This book has transformed the way that I approach Teaching and Learning within the classroom and it has some great insights into how to improve students’ learning.
Importantly, “learning that’s easy is like writing in sand: it’s here today, gone tomorrow.” The book stresses that learning is deeper when effortful.
Secondly, one of the most striking points for me is that testing can actually help students learn. It appears that the act of retrieving information from the brain actually strengthens that memory. The authors stress that retrieving information is always much more impactful than covering the same topic again or simply re-reading information.
The authors also discuss how spacing and interleaving topics is much better for long term retention of knowledge. Spaced learning is when there is a deliberate break between learning episodes so that some of the learning is lost between teaching them again. This has been shown to increase long term retention of topics.
Interleaved practice is when you mix up topics (ABCABCABC) so that a student is not doing blocked practice where a topic is taught once before students move on (AAABBBCCC). As you can see, interleaving also benefits from the spaced effect too as there is a small time interval before a topic is taught again.
Massed/Blocked practice is likely to lead to higher levels of performance, which is why students and teachers often prefer to teach this way, yet it is an illusion as it is argued that it doesn’t lead to such gains in long term retention. Alternatively, spaced and interleaved practice may lead to lower in-class performance but higher long term benefits so teachers should believe in their approaches and trust the benefits will be seen in the longer term.
This book has provided me with so many ideas to take into the classroom and I hope some of the comments and implications are useful.
Possible practical implications
1) Use low stakes tests frequently to provide opportunities for your students to practice retrieving information. By providing feedback, students strengthen their memories, enhancing long term learning.
2) Try and plan for activities or topics to be more spaced out. By having an interval between teaching episodes, allowing some interleaving too, students should increase their long term retention.
3) Get students to struggle with problems before showing them how to do it. The generation effect has shown students will better learn it and knowledge will be more durable.
4) Get students to write a reflective paragraph on what they’ve learnt. It is a difficult skill to generate their own paragraph but it will help strengthen the knowledge connections in their brain.
5) Use tests to re-cap topics previously taught rather than simply re-reading or re-doing activities with them.
6) Instead of Visual, Audio and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning styles, it is argued that the best way of teaching is for the method of instruction to match the type of topic being taught.
Another classic Teaching and Learning book that every educationalist will take so much from. A highly, highly recommended read for any teacher out there willing to learn more about the science behind learning:
Over the past few years, an abundance of posters, INSET days and podcasts have centred around Growth Mindset. Listening to this rhetoric encouraged me to actually delve into Carol Dweck’s work myself.
In essence, Growth Mindset is “the belief that all people can develop their abilities.” This is the opposing view to that where one believes that intelligence and capabilities are somewhat fixed. Growth Mindset is the view that “with the right mindset and the right teaching, people are capable of a lot more than we think.”
Growth Mindset doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone can become an international sportsman or musician, but simply that everyone can improve their abilities.
Dweck refers to the human brain as acting like a muscle, where it becomes stronger and quicker the more you use it.
Importantly, Growth Mindset is not simply requiring more effort from students, as clearly if students try harder with ineffective strategies, frustration will ensue. Instead, it is about trying new strategies, increasing effort and commitment as well as knowing when you require help from others.
Importantly, teachers with a Growth Mindset often tell students the truth but crucially tell students how to address those gaps. Famously, “telling students that they’re smart actually made them feel dumber and act dumber, yet claim they were smarter.” Instead, “accomplishments should be tied to the process.” For example, praising a student for a good test score may lead to a fixed mindset where they think they are naturally clever. Conversely, praising a student for a good test score by telling them how much they had practised and revised leads to an increase in a Growth Mindset where students understand that skill and achievement come through hard work and commitment.
Finally, a word of caution I found was that Growth Mindset must be shown through actions and not words. It is commonplace for a classroom or a school to be littered with phrases trying to encourage a Growth Mindset in students yet if the culture runs contrary to their message, they become ineffectual. This is similar within school leadership. School leaders may say that they encourage a Growth Mindset mentality from staff yet if staff take risks and are castigated if results dip by taking those risks, staff are less likely to create and innovate in the future to protect themselves from future punishment.
“It’s not always the people who start out the smartest, who end the smartest.”
Practical implications for Teachers
Refrain from giving students insincere praise, especially praising effort when it is absent.
Tell students the truth but then tell them how to close the gap.
Ask students, “what mistakes did you learn from today?”
The power of “Yet.” Subtly including ‘Yet’ at the end of a sentence can be very powerful. For example, “I can’t do it….Yet.”
Use certain phrases to encourage a Growth Mindset: “Skills and achievement come through commitment and effort.” “There are no shortcuts.” “If you don’t give anything, don’t expect anything.”
Tie accomplishments to processes. E.g. “You scored highly on your test because you revised hard and have worked well in class etc.”
Think about what areas of growth you can improve in your own teaching. Think about how you can improve them, and when you will “embark on your plan.”
Practical implications for School Leaders
Aim to recruit individuals with the right mindset rather than talent.
Aim to reward team not individual goals.
Aim to support innovation through actions and not words. Leaders should support innovative leaps and not castigate failures, which likely lead to mediocrity.
A popular book and an eye-opening look into the research that underpins most of the work that we have seen recently over the use of “Growth Mindset.” A highly worthwhile read if you want to delve into more of the research and ideas behind the current rhetoric in schools:
“There exists an inverse relationship between educational progressivism and social progressivism.” What does this actually mean? Well, Hirsch argues that educational conservatism is the only way out for deprived children.
Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds often lack the ‘intellectual capital’ (knowledge) that their advantaged peers gain from generic household conversations. If disadvantaged students lack this fundamental knowledge base, then over time, this gap becomes ‘insuperable’ after a few years of education. This is because the basic premise of knowledge acquisition is that it is cumulative; knowledge builds upon knowledge.
Hirsch argues that the over-reliance on progressive approaches, the consistent ‘child centred’ approach, the belief that students should learn at their own pace, the anti-test rhetoric and the need for individual differentiation over the past century has led to some of the worst lowering of educational standards ever seen.
Instead, Hirsch argues we must create a list of ‘grade-level descriptors’ which outline the minimum requirements every student should learn at the end of each year. This will increase accountability and ensure that no child is left behind as adequate interventions can help close any gaps. At the heart of it, Hirsch believes that everyone can and should succeed yet we need to change!
Well what can we do then?
List of minimum Grade Level descriptors that students must know at the end of the year to prepare them for the following year.
Move away from an excuse culture and ’child centred learning.’ “Individual attention means individual neglect for the majority of students.”
Automate basic knowledge and processes to access higher level thinking.
Identify gaps in students’ knowledge and basic practices and use interventions to close these gaps. If it’s left too late, it’s a much harder and wider gap to close!
An insightful book and one that is definitely worth reading if you want to find out more:
This book criticises the ever-popular notion that in order to improve behaviour in schools, one must give the harshest, most punitive punishment in order to deter students from misbehaving in the future. Dix argues that although this may deter the vast majority of students, there still exists a small proportion for whom these punitive approaches don’t work which leads to a ramping up of punishments until the inevitable exclusion.
Yet, “what if we played with the cards we were dealt” and exclusion wasn’t an option? Dix offers alternative approaches that mainly stem from building solid relationships with students. He argues that once relationships are strong, these hard-core students are often more than happy to do anything for you. Dix argues that these hard-core students have often experienced severe trauma in their lives at some point, leading to a large distrust in adults. As a result, they will not listen or respect you until you have first shown them how much you care about them.
The second important point is that a school culture is crucial when managing behaviour. He indicates that “if the quickest way for a pupil to achieve celebrity in your school is by being the worst behaved, you have a culture problem.” If the correct culture exists, where people behave because its “just what you do here” then it is easier for the hard-core students to fit in. By gaining celebrity status by misbehaving, schools with poor cultures are exacerbating the problem and probably making their behaviour worse as these students are receiving the attention they crave.
Possible Practical Implications
1) When responding to children misbehaving, give them what they don’t want: a calm, composed, unemotional response.
2) Meet and greet every student at your classroom door with a handshake. (Imagine your classroom was your house, you wouldn’t let people walk in and call the shots).
3) Instead of putting names on the board for students misbehaving, change it to a recognition board. Set a class target and aim for every name to be on the board by the end of the lesson.
4) Hand positive notes to visitors at reception. Give a postcard to visitors at reception so they can look for positive behaviour. Show these to the children at opportune moments.
5) You want to aim to have the reputation as the teacher who “always gets you” even if it is not immediately. It may be that a restorative conversation at break-time may suffice.
6) Practice micro-scripts (30 second, unemotional responses) to challenge student behaviour. Part of this has to be reminding the student of their previous good behaviour and how the choice is now theirs.
7) “Punishment doesn’t improve behaviour, restorative conversations do.” Part of the restorative conversation must involve talking about the impact their decision has had on others (peers, teachers, parents/carers). This shows the student the impact of their actions and teaches them empathy.
There are some golden nuggets of behaviour management within this book and I’m sure every educationalist will take something from this book. Well worth a read!
This short, succinct book is filled-to-the-brim with easy-to-introduce, practical classroom implications. Here, I outline some key ideas that I found particularly pertinent in this brief review.
“Individual starting points we cannot change, it is the destinations we need to scale up.” We must raise our expectations of what students can achieve within our classrooms. The bar should be set high for all, with differing levels of support and time given to pupils in need in order for everyone able to achieve the set standard.
Explanation and Modelling
Teachers are experts, relative to the pupils that they teach. We have built up a substantial ‘tower of knowledge.’ Our challenge is to knock the tower down again, and work out how to build it back up in the best way for our pupils to learn.
It is necessary to ask ourselves “what do we want pupils to remember?” To quote Daniel Willingham, “Memory is the residue of thought.” Once this has been agreed, explanations should be short, concise and “get straight to the point.”
Create a culture in your classroom where “we always strive for a better answer.” Teachers should use techniques like “Serve and Return questioning:” a technique where there is constant dialogue between pupils and teachers to improve their original answers.
Moreover, to unpick the inevitable “I don’t know” in the classroom, one of the best things to do is to unstick them by asking more questions to tease out the answers from within.
One must not “just give them the answer, but give them a strategy.” Highlighting near silly mistakes can help students check their own work and identify their own improvements.
Create the culture of, “If it’s not excellent, it’s not finished.”
Practice should focus on the “micro rather than the macro.” Footballers don’t train for a match on the weekend by playing lots of matches during the week. We should break learning down into its constituent parts before bringing it all back together.
By consistently embedding these aspects into your lessons, you can, as the authors attest, make every lesson count.
Possible Practical Implications
1) Highlight near silly mistakes and turn the pupils into detectives.
2) Plan lessons thinking about what you want the students to think about, as that is what they will remember.
3) When pupils are stuck and say “I don’t know,” try and unstick them by asking more questions.
4) Never accept the first answer you are given, but return your first question with another to build up the quality of responses.
5) Practice the micro rather than the macro. Break the learning down and practice the component parts before tackling the whole problem or question straight away.
6) When explaining, get straight to the point!
7) Model everything you are asking for: eloquent speaking, posture, language, quality of work. Pupils are very good at copying behaviours.
8) Does feedback close the learning gap/move students forward? If not, stop doing it.
9) Always strive for a better answer.
10) Share belief that through good teaching, challenge and pupil effort, every student can achieve.
One of the Teaching and Learning classics that every teacher should have a copy of. Simply extraordinary. Get your copy from the link below:
In this highly cited work, Willingham delves into the hidden mind of the classroom student and tries to uncover the cognitive science behind their learning.
The crucial take-away for me from this book is that “memory is the residue of thought.” This is a crucial line from the book and is a crucial tool for learning. Trying to make activities desperately engaging and related to students’ interests can actually hinder the learning process as students are thinking (and therefore remembering) different material to what the teacher is actually aiming to teach.
Secondly, there is the idea that a student’s working memory is fixed. That is, the amount of information a student can keep in their thoughts at one time is fixed and cannot really be altered. As a result, in order to tackle highly complex problems and higher level thinking, basic knowledge must be automated (unconscious) so students have free working memory capacity to solve problems and be creative.
Willingham stresses one of the main reasons why students don’t like school is that they run out of working memory capacity before they have reached the outcome of the question or problem they faced. As a result, it is imperative that we can free up students’ working memories by automating certain factual knowledge and information so they can maximise their conscious working memory to tackle the problem at hand.
Reading is another aspect where knowledge is key. If students have knowledge of the content of the article, comprehension unsurprisingly goes up. As a result, if comprehension is low it may be that students just simply don’t have the pre-requisite knowledge to understand the article.
Finally, Willingham suggests that we can’t train students to think like experts. Experts, unsurprisingly, have accumulated vast quantities of information and the deep structures of understanding allow experts to tackle problems from different stances.
Possible Practical Implications
1) Get students to automate basic skills to free up their working memories.
2) Make sure students practise: it is virtually impossible to become proficient without practising.
3) Link old knowledge with new knowledge and provide new knowledge using examples they are familiar with.
4) Vocabulary needs to be explicitly learnt in order to aid comprehension of texts.
5) When planning, plan for what you want the students to think about. Whatever they think about is what they will remember. This has ramifications for making tasks ‘interesting.’ Are students going to think about something that you don’t want them to be thinking about?
6) Make basic processes, such as times tables, automatic to free up working memory capacity.
It really is one of the classics in Teaching and Learning reading and a must-read for all educationalists.
Within these layers, one of the most important aspects is that the amount of background knowledge a student has often determines the amount that can be learnt. As information arrives and is sorted in working memory, the brain tries to link these ideas with schemas from the long term memory to make these concepts worth remembering. Nuthall talks about a “brain filter” sifting out irrelevant information. As a result, if there is nothing for new information to attach itself too, it is more easily forgotten. Contrarily, if there is a depth of background knowledge then new information is more easily transferred into long term memory.
Nuthall goes on to say that students needed, on average, to see the complete set of information on at least “three different occasions” for material to be learnt.
Interestingly, if “low-ability” and “high-ability” students had the same experiences, they were found to learn the same amount. However, high ability students often did learn more because they had a greater depth of background knowledge originally.
Finally, peer culture is incredibly powerful. In fact, a student is more likely to worry about what their peers think about them than their teacher. This is crucial for a teacher to understand and try to use to their advantage. Discussions between peers can lead to substantial gains in student learning if harnessed in the right way.
Possible practical implications
1) Teachers/Schools should try and create a culture which overrides that of the peer culture. By doing this, students are held to the school’s expectations and worry less of what their peers think around them.
2) Peer Culture – At the end of a lesson, ask students whom they would give praise/merits to and why. From experience, the responses are rich, extremely powerful and often give an indication to what is important to them.
3) Regular knowledge exams across the whole school will help disadvantaged students increase their background knowledge to compete with their non-disadvantaged peers.
4) Explicitly teach learning skills (how to revise). Teach approaches such as (Look, Cover, Write, Check) for students to learn.
5) Use and embed pre/post tests to make invisible learning more visible, gaining valuable information about background knowledge. One can then also assess after the post-test what they do know/still don’t know so teaching practice can be analysed to see what can be improved in the next teaching sequence.
Finally, it really is a fabulous read and one that I would highly recommend every teacher has on their bookshelf:
In essence, Ron Berger epitomises what is meant by having high expectations. In reality, many schools portray themselves as having a culture of high expectations yet their words are not shown by the actions of the staff and student body.
In an Ethic of Excellence, Ron Berger identifies steps he has taken to ensure that all students, regardless of prior attainment, become confident individuals who can benefit society and who accept nothing less than their best effort.
Ron really does teach by the mantra “If it’s not excellent, it’s not finished.” He teaches mainly by designing projects for his students to conduct. He ensures that state curricula elements are taught within these projects and occasionally breaks down projects to teach individual topics in a lesson. Through project work, students have a greater understanding of the purpose of their work. For example, he amalgamated many different subjects together by conducting a local community water investigation into mineral levels in drinking water.
Ron also advocates making students’ work public by creating portfolios that students take with them through school. By making work public, Ron has found that students take extra pride in their work and often produce several drafts before their final piece. They have also been found to put in slightly higher effort knowing that their work is up for public scrutiny at exhibitions and conferences.
Overall, the strongly held belief that every student, regardless of prior attainment, is capable of extraordinary and excellent things is the recurring theme throughout as long as the expectations of a teacher are high enough.
Possible Practical Implications
1) Only accept the very finest work from students, “if it’s not excellent, it’s not finished.”
2) Try and instil a school or classroom culture that prides itself on excellence.
3) One can attempt to create this culture by concentrating on ‘beautiful work.’ Over time, this will become ingrained in students’ perceptions.
4) Teach character along with academia. It is not enough to solely concentrate on academic grades, we must produce well-rounded individuals who are capable of presenting themselves confidently to others.
5) When students see their work as being a tool to a better life, they put in that little bit extra. We could try and constantly reiterate the power of education to those most disadvantaged who may be unaware to see it themselves.
6) Show what good work looks like, or what students are aiming for. By showing what to aim for, students are more likely to achieve it.
7) Support character development and collaborative improvements. Instead of writing “This makes no sense,” try writing “I’m confused by this” so they get the same message with a subtly softer undertone.
8) If students do poorly on tests, simply get them to do a re-test. This shows them that the teacher expects nothing less than their best effort and that the teacher believes in them to improve their score.
9) Try and create opportunities to showcase student work at regular intervals to the public and/or parents so students have an audience for their work and can take slightly more pride in their work.
An inspiring read that is concise, straight-to-the-point, and offers great examples in order to strive for excellence with our pupils. Get your copy below!
If students aren’t in school, they’re not going to learn. Period. Indeed, Balfanz and Byrnes (2012) note how one of the most effective ways to get a child out of poverty, is to ensure their regular attendance at school. Yet, attendance rates across the country, particularly after the pandemic, are extremely low. So, what can we do about it?
Much of the professional development on attendance that I have attended as a teacher has been limited to leaders predominantly sharing the importance of students having regular attendance. Yet, I believe solely sharing knowledge of why attendance is important is misguided and will lead to limited, if any, impact on increasing attendance rates. Staff are already acutely aware of the link that increased absence from school will lead to a fall in student attainment. Instead, I argue, leaders should focus more of their efforts on giving staff real, tangible strategies that can be used that will actually increase attendance rates within a school environment.
As teachers within the educational system, we all have a part to play in ensuring our students attend school, not simply to boost some percentage target for the school, but to ensure we are maximising the opportunities for students to learn, achieve success, and go on to achieve whatever they put their minds to in the knowledge that they are also, crucially, safe in school.
With this review, I propose a model of attendance that centres on three areas:
1) A multi-tiered intervention model
2) A positive learning environment
3) Linking attendance with attainment
Firstly, I suggest the overall attendance strategy must follow a multi-tiered approach. Within the majority of schools, I argue it is impractical to have individual plans for every child with irregular attendance. Therefore, the first stage of your attendance strategy must focus on high-level universal strategies to raise attendance for all students. For students where universal strategies are less effective at raising attendance, a second level of intervention is required where group level intervention procedures are introduced. Finally, where group level interventions are ineffective, the third tier is reserved for bespoke, individual plans to raise a child’s attendance.
The second strand of the attendance strategy is that students are entitled to attend a positive, safe, learning environment, where they look forward to attending school. Schools must be warm, welcoming environments, with exceptionally high standards and levels of teacher instruction that guarantee student success both academically and behaviourally. Not only must students feel successful, but the more they can feel a sense of attachment and belonging to the school community, the more likely they are to attend school on a regular basis.
This culture can be fostered by having staff welcoming students with a smile each day, using their first name regularly to build a sense of self-worth and belonging, and also by having a breadth of extra-curricular activities that children can attend. Some of our best childhood memories come from non-academic school events. So, the more that we can encourage our students to attend additional activities, events, or trips, not only do we build a sense of community and teamwork, but we also increase the likelihood that students will have regular attendance at school.
Thirdly, it is imperative that when we discuss attendance that we constantly reiterate its link with attainment. Every day at school matters. Reid (2014) identifies that a child who misses 9 days of school a year, who would ordinarily be recognised as an individual with regular attendance, is likely to suffer a whole grade drop in their examination results. Ensuring this data is shared transparently with students, parents and wider stakeholders on a regular basis is crucial in reinforcing the message that missing school is likely to reduce their attainment enormously. We must never find ourselves in the situation where a child misses out on opportunities later down the line as a result of them not fully understanding their reduced attendance was probably the defining factor. It is our job to overcommunicate that reduced student attendance, will reduce student attainment.
Improving school culture
Attendance is everyone’s responsibility.
Not only is regular attendance vital for securing excellent student attainment and progress, but it is also, in itself, a crucial safeguarding measure guaranteeing student safety. If students are in school, we know they are safe. If they are not in school, we cannot be sure. It therefore falls on every member of the staff within a school to understand the inherent importance in ensuring students attend school on a daily basis. Yes, we would like them to be in school so that we can teach them, but we must never overlook the fact that for some of our most vulnerable students, school is often the safest place for them to be.
Ensuring students attend school and receive regular attendance should be welcomed, and the link to improved attainment should be reinforced. But we must remind students, and parents, at every opportunity that excellent attendance is an expectation, not a celebration. An exceptional culture within a school should focus on students understanding that the best reward for their regular attendance at school is a fantastic set of examination results.
Where children do have time off, there should be an expectation that children catch up missed work, with consistent messaging that they will fall further behind if they fail to do so. Yet, this does appear to be a conflicting opinion between teachers and leaders within schools. Heads (52.7%) and Deputies (58%) believe that students who are absent should be helped on their return to catch up work that they missed, as opposed to only 36.5% of middle managers, and only 22% of classroom teachers (Reid, 2014). Reid (2014) goes on to say that over a quarter, 26.4%, of form tutors believe too much time is spent on helping absentees. It goes without saying, therefore, that there is a discrepancy in value placed on helping absentees. This must be rectified if schools are to improve attendance rates within their schools.
Early intervention is key, so making sure that the importance of regular attendance and its link to raised attainment is communicated as early and as often as possible is essential. Messages around attendance should be woven into every aspect of school systems, including: open days, school letters, attendance calls, open evenings, and parents’ evenings. This can be done alongside reminding parents it is their primary responsibility to ensure their child is in school.
A multi-tiered intervention model
Attendance is important for every child. Yet, due to time and resource constraints, we cannot support every child with a bespoke attendance support plan. As such, I propose a triple-tier intervention model. The first tier focuses on universal strategies to raise attendance for all pupils. The second tier concentrates on key groups of students who are still showing signs of poor attendance, having received all of the Tier 1 strategies previously. The third tier focuses on bespoke individual plans and must therefore be saved for only the very few cases where all previous Tier 1 and Tier 2 strategies have been exhausted.
Clearly, in certain schools depending on their individual contexts, some individuals may meet the criteria for Tier 3 where in others this level of intervention may not be possible. As one progresses through the hierarchical structure, the level of resource and time intensity increases exponentially. It is not to say that Tier 3 strategies should not be used, but they should be preserved for the select few who are showing limited progress having exhausted all previous interventions.
Tier 1 (Universal)
The point of a universal tier of support is that it should enable 80-90% of students to meet the expectation that all children should have regular attendance (>95%).
For those that are unaware, students are expected to attend school on 190 days during the academic year, which equates to 380 sessions (a morning and afternoon session per day). Persistent Absence (PA), termed Chronic Absence in America, is where a child has less than 90% attendance or which is more easily recognised as a student who has more than 19 days off per academy year. Regular attendance (>95%), on the other hand, would require a student to keep the number of days off per year down to single figures.
Although percentages should be used by schools to monitor attendance rates for individual pupils from the beginning of the year, I argue that parents and children should instead know the number of days they have had off and in relation to the number of days they are allowed off each year to still be classed as having regular attendance.
As a result, my first Tier 1 strategy would be to ensure that every child understood they should have no more than 9 days of absence per academic year to achieve regular attendance. It should be stressed, though, that every day is important for learning and that missing a single day of school can be extremely detrimental (Childs and Grooms, 2018); not only do students miss that day of education, but the potential links with future lessons that are foregone.
A recommended strategy to keep track of absences is for each tutor to have a tracker grid with their student names on, with 9 boxes to the side of each name (see below).
Whenever a child is absent from school, the teacher places a check next to their name. This simple method ensures both students, and teachers, are constantly aware of the number of days absence students have had. Students can be reminded of the importance of how many days they have missed and it forces tutors to know and keep track of absences too, something which tutors are often unaware of!
Another strategy within Tier 1 interventions would build on the tracker chart by incorporating ‘Return to School’ conversations for students to have with their tutors upon their return. The ‘return to school’ conversation has two key strands:
1) ensuring each tutor is aware of key absentees
2) ensuring the student knows they are missed when they are not in
Alarmingly, nearly a third of students who are absent from school believe that staff rarely or never notice that they were missing from school (Sprick and Berg, 2019). These conversations, crucially as I will attest to later, must be framed positively whilst also ensuring that the importance of missing school is not understated. The conversations should include:
– ensuring the student knows how great it is to see them back in school
– Asking if there was a valid reason why they were off? (Asked non-judgementally, this can help the school understand the reason for absence which can help the school to put in support measures to help improve attendance moving forward).
– Writing down what lessons the student has missed and how the student will catch up on missed work (reinforcing the link between poor attendance, and reduced attainment).
Once the ‘Return to School’ form has been completed, it should be forward to the attendance team who can then cross check with their own records.
Another simple strategy within Tier 1 across your school is to ensure that every child receives three positive interactions before they enter their first lesson, which I term, ‘The Power of Three’. Although this seems relatively straightforward to do, it is also easy to overlook. Ensuring that every staff member greets individuals positively, using their first name, at the start of the school day helps build a positive culture within the school, ensuring students enjoy attending school, the second fundamental element of my model of effective attendance.
Moreover, before students even set foot in their school, parents should have to sign a parent-home agreement that documents their child will attend school with regular attendance (>95%). This document should not be a stand-alone document but should form a part of the wider communication with parents about the importance of attendance during the transition process. By formalising this agreement at an early stage, it can be kept on a student’s file and used if at any point the child’s attendance dips under a required level, as leverage against a parent to remind them of their primary responsibility to ensure regular attendance of their child. This evidence is useful if any disputes around attendance arise at a later date, or if any attendance discussions eventually lead to some form of prosecution.
Community links must also be fostered to develop strong school attendance practices (Childs and Grooms, 2018). By building connections with community leaders, organisations, youth club leaders, sports clubs, churches, and physicians, we can develop the importance of attendance together. One strategy would be to create ‘attendance matters’ posters and ask for them to be displayed in local organisations and community hotspots. The more awareness that communities have about the importance of children attending school to improve their attainment, the stronger the rate of attendance will be in your school.
Working with medical surgeries, such as dentists and doctors, within the local area, we can persuade them to book routine appointments outside of school hours wherever possible. If students must attend appointments within school time, parents and students must know that they should leave school just before their appointment and be expected to return immediately following it too.
Another strategy within Tier 1 includes giving out differentiated half-termly certificates, signed by the Headteacher, to those students achieving regular attendance, and perfect attendance, on the first day of the following term. Importantly, students should never be incentivised throughout the term to attend to receive any form of reward or certification. Over time, although there may be a short-term improvement by doing this, these methods are inherently disincentivising over the longer term (Pink, 2011). This is because they detract from the key message you are trying to portray, which is that the real reward for excellent attendance, is a fantastic set of examination results. Instead, the certificates should come ‘out-of-the-blue’, at the start of the next term, as a way of recognising students who did have regular attendance in the preceding term. These, “now that [you have achieved regular attendance]” are far more impactful over the long run as they recognise good achievement, but don’t detract from the fundamental message you are trying to share (Pink, 2011).
Building on this previous point, I often see schools incentivising students to attend school by giving students the chance to win rewards such as cinema vouchers or donuts if students receive a certain attendance percentage over a given time. Students should understand their attendance at school is far greater than the value of a cinema voucher or a donut. Being in school means students can learn, it opens opportunities for them, and means their attainment will go up. Providing incentives like vouchers or donuts completely undermines the message that you should attend school to improve your attainment. Also, what do you do next time when attendance is low? Where do you go next after giving them donuts to incentivise them? Ice creams? Hot dogs? Games consoles?
Other universal strategies include teaching students a curriculum for improving attendance which includes messages on how to create routines and structures to enable students to achieve regular attendance throughout the year. Much like Tom Bennett (2020) argues that good behaviour needs to be taught, I argue that attendance must follow suit. A curriculum for improving attendance should include: the importance of attendance and its impact on attainment, teaching organisational strategies (such as before bed, and before school routines), sleep habits, ways to meet classroom expectations, and teaching students how to stay healthy and free from illness.
Indeed, illness is the principal reason for absenteeism within schools. As a result, another Tier 1 strategy should be on educating students and parents on “How sick is too sick?”. By using regular external school communication, as well as social media blasts, and information in assemblies, we can reinforce the idea that school is far too important to miss for a minor illness such as a cold. The message must be carefully phrased in a way that we end up creating the social norm that the normal thing to do is to come in when suffering from a minor illness, perhaps by taking some painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen before attending school (taking advice from the school nurse or medical professionals where necessary). These forms of communication are also excellent ways to reinforce the message around attendance and attainment, and how missing a day at school will mean students will have to catch up a whole day of work in their own time, creating more work for them in the long run.
The school attendance team must be forensic in whether an absence should be authorised or unauthorised. Even though missing a day of school, whether authorised or not, is detrimental to any child’s education (Childs and Grooms, 2018), triggers for future action by your local authority will only relate to the number of unauthorised absences by a child so it is important they are recorded correctly. Therefore, the school attendance team must be resolute in ensuring that haircuts, birthdays, driving tests, shopping, car trouble, oversleeping and more) are not authorised absences. It can be tricky not to authorise absence for illness, but where cases are frequent, common, or follow a pattern, it is perfectly reasonable to ask for medical evidence to support any reason given (e.g. an appointment card, copy of medication etc), and for the absence to be unauthorised if required. I must stress that this must be explained to the parent and fit within your wider attendance policy, as it will likely lead to the parent accruing greater numbers of unauthorised absences which may lead to further involvement with the school, governor panels, and local authority where required.
Other universal strategies to improve attendance include ensuring allteachers teach rigorously until the last second of the last lesson of term. As a child, what value do you place on your last day of school if you are just allowed to watch Elf or play games with your friends? By ensuring every lesson is taught, as it would be for any other lesson in the school year, students and parents will slowly begin to realise that the last few days of attendance are equally as important as any other day of the year. This message should also be communicated regularly throughout the academic year to parents, through external communications, to raise awareness that parents should be assured their child’s attendance on the first day of school is just as important as their very last day of school. There are only 190 days in the year where students must attend school; we must make every second of their time with us count.
Furthermore, I would also advocate the immediate removal of any drop-down days and non-uniform days as these days are often extremely poorly attended for a variety of reasons, significantly reducing your overall school’s attendance. I am not suggesting that non-uniform days or drop-down days are entirely worthless, but that there must be other ways to deliver the material or to raise money for charity. One suggestion to replace non-uniform days would be to have ‘wear-it days’. For example, one school I have visited with one of the highest rates of attendance in the country, holds an annual ‘Pretty in Pink’ day to raise money for Cancer Research, where students must attend in school uniform, but can choose to wear any additional one item that is pink to help raise money for the cause.
To support universal strategies, it is imperative that first day absence procedures are followed immaculately. Where parents forget to call in to report their child’s absence, the attendance team will be making phone calls to those parents to understand the reasons for that child’s absence as part of the wider safeguarding responsibilities. If, on the other hand, parents always rang in to report their child’s absence, with a valid reason, that could then be checked, the attendance team are then able to prioritise their time most effectively and deal with other students that may require more additional levels of intervention or support. Improving first day absence procedures can be enhanced by regular communication with parents, including at parents’ evenings, open evenings, social media blasts, through the school website, and by having an easy-to-use attendance hotline that parents can ring. Simply, at events with parents, schools can suggest that parents save the attendance hotline number onto their phone for the rare occasion that the number needs to be called.
I suggest the attendance hotline should be set up with a preliminary message, recorded by the school’s headteacher, reminding parents of the importance of their child attending school. A message such as, “Thank you for calling the attendance hotline at ‘School X’. May I remind you that children with increased levels of absence are more likely to experience academic failure, are at greater risk of unemployment, are more likely to be involved in risky behaviour involving drink and drugs, as well as reducing their probability of reaching university. If your child is still unable to attend school, please leave your reason for absence after the tone.” Yes, this message is hard-hitting, but it is intended to make sure that parents fully understand the significance of their child missing a single day of school. Again, we cannot find ourselves in a situation where students, and parents, do not fully understand the link between attendance, attainment, and wider societal issues, so readily documented within the literature (Childs and Grooms, 2018; Bartanen, 2020).
Other proactive universal measures include communication prior to periods within the year where absence may usually reduce. Letters and bulletins on social media in anticipation of religious events, holiday periods, and/or other contextual periods within your own school clearly communicating expectations can reduce rates of attendance dropping at these key points. These letters often have high impact and are extremely easy to implement.
Another universal measure that is easy to introduce is to narrow the entry and exit points within the school environment. If students are late but can continue to enter the school from a variety of entrance points, the chances of the student being marked absent when they are actually in attendance at school is high. By ensuring, for example, that absent students must enter through the front entrance after a certain time, one ensures that they can all be signed in (either by an individual or automated technology system) and that any remedial action can be taken straight away to prevent further occurrences. By narrowing entry and exit points, by having a more secure perimeter, you also prevent students being able to leave the site without notice.
Ensuring that all parents and students receive regular communication about the number of days absence they have had, in relation to the figure for regular attendance is essential. It is crucial that all parents know exactly how many days of school their child has missed to date so that they can encourage their child not to miss any further learning.
Bullying and feeling unsafe is often a reported reason for student absence. By ensuring that there is a clear system for reporting bullying, such as the SHARP system, students will know how to report instances of bullying and it will be easier for staff to follow up. Over time, this should reduce the level of unkindness within your school environment, and attendance rates should rise as a result.
Another strategy to think about is improving the quality of registration or tutor time. Many schools start the day with tutor time, where students arrive and arguably prepare for the day. But in many schools I have visited, and worked in, tutor time is nothing more than a dressed up babysitting exercise. Students arrive, chat amongst themselves, and wait for the first lesson bell to ring. No wonder, then, that students are often late to school. Conversely, if tutor time is a highly structured start to the day, perhaps a straight period of teacher-directed tutor time reading, then students are more likely to attend school as there is more of a value placed on their time.
Tier 2 (Group level)
Tier 2 is reserved for all students where all Tier 1 strategies have been utilised and their attendance rate is stubbornly refusing to increase. Within this tier, intervention should focus on tackling students within groups.
For students with irregular attendance (<95%), and where Tier 1 strategies are proving ineffective, parents should receive a warning letter (translated where necessary) stating the importance of their child attending school. I would recommend that the letter forcefully reminds parents of their legal obligations to ensure their child attends school, under the Education Act 1996. Under this Act, Section 444 (1), a parent can be fined for the non-attendance of their child up to the value of £1000. Under Section 444 (1a), parents can be fined up to £2500 and/or imprisoned up to 3 months if this is an aggravated offence and reflects the understanding that the parent understood their child was missing school and failed to do something about it. Within the letter, you should state that failing to ensure your child’s regular attendance, may lead to the introduction of mandatory parenting classes through the Local Authority to support you ensuring your child’s attendance.
Although this may appear heavy-handed to many at first, it will have the desired effect in ensuring that the majority of these students improve their attendance and secure regular attendance moving forward. This then helps to narrow down the number of students who do actually require a more bespoke level of support, which can then be rectified. Finally, by documenting that this letter has been sent, you can also record it as an additional action on a student’s file, which can be used at a later stage if more formal measures need to be followed.
In reality, schools have no power to enforce attendance, this role falls to the Local Authority. Local Authorities may decide to follow alternative forms of action in due course, but I believe it’s important for parents to understand the full weight of their expectations under law. Their child’s education and attendance at school is far too important.
Another Tier 2 intervention strategy can be to introduce group lessons with additional explicit instruction of skills to help students increase their attendance. Building on Tier 1 interventions, students can be taught in smaller groups the importance of a bedtime/morning routine, the need to set an alarm, and to get enough sleep which can all be extremely powerful in training students to improve their punctuality and attendance at school. These groups can also include ‘social skills groups’ whereby students can be taught, where required, how to get along with their peers and resolve any issues in the most productive manner. Other groups can include behaviour support groups where students are explicitly taught again how to meet classroom expectations to ensure they are guaranteeing success in the classroom, making their time in school more enjoyable.
Mentors can be trained, both staff and potentially older students, to deliver these sessions to provide a ‘different face’ and one that students may be more receptive to. Messages about creating an effective routine may be best heard from older students who have overcome similar adversity in the past, but your own context will determine this possibility. Any mentoring sessions, along with any other interventions, should always be logged, and recorded on an individual’s file, in case there is a need for any future escalation of attendance issues in the future and for the school to document what it is doing to help raise student attendance within the school.
Another Tier 2 strategy to be used is a check in/check out system. For students within Tier 2 Intervention processes, identifying an individual that certain groups of students can check in with and check out with at the beginning and end of each day can significantly improve their enjoyment of school, and their attendance rate. By ensuring that students check in/check out with a trusted member of staff, we ensure that no child in these groups leaves school at the end of the day with an unresolved issue that they haven’t discussed with a member of staff. This will dramatically increase their chance to return the following day. The morning check-ins will also ensure that any issues that have arisen from the morning or previous evening can be addressed before they then go to their first class and are potentially in an unfit state of mind to be successful.
Students also often fail to attend school due to them being substantially behind their peers in reading and current educational ability. Rather than going to lessons and risk not knowing how to answer questions, students may choose to opt-out of school altogether, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that becomes harder to break. By providing reading and mathematical intervention classes, or similar, vulnerable students at risk of lower attendance are more likely to become successful in lessons. These groups could run during tutor time or take place during specific lessons during the school day. This intervention should only be seen as a temporary measure, as it is imperative we get students back into a full student timetable as quickly as possible as soon as they are ready.
Tier 3 (Individual level)
Intervention at Tier 3 must be reserved for students who have not responded to any of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions. Tier 3 interventions concentrate on individual, bespoke levels of support and are therefore extremely time and resource intensive. As such, it is crucial that all other Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions are in place beforehand before any Tier 3 strategies are called into action, for any student.
It is worth stressing that just because a child may have extremely poor attendance, that doesn’t automatically mean that they should instantly start on Tier 3 Interventions. Prior interventions should always be tried first!
The first port of call should be a phone call from a member of staff to state that we are extremely worried about an individual’s attendance record and to ask if there is any support that their child requires. Where prolonged absences occur, and the initial phone call has not led to an improvement in their attendance, an in-school meeting with a member of the attendance team and/or tutor where appropriate should be arranged. At this meeting, the reasons for absence and any support procedures can be discussed in greater depth. Together, actions can be discussed and agreed upon.
Parents should be given six weeks to ensure their child meets the agreed attendance targets before warning them that failure to meet the targets will lead to more formal action being taken, including a formal governor panel. By asking what support is required, we help bring parents into providing solutions to their child’s poor attendance; after all, it is their responsibility to ensure their child attends school regularly, so they have a responsibility to resolve the problem.
If any needs arise, the school can then suggest reasonable adjustments to support attendance (e.g. purchasing an alarm clock, ensuring parents are aware of the importance of reducing screen time before bed, morning/evening routines). We can also document that we are listening to the child and their parent, working with them to secure regular attendance at school, if for any reason more formal action is eventually required.
It could be at this stage that an individual report is also introduced, whereby a member of staff signs their report card at the start and end of each day to ensure they are not only in attendance but that they are completing their agreed actions. If the report is signed by a member of non-teaching staff, the individual may be allowed to leave their final lesson five minutes early to ensure they have time to speak to their trusted adult, whilst also ensuring they can leave school at the same time as their peers, and also maximising the chance they will be in school the following day.
Failing this, formal governor panels are another way for parents to understand the seriousness of their child not attending school. Formal governor panels are an opportunity to present parents with a final warning. Where children are still not securing regular attendance after approaches taken so far, parents and their child should be invited to a governor panel which can again remind the parent of the importance of securing attendance, formalise action to be taken to help their child secure regular attendance, but outline again what may happen if attendance doesn’t improve.
This additional panel ensures the school is documenting and taking attendance seriously, whilst also providing parents every opportunity to meet requirements and to ask the school for any further support. In this meeting, further bespoke home-school contracts can be drawn up and signed. Failing to sign this by a parent, or non-attendance at the meeting, should be acknowledged and documented. If these meetings are not attended by parents, they should still go ahead and will be further evidence if the case ever reaches any form of prosecution.
I must stress that prosecution must be the final step of the process once all other strategies have been exhausted. Sprick and Berg (2019) refer to it as heart bypass surgery: only to be done when all other less intensive and invasive measures have been tried first.
If attendance does not improve after a formal governor panel, progression to the educational welfare service within your Local Authority for possible prosecution should be sought. Although not ideal, parents within your school environment must understand the importance that you place on their child’s regular attendance at school. Prosecution and Fixed Penalty Notices send a clear message to specific parents who are fined, but also to their peers and wider stakeholders who understand the lengths you are willing to go to in ensuring their child has every chance of success within your school.
Supported by data
Effectively raising attendance requires effective analysis of data. Yet, good data analysis requires excellent, and accurate, data.
One of the best ways to ascertain why students are missing school is by asking them. Through anonymous student surveys, such as SurveyMonkey, you can gather an incredible amount of information about why students are missing school. Based off this information, you can tailor your Tier 1 interventions and taught sessions to tackle these reasons and to challenge orthodox thinking amongst your student body.
Furthermore, tracking attendance patterns across different times (weeks, half terms, terms, years) can help you to identify key trends where you can then tailor your school communications accordingly to counteract any particularly alarming trends you have noticed, e.g. unexpectedly increased absences in certain weeks of the year, or on certain days of the week (Monday Matters or Fun-damental Fridays (Moodley et al., 2020)).
Holiday and medical requests can be tracked, and any trends analysed and acted upon to improve attendance rates over time.
As well as overall attendance figures, it is often insightful to do unannounced spot checks during times in the school day to analyse actually how many students are in lessons at a given point. Schools with high attendance may be shocked to see that not all of their students are always in lessons, and perhaps may be truanting the lesson or being regularly late to lessons.
Data analysis by group (FSM, PP, LAC, Year Group, Attainment, Ethnicity) and comparing these figures to local and national data should also be commonplace within your attendance team, as well as comparing your data to schools of similar socio-economic status to understand where your strengths or development areas are.
In conclusion, improving attendance across a school is everyone’s responsibility. We must all believe that regular attendance is possible for all children given the right level of support.
Providing immediate individual level interventions to every student with problematic attendance records is admirable but impractical. Instead, a multi-tiered intervention model must be used to tackle the underlying causes of intervention.
Tier 1 strategies must focus on universal strategies to improve everyone’s attendance and is likely to ensure about 80-90% of students have regular attendance in school. Tier 2 interventions focus on group level interventions, whilst Tier 3 interventions must be reserved to focus on more bespoke, individual corrective procedures for specific individuals.
Professional development for staff must focus on tangible strategies that can be used to improve rates of attendance, rather than focusing on giving staff more knowledge about how attendance is important and reminding them that current levels of attendance are not good enough. Although this message does highlight and remind staff of the importance of attendance, from my experience it does little in relation to actually improving student attendance over time.
Finally, we must remind ourselves that for a child to be successful in school, they first must be in school.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to continuing the discussion…
Bartanen, B. 2020. Principal quality and student attendance. Educational researcher, (49), pp. 101-113.
Childs, J. and Grooms, A.A. 2018. Improving School Attendance through collaboration: A catalyst for community involvement and change. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, (23), pp. 122-138
Moodley, R., Chiclana, F., Carter, J. and Caraffini, F. 2020. Using data mining in educational administration: A case study on improving school attendance. Applied Sciences, (10), pp. 1-20.
Reid, K. 2014. An essential guide to improving attendance in your school. Routledge: London.
Sprick, J. and Sprick, R. 2019. School Leader’s Guide to tackling attendance challenges. Ancora: Oregon.
Sprick, J. and Berg, T. 2019. Teacher’s guide to tackling attendance challenges. Ancora: Oregon.
Doyle and Redwine (1974) found that irrespective of intent, experienced teachers often find it incredibly hard to change their practice. Moreover, Fitts and Posner (1967) found that once we become relatively proficient at a skill, and have made it semi-automatic, we often reach an ‘OK plateau’ whereby our improvement in a task stagnates. This ‘OK plateau’ has been documented in practice by Foer (2012) during his training to compete at the US Memory championships. What is more, Webb and Sheeran (2006) note that simply improving a teacher’s knowledge within a domain is often insufficient to disrupt established ‘cue-response’ associations.
As such, you could be forgiven to think it is perhaps futile to attempt to develop one’s practice after a certain level of expertise or experience has been reached. But you would be wrong. Research by Ericsson and Pool (2006) showed that a specific type of practice, termed deliberate practice, ensures individuals remain within the cognitive stage of learning, and automaticity is prevented from occurring.
Within schools, one of the best ways to ensure teachers remain within the ‘cognitive stage’ of development is to assign them a coach to work with, for them to improve on specific aspects of their teaching practice. The model I propose here for effective instructional coaching focuses on my O.A.R. analogy (Observe, Agree, Rehearse).
No one will alter their practice unless they are discontent with their current level of performance, be that personally or professionally. Furthermore, no one is going to change their practice if they feel that they are being ‘told what to do’, that they feel like an observation is a ‘box-ticking exercise’, or if they believe that the advice they have received focuses more on improving their ‘performance’ as a teacher, rather than advancing student learning.
Therefore, it is crucial that coaching becomes part of the everyday fabric of a school, where the key focus is to improve student outcomes, and where improving teaching quality is seen by all as the best way to achieve this. Importantly, the coaching philosophy must be recognised by all, and senior leaders must be seen to also receive coaching on their teaching for any impact to be maximised. Indeed, Robinson, Lloyd, and Row (2008) note the importance of senior leaders being seen to be just as engaged and committed to improving their own teaching and learning practices, for others to then follow suit. It is for this reason that schools must be seen to row together; we are a team, and the coaching philosophy should reflect this.
The first stage of an effective coaching relationship is to ensure the accuracy and objectiveness of one’s observation.
Within the lesson, the observation should be objective, factual, non-judgemental, and each student and teacher action should be noted with an accompanying time stamp. An example observation proforma can be seen on the right.
I would recommend that each observation is limited to roughly ten minutes in duration. Not only does this allow you to observe enough of a lesson to agree an actionable next step with the individual afterwards, but it also means that you may be able to complete several observations within a single study period, increasing time efficiencies within your already busy schedules.
After the lesson ‘drop-in’ has been completed, I would suggest that observers then look at their record and identify any key points, trends, or specific highlights that they feel could be addressed as a priority. These points should then be saved for an individual conversation with your colleague to take place later.
In practice, I have seen too many coaching approaches and conversations within schools that are simply one-way, directed, and leave an individual who has been observed no room for discussion or challenge. Although this approach may be required when coaching a teacher with no prior mental model of effective teaching, I find that with more experienced colleagues this didactic approach inevitably just leads to ‘speed camera behaviour’. ‘Speed camera behaviour’ is where an individual does what you ask of them whenever you observe them in the future, but reverts to their old practices as soon as you leave the room. This is clearly not the aim of coaching.
As a result, using your observational record, I suggest that you initially ask the individual to reflect and first share their thoughts about their lesson. By offering them this opportunity, you provide them not only with the chance to reflect on their lesson, but the individual may provide pointers to help you guide the next stage of your conversation. After their reflection, you can state your findings, identifying any trends you have noticed, and suggest a possible actionable next step (ANS). Depending on how the conversation continues, this may or may not be the ANS that is then agreed. Again, some teachers who have been observed may occasionally argue that they want to work on an ANS that you don’t believe is the main priority for them. In this case, although you may wish to persuade them that your ANS is potentially more impactful, you must remember that they are the ones that are changing their practice. If they are not committed to improving an ANS, it may be fruitless insisting on what you think is the highest leverage step.
There is a caveat, of course, where teachers are underperforming, as you are likely to have to be more directive with your approach. But for now, and the for the purposes of this blog, we are assuming we are working with experienced, accomplished colleagues who are fine-tuning the quality of their instruction.
Teaching is a performance profession (Bambrick-Santoyo, 2016). Just like any other performance profession, be it music or sport, a professional would not practise a new technique for the very first time in front of a live audience. We must never fool ourselves that we can do this as teachers.
After the ANS has been agreed between an observer and a colleague, the observer should model what the ANS looks like in practice. After the model has been demonstrated to a teacher, colleagues should then switch positions and the person receiving the feedback should give their ANS a go. The observer, who modelled it originally, should then coach the individual until they are satisfied that the colleague has understood exactly what to do and exactly how to do it. Once the model has been successfully completed by the individual receiving the feedback, I suggest that they should ‘lock it in’ by doing it again, ensuring they have a secure mental model of what their ANS looks like in action.
Then, the teacher receiving their ANS must realise this is only the first part of the battle; amateurs practise until they get it right, professionals practise until they can’t get it wrong. Teachers should know the need to go away and independently rehearse their ANS behind closed doors, perhaps on their commute, or in an empty classroom, if they are really committed to developing their own practice.
In conclusion, we must ensure that as teachers we force ourselves to stay in the ‘cognitive stage’ of development (Fitts and Posner, 1967). After some time in the classroom, there are substantial benefits to building automaticity which should be celebrated, but we must also be mindful of hitting our own ‘OK plateau’. Instead, by engaging in a process of deliberate practice, we can ensure we are all focusing on improving a small element of our teaching at any given time.
I must stress again, though, that the coaching model must be used by all, including senior leaders, to generate the buy-in needed to change the coaching culture of a school (Robinson, Lloyd, Row, 2008). Without everyone rowing together, on the same team, and working as colleagues to improve practice jointly, teachers are unlikely to be as inclined to modify and improve their own practices.
Finally, we must recognise that changing habits is hard (Duhigg, 2013), especially for experienced teachers (Doyle and Redwine, 1974). Simply providing more knowledge is insufficient to change established procedures within the classroom (Webb and Sheeran, 2006). Instructional coaching, though, through observing, agreeing, and rehearsing actionable next steps, can lead to significant and rapid improvements within your school.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to continuing the conversation.
References Bambrick-Santoyo, P. (2016). Get Better Faster. Jossey-Bass: New York.
Doyle, W., & Redwine, J. M. (1974). Effect of intent-action discrepancy and student performance feedback on teacher behavior change. Journal of Educational Psychology, (66), 750–755.
Duhigg, C. (2013). The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do, and how to change. Random House: London.
Ericsson, A., & Pool, R., (2006). PEAK: Secrets from the new science of expertise. London: Penguin.
Foer, J. (2012). Moonwalking with Einstein: The art and science of remembering everything. Penguin: London.
Haidt, J. (2013). The righteous mind. Penguin: London.
Robinson, V.M., Lloyd, C.A. and Rowe, K.J. (2008). The impact of leadership on student outcomes: an analysis of the differential effects of leadership types. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44, 635-674.
Webb, T. L., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Does changing behavioral intentions engender behavior change? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 249–268.
The recent proliferation in teachers becoming engaged with academic literature, notably in cognitive science, and its accompanying impact in the classroom is exceptional and undeniable. Conferences such as ResearchEd and the rise of the Chartered College, concomitant with the explosion of teacher networks on social media sites such as Twitter, has led to an explosion of ideas being shared, discussed, and debated over the past few years which has advanced the profession enormously.
Indeed, retrieval practice, worked examples, dual coding, elaboration, generation, concrete examples, starting each lesson with a review of prior learning, interleaving, spacing content, understanding the sequencing of topics, ensuring current knowledge builds on prior knowledge, and ideas surrounding substantive, disciplinary and hinterland knowledge, now appear to be commonplace within many curricula across the country. But are these advancements overshadowed by our students’ ineffective revision habits?
I do worry that much of the work on curriculum development that has been discussed most frequently within the profession is fruitless without an adequate model of effective exam preparation. The notion that if we take note of all the developments in cognitive science, structure our curriculums based on this knowledge, start each lesson with a ‘Do Now’, and expect results to look after themselves with only the occasional ‘Walking-Talking mock’ here and there is absurd. Yet this is the approach I see taking shape in many schools.
We know that, without guidance, students are likely to choose ineffective revision strategies, such as rereading and cramming (Karpicke, Butler and Roediger, 2009). We also know that students may start by using more effective techniques, but then lose motivation, reverting to less effective means of revision over time (Blasiman et al., 2017). So, something must be done to rectify this problem. With this model, I propose a way to ensure our students are taught effective methods of revision, to ensure recent developments in curricula design and lesson delivery are not wasted but built upon further to achieve ever-increasing rates of student success.
The model I discuss here is applicable to all cohorts within a school environment, not solely those facing public examinations at the end of the academic year. I propose that revision itself should be a multi-year strategy within your school, with techniques being shared at every opportunity to students by all teachers. Only with all teachers knowing effective revision techniques themselves and sharing these without reservation to students on a regular basis, will you be able to transform the culture of effective revision within your setting.
The model deliberately begins with the rather mundane step of simply ‘starting’. For students, there are myriad distractions so simply starting is an enormous first step for them to overcome. I envision revision as an enormous flywheel that takes a mammoth effort to get started. Once moving, though, momentum builds, making it easier and easier for subsequent revision sessions to begin. What is more, once students begin to see the positive impact that their revision is having, revision becomes slightly more enjoyable as they can see that their efforts are being rewarded with increased knowledge retention.
Ideally, students should begin the revision process early (I argue for students sitting public examinations to start in January), so that the benefits of ‘spaced practice’ can materialise. Spaced practice is where material is reviewed on separate occasions, with a significant time period between learning sessions (Brown, Roediger III and McDaniel, 2014). By starting the revision process early, students maximise the potential effect of spacing material out, increasing the likelihood of greater retention of material over a longer period of time. The danger with starting too late, then, is that the effects of spacing would become negligible at best.
Starting the revision process in January may seem extremely early for some within the profession, but I suggest that this would only need to be a gentle introduction to the revision process, in effect starting the ball rolling. It could simply include identifying material that needs to be learnt. It starts the flywheel moving and ensures students are consciously aware of the importance of revision for their upcoming examinations from an early stage.
I think it would be fair to say that, although the joy of learning becomes infectious, revision can itself be quite a tedious, and monotonous process. It is therefore important that once students start revising, that they stick to it, especially when students are more inclined to have a ‘day off’ or stop. As a result, I would strongly suggest that students are supported in how to devise their own study schedule. Indeed, research shows us that we are much more inclined to follow through with a task if we have written it down in a plan first (Duhigg, 2013). Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, only 11-13% of students routinely make any form of study schedule (Kornell and Bjork; 2007). There is, then much work to do in ensuring our students are aware of the benefits of creating such a schedule.
Furthermore, by generating small wins, one can create further small wins, creating a self-generation model of improvement. Creating the plan, though, is the easy part. Sticking to a plan requires a different level of willpower. For students, revision has to compete with their smartphone, the buzz of notifications, the ‘Fear of missing out’, the lure of Netflix, gaming, meeting friends, or simply doing anything else that is slightly more enjoyable than revising (even tidying their bedrooms!).
Students, therefore, must be explicitly taught how to create an effective routine. For example, during the holiday periods, I would tell students that to achieve the highest grades they should be revising for six hours a day, divided into 3 x 2-hour chunks. I would instruct them to turn off their phones, and any technology, and leave it in another room to avoid temptation. I would tell them to stick to their revision schedule, that prioritises their range of subjects as this will allow the best coverage to maximise their outcomes. I would also recommend that students stick to one subject per 2-hour block of time.
I would stress to students that 6 hours, although it seems ridiculously high when it is heard for the first time, is not that long within a day during the holidays for the long term reward that their outcomes can achieve. If students are committed, 2 x 2-hour sessions can be completed before lunch with a suitable break included. One further 2-hour session at some point after lunch leaves the rest of the afternoon/evening to do as they wish in whatever format they wish to do.
Importantly, as is human nature, students will want to study the subjects that they perform the best in. This is to be expected, but we must ensure that students understand that it is important to revise all of their subjects in sufficient depth. For the very highest attaining students, students may be on track to achieve a Grade 9 in their ‘best’ subject with the revision they have already done, yet still want to revise that subject more. They must be informed that although this may improve their mark slightly in the test, it will not improve their grade, so their time will be best spent improving one of their weaker subjects.
Importantly, removing distractions and creating a distraction free environment. But as Duhigg (2013) states, willpower is like a muscle. The more we exercise our willpower, the easier it becomes for subsequent sessions. Initially, a 2-hour chunk of time will feel like an eternity to students. But after a few sessions, students will be amazed at how much work and revision they can achieve. They can also mix up the activities they use within the 2-hour block, remaining within their subject, to ensure a bit of variety and also to enable different skills to be exercised and practised.
Highlighting gets a very bad press within the field of education, yet is it really that useless? In their seminal paper, Dunlosky et al. (2013) argue that highlighting is actually a really good way to identify what knowledge must be learnt. But they continue to say, that highlighting is only the start of the process and learners should then go on to use more effective learning strategies after that.
I would advocate students highlighting salient points from their notes as the first step of the revision process. Then, I would expect students to process the information and write the points in their own words onto a flashcard. This process of writing their own revision cards, processing the information themselves, and connecting the ideas to their own mental model is a crucial part of the learning process. Without this processing, perhaps being given the cards already printed, is likely to lead to inferior results (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014).
Although writing and processing information when writing flashcards is crucial, it is no guarantee that students will be able to retain any information from them. Indeed, poor use of flashcards is often the source of frustration for students when they do poorly in an exam. When you subsequently ask students what they did with their flashcards, they often say they just wrote them out and finished there, missing the most important element of using flashcards.
The most effective part of using flashcards is testing yourself and using them to carry out a process called successive relearning. Successive relearning is where an individual learns information up to one correct recall, and then correctly recalls the information in three to four subsequent sessions (Rawson and Dunlosky, 2012; Dunlosky et al., 2015).
In practice, for effective successive relearning to take place, I would advocate the Look/Cover/[Write]/Check method. Firstly, students would look at a part of a flashcard, and then perhaps by closing their eyes or looking away, repeat to themselves what the missing information is for that specific card. They would then check their answer. Importantly, if the information is correctly recalled the first time with minimal thought, I would place it in a separate pile for review at a later date. Where the learner is more hesitant about the correct answer, or simply doesn’t know, I would put the card to the back of the current deck and keep going through the flashcards eventually coming to the same card once more within the same study session. The rest of the revision session with flashcards is used to test the lesser well-known information, ideally until all information has been correctly recalled at least once. After a period of time, to benefit from spaced practice, the process should be repeated three to four times for maximal benefit (Rawson and Dunlosky, 2012; Dunlosky et al., 2015).
Over time, students will be amazed at how much information they can remember using this effective revision technique.
In essence, factual recall is linked to using flashcards. Rather obviously, without sufficient knowledge to solve an examination problem, students will simply not be able to answer it. The breadth and depth of public examinations students will sit should not be readily dismissed. Indeed, there are thousands of pieces of information that students will need to learn and retrieve automatically to enable them to access the highest grades.
We know that the capacity of our working memory to hold information is fixed, so the more information we can successfully retrieve from our long-term memory, enables us to more accurately be able to solve problems. Moreover, there are numerous studies that highlight the importance of knowledge for the capacity to successfully comprehend various texts (Arya et al., 2011)
With written subjects, many of the strongest answers will follow a familiar structure and style. The content, of course, plays a massive part, but within a coherent and easily replicable structure. So, as teachers, we must teach students not to ‘copy the content’ necessarily, but to ‘copy the structure.’
By ensuring students have ready access to a writing frame (a replicable structure with suggested sentence starters for each paragraph), students build automaticity over time, significantly improving the coherence, flow, and ultimately grade of their work.
Writing frames can be as simple as insisting that students ‘leave a line’ between paragraphs, suggesting works start with a thesis statement which is then interwoven into all subsequent paragraphs or using sentence starters to help structure their argument.
Past Papers, termed ‘Practice tests’ in the academic literature, is one of the most effective learning techniques for revision (Balota et al., 2006; Dunlosky et al., 2013). As with all subjects, exam boards only have a limited domain in which to devise examination questions, so it is no surprise that the type and content of questions is often repeated on a regular basis.
Practice testing helps students understand what topic each question is referring to (termed question discrimination within the literature), incorporates the ‘testing effect’ improving students’ knowledge of the domain, highlights what topics students need to develop, familiarises students with the format of the test they will sit reducing extraneous load in the examination, but importantly sets the standard for what is expected of them.
Past Papers truly are the golden step within my model of effective exam preparation, and I advocate for a significant leap in the number, frequency, and completion of practice papers within schools. Yet their use in schools is massively underutilised (Rawson and Dunlosky, 2012; Dunlosky et al., 2013). Testing, in general, has often been poorly perceived within education as being ‘high-stakes’ and accountability heavy, yet the direct and indirect impact of practice testing is vast.
Moreover, Sweller (1988) highlights the guidance fading effect, whereby as individuals become progressively more knowledgeable, instruction should transfer from being more didactic (when students are novices) to more problem-solving based (when students are experts). Kalyuga et al. (2003) note the ‘expertise reversal effect’ which also suggests that once individuals become expert, problem-solving activities may be more beneficial than simply instructional ones. This debate has led to some suggesting past papers should not be used too soon, when students are still novices. Although there are views either way, I would advocate that full past papers should be used as soon as the course has been completed. This way, students benefit from spacing their practice, are as close to experts as they will be in their specific examination subject, and maximise the amount of time they can complete as many practice papers as possible before taking their final exam.
I would also stress that completing past papers must be accompanied with feedback to students so that they understand what they have done correctly, and what needs further study. Feedback can be personalised from the teacher, self-marked from rubrics or the examination mark scheme, or from a technique I discuss later, ‘video walkthroughs’.
Finally, there does seem to be an increasing trend of teachers completing ‘Walking Talking Mocks’, where students are often gathered in a school hall and complete a past examination paper, stopping every few questions for a teacher to go through the answer. Although they do offer an opportunity for teachers to explain finer points of examination technique, key findings from examiner reports, as well as another opportunity to practice exam questions, I propose video walkthroughs as a much better technique for effective exam preparation.
Certainly for public examinations, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, I propose ‘video walkthroughs’ as a much more effective way of students preparing for their exams than using Walking-Talking Mocks. Video walkthroughs are recorded videos of teachers going through an examination paper themselves, writing down their answers, and also talking through key points as they go.
Although there is no current research on the effectiveness of video walkthroughs, I think they are an extremely beneficial way of students improving their exam performance. The teacher can identify key points regarding exam technique, common misconceptions, ‘go-to’ responses, as well as offering suggestions about the best responses. As the videos are recorded and uploaded onto the internet, they offer several benefits; once created they are online forever reducing further workload, they should be used at home maximising in-class lesson time in school, and they are recorded so students can fast-forward, rewind, pause at their own pace bespoke to the questions where they need additional help.
Video walkthroughs are easy to produce, and can simply be recorded using a visualiser, where they can be uploaded onto an online channel. They help build student metacognition, listening to how an expert would approach questions, and ‘tuning in’ to this way of thinking, significantly improving their responses to future questions. They ensure students get feedback on their assessments bespoke to their own need, where they can focus their efforts that relate to them and their development areas the most.
Students are also likely to find it significantly easier to follow a teacher talking through a paper online, rather than looking through dense mark schemes and examiner reports to find the information themselves. Although it is a disservice to think students can’t digest these documents themselves, I advocate that they should be used as an additional document if they believe they may have a different response to the one suggested in the video or are looking to see if their answer could also be equally correct.
Video walkthroughs also ensure the onus for revising effectively is put back on the student, and not on the teacher. Students can still be held accountable for completing past papers and marking them in school, but we should be building the culture within all year groups that students need to be responsible for their learning and for improving themselves.
The research on mnemonics is scant, with Dunlosky et al. (2013) highlighting that more research is needed. Yet, I think mnemonics have significant power in helping students remember material, particularly when they generate them themselves. By generating the information themselves, students are likely to process the material more, leading to longer term retention of the material (Brown, Roediger III, McDaniel, 2014). By linking mnemonics, and generating their own links, accompanied with flashcards and using the Look/Cover/[Write]/Check method, students are much more likely to remember certain pieces of information.
By incorporating this technique with flashcards, I think the impact for student revision can be extremely impactful.
We have been telling each other stories since time immemorial. And Willingham (2010) notes that stories are what we term ‘psychologically privileged.’ We enjoy hearing stories. When a story starts, we have a keen desire to know how it will end. We must, therefore, ensure that we use the power of stories to help us remember key pieces of information to prepare effectively for our exams.
Related to using mnemonics, generating your own stories, making them as memorable as possible to you personally, is likely to lead to the biggest gain in remembering material over time.
In conclusion, knowledge of how to revise effectively is known by few students. We must explicitly teach students how to revise effectively and ensure our approaches in school support these methods. Every teacher, regardless of year group, should understand the most effective techniques themselves and constantly take every opportunity to reinforce them to students regardless of age.
Much of the excellent work on incorporating knowledge of cognitive science that teachers have read recently can be undone, or not fully realised, if students do not revise effectively at the end of their academic journey. Therefore, it is imperative that we, as a profession, ensure every student, regardless of background, is capable of achieving exceptionally well in their examinations through effective exam preparation.
There is nothing more demoralising for students than thinking they have revised for an exam, to see their efforts not translated into excellent exam performance. In much of these cases, they have fallen for the illusion of revision when in fact the techniques they have used are sub-optimal or at worst completely ineffective.
This model of effective exam preparation aims to outline the most significant elements to help students achieve well, and I hope it can offer teachers and students a way to help them frame their revision for their studies.
Arya, D.J., Hiebert, E. and Pearson, P.D. (2011). The effects of syntactic and lexical complexity on the comprehension of elementary science texts. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, (4), pp107-125.
Balota, D. A., Duchek, J. M., Sergent-Marshall, S. D., & Roediger, H. L. (2006). Does expanded retrieval produce benefits over equal-interval spacing? Explorations of spacing effects in healthy aging and early stage Alzheimer’s disease. Psychology and Aging, 21(1), 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1037/0882-7922.214.171.124.
Blasiman, R. N., Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2017). The what, how much, and when of study strategies: Comparing intended versus actual study behaviour. Memory, 25(6), 784–792. https://doi.org/10.1080 /09658211.2016.122197
Brown, P.C., Roediger III, H.L. and McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Make it Stick. Harvard University Press: Cambridge.
Duhigg, C. (2013). The Power of Habit: Why do we do what we do, and How to Change. Random House: Manhattan.
Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612453266
Kalyuga, S., Ayres, P., Chandler, P. and Sweller, J. (2003). The Expertise Reversal effect. Educational Psychologist, (38), pp23-31.
Karpicke, J. D., Butler, A. C., & Roediger, H. L., III. (2009). Metacognitive strategies in student learning: Do students practise retrieval when they study GENERAL LEARNING TECHNIQUES 77 This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers. This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly. on their own? Memory, 17, 471– 479. http://dx.doi .org/10.1080/09658210802647009
It is our fervent belief that teachers are teachable.
This model of teacher development comprises five strands: Behaviour management, Quality of Instruction, Quality of Assessment, Independent Practice (IP), and Subject knowledge. These strands combine together to form effective teaching. No one element is more important than another, but they intertwine and complement each other to develop teacher expertise over time. This can be shown diagrammatically on the following page.
When using this guide to improve the quality of teaching and learning within a school, one must always ensure they are focusing on improving student learning, not teacher performance. It is very easy to slip into improving a teacher in a certain way that makes the teacher ‘look good’ without actually having any tangible impact on the quality of education that students receive in their lessons. This must be avoided at all costs.
This guide is designed such that in an observation, the observer identifies the strand most applicable for that teacher to work on (Behaviour/Instruction/Assessment/IP/Subject knowledge). Once the strand has been identified, the teacher should look at the Stage 1 actions. If all of the Stage 1 actions are complete, the user should progress to Stage 2, and then to Stage 3. All elements of the preceding stage should be in place before assigning a later stage’s actions although professional discretion is always encouraged.
·Teacher radar/Scanning Hotspots/Be Seen looking -The teacher scans the classroom to identify misbehaviour
·Spots and Sanctions – The teacher spots and then sanctions misbehaviour according to the school’s behaviour policy. – After sanctioning a student, the teacher ‘walks away’ so as to reduce any further misbehaviour from the student. – If the student continues to misbehave audibly and more than simply a sigh of frustration, the teacher should warn the student that the sanction is not up for discussion, and that continuing to argue will result in a further sanction. The teacher should walk away again. If the student continues to argue, the teacher should follow the school’s behaviour policy.
·Strong voice – square up, stand still – The teacher uses their teacher persona to command the classroom – The teacher issues instructions from a stationary position at the front of the classroom. – The teacher should stand tall, ‘squaring up’ to the class to command their attention.
·Class countdown (e.g. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Thank You). – The teacher should use a countdown, following school policy, when addressing the class
·Insist on silence – The teacher insists on silence at the end of a countdown, by following the school’s behaviour policy.
·Insist on 100% compliance – After issuing an instruction, ensure that 100% of students are following your command.
·Do it again/Whole class re-set – Where a routine is not completed up to the required standard, ensure a ‘whole-class-reset’ is carried out to ensure 100% compliance. – “Every time a routine is carried out incorrectly, it solidifies imperfection”
·Entry/Exit Routine Entry: Teachers meet & greet students at the door. ‘Do now’ activity is on the board already. (Do Now, Register, Books, Do Now) Do Now is on the board, once students are all in the teacher takes the register, the teacher then hands out the books to the front of each column, the teacher then goes through the Do Now)
Exit: (Books, Stand, Praise, Dismiss) The students (whilst remaining seated) pass their books to the front of their columns in silence. One person from the front of each column puts the books in the class box. Everyone else stands behind their chairs in silence. The teacher praises individuals. The teacher does some ‘cold calling’ until the bell sounds. The class is dismissed one column at a time, on the bell.
·Excellent transitions – Teachers should ‘think ahead’ and ensure when they stop a class, the materials/resources/display/example is ‘ready to go’ once they stop talking to ensure learning time is maximised. E.g. handing out worksheets whilst students are doing the ‘Do Now’ so that after going through the example, students can do the work straight away.
·Least Invasive Correction – The teacher should use non-verbal cues where possible to stop misbehaviour from happening in the first place – Where misbehaviour is audible or seen by the whole class, the teacher should address the misbehaviour publicly (showing everyone it is not acceptable). – Where misbehaviour is not audible/seen by other students, a quieter word/whisper can be more appropriate.
·Narrate the positive – Rather than telling students what ‘not to do’, teachers should ‘narrate the positive’. E.g. Thank you to those students that are sat up, ready to learn
Quality of Instruction
·I do/We do/You do I do: Teachers go through the instruction We do: Teachers check for student understanding You do: Students complete Independent Practice (IP)
·Instruction matches IP – The teacher instruction (the examples and script) matches the work that students will complete in their IP to maximise student success
·“I do” is rehearsed and uses economy of language – Teachers rehearse their explanations, making them as concise and clear as possible
·Key points are emphasised – Teachers emphasise key points in their explanations
·Dual coding used where appropriate – Teachers pair their explanation with relevant, accompanying graphics to help encode the material.
·Model the thinking – As well as the process, teachers should model their thinking process to build metacognition in their students
·The lesson should be part of a coherent sequence of lessons – The lesson should build on previous learning and be part of a clear linear sequence of lessons.
·Quick fire questions – Teachers should emphasise key points further by cold-calling ‘quick fire’ questions to students. E.g. Teacher says, the capital city of England is London. What is the capital city of England….?
·Close the loop Where students ‘don’t know’ an answer, after receiving the correct answer, the teacher closes the loop to ensure 100% understanding.
·Activate prior knowledge – Before instruction, teachers should activate students’ prior knowledge.
·Formal register – Teachers should speak formally, eloquently, and model excellent oracy for students
·Oracy in the classroom – Teachers should build oracy in their classrooms by asking students to (agree and build onto previous responses), or how to disagree respectfully.
·Stretch it – Teachers should continue asking probing questions to improve a student’s initial response.
·Keep it neutral – When receiving possible answers and students don’t know if it is right or wrong, teachers should keep their expression neutral so they do not give any outward indication of whether it is right or not.
·Vary your voice – Teachers should vary their pace, tone, and delivery to ensure the content is delivered in the best way possible.
Quality of Assessment
·Do now – Teachers start the lesson with 5 questions of previous learning (e.g. last lesson, last week, last half term)
·Questioning – Teachers use ‘Cold Call’, ‘No Opt Out’, ‘Wait time’ to check for student understanding
·No hands up – Teachers insist on ‘no hands up’ when they ask questions – This ensures 100% of students must be ready to answer and avoids students selectively opting out
·Use of Mini Whiteboards (MWBs) – teachers ask questions to students and ask students to write on their MWBs. – students turn their MWBs over before the teacher says, “123 Show Me.” – The teacher scans all responses, providing individual feedback there and then to students who have made mistakes
·Monitor aggressively – Teachers circulate the room during IP to look at student work – Teachers should be able to look at each student’s work within the lesson and provide individual feedback where required.
·Pen in hand – Teachers should circulate the room with a ‘pen in hand’ so that they can mark up and help any students work during this time
·Pre-call – Teachers can identify particular students and can pre-warn them that they will be questioned in a minute to explain a certain point, explanation, finding.
·Fastest first – When circulating, teachers should go to the fastest students first. This way, there will be work for them to look at straight away, whilst also ensuring that you have time to help these fast workers as later in the lesson you may be drawn to give more bespoke help to those that are struggling more.
·Target the error – Teachers should use their WAGOLLs to know what they are looking for specifically. – Teachers should have identified a key error they are looking for when circulating as they won’t be able to help and improve every aspect of a student’s work.
·Marking and improvement work – Teachers should collect in books as per the school’s policy and complete their whole class feedback (WCF) workbook. – From the WCF, teachers should design an improvement activity for the class based on common errors or misconceptions
·Go to IP – Independent practice (as the most important part of the lesson) is sacrosanct and should be a significant period of IP in each lesson.
·Students complete IP in silence – Students complete IP independently and in silence. If students need help, they raise their hand and the teacher helps them.
·Create the illusion of speed – The teacher includes ‘time stamps’ for activities within their lesson – These ‘time stamps’ should be irregular numbers, e.g. 4 minutes, or 7 minutes, to create the illusion of speed – The timings don’t need to be followed exactly but should create the illusion that students must be working in short bursts to complete maximum work
·Write first, talk second – Teachers should ensure all students write their own opinions first before sharing others’ opinions – This ensures pupils develop their own voice, as opposed to generating their ideas after another student may have done the ‘heavy lifting’
·Show call – Identify example student responses to show the class under the visualiser. – This method can be used to address learning points, misconceptions, or to praise elements you wish others to replicate in their own work.
·WAGOLLs – Teachers write and use a WAGOLL (‘What a good one looks like’/worked example) that acts as the benchmark for students to achieve and to be assessed against – The WAGOLL should be written for an adult standard, and we should teach to reach that level.
·Pedagogy – The teachers should use the common pedagogical approaches that have been decided by the Head of their Department. – Teachers should understand ‘how’ to teach the topic most effectively, being aware of the best examples to use and any common misconceptions.
·Upgrade vocabulary – Teachers should insist that students answer with the correct academic and technical vocabulary in their lessons
·Examiner training – Teachers should complete examiner training for their subject areas to develop their knowledge of the specification which can be passed on to their students.
·A* knowledge at A-Level – Teachers should be working towards having A* knowledge of their subject at A-Level. – This will help drive the curriculum journey for a specific topic, whilst also ensuring that we teach students to the top and scaffold towards this standard for all.
·On top of subject developments – Teachers should be aware of, and incorporate if supported, the latest developments in their subject areas.
Allison, S., & Tharby, A. 2015. Making Every Lesson Count: six principles to support great teaching and learning. London: Crown House.
Bambrick-Santoyo, P. 2016. Get Better Faster. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bambrick-Santoyo, P. 2018. Leverage Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Barton, C., 2018. How I wish I’d taught Maths. Woodbridge: John Catt.
Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. 2011. Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. In M.A. Gernsbacher, et al (Ed) Psychology and the real world: Essays illustrating fundamental contributions to society, New York: Worth Publishers (p56-64). https://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2016/04/EBjork_RBjork_2011.pdf
Our students only get one shot at their education; we must make it count.
Yet, too often within schools, leaders appear to overlook this truism. Some leaders often postpone or simply avoid decisions they know they should make for fear of upsetting people. Even worse, some leaders bury their heads in the sand and are oblivious to what goes on in their school. But as all good leaders know, ignoring a problem does not lead to the problem going away. It only gets worse! It is for this reason that effective quality assurance processes must be commonplace within schools.
For teachers, when they hear the words ‘quality assurance’ there is often a sharp intake of breath. For too long, ‘quality assurance’ has been twinned with ‘high stakes accountability.’ This has led teachers to view ‘quality assurance’ as a ‘gotcha’ exercise more than anything remotely developmental, and certainly unrelated to improving actual outcomes for students. Without careful thought, quality assurance can be reduced to a series of box-ticking exercises, in turn damaging staff morale, and leading to little tangible impact on student results and experiences.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The model of quality assurance I propose here comprises of challenge, review, and support in equal measure. By challenging ourselves to provide the very best education we can offer to our students, we ensure we maximise and maintain our standards and high expectations over time. From regular review and reflection, we ensure we constantly push for improvements in our work and understand that there are always elements we can improve to enhance our students’ education. Finally, we support colleagues by ensuring they understand that ‘we are on the same side’ and by offering them advice, assistance, and support in improving the situation together.
Finally, the model illustrates the importance of triangulating methods to create effective quality assurance. Quality assurance should not be reduced to one or two singular processes, but should encompass a variety of areas, over a significant period of time, with all aspects coming together to form a more accurate picture.
Methods of quality assurance
Within society, the importance of academic qualifications cannot be understated. Many jobs require minimum qualifications in core subjects, whilst highly competitive jobs and universities are likely to use examination grades as part of their selection procedures. Greater outcomes, across a broad range of subjects, are likely to lead to students having greater life choices, enhancing their own enjoyment, and positive contributions to society in the future. I also argue that student outcomes is the most useful proxy we have at our disposal to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and learning within our schools. It is for the reasons stated here that I have placed ‘Outcomes’ as central to the model of effective quality assurance.
Ultimately, if examination outcomes for our students are exceptional (regarding both attainment and progress), how those results were achieved are rendered superfluous. Conversely, where departments or schools use a multitude of strategies, yet examination outcomes remain poor for them, further work must be done to improve their current situation. Being forensic with data leads us to reflect, improve, and tweak our instruction to improve outcomes down the line.
Effective curricula development, as well as robust curriculum reviews, are one of the highest leverage actions to improve outcomes for students. Teachers, department leads, senior leaders must therefore have a broad and deep understanding of effective curriculum development.
Elements from cognitive science such as interleaving, spacing, interweaving, retrieval, overlearning, dual-coding, generation, elaboration, and concrete examples must be included in every curriculum within your school. Subject leads should deliberately include these elements into their curriculums and be able to articulate why they have done so.
Subject leads must know themselves, and ensure their teams know too, their subjects in granular detail. They must know how topics progress through each Key Stage and beyond. They must know why topics are sequenced in particular ways, what prior knowledge is required to teach certain topics, the best way to teach given topics, how students will retain knowledge learned previously, and how students will maximise examination outcomes through the most effective revision strategies within their domains.
Robust ‘Curriculum reviews’ can be held on a regular basis between middle leaders and their line managers (or wider senior leadership team where appropriate) whereby the curriculum is ‘interrogated’ and curriculum conversations develop. From discussing and articulating their curriculums, middle leaders can further develop their own understanding which can lead to iterative developments of their own curriculums. The benefit of including these conversations as part of line management meetings is that the line managers can act with ‘professional curiosity’ and in a supportive capacity to upskill middle leaders in articulating their curriculums, praise them for work they have done so far, and challenge in any areas that could be improved further.
If departments can clearly, confidently, and concisely explain the rationale for curriculum sequencing, articulate and carry out consistent methods of instruction, assessment, whilst also understanding the learning sequence for that topic alongside any misconceptions and crucial examples, they would be in an extremely strong position and their student outcomes would likely reflect this.
For school leaders at all levels, the main source of challenge and support will come from your line manager. Your line manager should act as your accountability partner and critical friend, whilst also offering their unequivocal support throughout.
For me, effective line management is where a line manager sets a goal in conversation with their direct report, clearly and explicitly delineates the parameters of engagement, but then allows them the freedom and space to allow them to go about their work. The line manager can then hold their direct report to account for their performance towards the designated goal. This favourable method of line management provides reports with autonomy over how to achieve a goal, whilst developing their leadership capacity in pursuance of the goal.
When done properly, direct reports look forward to line management meetings as they can engage in critical discourse about how to move their department forward, with line managers acting as an invaluable sounding board for improvements. Line managers, in turn, can update their reports with any developments across the wider school, providing further clarification where necessary. The line management relationship can then develop into a ‘critical friendship’ where both individuals are working together with the goal of improving student outcomes within their departmental area.
Lesson Drop Ins
No quality assurance process would be complete without an effective system of lesson drop ins taking place. Historically, whenever school leaders would ‘drop in’ to a teacher’s lesson, it would be one of the few occasions during that year where the leader would carry out a high stakes, graded, formal lesson observation which would count towards the teacher’s performance management that year.
This practice, thankfully, appears to be declining in popularity and by being superseded in many schools by semi-regular (every 2-3 weeks on average), low stakes, ‘drop-ins’ of approximately 10-15 minutes and which are critically no longer related to a teacher’s performance management. As such, teachers can expect to have more than ten such lesson developmental ‘drop ins’ throughout a year, greatly increasing the level of feedback and developmental opportunities teachers receive during the year, all crucially concentrated on improving student learning and not on improving teacher performance.
Critically, this increased level of teacher development should lead to an increase in teaching capacity across the school. Improving a teacher’s practice is one of the highest leverage actions a school leader can use, as any improvement is compounded by the sheer number of students that teacher will teach in their ‘other’ classes and also across their entire careers. Clearly, the success of teacher development depends on the quality of observation, feedback, school culture, and the buy-in from staff, yet it is transformational when done right.
When looking through books, we must prioritise focusing on ‘learning’ rather than what simply ‘looks good.’ Whilst we must never mistake activity for achievement, we must never mistake perfect presentation for effective education. Although looking through books is important in ensuring students take pride in their work, we must look beyond the simple underlining of dates and titles, robotic checking of the frequency of book marking, and instead concentrate our efforts on making a judgement about the student learning that is evident.
When looking at books, it is important to address the aspects most associated with student learning:
– is the curriculum faithfully enacted?
– are misconceptions seen and addressed?
– is there sufficient quality and quantity of student work?
– is work self-marked where appropriate?
– is the quality of student writing exceptional?
– are topics ‘retrieved’ to prevent loss of learning over time?
Some school leaders give student voice a wide berth as they choose to back their own judgements and argue that students ‘don’t know’ what’s best for them. I can understand this logic to a certain extent, but I do think that student voice offers another extremely good viewpoint to help triangulate quality assurance within a school.
Ultimately, students know whether they are making progress in a certain subject or not. They know whether behaviour is good in their lessons. They have a good sense of whether they think they would learn better in another classroom. By asking specific, non-judgemental questions, without undermining teachers in the process, one can glean a lot of information from students which adds to the overall picture of quality assurance within your school.
Not only can it help you to quality assure your school, but it also has the dual purpose of engaging some of the most important stakeholders within your school environment, your students.
Although governors should not be tempted to interfere with the operational aspects of a school, they are crucial in holding the school to account for its provision. Yet, how do we ensure we have effective governance when governors are often volunteers from different industries and where they are frequently overseeing areas outside of their own areas of expertise?
As governors are not often trained in the area they oversee within a school, there exists a peculiar situation whereby leaders of all levels need to upskill their link governor in holding them to account more effectively. I suppose it is in some ways a perverse incentive to train someone up to provide greater challenge and support to you in your role, but it was one that is crucial to ensure the longevity, sustainability, and excellent performance of a school.
I would recommend that governors are aware of whole school teaching and learning initiatives, departmental expectations, curricula expectations, as well as the common vernacular surrounding their link area. Governors can, and I argue should, be encouraged to accompany leaders in any elements of quality assurance mentioned within this blog and we should therefore invite our link governors to these accordingly.
Our students only get one shot at their education: we must make it count. Some argue that quality assurance is superfluous, as teachers should just be trusted to ‘get on with their jobs’. Yet, I argue our students’ education is far too important for this to occur. We must make sure that all students receive the highest standard of education, and effective quality assurance must play an effective part in this.
Effective quality assurance must constitute challenge, review, and support in equal measure. We must challenge ourselves to be as effective as possible, but we must also never forget we are all on the same team. Where excellent practice is seen, we must recognise this and let colleagues know; recognition goes a long way, especially in what is often an isolated profession. Where development needs are found, conversations must be supportive, targeted, and focused to give individuals the best opportunity to improve.
Within this blog, I have highlighted one model of effective quality assurance. I stress that no particular method should be used in isolation, but should instead form part of a wider triangulation of elements to build up a more accurate picture over time.
Through this model of quality assurance, I argue that school leaders have a solid basis to understand the strengths and development areas within their schools, which can then be used to improve outcomes and ultimately the life chances for our students.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to continuing the conversation.
How does a novice become an expert? To me, it all comes back to effective curriculum development. And to me, effective curriculum development all comes back to having ruthless ‘curriculum conversations.’ But what exactly does this mean…?
I believe there are three core elements to an effective curriculum:
What do we want students to learn?
How will we teach this to them?
How will we assess their work?
Once a department has outlined their three core strands in depth, everyone within that department must be involved in having ruthless conversations about how to improve every aspect of it over time. After all, the success of our students depends on it.
What must students learn to become an expert in our field? It’s a basic, yet fundamental question that needs to be addressed if we are to have any chance of actually getting there.
Luckily, the national curriculum and exam specifications offer us a handy starting point. The national curriculum will identify what students are expected to learn at each key stage, so offers an insight not solely into what students should be expected to learn, but also what they will have learnt previously.
Exam specifications are also imperative to utilise in determining what students need to learn, because after all, that is what they will be judged by (rightly or wrongly) at the end of their studies. Clearly, you may be thinking, doing a GCSE in a subject is far from being an expert in the field, and I would wholeheartedly agree, yet they offer us useful stepping stones in their journey from novice to expert.
Conversations need to be had about what topics students will have studied beforehand. At secondary school, for example, what will students have learnt at their primary school? How do you know? Have you checked? If you don’t know, can you find out? Did they actually do it, or just say they did it? Do you know? Now, I’m not expecting you to know all of these answers, yet I certainly think knowing the answers to them will certainly help your department develop curriculum expertise, which will undoubtedly translate in students accelerating their journey to becoming an expert in your subject.
Does your subject follow a distinct chronology? Is there benefit in teaching your subject chronologically? If so, why? If you disagree, why so? Again, ask reflective questions to interrogate your curriculums rather than just accepting the status quo because it is always what we have done.
Then we move onto how we will sequence our topics throughout the years of education that our students are with us. We can use the power of interleaving, to ensure that students retain information for longer. Yes, it may be more of a struggle at the time, but its power is important in developing long term retention of knowledge. The power of interleaving can be enhanced with interweaving (teaching a new topic using knowledge of a previous topic, e.g. teaching area and perimeter with a previously learnt topic fractions). There will be numerous examples in your own subject areas that you can exploit.
Once we have an idea of what we have learnt, the order in which we will teach it, our next question is how we are actually going to teach it.
Once we have decided what we are going to teach, and in what order, the next most logical step would be to forensically work out how we intend to teach it. Yet, this is often a part that is alarmingly overlooked. Blindly following a well-sequenced, highly thought-through curriculum, with a blatant disregard to the fine matter of teaching it, is setting our students up to fail.
New, and experienced teachers alike, often begrudge the time they take ‘lesson planning’. My take on ‘lesson planning’ is that much of the time is taken by teachers in fact ‘lesson resourcing’.
For me, lesson ‘planning’ is the act of working out the best way to teach a specific topic, considering pre-requisite knowledge, where the topic leads to next, the best pedagogical methods to explain it to students, rehearsing explanations to improve the quality of your instruction, ensuring your choice of examples reflects the work that students will do and so on. It is the most important part of working out ‘how’ you are going to deliver the curriculum. Lesson ‘planning’ is what we should be focusing our attention on!
Lesson resourcing, on the other hand, is simply finding a specific resource for students to complete. It’s a classic mistake: working out what activity students should do before working out what the point of the activity is. Instead, we have already worked out what students should learn, we are simply identifying the best way to teach the content so that crucially students learn the material.
Within my curriculum model, you may have noticed ‘CPAs’ which I refer to as ‘Common Pedagogical Approaches’. In a department of say eight maths teachers, why would you all choose to model how to solve equations in potentially eight different ways? Would it not be best to decide on a preferred way, and everyone teach solving equations that way? Some argue against this arguing that it removes some of their autonomy and that they have always taught it like that perhaps. Yet, do those teachers need a reality check? Are they teaching for themselves or for the students? Either way, the conversation needs to be had in your department. Whichever way your department chooses to go, it must be carefully considered and justified.
Once students have completed the work in class, have you planned what work students will do at home, if any? Have all students got access to home learning that you have set? If homework is set primarily through online systems, have all students got sufficient resources to access this on a regular basis, or is there suitable provision at school that doesn’t lead to them missing out on other opportunities? Home learning can be incredibly powerful, but must be carefully thought through, structured, and critically monitored. In too many schools, it appears that many departments set homework because they are ‘asked to’, yet never pay much importance to the quality of work that is produced. Not only is this demoralising for students, who in turn reduce their level of effort each time, but it can also be a huge wasted opportunity for them to consolidate knowledge, and increase their abilities in each subject discipline.
I must also stress the power of stories. Even though the benefit of storytelling is propagating the minds and followers of cognitive science, its power is still underutilised in many a classroom. Simply listen to some of the best speakers on the planet on the TED platform and you will see that stories are used to some extent in pretty much every case. Stories are a remarkable conduit of knowledge.
We enjoy hearing stories, not least because they follow a routine structure, and our brains are also hardwired to always want to know the ending and are often memorable as we can connect them to our own lived experiences or our own mental models. Think about whether your next teaching topic can be taught including elements of a story, that could help retention. Clearly, this may be easier for subjects such as History, Politics, or other subjects that perhaps follow a chronological timeline or are more attuned to storytelling, yet I argue they can be used in all subjects to varying degrees.
Assess Following the detailed discussion about ‘what’ we are going to teach, and ‘how’ we are going to teach it, it follows that we must look at how we will ‘assess’ that students have learnt what we had intended for them to learn. This assessment comes in many forms, and it is prudent that we, as teachers, allow sufficient time to explore this in depth. If ill-thought-through, assessment can become all consuming, and the opportunity cost of such endeavours can distract us from our key work. Before long, teachers can be drowning in endless data entry, triple impact marking, and other excessive marking rituals which dampen the overall impact on student learning over time.
For me, when thinking about assessment, I reflect on the parallels of learning to play a musical instrument. When learning to play an instrument, you are taught by an individual who is an expect relative to yourself. When learning a musical instrument, your teacher will highlight and model the steps you require, which you will repeat, and over time you will become increasingly independent in your playing. Now, crucially, the level feedback in a music lesson is extraordinarily high. After every note, or phrase, you will receive feedback to try and improve the performance of that particular element. You will ‘practise the micro’ elements. Indeed, when professional musicians practise a piece of music, it is often not possible to tell the piece of music they are playing as they are practising such a minute part of the overall work. The feedback is verbal, immediate, personalised, and leads to rapid improvements. Once the feedback is given, the teacher ensures you have understood the feedback by asking you to play the section again with the elements included. Importantly, the feedback is often never written down, yet is incredibly impactful. As the feedback is immediate, any errors in performance are immediately rectified leading to less chance of embedding poor technique or musical errors. Once the feedback is noted and received, the student is then tasked with going away and practising before their next lesson. Crucially, though, the teacher checks that the student has understood the feedback by asking them to play it through correctly. If the teacher is not fully assured the student has understood exactly how to play it, they will ask the pupil to play it again. Once assured, it is down to the student to then continue to practise correctly.
To me, much of learning to play a musical instrument is analogous to learning within the classroom. Clear, verbal, immediate feedback based on errors/misconceptions that a student has made in the moment is so impactful. Clearly, 1-2-1 musical lessons are somewhat less realistic than classroom environments, but the use of Mini Whiteboards (MWBs) in a classroom provides a very close approximation of what is possible. By asking a question and receiving thirty responses on a MWB, teachers can provide, direct, immediate feedback that immediately rectifies any mistake that a child can make. Once the mistake is rectified, another follow up question may be asked to ensure the teacher knows the child has now understood exactly what to do, before there is a period of independent practice within the classroom for the students to practise the topic, and secure the process of how to complete any task. Yes, some may argue that there is no ‘evidence’ that students have received feedback, but to me we must be brave here. Simply asking the students if they receive regular MWB feedback, or verbal feedback from a teacher should suffice, needless to say the long-term improvements in student outcomes from using this approach. Documenting what you have told a child is just absolutely pointless. It would take a rare student to flick back in their books at all the comments teachers have made to improve their performance. Verbal improvements, in the moment, are so much more impactful whilst also saving an inordinate amount of time.
In the short term, live marking, retrieval activities including a ‘Do now’ starter, circulating, the use of ‘show me’ whiteboards, cold call questioning are all elements that teachers can use to formatively assess work in a classroom. In some cases, particularly perhaps in maths and the sciences, students could be taught how to mark their own work, so they can immediately understand if they have got a question right or wrong, accelerated their learning whilst also ensuring mistakes are not embedded.
In the long term, summative assessments that cumulatively build on prior topics is a sensible way to not only understand what a child has retained, but also to teach students how to revise, acclimatise to the nature of summative assessment, and understand the areas they need to improve on to accelerate their learning. An in depth discussion of effective revision strategies is saved for a later blog.
Once we have discussed, developed, and honed what we are teaching, how we are teaching, and how we are going to assess work, we have not finished. We must see curriculum development as a cyclical process that everyone contributes to and that builds iteratively over time. At each stage of the curriculum model, we must communicate improvements and next steps with our colleagues, as well as to wider stakeholders including to our students.
Not only is communication imperative in iteratively building our curriculum towards achieving excellence, but it must also be proactive and reactive in equal measure.
Following an assessment, we must be reactive in the short term to understand which areas students have struggled with, whilst concomitantly being proactive by working out how to rectify this for future learning cycles and to avoid the risk of repeated failures. In the immediate aftermath, it may be that you need to reteach the whole topic, or simply ensure you ask more questions about it in future lessons, either verbally, or as part of a starter exercise. Much will depend on your subject, the topic in question, its relative importance, and the time you have available. Although this reactive teaching is essential, and likely to always exist, changes further upstream can ensure that students get it right first time and reducing the need for remedial work in future learning journeys.
If all students did poorly in a test on a specific test, alarm bells should sound. How do we reflect on this to tweak our input, improve the quality of our instruction, and make sure that next time students do better at that specific topic? No, I don’t mean teaching to the test, but I do mean using that information to do something with it. Otherwise, we teach the same curriculum, in the same way, year after year, and fail to understand or realise that we are always getting the same results, and students over time are getting the same outcomes. If teachers say, ‘students always find this difficult’, what have you done about it? Surely, if that’s the case then we should get better at teaching it first time around, perhaps?
As well as communicating our new knowledge from the learning cycle into improving teaching and learning, it’s important to communicate necessary information to students along the way. Students need to know what they have done well, and what they need to focus on to improve further. They may need extra assistance not just on what subject matter to learn, but potentially also on how to revise effectively. Although we have all no doubt questioned this at times, students do want to do well. If they can see that the effort that they have put in has led to tangible results, this is a great way to generate ‘buy in’. Giving work to students, not least a test, when you know students are set up to fail is simply unfair, and incredibly damaging over time as students are less likely to feel there is any merit in working any harder for upcoming assessments as they may now see it as a ‘lost cause’. It is our job as teachers to set our students up to succeed, and an effective curriculum development model is a major avenue in achieving that aim.
We will all have our own takes on what an effective curriculum model may look like, but I hope the model I have shared with you here has made you think, reflect, or at least started a conversation. I hope your departments are already discussing much of what I have discussed, but if not, I hope some of the material may resonate with you and help drive curriculum conversations within your departments moving forward.
Change is hard. It is difficult. Humans crave routine, structure and much of
our daily actions are informed by habits that have been ingrained from months,
if not years of repetition. They are
difficult to alter.
Yet, changing the way we operate is not impossible. It does require effort but when necessary, and under certain conditions, we can rise to the challenge and alter our working procedures. Switch is an excellent book about the power of change and how best to bring it about within an organisation.
The book focuses on the example
of an elephant and its rider. The rider,
sitting atop of the elephant, has a say in the direction they want the elephant
to travel in. The elephant requires
motivation to follow the rider’s direction.
If the elephant wants to, it could overrule the rider’s instruction and
go wherever it wanted to. The book looks
at ways to motivate the elephant to travel in the rider’s intended direction.
Directing the rider
The rider sets the direction of
an organisation. They set the vision,
the plan of action and point an organisation to the destination they believe is
right for the company. They communicate
their ideas clearly, with passion and with a clear vision to help motivate
colleagues to join them in advancing the company’s cause.
Motivating the elephant
The elephant is the powerhouse of
an organisation. In this analogy, these
are the people you require to change their ways. Colleagues need motivating to follow you down
the course you are hoping for. Without
motivation or direction, the elephant will continue to go down the path it was
originally heading down. By setting a
clear, concise direction for your organisation which is clearly explained to
colleagues, you can play a part in motivating the elephant.
You can also “shrink the change”
by creating smaller goals ‘en route’ to achieving the larger goals in the
end. People enjoy working towards a
larger goal knowing they have already achieved some of the smaller goals on the
Shaping the path
The elephant can be motivated
further by shaping the path you want the elephant to head down. By smoothing the road you want to be
followed, you make the decisions easier for people to make the decision you
Can you create new habits, or
encourage the correct behaviours to make changing habits easier for people to achieve? “Small tweaks can lead to dramatic changes.”
Rally the herd
Much of society is based upon social norms. We are highly attuned to our environment and susceptible to copy others’ behaviours. Within an organisation, you want to be able to cultivate the power of the herd and celebrate where the change is taking place, to create a new normal for individuals in their new environment and operating procedures.
Set a clear direction. Make sure your employees and organisation are clear what the expectations are and exactly what you would like people to do. Often, where change doesn’t happen exactly as you wished, it is a result of a lack of explicit clarity from the leader leading the change.
“Point to the destination.” Always focus on the goal and the mission in a positive light. Motivate staff by communicating the end goal, the destination that we are all heading for. The best organisations will ensure this is framed positively, as to further motivate individuals to follow them on the correct course.
“Shrink the change.” Celebrate the successes you have already achieved in your organisation to foster increased motivation. People like to know they have already achieved part of the longer journey rather than starting from scratch.
“Rally the herd.” Celebrate individuals, groups or occasions where you have seen the new change enacted positively within your organisation. Ensure the new normal is celebrated where it is being done correctly and you will be surprised at how others will copy. Build new group norms.
Keep going. “Change isn’t an event, but a process.” Change is difficult. It is hard. It involves changing habits which have been engrained for significant amounts of times. Where the change becomes difficult, keep persevering. Be reflective in case there are easier ways to “shape the path” but continue to set clear directions, motivate the elephant and you will come through.
Our lead inspector, who happened
to be an ex-Head of Maths, spent the majority of the first day within the Maths
department. This included having a 1-2-1
interview, a learning walk and a book look with the lead inspector. Additionally, the lead inspector did a
learning walk within maths with the school principal and also held a student
voice session to gather student perceptions of the subject. At the end of the day, the maths department
were convened to discuss maths at Hanham Woods in general which lasted
approximately 45 minutes.
I’ve included the questions that
were asked to myself, the department and also some of my top tips for anyone
going through an inspection under the new framework. I hope they help.
To me personally…
Talk to me about the curriculum in maths…
What do you think explains the rise in Year 11
outcomes last year?
How much does the trust determine what you do at
…Would I be able to go into Year 7 at another
school in the trust and see the same curriculum being enacted?
So, the Diagnostic Multiple Choice Questions
(MCQs) is your method of identifying misconceptions in KS3, what do you do/what
does this look like in KS4?
Once you identify misconceptions/gaps in
knowledge what do you do about it?
When we look at Year 8 in a minute (as part of
the learning walk), what will they be doing?
What does assessment look like in KS3? …and then
How do you ensure that students don’t forget
what you taught a month ago/half a term ago/last year? …Does everyone do
So, I’ve flicked back a month or so in student
books and asked students what they can remember and they can’t always tell
me…what do you do to stop them forgetting material as a department?
To the department after school in
Have you thought about a common “calculation
policy” in maths as I saw each teacher teaching solving equations in a
(Pretty much the same questions as asked to me
directly but as a group). Presumably
this was to check that what I had said earlier was consistent across all staff
How do you make sure that students don’t forget
So say you mark their books and they can’t do
much on circles, what do you do then?
Tips for others going through the
Don’t use the future tense. What are you doing right now?
Not interested in saying “teachers should be doing.” Are they or aren’t they? You should know and if you don’t know, make
sure you build in ways to find out.
Be proactive not reactive. Have a selection of books that you have in
your head before you even know Ofsted are coming that you can select at the
drop of a hat to show aspects of teaching and learning that you want to show:
Reteach, Identifying misconceptions, evidence of corrections, strengths of the
Make teachers proactive too. Get them to have a selection of their best
books at the back of the room (regardless of class) to show the inspector. This is particularly useful if they’re
teaching one of their weaker, lower attaining classes where the quality of
books might not be as good as their other classes.
They only originally (Day 1) looked at 8 books
to judge the department. I should have
collected much more books to show the lead inspector as this wasn’t
representative of the quality of the department.
Basics I know…but, What are the key points that
the inspector has to hear from you in your department in the short time you
spend with them. I only really had a
20-25 minute 1-2-1 with the inspector which goes extremely quickly. The inspector kept probing my responses which
meant I failed to get some of my key points across. I had to feed these back to my line manager/principal
to get these points across when they were talking to the inspector themselves.
Start building much more time in department
meetings talking about the curriculum.
Why do we teach this when we do, what is the best way to teach this,
what are we intending for students to do in Maths?
A must-read for all maths teachers out there who strive to improve their practice. Here, I run through some key ideas that I took away and some possible practical implications for the classroom.
As teachers, we must take ownership of what we teach pupils, how we teach pupils and how we mould the learning process for them. After all, with respect to pupils, teachers are the experts and pupils are the novices. Commonly, “learners don’t make right decisions about what to learn. They often choose what they prefer, not what is best for them.”
Secondly, success breeds motivation. Pupils like being successful, so ensuring this is one of the key ways that we can get pupils to enjoy learning. Explicit/Direct instruction of knowledge when it is first introduced to pupils is the best way to ensure this success. This way, it is easier to plan for error, misconceptions are less likely to arise and it is simply more time efficient than other forms of teaching.
Regarding practice, practice makes permanent not perfect. As such, practice must be purposeful whereby there is a feedback loop where answers are available and misconceptions can be corrected quickly. Questions are not simply the same with different numbers but instead are designed in ways to push students a little harder each time.
Again, building pupils’ success is the key.
Possible Practical Implications:
Use explicit/direct instruction when first introducing a topic.
Differentiate by time and not by task.
Build success. Avoid finishing a lesson where students have grasped things with a really difficult exam question! (Save it for another time!)
Create goal free problems e.g. finding missing angles.
Use mathematical methods that are not limited with their progression (e.g. solve equations through a balancing method rather than a flowchart method).
Use examples and non-examples widely to build understanding.
Get teachers to fix misconceptions and pupils to fix mistakes.
Interleave material, mix up starters and homework.
Best form of revision in maths is regular tests from the specification….put highlighters and revision guides away.
Utilise the power of the “testing effect” by giving students pre-tests to prime their brain.