocks (2 mins- 3 mins- 8 mins- 2 mins) but clearly timings and therefore the timings within each part of the protocol can be changed as needed.

Project Assessment

As well as tuning our projects, we also needed to decide on how our projects would be assessed.

“Academic rigour- head, hand and heart” was my message from the School 21 retreat. Within our discussions in school also, the learning that would take place during the week needed to be meaningful, exciting and also rigorous. The word rigour again:


The Innovation Unit use Buck Institute for Education’s “21st Century Skills” framework to assess PBL work. The Buck Institute website contains a myriad of resources, ideas and information about PBL from all over the world and contains some fascinating work and reading. Their twitter account is definitely worth a follow.

We focused on:

ICT Literacy

  • how to find information
  • how to use equipment

Cognitive Skills

  • Critical Thinking
  • Creative Thinking

Metacognitive Skills

  • Self- management
  • Reflection

Personal Characteristics

  • Risk Taking
  • Accountability

Interpersonal Skills

  • Communication
  • Collaboration

As Curriculum Leaders, we discussed our projects with one another and looked for assessment opportunities within these discussions. Once we had these then we put them into the categories above, to allow us to see where the most likely assessment opportunities lay in our range of projects.

From this we then decided on three assessment strands which would be able to be assessed in any project taking place. We also added a learning target to each one to show what would need to be achieved in each assessment strand.

Communication – I can communicate my learning to others in an appropriate way.

Gathering Information – I can source, locate and investigate appropriate information using ICT.

Cognitive Skills – I can reflect and adapt to overcome challenges in my learning.

After further discussion with Cara on a different day, we also decided that to assess all three in one week would be very difficult, especially because critique could lead to multiple drafts. It could also potentially dilute the quality of assessment and critique in the project. Only one strand will be assessed in each project and this is to be decided by the project delivery staff on each project.  This is another benefit of using Cara’s expertise as she works in this field and has experience in this area- I, and we, are still developing our skills all the time and this small tweak means that time will be used effectively and assessment will still be rigorous which is what we require.

From this, short term learning targets have been created within the project plans to individualise the learning target for the projects.

Finally, I would also like to share the variety of projects staff have created and the essential questions driving the projects.

Project Title Essential Questions
Would you feed your hungry neighbour?
  • 1 in 5 UK mums regularly skip meals to be able to afford to feed their children – is this fair?
  • If your neighbour was hungry would you help them?
  • Almost 1 million people living in the UK needed emergency food supplies from 2013-14, how can we help?
Zombie Apocalypse
  • Are you a survivor?
  • How would society cope with the breakdown of civilisation?
  • Would you fight or flight?
Flotsam and Jetsam
  • How can we rethink our current use of material ?
  • What materials can be Salvaged/re-used ?
  • Can another use for a waste material or product be found?
  • How can we create a more sustainable lifestyle ?
Orienteering in the local community
  • What is orienteering?
  • Why is orienteering a sport that anyone can do?
  • How can we get our local community involved in orienteering?
Mood Music
  • Can music change your mood?
  • Do we respond differently to different kinds of musical stimulus?
  • Can music help us to relax/prepare for work/get us angry?
Travel Tracks
  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Maths Movie Making (M3)
  • What’s the problem with maths?
  • Can I make maths interesting for all students?”
Afternoon Tea
  • Can we prepare and deliver an event for the local community?
  • Who were the Durham miners?
  • What can we learn about community from the Durham miners?
  • How has coal shaped our community?
Set, Props and Costume
  • How can the set, costumes and props enhance the performance of Grease?
Does Fashion have a price?
  • What is the true price of fashion?
When in Rome…
  • How have the Romans left their mark on the North East?
  • How did the Romans on Hadrian’s Wall live?
  • How did the famous gladiators fight for survival in the arena?
  • What can we learn from the Romans?
  • Vikings: Bloodthirsty raiders or cultured traders?
Durham Cathedral through your own eyes
  • What are the secrets of Durham Cathedral?
Kidz for Kidz
  • What kind of books do 5-6 year olds like to read?
  • How can we make reading enjoyable for young children?
  • How can we encourage and inspire young children to become more independent readers?
  • Do films dictate our morals today?
Rock Climbing
  • Could I climb Mount Everest?
  • Will we be able to visit Seaham beach in 50 years time?
Science: Great Beauty or Horrifying Monster?
  • Do you consider Science beautiful or does it disgust you?
21st Century Britain
  • What is British?
  • Could you make clothes out of the things you throw away?

I intend to create a daily diary blog during our Projects Week – 29th June 2015 to document the week as it happens.


Organising instruction & study: 7 recommendations to improve student learning

This blog is a summary of a Practice Guide by Pashler et al. from 2007, which sets out to provide teachers with specific strategies for instruction and study.

I came across it in a roundabout way via this paper by Dunlosky et al cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al.

The central tenet of this particular Practice Guide is that learning depends on memory, which can in turn be strengthened by concrete strategies. These strategies help students to master new knowledge and skills, without forgetting what they have learned.

A note on Practice Guides

The Health Care professions have been using practice guides for some time now to communicate evidence-based advice to medical practitioners.

The recommendations contained within Practice Guides are intended to be:

  • Actionable by practitioners
  • Coherent in their approach
  • Explicitly connected to the level of supporting evidence

Levels of evidence are determined by the types of studies used to draw conclusions, ranging from stronger levels of evidence that come from RCTs, with more moderate levels of evidence coming from non-randomised studies, down to lower levels of evidence that are drawn from the opinions of respected authorities.

Practice Guides are not systematic reviews or meta-analyses that have been subject to detailed literature surveys. Instead they rely more on their authors’ expertise to identify the most important research relative to the recommendations made, in order to characterise its meaning and provide specific, actionable steps. The recommendations contained in this Practice Guide have been agreed by the authors concerned and subjected to independent peer review.


1: Space learning over time – moderate level of evidence


Most of the research in this area has been focused on the acquisition of facts and remembering definitions of terms. To improve retention, students should be exposed to material at least twice, with a delay of weeks to months between exposures. Short delays of less than about 5% of the time between exposure and testing should be avoided. In other words, if you want students to remember material for a test in 6 months time, avoid re-exposure within less than a week or two. “Overshooting” the delay is better than reviewing too soon.

Teaching strategies:

  • Regular, in-class review of previously covered material.
  • Inclusion of previously covered material in homework assignments.
  • Mid-term and final testing that includes cumulative material.

2: Interleave worked examples with problem solving exercises – moderate level of evidence


Experiments and some classroom studies have shown that students learn more when switching between studying examples of worked-out solutions to problems and solving similar problems independently. In the studies cited, alternating and interleaving was more successful than giving students only problems to solve, or a block of worked examples followed by a block of problems to solve. Increasing the amount of variability between successive examples and problems was also beneficial. The scaffolding provided by the worked examples should gradually be removed with time by “fading” more and more stages of the worked examples into problems.

Teaching strategies:

  • Provide a worked example for every other problem, e.g. for 10 questions, make questions 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 worked examples.
  • Model the solution to a problem with the class, and then ask students to solve the next problem independently (just one!)
  • Ask some students to present their solutions, while others explain the steps (a worked example in its own right) followed by another problem to solve independently.

3: Combine graphics with verbal descriptions – moderate level of evidence

visual representationsAdding visual representations, e.g. graphs, diagrams or other graphic formats to text descriptions can lead to better learning than just using text. Any accompanying text should be positioned as close as possible to the relevant section of the diagram. This can be further improved with the use of verbal descriptions to accompany visual representations, which allow for both elements to be scrutinised simultaneously.

Teaching strategies:

  • Provide visual representations to support the explanation of processes or concepts.
  • Highlight the relevant parts of the visual representation while describing processes or concepts.
  • Using simplified diagrams that show the relevant parts, rather than more complex representations is sometimes more beneficial.
  • Share multiple visual representations, e.g. pictures, models, real objects etc. to illustrate how a single concept can be depicted in different ways.

4: Connect and integrate abstract and concrete representations of concepts – moderate level of evidence

abstract concreteHere, the research seems to suggest that teaching concepts using only concrete representations supports initial understanding but doesn’t support transfer to novel, but relevant contexts. Whereas, using only abstract representations initially can take longer to develop initial understanding, this greater initial difficulty is compensated for via improved application to different situations.

One proposal suggested to utilise the benefits of both is “concreteness fading” with initial concrete examples being gradually and systematically replaced by more abstract representations. Another is to explicitly identify and draw students’ attention to the relationship between the concrete and abstract components in representations of the same concept.

Teaching strategies:

  • Show the same idea in multiple forms to show that deep structure is constant despite surface changes.
  • Connect abstract ideas to relevant concrete representations and situations.
  • Highlight relevant features across both abstract and concrete representations.
  • Avoid using the same type of example repeatedly, i.e. examples all from one area, e.g. “sports”
  • Avoid knowledge becoming “inert” by allowing time to draw connections between multiple, interleaved examples that vary in their concreteness or abstractness.
  • Anchor new ideas in stories or scenarios that are familiar and interesting.

5a: Use pre-questions to introduce a topic – low level of evidence

Pre-questions are thought to activate prior knowledge and focus students’ attention on the material to be learned.

Despite recommending it as way to improve student learning, the panel deemed the level of evidence for quizzing to be low, as most of the research had been completed with college students, or based on laboratory experiments carried out on reading from written text, rather than tested as a component of regular classroom instruction.

The research does seem to suggest, however, that when pre-questions are used to preview the content of assigned material, there will likely be gains in learning of the pre-questioned material, providing students don’t read selectively based on the content of the pre-questions used.

Teaching strategies:

  • Direct students’ attention to important facts and concepts by using pre-questions to introduce new topics.
  • Prepare several pre-questions that students can attempt immediately on entering the lesson as part of the “do now”


5b: Use quizzes to re-expose students to information – strong level of evidence

The act of practising recalling information from memory enhances learning, reduces the rate of forgetting and cements information to memory.

Laboratory experiments across a wide range of materials and ages have repeatedly demonstrated that testing promotes remembering of material on a later test, and is almost always more powerful than spending additional time studying material.

Teaching strategies:

  • Take every opportunity to prompt students to retrieve information.
  • Use closed book quizzes after teaching material, prior to final testing.
  • Ensure corrective feedback is provided following testing to ensure errors don’t remain.
  • Use websites, e.g. http://www.quia.com to share or create quizzes.

6a: Teach students how to use delayed judgement of learning techniques to identify concepts that need further study – low level of evidence

delayThe evidence in support of this recommendation comes mainly from experimental research in the laboratory, rather than in the classroom.

Without training, most learners cannot accurately assess what they know and what they don’t, and typically overestimate how well material has been mastered – “the illusion of knowing.” Knowing what you have and haven’t mastered accurately, is therefore essential in identifying what you still need to spend time studying, which in turn increases the likelihood of performing better when tested.

The “cue-only delayed judgement of learning procedure” is thought to be a key technique for breaking this illusion, which works as follows:

  1. Students should test their mastery of material after a meaningful delay.
  2. Students should only have access to “the cue” and not the answer when testing whether they know concepts or not, i.e. multiple choice questions should not be used for this purpose.
  3. Students should judge how likely they are to get the answer right, as well as answering the question.

A similar technique, the “delayed keyword technique” supports students to judge how well they have retained material they have read after a delay, for example a section of a textbook or a chapter of a book, by asking them to generate keywords or sentences that summarise the main points.

Teaching strategies:

  • Pre-prepare 10 questions (for example) that capture the core content to be learned.
  • Give the students the questions one at a time, asking them to use a scale of 1 to 100 to judge how likely they feel they would be able to answer the question correctly tomorrow
  • Ask students to review the material, use a text or ask the teacher to find out and record the answer to any question they did not score as 100.
  • Use repeatedly over the course of the year, teaching students how to use this technique independently.
  • Teach students to use the “delayed keyword technique” to generate four key terms and definitions following assigned reading out of class, followed by re-reading if they are unable to do this.

6b: Use tests and quizzes to identify content that needs to be learned – low level of evidence

The evidence in support of this recommendation comes mainly from experimental research of college students and laboratory tests, rather than in the classroom.

As previously stated: Inaccurate judgements by learners of what they have and haven’t learned well can mean subsequent study is focused on the wrong items.

Quizzing is thought to help students identify which items are not well learned, as does re-reading material when a test is interspersed between readings.

Teaching strategies:

  • Closed book quizzes following presentation of material.
  • Very short “spot check” quizzes covering material from the previous night or prior classwork.

7: Help students build explanations by asking and answering deep questions – strong level of evidence

deep endThe evidence base includes over a dozen experimental studies each, in both school and college settings, plus a large number of laboratory experiments.

Shallow knowledge is concerned with basic facts or skills, whereas deep knowledge is when learners are able argue with reason and logic, explore relationships between facts or concepts or answer “why?”

Interventions that specifically train students how to ask deep level questions while studying new material, e.g. classroom discussion, provision of exemplar materials and modelling how to ask and answer questions, have been shown to improve the rate and depth of student questions, as well as their comprehension of the material.

Teaching strategies:

  • Identify and prepare deep level questions that require deep level responses.
  • Ask questions that challenge students’ prior beliefs and assumptions.
  • Model the process of asking and answering deep questions.
  • Model and encourage students to “think aloud”.
  • Encourage students to respond to explanations by their peers.
  • Allow plenty of time to answer deep level questions.

The IES Practice Guide: Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning by Pashler et al (2007) is available here.


10 Research Based Principles of Instruction for Teachers

I recently read an American Educator article from 2012 by Barak Rosenshine that set out 10 principles of instruction informed by research, with subsequent suggestions for implementing them in the classroom. It was also one of the articles cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al and provided further elaboration on one of their six components of great teaching thought to have strong evidence of impact on student outcomes, i.e. quality of instruction.

Here’s my summary of the key messages from each of the 10 principles.

1: Begin with a short review of prior learning


Students in experimental classes where daily review was used had higher achievement scores. A 5-8 minute review of prior learning was said to strengthen connections between material learned and improve recall so that it became effortless and automatic, thus freeing up working memory.

Daily review could include, for example:

  • Homework
  • Previous material
  • Key vocabulary
  • Problems where there were errors
  • Further practise of knowledge, concepts and skills

2: Present new material in small amounts or steps


Working memory is small and can only cope with small chunks at a time. Too much information presented at once overloads it and can confuse students, who won’t be able to process it. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to processes that will allow students to work with confidence independently. More effective teachers in the study dealt with the limitation of working memory by presenting only small amounts of new material at a time.

3: Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students


Questions allow students to practise new material and connect new material to prior learning. They also help teachers to determine how well material has been learned and whether additional teaching is required. The most effective teachers asked students to explain the process they used and how they answered the question, as well as answering the question posed.

Strategies suggested for checking the responses of all students included asking students to:

  • Tell their answers to a partner
  • Write a short summary and share it with a partner
  • Write their answers on a mini-white board or similar, followed by “show me”
  • Raise their hands if they know the answer or agree with someone else

4: Provide models

chemical modelStudents require cognitive support to reduce the cognitive load on their working memory and help them to solve problems faster. Examples include:

  • Providing clearly laid out, step-by-step worked examples
  • Identifying and explaining the underlying principles of each step
  • Modelling the use of prompts
  • Working together with students on tasks
  • Providing partially completed problems

5: Guide student practice

guidanceNew material will quickly be forgotten without sufficient rehearsal. Rehearsal helps students to access information quickly and easily when required. Additional time needs to be spent by students summarising, rephrasing or elaborating on new material so that it can become:

  • Stored in long-term memory
  • Easily retrieved
  • Used for new learning and problem solving

The quality of storage relies on:

  • Student engagement with the material
  • Providing feedback to the students to correct errors and ensure misconceptions aren’t stored

The rehearsal process can be facilitated and enhanced by:

  • Questioning students
  • Asking students to summarise the main points
  • Supervising students during practice

In one study, the more successful teachers spent more time guiding practice, for example by working through initial problems at the board whilst explaining the reasons for each step or asking students to work out problems at the board and discuss their procedures. This also served as a way of providing multiple models for students to allow them to be better prepared for independent work.

6: Check for student understanding

thinking aloud

More effective teachers frequently checked for understanding. Checking for understanding identifies whether students are developing misconceptions as well as providing some of the processing required to move new learning into long-term memory.

The purpose of checking is twofold:

  1. Answering questions might cause students to elaborate and strengthen connections to prior learning in their long term-memory
  2. The answers provided by students alert the teacher to parts of the material that may need reteaching

A number of strategies can be used to check for understanding, e.g:

  • Questioning
  • Asking students to think aloud as they work
  • Asking students to defend a position to others

7: Obtain a high success rate

80percentWhen students learn new material, they construct meaning in their long-term memory. Errors can be made though, as they attempt to be logical in areas where their background knowledge may still be weak. It was suggested that the optimal success rate for fostering student achievement is approximately 80%. Furthermore, it was said that achieving a success rate of 80% showed that students were learning the material, whilst being suitably challenged. High success rates during guided practice led to higher success rates during independent work. If practice did not have a high success rate, there was a chance that errors were being practised and learned, which then become difficult to overcome. The development of misconceptions can be limited by breaking material down into small steps, providing guided practice and checking for understanding.

8: Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks

Building site scaffoldingScaffolds are temporary supports that help students to learn difficult tasks, which are gradually withdrawn with increasing competence. The use of scaffolds and models, aided by a master, helps students to serve their “cognitive apprenticeship” and learn strategies that allow them to become independent.

Scaffolds include:

  • Thinking aloud by the teacher to reveal the thought processes of an expert and provide mental labels during problem solving
  • Providing poor examples to correct, as well as expert models
  • Tools such as cue cards or checklists
  • Prompts such as “Who?” “Why?” and “How? that enable students to ask questions as they work
  • Box prompts to categorise and elaborate on the main ideas
  • A model of the completed task for students to compare their own work to

9: Require and monitor independent practice

practiceIndependent practice follows guided practice and involves students working alone and practising new material. Sufficient practice is necessary for students to become fluent and automatic. This avoids overcrowding working memory, and enables more attention to be devoted to comprehension and application.

Independent practice should involve the same material as guided practice, or with only slight variation. The research showed that optimal teacher-student contact time during supervision was 30 seconds or less, with longer explanations being required an indication that students were practising errors.

10: Engage students in weekly and monthly review

calendar reviewAs students rehearse and review information, connections between ideas in long-term memory are strengthened. The more information is reviewed, the stronger these connections become. This also makes it easier to learn new information, as prior knowledge becomes more readily available for use. It also frees up space in working memory, as knowledge is organised into larger, better-connected patterns.

Practical suggestions for implementation include:

  • Review the previous week’s work at the beginning of the following week
  • Review the previous month’s work at the beginning of every fourth week
  • Test following a review
  • Weekly quizzes

The full report by Barak Rosenshine: Principles of Instruction – Research based strategies that all teachers should know is available here.

R.E.A.L. Projects – The Beginning

This post was written by Laura Jackson, our Project Based Learning Lead.

There is a shared folder in My Drive which makes my heart flip every time I look at it…..

REAL projects folder

Rewind almost 18 months and I had just finished reading Ron Berger’s “An Ethic of Excellence” closely followed by  “Leaders of their Own Learning”. The message that stuck with me and I think of several times per day, every day and often quote is:

“It’s not a quick fix, it’s a way of life”.

Ethic of excellence, Berger

Leaders of their own learning








The Dream

In June 2014 I was extremely fortunate to visit the annual Festival of Learning at Cramlington Learning Village and saw some of the R.E.A.L. Projects that the students had been working on in their “Project Fortnight”. The quality of these projects, coupled together with the articulate young people who had been working on them, left me leaving Cramlington wishing we could create something similar. Highly engaging, high quality, wide variety and fantastic outcomes for students. High quality learning experiences that provided the learners with something truly unique for two weeks.

The Reality

As Project Lead I have been extremely fortunate to have been given first hand access to what can arguably be called the best experiences in Project Based Learning this year. Working with one of High Tech High’s Project Based Learning Coaches Cara Littlefield from the Innovation Unit to develop our first ever “Project Week” has been amazing – and we are not finished yet. Visiting the inspirational School 21 in Stratford, London allowed me to see some jaw-dropping learning experiences and outcomes and how R.E.A.L. Projects can be integrated as part of the curriculum in a school. I also met Ron Berger at the Whole Education Annual Conference in London in November – who inspired my passion and belief that we can use Expeditionary Learning principles to develop the learning experiences for staff and students in our school community. He signed my “An Ethic of Excellence” book and my husband commented at the time that in the picture with Ron,  I look even happier than I did on our wedding day – whoops!


“I do!”

 What are R.E.A.L. Projects?

REAL projects logo

R.E.A.L. Projects are Rigorous, Engaging, Authentic Learning experiences. We are lucky to have Cara from the Innovation Unit guiding our school through the process and protocols to ensure we produce exciting, engaging, high quality learning experiences for our school community. Using outside expertise has allowed us to gain knowledge and experience of something we had little knowledge or experience of. Things that may go wrong or that haven’t worked elsewhere can be avoided; things that work and provide outstanding experiences for all students can be embraced. This expertise allows us to craft our Project Week into what we want it to be, in a guided way. Projects created by our own staff to deliver to our own students means that our learning community will be enhanced. We are all on a learning journey together. It’s been an exciting process so far and when I say “so far”, I know that it will always be “so far” as it is an always changing, tweaking, modifying process.

Where did we begin?

Cara came to Belmont initially in February to launch our project planning. Staff were asked to think of their most positive learning experiences as a school student, and also think about their own personal passions. How can these passions, hobbies and interests be developed into unique, rigorous, engaging learning experiences for our students? The type of learning experiences that will deliver high quality outcomes, that will provide a lasting legacy for our school and the surrounding community and will also allow staff to provide this experience to our students. Projects did not have to be departmentalised, teachers did not have to stick to their own subject area, people could work alone or choose to collaborate with others. It was a free choice.

Within this free choice needed to be some structure:

  • What is the essential guiding question?
  • What do you want students to do,to produce, to create, to learn?
  • What experiences can this offer that is like no other lesson they will have in school?
  • How can you live, breathe and be the project, to draw the students into the experience you want to offer them?
  • How will this fit into a week / 5 hours per day / 25 learning hours in a week?

Cara also spent a second day working with Curriculum Leaders who would act as “trainers” within school to guide and work with a smaller group of staff. Initially we kept people in their own curriculum areas to work with their department but that caused confusion as to whether projects needed to be subject based, so different groups were created to ease this confusion. Critique workshops and project tuning workshops took place with our staff being guided through the process by a facilitator, to enable them to be the facilitator in their group.

In the meantime…..

Less than one week after R.E.A.L. Projects 2015 was launched at Belmont, I found myself visiting School 21 as part of an Innovation Unit “Retreat” day. This deepened my curiosity, desire and belief in Project Based Learning and I am so thankful to have been able to visit a truly innovative learning environment. The most useful session I attended (they were ALL useful though) for me as the Project Lead in school was the session on Enabling Conditions which was led by the Innovation Unit’s David Jackson and School 21 Head of Secondary Oli de Botton. Their clear message was that Projects must take centre stage. It should not be an add-on or an extra, it should be the main event.

centre stage

Clearly it is very different planning a whole school curriculum as opposed to 25 week-long projects, but the enabling conditions are still the similar. They include:

  • Exhibition of beautiful work – All of the R.E.A.L. Projects planned at Belmont include an exhibition of work. Exhibitions range from a fashion show, books created to sell, a travel app and documentaries to hosting events within the local community.
  • Aligned assessment– All projects will be assessed for the same elements, regardless of the type of project or the project content. This will ensure that the academic rigor we wanted to include will be upheld and where the R.E.A.L. learning will take place. This took place after a discussion facilitated by Cara via Google Hangout where all group leaders discussed assessment opportunities in their own projects based on 21st century skills. As a group we then decided the three we will assess throughout all projects and set long and shorter term learning goals – these will probably change – we are still “so far” with this too.
  • Timetabling / protocol / time planning/ pooled time – Staff are busy. Staff need time to plan, to discuss, to bounce ideas around, to test their ideas out. Oli de Botton said giving staff time was crucial. Staff have had time to plan their projects and this has led to some very exciting projects being created for our students. Currently we are scheduling the next block of time to allow assessment and planning workshops to take place in small groups led by Curriculum Leaders.

So far the reality has outlived the dream and we have not arrived at Project Week yet. The whole implementation of this process so far has provided me with one of the most challenging learning experiences of my career so far. Seeing staff project folders with exciting projects detailed in their planning documents makes me realise what a passionate and skilled set of colleagues I work with every day. Of course I know this, but the variety and content of the projects mean our students are about to experience one of the most exciting weeks of the school year, if not their school life so far.

The message I left the retreat with was:

“Academic rigor – head, hand and heart”.

I want everyone to feel it too. Ideas in people’s head, passed onto students through handing them these experiences based on passions that live in their hearts.

More information on R.E.A.L. Projects can be found here

Building an Excellence & Growth Culture

I was delighted when Shaun Allison asked me to write a case study about our work in school to be included in a new book he is writing with Andy Tharby. Shaun’s Class Teaching blog was the original inspiration for the Belmont Teach blog and Andy’s thoughtful and insightful blog posts have been must-reads since we both started blogging around the same time over a year ago. Our similar philosophies led to Shaun, myself and a few other edu-bloggers setting up the Excellence and Growth Schools’ Network last year as well as sharing ideas on a range of concepts – most significantly perhaps around curriculum design and assessment. Since meeting at the Growing Mindsets convention last year, Shaun and I are like old pals now and can be relied on to clog up each other’s timelines with recipes, pictures of single malt and the lyrics of indie bands circa 1989! Here’s my contribution to the book, although the final edit could look a lot different once Andy has put it under an English teacher’s microscope……………………….

Key influences

Much of our recent work in school has been strongly influenced by Chief Program Officer for Expeditionary Learning, Ron Berger’s publications “An Ethic of Excellence” and “Leaders of Their Own Learning” as well as Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Dr Carol S Dweck’s books “Self Theories” and “Mindset”. Untitled drawing (1) All of our staff – teaching staff, support staff and governors – have been given wide access and exposure to this work in school. We have multiple copies of these books in our Teaching and Learning Library, which top our loan statistics by some margin. All of our Learning Hub Leaders have a personal copy, as well as those who had elected to read them in their Edu-Book Club as part of their Personal Professional Development programme. This is supported by a compendium of blogs and videos we have compiled and continue to update on excellence and mindset.

Learning Hubs

To further ensure we develop an Ethic of Excellence and Growth Mindset amongst our learning community, all members of our teaching staff work in a choice of one of five Learning Hubs as part of their Personal Professional Development programme.

Learning Hubs logo 2014

Our Learning Hubs operate along the lines of Dylan Wiliam’s “TLCs: Teacher Learning Communities” model, with each hub, comprising approximately 8-12 staff meeting for 2 hours once every Half Term, with the following aims: Challenge

  • To embed a culture of ‘growth mindset’ across our learning community in order to raise aspirations and expectations of what students can achieve.
  • To ensure high levels of challenge for all students in every lesson, every day.


  • To use e-Learning to embed a culture of ‘growth mindset’ by empowering students, staff and parents to become engaged, confident, independent, resilient, information-literate users of e-Learning.
  • To develop personalised e-Learning resources for staff (teaching/pedagogy), students (learning) and parents (to support learning process as active participants).

Feedback and Critique

  • To consider the nature, timing and engagement of our students with feedback and critique.
  • To develop feedback and critique systems that ensure increased clarity, effort and aspiration amongst our students, supporting a culture of ‘growth mindset’.


  • To consider how the language of subject specialisms can be explicitly taught by all teachers and supported by parents through a range of strategies.
  • To develop students’ chances of academic success by insisting that academic language is used in the classroom, and at home when talking to parents about school work.


  • To develop deep and probing questioning for teaching/memory that elicits students to think hard supporting a culture of ‘growth mindset’ and questioning for assessment that informs teaching, e.g. hinge questions, multiple choice quizzing etc.

Mindset across the curriculum

Our Mindset work forms not only part of our pastoral programme, but is also supported by subject areas in lessons around five key themes:

  • Motivation & Inspiration
  • Aspiration
  • Resilience
  • Self esteem
  • Mindset

All students complete a learning journal during tutor time as part of this work.

A golden opportunity

The abolition of levels at Key Stage 3 provided us with an ideal opportunity to create not just a new assessment system, but an entire curriculum based on the principles of Excellence and Growth. Central to this was the idea that everyone is capable of excellence. gold The curriculum we have created is a curriculum we value. A curriculum designed to focus on fewer things in greater depth, rather than being “inch deep and mile wide”. To achieve this we have invested in regular blocks of time for our staff so that they can work together in teams to design subject specific curriculum and assessment.

Key components

Each subject started by establishing their organising concepts, or “big ideas”, which required a review of the entire National Curriculum from Key Stages 1 to 4. Knowing the prior learning of our students enabled us to accelerate from it and ensure high challenge from the outset. It also allowed us to introduce GCSE knowledge and skills in year 7 and go “beyond” the typical confines for the year or Key Stage. We’ve also been very careful to pay attention to what cognitive science tells us about learning and memory, embracing the work of UCLA Psychologist Professor Robert Bjork. As a consequence organising concepts are spaced and interleaved in order to try and build greater storage and retrieval strength. In doing this, we hope to be able to challenge our students further, by increasing their knowledge base and recall to free up working memory to allow them to think hard about, and assimilate new information. Assessment is then focused on mastery of fundamental concepts, ideas, knowledge and skills by designing rubrics containing learning targets for each unit ranging from “establishing” at a basic understanding through to the highest thresholds of “excellence” and “beyond”. As part of our commitment to excellence and growth, we believe that futures aren’t fixed and that all students have the potential for excellence and can improve by:

  • working hard and putting in their very best effort
  • acting on feedback from their teachers
  • becoming leaders of their own learning

As part of this commitment, all students are given access and the opportunity to demonstrate their learning right up to the “beyond” threshold. As well as specifying information about lesson resources, homework and assessment opportunities, each unit also contains a link to previous interleaved sequences, as well as deep and probing questions, which are designed in advance to encourage students to think hard about new information. As Professor of Psychology Daniel Willingham says: “memory is the residue of thought” or as Durham University Professor Robert Coe puts it: “learning happens when people have to think hard.”

Assessment, Recording and Reporting

In a similar fashion, our Assessment, Recording and Reporting of student progress has been revised to incorporate our philosophy of excellence and growth. MidYIS testing on entry is used to identify any potential that may have been missed previously. Progress is reported relative to starting points in simple terms as “excellent”, “good” or “not yet” – incorporating the language of growth. The bar is set high, so that meeting your baseline threshold represents good progress from the starting point in each unit. In a similar way, our revised descriptors for effort encourage excellence and growth. For effort to be classed as excellent, for example, a student must:

  • Consistently strive for excellence
  • Take ownership of their own learning
  • Be highly organised and self disciplined
  • Show initiative and responsibility
  • Show real determination in pursuit of goals
  • Demonstrate resilience when things get hard
  • Continuously seek, reflect and act on all feedback
  • Actively participate and contribute for the benefit of all

This year, in our efforts to help our students become leaders of their own learning, we have replaced our traditional annual report with a series of student led conferences in each subject area, which give students an opportunity to share their work and talk about their progress with parents and teachers by reflecting on and articulating what they have learned.

R.E.A.L. projects and realsmart

Recently, we’ve been working with realsmart to try to support this process even further by giving our students the opportunity to submit evidence of meeting learning targets to their cloud based learning portfolios. Any evidence submitted can then be used as a starting point to discuss progress at their student led conferences. We’ve also started working with Cara Littlefield, a Project Based Learning coach from High Tech High in San Diego through the Innovation Unit to develop R.E.A.L. Projects whose three key principles support our philosophy of excellence and growth, i.e:

  1. All students are capable of excellence regardless of prior attainment, needs or background
  2. Student work should matter
  3. Schools and classrooms are communities of learners

Through this work our staff and students are being trained to build a culture of peer feedback, critique and multiple drafting through the use of models of excellence. These skills are further developed during our whole school Project Week in the Summer Term, which involves public exhibition of high quality student work. Our Ethic of Excellence gallery, which sits in the heart of our school also complements this by displaying beautiful student work nominated by individual subjects. IMG_0031 IMG_0033 IMG_0034

Teach Like a Champion: Part 3 – Term 1 Review

This post is the third in a series of posts written by our Associate AHT for Pedagogy and Practice, Julie Ryder.  You can read Teach Like a Champion: Part 1 – Introducing TLaC here and Part 2: Training the Trainers here.

I do not see the TLaC techniques as a teaching rule book or an instruction manual for creating a perfect teacher. What the techniques mean to me are an opportunity to reflect and work on fine tuning the teaching I already do. As a child and young adult over a period of 15 years I competed on my horse and was considered a confident and competent horsewoman, however I still chose to have lessons once a fortnight to fine tune and perfect my technique. This allowed me to focus my practice and work on specific areas to perfect my skills. This is how I see TLaC, those working in the PPD group are competent and confident teachers with a huge range of skills and experience who want to fine tune their practice to be even better. These are good teachers who want to be better, what more could I ask for.

Session breakdown

During term 1 we looked at the following two techniques in depth however we also introduced “100%” and “Show Call.”

     Setting High Academic Expectations

No Opt Out


A sequence that begins with a student unwilling or unable to answer a question ends with that student giving the right answer as often as possible even if they only repeat it.
     Engaging Students In Your Lessons

Cold Call


In order to make engaged participation the expectation, call on students regardless of whether they have raised their hands.

I chose “No Opt Out” and “Cold Call” as they are suggested to have the biggest impact on the culture of expectations in the classroom above any other combination.

We met sometimes as a whole group and sometimes as two smaller groups depending on the focus or activity, sessions were held weekly during PPD time for one hour throughout the term. Role play, though difficult for some, has an important place in developing the techniques and making them your own.

Session Intentions Notes
1 Introduction to TLAC, research behind the programme and outline of No Opt Out and Cold Call Background to TLAC and video clips of techniques from Uncommon Schools.
2 To produce and practice a roll out speech for introduction of Cold Call to students. I shared an example of a Roll Out speech and Cold Call practice by myself and a few colleagues. We then practiced our Roll Out in groups.1129
3 Practicing Cold Call using resources from the Train the Trainers workshop We used the resources to work in groups to practice our responses to cold call with students during a questioning session.1133
4 No Opt Out practice using our own resources and offering feedback. During these sessions we used a series of questions from our own subject areas. We prepared questions and answers for the rest of the group. In addition I produced “behaviour” cards for the class so that not only did we try the Cold Call technique but also had the opportunity to use No Opt Out and 100% as we went. The cards were handed out after shuffling for each round of Cold Call and though most were “model student” cards there were “I don’t know”, “hands up” , “chewing”, “shouting out” “not paying attention” etc. cards too. After each round we provided feedback:I liked it when………………………………Next time try ……………………………….1261
5 Group feedback on how things worked In the classroom. Back together as a full group. A few of the group had the opportunity to share Cold Call with us all and we looked at some video resources from TLaC. We shared and discussed how the techniques had worked for us in the classroom.
6 To look at a few techniques that support pace, challenge and climate for learning. Improve our ability to determine when to give students a consequence or a correction in different classroom scenarios and look at how and why 100% is so important. One of the trickiest aspects of managing a classroom is deciding when to give a consequence versus a correction. The question is tough because we must decide each scenario on a case-by-case basis and must do so swiftly, consistently, and repeatedly.consequence v correctionThe 100% strategy focuses on the need to eliminate as many distractions as possible. Studies show that multi-tasking actually doesn’t exist and isn’t even possible- rather the brain is constantly switching from activity to activity one at a time. This therefore suggests that students actually are unable to learn from a teacher while they are focused on something else no matter what it is.

Review of impact

As the school PPD programme has now been running for a term, staff were asked to give a brief review of its impact on students and their own professional practice.

All staff involved responded positively to the TLaC sessions and suggested that they are using the Cold Call and No Opt Out techniques more in lessons with positive results. Wait time and 100% are also having an impact in lessons.

In what ways has your participation in the TLAC PPD programme had impact on your professional practice?

“TLAC has made a big difference to my questioning across the board. The role play aspects while “uncomfortable” make you realise what’s involved in the execution of the new techniques. I feel I am learning lots of tweaks to what I do and I think about how students are answering much more. No opt out has been a revelation – going back to the student to ask again has kept them on their toes!”

“I am continuing to trial these techniques with classes and use them to improve my questioning.”

 “Cold Call has proved particularly useful.”

“It has taken me back to my early years of teaching and forced me to reflect on who and how to question in a positive, less threatening way.”

“Teach Like a Champion has made me think about the techniques I use to question and assess students. It has given me a greater range of ideas to use in lessons and the opportunity to see these in action.”

“I love the TLaC sessions and I am conscious that my classroom practice in questioning has improved as a result. I have enjoyed the sessions and also reading further in my own time. I am confident that the methods used so far have improved the climate and my use of questioning in classroom.”

“TLaC has given more structure to the beginning of lessons causing a reduction in the number of disruptions.”

 “Participating in the PPD program (Teach Like a Champion) has meant I have got to know a wider range of staff, and I have appreciated the cross curricular comparison of the use of questioning. I have included pictures and prompts in my questioning, as demonstrated in Art and Technology which has made students who I found would be less inclined to answer a question, more likely to do so.”

 “The Teach Like a Champion material has helped me hone some valuable skills in classroom management. It has improved my questioning technique and is improving behaviour in the classroom. I am less likely to enter into a debate with pupils about issues and simply stick to expectations and ‘what to do’ rather than dwelling on the negatives by telling them ‘what not to do’. ‘Doing it again’ has helped establish routines and improve resilience. Circulating during ‘Cold Call’ has helped establish universality. I try to adjust my wait time to allow greater thinking time for pupils and impact of the question. Being more economical with my language in setting tasks or expectations has had a positive impact. Being specific, concrete and sequential has reduced opportunities to misbehave and led to less exploitation of grey areas by pupils. I think I am improving the balance between correction and consequence and applying these at more appropriate times.”

Has being involved in the TLaC PPD had any impact on students?

Yes, as seen in my lesson observations, I feel that this has had a positive impact on the students’ motivation and retention.” 

“Yes – especially No Opt Out – they are all now more engaged throughout a questioning episode.”

Cold calling is now embedded in the lesson, 100% is working well too – basic, but a useful reminder not to accept 98%, as I had been guilty of that!”

I think that Cold Call in particular has impacted the most on students in my class as they are more engaged when they know that they may be ‘called upon’ without having actually volunteered an answer.”

“Wait time has also improved the number of students who volunteer answers as I am now more aware of giving them appropriate thinking time before choosing a student to provide a response.”

I have observed increased confidence overall and their expectations appear to have changed. Students know the lesson is a No Opt Out zone but also they now feel safer in contributing. I feel this has led to increased satisfaction with their work. Students appear to be more motivated and enthusiastic.”

“Students are much more prepared to answer questions as they know I may ask them at any time rather than them relying on those who put up their hands. This allows me to gain trust from less confident students by giving them questions I know they will be able to answer and then in turn they become more confident in their ability. I am looking forward to future sessions as the techniques are becoming more developed and natural the more I use them.”

“I have found it has improved engagement in class discussions, where speaking without volunteering is a requirement, but also in their written work in order to be prepared.”

“Pupils are now more focused as they are prepared for answering questions rather than ‘switching off’. Pupils are more aware of classroom expectations and this has improved behaviour in the classroom. Pupils don`t take corrective instructions as personally now when I maintain anonymity. This is helping promote positive relationships which I recognise from the past may have caused friction. Adjusting wait time (and emphasising key points) has led to better quality of responses when completing a Cold Call and more hands up when not.”

Next steps

It has been an absolute pleasure for me to work with a great group of colleagues promoting the TLaC techniques and reading about the impact this is having on both their professional practice and their students.

Term 2 will see us continuing with the techniques already looked at and ways to share good practice with each other in the classroom. In addition we will be adding more techniques to our tool box as we begin by looking at “Everybody Writes” which sets students up for rigorous engagement, by giving them the opportunity to reflect first in writing before discussing. We will also be looking at “Stretch It” where a sequence of learning does not end with the right answer, we reward right answers with follow up questions that extends knowledge and tests for reliability.

I look forward to updating you!

Teach Like a Champion: Part 2 – Training the Trainers

This post is the second of three written by our Associate AHT for Pedagogy and Practice, Julie Ryder.  You can read Teach Like a Champion: Part 1 – Introducing TLaC here.

In October 2014 I had the opportunity to attend a two-day work training event led by Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs and Erica Woolway. This event had been in my diary for months and was a highlight of my CPD in 2014. Not only did I have the opportunity to learn from Doug and the TLaC team themselves, but also to work with different teachers/leaders from both the UK and the USA. Everyone there was keen to develop their own practice, irrespective of their current role in school, to enable them to return to their schools equipped with resources that would allow them to lead on TLaC.

As an introduction Doug talked us through the identification of the TLaC techniques. He used data from the findings of his research from across a large number of schools to identify where students are achieving the highest grades despite being in the lowest socio-economic groups. Doug doesn’t profess to have a finite list of the answers and indeed states that with regard to TLaC: “at least some of it is wrong.” Considering he can only highlight what he has been able to see (so far), he admits he may have missed or misunderstood a technique, for example.

Teach like a champion 2.0, Lemov

The new Teach Like a Champion 2.0 book that has just been released has 62 identified techniques compared to the 49 from the first edition. Doug was honest in explaining that not all of the techniques made the cut from the first to the second book, that some of them are new or slightly different. I personally like the fact that these techniques are evolving and adapting to suit the teachers and their students in the classrooms they are taught in.

The structure of the two days was relatively straight forward in that we looked at a number of techniques and practised using them ourselves and giving feedback in terms of:

“I liked it when…………….”
“Next time try……………..”

Perfect practice makes perfect

The key to success is centred on the practice of the techniques. Here is where we meet a hurdle, as there are a few major misconceptions around what practice is, who it is for, and the benefits. In Practice Perfect, Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi when asked about the importance of practice replied:

• When we practice we should focus on practising strengths as we will get stronger results this way.
• We should not stop practising when we achieve competence. What marks champions is their excellence at something. They may have weaknesses, but their strengths are honed and polished to the level of brilliance. The value of practice begins at mastery!
• Although practice certainly has a reputation for being a bleak necessity. It is in fact, fun, exciting, and ideal for adults.

All of us, if we give it some thought, practice something in our professional and/or personal lives. What Doug and TLaC are suggesting is that we should also practice techniques to use in the classroom.

I am not one for role play, however I have to admit to enjoying the opportunity over the two training days to practice the techniques before using them when leading the TLaC group back at school and in my classroom. You can read more about how I turned the training into PPD practice in my school, and how much our staff have enjoyed the opportunity to work together on these techniques here and in Part 3.

Over the two days I found the opportunity to look at the video clips of champion techniques and discuss what we could see extremely valuable. It gave us an opportunity to focus on the teaching – not so that we could emulate the style or method, but to critique and identify aspects that were good. We were not attending the training to become ‘TLaC clones’ nor to take back to our schools a set of rules for using the techniques to be copied. Indeed the practice is intended to avoid us doing this as we practice through a range of techniques and develop them in our own style. We had the opportunity to look at the importance of the stages of the techniques, the research and science behind the method and to consider the essential underlying principles. The delivery style may well change depending on the target audience – only the classroom teacher will know what method will work best for their students. It is however important that we share with our students our expectations and the reasons behind using some of the techniques.

The opportunity to observe Doug, Colleen and Erica practice the rollout speech and receive feedback from each other and the delegates and the workshop was particularly useful. In our classrooms this rollout speech is an opportunity to say: “This is my classroom and this is how it works in my classroom.” It’s like sharing the success criteria and “what good looks like” for the students’ participation and expected engagement, taking ownership of the classroom back.

Take aways

What did I take away from the training, to share back at my school with the TLaC group?

• A renewed enthusiasm to take back to my classroom, my department and my colleagues.
• A toolkit of resources to use to elicit change, remembering that change is hard and new habits will require repeated practice if they are to become embedded into teaching practice.
• The classroom will be what YOU make it, take ownership do fewer things but do them better
• The classroom will mirror the teacher – if you set your expectations at 100% and accept nothing less, then that is what you will get.
• That buy in will be an outcome of the sessions, not a pre requisite.
• That the best teachers check for understanding all lesson long, they recognise when students do not understand and change. They are constantly gathering data and acting on it.

TLaC is not just a book or set of techniques that you might read about and use in the classroom having understood the concept and method. TLaC is a commitment to ensure that you are the best you can be in all aspects of your teaching. It’s about recognising what works and perfecting what you do through collaborative work and feedback. It is not a definitive list nor is it designed to be used to the exclusion of all other techniques or methodologies.

Further reading

• You can read Doug Lemov’s blog reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice here
• Do read Harry Fletcher-Wood’s blogs here and here about his visit to Uncommon Schools in New York.
• Do read Michael Slavinsky’s blog here about his views on the TLaC programme and here about his trip to the Train the Trainer workshop.

Coming next

Teach Like a Champion: Part 3 – Term 1 Review

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 45,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Teach Like a Champion: Part 1 – Introducing TLaC

This post was written by our Associate AHT for Pedagogy and Practice, Julie Ryder.

TLaC, PPD and other acronyms……

Staff in our school have been offered a broad range of opportunities to develop as teachers and are able to select areas for their own Personal Practice Development (PPD). You can read all about them towards the end of this post.

One of my main roles is to develop and deliver a rolling CPD programme based on the Teach Like a Champion (TLaC) techniques.  Twenty five colleagues signed up to follow the programme at the start of the year as part of their PPD. Those involved have very differing levels of classroom experience – from NQTs to HODs and AHTs. Despite this, the staff involved are united in their aim to develop as great teachers.

What is TLaC?

At the start of the year I shared some background information about TLaC and Doug Lemov‘s work with Uncommon Schools.

The TLaC programme has a proven track record of transforming students at risk of failure into achievers and believers. It is based on a taxonomy of effective teaching practices and is focused on micro-techniques rather than more generalised strategies, e.g. “questioning”.

Doug became interested in schools serving high need students that were getting the best results. He wanted to identify the teachers in those schools who were doing exceptional work. Directed by the data, Doug sat in the back of these exceptional teachers’ classrooms to observe and identify what they were doing that explained the exceptional results they were getting. As Doug spent more time in these great teachers’ classrooms he began to notice some commonalities: From these he identified a list of techniques which he called The Taxonomy of Effective Teaching Practices.

Doug now leads a team of Uncommon educators continuously studying and describing great teaching – breaking that greatness down into concrete, replicable actions, then designing the training to make it manageable and accessible. The belief is that all teachers can learn the simple, concrete actions that allow the achievement gap to be narrowed – lesson by lesson, classroom by classroom.

As a result of this research of teachers who consistently achieve high outcomes with students, Doug produced the Teach Like a Champion book, which included 49 instructional techniques that outline how superior instruction can overcome socio-economic barriers to student achievement.

Teach like a champion, Lemov

Data suggests that in the UK the achievement gap between pupils of different socio-economic backgrounds is greater than almost all other developed countries. Yet we often encounter the view that certain students have a limit to their achievement. In an ideal classroom, however, no child’s educational success should be limited. Doug suggests that through the introduction of the TLaC techniques, high academic expectations, increased participation and depth of thinking, every student should achieve more.

I explained that the aim of our TLaC programme would be to use some of the techniques as an approach to staff development. It’s about us working together to build systems of classroom culture and instruction.

The Belmont TLaC programme

At the first meeting of our TLaC group in school I asked colleagues to share what they hoped to get out of the sessions. The results were as follows:

TLaC prog expectations

The key messages I see above are linked to teaching strategies that improve student engagement. From my own experience I would wholeheartedly agree that this is exactly how my classroom and lessons have improved. No matter the class, the year group or the lesson time, I expect, and am consistently striving for 100% engagement. Yes, my students are kept on their toes, yes I work really hard to maintain this, yes the pace has increased and yes I am still learning and trying to improve what I do in the classroom! Just like the rest of the TLaC group, I want to get better, I want to raise students’ expectations of their achievement and I want the support of regular PPD to discuss, try out, and perfect my teaching practice.

Introducing the techniques

I chose to begin with Cold Call and No Opt Out as these techniques are suggested to have the biggest impact in the classroom and improve the culture of expectations more quickly than any other combination.

Cold Call is about engaging students in your lessons. In this technique the intention is to make participation and engagement the expectation and to call on students regardless of whether they have raised their hands.

No Opt Out is about setting high academic expectations. In this technique a questioning sequence that begins with a student who is unwilling or unable to answer ends with that student giving the right answer as often as possible, even if they only repeat it.

Perfect practice makes perfect

We begin by practicing how we will explain to our students what Cold Call is and the expectations from them. The whole idea of meeting as a group is so that we can try ideas and receive feedback: “I like it when……..” and “Next time try…………”

As with everything in our TLaC programme we begin by modelling the practice. Myself and two colleagues recorded a demonstration practice Roll Out Speech and Cold Call. Modelling the practice and showing how receiving critique helps us to get better made it easier to ask others to do the same in our TLaC sessions that followed.

You can view our modelling the practice in the following clip:

Our growing popularity now puts our group at 29, which for practical reasons and time we have split into 2 groups for some of the practice sessions. Over the next four sessions we write, practice, critique and improve our Roll Out Speeches and No Opt Out questioning using resources from the Train the Trainers workshop I attended in London (which you can read about in Part 2).

TLaC workshop 1

TLaC workshop 3

No Opt Out: Staff engaged and enjoying working together to share, advise and improve their teaching practice, what more could you ask for in a PPD session?

Coming next……

Part 2 – Train the Trainers workshop in London with Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Colleen Driggs

Part 3 – Belmont TLaC programme update

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College and Teach Like a Champion Field Guide: A Practical Resource to Make the 49 Techniques Your Own are also available from our T+L Library.


The first of our after-school ‘Workshops of Wonder’ on Magic Monday 4 was delivered by Mark Nesbitt – Assistant Curriculum Team Leader for Science, who shared his thoughts on motivation with us. Here is Mark’s summary on how we can use praise and rewards as tools to promote student achievement.

going for the summit

Reasons we use praise and rewards

Education literature on rewards and praise spans over 60 years and at times can be conflicting. Hopefully I can generalise the common positive findings from studies and make some suggestions on how you could maximise their effectiveness in your practice.

I’m going to start with a few reasons why we praise and reward students. These include:

  • As an incentive for students to complete a task
  • To praise a certain behaviour
  • To help raise expectations
  • To promote effort when carrying out an instruction
  • To motivate students to complete their work


“If you are motivated to achieve to do something you will be moved to achieve, you will be activated in achieving a certain goal” (Murphy and Alexander, 2000)

Motivation is a concept in many theories, but we all know that when a failure to succeed occurs, a lack of motivation is often blamed. In the classroom the failing student will often be seen as having “poor motivation”, whilst we all know that some parents would claim that poor student performance is because of bad teaching and that a good teacher would be able to motivate and engage their child.

I don’t have any miracle answers to that but what I can share is how we can attempt to promote intrinsic motivation through well-timed praise to motivate and engage students (Ball, 1977).

There are different types of motivation. The one we all hope to instil in our students is intrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation is the idea that students will engage in tasks for the experience and sense of fulfilment in completing them in their own right.

Most educators see intrinsic motivation as an imperative concept for students to have, its seen to lead to high quality learning and is probably best characterised as a source of achieving through learning from a driving force from within as opposed to external influences (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

We all want our students to arrive fully engaged and eager to learn because they find the work interesting and fulfilling, not because they fear a sanction or will get a reward at the end of it. This is the ideal but I don’t think it is at all easy to achieve.

motivation carrot

Rewards and intrinsic motivation

After I qualified as a teacher I continued my studies in education research. One thing that I looked at was how we can use praise with students to make the biggest impact. I carried out a short study into the ways in which praise and rewards could be administered, their effect and what peoples’ findings suggested.

I looked at 188 students in year 7, with the idea being to see if I could shift student motivation from extrinsic types (the sort of behaviour that is influenced by praise, punishment, success and so on) towards intrinsic motivation.

In all cases students were asked to complete a series of questions to assess their view of their progress and attitudes towards the subject. This was coupled with an analysis of student performance in unit assessments so I could be sure they weren’t just thinking they were doing better, but were actually performing better.

Half the year group underwent Science lessons whereby praise was administered as it normally would be, whilst the other half were part of a rewards based system for around 12 weeks. The system was fairly straightforward: students had basic criteria, almost like school expectations to follow but any effort above and beyond this saw students rewarded with an “extra mile”. This was a reward in a passport that they could cash in once they had acquired a sufficient number of miles. Some staff were introduced to the benefits of timely praise and I set up a number of different classes to look at a range of effects.

The Extra Mile Just Ahead Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

What I set up to compare were differences in:

  • Tangible and verbal rewards
  • Expected rewards and unexpected rewards
  • Single bouts of rewarding against reiteration


I found that there wasn’t much difference between groups. Effect sizes were often too small to make any solid conclusions and those that were significantly different, often involved staff absences or different content being delivered.

Where there was validity I found that:

  • Student performance was always better when they didn’t expect the reward at the end of any task, where they were completely unaware they were being rewarded
  • Verbal praise was more successful than any tangible reward

My results did correspond with a lot of other people’s findings so I wasn’t too disappointed. However, a quick literature review would tell you it’s a minefield of conflicting information so here are some summary points to share from what I have discovered.

  • Verbal praise is always a winner! If it’s meaningful and enthusiastic you can’t go wrong!
  • Don’t say “if you do this I’ll reward you” (I still do that now sometimes), try not to mention any tangible reward before a task or activity (Cameron and Pierce, 1994)
  • Tangible rewards are useful but more so when unexpected.
  • If you give tangible rewards like Vivos try to supplement them with a positive statement to help reinforce your thoughts.
  • Praise attitudes and efforts, not final products and outcomes. In places such as Scandinavia where students repeatedly outperform other global regions it’s been recorded that most praise is directed to promoting effort and attitude and not achievement. This helps students build intrinsic motivation across the curriculum as oppose to just one task in one subject area (Cameron and Pierce, 1994).
  • Reinforce praise, show students that you didn’t just praise them because you were in a good mood that day. Many behavioural psychologists claim that reinforcement is an event that increases the frequency of a certain behaviour (Cameron, Banko and Pierce, 2001).


There are no magic bullets, however, and there are occasions when verbal praise and rewarding students has no effect.  It has also been suggested that socialisation issues and the concept of “fear motivation” from peer groups can damage and significantly reduce the effects of praise and rewards. Peer culture is often scornful of academic excellence and we will need to try to overcome these attitudes by providing a safe learning environment in which all students can learn (Elliot and Dweck, 2005).