Monthly Archives: January 2014

Magic Monday 2

2014 was welcomed in style with our second Magic Monday on January 6th.

MM 2 invite

Despite being held on a traditional INSET day, the philosophy at the heart of Magic Mondays was very much in evidence, with the majority of the day being allocated to presentations and workshops by our teaching staff, for our teaching staff.  As usual, attendance at any one of these was entirely voluntary and we were delighted once again to have a full house at all six presentations and workshops that ran throughout the day – a clear indicator of the commitment of our staff to developing their pedagogy further.  Not only this, but a great show of support for colleagues who presented.  Thank you.

A massive thank you also to all of those who worked so hard “behind the scenes” again to help organise the resources, the “goodie-bags”, the setting up of the Learning Resource Centre, the delicious catering……….it was another great team effort.

MM2 summary collage

Blog posts on each of the voluntary presentations and workshops from Magic Monday 2 can be accessed by clicking on the links below:

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive once again.

MM2 feedback sheets

Best things about today:

  • The variety of practical ideas and strategies that work in lessons, can be transferred to any subject and can be used straight away
  • Being able to try them out in the workshops
  • Great resources provided during presentations and in goodie-bags to take away
  • Recommended websites and education books to read
  • The range and enthusiasm of presenters sharing ideas was inspiring – our staff sharing their passion for our students
  • The very positive atmosphere, collaborative working, support from colleagues, feeling able to ask other colleagues for support, catching up and discussing with colleagues
  • The planning, set up and catering

Hopes and dreams for next time:

  • Same again please – more great T+L ideas
  • Start a staff notice board for sharing ideas
  • Have a selection of books on education in the library that we can use
  • Would be good to hear how ideas evolve, e.g. video diaries, video lessons or see them in action in classrooms
  • Split up sessions – better when shorter
  • Schedule before holiday so can design resources
  • Ideas for specific sessions included marking and feedback, revision ideas, ideas for practical lessons, plenaries, challenging the most able, supporting weak writers, strategies for low-level disruption.

New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Trial today’s ideas
  • Read more to get more ideas
  • Discuss ideas with others
  • Observe other staff teach and be observed myself
  • Join Twitter
  • Take more risks
  • Make the start of my lessons more engaging
  • Let students plan / deliver a lesson
  • Focus on being consistently good
  • Develop my use of assessment and feedback
  • Focus on questioning and language
  • Allow students more time to self and peer assess their work
  • Improve challenge in my lessons by differentiating from the top down
  • Be more organised
  • Update my blog more regularly

Thanks to everyone for all your feedback.  Our Teaching and Learning library of books is being updated as we speak with 50 new books for you to read!  We are also looking at using Padlet to create a virtual wall for sharing teaching and learning ideas.  Don’t forget if you would like to observe a colleague teaching or would like a colleague to observe you we are very happy to facilitate that – just ask!

Bringing out the best in boys

Our keynote session for our January INSET day this year was delivered by our Head of Humanities, who has written this guest blog based on her presentation.

So, I seem to hear everywhere, all through my teaching career that ‘boys aren’t doing so well’, ‘why won’t the boys just do what the girls do’ and so the list go on…. What better way than to consider these gender learning differences than to apply a bit of sociological study and a bit of everyday hands on practice to understanding our boys.

Fast forward 12 years of pondering and research and I’m standing in front of my colleagues in my relatively new school praying that my research and boys learning experiments do not involve me doing anything involving ‘grannies and sucking eggs’.

To start then, warm up the crowd and get them thinking, what do we already know about our students? I have worked in leafy suburbs and the tough inner city (with an onsite police officer I may add) so let’s see what we know and what we expect. Getting staff to order these “students” based solely on gender and race starts the ball rolling regarding what we think, or what we think we think about our students and any stereotypes that we have.


Frantically organising the students, trying not to have any preconceived ideas or second guessing ourselves with our decisions, everyone has now ordered their students with regards to their achievement……. Nobody got it quite right. Some of us more surprised than others about who is statistically more likely to achieve by the end of secondary school. It did the trick though, it got us thinking. By the second task which involved guessing the time difference to predict the gender gap of reading, writing and attention span between boys and girls we were hooked……. There clearly is a difference, yet why and what are we going to do about it?


It’s easy to believe the hype, media do not help the case with our boys, are teachers guilty of the Pygmalion effect? Self-fulfilling prophecy? Possibly, but can we help it? Do we really realise the difference between boys and girls? The real difference?


It’s all well and good hearing all this research from my observations and some top notch sociologists and academics including Becky Francis and Lucinda Neall to name a few but what can we actually do with it? What is actually different about boys and girls, really?


On your feet…… This works well…..I’ve tried it and so have the department….. Routine breeds boredom…….. Just try this next slide and google ‘mission impossible timer‘ whilst you do it…… No words I can write here speak for the urgency and heart palpitations you will feel the need to complete these tasks! Competition, yes we know boys like this, however they also like excitement and purpose….the music adds to these tremendously!


If I had a pound for every time I heard ‘boys do not like writing’ or ‘boys won’t write anything’ I would be able to wear my ‘nice shoes for school’ and have more money to buy nicer ones for the weekends! Boys WILL write, they just need to see the point, try these:



Accelerated learning, we’ve heard it before, it works, try it….. Boys like to see the point, the point is not a secret, share their learning journey with them.


The last slide says it all. Boys were pushed to the front naturally, have we forgot about boys now that girls have become equals and there is an expectation that girls can do anything boys can do? Are our boys looking for their place again?


Good luck with our boys, this is the tip of the iceberg, mere toe dipping in the gender waters of learning…. But it’s a start and it’s something to try….. Have a go and get back to me I would love to hear your success stories and your ideas.

Improving stretch and challenge

Slide1Our final presentation on Magic Monday 2 was by Head of Performing Arts and seasoned blogger Laura Jackson, who shared with us ways in which she is trying to stretch and challenge her students.  Over to Laura………………

I have chosen to speak about stretch and challenge, mainly as I will be focussing on it throughout the rest of the academic year.  It fits in with what we are aiming for in school but most importantly, I want the students in my department and in my subject area to be the best they can possibly be.


As I teach full year groups at KS3, in mixed ability forms, I investigated ways to support all students in my lessons.  The current shift in our students over the last 3-4 years has meant that I have needed to differentiate a lot lower than I previously have before. I worked with a Y3, 4 and 5 class at a local primary school to see what work they did, what was accessible and also looked at practical ways to differentiate.  The main motivation for this was I was spending a long time marking and the work of the lower ability students in particular was not done well.  It wasn’t because the work was too hard, but the way I wanted to assess them was inaccessible for them, so it meant their work could sometimes be of a poor quality.  I worked at the local primary school before my maternity leave and implemented some of the changes before I went on leave.  They worked well and although there were improvements to make, I knew I was on the right track.


My “lightbulb” moment came when a group of us attended the Walbottle TeachMeet “A Rising Tide”.  The first speaker, Cherry Crooks spoke about the school’s method of teaching from the top down.  As she spoke I realised that it made perfect sense.  Choose the most able student in the class and plan the lesson around them.  Once that is done, differentiate downwards.  I had become focussed on the students at the lower end, making sure they had work that was accessible.  Although I provided work for my most able students, it was not what my lesson was built on.  In one of my year 9 classes, I have a student who will achieve level 8.  There are also several students who are working on level 7 tasks, so they do get different work, but my lessons, definitely,  were pitched at the majority – the students aiming for level 6.  Then those aiming for level 5 were given another different task.  I fully understood what was being said and knew I could easily change the focus of my lessons because I had been using many differentiation techniques.


The very next day, my year 8 and 9 classes were beginning a keyboard assessment task.  Once I got home from the TeachMeet, I was desperate to change my resources, PowerPoint and planning to focus on the challenge.   I also shared with my students what I wanted to do. I told them their work would be harder because they could do it.  I also told them that it was something I was trying out (they have got used to that this term!) so if it didn’t work then it was fine.  I just wanted them to try their best.  Everyone agreed they would, including me.


Two weeks later I had my evidence.  Improved grades in a keyboard performance.  Not just slightly improved grades but notable gains.  While this sounds great, I know not all students will make this amount of progress in all tasks, as the tasks get harder, the margin for improvement gets smaller too.

While I was reading a book Dan recommended: Ron Berger’s “Ethic of Excellence”, one of the first things that stood out was on the third page: testing children constantly doesn’t make them smarter, the best way to make things stick is to establish a new ethic and long-term commitment.  It has to become a way of life.


I have chosen to highlight the following class as they are probably my biggest challenge.  There are a lot of new additions to the class, as well as students who have particular needs.  It was also the group who were working at lower levels at the end of year 8.  With the exception of one student, all were working at mid to low 5, or level 4.  One student was working on level 3 at the end of year 8.  I have included the assessment data collected to show progression but also to show that some students perform better on some tasks than others.  From this assessment data I have also highlighted in red anyone who has made less progress, yellow are slow movers or students to keep an eye on, purple have met or exceeded their level on that task (not overall) and they then need a new challenge in the next topic.  It also gives me my list of concerns straight away.  The best bit about this “raised challenge” task was that the students bought into it.  They took pride in their work.  For example, one of my students tried so hard and the smile when he achieved a 5b in this task was incredible.  His highest level achieved so far was a 4b.  I know if I had given him a L4 task, to move to a 4a, he would have still achieved a 4b.  He did the green task without question because that was the task he was given.  All students working at 5a will be given the purple task next time.  I have deliberately chosen purple and green (our school colours).


The top example shown below is the same student’s work over 7 week period.  3 listening tasks, along with work in the classroom – vocabulary boosters, seating plans and piles of targeted praise meant there was a clear and visible improvement in this student’s work.  Because I have caught him being good at something and recognised that, he tries harder and I know this is the same for many of the Y9 boys.  Developing homework is something that was a priority for me, as well as in my department.  I saw many of different examples of  #takeaway homework, as mentioned in the #100ideas book and also knew our Science department had been using it and had some excellent quality homework submitted.  I decided to use homework tasks which would engage all students by giving them a choice of different activity.  The activities were designed to “nurture” some students but also “stretch” others. They are also meaningful tasks which link to and contribute to the overall grade rather than just being set every two weeks “just because”.


All of these resources have been collected from other colleagues and acquaintances I have networked with on Twitter.  I have tried them in different settings and also shared them with different colleagues to use too.


There is no “quick fix” for improving student work.  I know I still have tweaks to make to some tasks, improvements to make to others and complete re-writes of other tasks (or even discard some), but I have changed my whole attitude to planning and differentiation.  After making some tweaks and improvements for the benefit of our students, it has been worth the time spent as it has made lessons better, more engaging, and has made my marking smarter and more focussed.


My final ‘advice’ I would give to you is: “join Twitter” – the amount of ideas and resources people post there is unbelievable.  Read “An Ethic of Excellence” by Ron Berger.  I cannot convey how good / amazing / fantastic / inspiring it is.  Also share ideas and speak to people.

The best CPD I’ve ever had as a teacher has been this year in this school, by our staff.




“A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor” – English proverb

Our fourth Magic Monday 2 presentation was another cross-curricular effort from Simon Thompson, our Assistant Head of MFL and Michael Caygill from our Science department.

Simon began by sharing with us how he has developed the Triple Impact Marking strategy used by David Didau here further to include some additional stages.

Triple Impact Marking:

(1)      Students peer / self-assess using the success criteria

(2)      Teacher assesses – point out errors / ask questions / sets improvement tasks

(3)      D.I.R.T. (Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time) – students respond to feedback / complete improvements

Additional stages:

Prior to stage (1) above, Simon sets his students a pre-task to help them see how their work can be improved even further.  The pre-task is designed to engage students with the success criteria at the higher end.  In the following example, students are asked to find linking words, opinions and justifications.

je me presente redrafting_Page_2

Students then assess a pre-prepared piece of writing using the success criteria, justifying their reasons for the final grade awarded.

je me presente redrafting_Page_1

Following this they peer-assess their partner’s work using the success criteria and make suggestions for any final improvements.

Students then redraft their own work, completing improvements during D.I.R.T.

Comparing the two processes:

The key similarities and differences between the two processes are shown below.

T.I.M. with additional stages

What has been the impact?

  • Peer assessment has allowed students to engage in positive, constructive feedback regarding their work.
  • Giving the students the chance to redraft their work has allowed for a much-improved quality of work to mark.
  • In subsequent work students have begun to incorporate the most desirable features into their work, e.g. linking words, opinions and reasons without it being suggested as they begin to appreciate success criteria.

Continuing in the same theme, Michael began by sharing how he too uses examples of work with students, which they then improve – for example, this piece of work where students had to improve a scientific method by first being clear about the variables and how they were controlled.

Sodium thiosulphate redraft

We then heard how Michael uses simple highlighting and SOLO levels to identify specific sections of work that need to be redrafted in order to make progress rather than the whole piece of work.

This can take the form of merely highlighting a section and then asking students to use the success criteria to identify their own areas for improvement, or to compare their work with another student who has already met the criteria for their highlighted section.

Covalent bonding highlighting 1

Covalent bonding highlighting 2

Specific guidance can then be given after any improvements in the form of:

  • What’s Good and Why
  • Even Better If


…which the students then respond to by improving their work, thus closing the gap.

response to feedback

To support the redrafting process, Michael has encouraged his students to embrace the concept of First Attempt In Learning………….or F.A.I.L.


Again, by ensuring that quality feedback linked to clear success criteria are provided prior to their Second Attempt In Learning…………….or S.A.I.L. the gap can be closed.

Another way that Michael has promoted the concept of moving from F.A.I.L. to S.A.I.L. has been to make it explicit in the resources he creates for his students.

He has also extended this idea further to incorporate an additional stage where, following their F.A.I.L. students record and analyse their peers’ ideas prior to feeding back and completing their S.A.I.L.


Using the cycle of learning and feedback shared by Tom Sherrington in his post here from Saffron Walden County High School as a basis, we can model this process as:

F.A.I.L. (gap) S.A.I.L. 2

By creating a culture of F.A.I.L. the possible advantages to such a process appear obvious:

  • students have more reason to engage explicitly with the success criteria and subsequent feedback from their teacher or peers
  • closing the gap becomes an explicit and in-built part of the learning cycle
  • students produce work of a superior quality
  • teacher workload can be reduced
  • the impact of feedback is increased

……….perhaps it’s time we all set sail?

Quick and easy progress checks

Our third Magic Monday 2 presentation was courtesy of acting Head of English Adele Corrigan who shared with us a few quick and easy ways to check student progress.

First we heard how Adele uses “The Blob Tree

At the beginning of a lesson

  • Introduce an idea, skill or topic at the start of the lesson.
  • Pupils colour the blob man that represents their feelings about the idea, skill or topic at the start.
  • Pupils should write next to it reasons why they have chosen that particular blob man.

In the middle / end of a lesson or both

  • Ask them to colour a blob man that represents their feelings now.
  • Again, get pupils to write next to it why they have chosen that blob man.
  • You should see progress in their confidence about a particular topic and if not, you know who to work with.

Next up was an idea taken from the book “Perfect Assessment for Learning” by Claire Gadsby called “Explain it to a five year old” which is exactly as it sounds.

Here’s an example of how Adele uses it in English:


Adele then went on to share one of her favourite self-assessment techniques that her students use mid-way through a piece of writing called “Cream of the crop”Slide06

…an idea which she has developed further to include a quick progress check sheet which students can use during peer or self assessment to record:

  • What’s Good and Why
  • Even Better If



Cream of the crop progress sheet

To finish, Adele shared a strategy she employs over a longer period of time, rather than just one or two lessons: Whole class bingo



Editable Bingo card

The concept is simple, where the teacher records the desirable characteristics on a laminated grid, which each student is given a copy of.  When an action has been completed it is simply crossed off – bingo style.  Voila!

Thanks to Adele for sharing these simple, easy to implement strategies.

Reeling them in………

Reeling them inWe were delighted that our second presentation on Magic Monday 2 was a joint effort between Ste Hall from our Science department and Andi Clarke from our Maths department, who shared with us a range of ideas to help get our lessons off to a positive start.

Hooks and fascinators

Ste kicked things off by showing us a prop he uses to hook students in and get them thinking about forces…

forces hook

…which generates further prompts and questions, as well as engaging them straight away

“Can we open the box to see what’s inside?”

Students are then given a visual representation of the hook and are asked to explain what is happening in terms of forces using arrows to represent them.


The balloon is then burst to create cognitive conflict.  Most students (and our staff for that matter!) think the balloon is holding up the box, so when the box stays suspended, they have to think again.  What’s really happening is that the weight hidden inside the box provides sufficient downwards force at the edge of the table to keep the box on the table, as shown below.


The point being that as well as being intrigued from the moment they enter the room, students are also thinking about and talking about their learning straight away.

Annoying catchy songs

mr blobby

Ste then shared how he uses “catchy” songs to reinforce memorisation of key points, for example this one when teaching about the phases of the moon.

There’s a whole world of weird and wonderful examples available on the internet and YouTube – all you need to do is google them.  To put this to the test I experimented myself……..


Volcanoes: 3.5 million results

Trigonometry: almost 1 million results

The periodic table of elements and their uses: 700,000 results

…in other words, there is plenty to choose from on any subject you care to mention.

Teach like a pirate


Inspired by Dave Burgess’ book, Ste went on to encourage us to be daring, adventurous and to set forth in unchartered territories with no guarantee of success – in other words to “teach like a pirate”.  Teaching like a pirate is all about engaging students and evoking their (and our) passions.

P assion

I mmersion

R apport

A sk and Analyse

T ransformation

E nthusiasm

Teaching like a pirate is about finding something within that not-so exciting lesson to be excited about, rather than every lesson being an amazing, awe-inspiring techno-fest.  It could be as simple as adding music, video clips, a different location etc.

Magic and mystery


We were then treated to a mathematical magic trick to introduce the concept of the ‘order of operations’ when performing calculations (or BIDMAS).  An envelope with the word “answer” on it was stuck to a window at the front of the room.


Volunteers were asked to type in any random number to the calculator on a mobile phone that was passed around.  Each new person was asked to multiply any additional number of their choice before the last person finally pressed the “equals” button.

The contents of the envelope were then revealed as a piece of paper with the number


written on it, which matched the number on the screen of the calculator on the mobile phone .

The secret?  Having already entered the sum

243627 + 0 x

the number on the screen appears as 0 to any person inputting numbers after this.

Any series of numbers multiplied after this will always return the value 243627 when the equals button is pressed, as according to BIDMAS the multiplication part comes first, so anything multiplied by zero is zero, which when added to 243627 = 243627…………..ta da!



We then heard about ToonDoo – a fast, easy way to create cartoons which Ste came across in Hywel Roberts’ book “Oops – helping children learn accidentally”.  ToonDoo contains a number of functions that allow you to create, personalise, and publish cartoons.

There are a number of possible benefits to using cartoons and illustrations in lessons.  Some concepts that can be difficult for students to understand textually can be communicated in pictures. Illustrations can also be used to get students attention or increase their interest in a topic, or to summarise or rephrase information and help students build their framework of understanding.

Use the news

Next up Andi spoke about how she uses interesting news items to promote interest and engagement, some examples of which are shown below:




Spurred on by “Idea 1: Snappy Starters” in her copy of “100 Ideas for Outstanding Lessons” Andi also shared how she has been using puzzles to make sure her students are engaged from the outset, for example this one based on the popular app “4 pics 1 word




Andi’s advice when using jigsaws was to use a grid rather than jigsaw puzzle type pieces to save time preparing the resource without really compromising the activity.



Code cracker

We then had a go at cracking a code by working out the answers to a series of questions, before putting this information together to work out a final code.


The first person to crack the code had to enter it to a simple Microsoft Word file that was password protected to open the document up and reveal the contents of the safe.




Andi also shared how she uses ‘Formulator Tarsia’ – a free to download programme which can be used to create all kinds of puzzles quickly and easily, for example jigsaws, dominoes, follow-me cards or matching cards.


You can download the free software at by scrolling down and selecting the Formulator Tarsia installation package.


Vivo cheques

To finish, Andi told us how she uses a post box in the corner of her room for Vivo cheques, which she rewards students with during all of her starter activities to further motivate and engage them.

Thanks to Ste and Andi for an ‘engaging’ presentation, packed full of ideas!

Engaging with learning intentions

Pete Goodyear from our Science department kicked off the first of our 7 minute presentations at Magic Monday 2, with this simple yet great example of deliberate practice.

Pete outlined for us how through a number of small, deliberate changes to one area of his teaching he has managed to engage his students with learning intentions to a far greater degree, securing greater understanding of them.

In our school, like most, it’s an expectation that all our staff supervise movement around the buildings by standing in corridors or outside their classroom during change of lessons.  Having a “bell-task” planned for each lesson ensures that students can get straight on as soon as they arrive, without the need for any further instruction from the teacher.

Pete began by sharing with us an example of what one of his typical bell-tasks might have looked like previously.


One of the problems he identified with this sort of bell-task was that it wasn’t differentiated enough – meaning that some students found it difficult to get on with and some students found it too easy.  Precious time then had to be spent after this explaining the task to students – thus negating its intended purpose.

Pete began to experiment with simple word search grids for bell-tasks which students had to use to find key words associated with the topic or lesson.  They then used these words to identify what they thought they would be learning about in the lesson in very simple terms, for example “photosynthesis”.

Slide 2

This idea was then developed further so that students had to find slightly fewer key words but now had to use them to create their own learning intentions for the lesson.  This also stimulated discussion between students as to what the learning intentions might be, for example, “radiation and risks” or “what we do with radioactive waste”…..

Slide 3#

…however the link between the key words and the learning still wasn’t being articulated by students as clearly as he wanted it to be.

More recently, Pete has started to include key learning verbs in his word searches to try to make this more explicit to students, for example, describe, interpret, explain…etc.

slide 4

The result being that not only are all students now able to engage with the bell-task, but that they are also much more likely to be able to articulate what they will be learning during the lesson or will be able to do as a result of it.

To create the word searches Pete uses the Word Search Maker on the Teachers Corner website (available here)

For his next step, Pete is going to trial the use of different creative tools to introduce the learning intentions……we look forward to hearing how he gets on!

Welcoming the hurricane

Slide1At the beginning of this academic year, I made an “(in)decent proposal” to our staff, which led to us creating a shared vision together.

This week – as part of our Magic Monday 2 – I shared our progress in turning this vision into a reality, some of the reasons it was so important we achieve this, as well as looking at what more we might look to achieve in the coming months.

To begin with I returned to one of the key questions I had asked us to think about right at the start, which was:

“Why might a school want to focus on developing teaching and learning?”

The response, which you can see below, won’t come as any big surprise to anyone and is also supported by the research summarised by Dylan Wiliam during his Keynote presentations at the 2012 SSAT National Conference and the 2013 Wellington College of Education Festival (slides available from our resources page here)


In short:

  • Choice of school is not as important as the classrooms you are in
  • Improved teacher quality = Improved student achievement
  • Students learn more in a shorter space of time with the best teachers
  • Students from disadvantaged backgrounds learn at the same rate with the best teachers

Becoming an “expert”

I then shared the steps my football-mad son goes through when trying to perfect the free-kicks he takes for his club on a Saturday morning (with thanks to Shaun Allison for the inspiration for this example)


…and the fact that if he is to ever stand a chance of taking them professionally for his beloved Sunderland AFC then he will need to have engaged in deliberate practice for up to 10,000 hours, which could equate to up to 10 years.  In other words up to 10 years to become 10/10.

Why is this important?

Research has also shown that as teachers our performance and its impact on learning increases rapidly in our first few years of teaching, after which it tends to slow down and stop once we have mastered the basics.


When we first start teaching we need to get better quickly in order to survive in the challenging environment that is the classroom.  We achieve this by constantly trialling new ideas, seeking feedback on their success or failure, reflecting ourselves on what worked or didn’t and why before making slight adjustments and trying again.  In other words, we engage in deliberate practice.


With expert status requiring us to work in this way for up to 10 years, most of us will still have some way to go on our journey to becoming “10 in 10”.

 Love the one you’re with

During our initial meeting at the beginning of the year we heard how many of us were already engaged in acts of deliberate practice in the form of:

  • Trying out new teaching methods and resources
  • Reading educational books
  • Attending Teach Meets
  • Engaging with fellow teachers and educators, including via Twitter
  • Blogging


We realised that the potential within our own school to support all of us to become expert was great – we just needed to get better at working together to achieve this.

Vision to reality

In order to support this process we identified a number of initial aims that form part of a long term commitment to developing our pedagogy as follows:


Where are we now?

  • Our first Magic Monday before Christmas (which you can read all about here) was a runaway success and the feedback was glowing in its praise of our colleagues, the ideas and resources they shared as well as the positive, supportive atmosphere.
  • Our “Belmont Teach: directory of excellence” is now well established and growing by the day, with over 3000+ views since its creation in November, as well as being recognised by other schools and teachers who have made links to it or its specific contents as examples of good practice.
  • More staff than ever have attended or have signed up to attend external Teach Meets in their own time after school.
  • A few are now sharing their ideas to a wider audience by presenting at Teach Meets in other schools, with a few more ‘in the pipeline’.
  • Nearly half of our teaching staff are travelling down to Leeds to attend the Northern Rocks 2014 education conference this year (…on a Saturday!)
  • Over half are using Twitter in a professional capacity to develop a Personal Learning Network.
  • More are reading about, talking about and implementing ideas from educational books they are reading
  • Over 10% are now blogging their ideas, thoughts, reflections or just what’s happening via their personal or departmental blogs.
  • More are talking to, working with and supporting each other to try new ideas or develop their practice – including with colleagues in other schools.


How does it all fit together?

By being more ‘outward facing’ and reflecting upon and developing our own practice more, we’ve seen no shortage of staff wanting to share ideas they are using in their classrooms with other staff on Magic Mondays.  Presentations and Workshops for Magic Monday 3 in March have been decided already and preparations will soon commence for the final two this academic year.

This in turn has fuelled and will continue to fuel the growth of our “Belmont Teach: directory of excellence”.  As well as being a ‘one-stop-shop’ this is also starting to become a stimulus for collaborative working, which we hope to develop further to include Joint Practice Development in classrooms.


My final thoughts were inspired by the writing of one of our recommended bloggers Alex Quigley – who has written extensively on Teacher Improvement and Coaching – with thanks.

Welcoming the hurricane

According to the work of Edward Lorenz a very small change at one end of a system can cause significant changes to occur at the other end.  This was later popularised as the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being dependent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks earlier.  The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system which causes a chain of events that culminates in the large scale alteration of events.


As more and more of us continue to make these small, deliberate changes to our practice, the closer we get to our goal of becoming “10 in 10” and the more we look forward to welcoming the hurricane!


One final thought courtesy of Bruce Lee…


Better learning intentions


“Imagine oneself on a ship sailing across an unknown sea, to an unknown destination……very quickly, the daily life on board ship becomes all important…..the daily chores, the demands, the inspections become the reality, not the voyage, nor the destination.”

(Mary Alice White’s view from the students’ desk from Dylan Wiliam’s: Embedded Formative Assessment)

Why focus on learning intentions?

A ‘no-brainer’ right?  Learning intentions when used well help both us and our students to see the destination and chart the voyage.  Great learning intentions can provide challenge, foster grit and determination, develop higher order thinking through good modelling and scaffolding and encourage us all to aim for excellence.

under the microscope

But how many of us have really put our learning intentions under the microscope lately to analyse their quality and effectiveness?  How much of our time and effort is spent framing them or developing success criteria that promotes opportunities for all students to achieve excellence?  As Wiliam says:

“this is why good teaching is so extraordinarily difficult….it is hard…..because it has to be designed backwards”

A brief history of learning intentions according to……me

I started teaching in 1995 nearly 20 years ago.  I have thought long and hard about this and can still remember vividly the first time I began sharing learning objectives.  In 2002 the Government launched the Key Stage 3 National Strategy for Science.  At the time I was Head of KS3 Science which inevitably resulted in my working with our Local Authority Consultant as part of this initiative.  It was she who first pointed out to me that our department should really be sharing objectives with our students.  There wasn’t any great discussion about the reasons as I recall – simply that our lessons would be better if we shared them.  So off we all went “bolting-on” objectives to our existing lessons – job done!

It wasn’t until not long after this, as a Head of Department, when working with another LA Consultant on “AfL unit 3 – Developing objective led lessons” that the penny began to finally drop and I began thinking more carefully about objectives, using them to plan lessons and series of lessons rather than creating them post-script.  Through this publication I was introduced to the work of Bloom and his taxonomy of learning and it was around this time that I first read Black and Wiliam’s groundbreaking work on formative assessment “Inside the Black Box” and subsequent publications by the King’s College London Assessment Reform Group.

From there, through my subsequent involvement with the National 8 Schools AfL project in 2005/6 via a brief stint as an LA consultant myself, I got a lot more opportunity to reflect on their importance and their use became central to my teaching.  By this time I had been teaching for 10 years.  Was I late to the party or had it yet to really start?

late to the party

Since then the way I’ve chosen to frame my learning intentions have seen more changes than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe and it has been interesting to look back as far as 2005, thanks to various memory sticks I have miraculously managed not to lose.  Unfortunately I can find no physical record of any I wrote prior to this on that revolutionary piece of kit that replaced the chalkboard – the rolling whiteboard!

Here are a few of my own examples from the last 9 years to give you a flavour of what I mean:

Reactivity of metals_lesson obs 2008 WALT 2007 WALT WILF 2007 learning intentions grid simpsons learning intentions SOLO learning intentions 2 SOLO learning intentions 1 WAGOLL1b WAGOLL 2

Opportunity knocks

This year, in order to further develop teaching & learning across our school we have chosen to focus our efforts on two areas:

1)      Better learning intentions

2)      Better feedback & response

The two main reasons for this were:

1)      Our evaluation of teaching and learning during the Summer Term identified both of these key features of better assessment as pivotal differences between ‘the best’ teaching & learning and ‘the rest’.

2)      Their known high influence on the achievement of students.

It also presented us with a great opportunity to look again at why learning intentions are important and how we can make them even better.  A simple act of deliberate practice for us all.

opportunity knocks

Where to start?

We began the year by developing a shared understanding of what we meant by objectives, outcomes and success criteria.  We did this by collecting and sharing exemplar learning intentions from different departments via an e-portfolio before following this up with discussions in departments during the course of the Autumn Term.  Towards the end of term departments shared their best examples of learning intentions and success criteria for inclusion in our e-portfolio.

What did this tell us?

  • That the routine sharing of quality learning intentions is becoming more consistent, especially the use of the terms objective, outcomes, success criteria & WAGOLL (What A Good One Looks Like)
  • That there is still some variation between the ‘best’ and the ‘rest’ in terms of

–          length and complexity

–          descriptions of tasks rather than learning as a result of them

–          degree of challenge

–          sharing of quality success criteria / WAGOLL

So what now?

For us it’s time to get out the microscope and to begin to examine in detail ‘what makes learning intentions tick’ in order to analyse how we can make ours even better.

watch ticks

Important features of learning intentions

In his book “Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning” John Hattie identifies a number of important features of learning intentions from his extensive analysis of the research, i.e they should be:

  • Clear to students
  • Lead to a shared understanding of learning goals
  • Transparent – show how tasks relate to learning intentions
  • Inclusive of all students
  • Appropriately Challenging
  • Referred to – to help students chart their “journey”
  • Build in mechanisms for knowing that learning has been achieved

The 5 essential components

Hattie goes on to outline five essential components related to learning intentions and success criteria as follows:

  • Challenge

Related to prior knowledge and learning

Relative to a student’s current performance and understanding

Not unattainable – students must be able to see a pathway to challenging goals

Create positive tension –error is welcomed and encouraged

  • Commitment

Greater commitment from students = greater performance

More powerful when related to challenging tasks

  • Confidence

Supported by scaffolding along the learning journey

Helps build resilience amongst students to tackle challenging goals

  • High expectations

Support the development of students having high, appropriately challenging expectations of themselves

The most powerful influence on enhancing achievement (d=1.44)

  • Conceptual understanding

Move understanding from the surface level to deep and conceptual levels

The importance of language

As Dylan Wiliam points out, there is no shortage of advice for teachers on how to construct learning intentions and success criteria, although he does go on to encourage us to think about our use of language when framing them.  Using student-friendly language might help to engage students initially, however at some point students will still have to become familiar with key terms, phrases and language that define our subject disciplines.  “A sense of audience” can be simplified and broken down initially, however we still want our students to know what is meant by the term.

The role of context

Shirley Clarke advocates separating the learning intention from the context in order to achieve a greater “degree of transfer” of learning to other areas.  Too much detail can be seen as counterproductive – the clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to get it, but the less likely it is to mean anything!

She uses this example based on banana production:

“To understand the impact of banana production on banana producers”

-can assess the students on what they know.

“To understand the impact of production on producers in the developing world” (using banana production as the context for learning)

-allows us to assess students on their ability to transfer their learning to e.g. sugar production.

Further exemplification of this from Clarke can be found below.


Making the non-observable → observable

Bloom’s taxonomy will be familiar to many of us who have used it when planning our lessons.  Of his 3 domains of learning, it is the cognitive domain we usually use when framing our learning intentions.

As you will have seen from the examples I shared above, in the past I have used (and advocated the use of) Bloom’s taxonomy, however, I was interested to discover recently that the taxonomy was developed initially from a proposal by a committee of college examiners who collated curriculum objectives from their own institutions and sorted them, rather than being based on research of student learning.

Bloom & Krathwohl’s original work identified a number of cognitive levels we function at, from the most basic “knowledge” to the more sophisticated “evaluation”.

Bloom & Revised Bloom

In 2001, the taxonomy was revised and the nouns replaced with verbs, such as “remember”…”understand“…etc. and at first glance the sophistication appears to have been switched at the higher levels of cognitive function, with “evaluation” and “synthesis” changing order.

Despite often being represented as a pyramid or a set of increasing steps, it is possible for students to operate at a number of levels at the same time.  It might therefore be better to model the taxonomy as follows:

Modelling Blooms

The empirical evidence for the switch seems to be a mystery, although research has since shown that students remember more when they have learned to handle a topic at the higher levels of the taxonomy.

Returning to Hattie’s important features that learning intentions should be clear, transparent and provide us with a way of ascertaining whether learning has been achieved, how easy is it to observe whether a student “understands”?  More helpful verbs are needed to help students understand how to demonstrate their mastery at a particular level and to make the “non-observable → “observable”.  We usually frame learning intentions using these “observable verbs”.

Making non observable observable

One of the criticisms of Bloom’s however, is very evident in the table above – where you can see how the same verb can be used across multiple cognitive dimensions.  “Identify” highlighted in yellow is a good example of this.  Furthermore, when searching for the taxonomy you will find variations in the way each of the verbs are used, which can be off-putting for teachers and confusing for students.

Hattie also highlights the importance of getting the balance right between surface, deep and conceptual learning – either in the short term or across a series of lessons.  He advocates the SOLO taxonomy as a powerful model for understanding these three levels, which I started using myself last year.  Unlike Bloom’s SOLO is a theory of teaching and learning based on research of how students learn, rather than a theory of knowledge.  Many of us are already familiar with the SOLO (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) levels devised by Biggs & Collis to describe increasingly complex levels of thinking that can be observed.  If you aren’t already familiar with the SOLO taxonomy, our Head of Science Julie Ryder has written a great ‘Introduction to SOLO’ which is accessible here and has also blogged about her personal learning journey with SOLO available here.

SOLO levels

Through constructive alignment, a deliberate alliance is then made between the learning activities we plan and the learning outcomes we expect.  Constructive alignment is a conscious effort to provide students with clearly specified goals, well designed and appropriate learning activities and well designed assessment criteria to enable quality feedback.

It helps us to:

  • “Unpack” a particular objective
  • Align learning goals, activities and assessment criteria
  • Scaffold learning intentions & success criteria
  • Ensure that outcomes match objectives

constructive alignment 1

Put simply, constructive alignment requires our perceptions of assessment to match with those of our students.  Again, you can see below how verb use is central to this process.

constructive alignment 2

Here is an example of how verbs are used in the SOLO taxonomy to support constructive alignment.  Notice that unlike Bloom’s, there is consistent verb use at each cognitive level.

SOLO taxonomy & constructive alignment

The case for routine sharing of success criteria

Success criteria are crucial in helping to develop a shared understanding of what “excellence” looks like.  They enable us and our students to hold a shared concept of quality as well as enabling continuous ‘quality control’ of ‘products’ during production.

Ensuring that all students know what quality work looks like has a profound impact on achievement gaps.  Wiliam outlines the research of White & Frederiksen in illustrating the power of students understanding what they are meant to be doing as follows.

success criteria research

Here the reflective assessment group were introduced to the 9 assessment criteria that would be used to evaluate their work.  Students were asked to assess their own performance against the criteria as part of an ongoing process.  Peers also gave feedback using the criteria.

The control group on the other hand discussed their likes and dislikes of the topic they were studying once per week.   Both groups had similar prior achievement in literacy and numeracy.  Both groups studied the same science modules.

As you can see, the gains for the group exposed to success criteria are obvious.  Notice the benefits for lower achievers are even greater.

Developing quality success criteria

Developing quality success criteria means challenging students to develop quality rather than just completing tasks.

The two examples from Hattie below illustrate this difference well.

Hattie success criteria example

When thinking and subsequently writing about this I kept finding myself drawing comparisons to fellow blogger Andy Tharby’s ‘sentence escalator’ idea.  To paraphrase him “great success criteria are never finished”.  The more we focus on ‘escalating’ the success criteria, the closer we get to achieving excellence.

Choice of rubric

A rubric is basically an assessment tool that contains the assessment or marking criteria.

Task-specific rubrics include all the criteria for a particular task (like the example from Hattie shared previously) whereas generic rubrics contain non-specific guidance.  When we use task-specific rubrics with students one of the advantages is that they know exactly what to include, however, in doing so we could limit the transferability of learning to new areas referred to earlier.  For this reason task-specific rubrics work well for summative assessment.  The fact that a new rubric has to be constructed for each task also supports the case for the use of generic rubrics on a day to day basis.

SOLO rubrics

Unlike Bloom’s, SOLO verbs can be used to ask a question at one level of cognitive complexity while at the same time providing an opportunity for students to demonstrate their learning at multiple levels of the taxonomy.  For me it helps to think about SOLO verbs being able to be used in 3D as opposed to Bloom’s 2D use.

In SOLO Taxonomy: A Guide for Schools – Planning for differentiation, Hook & Mills show how SOLO assessment rubrics can be used to achieve this.  In the case shown below, you can see how when asked to “describe” – a verb used at the multistructural SOLO level – students can still demonstrate their learning at all levels of the SOLO taxonomy.

SOLO rubric


Co-construction is simply the process of ‘building together’.  By developing success criteria with students we increase the likelihood of them taking ownership of the criteria and applying them in the context of their own work.  By allowing students to help create rubrics, we help them to construct understanding for themselves.

Beyond rubrics – models of excellence

As it has done for countless others, the work of Ron Berger has transformed the way I think about and approach my own work, first and foremost as a teacher, but also as a school leader.  In his book “An Ethic of Excellence” Berger outlines “work of excellence” and argues that lists and rubrics are important, but aren’t enough in their own right, as they don’t leave a picture…a vision…an inspiration.  He urges us to admire models, to find inspiration in them and to figure out together what makes the work strong.  Rather than viewing this as simply copying what already exists, Berger refers to this as “tribute work” – borrowing from the best and building on it.  In doing so we create a vision of the goal measured against the best.

The use of student work has been shown to be a powerful mechanism for securing engagement with the success criteria and supporting student understanding of them.  Rather than talking in the abstract about what might make a piece of work good Berger encourages us to critique real examples.  Students tend to be better at spotting weakness in work produced by others and this could be as simple as asking students to rank and rate examples of work produced previously by other students in terms of quality, giving reasons for their choices.

In his book, Wiliam also shares a good example of how an MFL teacher supports her students to understand what a good French accent sounds like.  The teacher organised students into groups, in which each member of the group read the same passage of French aloud after which the group decided which member had the best accent.  The best French accent from each group was then heard followed by a teacher-led, whole class discussion to decide the strengths and weaknesses of each accent.

But why stop there?  As Berger points out, why not critique the work of real writers, scientists, artists…etc?

One final thought…

What better way to support the development of a culture of excellence within our own school than to “begin at the beginning” by focussing ourselves not just on producing “better learning intentions”…but producing learning intentions that are truly “excellent”.