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!