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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. 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.

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 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.

Reclaiming Pedagogy

Northern Rocks banner

On Saturday 7th June, 16 teachers from Belmont Community School travelled down to Leeds for the inaugural Northern Rocks Education Conference at Leeds Metropolitan University.  Of the 500 delegates who attended the day, I’m fairly confident this represented the largest attendance by a single school.  A fantastic testament to our teachers’ passion for education and desire to develop their practice further.


L-R: Daniel Narcross, Chris Jones, Michael Caygill, Amanda Telfer, Veronica Waldie, Jon Boniface, Suzanne Falconer, Lee Ferris, Louise Hindmarch, Dan Brinton, Laura Jackson, Julie Ryder, Nicola Roberts, Jane Cooper (not pictured Ste Hall, Andrew Hall)

Following the initial panel discussion, we moved off into the various different workshops we had chosen.  My choices for the day were:

  1. If we could redesign teacher development from the ground up, what would it look like? (David Weston)
  2. What do great teachers do? How do we help them to do it? (Tom Sherrington)
  3. The confident teacher (Alex Quigley)
  4. It’s the teaching, stupid! (John Tomsett)

Workshop 1: If we could redesign teacher development from the ground up, what would it look like? – David Weston

David began with a simple, yet powerful question: “Why should we improve our teaching?”

why improve teaching

As you can see from the Sutton Trust research David shared above, teaching quality impacts directly on student progress.  The higher the quality of teaching, the more progress students make.  This effect is even greater for disadvantaged learners, who stand to lose or gain the most from teaching quality.

The research of Hanushek and Rivkin shared next, however, shows that teacher development tends to grind to a halt after the first few years in teaching, rather than continue to improve.

Rivkin and Hanushek graph

One reason for this, David argued, could be the lack of active learning associated with “traditional CPD”.  A large-scale survey of common practice conducted for the TDA (Opfer et al 2008) highlighted one-off lectures, presentations and courses as common place, rather than a frequent and sustained focus on fewer things in greater depth.

With 99% of CPD experiences (CUREE research) never really moving beyond scratching the surface and a lack of focus on evaluating how CPD impacts on student learning (NFER 2008), one of the most effective things school leaders could do therefore, was to empower teachers to become learners and improve their own teaching (Robinson 2009).

Robinson 2009

In order to do this teachers need to know where they are now and where they need to be.  We heard how being more diagnostic in our approach: assessing needs, identifying patterns of behaviour, recognising ‘symptoms’ and developing a broad repertoire of approaches would help.

For CPD to be truly transformative, however, will require us to build on our pre-existing knowledge and skills and ensure that deeper learning opportunities are provided such as coaching, micro-enquiry, research and Lesson Study.

Lesson Study

By incorporating approaches like Lesson Study in to our CPD programme, we focus more on the diagnosis of student needs and outcomes and are therefore more likely to improve our own practice.

If we want our CPD to be transformative though, we will need to create the conditions in which this can happen. Aspirational, collaborative, relevant, sustained, challenging, fully evaluated CPD requires dedicated time for repeated practice, cover to enable collaboration or the use of video technology to support this.

Workshop 2: What do great teachers do? How do we help them to do it? – Tom Sherrington

Tom’s workshop similarly began with a question: “What makes a great teacher?”


He then went on to share his ideas about what makes great lessons (as opposed to those that have been manufactured using an Ofsted evaluation schedule that was never intended for this purpose) and which might form the habit of our day-to-day teaching:

  • Probing
  • Rigour
  • Challenge
  • Differentiation
  • Journeys
  • Explaining
  • Agility
  • Awe
  • Possibilities
  • Joy

The tension between progressive and traditional teaching methods was acknowledged, but also the symbiosis between the two, where one might walk a progressive “and” traditional line, rather than “either/or”.  The balance between the need to direct and instruct whilst providing the “soul food” to nurture and encourage a love of learning was proposed, with both having a vital role to play in education.

We also heard how perhaps we sometimes get the scale of things wrong, instead of focusing on getting the basics that underpin everything right (e.g. behaviour).  We need to keep things in perspective!

culture and systems

Culture (atmosphere, informal conversations in the staff room etc.) and systems (meetings, follow-up, evaluation etc.) were seen as important in realising this too, as were creating the conditions for great teachers to thrive:

  • Purpose – align values and goals – why are we here?
  • Challenge – high standards, rigour, quality – we can do this better
  • Autonomy – give people choice and a chance to input
  • Growth – create an outstanding CPD environment
  • Recognition – acknowledge and celebrate excellence – not necessarily pay
  • Care – look after people and support family circumstances

Shared values and language were significant as was evaluation and intelligent accountability, which can be achieved by knowing our departments and individuals well.  Reviews should be sensitive, intelligent, rounded (and complicated!)

The importance of culture on professional development was also reinforced:

  • Intelligent Performance Review.  Rigour without fear.
  • Focus on inputs as well as outcomes; engagement with CPD is a bottom-line
  • CPD is tailored and self-directed to greatest extent possible, given a teacher’s context.
  • CPD for mastery vs CPD for innovation – we need both
  • CPD is individual and collective (i.e. teams)
  • CPD includes: behaviour, subject knowledge, assessment knowledge and pedagogy

Finally, we heard how Tom’s school (King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford) prides itself on being “A Research Engaged Learning Community” that engages with research (reading blogs, books, journals, examiners’ reports etc.) as well as in research (Masters programmes, CamSTAR research projects, T+L workshops, Lesson Study etc.)

Key messages

  • Get the basics right – keep the rest in perspective
  • Create a culture of intelligent accountability and self-evaluation
  • Develop the culture and systems for engagement WITH and IN research
  • Make tailored CPD the key driver of improvement at individual and team level

Workshop 3: The confident teacher – Alex Quigley

Alex embraced the conference theme by encouraging us to reclaim pedagogy – by focusing on the small changes we can make to our teaching, rather than worrying about systems and structures.  His view was that instead of systemic, top down changes, teachers should be helping themselves by creating human networks in schools.  To paraphrase Dylan Wiliam: good teaching makes the biggest difference.

Focusing more on our teaching may well require us to “drop some of our tools” though.  Working as a team or as part of a collective would help to lighten the load.  Stripping away the unnecessary, would also allow us to concentrate fully on the core elements of our practice – to be more responsive and agile – to do less, but better.

dropping tools

Fear can prevent us from doing this, however.  We heard how the culture of Ofsted-obsessiveness in some schools was unhelpful, as were the whispers and rumours of “what Ofsted want” – which are often untrue.  Instead we should trust our expertise and develop great teaching ourselves – to teach as if nobody was watching.  Getting rid of the misnomers would also help: “talk less teaching”, “progress in 20 minutes” etc.  We need to separate “learning” from “performance” – what we teach needs to stick!

Deliberate practice, which is difficult and takes a long time, is required if we are serious about becoming ‘expert’.  The small adjustments we make to our practice accumulate, however.  Focusing on doing fewer things better – the 20% that gives us 80% of the impact, e.g. better explanations, better questioning, better feedback – will help us to become more confident as we develop, hone, improve our practice and reclaim pedagogy!

Workshop 4: It’s the teaching, stupid! – John Tomsett

John’s presentation weaved together three key components:

  • Learning
  • Culture
  • “The Golden Thread”


John felt that when faced with the choice between being the Executive Head or Lead Learner, that Head Teachers should be the Head TEACHER in their schools.

Head teachers, we heard, need to know what they are talking about in terms of practice, as well as understanding some of the barriers teachers face on a day-to-day basis in their classrooms. This requires Heads to spend time connecting with their classrooms and getting engaged with learning. John even went as far as proposing that all SLT are outstanding teachers who deliver in terms of results – otherwise why should anyone listen to them?


Head Teachers are crucial in creating school cultures. One of the key jobs of the Head Teacher, John felt, was in creating the right conditions for teacher growth. Long-term performance should not be risked in order to secure short-term gains.

Some of the key points from “The School for Quality Learning: Managing the School and Classroom the Deming Way” were shared and elaborated on in support of this, i.e.

  • Establish the core purpose of your school………and be prepared to be challenged on it!
  • Institute leadership – focus on making lessons great, strip out the rubbish, stop weighing the pig and start fattening it
  • Drive out the fear – remove lesson grades, ask your teachers “how would you like to be observed to help you best develop your teaching?”, coaching and the use of video have contributed positively to this in John’s school, no PRP
  • The joy of work – look after people, treat people unbelievably well and they will work unbelievably hard
  • CPD – find time for and invest unerringly in teaching and learning, focus on performance development, work hard on the small improvements e.g. tone, body language, made to measure not one size fits all
  • Accomplish the transformation – e.g. change the construction of the School Improvement Plan so that it focuses on teaching and learning, meaning everyone is part of making the school better

Are we great or are we failing? Checking the temperature regularly helps establish where we are on the continuum and allows us to set goals for improvement.

golden thread

The Golden Thread

Everything must be traceable through to student outcomes, which requires us to get better at evaluating the impact of what we do. Of the 5 leadership dimensions John shared from Vivienne Robinson’s book on “Student Centered Leadership”, leading teacher learning and development had the biggest effect size (d=0.84) on student outcomes.

The importance of developing a culture of growth mindset in school was also shared, e.g. the consistent use of effort-based praise with students.

To finish, John summed up with this message:

“The more leaders focus on their relationships, their work and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the better student outcomes are.”

Reclaiming pedagogy

The emerging messages from the day couldn’t have been clearer to me:

  • Great schools recognise that great teaching makes the biggest difference to student outcomes
  • Great schools create cultures that nurture teachers and allow them to develop their teaching without fear
  • Great teaching requires great CPD that is tailored, personal and transformative
  • Great teachers focus relentlessly on developing the core elements of their practice, engaging with and in research
  • Great teachers and great schools evaluate the impact of all of their work in relation to improving outcomes for their students

Our revised programme of Personal Practice Development (shown below); engagement with NTEN; participation in the Durham University/EEF RISE project and Bristol University/EEF teacher observation project; investment in IRIS Connect video technology and our commitment to investing the time and resources to allow all of this to happen, should hopefully go a long way towards making this a reality in our own school.


We’ve had an amazing year this year.  I know from the numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues towards the end of last term and during the holiday that I’m not the only one feeling incredibly excited about returning to work next week.  I look forward to updating you all on our progress next term!

Creating a Curriculum for Excellence in Languages

This post is part of an ongoing series on how we are creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest blog in the series was written by Lee Ferris, our Curriculum Team Leader for Internationalism, Language and Culture.

How does an MFL department at an 11-16 secondary school prepare for the rigours of a Curriculum for Excellence? Read on to find out.

What’s in a name?

Well, quite a lot actually. For a long time, I have been convinced that ‘Modern Foreign Languages’ is no longer fit for purpose as the name of a department whose work goes way beyond teaching languages. Of course, the idea that languages teachers instinctively and necessarily incorporate cultural awareness into their pedagogy is not a novel concept. Indeed, it formed a key tenet of my own teacher training at Durham University. Whether you call it ‘intercultural competence’ or ‘cultural awareness’, it is universally agreed that deeper language learning can only take place when the student has an appreciation for the people, traditions and culture of the Target Language country/countries. However, this is rarely formalised in Schemes of Work or Programmes of Study – when it is, it tends to be, frankly, inadequate for the needs of 21st-Century learners, instead paying lip service to a concept so indisputably crucial to the rounded, balanced curriculum we all aspire to provide for our students.
With that in mind, I submitted a proposal to the school’s SLT to change the name of our department from MFL to ILC – the Department of Internationalism, Language & Culture. The aims of the department would be:
• To be a ‘deliberate practice’ department, constantly seeking to improve Teaching and Learning through active research, collaboration and sharing of good practice.
• To promote academic excellence through cooperative, collaborative and independent learning.
• To be an ‘e-Learning department’ with a commitment to the full and natural integration of new technologies in Teaching and Learning.
• To promote contextualised linguistic spontaneity, creativity and, ultimately, fluency.
• To work with our partner schools, local, national and international cultural organisations (e.g. Tyneside Cinema, British Council, Goethe-Institut), as well as other departments within the school (e.g. Belmontvision with Performing Arts, Berlin Wall 25th Anniversary project with History) to promote knowledge and appreciation of the culture, history and people of the Target Language countries.
• To fully incorporate internationalism and culture into Schemes of Learning so that they are an integral element of language learning and not an ‘added extra’.
• To provide opportunities for students to gain experience of work and study in areas with an explicit international dimension.
• To raise aspiration and attainment in languages at GCSE level.

The SLT approved the name change and it was with renewed vigour that we proceeded to our intensive curriculum planning, beginning on 16th and 17th June.

The ‘Big Picture’

Before starting to think about what our ILC curriculum would look like and what we would want it to achieve for our students, I had been heavily involved with a ‘hub’ focussed on learning intentions – more specially, formulating suitably challenging learning intentions befitting a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. I had also attended sessions in school on ‘assessment beyond levels’, at which Curriculum Team Leaders and others pooled ideas to come up with an assessment system that would reflect our overarching ambition to improve Teaching & Learning while effectively exploiting (in a positive sense) the national move away from National Curriculum levels. It was at these curriculum conferences that we discussed, as senior and middle leaders, what a ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ could and should look like.

The first activity the ILC department undertook in our curriculum planning sessions was an open discussion about ‘the big picture’ in our department. As we talked, openly and freely, about the role our department currently plays within school, I quoted almost ad verbatim what my colleagues had to say in the table below, avoiding the use of overtly formal language:


The findings of our initial discussion on the context of our department. Click to enlarge.

A clear picture emerges from this discussion of a department with a united sense of ambition and a shared vision of the core purpose of language teaching. Clearly, the concept of broadening horizons is an umbrella intention with implications way beyond the simple transferral of linguistic knowledge. The table also betrays a unanimous desire to stretch, challenge and support our students to achieve beyond their expectations. It suggests a genuine will to facilitate sustained progress while ‘having fun with language’. In short, it gives an impression of a department with laudably lofty expectations of what it can achieve while maintaining a distinct person-centred humanity so essential in education.

The national circumstances

We spent a considerable amount of time as a department looking at the DfE’s published Programmes of Study for Languages at KS2/3, as well as the current guidelines for the new GCSE. From this, we deduced that the KS2 PoS looks like a recipe for potential chaos. A significant dilemma for secondary languages teachers in recent years has been taking account of the incredibly divergent prior knowledge among each Year 7 cohort, depending on the actual language covered at primary school, the amount of time (and effort) dedicated to it and the wild variations in content covered. However, what we gleaned from the PoS document is that these are the basic expectations of language (ancient or modern) teaching at KS2:

  • Describing and opining in writing and orally.
  • Writing phrases from memory.
  • Using authentic sources.
  • Actively engaging in the Target Language.
  • Communicating facts, ideas, needs and feelings.
  • Basic grammar: gender, high-frequency verbs, differences between the Target Language and English.
  • Phonics of cognates.

This struck us as being very ambitious indeed – not necessarily a bad thing in itself, as long as we can be certain that primary schools can and will deliver these elements adequately. To that end, a conversation with Dan Brinton, our Deputy Head Teacher, later in the day reaffirmed the need for solid collaboration and synchronisation with our feeder primary schools. This may, for example, take the form of a series of in-house conferences to train primary teachers in the delivery of the essential features of the KS2/3 PoS to ensure fluidity of transition in Year 7, as well as sustained progress building on prior knowledge, an ambition previously impossible to realise.

The department then decided that in the absence of specified content in the KS2 PoS, we would put together our own ‘wish list’ of linguistic content we would like our students to arrive at Belmont Community School equipped with at the start of Year 7:

  • Numbers 1-60
  • Days, months and birthdays
  • Simple greetings and introductions
  • Classroom objects
  • Alphabet and spelling
  • High-frequency verbs, including avoir and être
  • Awareness of gender of nouns
  • Colours
  • Simple adjectives with agreement
  • Animals
  • Weather
  • Likes/dislikes

Next, we cast our beady eyes over the KS3 PoS to pick out the core elements in preparation for curriculum planning. These turned out to be:

  • Communicating orally and in writing in a range of time frames
  • Give views and opinions on a range of topics
  • Transcription
  • English translation of short texts
  • Translation of short written text into the TL
  • Listening, speaking, reading, writing
  • Understand and communicate personal and factual information
  • Initiative to expand beyond minimum response
  • Literary texts in the language (stories, poems, songs and letters)
  • Deepening vocabulary
  • Increasing accuracy
  • Writing prose

Items shown in red above refer to skills and knowledge not present in previous PoS and skills which we would need to develop from KS3 into KS4. The links between the ‘new’ knowledge and skills and the outline of the new GCSE are clear:


The requirements in Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing in the new GCSE. Click to enlarge.

Our organising concepts

We had already discussed in professional time meetings what we felt would be the measurable skills we would want to assess at KS3 in the post-NC level era. The ideas put on Padlet ranged from broad areas such as ‘comprehension’ to more specific, GCSE question types such as ‘Positive, Negative, Both’. In the end, we decided that our assessment skills would be identical to our key organising concepts for our curriculum. Therefore, our first task on our curriculum planning days was to discuss and agree on a maximum of six concepts around which our curriculum would be built. These turned out to be:

  1. Mechanics of Language (MoL)
  2. Communication (CMC)
  3. Comprehension (CMP)
  4. Culture (CUL)
  5. Internationalism (INT)

The thinking behind these concepts is relatively self-explanatory. When discussing our name change proposal as a department, one proviso expressed by a colleague was that any formalisation of internationalism and culture within our curriculum should in no way detract disproportionately from our core aim of achieving the best possible results for our students in whichever language they take up at GCSE. The core concepts above mean that the active and passive skills of language learning are both covered by Communication (CMC) and Comprehension (CMP), while knowledge of grammar and structures are explicitly assessed via the Mechanics of Language (MoL) concept. This will ensure rigour in the teaching of grammar, something which we all felt had diminished noticeably under the Listening/Speaking/Reading/Writing assessment model. The addition of Culture (CUL) and Internationalism (INT) means that we will have the means, via suitable Schemes of Learning and assessment mapping, to regularly evaluate the students’ development in this area.

The next stage involved looking more closely at each of the organising concepts and determining the knowledge and skills we would wish the students to acquire over the course of KS3, with Belmont’s new assessment threshold model (Establishing > Developing > Securing > Advancing > Excelling > Beyond) in mind. This led us to these conclusions:


The core knowledge and skills for our organising concepts. Click to enlarge.

Threshold assessment

We then felt confident moving forward to determine what our threshold assessment descriptors would be in each context (NB we decided at this stage to move away from ‘concept’ as ‘Assessment Context’ seemed more appropriate). It was also at this point that we made the decision to combine Culture with Internationalism so that the two will be assessed together. We divided into pairs, each pair focussing on two of the Assessment Contexts and working back from Beyond to ensure that the most challenging, rigorous knowledge and skills were at the forefront of our planning. Reading through the descriptors, there is a clear route of progression from bottom to top – rigorous, geared towards excellence but infinitely achievable:


Assessment Context 1: Mechanics of Language (MoL). Click to enlarge.


Assessment Context 2: Communication (CMC). Click to enlarge.


Assessment Context 3: Comprehension (CMP). Click to enlarge.


Assessment Context 4: Culture and Internationalism (CUL/INT). Click to enlarge.

It is clear from the tables that Assessment Context 4 will require a cross-curricular delivery strategy. How to actively teach and promote ‘Culture and Internationalism’ formed the basis for one of our lengthier and most intense discussions. We envisage having greater organising input into Belmont’s ‘Challenge Days’. These are sporadic days in the year when the students are taken off timetable to focus on a particular strand of PSRE. We also foresee consistent collaboration with other departments in the school. Our recent Belmontvision event, organised and implemented in conjunction with our fantastic Performing Arts department, was proof positive of the innate possibilities in exploiting cross-curricular links to support tangible and practical culture and internationalism. We also plan to work with the Humanities department on specific strands of AC4. For example, this October, we will work with History to carry out a ‘Berlin Wall 25’ project, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The basic outline for the project? History will teach the students the factual information behind the history of the wall; we will exploit this knowledge to encourage the students to think (in German) about how they would have felt in a similar situation, using a range of feeling/emotion vocabulary with the conditional and connectives. Their thoughts will then be written on a reconstructed small-scale Berlin Wall. A simple yet incredibly powerful example of how AC4 could be delivered by fostering cross-curricular cooperation. Other avenues can – and will – be pursued.

Another ‘Eureka!’ moment during our discussion about the delivery of AC4 was centred on the potential power of ‘takeaway homework‘. We have been keen to implement this independent learning strategy since being introduced to it by Sam Bulmer from our English department at one of our ‘Magic Monday‘ T&L events earlier in the year. However, we have found it difficult to put together a suitably rich ‘offer’ in our specific curriculum area. We are now exploring the idea that takeaway homework can be used to fantastic effect as the stimulus for ongoing independent research on a range of culture and internationalism-related themes. This will involve the students choosing each week from a ‘menu’ of tasks of varying degrees of challenge, all of which involve independent research on a cultural/internationalist theme. Vivos will be awarded depending on the complexity of the task chosen from the menu and awards given out each half-term to the students who have collected the most Vivos. In doing this, the students will gradually build up a Culture and Internationalism portfolio. We are also looking into the use of QR codes to stimulate the students’ curiosity about the culture of Target Language countries. This may take the form of simply sticking a QR code into the students’ books when they are marked. When scanned, the code will take them to a Target Language music video or film trailer.

Schemes of Learning

Naturally, all of this planning is futile without effective Schemes of Learning which roadmap the year. Simon Thompson (Assistant CTL) and I looked at a range of resources designed to support the changes to the curriculum and finally identified one that we felt was suitably rigorous for our Curriculum for Excellence. The next stage in our planning involved piecing together a Teaching and Learning framework for Year 7 and 8, to include interleaving of topics, reference to our new Assessment Contexts and explicit links to Culture and Internationalism. This is still very much a work in progress – here is a sample:


A sample of our developing Scheme of Work for Year 7 and 8. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, under ‘Skills and strategies’, the relevant AC has been identified, along with its ‘level’. So, CMP-D would indicate that this is a Comprehension skill at Developing level. Similarly, CUL-A signifies a Culture skill at Advancing level.

It is clear the tracking progress and reporting to parents will be much more transparent and meaningful in a system where you identify that a student is, for example, ‘Advancing in Communication’, rather than Level 4a in Writing. This can only be a positive development.

The way forward

Clearly, there is a long way to go in developing ILC’s ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. As has always been the case, a curriculum fit for purpose is one that is constantly reevaluated and adapted to the evolving needs of students. The next few weeks will be spent honing the Year 7 and 8 SoW so that we have a watertight plan for KS3, which incorporates elements of KS4 to allow students to go Beyond their expectations. Further consideration will be given to how we carry this momentum through KS4 so that the ever-present risk of Years 9-11 becoming a soulless exercise in dragging students through a GCSE is eliminated. Rather, we envisage a culture whereby students are independent, collaborate, culturally competent/curious and outward thinking learners with a sense of their own place in the world and the wealth of opportunities open to them.

It’s a grand vision. It’s a Belmont vision.

Designing a new post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch

This is the 5th post in a series about how we are designing our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model from scratch.

The story so far:

This latest update contains a miscellany of information and ideas that I’ve shared at our second curriculum conference and most recently at the Dare to imagine – Education for the 21st century conference and the Cramlington Festival of Learning TeachMeet.  It attempts to pull together more detail on:

  • context and why we are moving away from levels
  • the interplay between curriculum planning and assessment
  • tracking of progress

It also includes a number of curriculum planning tools that could be used to adopt a common planning framework.

A new taxonomy?

Most of us are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy and the SOLO taxonomy, however, the end of statutory levelled assessment has brought with it a new kind of taxonomy that can be used to describe the various behaviours people often seem to exhibit in response:

a new taxonomy?

  • IGNORING – pretending it’s not happening
  • PANICKING when you realise it is happening
  • PROCRASTINATING – accepting it’s happening and deciding to deal with it later
  • WAITING for “something” to come along
  • SEARCHING what are others doing?
  • BUMBLING  trying to move forward without any real plan

Despite exhibiting a number of these behaviours ourselves this year, I’m pleased to say we are now at last well on the way to creating our own post-levels curriculum and assessment model.

Some thoughts on levels

  • Although originally intended to provide information on progress, there is a danger they have become a label that discourages a common intellectual mission and perpetuates a fixed mindset.  “Joe is a level 5” or worse still “I’m a level 5.”
  • The temptation to move up levels quickly in the name of “progress” is at odds with our desire to secure a deeper understanding of the big ideas, not just isolated content, and to allow more time for mastery of fundamental knowledge and skills.
  • The various models used to aggregate test scores, APP and the use of sub-levels by schools makes them unreliable.
  • High performing school systems don’t use levels

Can you re-think assessment in isolation without re-examining your existing curriculum?

Despite levels becoming non-statutory at Key Stage 3, the freedom to innovate and deliver the curriculum we want has always been there.  The limited amount of change in some cases between the old and new National Curriculum could offer little incentive to change, with some schools deciding to “stick” rather than “twist” or bolting on new assessment systems to their existing curriculum.


On the other hand, it also represents a golden opportunity to design curriculum and assessment systems that teach and assess what we value.

  • To make links and connections between big ideas explicit
  • To develop individuality and the ability to think
  • To specifically develop skills and habits of learning as well as knowledge.
  • To go “beyond” the traditional programme of study, to provide real stretch and challenge
  • To provide our students with formative feedback that means something
  • To allow for simple, meaningful reporting to parents and carers

Re-designing curriculum and assessment isn’t easy though.  We have to ask ourselves searching questions and think hard.  It takes time and we have to allow for that and ensure we provide ample opportunities within school.

Big ideas

Each of our subject areas have determined their own ‘organising concepts’ or ‘big ideas’ as well as the key knowledge and skills that weave through their curriculum – the golden threads.

For example, in science:


Planning for excellence (and beyond)

Progression is then mapped out for each big idea by asking:

  • What does excellence look like?
  • What can my students do?
  • What do my students need to understand next?
  • What does this enquiry prepare students for next and how does it build on what they have already done?
  • How can we go beyond the boundaries of the existing Key Stage?

Big Idea 1: All materials in the Universe are made of very small particles

Cognitive science and curriculum mapping

We’ve also looked at how a knowledge of cognitive science might support the way we construct programmes of study in each subject.  In particular how it could help us to:

  • encourage students to engage emotionally with content by ensuring appropriate degrees of challenge
  • avoid overloading working memory by linking to the big ideas / building on prior learning
  • build storage and retrieval strength by mapping our programme of study to incorporate spacing and interleaving


Here’s an example of how we might space and interleave some of our big ideas to ensure progression of knowledge and skills across our science programme of study:


A threshold assessment rubric is then developed for each unit that:

  • Sets the bar high
  • Focuses on assessing the key knowledge and skills for that particular unit
  • Scaffolds down from the beyond threshold
  • Supports the development of deeper understanding and skill development
  • Enables provision of formative feedback that supports progression to the next threshold


It is only at this point that the lesson-by-lesson overview is then created, containing links to the last interleaved sequence; the learning intentions; specific, pre-planned probing questions that encourage thinking as well as the “products” we expect students to create.


How often though, do we begin our planning at this point, rather than defining our…

  • Purpose
  • Big ideas
  • Key knowledge and skills
  • Progression
  • Mapping
  • Assessment criteria

…in advance?


Establishing progress necessitates the need for a baseline, which can be a tricky business.  In the past, we have tended to lean heavily on KS2 test data,  however in our initial discussions we see this as an opportunity to use a wider range of data to include:

  • KS2 English + Maths test scores
  • KS2 Teacher Assessment and dialogue with feeder schools
  • MidYIS / CAT3 ability testing
  • FFT estimates
  • Internal tests on entry
  • Reading ages
  • etc.

Once a baseline has been established for each student, progress could then be measured relative to this using simple statements about progress relative to it, rather than targets that place ceilings on student achievement.


Threshold performance could then be used to discuss “flight paths” to GCSE using the current grades A*-G or the new GCSE points system.


e.g. if a student’s was currently working at the “securing” threshold they might usually be expected to progress to grade B/C (using current GCSE grades) or point 7/6

If they were working at the “developing” threshold then we might expect them to progress to grade C/D…etc.

What concerns me at the minute though, is how the use of some of this data fits with our thinking about a common intellectual mission and that all students are capable of excellence.

In fact, after months of reading, discussing, thinking and investing significant time (and cost) to allow joint discussion, planning and collaboration sometimes this feels as close as it gets to where my head is at right now.


We’ve still got lots to work out and will need to evaluate the efficacy of all our work as we progress, however, in choosing to design a curriculum and assessment system that we value, it’s clear we share a real excitement, hope and optimism about the future.


Here’s a link to an Excel version of our curriculum planning tools.  There are a number of planning sheets contained in the workbook, including some “Big Picture” questions by Pete Jones.  Feel free to use and adapt as you see fit.  I would love to hear from you if you decide to use any of them in your school.  Feedback is always welcome.