Showing posts with label learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label learning. Show all posts

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Thoughtful Questioning: Why Cold Call Is Not Enough

Cold Calling is the name given to the practice of asking a question and then selecting a child to answer. The theory is that it causes all children to think rather than just a single child who has been called upon to answer, or who has put their hand up. This is great because it lessens the likelihood of children, for whatever reason, opting out of the lesson and increases the number of children who are thinking about an answer.

But this alone is not enough - if that is all that is done in the name of Cold Calling then there are a couple of obvious problems.

Problem 1: Generic vs. Targeted Questioning

The first problem I assume here is that the questioning is generic. When you ask a whole class the same question it does not take into account the varying needs and understanding of the children in the class. Perhaps this issue is less prevalent in classes set by prior attainment (as in most secondary schools) however in such settings, each child will still have differing levels of understanding and knowledge.

Questioning will be more beneficial for both children and teachers if it is targeted. Targeted questioning allows teachers to get a better understanding of individual needs - it is a form of formative assessment. For children, it means that they have the chance to answer questions that are appropriate to them: if teachers already have knowledge of a child's current levels of understanding, they can pitch the question so that it is not too hard and not too simple, finding that sweet spot that gives the child a chance to experience success (a great motivator).

Of course, many great teachers out there will be Cold Calling and asking targeted questions. Although on the face of things they are asking a question to the whole class, they will have done something else first: they will have already decided on who to ask and asked a question that suits that child's needs. That's the way to tackle this first potential problem:

  1. Ask a tailored question of the whole class with a particular child (or children) in mind
  2. Provide some thinking time
  3. Name the child who you want to answer the question and allow them to answer
Problem 2: Inclusivity

Most proponents of Cold Calling will ensure that they pre-empt their questioning with a warning: "I'm about to cold call" or "I'm going to ask you all a question". But a blanket warning does not help to alert a child who might require a more specific warning.

Some children, for a variety of reasons, will not respond well to being chosen and then asked to try to convey their understanding out loud in front of the whole class. Sometimes it might be the case that they need more time to think, for others it will be difficult for them to articulate what they know, yet others may feel underconfident. Should we force answers out of these children without specific warning that we are going to ask them? (Should we force answers out of them at all?)

We warn because we want children to be prepared so that they can give the best answer possible. So, how can we help more reticent children to be prepared without singling them out and signalling to the rest of the class that they don't need to think or participate?

One answer to this conundrum is to provide further thinking time (once you have called their name) for a child who is going to find it more difficult to find an answer. However, this thinking time potentially just provides the rest of the class with the chance to switch off for while as they wait for the child to answer. This is not a sufficient answer.

A better answer is to add something else into the teacher's script:

"I am going to ask <child's name> to answer in 10 seconds. Everyone else must be ready with an answer too as I will ask <number> other people to provide an answer too."

There are added benefits to this approach. Having more than one answer to a question will allow answers to be compared and contrasted. Having several answers allows for a collaborative answer to be built from the component parts of different children's answers. These follow-up questions should also be tailored and targeted, based on teacher's assessment of prior learning. Other bits of teacher questioning would help here:

"Can you add to <child's name>'s answer... <select child to answer>?"
"What do you think about  <child's name>'s answer... <select child to answer>?"
"Is <child's name>'s answer correct... <select child to answer>?"
"Please can you summarise everyone's answers... <select child to answer>?"

In the above examples the ellipsis signifies a pause, and you will note that the question always comes before the selection of a child to answer, ensuring that the most children possible are thinking about an answer. Some of the above examples fit with TLAC's Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce routine.

A better version of the routine above then would be:

  1. Ask a tailored question of the whole class with a particular child (or children) in mind
  2. Provide some thinking time
  3. Name the child who you want to answer the question and warn the rest of the class that they will be required to answer too
  4. Provide further thinking time, according to the needs of the child who has been asked to answer
  5. Allow the child to answer
  6. Ask other children to contribute their additional answers
If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing pedagogy at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

A Word On Lollipop Sticks

The primary purpose of lollipop sticks should be that they an aid to ensuring that a broad range of children are being asked to answer questions. As teachers we can often, without thinking, revert to asking the same children questions (often because subconsciously we know that they will be able to answer and therefore will not disrupt the flow of the lesson, also giving us a false sense of security that the lesson is going well and the children are learning). Lollipop sticks, used as they were intended (i.e. you don't put the stick back in the pot once you have asked that child), make sure that it is not the same children being asked all the questions.

However, there are problems even with this primary purpose: what if a child needs to be asked another question? What if further questioning will actually help them to understand more? Sticking rigidly to the lollipop stick process could mean that those children miss out because they've already had their question for the lesson. It's also worth mentioning that some children might not need questioning, or might benefit from more private questioning at another point during the lesson - not everyone has to speak out loud in front of the class.

Lollipop stick usage has morphed into something else though - they've simply become a tool of random selection in the Cold Call scenario.

When used in this way, for Cold Call, a common process is to ask the question, provide thinking time and then select the stick (this way, everyone thinks about the answer as it could be their stick that is picked). 

However, as already discussed, there are problems with this: the question can't be targeted. A better process for the use of lollipop sticks then would be to select a stick first, keep it secret, then ask the question, provide thinking time before finally revealing whose stick it was - a simple tweak allowing the questioning to be more targeted.

Essentially, lollipop sticks are only really necessary if teachers struggle to keep track of who they have and haven't questioned during the lesson.

A Word on Mini-Whiteboards

Mini-Whiteboards were all the rage in primary schools when I started teaching 15 years ago. At some point more recently, they've become a big in secondary schools.

The purpose of them is that you can actually ask children to provide written answers to the questions that you are asking. It is a much more visible way of ensuring that children are involved in the lesson at the point a question is asked. Instead of just providing thinking time, you can provide writing time. This is a good thing, of course (and there are added benefits to writing things down, for example, it can help us to remember things, either facts or processes).

However, there are practical problems with the usage of mini-whiteboards:
  1. They get dirty, and get everything else dirty (fingers, tables, books, uniforms, etc)
  2. The pens run out or stop working quickly, especially when oily fingers have been used to rub out (see 3.)
  3. The pens, boards and rubbers seem to go missing very regularly - there is always at least one child crying out for a new pen!
  4. They can present some storage/handing out issues (however you decide to do it)
  5. Everything recorded on them gets wiped
The above might not seem like huge problems, and they might not bother some teachers at all. Having said this, there is a simple alternative and that's jotters or notebooks. Using jotters and notebooks means there are fewer items to get lost or stop working, they don't cause the same amount of mess and - the most legitimate, non-pernickety reason - is that they provide a record of what has been done. This record can be useful for both children (they can look back to see a mathematical process or to find information or ideas) and teachers (they can, if they should choose, see how a child has been doing during whole class questioning).

To summarise, Cold Call is fine as an alternative to hands up, but making some simple additions to the process will enhance the questioning, ensuring that it is targeted and inclusive. Lollipop sticks can help and asking all children to participate in writing and having more children joining in by providing additional answers can improve both the questioning and the answers.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing pedagogy at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

What The Headlines Didn't Tell You About Ofsted's Latest Covid-19 Report

Ofsted published a new report about the impact of Covid-19on education and here’s what you know: kids are back in nappies, they eat food with their fingers and they’ve played too many online games and are now falling out about it.

Here’s what, if you haven’t read the full report, you probably don’t yet know: some children have been more exposed to domestic violence, there has been a rise in self-harm and some children have become more involved in crime. But those are just some of the most concerning, negative outcomes of the pandemic for some young people.

Here’s what else you might not know, according to Ofsted: the vast majority of children have settled back into school, are being taught a broad curriculum and leaders and teachers are doing an excellent job of adapting necessarily with positive results.

But that sort of stuff does not a headline make, does it?

Wellbeing

When it comes to wellbeing of pupils, the report is clear: ‘leaders said that their pupils were generally happy to be back, and had settled in well.’

The report also records that ‘leaders in most schools continued to report that pupils were happy to be back. Pupils were described as confident, resilient, calm and eager to learn. There was a general sense that they appreciate school and each other more. Many leaders noticed that behaviour has generally improved… Many emphasised that fewer pupils were needing additional support than had been anticipated.’

Imagine the headlines we could have had: Pupils return to school with confidence and resilience! Children eager to learn as they get back to school! Students defy expectations in calm return to education!

In addition, Ofsted identify that schools are going above and beyond in their response to ensure that pupils are happy and able to deal with the changes the pandemic has brought: ‘Many schools of all types reported a greater focus than usual on their personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum to develop aspects such as resilience and independence and to reinforce or improve learning behaviours, but also to address pupils’ anxieties. Some schools were also strengthening their PE provision to support pupils’ physical and mental well-being.’

And it’s not only children who have got back to school and got on with doing a great job, it’s the staff too, according to the report: ‘Leaders said that their staff have generally adapted well to various changes, and are working hard to make these work. They attributed this to frequent and effective communication with staff as well as to a stronger sense of team spirit that has emerged over the last few months.’

Further potential headlines for your delectation: School staff working hard to adapt to changes! Strong sense of team spirit seen in schools!

And perhaps being at home hasn’t been such a bad thing for children anyway; perhaps it isn’t just the fact that they are finally back at school which has made for such positive changes: ‘Many leaders spoke positively about pupils with SEND returning to school. In a couple of schools, leaders noted that additional time spent at home had been positive for pupils with SEND, who had returned with confidence.’

Attendance

One of the fears of school leaders in the summer was most certainly around what attendance would look like come September. Fears have been allayed, according to Ofsted’s report: ‘Around three quarters of the schools visited reported having attendance that was similar to, or higher than, this time last year… where attendance had improved, leaders often attributed this to the work that they had done to build families’ trust during the first national lockdown, and their continued efforts to inform and reassure parents about the arrangements they had made to keep pupils safe in school.’

More headlines: Home-school relationships improve: attendance rises! 2020 Attendance higher than ever!

And Ofsted even acknowledge just how thoughtful and flexible school leaders are being in their commitment to children: ‘Leaders described how they were working closely with parents and offering flexible arrangements if these were needed to help pupils to return as soon as possible.’

Curriculum and Remote Learning

Much was said during lockdown regarding ‘gaps’ that would appear in learning. I’m sure many school leaders considered whether or not to slim down their curriculum, providing what might amount to an insubstantial education which did not develop the whole child.

However, what Ofsted have seen is that leaders are ambitious to return their schools to their usual full curriculum as soon as possible, that most of the secondary schools were teaching all their usual subjects and that many of the primary schools they visited were teaching all subjects.

Another favourite subject of lockdown discussion and thought was remote learning. Public figures weighed in with their ideas, as did parents, teachers and students. Would schools be able to truly provide remote education to a suitable standard?

Well, Ofsted have found that ‘almost all schools were either providing remote learning to pupils who were self-isolating or said that they were ready to do so if needed’ and that most schools ‘were monitoring pupils’ access to the work provided or attendance at the remote lesson.’

They also report that leaders are responding well to their findings, particularly that ‘during the first national lockdown, pupils reacted very positively when there was live contact from teachers, so want to build on that when needed.’

And again, leaders are adapting well to the new circumstances, thinking outside of the box and ensuring that staff wellbeing is a priority: ‘Leaders in a few schools explained how they were trying to mitigate the additional demands on staff of providing remote learning, for example through the help of teaching assistants, or having staff who took a particular role in leading or modelling remote education.’

A further possible headline: Schools found to be providing full curriculum and good remote learning!

CPD

Remember how teachers were all lazy during lockdown and should have been back at work? Well, turns out, they were actually working really hard (surprise, surprise), not only providing aforementioned remote learning but also taking the opportunity to sharpen their skills en masse: ‘staff in many schools seized the opportunity for training and development during the months when most pupils were not physically in school.’

Now that certainly won’t make the headlines: Teachers work hard despite perception of journalists!

Learning ‘Loss’

And finally to the big one: have children fallen behind? Are their gaps in their learning? Academically, has Covid-19 set children behind where they should be?

Well, much is said in the report regarding this, however a key takeaway should certainly be the following:

‘In the mainstream schools visited, there was no real consensus about the extent of pupils’ learning loss as a result of the disruption to their education.’

Correct headline: No consensus on Covid learning loss!

This is where the main criticism of the report might come: it is written in such a way that the negative is the focus.

For example, the report makes it clear that some leaders commented that writing was also an issue for some pupils, including writing at length, spelling, grammar, presentation, punctuation and handwriting.’ And it is this that then hits the headlines, with the ‘some’ removed, of course. Such a statement becomes ‘Children forget how to write during lockdown’ when it is headlinified.

Indeed, the inverse statement surely is equally as true: ‘Most leaders commented that writing wasn’t an issue for most pupils, including writing at length, spelling, grammar, presentation, punctuation and handwriting’ or even ‘Most leaders didn’t comment on writing being an issue for most children.’

Yes, it is right for schools to identify the negative impact of the pandemic so as to make progress with children who have been affected, but at the same time the positive impacts and the huge amount of work that has already been done in this vein should surely be celebrated more widely.

Not just for the benefit of hardworking school staff either – as a parent I want to be reassured by both Ofsted and the media that schools are doing a great job with my children. Thankfully, I don’t have to rely on them to form my opinion: I know for certain my children’s school is doing a fantastic job, and I know the school I work in is too.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Questions To Guide Teacher Reflection


As part of the researchEDHome 2020 CPD series, David Weston, CEO of Teacher Development Trust, presented under the heading 'Schools that unleash teachers' expertise and how to lead them' - that's the video embedded above.

As he spoke, outlining for the first 20 minutes what it is that expert teachers do, I began to jot down some questions that a teacher, or a coach working alongside a teacher, might ask to prompt reflection on their practice.

I imagine these being used post-lesson, either by a teacher wishing to reflect on their own, or by a coach and a teacher - it could be that the coach has seen the lesson, but that might not be necessary. 

Where lesson observations are concerned, David Weston made it clear that many of the things that make an expert teacher an expert cannot really be seen by an observer. Later on he pointed out that SLTs often try to glean information from lesson observations (as well as book and data scrutiny) which they can then use to direct CPD - a fairly ineffective practice. Although he only touched on this, there was the suggestion that far more information about teaching and learning can be gained from a discussion-based approach to pedagogical coaching - this information can then inform CPD planning.

So, the questions that I began to jot down became perhaps more pertinent: these questions (not an exhaustive list by any means, but based on the effective practices of an expert teacher) could be used to develop how well teachers reflect on their own practice in order to gain insight and develop perception. In turn, via coaches, school leaders then might be able to gain a better insight into teaching and learning in their schools, allowing them to provide more pertinent CPD opportunities.

The purpose of using questions such as these would be to gradually develop independence: teachers might begin to naturally reflect on such questions before, during and after teaching, removing the need for such a set of questions to be asked in any structured way.

I've loosely grouped the questions - in this way, discussions might be guided by coaches, or self-guided, towards a particular aspect of the lesson. It might be useful to use some of the whole session reflection questions to begin with, before moving onto specifics. Obviously, when reflecting on a lesson no one would attempt to answer all the questions below - they just represent the broad range of reflection points that expert teachers think about subconsciously as they work.

Reflecting on the whole session: 

What were the main things you noticed happening during the session? Did you notice anything that wasn’t happening? Should it have been? What was the story of that session? What did you notice about the whole session? What was the main focus of the session? Does that match to the intended focus? Which parts of the session had the most impact? What was the cause of the successes in that session? What was the cause of any lack of success in that session? How were you feeling during the session? Did your feelings change? How did you deal with your change in feelings? 

Reflecting on specific identified incidents: 

When have you come across a similar situation? What did you do then? Reflecting on outcomes: What did you see that showed you they were learning? Which was the most effective part of that session? How much of the time did you spend doing the most effective things? Which parts of the session had the most impact? What was the cause of the successes in that session? What was the cause of any lack of success in that session? 

Reflecting on behaviour: 

What happened before that behaviour issue? Were there any signs that it was going to happen? How could it have been tackled earlier? Were children complying? Did this mean they were learning? 

Reflecting on questioning: 

What was your questioning like in that session? How and why did you adapt your questioning? What was the impact? 

Reflecting on differing needs: 

What variations in understanding did you notice? Which individuals did you notice? What do you know about them already? What did you do to address differing needs? 

Reflecting on responsiveness: 

At which points did you go off-script? Why did you do it? Did it help? Did you have to give extra explanations? What made you do that and did it help? How did you adapt the session as you went along? 

Reflecting on sequencing: 

How did that session link to prior and future learning? Where did that session fit in the sequence of learning? What did the children already know that helped? What didn’t they know that would have helped?

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing teachers at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Back to School: Recovery or Catch Up?

Recovery.

We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about recovery with regards to the curriculum we teach when schools can eventually reopen to all children.

But the question must be asked, what are we trying to recover?

Are we trying to re-cover past material to ensure that it is secure? Are we trying to recover normality and perhaps just try to ignore this blip? Are we trying to help staff and children to recover mentally from the upheaval - similar to how a hospital patient might need to recover? Are we talking of something akin to roadside recovery where we fix a problem and send them on their way, give them a tow to get them to a destination or just give them a jump start?

Maybe we need to attempt to do all of these and more.

But the recent talk of ‘catch up’ does not help us to do any of the above.

When we normally think of catch up we think of small groups of children taking part in an intensive burst of input over a short amount of time - indeed, research shows that this is exactly how catch up interventions should be run so that they have maximum impact.

Can this be replicated for whole classes of children, some of whom will have been doing very little at home, others of whom may have followed all the home learning set and really prospered from that? We certainly need, as ever, an individualised, responsive approach for each child, but it is fairly certain that when we are all back in school we will be ‘behind’ where we normally would be, even if it means everyone is equally behind.

It would be foolish to think that by the end of the first term we will have caught up and will be able to continue as we were back in February and March. To believe this surely puts us on very shaky ground. Any kind of intensive approach to recovery is almost certain to negative repercussions, not least where children’s well-being is concerned - and that of staff, for that matter.

Year after year we hear stories from teachers escaping toxic schools and even leaving the profession who speak out on the hothousing, cramming, cheating, off-rolling, flattening the grass, and other morally bankrupt practices that go on in schools in the name of ‘getting good results’.

Well, back to my question: what are we trying to recover? How do we define ‘good results’? What result are we wanting from that first term back? That second term back? That third term?

How long are we willing to give this? We don’t know how long this will impact learning for - we’ve never had a period this long without children learning in classrooms. Perhaps it will barely leave a mark academically, perhaps the effects of it will be with us for years? Maybe we are overstating the potential impact on mental health and once we are back everyone will just be happy to be there, but maybe it will effect some of us for a good while yet.

What’s for sure, at least in my mind, is that we need a slow, blended approach to recovery. We must focus on the academic but we must not neglect everything else - bear in mind that phrase ‘the whole child’ and extend that to ‘the whole person’ so that it takes in all the people who will be working in schools when we can finally open properly to all.

We can not revert back to a system cowed by accountability - arranged around statutory assessment. Maybe they will scrap SATS this year, or edit the content that children will be tested on. Then again, maybe they won’t. Either way, schools - leaders and teachers - need to be brave enough to stand up for what is right for their children.

Ideally, we’d have an education department who, instead of telling us that modelling and feedback are the ideal way to teach, were willing to consult the profession in order to create a system-wide interim framework. A slimmed-down curriculum outlining the essentials and cutting some of the extraneous stuff from the Maths and English curriculum. Many schools are doing this piece of work so it would make sense if we were all singing off the same hymn sheet. If this was provided by the DfE then any statutory tests could be adapted accordingly - but this is the bluest of blue sky thinking.

And in suggesting that we limit the core subject curricula, I am certainly not suggesting that the whole curriculum is narrowed. Children will need the depth and breadth more than ever. We mustn’t let all the gained ground in terms of the wider curriculum be lost. We need the arts - I surely don’t even need to remind of the mental health benefits of partaking in creative endeavours. History and Geography learning is equally as valid (especially as they are the most interesting and captivating parts of the curriculum - fact): these must not fall victim to a curriculum narrowing which focuses solely on getting to children to ‘where they should’ be in Maths and English.

Who is to say, in 2020/2021, Post-Covid19, where a child ‘should be’? Perhaps we need to define this, or perhaps it’s not something we can even put our finger on.

I’m sure that if Lord Adonis read this I’d run the risk of becoming another of his apologists for failure, but that’s not what I am. What I am is an optimistic realist who wants the best for the children returning to our schools and the staff teaching them. What I am is someone who has observed the UK education system over a number of years and have seen schools who really run the risk of falling for rhetoric and accountability that leads to practice which does not best serve their key stakeholders. What I am is someone who is committed to getting all children back to school, back to work even, as quickly as is safely possible. I am a leader who is committed to the highest of standards but who won’t take shortcuts to get there.

When it comes to success(ful recovery) there are no shortcuts.

Some important other reads:

http://daisi.education/learning-loss/ - Learning Loss from Daisi Education (Data, Analysis & Insight for School Improvement)

https://www.adoptionuk.org/blog/the-myth-of-catching-up-after-covid-19 - The myth of ‘catching up’ after Covid-19 by Rebecca Brooks of Adoption UK

https://researchschool.org.uk/unity/news/canaries-down-the-coalmine-what-next-for-pupil-premium-strategy/ - Canaries Down the Coalmine: What Next for Pupil Premium Strategy? by Marc Rowland - Unity Pupil Premium Adviser

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Beware The Reverse-Engineered Curriculum (or The Potential Pitfalls Of Going For Retrieval Practice Pell-Mell)

Aren't Knowledge Organisers brilliant? Isn't Retrieval Practice just the bees knees? As for Powerful Knowledge... sigh - the stuff dreams are made of.

Over the last couple of years, many of us have taken the outcomes of relatively recent research and applied it to the way we teach and we are pleased with how it's going - children are actually learning, retaining and retrieving information, something which, if we're honest, didn't always happen before.

But what seems to me to have happened is that we have found something that actually, reliably works, and we have made our curricula work for it. We've realised that retrieval practice does make a difference and we've begun to design a curriculum which focuses on what can be learned by that method.

Sure, there are other arguments for teaching Powerful Knowledge - it's supposed to ‘enable students to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their own experiences’ (Young et al., 2014, p. 7) and for this reason it is often held up as essential for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who we see as needing to be upwardly-mobile socially. Powerful Knowledge is seen to be the answer to closing the gap between the rich and the poor.

Perhaps it isn't even Powerful Knowledge that we're even talking about here, but actually what is known as Declarative Knowledge - facts and information stored in the memory. I'm not sure Powerful Knowledge could be defined so narrowly. Powerful Knowledge is supposed to be more than that.

Whatever terminology we use, the focus on knowledge is potentially narrowing what is taught and how it is taught. And this narrowing is perhaps now coming as a result of the most vaunted method of teaching the knowledge from a knowledge-rich curriculum: retrieval practice. And more specifically, the activity that seems to have become synoymous with retrieval practice: quizzing.

Because retrieval practice works so well, we seem to have searched out the things that best suit the method: the sort of information that can be retrieved and recited e.g. history dates, word definitions, geographic processes, scientific theories and outlines of philosophical concepts, for example.

But is it right to have allowed a certain understanding of the concept of Powerful Knowledge to reduce our curriculum to the identification of exactly which pieces of information we are going to teach, and to the teaching of that information using retrieval practice techniques?

Indeed, possessing Powerful Knowledge, and being able to retrieve it, is supposed to be so much more than rote learning; more than memorising and regurgitating facts. Done right, it should, lead to better understanding and it should improve complex thinking and application skills.

But is an approach to teaching and learning which is satisfied by children who can simply recall information really what's best? The recall of information is not the end of the story. A high score on a (supposedly low stakes) quiz should not mean job done.

Actually, I'd argue, once the facts are memorised, that's when the real teaching and learning begins. Once children know the facts, that's when they can start to use and apply them in various ways. Powerful Knowledge is supposed to allow us to generalise and use what we've learned to think beyond the immediate context.

And don't forget procedural knowledge - how to do things. You can't teach writing, artistic techniques or how to use a tool just by teaching facts. Any time we model something (and this is something we should do a lot in teaching) we are teaching procedural knowledge. This procedural knowledge is separate from 'common sense' knowledge which we gain from everyday life, and therefore lands it more in the realms of Powerful Knowledge. However, the focus on bolstering the curriculum with declarative knowledge has the potential to leave procedural knowledge behind. A balanced approach is needed.

Does your recently-re-written curriculum (all 'i's dotted - intent, implementation and impact) allow the learning to go beyond the retrieval of facts? Or has a child who has learned all the dates on the knowledge organiser and filled in the gaps in the booklet succeeded in all you set out to do? And did that child get the opportunity to do anything else that half term, or did they spend all of their time ensuring they knew all the facts?

If we reverse-engineer the curriculum based on one teaching method which allows one aspect of what might be taught to be taught, then we might not end up with the curriculum we really need.

Those of us involved in curriculum design or review should think carefully about the problems we are trying to solve in order to decide on the criteria we need to set for our curriculum development. We should definitely identify the declarative knowledge we want children to learn - the facts, the information - but we should also be thinking about other kinds of knowledge too.

Things to think about

  • Don't narrow your curriculum down to just the things that can be learned through quizzing. 
  • Think more broadly about how a greater range of retrieval practice techniques can be used to help children learn things from a wider knowledge base than just simple facts and figures. 
  • Ensure that your curriculum really meets the needs of the children in your school and let them be your starting point.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Planning For Learning Sequences (Instead Of Planning Lessons)

My latest for HWRK magazine is a really important piece. We teachers spend far too much time thinking about lessons as little hour-long chunks of time - instead we should be thinking about learning sequences and saving ourselves some time.




This article is now available in full at my website:


Monday, 28 May 2018

Why Primary Teachers Need To Know About Metacognition

Sir Kevan Collins introduces the EEF’s latest guidance report on metacognition and self-regulated learning with these words:

‘…with a large body of international evidence telling us that when properly embedded these approaches are powerful levers for boosting learning, it’s clear that we need to spend time looking at how to do this well.’

And if the focus here is on embedding and spending time on metacognitive approaches then there are surely strong implications for primary schools. In order for these learning habits (which research says are highly effective) to be embedded, we who are involved in primary education should be thinking about our role in their early development.

Continue reading here: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2018/05/28/metacognition-in-primary/

The EEF's Metacognition and Self-Regulation guidance report can be downloaded here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/metacognition-and-self-regulated-learning/

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Poster: What To Say Instead of I Don't Know

This poster was born out of a discussion between staff members at my school during a CPD session I gave on questioning. It had a huge response on Twitter - it seems that English-speaking pupils the world over favour this phrase, and teachers would rather they answered in a more productive way. Here are a few prompts:


The poster and a Word document containing the text can be downloaded here.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Using 100% Sheets (AKA Knowledge Organisers) In Primary


What are 100% Sheets?

Well, you may have heard of them by another name: Knowledge Organisers.

There are plenty of great blogs out there about knowledge organisers (see the links at the end) so I am only adding my paltry information to more in-depth pieces available to you. However, what I hope to do is present a very simple account of how 100% Sheets can be used.

So, why the name '100% Sheet'? 

Because basically children have to learn everything on it by heart - 100% of the contents of the sheet need to be known by each child.

What does one look like?

They vary in appearance but the ones I have made and used involve images as well as text. See some examples here: https://padlet.com/jack_helen12/czfxn9ft6n8o

What's the point of them?
  • They help children learn the key facts - this is the main point of 100% Sheets.
  • They give teachers an outline for a unit
  • They guide lesson content
  • They provide teachers with simple ways to explain ideas
  • They can be used to inspire homework
  • They aid assessment (along with the accompanying 'quizzes')
How are they used?

Here's a simple sequence:
  1. Provide children with 100% Sheet before the holiday
  2. Set a homework project based on the 100% Sheet, this should include learning the information by heart
  3. After the holiday, use the exact same phrases, words and diagrams from the 100% Sheet in lessons
  4. Base lessons on the content of the 100% Sheet - the lesson is an opportunity for you to expand on the knowledge, teach linked skills, carry out investigations, and even do supporting creative activities
  5. Conduct regular ‘quizzes’ based on the tests – children retake the test until they get 100% right. The first quiz can be given fairly soon after the holiday - this will give you a baseline of who has been learning the information and who hasn't.
What should I consider when creating 100% Sheets?

Ask yourself:
  • What are the objectives I need to cover in this unit?
  • What basic facts do children need to know in order to achieve the objectives?
Think about including:
  • Explanations
  • Word meanings
  • Diagrams
Ensure that:
  • the layout is not confusing
  • the information is carefully written in child-friendly, but challenging, language (I use lots of different web-based resources to help with this, for example, BBC Bitesize)
  • the amount of information is realistic - remember, they have to learn it all!
Why quiz?

Low stakes testing aids retrieval and using of memorised facts, whereas revising from a 100% Sheet only aids the acquisition and storage of facts. This is referred to as the 'testing effect' and it helps to embed learning in the memory.

The practice of taking the quizzes, self-marking and self-correcting them provides more opportunities for children to revisit the information that they need to know.

What should I consider when creating the quizzes?
  • Include different question types:
    • Multiple choice
    • Fill the gap
    • Choose the word
    • Join the word to its definition
    • Complete the sentence
  • Each time a test is taken, change the order of the multiple choice answers, for example (so they can’t just learn that it’s the second option)
  • Have a question for every aspect of the 100% sheet
What are the benefits?

  • Children learn important information off by heart
  • Many children come to lessons knowing key vocabulary, key facts and even complete concepts leaving teachers with more time to explore ideas more deeply, or to teach more creatively - the 100% Sheet covers the curriculum requirements so the teacher has 'time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications.' and so teachers can 'develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum.'  (The National Curriculum, page 6)
  • If carefully created, teachers have a good reference document to use for planning, teaching and assessment
Other blog posts about Knowledge Organisers:

Monday, 5 June 2017

From The @TES Blog: Ten Ways To Maximise Learning Time In Lessons

Written with newer teachers in mind, this 10-point article is a run down of all the simple things to bear in mind when planning and delivering a lesson to ensure that time is not wasted. Although many of the points may seem obvious, it's actually quite a juggling act even for the most experienced teacher to keep all the balls in the air.

Every teacher wants to make the most of the time children spend sitting in their classroom. And by "making the most of" I mean that we want them to be learning.
But how streamlined are your lessons in reality? Here's a 10-point checklist to run through to see if your teaching really is maximising learning as much as it could be.