Zero-Based Teaching

Getting back to first principles

I was recently introduced to the concept of Zero-Based Budgeting, which made me consider teaching choices from a ‘zero base.’

Why bother?

ACSL points out here that, although average teaching time in England (20 hours) lines up with the international average, we spend more time on preparing lessons (7.8 hours compared to a median of 7.1 for high-performing countries), marking work (6.1 hours compared to 4.5 hours) and admin. (4 hours compared to 3.2 hours); while research reported here finds that teaching is consistently among the top three most stressful professions because: “The hours are long and antisocial, the workload is heavy and there is change for change’s sake from various governments.”   

Joe Kirby argues that reducing workload takes a “shift in ...mindset” to focus on ‘impact-effort’ ratio.  And, as he points out here“Teachers who aren’t exhausted teach better.”

Ideas to improve your ‘impact-effort’ ratio from Michaela School
Getting back to core purpose from Durrington High School

James Theo discusses the concept of Opportunity Cost here

Although James Mannion argues here that Opportunity Cost is “increasingly being used as a prima facie argument against entire educational practices, regardless of context.”

We need to think ipsatively: Education doesn’t lend itself to ‘having it all’ any more than motherhood.


8 Things to Ditch

1. Meaningless lesson activities 

First principle: Lessons should promote permanent mastery 

At Northern Rocks 2015, Stephen Tierney advised, “Don’t plan lessons, plan learning.”  Every lesson activity should be judged according to how effectively and efficiently it promotes permanent mastery.

In Measuring Teacher Effectiveness, Muijis found that time on task was one of the most important influences on achievement, while in What if everything you knew about education was wrong?  David Didau argues that, “spending time proving something has been learned is time that could be better spent learning stuff.”

Think ipsatively: copying lesson objectives, starters, plenaries, group work, engagement, variety, collaboration, flashy presentations, discovery activities, IT skills, progress-checking and what Joe Kirkby dismisses here as “whizzy/ jazzy nonsense” may seem desirable, but they are not preferable to permanent mastery. 

And avoid proxies for learning:


Time-efficient strategies

  1. Time Saving Pedagogy @ Love Learning Ideas
  2. Developing a common-sense approach to Teaching and Learning @Teacher Toolkit
  3. Memory platforms @Reflecting English
  4. Metacognition: teaching students to learn the thinking @johntomsett
  5. Sequencing lessons @Reflecting English
  6. Permanent Learning @Love Learning Ideas

2. Meaningless Reports 

First principle: Parents have a clear picture of their children’s progress

ACSL points out that, “what matters is that systems are used effectively to support and protect time for professional dialogue” rather than paperwork as “an end in itself.”

Think ipsatively: are detailed reports preferable use of time?  Would parents gain greater insight from looking through their children’s work or by online access to subject and behaviour data?

3. Meaningless marking

First principle: Marking should lead to students thinking hard about their work and teachers thinking hard about their teaching

Michael Tidd argues here that, “the most powerful and valuable feedback occurs in the first few moments of looking at a piece of work.  Every moment spent thereafter on combing through, adding red pen, or forming detailed comments, is likely to produce a diminishing return [and may mean we] miss the most important things that would re-shape our own teaching.”

Think ipsatively: However desirable extensive marking may seem, students don’t think hard about their work if marking:

  • States the obvious
  • Proof reads work for them
  • Corrects/ improves work for them
  • Does the thinking for them

More on this at Two stars and a bloody wish!

Joe Kirby describes marking here as “the ultimate non-renewable resource,” so consider ways of making it renewable, such as Taxonomies of Error.

Time-efficient strategies

  1. Meaningful Manageable Marking @Love Learning Ideas
  2. Reclaim your Marking @Love Learning Ideas
  3. What could happen to the work that we don’t mark @Benneypenyrheol
  4. What not to mark @Teacher Toolkit

4. Meaningless meetings

First principle: Meetings need a useful point

This could include: generating ideas, sharing opinions, discussing ideas, reviewing or planning activities, making decisions or agreeing actions.

In The Jigsaw of a Successful School, Tim Brighouse quotes research that schools are successful when teachers:

  • Talk about teaching
  • Observe each other teaching
  • Plan, organise, monitor and evaluate their teaching together
  • Teach each other

Think ipsatively: What use of limited time together will have the greatest impact?

5. Over planning and resourcing

First principle: Teaching should promote permanent mastery 

Kris Boulton wonders here, “Have we got teacher professionalism all wrong?  What if our expertise lies not in planning and resource design but in knowing about the best resources, making informed, intelligent choices about what to use and when?” 

Think ipsatively: 
Creating resources is more enjoyable than marking work but is it a more effective use of time? 
Are individual lesson plans as effective as carefully crafted medium term plans focused on sequencing learning effectively?

Time-efficient strategies

  1. Sourcing effective textbooks @Bodil’s Blog

6. High stakes stand-alone observations

First principle: Observation should improve teaching

Robert Coe explains the unreliability of lesson observations here.  Nick Rose writes here that, “for summative measures of effective teaching to achieve... rigour and reliability they would become so time-consuming and expensive that the opportunity costs would far outweigh any benefits.”

At Northern Rocks 2015, John Tomsett suggested asking the question, “How would you like to be observed to help you best develop your teaching,” and building scrutiny of the work produced in the observed lesson into the process.

Think ipsatively: Formative observation is more desirable than summative observation.

Life without observation grades

7. Meaningless CPD

First principle: CPD should improve teaching

Developing Great Teaching finds that professional development opportunities that are, “carefully designed and have a strong focus on pupil outcomes have a significant impact on student achievement.”  

David Weston criticises here“one-size-fits-nobody, whole staff, one-off lectures.”

David Jones points out here that, “Over the last 10 -15 years professional development in many schools has tended to follow generic pedagogical discussions and in many cases been imposed by senior leaders, involving perhaps one-off events with expensive external delivery and most definitely will have sung the Ofsted tune or current educational tune of the day.”

Think ipsatively: reducing the CPD budget may be desirable but is it a false economy?

Effective Strategies

  1. Coalition CPD @Meols Cop High School
  2. A model of effective CPD @Improving Teaching
  3. Adding debate to CPD @Whatonomy

8. Constricting Meta-beliefs

David Didau champions open-mindedness in education.  In What if everything you knew about education was wrong? he introduces the concept of the ‘meta belief,’ described here by Daniel Willingham as a belief has become, “the prism through which we view the world... We fail to think about these beliefs and instead think with them.”

Timperley warns here that, “A collegial community will often end up merely entrenching existing practice and the assumptions on which it is based.”

Similarly, James Theo argues here that inconsistency is part of professional development.

Challenge yourself

  1. On group work @tombennet71
  2. On grouping @Esse Quam Videri
  3. On seating plans @The Learning Spy
  4. On display @The Learning Spy

What is false economy...

Failing to invest time in teacher expertise

It can’t be merely correlation that Singapore, one of the highest performing countries in the world, invests 100 hours a year into teachers’ professional development.

Timperley advises here that, “to make significant changes to their practice, teachers need multiple opportunities to learn new information and understand its implications for practice.”

An ASCD Blog suggests replacing ‘best practice’ with ‘effective practice:’

  • Teaching is more than “a simple collection of independent and replaceable parts... Effectively implementing new practices requires extended practice-based professional learning as well as continual study and refinement of teaching.”
  • Best practices can “uncouple learning goals from instructional methods... Different teaching methods are more effective for some learning goals than others... The better question is this: For this learning objective, for this group of students, at this point in the academic year?”
  • Best practices “focus on activity instead of achievement.”
  • “Professional development focused on continual improvement of teaching is more effective than imitation of best practices... Better teaching doesn’t come from imitating what star teachers do. Better teaching is built by steady, relentless, continual improvement.”

Similarly, David Didau warns here that, “Teachers often exhibit mimicry – copying what they see others doing – but without trying to develop the understanding of the expert teacher.”

Amjad Ali suggests Try, refine, ditch...? as a model for developing teachers’ professional practice:

 Harry Fletcher Wood points out here that, “to improve, teachers need the chance to see good teaching.”

Dan Brinton suggests using Practice Guides to communicate evidence-based advice that is:

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


  1. Educational Ideas all teachers should know @Headguruteacher
  2. Set up an Edu-Book Club @Class Teaching
  3. Ten research-based principles of instruction for teachers @Belmont Teach
  4. Five Psychological Findings every teacher should know @ImprovingTeaching
  5. Practice guide on improving student learning @Belmont Teach
  6. Put the spotlight onto classrooms @Improving Teaching
  7. Follow a Blog of the Week: Durrington High School and Belmont Community School have excellent ones
Posted on July 1, 2015 .

Ronseal Assessment Part 2

Assessment that ‘does what it says on the tin’

The first five questions can be found at Ronseal Assessment Part 1 

6. Are you assessing that learning has actually been learned?

There is a difference between ‘learning’ and what is actually ‘learned.’ 

A 2013 OECD study reported here ranked England 22/24 in numeracy and literacy, the only country in which 55-65 year olds performed better than 16-24 year olds.  Research on The levels of attainment in literacy and numeracy of 13-19 year olds in English 1948-2009 found that 17% and 22% respectively of 16-19 year olds have poor literacy and numeracy.  For these students, ‘learning’ has not translated successfully into ‘learned’. 

Tim Oates points out that “each and every child [should be]... able to understand all of the curriculum...all children get access to all elements.”  He argues that, “a distinctive feature of high-performing systems is a radically different approach to pupil progression... crude categorisation of pupil abilities and attainment is eschewed in favour of encouraging all pupils to achieve adequate understanding before moving on.” 

Stephen Tierney writes here that an assessment system should, “Help close the gap for each student between current and expected learning as well as closing the gap between different groups of students,” while Daisy Christodoulou points out here that, “There are pupils out there who are really struggling with basic skills.  Flawed assessment procedures are hiding that fact from them and their teachers, and therefore stopping them getting the help they need to improve.  Worse, the kinds of assessment processes which would help to identify these problems are being completely ignored.”   

How will you know that every student has “deep secure learning of key constructs [Oates]?  

In, Is it possible to get assessment right? David Didau refers to the use of Mastery Pathways in which foundational skills and knowledge are taught and repeated until students have mastered them.  As David points out, “This provides real clarity over what students know and don’t know at a given point in time and it can be used to identify students who don’t make progress.” 

However, Phil Stock finds here that “in practice, a mastery approach to assessment can be time-consuming for teachers to implement and can detract from planning better lessons.”  


  1. The benefits of mastery assessment @Pragmatic Education
  2. Ideas on incorporating mastery into the assessment framework @must do better...
  3. Use assessment to look ahead not back: create a benchmark of brilliance @Reflecting English
  4. What might mastery learning look like in History @Improving Teaching

7. Permanently?

Tim Oates criticises the “relentless transformation into high stakes” which distorts the curriculum, prioritising “undue pace” over “secure learning.”  

Are you assessing fluent permanent learning rather than rapidity?

Nuthall points out that “as learning occurs so does forgetting.”  Research here finds that, “a particularly effective way to enhance student learning is to engage in repeated, retrieval-based practice tests that are followed by restudy and that are distributed across time.  This ‘overlearning’ (which Willingham argues should be by 20%) creates fluent, automatic understanding and transfers learning to the long-term memory allowing permanent learning.

At Michaela Community School, the focus is on students achieving permanent mastery of content through:


  1. Find out more about Michaela’s strategies @Pragmatic Education
  2. Use Knowledge Frameworks to help students hold onto knowledge the real
  3. Knowledge Frameworks in Maths the real
  4. Using Knowledge Organisers in Science @Class Teaching
  5. Build a retrieval curriculum @Belmont Teach
  6. Permanent Learning @Love Learning Ideas

If you like Knowledge Organisers, James Theo has set up a Google Drive folder to share them here.

8. Is your assessment accurate?

In Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us, Koretz argues that, “Test scores usually do not provide a direct and complete measure of educational achievement. Rather they are incomplete measures, proxies for the more comprehensive measures that we would ideally use but that are generally unavailable to us.”

Assessment should:

  • Be reliable

  • Sample the domain that it is testing effectively

  • Allow valid inferences to be drawn 

  • Be meaningful

As Daisy Christodoulou explains here, “in order to make a valid inference about a pupil’s ability in a particular domain, you have to make sure the test adequately samples that domain.”  Tests can fall prey to construct underrepresentation when they inadequately sample the domain (for example teaching to the test), or the opposite danger of construct-irrelevance variance when they test beyond the domain (for example written Maths problems assessing literacy as well as Maths ability).

These aims can be contradictory.  For example, assessing students’ ability to apply knowledge beyond context is meaningful, but produces a higher construct-irrelevance variance than a more narrowly focused test.  As Daisy Christodoulou points out, this “make[s] it much harder to identify the specifics of what a pupil is good or bad at.”

She argues that, “certain kinds of test give more reliable scores.  For example, multiple choice tests often give more reliable information than performance assessments...[in comparison] marking extended writing is extremely complex and difficult to do reliably.”  

Therefore authenticity might only be achieved at the expense of reliability.  Grant Wiggins, quoted in, the now sadly defunct, Webs of Substance, writes that, “Authentic tests are representative challenges within a given discipline.  They are designed to emphasize realistic... complexity... In doing so, they must necessarily involve somewhat ambiguous, ill structured tasks or problems.”  Research here found that “assessment which encourages students to think for themselves – such as essay questions, applications to new contexts, and problem-based questions – shifts students... towards a deep [learning] approach” generally related to high levels of academic achievement.  Similarly, Andy Tharby writes here that “the accuracy of assessment should play second fiddle to what we should be attending to, which, to borrow John Hattie’s metaphor, is helping students to become ‘unstuck’...surely, these decisions are where teacher expertise really lies.”

Daisy Christodoulou recommends using complex performance-based assessments “only where the relevant construct cannot be adequately tapped using other forms of assessment.”  Her advice when marking essays, because we are better at making comparative than absolute judgements, is to focus "more on comparison of essays to other essays and exemplars, and less on comparison of essays to the mark scheme" so that we have "something that sits behind the criterion, giving it meaning."

Example from Using pupil work instead of criteria

Daisy Christodoulou.png

Controversially, she also suggests here that, Teaching which focuses on past papers and test prep is not teaching to the domain. It’s teaching to the sample. The improvements it generates are not likely to be genuine.”

Phil Stock argues here that, “assessment is more robust if it draws upon a range of different forms and provides multiple opportunities for that learning to be demonstrated e.g. MCQ, essay, short answers.”

Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Learning finds that reliability of assessment improves when teachers:

  • Carefully align assessments with what is taught 
  • Use a sufficient number of questions overall and variety of questions and types of questions on the same topic 
  • Use item analysis to target questions that are too hard or too easy and are not providing sufficient differentiation in knowledge 
  • Are mindful that tests that are valid for one use or setting may not be valid for another 
  • Base high-stakes decisions on multiple measures instead of a single test 
  • Monitor outcomes to determine whether thereare consistent discrepancies across performance or outcomes of students from different groups

And don't forget your own cognitive biases which might impede accuracy, explained in Chapter 2 of David Didau's excellent new book: What if everything you knew about education was wrong?


  1. 47 questions to ask of any assessment here
  2. Research reported by UK Ed Chat on the reliability of teacher assessment
  3. Using multiple choice assessment @The Wing to Heaven 
  4. Using questions instead of criteria to promote accuracy @The Wing to Heaven

9. Are you assessing authentically as well?

Hattie comments here that, “we have a very very narrow concept of excellence.”  Similarly, Harry Fletcher Wood writes here that, “Our current measures offer high grades without recognising or expecting students to adopt [an]... altered view of the world; I’m not sure this can be described as success.”

In Knowledge and the Future School, Michael Young writes, “whatever we ask our students to do- there should be some idea in our mind that it has a ‘truthful’ outcome.”  Similarly, Martin Robinson argues in Trivium that, “schools should enable us to work towards something over time in an authentic way.”

At Northern Rocks 2015, Dame Alison Peacock described how The Wroxham School use Learning Review to allow students to assess their learning successes and challenges.

Take the opportunity to deconstruct what excellence as a subject practitioner looks like.  Michael Fordham describes this here as, judging students “against the domain.”  Stephen Tierney suggests here"start from what would excellence look like...define excellence and put it within the context of an assessment."


  1. Develop a deeper view of your subject @Improving Teaching
  2. Teaching KS3 English through the Trivium @Surrealanarchy
  3. Assessment to create subject practitioners @Radical History
  4. The power of true standards @Christopher Waugh
  5. Using assessment to elevate learning rather than rank students

10. Is assessment actually improving learning?

Given the 10 benefits of testing for learning, should we consider using more testing in our assessment?

Research here suggests that the following methods, all of which could be incorporated into assessment, improve learning:

   Distributed testing forces students to think harder and works best “when the lag between sessions [is] approximately 10-20% of the desired retention interval” 
   Interleaved testing strengthens memory retrieval
   Elaborative interrogation enhances learning by integrating new information with prior knowledge
   Self-explanation helps students understand processes


  1. Build a retrieval curriculum @Belmont Teach
  2. Revisiting past content @Bodil’s Blog

11. And teaching?

To have the greatest impact, assessment should be sustainable and focused on classroom practice.  

Michael Tidd criticises the “unnecessary work” created by APP here.  As he points out, “an assessment system needs to record meaningful information (note, not data) about how students are progressing through the required learning.”

Similarly, Harry Fletcher Wood decries “over-simplified, time-consuming junk data masquerading as assessment” here.  He argues for, “frequent, useful assessment...[of] students’ knowledge of individual concepts and ideas, and their capacity to use that knowledge... Question-level analysis in departments provides usable insights.... [from which] departments can create short-term solutions...alongside longer-term ones.”

Phil Stock suggests here that, “most assessment should primarily aim to inform the next steps, whether in the classroom or more widely across a department or year group [and] any inferences drawn from assessment should be acted upon as quickly as possible.”

In his Northern Rocks presentation, Stephen Tierney argued that assessment needs to be "designed around the learner... Find out what they don't know and teach it them."  The timing of assessment is also vital: "the teacher has to catch [the students] at that moment they can't do something."  He argues herethat the current assessment system has been, "designed by leaders to feed the accountability monster rather than teachers to inform the learning of children."  Part of the problem is that the 'grain size' of assessment varies across subjects, therefore "a whole school assessment policy has to be the composite, within guiding principles determined at a school level, of the individual subjects' assessment regimes." 

Stephen Tierney and Ross McGill suggest using an Achievement Plan to facilitate assessment-driven teaching:  


Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Learning finds that effectiveness of assessment improves when teachers:

  • Focus systematically on setting goals for their students
  • Determine whether students have met these goals
  • Consider how to improve their instruction in the future
  • Keep the length of time between assessment and subsequent interventions relatively short; this is when effects on student learning will be strongest


  1. Identify learning gaps quickly: What do you not understand? @Reflecting English
  2. Use a Progress Dialogue pro forma to identify learning gaps and strengths from assessment @Love Learning Ideas
  3. Use question by question mark book analysis.  Example here from @Leading Learner

David Didau here on assessment DON’Ts:

  • Display an ignorance of how students actually learn
  • Assume progress is linear and quantifiable, with learning divided into neat units of equal value
  • Predefine the expected rate of progress
  •  Limit students to Age Related Expectations that have more to do with the limits of the curriculum than any real understanding of cognitive development
  •  Invent baseless, arbitrary, ill-defined thresholds (secure, emerging etc.) and then claim students have met them
  • Use a RAG rating (Red, Amber, Green) based on multiples of 3 to assess these thresholds
  • Apply numbers to these thresholds to make them easy to manipulate
  • Provide an incentive to make things up

Next steps and recommendations

  1. How to design assessment without levels @Class Teaching
  2. Designing post-levels assessment from scratch @Belmont Teach
  3. Principled Assessment Design by Dylan Wiliam
Posted on June 25, 2015 .

Ronseal Assessment Part 1

Assessment that ‘does what it says on the tin’

In November 2014, Alice Philips of the Girls School Association criticised the DFE here for creating “an assessment structure akin to rigour on speed... It seems that if it can be graded and put on a scale, compared, averaged, manipulated and mangled, it must be both good and useful.”  Similarly, Hattie criticises the English education system here“You go overboard to reinvent assessment... Every 2 or 3 years you reinvent the wheel and start again and all the time you miss what really matters... [You’re] obsessed about measuring students.”

11 Questions to ask about your assessment

1. Are you assessing the right school curriculum?

Tim Oates, speaking here on assessment without levels, believes there has been a “creep in function”; consequently, “Assessment dominates curriculum thinking...We need to put curriculum first.  Assessment should follow.”  Similarly, Daisy Christodoulou argues here for a rigorous and detailed curriculum: “if you have a vague curriculum then the result is not ‘teacher freedom.’  The result is that the syllabus and/ or the test become the curriculum, with hugely damaging consequences.”  

Carl Hendrick argues here that, “tests are no longer part of a judgement, they now are the’s not so much that the tail is wagging the dog as the tail now is the dog.”

Every young person is entitled to gain mastery of the knowledge necessary to make informed and independent judgements about the world.  Rather than ‘tests worth teaching to’ we need a ‘curriculum worth testing to’ based on ‘the best that has been thought and said’; what Michael Young describes as ‘Powerful Knowledge.’

This is our opportunity to focus on the ‘Big Ideas’. 

Tim Oates suggests a curriculum of, “Fewer things in greater depth,” and  Stephen Tierney reminds us here of the power of the curriculum to create, what we would want an educated person to be.”


2.  And subject curriculum?

How do we assess propositional and procedural subject knowledge?

Meyer and Land here, divide subject knowledge into:

  • Core concepts: ‘building blocks’ that progress subject understanding 
  • Threshold concepts: that transform understanding, without which the learner cannot progress 

An Open University report here, describes ‘threshold concepts’ as:

  • Transformative: they shift a learner’s perceptions
  • Irreversible: once learned, they are hard to unlearn 
  • Integrative: they expose inter-relatedness 
  • Bounded: they border with other threshold concepts to define a subject 
  • Troublesome: they appear difficult and unintuitive

How do we assess core and threshold concepts?

Meyer and Land explore the idea of ‘troublesome’ knowledge [or language] that may be:

  • Conceptually difficult
  • Counterintuitive, or seemingly inconsistent or paradoxical
  • Alien
  • Incoherent: including routine and meaningless ‘ritual knowledge’ 
  • Inert: it “sits in the mind’s attic, unpacked only when specifically called for by a quiz or a direct prompt but otherwise gathering dust. (Perkins, 1999 quoted in Meyer and Land)”
  • Tacit: implicit and unexamined

They point out that threshold concepts in particular, “often prove problematic or ‘troublesome’ for learners.”  For example, threshold concepts are often integrative: “integration is troublesome because you need to acquire the bits before you can integrate.”

This impacts on learning: “Difficulty in understanding threshold concepts may leave the learner in a state of liminality... in which understanding approximates to a kind of mimicry or lack of authenticity.” 

How do we assess whether students have mastered ‘troublesome’ knowledge?



3. Are you assessing the different stages of learning?

The process of ‘learning’ to ‘learned’ is staged; therefore different types of assessment are necessary:

  1. Assessment of initial understanding: Do the students GET IT.  In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine found that “the most successful teachers spent more time... checking for understanding.”
  2. Assessment of task fluency: Can they DO IT? (Consistently, quickly, automatically, accurately)  In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine suggests that, “A success rate of 80 per cent shows that students are learning the material, and ...challenged.” 
  3. Assessment of process fluency: Can they DO IT DIFFERENTLY?  In Why Don’t Students Like School? Daniel Willlingham points out that only shallow understanding has occurred while “knowledge is tied to the analogy or knowledge that has been provided.”  
  4. Assessment of understanding of deep, rather than surface, structure: Can they UNPICK IT?  In Why Don’t Students Like School? Daniel Willlingham points out that, “to see the deep structure, you must understand how all parts of the problem relate to one another.”  
  5. Assessment of permanent learning: Can they RECALL IT?  Brown et al. write in Make it Stick that, “to be useful, learning requires memory, so what we’ve learned is still there when we need it.”  
  6. Assessment of synoptic learning: Can they DO IT ANYWHERE?  Brown et al. write in Make it Stick that, “mass practice give[s] rise to feelings of fluency that are taken [incorrectly] to be signs of mastery.”  Students need to be able to apply learning in circumstances that are:
    i. Varied
    ii. Delayed
    iii. Interleaved

 The benefit of assessing the stages of learning as you go is that, as Dylan Wiliam explains here, you are “building the quality in.”


4. Are you planning meaningful assessment trajectories?

The Education Data Lab team found evidence here that, “the assumptions of many pupil tracking systems and Ofsted inspectors are probably incorrect.”  They found that only 9% of pupils take the ‘expected’ linear pathway from KS1-4, with assumptions of linear progress being especially weak in secondary schools and for low-attaining students.    

Tim Oates points out that learning is “uneven in pace not always upwards.”  Similarly, cognitive psychologist Robert Siegler argues in Emerging Minds that,   “Rather than development being seen as stepping up from Level 1 to Level 2 to Level 3, it is envisioned as a gradual ebbing and flowing of the frequencies of alternative ways of thinking, with new approaches being added and old ones being eliminated as well. To capture this perspective in a visual metaphor, think of a series of overlapping waves, with each wave corresponding to a different rule, strategy, theory, or way of thinking.”

Students with different levels of cognitive ability or prior knowledge may also ‘progress’ differently.

Consequently, the Education Data Lab team suggest that schools monitor whether pupils are making progress within the range of attainment for 60% of pupils with similar prior attainment:  “Pupils making progress in the 20% above or 20% below these ranges could then be more reasonably identified as overperforming or underperforming.”

Michael Fordham criticises progression models here, as “fundamentally flawed” because students change level as they move through new content.  As Harry Fletcher Wood points out here“successfully explaining the causes of the First Wold War [does not] automatically confer... the same ability for the Russian Revolution (and so encourages the prioritisation of flashy turns of phrase above deeper understanding.”  

Shaun Allison explains that at Durrington High School, awarded a DfE Innovation Fund to develop a method of assessing without levels, Rather than focusing on a predetermined end-point and how to get there i.e. an end of key stage target level, we are focusing on [students’]... starting points and then how to move them on – without their progress being ‘capped’ by a target. We do this by scaffolding their learning through four thresholds, towards excellence.  The idea is that all students will aim for excellence.” 


5. Do your assessment descriptors define actual learning?

Claims that ‘assessment without levels’ heralds an end to student ‘self-labelling’ are utopian.  As @missdcoxblog writes here: “whether a child thinks they are a ‘4a’ or ‘F’ or an ‘expert’ or a ‘-1’, it is surely still going to end in labelling.”  Tim Oates points out that: “labelling which encourages children to see themselves as poor learners is highly dysfunctional.” 

As David Didau suggests in How to get assessment wrong, “with the freedom to replace National Curriculum Levels with whatever we want, there’s a wonderful opportunity to assess what students can actually do rather than simply slap vague, ill-defined criteria over students’ work and then pluck out arbitrary numbers as a poor proxy for progress.”  He argues here that, Measurement has become a proxy for learning. If we really value students' learning we should have a clear map of what they need to know, plot multiple pathways through the curriculum, and then support their progress no matter how long or circuitous. Although this is unlikely to produce easily comprehensible data, it will at least be honest. Assigning numerical values to things we barely understand is inherently dishonest and will always be misunderstood, misapplied and mistaken."

Michael Fordham here and Chris Hildrew here, criticise badly constructed performance descriptors.  Are these a result of poor assessment practice or unworkable principle?  Daisy Christodoulou thinks the latter.  She argues here that, “many of the replacements for national curriculum levels rely on precisely the same kind of vague performance descriptions... For many people, descriptors simply are assessment... Unfortunately... descriptors do not give us a common language but the illusion of a common language.  They can’t be relied on to deliver accuracy or precision about how pupils are doing..a problem associated with all forms of prose descriptors of performance... The words ‘emerging’, ‘expected’ and ‘exceeding’ might seem like they offer clear and precise definitions, but in practice, they won’t.”  Tim Oates also refers here to “the slippery nature of standards.  Even a well-crafted statement of what you need to get an A grade can be loaded with subjectivity.”

To remedy this, Daisy Christodoulou suggests here"wherever possible, define the criteria through questions, through groups of questions and through question banks.  If you must have criteria, have the question bank sitting behind each criterion.  Instead of having teachers making a judgement about whether a pupil has met each criterion, have pupils answer questions instead.  This is far more accurate, and also provides clarity for lesson and unit planning."

The following example of question-based judgements is taken from The Wing to Heaven

Michael Tidd suggests here that, “a simple number or grade won’t cut it.”  A meaningful assessment system “needs to record exactly what students can and can’t do,” while Phil Stock writes herethat, "specific statements of the learning to be mastered organised in a logical sequence are generally more useful [although] in some subjects it is hard to reduce certain aspects of achievement down to a manageable amount of specific statements about learning."

In Authentic Assessment and Progress: Keeping it Real, Tom Sherrington suggests, “authentic, natural, common-sense mode[s] of assessment that teachers choose with an outcome that fits the intrinsic characteristics of the discipline... [and] data in the rawest possible state, without trying to morph the outcomes into a code where meaning is lost.”  He gives the following examples of authentic assessment:

  • Tests
  • Evaluation of a product against criteria
  • Absolute benchmarks


 Ronseal Assessment Part 2 still to come...

Posted on June 12, 2015 .

Myths and Shibboleths

What doesn’t work and why?

The preliminary article to this, What Works and Why? can be found at Optimus Education

Do we know enough as teachers about what works and why?  Dr Howard-Jones thinks not.  His 2014 research, reported here, criticises “ineffective” teaching practices “sold to teachers as based on neuroscience [which have] no educational value and are often associated with poor practice in the classroom.”  Similarly in his 2015 article for the American Educator, Tom Bennett decries the “cacophony of the fashionable, the novel, the exciting” that has dominated educational thinking, perhaps explained by research reported here, which finds that there is something uniquely convincing about neuroscience in the context of explaining the mind.

Terry Burnham warns here about ideas that build up ‘meme-mentum.’

The 2015 OECD Education Policy Outlook found that only 10% of international education policy initiatives were evaluated.  As Andreas Schleicher says, “If we want to improve educational outcomes we need to have a much more systematic and evidence-based approach.”

But, as Carl Hendrick points out here, because the model of teacher effectiveness in Britain has been ‘outside in’ rather than ‘inside out,’ teachers are “passive participants,” in comparison to the findings of the 2012 Grattan Report Catching Up: Learning from the best school systems in East Asia that teachers were “partners” in a “strong culture of teaching education, research, collaboration, mentoring, feedback and sustained professional development.”  

Myth 1: We can see learning

Learning is neither a visible nor a ‘snap shot’ process.  ‘Progress-checking’ by any other method than on-going assessment therefore has the following pitfalls:

  • Students may pretend that they have learned information
  • Students may think that they have learned information and be wrong
  • Students may have learned information incorrectly
  • Students may have learned information but then forget it
  • Students may have learned information but be unable to transfer it to unfamiliar contexts

Robert Coe argues here that we have focused on easily observable “outcomes that we mistake for learning rather than ... real learning.”

Graham Nuthall found in The Hidden Lives of Learners for example that, “students can be busiest and most involved in material they already know.”

James Theo outlines the dangers of poor proxies for learning here.

As Alex Quigley points out here, it can also be tempting to mistake correlation for causation: “This is of course of crucial importance in schools. We are constantly being sold silver bullets whose evidence is based on loose correlation (or worse) and nothing like causation.” 

Strategies to accurately assess learning
David Didau has written extensively on the fact that learning is invisible.

Myth 2: Learning is intuitive

The DFE’s espousal of learning styles in Pedagogy into Practice: Learning Styles was not based on rigorous research:

From the moment we are born we make sense of the world through our five senses. However, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioners argue that those five senses may not contribute equally to that perception and that individuals may have a sensory preference for receiving and making sense of new information and ideas. They have identified three types of learner.”

Research into urban legends in education by Kirschner and Merrienboer here identifies the following problems with learning styles: 

  • Many people do not fit one particular style
  • The relationship between what people say about how they learn and how they actually learn is weak.
  • At least 71 learning styles have been identified.
  • Research by Clark found that “learner preference was typically uncorrelated or negatively correlated to learning and learning outcomes.  That is, learners who reported preferring a particular instructional technique typically did not derive any instructional benefit from experiencing it.” 

Similarly, Kirschner, Sweller and Clark found here that learners’ preferences can be unhelpful: “Less able learners who choose less guided approaches tend to like the experience even though they learn less from it.”  In comparison, task-specific learning strategies embedded in instructional presentations “require explicit, attention-driven effort on the part of the learners and so tend not to be liked, even though they are helpful to learning.”  Conversely, “Higher aptitude students who chose highly structured approaches tended to like them but achieve at a lower level...[because they] have acquired implicit, task-specific learning strategies that are more effective for them than those embedded in the structured versions of the course...[but] believe that they will achieve the required learning with a minimum of effort.” 

Daniel Willingham on Why Learning Styles Don’t Exist
David Didau explodes Right Brain/ Left Brain Bollocks

Myth 3: Learning must be collaborative

As Tom Bennett points out in Group Work for the Good, the emphasis on group work owes much to Vygotsky, who argued that: “what a child can do today in cooperation, tomorrow he will be able to do on his own.”  Group work can be effective – particularly where a dialectic process deepens students’ understanding - but it has pitfalls:

  • It may not be as effective or efficient as individual work in ensuring all students think hard about the learning
  • Student-to-student interaction may be lower level than teacher-involved interaction
  • It may focus on proxies for learning such as engagement or student interaction
  • It may make assessment of individual learning more difficult
  • It may prevent conditions of desirable difficulty

Interestingly, Nuthall found in The Hidden Lives of Learners that much of what students learn from each other is actually wrong.  

David Didau on Should Group Work be Imposed?

Myth 4: Growth mindset alone is the answer

It’s a bit more complicated than that.  Astbury and Plomin point out in G is for Genes that, “for genetic as well as environmental reasons, it will be harder for some people to develop a growth mindset than others.”

Carl Hendrick warns here against reductionist ‘pop psychology’ in “promising areas” like Growth Mindset, which fails to take into account students’ multidimensional self-concept and underestimates the impact of achievement on self-perception, which Muijs and Reynolds found here to be “stronger than the effect of self-concept on achievement.”  Similarly, David Didau warns here that “growth mindset has been so universally heralded as a ‘good thing’ that it’s in danger of becoming one of those memes we think with rather than about.”

Nick Rose points out here that school interventions designed to improve students’ metacognition and ‘character’ can be problematic.  A 2015 review on, The potential for school-based interventions that target executive function to improve academic achievement suggested that:  

“There is surprisingly little rigorous empirical research that explores the nature of the association between executive function and achievement and almost no research that critically examines whether the association is causal. From the existing research it is not clear whether improving executive functioning skills among students would cause their achievement to rise as a result.” 

The review found that none of the skills-based approaches that it investigated appeared to directly improve student outcomes.

Scott Alexander critiques growth mindset here
Nick Rose Growth Mindset: It’s not magic
How to use Growth Mindset effectively: Growth Mindset – so What’s Next?  by Alex Quigley.

Myth 5: research alone is the answer

Again, it’s more complicated than that.  Tom Bennett argues here that:

“Teachers need to interact with what the best evidence is saying and translate it through the lens of their experience... Teaching is not, and can never be a research-based, or research-led profession.   Research can’t tell us what the right questions to ask are, nor can it authoritatively speak for all circumstances and contexts... [but] it can assist bringing together the shared wisdom of the teaching community... Teaching can — and needs to be —research informed, possibly research augmented. The craft, the art of it, is at the heart of it. Working out what works also means working out what we mean by ‘works’, and where science, heart and wisdom overlap and where they don’t.” 

Daniel Willingham suggests here that the main reason for a cognitive dissonance between teachers’ belief in the validity of research and the techniques they use in the classroom, is fear of losing autonomy.  However, Carl Hendrick here cites Stenhouse’s argument that research in which teachers are involved is in fact “the route to teacher emancipation.”

Alex Quigley warns against an uncritical ‘the research says’ approach here.

What next and where? 8 ideas

As Andy Tharby points out here, “What is most critical... is that we question, test and evaluate our assumptions and intuitions, whatever our position in the educational system – from trainee teacher to Secretary of State. Unless the evidence is incontrovertible (and it almost never is) always avoid the simplistic answer, however seductive it sounds.”

1. In Four Ways to Use Evidence in Education, Harry Fletcher Wood suggests:

  • Looking for evidence of our impact
  • Asking for evidence
  • Improving our teaching using research
  • Developing Research Lead roles in schools

2. Check out Education Data Lab, which brings together a team of academics, researchers and statisticians to produce independent research that can be used by schools to improve practice.

3. Check out the Education Endowment Fund’s brokerage service, which links research with classroom practice.

4. Geoff Petty suggests how to use evidence to improve teaching here

5. Highbury Grove School’s vision for the research-engaged school

6. Check out ResearchED 

7.  Keep up to date with research through twitter.  The following blogs are great places to start:

8. Check out schools developing research-informed practice

Posted on June 5, 2015 .

Permanent Learning

Teaching for keeps: what works and why? 30 Ideas

Like it or loathe it, focus on ‘off by heart’ learning may be part of a future of extended re-call in linear examinations.  

The cost of temporary learning is high

A 2013 OECD study reported here ranked England 22/24 in numeracy and literacy, the only country in which 55-65 year olds performed better than 16-24 year olds.  As Learning beyond Fifteen: Ten Years After PISA shows, in countries where 15-year olds achieved high PISA scores, young adults maintained high levels of literacy and numeracy proficiency a decade later.

Sam Freedman asks here“Given the improvements in behaviour; the reduction in criminality; the falls in truancy; the increase in aspiration; the improvements in home lives - all of which are known to link to academic attainment - why haven't we seen a commensurate, observable, rise in academic standards? Either academic standards have actually improved, but we just don't have the measurements available to identify it properly, or something is happening in schools that's preventing us capitalising on these "non-cognitive" improvements to genuinely improve standards. So what's going on?”

Could permanent learning provide an answer?

What does permanent learning look like?

The aim of permanent learning is NOT mindless rote learning, but that:

Therefore teaching for permanent learning looks like:

What are the principles behind permanent learning?

This is vital because, as Renkl and Atkinson point out here, the capacity of working memory may be limited to the simultaneous processing of two or perhaps three chunks.” 

All learning places a cognitive load on the limited capacity of working memory as either:

  1. Intrinsic load: the complexity of the learning.  Renkl and Atkinson argue that the magnitude of intrinsic load “is actually dependent on a person’s level of prior domain knowledge.  High-prior knowledge allows for constructing larger meaningful information chunks so that cognitive load is reduced.”
  2. Germane load: the demands placed on working memory capacity by mental activities that contribute directly to learning.
  3. Extraneous load: the demands placed on working memory capacity by mental activities that do NOT contribute directly to learning.

In Why Don’t Students’ Like School, Willingham points out that, “although we can’t make our working memories larger, we can... make the contents of working memories smaller.”  

Five components of permanent learning

1. Memorable Explanation

Rosenshine found here that, “the most successful teachers... spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions.”  And Nick Rose writes here that “material with high distinctiveness... tends to be recalled better.”

‘Chunking’ is another method that creates more space in the working memory.  We remember CID and FBI much more easily than D-I-B-F-D-I

1. Give memorable explanations: Ideas @The Learning Spy and @Class Teaching
2.  Spend sufficient time on explanation.  Research at Principles of Instruction
3. Chunk information memorably: 10 strategies @Reflecting English
4. Article on explanation that sticks

2. Memory-friendly practice 

Robert Coe states here that “learning happens when people have to think hard.”  

Nick Rose points here to evidence that the strength of long-term memory depends on the depth of processing.  Deep processing requires more attention; therefore divided attention results in shallower processing and weaker recall.  He writes: 

“The best answer is to try to ensure our students are cognitively busy in our lessons. Avoiding disruption to the lesson due to poor behaviour is key, otherwise attentional resources are diverted from the material to be learnt. Beyond this our best bet is to try to structure the lesson in a way that provides opportunities for semantic processing and elaboration, encourages optimal cognitive effort... and makes the lesson and the ideas as distinctive as possible (but without diverting attention... a good starting point is to simply avoid activities which encourage superficial processing of the core knowledge and ideas [like word search puzzles, underlining and cloze tasks].” 

Renkl and Atkinson also advocate student self-explanation as a valuable activity that causes students to think harder.  They point out that, “The construction of a sound knowledge base is not a quasi-automatic by-product of studying examples or solving problems.  In fact, learners have to actively self-explain the solutions, that is, they have to reason about the rationale of the solutions.” 

1. Keep students cognitively busy with appropriate tasks
2. Use student self-explanation. Ideas @Class Teaching no. 3 and 4 
3. Go beyond self-explanation to students explaining to others. Ideas @Headguruteacher
4. Teach self-explanation.  Research here showed that “participants who received self-explanation instruction performed better.”

3. Memory-friendly sequences

Renkl and Atkinson point out that “what represents cognitive load depends on the specific stage of skill acquisition... learning from worked-out examples, in comparison to problem solving, is very effective during the initial stages of cognitive skill acquisition. In later stages, however, solving problems is superior.” 

Start with worked examples

Worked examples reduce cognitive overload by freeing the working memory from performance demands to concentrate on understanding.  Kirschner et al. point out here that this “directs attention to learning the essential relations between problem-solving moves.”

In addition, Renkl and Atkinson advise using self-explanation activities to “ensure that the free cognitive capacity that is available in example study is effectively used... Active self-explaining is especially important [when helping learners to]... learn the rationale of how to apply their basic knowledge of the domain.”  

Move on to problem solving

Kirschner et al. point out that “instructional methods that are effective for novices become less effective as expertise increases... Higher aptitude students who chose highly structured approaches... achieve at a lower level than those with less structured versions.”  This is because the generative nature of problem solving, even where solutions are wrong, encourages deep processing of the answer.

Renkl and Atkinson argue that, “In later stages of skill acquisition, emphasis is on increasing speed and accuracy of performance, and skills, or at least subcomponents of them, should become automated. During these stages, it is important that the learners actually solve problems as opposed to studying examples.”  This automaticity frees up room in the working memory.

At this stage:

  • Worked examples actually become extraneous load because they “contain information that is easily determined by the more experienced learners themselves and, therefore, can be considered redundant.”
  • Self-explanations also become extraneous load.  The emphasis is now on speed, accuracy and automaticity and “When automaticity is the goal, self-explanations are not very helpful.” 

Interleave practice

Permanent learning is the ability to retrieve information in any circumstances.  Rohrer points out here that the ‘constant cues’ of blocked practice (a focus on one topic or type of problem at a time) can lead students “to believe that they understand material better than they actually do... an illusion of knowing.”

Interleaved practice also helps students to compare and contrast the deep structure of different problems.

1. Use fading models. Ideas @educationinchemistryblog

2. Sequence lessons in the run up to exams. Ideas @Reflecting English 
3. Spacing and interleaving in practice @Class Teaching
4. Techniques for memory-friendly practice @Mr Thomas’ Blog
5. Tips for students on using interleaving @j2jenkins
6. Moving from modelling to problem solving in Maths @Moments, Snippets, Spirals
7. Find out more about the dangers of minimal instruction @Filling the Pail

4. Structured learning

Learning is more permanent when students construct it into a mental framework.  In Make It Stick, Brown et al. point out that, “high structure builders learn new material better than low structure builders.”

Therefore, far from requiring rote learning, we need to ensure that students are constructing mental frameworks to ‘hang’ their learning from.

1. Use knowledge organisers to help students to structure knowledge @Pragmatic Education
2. Help students to create mental models.  6 Strategies @Love Learning Ideas no. 6

5. Retrieval of learning

Information in the long-term memory is useless if it cannot be retrieved.  In Ten Benefits of Testing, Roediger et al. argue that, “the act of retrieving when taking a test makes the tested material more memorable... compared to restudying the material.  The size of the testing effect as it has been named, also increased with the number of tests given.”   

In When is practice testing most effective? Rawson and Dunlosky advocate planning a cycle of dynamic testing into teaching:

Frequent, low-stake retrieval-based quizzes, followed by corrective feedback, followed by spaced restudy.  For maximum retrieval, they argue that practice tests should encourage generative recall rather than recognition recall (multi-choice) although research here indicates that multi choice quizzes are as effective as short answer quizzes. 

Rawson and Dunlosky find that time is more effectively used practicing until target information is recalled once and then moving into a cycle of dynamic testing than spending a longer amount of time on initial practice.  And optimum dynamic testing has three cycles with the time needed for re-practice decreasing:

Carpenter et al. suggest here that these cycles should be spaced at 10-20% of the test delay e.g. across a 20 month linear course, at 2 to 4 month intervals.  Robert Bjork argues here that the process of forgetting actually improves permanent learning by creating the “opportunity to reach additional levels of learning.”

1. Introduce retrieval quizzing into lesson planning: Ideas @Class Teaching no. 1 & 2
2. Consider using Spaced Learning: Ideas @EddieKayshun
3. Helping students to remember quotes. Ideas @must do better
4. Develop personalised spaced repetition programmes for students.  Research by Lindsey et al. on this here
5. Ideas on optimal use of quizzing @Pragmatic Education 
6. Help students to incorporate permanent learning into their revision @Teaching: Leading Learning

Further strategies for assessing permanent learning
1. Consider the benefits of multi-choice questions the real
2. Use student self quizzing @Memrise
3. Closed questioning for retrieval @Reflecting English
4. Use an assessment strategy to embed learning @BodilUK
5. Create flashcards online
6. Spaced Testing of Everything @Mr Thomas’ Blog
7. Formative use of summative tests @Headguruteacher

Posted on May 9, 2015 .

Meaningful Manageable Revision

39 ideas

How do we learn?

Robert Coe points out here that, “learning happens when people have to think hard.”  Similarly, Willingham writes here that, “What remains in your memory from an experience depends mostly on what you thought about during the experience.”   Kirschner et al. suggest here that, “If nothing has been changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.”   

What works and why?

1. DIY revision works best

American research reported here found that “students learn more effectively when they monitor their own learning... knowing and understanding how and when to use learning strategies are associated with higher overall learning and better academic success.”

Strategies for self-regulated learning include:

  • Time management
  • Goal setting
  • Elaboration strategies
  • Organisational strategies
  • Rehearsal strategies

Strategies like peer tutoring work, NOT because of the debunked theory here that you remember 90% of what you teach, but because the process encourages thinking hard about the learning – the prerequisite for effective learning.

Research here also found that “it is not reliance on a single strategy or small set of strategies that is associated with good academic performance.”


  1. Teach students the five strategies for self-regulated learning above
  2. StudyblueMemrise and Quizlet allow users to create their own notes, flash cards and quizzes
  3. Ideas for using peer tutoring @Mr Reddy
  4. The Best Revision Guide for Students @Class Teaching
  5. Ideas for student revision from @ASTsupportaali
  6. Make revision more work for the students than the teacher! @iTeachRE

Reliance on one strategy

2. Difficulty is desirable

We sometimes assume that the ‘best’ learning is easy, quick, fun and common sense; however in Make it Stick, Brown et al. explain that, “learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful.”  

The most effective learning strategies are also counter-intuitive; therefore “we are drawn to strategies that feel more fruitful, unaware that the gains from these strategies are often temporary.”  

More Effective revision strategies

  • Practice tests with corrective feedback

  • Distributed practice

  • Interleaved practice

  • Elaborative interrogation

  • Self-explanation


  1. Find out What Works, What Doesn’t

  2. Find out more about ‘desirable difficulties’

  3. Draft booklet on study skills from @iTeachRE

  4. Supporting learning through effective revision techniques @Class Teaching

  5. Why I hate highlighters @Hunting English

  6. How to pass exams power point for students @Love Learning Ideas


  • Re-reading

  • Highlighting and underlining

  • Summarising

All identified as less effective learning strategies.

3. Revision strategies should be subject-specific

American research reported here found that, “Teaching...[study] strategies inthe context of the subject-area classroom is much more effective than teaching strategies or study skills in isolation.” 

Evidence into Practice suggests here that, “the sorts of ‘study skills’ events (which schools often outsource to external providers) are unlikely to have any positive impact on student outcomes.  A better plan might be to teach teachers the various mnemonic techniques and encourage them to find examples of where the ideas might be profitably applied within their own subject domain.”


  1. Every subject provides domain-specific revision strategies.  40 ideas @ASTSupportaali

Generic study skills

4. Spaced and interleaved revision plans work best

Spacing occurs when multiple study sessions are spaced apart.  The opposite of this is ‘massed’ practice.  Research shows that spaced practice improves learning. Carpenter et al. found here that, the optimal spacing gap equalled 10–20% of the test delay...[whilst] recent evidence suggests that expanding schedules might be better for short-term retention, and fixed schedules might be better for longer-term retention.”  

Interleaving occurs when we mix up different questions, processes and topics.  The opposite of this is ‘blocked’ practice.  Research by Rohrer here suggests that this can improve final test scores because blocking revision together “leads students to believe that they understand material better than they do.”  Rohrer warns however that interleaving is counter-intuitive because it feels difficult.  “Among subjects who did benefit from interleaving, only 25% believed that interleaving was more helpful.”


  1. Create spaced and interleaved revision timetables

  2. Study Management Planner @Love Learning Ideas


Revising for just a few days before the exam leads to higher scores on immediate tests but results in faster forgetting than spacing retrieval practice.  This makes it particularly dangerous for mock exams.

Explanation for why cramming doesn’t work here
David Didau explains more on spacing and interleaving here 

5. Elaboration strategies clarify meaning

Elaboration is the process of giving information meaning by explaining it in your own words and connecting it to what you already know.

Elaborative interrogation involves generating a comparative explanation for why a fact or concept is true:

Self-explanation involves explaining how new information relates to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem solving.

They work because, as Willingham writes here, “Given that we typically want students to retain meaning, we will mostly want students to think about what things mean when they study.” 

However a word of warning, Blunt and Karpicke point out here that, “repeated retrieval consistently produces greater levels of long term learning than elaborative studying [without retrieval].”


  1. Increase the number of ‘why’ questions focused on meaning 

DUMP thoughtless repetition.  Repetition by itself does not lead to long-term learning.

6. MEANINGFUL mental models organise information more efficiently 

In Make it Stick, Brown et al. explain that, “putting new knowledge into a large context helps learning... People who learn to extract the key ideas from new material and organise them into a mental model and connect that model to prior knowledge show an advantage in learning complex mastery.”

American research reported here found that, “Generally, the more a learning strategy involves manipulating or organising material ratherthan just reviewing it, the more likely it is to result in deep understanding.”

It is important that any form of mapping is:

  • Based on meaningful groupings: Evidence into Practice reports research here that “semantic, hierarchical organisation of material greatly aided recall.” 
  • Correct: “once we have organised material into (what is for us) natural groupings, that re-presentation of that material within those groups is recalled better than if those groups have been changed” [which can reduce recall.]

Blunt and Karpicke point out here that “the critical factor in retrieval-based learning is requiring students to think back to and recall material, while the format in which information is retrieved (concept map or paragraph format) did not much matter.”


1. Create spreading activation models that give material meaning and connect it to other information 

2. Diigo allows users to collect, organise, link and annotate information

3. Thinglink allows users to create interactive memory boards

4. Create metaphors or visual images for new material

5. Check that students’ mental models are meaningful and correct!

6. Use Reflection plenaries

Mind maps that lack meaningful groupings  

7. Organisational strategies free up space in the working memory

Our working memories are finite but as Daniel Willingham points out in Why Don’t Students Like School?“Although we can’t make our working memories larger, we can... make the contents of working memories smaller.”  

Three ways of freeing up space in our working memory are:

  • To learn information to automaticity so that it transfers to the long-term memory and can be recalled without thought.

  • To chunk information by treating several bits of information as a single piece.  This is what we do when we read a series of letters: r-e-v-i-s-e as a word: ‘revise.’

  • To create distinctive cues which help us to retrieve information. 


  1. Drill key concepts to automaticity @Headguruteacher

  2. Chunk information as you teach it to help students with later retrieval

  3. Use memory palaces

  4. Use distinctive cue strategies.  3 ideas from Daniel Willingham here

REMEMBER that mnemonics are a retrieval strategy rather than giving information meaning.

8. Retrieval quizzes rehearse knowledge

In Make it Stick, Brown et al. point out that, “students who don’t quiz themselves... tend to overestimate how well they have mastered class material.” 

Roediger et al. suggest in Ten Benefits of Testing that “the act of retrieving when taking a test makes the tested material more memorable... compared to restudying the material.  The size of the testing effect, as it has been named, also increases with the number of tests given.”

When is practice testing most effective? recommends:

  • Repeated, retrieval-based practice tests followed by spaced restudy 
  • Feedback or restudy when students respond incorrectly on a practice test 
  • Retrieval of information from long-term memory rather than recognition based tests (e.g. multiple- choice questions) 
  • Practice until target information is correctly recalled once
  • That three relearning sessions are of greater benefit than a higher initial learning criterion
  • That the amount of additional time needed declines across relearning sessions

Research here also points out the benefits of collaborative retrieval work in promoting: 

  • Re-exposure: When individuals recall information in a social context they are often re-exposed to additional information recalled by the other members of the group that they would not have recalled themselves.”
  • Cross-cuing: “When individuals recall information in a social context the recall of others group members can also cross-cue or trigger recall of new information that would not be available to them if recalling alone.” 


1. Use the 6 strategies recommended in When is practice testing most effective? (see above)

2. Use activities that aid retention @Improving Teaching

3. Plan collaborative retrieval work

4. Use retrieval teaching as revision @HuntingEnglish

5. Use retrieval starters.  Thanks to Andy Tharby here for this idea

6. Use Free Recall plenaries

7. Get students to use spaced self-quizzing with corrective feedback.  Matt Bromley explains here

8. Use low-stake synoptic tests

9. Encourage students to form testing groups

10. Get students to create flash cards as tests for committing information to memory

11. Use ‘dynamic testing’ to determine students’ expertise

Posted on March 25, 2015 .

Meaningful Manageable Assessment

26 Strategies


In the old days we compartmentalised.  First we planned our schemes of work in folders that lived on shelves.  Then we taught our lessons.  Then we marked our students’ books retrospectively writing comments like ‘good work, keep it up’ or rhetoric questions like ‘where is your underlining?’

Then came Assessment for Learning. 

Dylan Wiliam the ‘guru’ of Assessment for Learning explains it here as:

  • Questioning to clarify where the learners are
  • Feedback to move the learners forward
  • Activating students in helping each other to understand success criteria
  • Activating students as teaching resources for one another through peer assessment
  • Activating students as owners of their own learning through self assessment

However, the AfL model has not been uncontested.  David Didau explores some of its pitfalls here.

How do we find out where learners are?

To assess learning we have to make it visible by questioning it through oral or written questions that are constructed to accurately evaluate the quality of the learning.  However, assessing the quality of learning is problematic because there are stages to the learning process.  Students do not meet a new concept in a lesson and leave the lesson 50 minutes later having ‘learned’ it.  Tom Sherrington talks here about the Learning Arc

How to assess

1. Consider the 6 stages of learning

Initial understanding: Do the students GET IT.  This is the first crucial step in learning.  In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine found that “Less successful teachers ask fewer questions and almost no process questions... [whilst] the most successful teachers spent more time...asking questions [and] more time checking for understanding.”

Task fluency: Can the students DO IT?  In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine suggests that, “A success rate of 80 per cent shows that students are learning the material, and it also shows that the students are challenged.”  Harry Webb points out the importance of simple as well as complex assessment.  He argues here that, “by mimicking the performances of experts we obscure the areas that novices need to develop.”  He advocates “a mixed economy of assessment.  If you have an independent means of assessing, say, history content knowledge then you will be better able to isolate the particular issues surrounding the writing of a history essay.”

Process fluency: Can the students DO IT DIFFERENTLY?  In Why Don’t Students Like School? Daniel Willlingham points out that only shallow understanding has occurred while “knowledge is tied to the analogy or knowledge that has been provided.”  In order to develop deeper understanding, students must be able to practice across examples.  

Research here found that “assessment which encourages students to think for themselves – such as essay questions, applications to new contexts, and problem-based questions – shifts students... towards a deep [learning] approach.”

Understanding of deep, rather than surface, structure: Can the students UNPICK IT?  Do students have an expert understanding of the underlying principles?  In Why Don’t Students Like School?Daniel Willlingham points out that, “to see the deep structure, you must understand how all parts of the problem relate to one another.”  Sweller and Tricot argue here, that this demands a different approach to the task: “novices work backward from the goal... using a means-ends strategy...while experts work forward from the givens.”

Permanent learning: Can the students RECALL IT from their long-term memories?  ‘Learning’ is not enough.  As Nuthall points out in The Hidden Lives of Learners “as learning occurs, so does forgetting.”  Information only becomes ‘learned’ rather than ‘learning’ when it is transferred to the long-term memory.  Brown et al. write in Make it Stick that, “to be useful, learning requires memory, so what we’ve learned is still there when we need it.”  

Synoptic learning: Can the students DO IT ANYWHERE, for example when it is interleaved with other tasks?  Brown et al. write in Make it Stick that, “mass practice give[s] rise to feelings of fluency that are taken [incorrectly] to be signs of mastery.”  For secure understanding, students need to be able to apply learning in circumstances that are:

  • Varied
  • Delayed
  • Interleaved

Ideas on assessing initial understanding

  1. Introducing hinge questions: @Improving Teaching

  2. How to construct an effective hinge question @Improving Teaching

  3. Hinge questions hub @Improving Teaching

  4. My Favourite No @Huntingdon School

  5. Pose, Pause, Pounce Bounce @Teacher Toolkit

Ideas on assessing task fluency

  1. Using Quick Key for in-class assessment @Mr Thomas’ Blog

  2. Five Minute Flick @Andy Tharby

  3. Using multi choice questions to assess understanding @Pragmatic Education

  4. Using multi choice questions to assess knowledge @must do better...

  5. Using multi choice questions to assess complex knowledge @clio et cetera

  6. Using hinge questions at the end of the lesson @mrbenney

Ideas on assessing process fluency

  1. Using multi choice questions to assess process fluency @The Wing to Heaven

  2. Using closed questions to assess higher-order thinking @The Wing to Heaven

  3. Colour-coded assessment @Teaching: Leading Learning

  4. Consider tracking assessment by concept.  Ideas from @Leading Learner below:

Ideas on assessing deep, rather than surface, structure

  1. Self-Assessment Frameworks @Love Learning Ideas

  2. Adventures with Gallery Critique @Reflecting English

Ideas on assessing permanent learning

  1. Considering the benefits of multi-choice questions the real

  2. Using student self quizzing @Memrise

  3. Closed questioning for retrieval @Reflecting English

  4. An assessment strategy to embed learning @BodilUK

  5. Assessment to elevate learning @Ron Berger

  6. Creating flashcards online

Ideas on assessing synoptic learning

  1. Spaced Testing of Everything @Mr Thomas’ Blog

  2. Formative use of summative tests @Headguruteacher

  3. Assessing the big picture @Radical History

2. Use feedback to move the learner forward

Examples of each type of feedback can be found at Meaningful Manageable Marking and Reclaim Your Marking

3. Keep the process manageable

Ideas from @Teacher Toolkit here on keeping the marking load sensible

4. Consider tests for learning as well as assessment

Roediger et al. point out here that “The act of retrieving when taking a test makes the tested material more memorable, either relative to no activity or compared to restudying the material. The size of the testing effect... also increases with the number of tests given.”  

Richland et al. suggest using pre-testing before explanation to improve learning, explaining here that “tests can be valuable learning events, even if learners cannot answer test questions correctly, as long as the tested material... is followed by instruction that provides answers to the tested questions.”

David Didau outlines the benefits of testing as learning here.

5.  Remember the pitfalls

Treat peer and self-assessment with caution:  As Nuthall points out in The Hidden Lives of Learners, 80% of what students learn from each other is wrong.

Beware of your own bias:

  1. Alex Quigley writes here about the danger of the ‘halo effect’ when assessing students’ work and considers randomised marking. 
  2. @surreallyno outlines here the various ‘effects’ to be taken into account when marking.
  3. @Chilledu reports here on research that suggests that personality similarity affects teachers’ estimationof student achievement. 

Keep it real: 

  1. A warning from Tom Sherrington: “As we seek to measure learning with some degree of accuracy, we risk losing contact with the meaning of what the nature of learning is.” Assessment Uncertainty Principle
  2. Don't overemphasise assessment @MissDCox
Posted on March 11, 2015 .

Velcro Learners

41 Strategies

 What is learning?

Robert Coe points out here that, “learning happens when people have to think hard.”  Similarly, Kirschner et al. suggest here that, “If nothing has been changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned.”   

Learners matter

In Preparing for Renaissance Assessment, Hill and Barber point out that, “It is unquestionably the case that the greatest proportion of variance in learning outcomes is at student level... high-achieving students make steady progress, but low- achieving students make very little progress over time.” 

How do we create Velcro Learners?

American research reported here argues, “A long history of research literature suggests that mindsets are a product of the interaction between students and educational contexts, rather than being predetermined characteristics of individual students.”  Similarly in Why Don’t Students Like School? Willingham argues that “it is differences in ... environmental experiences, especially over the long term, that have large cognitive consequences.”  In other words, what we do in the school and classroom environment can make a difference.

1. Focus the behaviour policy on academic behaviours

Unsurprisingly, the American research reported here found that, “academic behaviours play a central role in determining students’ grades.”  

It identified the academic behaviours with greatest impact as:

  • Attendance
  • Homework completion
  • Relationships with teachers

The PISA Report Does Homework Perpetuate Inequalities in Education? found both that advantaged students (and students in schools predominantly composed of advantaged students) spent more time doing homework than disadvantaged students (an average of 5.7 compared to 4.1 hours per week across OECD countries), and that Britain had one of the widest gaps.  The results also suggest that the net payoff in Maths from attending a school where more homework is assigned is particularly large.  Similarly, the success of Western-born children of East Asian descent is partly attributed in research here to “hard work ethics” with students studying 66% longer per week.


  1. Attitude determines Altitude @Teaching: Leading Learning

  2. Classroom habits that improve academic behaviours @Hunting English

  3. Build successful learning habits @Matt Bromley

  4. 68 strategies to get homework in @Love Learning Ideas

  5. 7 things to try before you almost give up on a student @PernilleRipp.

  6. Evaluate change in behaviour rather than attitudes.  Point 3 @Evidence into practice

  7. Towards impeccable behaviour together @Headguruteacher

2. Ensure that all students feel they belong

The American research reported here found that, “A student’s sense of belonging in a school or classroom has a strong impact on academic performance... The degree to which students value an academic task strongly influences their... performance at the task.” 

Yeager et al. point out here that, “When students worry about belonging and something goes wrong… it can seem like proof that they don’t belong. This can ...undermine students’ motivation and engagement over time... It is thus essential to intervene early, before a negative recursive process has gained momentum.” 

PISA research into ‘resilient learners’ reported here found that resilient students:

  • Have confidence in their academic abilities.  This is a stronger predictor of resilience than motivation 
  • Have higher levels of perseverance and motivation and are “physically and mentally present in class
  • Enjoy reading
  • Have positive relationships with their teachers

However, Carl Hendrick warns here against dependence on "missives in mediocrity" like the motivational poster that "signal a larger shift to the trivial," and "whole school assemblies exhorting kids to embrace failure and choose a more positive mindset, often reductively misrepresented as 'you can achieve anything if you believe."  Similarly, Evidence into Practice points out in Growth mindset: What interventions might work and what probably won't that "successful interventions are subtle and brief."

Marc Smith points out here that academic self concept is state-specific “related to our past experiences of ourselves as learners” in a particular subject.  This explains why it might vary across subjects.  Similarly Carl Hendrick writes here that "student self concept is both academic and non-academic and can be broadly categorised into seven sub areas such as physical ability/appearance and peer relations as well as academic ability (Shavelson, 1986.) So tying to manipulate these domain specific issues through ‘all-purpose’ positive interventions attempting to boost general self esteem are likely to be ineffective."


  1. Review how your systems and language give all students a sense of academic belonging

  2. Consider Early Affirmation Interventions: Addressing achievement gaps with psychological interventions.  Harry Fletcher Wood has written about his experiments with this here

  3. Use student-led conferences to involve students in their progress.  Idea from Ron Berger here

  4. Expect magic from every student @Alex Quigley

  5. Focus on the normative influences within the school culture. Point 4 @Evidence into practice

  6. Use Personal Learning Strategies to involve students in their learning @Love Learning Ideas

  7. Use book polishing to encourage students to value their work @Love Learning Ideas

  8. Develop a Scholarship Form programme to build academic involvement @Love Learning Ideas

3. Promote academic mind-sets that thrive because not despite of difficulty

Too often in education we aspire to easiness.  In Make it Stick, Brown et al. point out that, “when learning is harder, it’s stronger and lasts longer...If you restudy something after failing to recall it, you actually learn it better than if you had not tried to recall it.”

Students with a ‘growth mind-set’ are more likely to be successful: Research here finds, “Students who believe they can increase their academic ability by their own effort are more likely to work toward building competence, more likely to be self-motivating and persistent, and more likely to exhibit behaviors associated with higher academic achievement.” 


  1. Incorporate growth mindset into the teaching sequence @Class Teaching

  2. Failing to Succeed assembly @Love Learning Ideas

  3. 8 Habits of Highly Effective Learners assembly @Love Learning Ideas

  4. Consider teachers' implicit theories of intellect.  Point 5 @Evidence into practice

  5. Use ICE awards to reward students for independence, curiosity and engagement

  6. Learning Contract @ Love Learning Ideas

  7. 37 Ideas to Grow Gritty Learners

4. Reframe ‘success’ so that all students can achieve it

The American research reported here found that: “When students believe they are likely to succeed in meeting academic demands in a classroom, they are much more likely to try hard and to persevere in completing academic tasks, even if they find the work challenging or do not experience immediate success. Believing one can be successful isa prerequisite to putting forth sustained effort.”  

Yeager et al. point out here that, “When students achieve success beyond what they thought possible, their beliefs about their own agency often improve, leading them to become more invested in school, further improving performance.” 

Ron Berger writes here that we need to “build into every student... the confidence that he or she can improve through hard work – and a passion for becoming a better person.”

This means reframing ‘success’ to include making mistakes.  Brown et al. point out that “students who have a high fear of making errors when taking tests may actually do worse on the test because of their anxiety... [because] a significant portion of their working memory capacity is expended to monitor their performance.”  Conversely, Marc Smith reports research here that “those who experience most positive affect manage to better safeguard themselves from setbacks through their ability to re-frame failure in more positive ways.”


  1. Develop an ethic of excellence @Class Teaching

  2. Don’t Settle for Good Enough assembly @Teaching: Leading Learning

  3. Inspirational role models for growth mindset here

  4. Ideas for how to use pupil premium funding here

  5. Use models and critiques to create quality work here.  Andy Tharby has written about his experiments with this here

5. Ensure learners know how learning works

Much effective learning is counter-intuitive.  Dunlosky points out here that, some effective techniques are underutilized... many students do not use them... Also, some learning techniques that are popular and often used by students are relatively ineffective.”

Brown et al. point out in Make it Stick that ‘high structure builders’ and ‘rule learners’ learn new material better than ‘low structure learners’ and ‘example learners.’


  1. Encourage students to isolate key ideas and organise them into mental models

  2. Use interleaved examples to encourage ‘example learners’ to distinguish underlying rules

  3. Ensure that learners are familiar with key concepts of learning

4. Support learning through effective revision techniques @Class Teaching
5. Provide Quality First Teaching @SupportAAli
Investigate metacognition and self-regulation here
How to Avoid Procrastination assembly @Teaching: Leading Learning
How to Pass Exams assembly @Love Learning Ideas

6. Teach learners procedural knowledge

Procedural knowledge is the knowledge necessary to perform a task, in this case the task of transferring learning to the long-term memory.  Teaching students this procedural task is the real ‘learning to learn’.  Considering one of his students, Alex Quigley writes in Growth Mindset – So what’s next? “Can David learn more effectively if he explicitly understands how to better plan, draft, monitor and evaluate everything he does? I expect so. I think it is the crucial next step.”

When studying the efficacy of self-regulation theories, Burnette et al. found here that one of the strongest mediators of the link from implicit theories to achievement was “the adoption of mastery-oriented strategies”

The American research reported here found that “students learn more effectively when they monitor their own learning... knowing and understanding how and when to use learning strategies are associated with higher overall learning and better academic success...Teaching such strategies inthe context of the subject-area classroom is much more effective than teaching strategies or study skills in isolation.” 

Yeager et al. point out here that, “making students optimistic about school without actually giving them opportunities to learn could not only be ineffective but counterproductive... Effective growth mindset interventions challenge the myth that raw ability matters most by teaching the fuller formula for success: effort + strategies + help from others.”  

Similarly, research by Muijis and Reynolds here found that, "the effect of achievement on self-concept is stronger than the effect of self-concept on achievement."  Carl Hendrick argues that "there is a strong case to say that that focusing our efforts on students being taught well (surprise, surprise) and given clear and achievable paths to academic success creates a more positive perception of themselves anyway than those given unproven interventions such as the kind of pop psychology churned out in so much of school life."

Strategies for self-regulated learning include:

  • Time management
  • Goal setting
  • Elaboration strategies
  • Organisational strategies
  • Rehearsal strategies

Marc Smith writes here that “Setting goals can be a very powerful tool, particularly if those goals are incremental and represent a ‘better than last time’ or ‘personal best’ approach.”


  1. Teach students success strategies @John Tomsett

  2. Create a mastery oriented classroom

  3. Use Lab Time @chronotope

  4. Model thinking for students @John Tomsett

  5. Teach students how to acquire and retrieve knowledge.  Idea @Improving Teaching

  6. Teach students the language of learning @Headguruteacher

Finally, 10 areas that must underpin Growth Mindset @Hunting English

Posted on February 27, 2015 .

What Makes Great Teaching?

6 lessons from learners

Tom Sherrington wrote recently that seeking student views can “help us to do a better job as teachers.”  At times, students’ viewpoints need to be treated with caution.  In Do Learners Really Know Best? urban legends about learners as ‘digital natives’ and ‘self-educators’ are exploded, whilst Kirschner et al. argue here, that students do not always prefer the most effective form of instruction.  Despite this, what struck me when reading the Sutton Trust’s What Makes Great Teaching was the correlation to student voice I had done with Year 10 students on their views of effective teaching:

1. WMGT emphasised quality of instruction; students said that good teacher explanation matters

For the students, it was quality of explanations that made the difference between a good and a bad teacher.  Unsurprisingly, they liked clear, step-by-step explanations with well-matched modelling or worked examples and effective questioning to check for understanding.  This matches the Sutton Trust’s high-quality instruction which “includes elements such as effective questioning and ... providing model responses for students.”  Unsurprisingly, students disliked it when teachers were ‘irritated’ by explanation.  The length of explanation was important, with overlong and too short explanations both coming in for criticism.  Teacher talk, in and of itself, was not criticised but a distinction was made best summed up as ‘are you teaching or just talking?’  The students also commented on the usefulness of constructing their own explanations, therefore unconsciously echoing Dunlosky here on the efficacy of self-explanation particularly for procedural or problem-solving tasks.  Students from the lower sets also commented on the importance of explanations being visual and left in place so that they could return to them through the lesson. 

1. Excellent ideas on explanation from The Learning Spy here and Headguruteacher here
2. How to model from Headguruteacher here
3. Using analogies in explanation from Reflecting English here
4. Great ideas on 'talk better' teaching from Reflecting English here 
Ideas on memorable explanation from Chip and Dan Heath here and here
6. Introducing hinge questions @Improving Teaching here

The dangers of poor explanation! (Thanks @meridianvale)

2.  Students said that marking matters

@Class Teaching has great student voice on feedback here.  The students that I spoke to were cautious about peer assessment which Shaun Allison points out is “no substitute for teacher feedback;” as Graham Nuthall explains in The Hidden Lives of Learners, much of what students learn from each other is wrong.  Also, if 45,500 grades needed to be changed last year due to inaccurate marking by qualified teachers, what makes us think that students will get it right? 

And don’t forget the obvious; as one student commented plaintively, ‘I can’t read the teachers’ writing.’  

1.     For a superb round up of feedback techniques check out @Class Teaching here
2.     For fabulous tips of fast feedback see @Belmont Teach here
3.     Tips on reclaiming your marking @ Love Learning Ideas here
4. A round up of good marking ideas from @Meols Cop High School here

3.  WMGT emphasised classroom climate; students said a well-organised lesson matters

For the students, a classroom climate in which there was “efficient use of lesson time” was important: what Stephen Tierney describes as the “relentless pursuit of learning.”  Unsurprisingly, they disliked unclear objectives not obviously linked to the task, and long or irrelevant starters.  Students in top sets disliked teacher ‘add-ins’ through the lesson as the teacher remembered things that they had forgotten to explain in the first place, because this interrupted their learning.  Students from lower sets also disliked being interrupted in the middle of a task as ‘we forget what we are writing.’  Tom Sherrington suggests the use of silent working here: “If a silent atmosphere is created in the right way... it means this: ‘OK; we’ve done all the talking, we’ve thrown up all our ideas... now it’s over to you to bring it all together, to get really stuck in and produce something that shows what you’ve learned, by yourself.’  It’s intense; intensely productive and intensely concentrated.”

1. Headguruteacher explains how to create clear lesson objectives here
2. Good ideas from Pragmatic Education here about structuring instruction
3. Mastery Lesson Plan @Love Learning Ideas 

4.  WMGT emphasised content knowledge; students said teacher enthusiasm matters 

Criticism of boring lessons focused on lack of teacher enthusiasm, although it would also be true to say that overuse of anything can cause student fatigue (or Death by Powerpoint Syndrome).  A pet hate of students, particularly in top sets, was the phrase ‘you don’t need to know that; it’s not on the syllabus.’  Whilst there is not an automatic correlation between teacher enthusiasm and subject knowledge, it is probable that the most enthusiastic teachers would be those with a “deep knowledge of [and love for] the subjects they teach” which the Sutton Trust identified as a key factor in effective instruction.  

Tom Sherington writes here: “I want to suggest that one of the most important habits of a Great Teacher teaching Great Lessons is to find joy in what they’re doing and in what the students are doing.  When I walk into a lesson that gives me a sense that it is a Great Lesson… The teacher and the students are busily engaging in tasks or exchanging ideas in a way that conveys enthusiasm and interest and even pleasure… JOY!”

5.  WMGT emphasised classroom management; students said that tackling poor behaviour matters

In 2013-14, 83% of schools were graded as having good or better behaviour:

Pupils respond very quickly to staff’s instructions and requests, allowing lessons to flow smoothly and without interruption. Low-level disruption in lessons is rare. 

However, Ofsted’s Below the Radar Report (2014) stated that, “broadly one in 12 secondary teachers said that more than 10 minutes of learning was lost per hour.”   PISA results from 2010 cited here found that 31% of pupils in England felt that “in most or all lessons... there is noise and disorder” whilst OECD research cited here suggests national differences: 28% of UK students reported that teachers had to wait a long time for students to quieten down, compared with 7% in Japan.  Haydn’s research into behaviour reported here, found that classroom management might be the biggest factor in underachievement, with poor international comparisons due to comparatively poor behaviour in English schools.  The Sutton Trust mentioned the “teacher’s manage students’ behaviour” as a key environmental factor in effective teaching.

Unsurprisingly, students disliked shouting, empty threats and time spent on bad students.  They also disliked being put into ‘forced’ groups where they were used to control the behaviour of other students – an interesting perspective on seating plans.  Students from lower sets also stressed the desirability of being taught by a teacher in a good mood! 

1. Top 10 tips for managing behaviour @Hunting English 
2. Tom Bennett’s Top 10 Behaviour tips here 
3. Be better at behaviour.  Ideas from Love Learning Ideas here

6.  WMGT emphasised teacher beliefs; students said that being involved matters

As you would hope, the students noticed new teaching and learning initiatives and wanted to know more about these.  If pedagogy is not explained to students there is a risk of misconceptions arising.  How many students for example have extended abstract understanding of SOLO Taxonomy, which is (apparently): “I fully understand SOLO Taxonomy including key terminology and structures.  I can confidently use SOLO Taxonomy to achieve deep learning and effective assessment for learning and assessment.  I can use SOLO Taxonomy to identify my progress.”  According to the Sutton Trust, teachers’ theories about what learning is and how it happens, “seem to be important” – would greater student understanding help learning?

1. Consider developing Learner CPD.  How to Pass Exams here explains memory retrieval practice to students.

Posted on February 14, 2015 .

Meaningful Manageable Differentiation

35 strategies 

6 considerations when differentiating...

1. Opportunity Cost

I have switched my decision-making from ‘what works?’ to ‘what is the opportunity cost?’ I ask myself: if I choose to use this intervention/approach... does it mean I miss out on doing something else which is richer in what it offers pupils?” James Theo here

2. Mastery learning 

Tim Oates in Why textbooks count found that in Shanghai, “the model of differentiation and ability is entirely different to that typical in England. All children are assumed to be capable of understanding, and ideas are elaborated in different ways in order to encourage individual understanding... Singapore, Shanghai, Japan and Finland...all support a central model of ability and progression which contrasts sharply with the dominant model of individual and group differentiation present in the English system.”

The 2013 PISA findings here comparing countries' PISA performance with the extent of their differentiation make interesting reading.

3. Intelligence is not fixed

Dweck argues that, “It’s not either-or. It’s not nature or nurture, genes or environment…. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training and personal effort take them the rest of the way".  Similarly, Neisser found [page 11 here] that “schooling itself changes mental abilities.”

Doug Lemov here argues that success can be encoded with “disciplined, deliberate, intelligent practice.”

4. All learners are unique

Nuthall found in The Hidden Lives of Learners that the processes of learning are essentially the same for all learners.  Differences emerge due to differing prior knowledge, motivation and individual experiences, meaning that around 30% of what each student learns in a lesson is unique to them.

5. Struggle is necessary

Learning happens when people have to think hard” [Coe].  Over-guiding students prevents this: “The aim of classroom instruction is ultimate mastery not error free learning” [Rohrer]. Shaun Allison writes hereabout keeping students in the ‘struggle zone’ between cognitive overload and lack of challenge.

6. Over-differentiation can be dangerous

Andy Tharby reflects here on some dangers of differentiation, including differentiation as a “life sentence,” while Harry Webb writes here: "isn’t it rather dangerous to use [differentiation] to decide to not teach certain children certain things? Learning is messy with lots of looping back and leaping forward –by assuming a theoretical progression and then imposing that on students, we might decide not to teach them ideas that they really could learn."

But what about Ofsted...

Jane Jones, Ofsted’s National Lead for Mathematics, writes here that “Ofsted does not have fixed expectations teachers differentiate to meet pupils’ learning needs...The national curriculum makes it clear that the majority of pupils are expected to move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace.”

So what is effective differentiation...

“Differentiation does not mean that you must have tiered resources and tasks in every lesson.  It does not mean you should have must-should-could learning objectives... Differentiation needs to be seen as the aggregation of the hundreds of subtly different interactions that you have with each of your students... real differentiation [is]: pushing, prodding, nudging, stretching…slow, subtle, nuanced, a step at a time, working around the class from lesson to lesson” Tom Sherrington here.

35 effective differentiation strategies

Differentiation through planning

Reconsider differentiated learning goals: “For years, learning objectives up and down the country have been shaped around ‘all…most...some.’  This is potentially really dangerous I think, as it lowers our expectations of what students can achieve.  Much better to have a single, challenging objective and use questioning, feedback and other means of support to encourage all students to aspire towards it” [Shaun Allison here].  

  1. Use benchmarks of brilliance @Reflecting English
  2. Use ‘fluid’ rather than ‘autopilot’ differentiation: what differentiation is appropriate for mastery of the particular concept or skill being taught?
  3. Know the current reading age of students, and what this looks like in practice: Readability Guide
  4. Use a differentiation class guide @Headguruteacher
  5. Group students based on their level of mastery of the concept or skill being taught so that they can access appropriate tasks, support and resources.

Differentiation through explanation

Differentiation should... be about how the teacher helps all pupils in the class to understand new concepts and techniques.” Jane Jones HMI. 

  1. Increase guided practice: “The most successful teachers... spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions” [Principles of Instruction]
  2. Ensure that all students have the necessary background knowledge and word comprehension for understanding @This is my classroom
  3. Develop ‘lower-end challenge’ by effective modelling to ambitious standards @Class Teaching
  4. Use differentiated explanations: Advice on going from concrete to abstract @Headguruteacher
  5. Create podcasts of explanations to differentiate through increased exposure 
  6. Use a range of differentiated explanation types:

Differentiation by task

“Pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content and those who are less secure should consolidate their understanding before moving on... Challenge comes through more complex problem solving, not a rush to new mathematical content. Good consolidation revisits underpinning ideas and/or structures through carefully selected exercises or activities” Jane Jones HMI.

  1. Create a ‘task ladder’ that moves students from shallow to deep understanding.  Students work at a level until they reach an 80% success rate: “the optimal success rate for fostering students achievement appears to be about 80 percent... students are learning the material [and]... challenged” [Principles of Instruction]
  2. Ensure that at the top end, students have the opportunity to explore above and around the topic by providing subject reading lists
  3. Stretch learners at the top end to improve their formal writing by introducing nominalisation @theplenary
  4. Increase lexical density @The Learning Spy

Differentiation through scaffolds

Rosenshine describes mastery learning as, “a form of instruction where lessons are organised into short units and all students are required to master one set of lessons before they proceed to the next set.”  This works because teachers, “have successfully provided students with scaffolds.” 

In Why Don’t Students Like School, Willingham writes: “Instead of making the work easier, is it possible to make thinking easier? ...Overloads of working memory are caused by such things as multistep instructions, lists of unconnected facts, chains of logic more than two or three steps long, and the application of a just-learned concept to new materias.” 

  1. Use models @Reflecting English
  2. Use multiple models @Reflecting English
  3. Use pre-flight checklists @Improving Teaching
  4. Use differentiated word mats to support writing (these can be created by the students)
  5. Use sentence starter scaffolds @Doug Lemov’s Field Notes  
  6. Use graphic organisers @Mapping out their thinking
  7. Use writing frames @Must do better...
  8. Reconsider using scaffolds at the top end:  Sweller and Tricot describe here the ‘expertise reversal effect:’ as levels of expertise increase, problem solving activities are more effective than studying worked examples: “More expert problem solvers have already acquired the knowledge necessary to solve a given class of problems. They do not need to be shown how to solve such problems because they do not need to engage in an extensive problem-solving search process to find a suitable solution. Reading a worked example is a redundant activity that increases extraneous cognitive load. Instead, learners may need practice at solving the problems so that they can automatically recognise the relevant problem states and their associated moves.”

Differentiation through questioning

Skillful questioning is key.” Jane Jones HMI.

  1. Move from shallow, closed ‘memory’ questioning (who, what, where, when) to deep, open questioning:
    Convergent-thinking questions: whyhowin what way?
    Divergent-thinking questions: mightwhat if...
  2. Insist on oral precision: ‘say it again properly’ @Headguruteacher
  3. Use inclusive questioning @HuntingEnglish
  4. Use wait time to gain extended responses @Improving Teaching
  5. Require differentiated verbal responses: sentence, extended sentence, paragraph...
  6. Develop effective questioning.  Powerpoint @Love Learning Ideas
  7. Differentiate responses:

Differentiation through marking

Harry Fletcher Wood describes marking as “our most frequent individualised teaching.” 

  1. Don’t base differentiation purely on data: “The main use of student data is to prompt you to ask questions about your perception of a student’s ability and progress” [Tom Sherrington].   Look also at students’ actual work to assess their needs
  2. Differentiate through ‘live marking’ @Reflecting English
  3. Match teaching directly to where students are.  My Favourite No @Huntingdon Learning Hub
  4. Create differentiated Taxonomies of Errors @Canons Broadside
  5. Create differentiated ‘Exit Tickets’ @Pragmatic Education

Finally, Headguruteacher reminds us here what ‘Teaching to the Top’ looks like.

Posted on January 31, 2015 .

Growing Gritty Learners

37 ideas to grow gritty learners 

‘Character education’ is currently being offered as the latest panacea to Britain’s persistent education gap (see here).

7 Key Truths about Social Mobility published by an all-party parliamentary group, argues that, “personal resilience and emotional wellbeing are the missing link... social and emotional ‘skills’ underpin academic and other success – and can be taught”

Their Character and Resilience Manifesto emphasises the part that, “Character and Resilience can play in narrowing the unacceptably wide gap in life chances between children from different backgrounds...We know that permanently closing the opportunity gap... will require more than raising test scores... A child will not benefit from ‘academic’ learning unless they are in a position to be able to access this learning and [this] directly linked to a base of skills including motivation, curiosity, conscientiousness and application to task. Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that so-called ‘soft’ skills may often be as closely associated with levels of educational attainment as IQ scores.” 

Similarly, journalist Paul Tough argues in How Children Succeed that, “character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.”

Are they right?

Grit makes PART of the difference...

Dweck states here: “It’s not either-or. It’s not nature or nurture, genes or environment…. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training and personal effort take them the rest of the way”.

Duckworth et al. found in Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals that, “achievement of difficult goals entails not only talent but also the sustained and focused application of talent over time.”  They found that, “grit accounted for an average of 4% of the variance in success outcomes, including educational attainment... our suspicion is that grit, like IQ, is of ubiquitous importance in all endeavors in which success requires months or even years of sustained effort and interest. To the extent that the temptation to give up is greater for individuals of modest ability, grit may matter more, not less.” 

Research here on self-regulation found that, “a number of effects were specific to high-poverty schools, suggesting that a focus on... self-regulation in early elementary education holds promise for closing the achievement gap.”

However, Disappointed Idealist warns here against the reductionism of: ‘talent = hard work + persistence’ and the risk of Dweck’s research “metamorphosing...into a vacuous slogan.”  Duckworth et al. point out that, “IQ may account for up to one third of the variance in some measures of success”, while Hirsch’s research here places the impact of non-cognitive skills below general knowledge and fine motor skills. 

Similarly, research reported here found that the impact of practice on high-level ability was limited: Practice time, “had almost nothing to do with ability in academic classes... Although the authors wrote that they could not yet be sure what other factors contribute to high-level ability besides practice, they thought natural talent, general intelligence and working memory most likely play important roles.” 

There is a socio-economic element...

The Character Factor, assessing ‘drive’ and ‘prudence’ found, “family income and maternal education are positively associated with higher levels of performance character strengths.” 

American educator, Larry Ferlazzo, expresses concern here about a “Let Them Eat Character” strategy that underplays the extent to which poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. 

However, as David Didau argues here, “Of course we are constrained by our backgrounds and the circumstances of our birth... But do we also need to be constrained by our beliefs of what is and isn’t possible?” 

‘Character’ lessons don’t work...

  • Research here “did not yield evidence that ... Social and Character Development Programmes... improved students’ social and character development.”
  • DFE research here did not assess the impact of military ethos alternative provision on pupil attainment.
  • Research here found that: “There is little evidence that working directly on changing students’ grit or perseverance would be an effective lever for improving their academic performance ...[compared to] attention to academic mind-sets and development of students’ metacognitive and self-regulatory skills.”
  • What Makes Great Teaching criticises addressing issues of confidence and low aspiration before teaching content: evidence shows that attempts to enhance motivation in this way are unlikely to achieve that end. Even if they do, the impact on subsequent learning is close to zero...  the poor motivation of low attainers is a logical response to repeated failure. Start getting them to succeed and their motivation and confidence should increase

Focus instead on academic buoyancy

Marc Smith here identifies four strategies:

  1. Develop students’ positive Academic Self Concept: this is domain rather than trait specific.  ASC can vary across subjects based on past learning experiences.
  2. Improve students’ emotional regulation so they reframe failure positively.
  3. Believe that intelligence is malleable.
  4. Set growth goals focused on ‘better than last time.’

He suggests: “it’s less about teaching resilience and more about encouraging those factors that allow resilience to flourish.”

This benefits both sexes.  Kenny-Benson suggests here that girls succeed over boys in school because they self-regulate better, however boys are more performance-oriented: The testing situation may underestimate girls’ abilities, but the classroom may underestimate boys’ abilities.”

37 ideas to grow ‘gritty’ learners

1. Give students a sense of value for and belonging to the learning community

Don’t dismiss academic learning as “boring stuff.”

People enjoy mental work if it is successful.  If schoolwork is always just a bit too difficult for a student, it should be no surprise that she doesn’t like school much.”  Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students like school?

Martin Robinson criticises “ersatz character lessons” here.  He suggests here: “The best way of developing and celebrating character? ...Teach them stuff of importance and value, the best that has been thought, said and done, give them time to question it, think it, argue it, debate it, agree or disagree about what is ‘the best’. Allow them time to develop enthusiasms, to enthuse...  Help them to express articulately and beautifully... in ways that allow them to experience the feelings of creating excellence… support them to the highest so that they feel able to add to the best that has been thought, said and done.”

Students learn more effectively when they are curious


  1. Use big questions to promote curiosity @andywarner78
  2. Make it Stick: Ideas on memorable explanation from Chip and Dan Heath here and here
  3. Plan ‘sticky’ lessons @mrocallaghan_edu
  4. Get students to enjoy knowledge @Improving Teaching
  5. Help students to choose academic success @Mr Thomas’ Blog
  6. Mindset students to succeed @Improving Teaching

2. Create a climate that values grit

Research here finds “clear... evidence that students’ mindsets have strong effects on their demonstration of perseverant behaviours... When students value the work they are doing,feel a sense of belonging in the classroom context in which they are working, feel capable of succeeding,and believe they will master challenging material with effort, they are much more likely to engage in difficult work and see it through to completion.” 

However, research here warns against positivity without action: “positive fantasies predict poor achievement... because they do not generate energy to pursue the desired future.”  Similarly, research here found that positive emotions foster academic achievement only when mediated by self-regulated learning and motivation.


  1. Limits Assembly @Teaching: Leading Learning
  2. Develop growth mindset teaching @Class Teaching
  3. Build habits of self-discipline @Pragmatic Education
  4. Encourage students to develop their work ethic @Making Our Best Better
  5. Create a growth mind-set school @HuntingEnglish
  6. Value students’ work @Reflecting English
  7. Use school display effectively @Pragmatic Education
  8. Mindset Stars @Meols Cop High School

3. Use gritty language

As Shaun Allison says here, “Posters, assemblies and pictures are fine – but the way we will really make a difference to our students, in terms of developing their mindset, is the way we interact with them on a day to day basis – in particular, in the things we say to them.”

Carol Dweck’s research found that students given effort-based praise, rather than intelligence-based praise were more resilient. 


  1. Get the language right @Class Teaching
  2. The power of “ not yet” @Teacher Toolkit

4. Teach students how to fail with grit 

James Theo writes here that, “Rather than run away and hide from anxiety, it is my belief that we should embrace it, understand it and manage it as a vital element of learning... Pupils should find things difficult if they want to learn. For something synonymous with creativity and caution, ‘anxiety’ seems a rather pejorative term for what is essentially learning.”

Research reported here suggests that making errors (and then getting feedback) is a better way to retain conceptual information, whilst research here shows that lack of confidence can improve performance: “testing reduced students’ confidence even while aiding their performance.”


  1. You can learn anything presentation @Khan Academy
  2. 20 Ideas on failing to succeed @Love Learning Ideas

For further reading into the dangers of character education Evidence into Practice

What gritty learning looks like...

Thanks to John Tomsett here  

Posted on January 24, 2015 .

Education is Valuable. Just because...

9 reasons to value academic education...

It was the debate on education between Debra Kidd here, Michael Fordham here and Disillusioned Idealist here that got me thinking.

Education is valuable...

1. Because education for its own sake is valuable

There is much disagreement currently on education’s purpose.  Debra Kidd asks, “What is the point of education? To pass tests? To get work? To be creative? To be happy? To be wise? To change the world?

David Didau outlines some of the debate here.

Perhaps education is just valuable?  As Michael Fordham writes: “the opportunity to learn knowledge for its own sake.”  

In Knowledge and the Future SchoolMichael Young suggests that the main purpose of education is “to enable all students to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their experience,” while in Trivium 21C Martin Robinson writes, “In schools, the journey should be towards wisdom and the need for knowledge via wonder and curiosity.”  R H Tawney wrote in 1922 that education’s main aim is “to develop the faculties which, because they are the attribute of man, are not peculiar to any particular class or profession of men.”

This view is not uncontested.  Bernstein here criticised ‘autonomous’ pedagogy: “its arrogance lies in its claim to moral high ground and to superiority of its culture, its indifference to its own stratification consequences, its conceit in its lack of relation to anything other than itself, its self-referential abstracted autonomy.”  However, as Michael Fordham points out here it is, “the best means of making sense of the world beyond our immediate experience.”   

2. Because learning is interesting

Seriously, why are we educationalists if we don’t believe this?  Does Ken Robinson’s criticism of academic “boring stuff ” not show a failure of imagination?

There is inherent enjoyment in the pursuit of knowledge.  Willingham writes in Why Students Don’t Like School that, “people actually enjoy mental activity.”  In 2009 there were an estimated 22,445 pub quizzes a week, and in America in 2010 History was the biggest selling non-fiction book genre with 31% of the market.   

The stereotype of academic learning as ‘boring’ does immense damage, excluding the uninitiated from the joys of knowledge.

3. Because education is more than training

Education is becoming increasingly instrumentalised as a preparation for exams or the workplace.

Vocational schooling is not new, neither is it the preserve of the working class.  Into the C20th, women received vocational lessons based around domestic skills or polite ‘accomplishments.’  Males from the dominant social classes also received vocational education at institutions such as Sandhurst and Haileybury.  Vocational schooling of this kind had the effect of reinforcing stereotypes.  Many of us receive vocational training (such as a PGCE) before starting our careers.  Therefore does it not create a false and damaging dichotomy to suggest that some children are ‘vocational’ whilst others are ‘academic?’    

Demos argue here that education should be “more focused on equipping [students] with the capabilities to progress through the labour market.”  Although in Coming of Age, Woodin et al. suggest that, “contemporary impulses have aimed to reconnect education with the experience of work,” this can be set in a historical context.   In 1963 the Newsom Report recommended that, “fuller use should be made of the natural interests of older boys and girls in the work they will eventually undertake,” and in 1922 fear was expressed that expanding secondary education would create ‘a large class of persons whose education is unsuitable for the employment they eventually enter.’

Michael Fordham writes here, “it is not that I think vocational subjects are bad or damaging... but rather that I think secondary school is not the right time for these... I see it as the primary responsibility of employers to be training people in how to do jobs.” 

Bernstein here criticises “sinister” ‘market orientated’ pedagogies “allegedly” promoting relevant skills, attitudes and technology which, “allow for an almost perfect reproduction of the hierarchy of the economy within the school... the explicit commitment to greater choice by parents and pupils is not a celebration of a participatory democracy but a thin cover for the old stratification of schools and curricula... Vocationalism appears to offer the lower working class a legitimation of their own pedagogic interests in a manual-based curriculum, and in so doing appears to include them as significant pedagogic subjects, yet at the same time closes off their own personal and occupational possibilities. ”

Michael Fordham suggests here that, “Those who advocate bringing ‘vocational’ education earlier and earlier into the school curriculum are robbing children of their childhood, taking away those few precious years when children have the opportunity to learn knowledge for its own sake;” however, academic subjects have themselves become instrumentalised – a ‘flight path’ to examinations.  Young believes that our emphasis on testing means that “getting a higher grade can take over any intrinsic interest [students] might have in the subject they are studying.”   

4. Because education is more than ‘success’

I jog every morning.  I don’t know (or care) whether I’m ‘successful’ at it.  I haven’t assessed my progress against that of others.  I do it because it’s good for me to exercise and, because I value it, I’ve learned to enjoy it.  What if training our minds intellectually (and our bodies physically) is not about being ‘successful’, but just about ‘being’?  Michael Fordham points out here that, “the vast majority of children are capable of learning the academic disciplines.”   All learning is successful by merit of the fact that it has occurred.  Perhaps we need to celebrate the ‘doing’ rather than imposing criteria of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ on students. 

5. Because knowledge is not middle class

The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose, reviewed here studies “the impact of a working-class desire to consume a culture normally associated with those who were traditionally highly educated... the dictum ‘knowledge is power’ really meant something to the pre-twentieth-century worker.” Rose argues that, “If the dominant class defines high culture, then how do we explain the passionate pursuit of knowledge by proletarian autodidacts?”

Michael Fordham points out that over the C20th, “possibilities available only to the elites [have] been brought within the reach of all.”  Young argues that access to this ‘powerful’ knowledge is “the ‘right’ of all pupils as future citizens.”

However, Debra Kidd rightly reminds us that, “we cannot underestimate the pull of belonging and of community.”  Bernstein here suggests that “the meaning structure of the school is... imposed upon rather than integrated within, the form and content of [the working class] world.”  

Research here found that “negative attitudes [to education] were not based on children feeling that education does not matter, but rather on lack of confidence in their own ability to thrive within the system.”  

How do we construct academic curricula that authentically detangle ‘powerful knowledge’ from the stereotype that it is solely ‘knowledge for the powerful’? 

6. Because knowledge is an entitlement 

Disillusioned Idealist criticises, “a heroic narrative of ‘saving’ children from themselves.”

However, Michael Fordham points out that, “those children who have the opportunity to study academic subjects taken away from them at increasingly younger ages are those from less wealthy or lower social class backgrounds.”  Young sees the curriculum as “a guarantor of equality – at least equality of opportunity...[that] must be stipulated independently of the social composition of pupils.” 

Ken Baker’s criticism of the EBacc reported here by Andrew Old is that it, “is very similar to the exam I sat...[that] wasn’t broad enough for most children... I was part of the privileged elite.”  Andrew Old describes this as, “utter contempt for the academic aspirations of anyone outside [Baker’s] own social class.”  

7. Because 14 is young 

In the Middle Ages it was normal to be apprenticed around the age of 14.  This was also the school leaving age (1921-47).

Chris Woodhead argued here that the leaving age should be reduced to 14 to help ‘non-academic’ students learn a trade, while Michael Wilshaw argues here that students should be streamed at 14 based on their “aptitude for” academic or vocational education.  These concerns fit in a historical context; the raising of the school leaving age to 16 came about despite, “intransigent opposition among those who were extremely doubtful about the educability of all young people” [Woodin et al.]

What price choice?  Young asks: “by taking the different interests, motivations and abilities of students into account, and modifying the criteria from those of ‘powerful knowledge’, do such curricular decisions still represent the principles of treating all students equally? ...If we are serious about educational equality we have to be serious about curriculum justice.”  Martin Roberts points out here that “we are no nearer to creating vocational qualifications...‘with parity of esteem’ than we were in 1980,” while Carolyn Roberts writes here of the ‘shadow’ side of personalised curriculums “about which some children [are] given no choice at all [and which are] useful for the school’s performance but not the child’s future.”  

The 2011 Wolf Report states that, “We have no business, as a society, placing 16 year olds, let alone 14 year olds, in tracks which they cannot leave. “

8. Because ignorance is dangerous

Is there something intrinsically valuable in academic subjects?  Disappointed Idealist asks, “Are we really suggesting that if a student chooses to drop history as a subject then they’ll be intellectually, socially and professionally crippled for the rest of their life?” 

Basil Bernstein criticised the exclusion of students from academic disciplines that are the “public forms of understanding through which a society has conversations about itself and its future.”  Martin Robinson writes that, “Schools should ensure that the curriculum they provide reflects the greatest that culture has to offer.”  

It is another question as to whether academic subjects currently deliver this: Note the transformation of History into Hitler-y in recent years.

‘Ignorance’ is not a fashionable word; nevertheless it exists and is dangerous to, “understanding the human condition” [Martin Robinson] as demonstrated by this ignorant reportage by Fox News

9. Because I can value education from where I am

Do I want to, in Debra Kidd’s words, “make every one like us”?  Disappointed Idealist is scathing of ‘traditional subject evangelists’ who believe that, “you should like what I like, and you’ll be clever and successful too.

The second charge is easier to refute than the first.  I’m not sure I’d recommend teaching as the best route to being ‘clever and successful.’  However, I do find a deep joy in using my brain and acquiring knowledge that deepens my understanding of the world, which I wish to share with young people.

Care, support, understanding and belonging are important qualities of schools but is it enough to say, “the rest can follow?”  Carolyn Roberts writes that, “it is a privileged child indeed who can guarantee that home will be a sufficient foundation for his knowledge of the world.”  Given the heartbreaking home circumstances outlined in Debra Kidd’s blog, is a good academic education not all the more valuable?  Having said this, can we genuinely describe the current highly instrumentalised examination flight path that passes for learning as a good academic education?

Posted on January 17, 2015 .

4 Resolutions for Teaching

“Everything is about them.” [Hunger Games]

1. Stop talking about ‘them’

Too many decisions in the classroom are currently being made based on what ‘they’ might think, whether ‘they’ are SLT or Ofsted.  Keven Bartle suggests that we ‘fetishise’ Trojan Horses of education with their promises of magic bullet solutions.  The danger of this is that teachers do not own their pedagogical choices.  

Kevin Lister explains here.  “The problem comes when we forget why we're doing something, and just do it without thinking, without questioning... To do something because someone else has told us to do it... is to abdicate our professional responsibilities...teaching practice should be a conscious, deliberate act.”

This is all the more important when ‘they’ have a shifting understanding of what good teaching actually looks like.

Schools minister, Nick Gibb here blames “assertions by charismatic educationalists on the conference circuit” for “failed education orthodoxies” but fails to mention the role of Ofsted in promulgating said ‘failed orthodoxies.’  Spot the difference between the ‘Requires Improvement’ Maths lessons below and the effective teaching strategies referenced in What Makes Great Teaching:

Lesson descriptions from Ofsted reports
A feature of much of the...  teaching was that teachers tended to talk for too long.”
A common feature of... teaching observed was the use of examples followed by practice with many similar questions.  This allowed consolidation of a skill or technique...The teacher typically demonstrated a standard method, giving tips to pupils on how to avoid making mistakes and sometimes rules and mnemonics to help them commit the methods to memory.  Many of their questions concerned factual recall.”

 Principles of Instruction  
"The more effective teachers spent more time presenting new material and guiding student practice than did the less effective teachers. In a study of mathematics instruction, for instance, the most effective mathematics teachers spent about 23 minutes of a 40-minute period in lecture, demonstration, questioning, and working examples. In contrast, the least effective teachers spent only 11 minutes presenting new material.... One characteristic of effective teachers is their ability to anticipate students’ errors and warn them about possible errors some of them are likely to make... One of the goals of education is to help students develop extensive and available background knowledge.”


  1. Keven Bartle invites Guerrilla Teachers to Unleash the Trojan Mice

  2. This tweet from @Headguruteacher says it all: 

2. Know your pedagogy

Keven Bartle points out that the first, second and third rules of good teaching are good pedagogy.

What Makes Great Teaching reports the findings of Askew et al. that the “pedagogical purposes behind particular classroom practices are as important as the practices themselves in determining effectiveness.”  The report suggests that effective pedagogy consists of “more than just a set of classroom techniques, but... the ability to make complex judgements about which technique to use when.”

If teachers don’t understand and utilise the pedagogy, we run the risks of:

  • Failing to make the most effective and efficient choices about what works
  • Being regarded as technicians rather than professionals
  • Being unable to engage effectively in necessary discussion about what works
  • Being held hostage by the decisions of others

Research reported here found that, “on average, teachers believed 49% of the neuromyths, particularly myths related to commercialized educational programs.”  A recent survey reported here found that 90% of teachers in several countries agreed that individuals learn better in their preferred learning style despite there being "no convincing evidence.”  Conversely Dunlosky points out here that “some effective techniques are underutilized – many teachers do not learn about them.” 


  1. What makes great teaching @Class Teaching

  2. Daniel Willingham and Tom Bennett have written an excellent article here on learning styles and other myths in education.

3. Ditch the labels

The more I read about growth and fixed mindset, the more applicable they seem to teaching.  Although Ofsted no longer grades individual lessons, in December, Teacher Toolkit found here a 50:50 split in whether schools were still grading lessons.  Labelling teachers (even if it is based on more than observation of under 1% of their teaching) has the following drawbacks: 

  • Teachers self-conceptualise themselves professionally by these labels.  This risks complacency in ‘outstanding’ teachers and disengagement from the professional learning community by ‘requires improvement’ teachers.  Dylan Wiliam points out that, “Every teacher needs to improve. Not because they’re not good enough but because they can be even better.”
  • Strong et al. found here that, “judges, no matter how experienced, are unable to identify successful teachers.” 
  • Ofsted currently define outstanding progress here as “almost all pupils...making sustained progress that leads to outstanding achievement.”  Professor Colin Richards critiques this definition here as, “equally impossible to meet and to inspect.”  Has anyone actually achieved outstanding teaching over a 20+ year career or is it impossible to sustain in the long term?
  • Labelling teachers is a zero-sum game.  By definition all teachers cannot stand out.
  • Labelling teachers prevents focus on areas of improvement.  What Makes Great Teachingreports that teachers are “unwilling to expose their weaknesses... because of the negative opinion that other professionals could have of their performance.”

The Power of Feedback Hattie and Timperley


  1. David Didau writes here: Do we really have a growth mindset?  

4. Opportunity Cost it


In 1935, a miner called Stakhanov was feted in the USSR for mining 14x his quota (his achievements have since been questioned).  This gave birth to the Stakhanovite movement for workers who exceeded their production targets.  A ‘Stakhanovite’ had beaten Stakhanov’s record by 1936.  Stakhanovite competitions were introduced and a quarter of Soviet women were designated as ‘norm breaking.’  Stakhonovites organised the two-hundreder and one-thousander movements for those exceeding their shift quota by 200% and 1000% accordingly and Stakhonivsm encouraged the development of work quotas.

Ring any bells?  Professor Colin Richards criticises, an obsession [with outstanding] that threatens to undermine what is reasonable and possible in the pursuit of an unattainable perfection that, in too many cases, demoralises rather than motivates.”


  1. James Theo writes here Why is Opportunity Cost so Important?



Posted on January 16, 2015 .

Reclaim Your Marking

Play your cards right

40 Quick Marking Strategies

Too many decisions in the classroom are currently being made based on what ‘they’ might think, whether ‘they’ are SLT or Ofsted.  The danger is that teachers are not owning their pedagogical choices.  

Kevin Lister explains it perfectly here.  “The problem comes when we forget why we're doing something, and just do it without thinking, without questioning... As professional teachers we should actively seek out as wide a range of methods and techniques for teaching as we can... We then need to use our professional judgement to select from this range... To do something because someone else has told us to do it... is to abdicate our professional responsibilities...teaching practice should be a conscious, deliberate act. Decisions need to be taken actively rather than received passively, and improvements actively sought.”

I don’t have time to know the pedagogy...

A definition for ‘learned helplessness’ is “a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a persistent failure to succeed.”  

If teachers don’t understand and utilise the pedagogy behind marking, we run the risks of:

  • Failing to make the most effective and efficient choices about what works
  • Marking which hinders students’ progress.  Dylan Wiliam points out here that in 38% of well-designed studies, feedback actually made performance worse
  • Being held hostage by the decisions of others 
  • Being unable to engage effectively in necessary discussion about what works 
  • Reinforcing ‘learned helplessness’

This blog is meant to be read in conjunction with last week’s blog here, which outlines in more detail the pedagogy behind effective and efficient marking.

Know your marking hand and play it wisely...

6 Strategies for Increased Guided Instruction

  1. Clear success criteria @Improving Teaching
  2. Ethic of Excellence @Headguruteacher
  3. Modelling @Headguruteacher
  4. Pre-Flight Check list @Belmont Teach
  5. Effective hinge questions @Improving Teaching
  6. Pre-empt unnecessary feedback @Reflecting English

4 Strategies for Live Marking

  1. Verbal feedback @Class Teaching
  2. Live Marking @Class Teaching
  3. Dot Round @Doug Lemov’s Field Notes
  4. Real-time dot marking @Improving Teaching

7 Strategies for Re-guided Instruction

  1. 5 Minute Flick
  2. My Favourite No @Huntingdon Learning Hub
  3. Video Modelling @The Goldfish Bowl
  4. Taxonony of Errors @Canons Broadside
  5. Sentence Escalators @Reflecting English
  6. Layered Writing @Class Teaching
  7. Differentiated ‘Exit Tickets’ @Pragmatic Education

10 Strategies for Guided Marking Practice

  1. Find Faults and Fix @Learning Spy
  2. Gritty Editing @Reflecting English
  3. Assessment Frameworks (Exemplar essay self assessment) @Love Learning Ideas.
  4. Worked Examples (Exemplar essay) @Love Learning Ideas
  5. Post Assessment Feedback @Class Teaching (no. 8)
  6. Micro Revision @The Goldfish Bowl
  7. Gallery Critique @Reflecting English
  8. Supported Redraft @Class Teaching (no. 9)
  9. Redrafting @Reflecting English
  10. Self Assessment @Teaching: Leading Learning

14 Strategies for Teacher Marking

  1. DIRT @Huntingdon School
  2. Self Assessment 2.0 @The Goldfish Bowl
  3. Post it improvement strategies @Love Learning Ideas (Teacher Marking Strategies)
  4. Feedback plasters @Belmont Teach.
  5. Dialogue Annotations @Love Learning Ideas (Teacher Marking Strategies)
  6. Improvement Grid @Love Learning Ideas (Teacher Marking Strategies)
  7. Colour marking keys  @3 Square
  8. Target symbols @Reflecting English
  9. Highlighting @Love Learning Ideas (Teacher Marking Strategies)
  10. Error marking @Learning From My Mistakes
  11. Burning Questions @My Learning Journey
  12. Digital feedback @ICT Evangelist
  13. Feedback using mail merge @The Goldfish Bowl
  14. Be wary of quick fix marking.  Warning @Teacher Toolkit 

Play your cards in the right order...

David Didau rightly criticises triple marking here, which can be considered as the equivalent of the two of spades in your marking hand.

Consider instead playing your hand in the following ways:

I would suggest positioning DIRT (or Guided Marking Practice) BEFORE Teacher Marking to optimise effectiveness by:

  • Eliminating accidental errors and misconceptions before Teacher Marking, therefore reducing unnecessary feedback
  • Encouraging students to self-regulate automatically and independently

Consider using meeting time to mark books together to review the quality of the students’ work:

1 hour off marking time
An insight into the quality of work

‘brownie points’ from SLT for collaborative self-evaluation

How do I know which card to play...

Make your decisions blended on which card is best for student learning and maximises opportunity cost:

I have switched my decision-making from ‘what works?’ to ‘what is the opportunity cost?’ I ask myself: if I choose to use this... approach... does it mean I miss out on doing something else which is richer in what it offers pupils?” James Theo here

How will ‘they’ know...

  • If you are minimising feedback by improving Guided Instruction, ‘they’ will see this through evidence of process scaffolds that students have engaged with in the work
  • If you are using verbal Live Marking, ensure that students write down your comments in the margin with their feedback pen.  Personally, I prefer to leave the choice of colour to the student so they have ownership of the process
  • If you are using Re-guided Instruction, ensure that students annotate their work using their feedback pen
  • You might want to use a marking plan (only if it helps!) to track and evaluate your marking decisions:

Why less really is more when it comes to marking...

  • Live Marking is more effective than Teacher Marking during task acquisition
  • Live Marking prepares students for exam-writing more effectively than Teacher Marking by improving their ‘real-time’ self-regulation
  • 30-second Live Marking, which highlights errors, gives hints, asks questions or summarises is more effective than longer feedback that gives students the answers
  • Simple task or process feedback is more effective than longer, complex feedback
  • Mastery learning is more effective when students focus on eliminating 1 or 2 mistakes at a time
  • Re-guided Instruction is more effective than Teacher Marking where the success rate is below 80%
  • Too much over-minute task feedback directs students’ attention below the level needed for high performance
  • Guided Marking is more effective than Teacher Marking in developing effective learner self-regulation, which adds 8 months to average student progress
  • Correcting students’ work for them and writing lengthy comments is less effective than summarised feedback: highlighting errors and marking codes which force students to think about and engage with their errors 

Find out more on the pedagogy behind effective marking here

If you would like to use the pictures above as a Powerpoint they can be found here

Posted on January 10, 2015 .

Meaningful Manageable Marking

4 Steps to Efficient Effective Marking

Pedagogy & Strategies

There are too many important things for teachers to be doing for them to waste time on what doesn’t work.  This blog therefore focuses on effective and efficient ways of using marking as feedback.  

But what about Ofsted...

Ofsted does not expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders. Ofsted recognises the importance of different forms of feedback and inspectors will look at how these are used to promote learning. 

“Why then the focus on volumes of marking? ...High quality, not truck-loads of ticks. Fewer things, done really well. Mary Myatt, Lead Ofsted Inspector here.

So why mark...

An open loop control system does not use feedback to check that its output has achieved the desired goal of its input; consequently, it cannot correct its errors.  

One OED definition of ‘marking’ is: “notice or pay careful attention to.”  By paying careful attention to students’ work we receive feedback on the efficacy of our teaching, “It is the feedback to the teacher about what the students can and can’t do that is more powerful than feedback to the student” [Hattie].  In turn, teacher feedback allows students (not teachers) to correct their errors and improve their learning.  To be ‘feedback’ marking must lead to action: “It is considered feedback only when it is used to alter the gap” [Royce Sadler].  The Education Endowment Fund finds that feedback adds 8 additional months to average pupil progress.  

1. Reduce unnecessary marking by increasing student understanding

  • Model success criteria clearly: Ideas @Improving Teaching
  • Increase guided practice: “The most successful teachers... spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions” [Principles of Instruction]
  • Use previous feedback: “once a topic has been taught a few times, we become aware of the pitfalls associated with it.  Our initial instruction should improve and, as a result, preempt much of the obvious feedback” @Reflecting English
  • Use mastery feedback: focus on 1 or 2 improvement strategies: simple, specific, logical steps which students need to master before moving on.  “Specific goals [about how to do a task more effectively] are more effective... because they focus students’ attention.” [Hattie and Timperley].  

2. Reduce unnecessary marking by increasing ‘desirable difficulties’

Build in ‘struggle time’ before providing feedback.  “Learning happens when people have to think hard” [Coe].  Over-guiding students is less effective than “delaying, reducing and summarising feedback [which] can be better for long term learning than providing immediate... feedback” [Bjork].

3. Match ‘marking’ to feedback

Hattie identifies three types of effective feedback:
i. Task (FT)
ii. Process (FP)
iii. Self-Regulation (FR)


Feedback aimed to move students from task to processing and then from processing to regulation is most effective. Too much feedback within a level may even detract from performance. For example, FT that provides very specific information about the correctness of the minutiae of tasks and is not also directed to the processing required to complete the task can direct attention below the level necessary for high-level performance.” Hattie and Timperley 

Live Marking Strategies
1. Verbal feedback @Class Teaching
2. Live Marking @Class Teaching
3. Dot Round @Doug Lemov’s Field Notes
4. Real-time dot marking @Improving Teaching

5. My Favourite No @Huntingdon Learning Hub

5 Minute Flick

Re-guided teaching Strategies
1. Worked Exemplars @Love Learning Ideas
2. Video Modelling @The Goldfish Bowl
3. Taxonony of Errors @Canons Broadside
4. Sentence Escalators @Reflecting English
5. Differentiated ‘Exit Tickets’ @Pragmatic Education

Ideas on ‘micro revision’ @The Goldfish Bowl
@Reflecting English explains the benefits of redrafting

Guided Marking Practice Strategies
1. Find Faults and Fix @Learning Spy
2. Gritty Editing @Reflecting English
3. Pre-Flight Check list @Belmont Teach
4. Assessment Frameworks @Love Learning Ideas
5. Layered Writing @Class Teaching
6. Post Assessment Feedback @Class Teaching (no. 8)
7. Supported Redraft @Class Teaching (no. 9)
8. Gallery Critique @Reflecting English

9. Peer Feedback @messylearningdotcom. 

Ideas @Huntingdon School
Self Assessment 2.0 @The Goldfish Bowl

Teacher Marking Strategies

1. Post it improvement strategies
Write improvement strategies on post-its transferrable to future tasks.  Mastered improvement strategies can be kept in a ‘nailed it’ section of students’ books.  Also see feedback plasters @Belmont Teach.

2. Dialogue Annotations 
Write annotations in the work from which students create improvement strategies, or write improvement strategies from which students annotate their work.

3. Improvement Grid

4. Marking Keys 

  • Colours  @3 Square
  • Target symbols @Reflecting English
  • Feedback key
  • Highlight areas of work that need to be improved and areas of strength.  Students create improvement strategies by analysing your highlighting

5. Error marking @Learning From My Mistakes

6. Burning Questions @My Learning Journey

7. Digital feedback @ICT Evangelist

8. Feedback using mail merge @The Goldfish Bowl

A warning against unnecessary Triple Marking from @Learning Spy

4. Create space for marking 

  • Plan guided marking practice into lessons
  • Use feedback margins or the left-hand page of exercise books for feedback and improvement tasks

  • Create a Marking Timetable using the 4 feedback methods
  • Should we mark our books alone?” [David Didau]: Consider collaborative marking.
  • Mark books hardly ever record what the student can do” [Dylan Wiliam]  
    i. Keep a record of mastery see @Pragmatic Education
    ii. Keep a record of error type to inform your feedback

Posted on December 6, 2014 .

Catch-Up Pedagogy

The statistics make sobering reading.  Research reported here found that, “on average, teachers believed 49% of... neuromyths, particularly myths related to commercialized educational programs.”  A recent survey reported here found that 90% of teachers in several countries agreed that individuals learn better in their preferred learning style despite there being "no convincing evidence.” (Read an excellent article by Daniel Willingham and Tom Bennett in the TES here on learning styles and other myths in education.) Conversely Dunlosky points out here that “some effective techniques are underutilized – many teachers do not learn about them.” 

I was one of the 90% until reading this blog from @headguruteacher - a revivifying pedagogical update.  Why?  Lack of time and information.  

Here are 8 catch-up pedagogies every teacher should know:  

1. Think ‘fluent mastery’ not ‘rapid progress’

Bjork points out here that performance can be an “unreliable indicator” of learning because the ‘constant cues’ given by similar tasks blocked together in a predictable context with immediate feedback create the ‘illusion of fluency’.  Tim Oates’ curriculum reform emphasises “deep learning” over “undue pace.”  In Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine advocates ‘mastery learning,’ building automatic fluency in key concepts: “the most effective teachers... began their lessons with a five-to-eight minute review of previously covered material [and taught in] small steps (i.e., by combining short presentations with supervised student practice)... giving sufficient practice on each part before proceeding to the next step” and re-teaching material when necessary.  Engelmann suggests that just 15% of a lesson should be new content, the rest being review of, or slight expansions on, previous content.

Myth: Keven Bartle explains the myth of progress in lessons here

Strategies: Avoid Professor Coe’s ‘Poor Proxies for Learning:’

  • Students are busy: lots of (written) work is done  
  • Students are engaged, interested, motivated 
  • Students are getting attention: feedback, explanations 
  • Classroom is ordered, calm, under control 
  • Curriculum has been ‘covered’ 
  •  (At least some) students have supplied correct answers (whether or not they understood or could reproduce them independently) 

2.  Knowledge matters

The Sutton Trust Report states that, “the most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach [and]...understand the ways students think about the content.”  Rosenshine found that “one characteristic of effective teachers is their ability to anticipate students’ errors.” 

Deep knowledge is vital to achievement.  Hirsch argues that, “breadth of knowledge is the single factor within human control [including socio-economic status] that contributes most to academic achievement... Imparting broad knowledge to all children is the single most effective way to narrow the gap between demographic groups through schooling.”  Young argues here that all students are entitled to ‘powerful knowledge’: “the best that has been thought and said.”

Deep knowledge is also vital to memorising and thinking.  Willingham argues that a memory replete with facts learns better than one without, and reasons that it “makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content.” 

Myth: knowledge and understanding are ‘lower order’ @Webs of Substance here  

Strategies: Stretch and Challenge curriculum mapping @Love Learning Ideas here

3. Expect excellence from all

Think in terms of expected learning gains:

  • What deep understanding or technical proficiency will students gain mastery of?
  • What will excellence look like?

Myth: Shaun Allison writes here that ‘all, most, some’ learning objectives “stifle aspirations of what students can achieve.”  He suggests a single, challenging objective for all students with appropriate scaffolding.

Strategies: @Headguruteacher explains here how to ‘Define the Butterfly’

4. Learning should be guided

The Sutton Trust Report recommends “reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students [and] progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding)” as elements of high quality instruction.

Rosenshine emphasises clear, detailed instructions and a range of explanations: “the most successful teachers... spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions... Teachers who spent more time in guided practice...also had students who were more engaged during individual work.”

Myth: Students can find out for themselves with teachers as facilitators: Kirschner, Sweller and Clark argue here, that “based on our current knowledge of human cognitive architecture, minimally guided instruction is likely to be ineffective...When dealing with novel information, learners should be explicitly shown what to do and how to do it.”

They criticise problem-solving as requiring, “limited working memory... to be used for activities that are unrelated to learning” and recommend worked examples, models and process worksheets which reduce working memory load and “direct attention to learning the essential relations between problem-solving moves.” 

Strategies: 17 Principles of Effective Instruction here

5. Learning should be difficult

Learning happens when people have to think hard...It helps teachers to ask questions like, ‘Where in this lesson will students have to think hard?” [Coe] 

Willingham points out here that memory is the residue of thought, “Your memory is not a product of what you want to remember...  it’s a product of what you think about,” therefore the goal of lessons is thinking about meaning: Sometimes learning is not fun. Instead, it is just hard work; it is deliberate practice; it is simply doing some things many times over” [Hattie].

Bjork’s counter-intuitive finding here is that ‘desirable difficulties’ which make short-term performance harder, cause better long-term learning.  These include:

  • Varying the conditions of practice rather than keeping them constant and predictable
  • Spacing practice sessions with gaps to allow forgetting.  Bjork argues that “forgetting... creates the opportunity to reach additional levels of learning.” 
  • Interleaving rather than blocking topics
  • Using retrieval quizzes to test recall
  • Reducing feedback

Myth: Learners choose the most effective learning methods.  Kirschner, Sweller and Clark found that: “Less able learners who choose less guided approaches tend to like the experience even though they learn less from it.”  In comparison, task-specific learning strategies embedded in instructional presentations“require explicit, attention-driven effort on the part of the learners and so tend not to be liked, even though they are helpful to learning.”  Conversely, “Higher aptitude students who chose highly structured approaches tended to like them but achieve at a lower level...[because they] have acquired implicit, task-specific learning strategies that are more effective for them than those embedded in the structured versions of the course...[but] believe that they will achieve the required learning with a minimum of effort.” 

Strategies: Planning Schedule Audit to plan for ‘desirable difficulties’ @Love Learning Ideas here

6. Deliberate practice makes mastery

The Sutton Trust Report recommends, “Giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely” as an element of high quality instruction.  Nuthall suggests that practice of new learning should be spaced over at least three occasions, and Engelmann argues that practice should be five times longer than teachers expect.  This ‘overlearning’ creates fluent, automatic understanding and transfers learning to the long-term memory.

Rosenshine found that “the most effective teachers... understood the importance of [guided and independent] practice...It is not enough simply to present students with new material, because the material will be forgotten unless there is sufficient rehearsal.”  His research also suggested that the optimal success rate in practice was 80%: students were learning but still challenged.

Myth: the most effective learning is based on ‘doing’ here

Strategies: Independent Learning Skills Log here

7. Testing as Learning

As learning occurs so does forgetting” [Nuthall], therefore “the aim of all instruction is to alter long-term memory.  If nothing has changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned” [Kirschner, Sweller and Clark.]  Willingham suggests that information should be ‘overlearned’ by 20%.

Dunlosky’s research here suggests that the following methods retrieve memory most effectively:

  • Practice Testing improves memory retrieval and has “sizeable benefits” when frequent, spaced and with feedback.  Testing is “not merely a tool for assessing learning but also a tool for enhancing learning” – more effective than re-study or concept mapping [Karpicke] here
  • Distributed practice forces students to think harder and works best “when the lag between sessions [is] approximately 10-20% of the desired retention interval” 
  • Interleaved practice strengthens memory retrieval
  • Elaborative interrogation enhances learning by integrating new information with prior knowledge
  • Self-explanation helps students understand processes

Myth: Summarising, highlighting and re-reading are highly effective learning strategies

Strategies: How to pass exams assembly @Love Learning Ideas here

8. Question don’t 'progress check'

The Sutton Trust Report recommends “effective questioning” as an element of high quality instruction.  Effective questions require all students to process and rehearse material, and allow teachers to check for understanding and provide feedback and corrections. Rosenshine criticised, “the least effective teachers [who] asked only nine questions in a 40-minute period.”  Multi-choice hinge questions can encourage students to process: why are responses correct or incorrect?    

Myth: closed questions are less effective.  Andy Tharby explains here how closed questions can be used for retrieval, assessment, fine analysis, focused research, thinking and modelling.

Strategies: how to use hinge questions @Improving Teaching here

Posted on November 29, 2014 .

Time-Saving Pedagogy

Time – the Holy Grail of the teacher.  There was never enough of it, and now there’s arguably even less.  This blog was inspired by a conversation with a great colleague over half term about how to teach effectively efficiently.  Here are 12 time saving pedagogies:

1.  Retrieval Starters:
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Barak Rosenshine, Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Knowargues that “the most effective teachers... understood the importance of practice, and they began their lessons with a five-to-eight minute review of previously covered material.”

Use your starter to ask students:

  •  To retrieve key knowledge from last lesson
  • To retrieve key knowledge from last week
  • To retrieve key knowledge from last term
  • To retrieve key knowledge from last lesson and connect it to knowledge from last term

Thanks to Andy Tharby @Reflecting English for this idea.

2. More Teacher Talk
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

According to Rosenshine, “The more successful teachers did not overwhelm their students by presenting too much new material at once...  the more effective teachers spent more time presenting new material and guiding student practice than did the less effective teachers. In a study of mathematics instruction, for instance, the most effective mathematics teachers spent about 23 minutes of a 40-minute period in lecture, demonstration, questioning, and working examples. In contrast, the least effective teachers spent only 11 minutes presenting new material. The more effective teachers used this extra time to provide additional explanations, give many examples, check for student understanding, and provide sufficient instruction so that the students could learn to work independently without difficulty.”

Similarly, research on Chinese primary Maths classrooms here found that interactive teaching, based on teacher instruction and questioning, was used 72% of the time, compared to 24% of the time in England, with individual or group work in China being used only 28% of the time, compared to 47% of the time in England.

Finally, don't waste time marking substandard work.  Hattie and Timperley remind us that, “With inefficient learners it is better for a teacher to provide elaborations through instruction than to provide feedback on poorly understood concepts.” 

3. ABC Questioning
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Rosenshine states that, “Students need to practice new material... The most successful teachers in these studies spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions.  Questions allow a teacher to determine how well the material has been learned and whether there is a need for additional instruction. The most effective teachers also ask students to explain the process they used to answer the question, to explain how the answer was found. Less successful teachers ask fewer questions and almost no process questions.”

Alex Quigley has some great strategies here for questioning including the ABC Feedback model.  This could be expanded into:

CEDDDARS (I’m sure someone can think of a better acronym)

4. Say it again properly
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher suggests, “every time students give a verbal answer and before they are asked to write anything, ask them to re-form their initial responses into well-constructed sentences using the key words and phrases you’ve discussed.  Do it relentlessly, every time.
What does the graph tell us?
    First attempt:  It goes up.
   Second attempt:  The speed on impact increases as the mass of the trolley increases.” 

5. Challenge language
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Use your vocabulary to develop a growth mind-set:

  • Insist on the word ‘yet’
  • Use ‘what do you think?’ to deflect questions back to the student

There are some lovely re-phrasing ideas @Class Teaching.

6. Struggle Plenary
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Rather than spending time at the end of the lesson trying to assess what students have learned, ask them what they have struggled with that lesson? What was hard?  Why was it hard?  Then use this to plan your next lesson.  Not only will this make your next lesson more focused, but it also fosters the attitude that ‘struggle is good’.

Thanks to @Class Teaching for this idea.

7. Feedback Grid
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Dylan Wiliam reminds us that feedback should involve more work for the student than the teacher.  Alex Quigley gives a warning here about “feedback [that] no longer becomes purposeful for the learning of students, but instead becomes a visible indicator for inspection teams.”

This strategy has saved my time with A Level History students.  Before I used it, I found myself re-writing the same targets for students time and again as they forgot what I’d written on their last essay and didn’t address my improvement strategies.

  • I write strategies for improvement on an essay
  • The student fills in the boxes below at the top of their next essay
  • I comment briefly on their progress with this improvement strategy.  It’s also useful to read how the student feels that they have addressed the improvement strategy

Thanks to Saffron Walden High School and Chew Valley High School for these other handy tips on smart but effective feedback.  See more ideas from Andy Tharby on Marking, Minimum Effort for Maximum Pleasure @Class Teaching

8. Live Marking
Time spent marking out of lesson: 0 minutes

Described by Sam Down @Class Teaching, “This, in my view, is one of the most effective forms of written feedback – time efficient and high impact.  So whilst the students are working, the teacher goes around the room...  Look at their work, write a question on their work to improve their work and then tell them to respond.  Come back 5 minutes later, to see if they have... I aim to do at least 7-8 students every lesson”

Rosenshine found that “students were more engaged when their teacher circulated around the room, and monitored... their work. The optimal time for these contacts was 30 seconds or less.”

9. Verbal Feedback
Time spent marking out of lesson: 0 minutes

Alex Quigley warns that, “With all of the focus being on written feedback, there is a danger that oral feedback becomes relegated as some inferior cousin in the teaching stakes. As teachers will tell you, it is the immediate oral feedback that can be the most useful mode of feedback, whereas the time-lag on written feedback can too often render it redundant. Teachers are driven to write reams of written feedback and are in danger of having little time or energy to concentrate upon the good feedback that really matters for improving learning.”

Get the students to write down your feedback so that:

  • They think about what you have said
  • They can tick off the feedback when they have implemented it

There is a fabulous round up of fast feedback techniques from Belmont Teach here

10. Book Space:
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

I love this idea from @Chris Chivers (Thinks) about leaving the left hand pages of a book for planning and ideas gathering.  It would also be a great place for students to record verbal feedback or undertake improvement tasks.

11. Variety for the sake of variety
Time saved: All that time spent on preparing ‘fun’ activities. 

Daniel Willingham points out that we remember what we think about.  Joe Kirby @Pragmatic Education says it best with his blog on the Cult of VarietyFun and variety are distracting from focusing our pupils on thinking about subject content so that they remember it. Teachers are spending huge amounts of time resourcing marketplaces and attitude cards when they’d be better off thinking up subject-specific tasks than fun, generic activities.”

The time saved can be spent on effective planning.  In Teach Like A Champion, Doug Lemov suggests that teachers stop day-to-day lesson planning and focus on unit planning.  Kev Bartle reinforces that “Ofsted does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain. Inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.”  For a straightforward template that includes some of the ideas above see the S&C Lesson Plan @lovelearningideas

12. Inexpensive ways to improve learning
Time to prepare: Nothing to prepare, it’s about rearranging what you teach

Roediger and Pyc identify here the following techniques that have been found to improve learning:

  • Distributing the learning of facts and skills by spacing learning activities over time and interleaving different kinds of material within a lesson
  • Self-testing or taking practice tests
  • Explanatory questioning using elaborative explanation (generating an explanation for why a concept is true) and self-explanation (explaining how new information is related to known information, or explaining the steps of a process)


It’s not a pedagogy, but if you’re in a stew about Ofsted I’d recommend reading Head Teacher Kev Bartle’s words of wisdom here: “[We] need... to welcome the Trojan Mice teachers bringing their own strategies to their own classrooms, refining them and sharing this with others in a supportive professional learning environment.”

If you’re struggling with workload it might also be worth reading @andywarner78’s blog on managing workload here.

Posted on November 23, 2014 .

Reach for it: Failing to Succeed

Reach for it.png

If you think about it, we already knew that we were making learning too easy.  What teacher hasn’t bemoaned the extent of ‘spoon feeding’ in the modern education system?  The rich irony is that by making learning too easy we’ve actually made it harder for students to learn effectively.

Too many educational decisions in the first decade of the C21st were predicated on easiness: ‘Buy one get three free’ qualifications spring immediately to mind.  The rot had spread to the very heart of the classroom.  Gone were the days of teacher feedback along the lines of: ‘if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.’  If our students didn’t know, we would pretty much do it for them.  Many are the History GCSE grades that belong more to me for services to coursework and recall above and beyond the call of duty than to their supposed holders.

Dweck’s ‘Growth Mind-set’ was a wake-up call.  Students can ‘grow their brains’ by learning something hard and improve their intelligence through hard work.  Key characteristics of effective students are therefore:

  • Enjoying effort
  • Welcoming mistakes
  • Handling difficulty

Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill reinforces this emphasis on effort and hard work.

“The key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” Gladwell (2008)

In school terms this equates to 9 years of 30-hour weeks for students (25 hours of lessons and 5 hours of homework) over the 39 weeks of the school year.  A time period that puts the ‘mastery’ gained in a 50-minute lesson into perspective.

As an antidote to the current ‘rapid progress’ culture, Bjork identifies ‘desirable difficulties’ such as variability, spacing, testing, interleaving and reducing feedback.

“Conditions which induce the most errors during acquisition are often the very conditions that lead to the most learning.” Bjork (2013)

Hattie stresses the importance of a ‘growth mind-set’ for teachers as well as students:

“Enhancing learning also needs... environments where teachers can talk about their learning, where errors or difficulties are seen as critical learning opportunities... where teachers feel safe to learn.”  Hattie (2009)

All of this, suggests that struggle is crucial to effective learning, and should occupy a key place in learning classrooms and learner/ teacher mind-sets. 

20 ideas to encourage students to ‘reach for it’

1.  Be explicit with students that they need to fail to succeed.  Provide learner CPD as well as teacher CPD through assemblies or form time sessions so that students understand their learning.  This Learning Contract encourages students to reflect explicitly on the attitudes that they need to develop:

Learning Contract

2. Be explicit with students that they need to fail to succeed.  Have ‘reach for it’ assemblies for students celebrating ‘failures’ who didn’t get there first time.  Some examples are provided in the links below: 

Failing to Succeed Assembly

3.  Embed ‘reaching for it’ into the school culture.  Name houses or rewards after great ‘failures’ who didn’t get there first time. 

4.  Create a ‘reach for it’ culture in your classroom, department or school in which difficulty rather than easiness is desirable.  Don’t use easiness as a reward or bribe for students in lessons.  Use analogies of desirable difficulty that will resonate with your students: no one got into the marines by choosing the easy option.

5.  Reframe mistakes into ‘reaching for your failure line.’  Below this line is what you have already mastered.  Above this line is what you have still to master.  Make it a success criterion of lessons that students reach their failure line.

6.  Students should struggle every lesson.  Provide challenging tasks that students cannot get right first time. 

 7.  Bjork suggests replacing predictability with variability.  Build extended abstract thinking into lessons so that students get used to applying understanding out of context.  This lesson plan provides a template:

Lesson Plan

8.  Provide regular opportunities for students to develop a strategy for what to do when they can’t do it.  How do they use their own brain when this is the only resource that they’ve got?  Idea 10 might help with this.  Think about planning some un-doable activities into learning.

9.  Don’t spend students’ time on what they can do.  Provide task ‘ladders’ that students can move up once they’ve mastered a task.  Some students might master a task after completing two activities, for others it might take fifteen.  Idea 11 might help with this.

10.  Use spreading activation models to encourage students to map their lines of thinking showing thinking links and cul-de-sacs.

11.  Ensure that students understand the steps needed for mastery. 

12.  Make it safe to make mistakes.  Welcome wrong answers as an opportunity to explore what went wrong in students’ thinking.

  • Why is this answer wrong?
  • Where did it go wrong?
  • What would make it right?
  • What would it be the right answer to?

There are some great techniques here:

13.  Teach students how dialectic thinking works so that they understand that different views can lead to deeper understanding.  I also like Alex Quigley’s ABC questions as a model for ‘reach for it’ discourse:

 14. Reflect in the plenary on the best mistake of the lesson or get students to reflect on their most useful mistake.  I like Shaun Allison’s idea of the struggle plenary:

15. Teach students to use modal language to encourage tentative thinking: may, ought, might, could, should etc.

16.  Build spaces into the curriculum in lessons or Scholarship Forms where there are no right answers using thinking games and thunking.  Reward students for their generation of ideas in a set time, or creativity of ideas rather than ‘rightness.’  Below are some ideas:

Thunking strategies
Thinking strategies

17.  Review your use of language as a teacher, department or school.  How often are you using the following words in formal and informal feedback including reports?


18. In work scrutinies look for evidence of struggle.  If students are getting everything right is the work challenging enough?

19. Consider using the same strategies for teachers as well as students.

20. Don’t overpraise with labels.  Consider carefully the presence of ‘fixed mind-set’ structures or rewards systems in the school for students and teachers such as the G&T Group.

Posted on October 1, 2014 .