All the presentations from #TMWellacre 2016!

We were delighted to welcome over 100 teaching colleagues from 19 schools to our second annual TeachMeet last week (read about the first one here). By popular demand, here’s a summary of all the presentations, with downloadable PowerPoint slides where appropriate.


Very much the warm-up man (@WellacreTL)

Once the practical stuff about how a TeachMeet works was out of the way, I opened proceedings by talking about why teachers should collaborate. I cited Hattie, Tim Brighouse and a key research study into this area: Leana (2011) and gave you my top six ways for teachers to collaborate:



  1. Open the door
  2. Talk
  3. Be open-minded
  4. Make it trans-disciplinary
  5. Share
  6. Cultivate a PLN

Steven Worthington (@S_WRN)

Steven’s presentation was entitled T&L approaches to the new GCSEs and highlighted the importance of regular testing (even before content has been ‘covered’) and retrieval practice. Oh, and CUSTARD!

His great blog on the subject is here.




Ben Turner

It’s a brave thing for an NQT to present to a roomful of more experienced teachers, but Ben did so eloquently, engagingly and with a frank honesty about the trials of assessing every KS3 pupil in the school, every six weeks! His presentation slides are here – The practical assessment carouselBen Turner Sale High




Anna Clark (@annamainwaring1)

With an unapologetic subject bias, English teacher (and published author) Anna presented on Teaching poetry with the AQA e-library. Far from being a sales pitch, this is a freely accessible online resource with the potential to save valuable time for our English colleagues.





Carl Todd (@toddyboardart)

Carl’s distinctly old-school presentation
The art of board and marker was a firm favourite with the #TMWellacre audience, and a refreshing change to some of the other ‘techy’ subjects on the evening’s programme. Carl’s visual approach also rather neatly tied in to themes of memory, revision and retrieval from some of the other presentations.

Further examples on his Twitter page.



Claire Reynolds

Claire’s presentation on SIRT vs. DIRT – marking in perspective shared the evolution of her school’s approach to marking and feedback.

Presentation slides are here: Claire Reynolds Stretford High





Sandra Smith-Brown

Sandra gave us an insight into Peer and self assessment in practice at the same school, Stretford High. Sandra was the first of the evening’s presenters to mention the incredible impact that Teacher Learning Communities have had. More on this to follow!

Presentation slides are here: Sandra Smith Brown Stretford High



Deb Richardson

The opening image of Deb’s presentation (“Warning: Teacher in Bad Mood”) resonated with one or two of us in the audience, which is why her Engaging Starts were so welcome! This is a TeachMeet at its most useful: some short simple ideas that can be shared on a Thursday evening  and be used in the classroom by Friday morning.

Presentation slides are here: Deborah Richardson Penketh High School


Kal Hodgson (@GM_BFET_SCITT)

Kal leads our local SCITT, and spoke passionately about the benefits of having a trainee teacher in your classroom. Instead of seeing it as an additional burden, mentoring a trainee can be just as developmental for you as it is for them because it forces you to have conversations about teaching and learning that you might not otherwise have.



Tom England and Kath Adamson (@DrKathAds)

Kath and Tom discussed both the practicalities and the impact of a flipped learning approach – in this case in English but adaptable for most subjects. This is something we’ve explored at Wellacre too, but I loved the example of using Genius to facilitate easy online collaboration. See Tom’s example here, and presentation slides are here: Kath Adamson Tom England AGGS




Lisa Newman and Sara Cain

Lisa and Sarah from Harper Green were the second presentation to talk about Teacher Learning Communities and the impact they’re having on CPD at their school.

Presentation slides are here: Lisa Newman Harper Green




Matt Lowe

Finally, just before our fantastic prize draw, Matt wrapped up the programme with his case study of the next steps on the TLC journey: Professional Development Communities.

Presentation slides are here: Matt Lowe Mount St Josephs



As if that wasn’t enough, we were also delighted to host some incredible marketplace stalls featuring teachers from Wellacre, Stretford, Harper Green and MSJ, as well as our commercial partners Renaissance Learning, Connex, Future Leaders and Inspired Touch – thank you all for helping to make the evening such a success. Here are a few snapshots:

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Speed Dating!

i_heart_teaching_classic_round_sticker-ra2213e64c5454589b0b6fa00f7ce4796_v9waf_8byvr_324Last Wednesday I went speed-dating with my entire teaching staff. My wife will no doubt be pleased to hear that I didn’t go home with any of them, but I did come away with a whole list of great teaching ideas and examples of good practice that are already making a different in classrooms here at Wellacre. Read on to find out what they were…

It’s all @TeacherToolkit’s fault. In this blog post he describes it as a ‘risk’, and I certainly felt that way as I stuck 50-odd sticky labels with pre-assigned numbers and letters onto the chairs in the school hall. What if they didn’t say anything at all? How could I be sure that what they were talking about was ‘on message’?

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. I’d been deliberately open with staff before the event, and I think colleagues appreciated having plenty of prep time to hone their 60-second delivery. My guidance was as follows: “I want you to be ready to talk to a colleague for no more than 60 seconds about a positive change that you’ve made to your teaching since September, what it’s impact has been and how you know.” I provided some simple prompts for both speakers and listeners, and topped it off with a simple voting system – all of which was shared in advance and helped along some colleagues who might not have been as confident speaking about their own practice.

The experience of standing – ringmaster style – in the centre of 30 simultaneous conversations about improving teaching was quite simply humbling. At times I struggled to keep an eye on the timer because I became temporarily distracted by a snippet I’d overheard, but on each occasion I just managed to get the whistle blown. What’s a few seconds between friends?

It was all over too quickly and very smoothly, and it was fantastic to hear some of the conversations continuing throughout the rest of our twilight CPD programme.

I’d promised prizes though, so there were votes to count! In staff briefing on the Friday morning I wanted to read them all out but had to keep to time so I’m sharing some ‘honourable mentions’ here in addition to the most popular. Here they are, in no particular order:


Richard (Science) – No longer accepts one-word responses. Students have learnt that they need to extend their answer before they are let off the hook.

Mark (Business) – Shares a WABOLL (what a bad one looks like) instead of a WAGOLL. Powerful for students to deconstruct this and see what not to do.

Julia (Technology) – Chooses a different student to rephrase her question to follow-up on a student whose answer wasn’t deep enough.

Jen (English) – Working on lengthening her wait time after a student answers as well as before.

Rob (PE) – Gives written feedback anonymously; students have to work in small groups to match which piece of work deserves which feedback.

Sinéad (RE) – Students peer-assess using a ‘Prove It’ ladder after drafting a piece of work but before handing it in. Peers hold each other to account over whether they have demonstrated understanding or not.

Amit (Technology) – Uses simple questions (e.g. “Tell me why” for students to respond to in his written feedback. Gets straight to the point, is easy for students to follow and makes marking quicker.

The runners-up

Paul (Geography) – Shares his WALT and WILFs in numerical codes that students have to crack.

Céline (MFL) – Has an ongoing competition within her classes based around the Tour de France. Teams earn points for speaking in French, which increases engagement and target language participation.

Steve (Computing) – Uses multiple-choice quizzes for real-time assessment and instant formative feedback. Maximises impact for very little effort.

The winner

Heather (RE) – Uses a random selector to choose which student feeds back after a quick Do Now task. This ensures all students engage and have a response ready without taking up valuable lesson time in collecting responses from every student. They all know it might be them so there are no opt-outs!

Why not choose just one of these ideas to try this week?

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February Bright Spots

One of the highlights of my working week is visiting classrooms on the lookout for our Teaching and Learning ‘bright spots’. For those unfamiliar with the term, we borrowed the idea from Shaun Allison at Durrington High School (his excellent blog is at who in turn borrowed it from the inspirational authors Chip and Dan Heath.

Put very simply, to continue developing we need to identify what we’re already doing well and ‘grow the bright spots’ in order to make our best practice even better. Here goes:

In Michelle’s Y9 drama lesson, detailed knowledge of her students allows her to be very precise in choosing partners for a paired activity. The rationale for this is shared openly with students with warmth and humour, but there is never any doubt about who is in control.

  • “You’re a giggler so I need to put you with someone who’ll keep you in check”
  • “You’ll really push him, and stretch his characterisation?”
  • “Make sure he keeps you on task and doesn’t let you lose focus”

The effect: lots of well-balanced pairs leading to some excellent dramatic dialogues based on this scene.

There was some excellent bouncing of questions around the classroom in Carl’s Y9 history lesson, and he makes sure that all students are challenged to answer more deeply, often following up with a “Why?” or “How would that make you feel, if you were in the same situation?”. In particular I liked the rally created between two students, each very eager to one-up the other one’s response, with a simple “What do you think about his answer?” Doug Lemov calls this one Stretch-It.

Dropping in to Tom’s Y10 English lesson as they were completing writing assessments reminded me that often the best learning takes place when embedded routines and careful preparation have combined to create an environment that needs very little teacher input at all. There was an electrifying – although silent! – buzz of purposeful practice, and plenty of evidence of the teaching processes that had led up to this point in the carefully-crafted plans that students were working from.

Ash’s science lessons are characterised by formidable subject knowledge, wonderful explanations and a real warmth and fondness for his students. I can’t think of many other teachers who can hold the attention of Y10 boys on the invagination of phagocytes by white blood cells without raising so much as a titter, and would trust his students enough to carry out a live demo of his own patella reflex (i.e. shutting his eyes and inviting a student to hit him on the knee with a ruler!) It was in Ash’s lab this week that I also observed some of the most subtle differentiation I’ve seen for a while – in full flow and without breaking rhythm, discreetly writing out a key word spelling on a mini-whiteboard for a student he’d noticed was struggling.

IMG_1426The iterative design process is the current focus for Julia’s Y8 DT students, who are completely used to the idea of evaluating and improving their own design decisions to meet a brief. When I dropped in, they were busy creating nets of 3D shapes and evaluating them as potential moulds for their concrete clock designs. Plenty of cross-curricular links to maths here, but also open-ended differentiation (all the way from a humble cube to a compound solid formed from three tetrahedra!) and an incredible level of creativity and independence shown by students, all facilitated by precise questioning from the teacher.

In several classrooms it was great to see some really effective use of our no-hands up strategies to make sure all students are fully engaged and accountable for their learning. Jason’s use of Cold-Call in maths meant that when he asked students to spot a pattern in the questions they had just answered, they all had something ready to contribute; while Jane opted to use Nominate in French for the same purpose – it was great to see you stick to this despite several hands creeping up at times!

I overheard a great snippet of growth mindset language in Lorraine’s Y10 maths lesson: “You know how much your muscles hurt the first time you go running, but then it gets easier as you get used to it? Thinking is the same, you’ve got to exercise your brain so it doesn’t hurt so much!” This came as her students were making good formative use of a test they’d completed the previous lesson – identifying the areas they hadn’t done so well in (yet!) and working in pairs to re-attempt them.

Still in maths, Colin also encourages his students to think harder by never letting anyone ‘opt out’ and accept a partially-correct answer. Some of his re-tracking phrases that I loved were “It is something to do with that 5…” and “That’s not quite it, but I like how you’re focusing on that 23…” In both cases, the student who’d got it wrong to start with managed to come back with an improved answer. Another gem in this lesson is the students’ unbidden use of correct mathematical vocabulary such as “inverse” instead of “opposite”.

Finally, Mark emailed me a simple technique and resource he’s been using in business studies lessons to scaffold higher-order responses from his students. The ‘Donut Matrix’ has come out of some of the work Mark has been doing through our TLCs and in his words is “easy to use and so effective”.

You work from the outside to the inside (effectively going up in levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy). I have found this hugely effective here so far for students in teams and all have to participate.

See for yourself here: Marketing Mixed UP TASK

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NQT blog: Establishing classroom routines

Every fortnight, one of our NQTs will write a reflective blog post focusing on issues raised in our professional development sessions. This is the first of the new academic year, by English NQT Jen Chapman, on the challenges of establishing effective routines with new classes.

Behaviour management was never something that was too much of an issue on my PGCE. The situation you find yourself is so different from being an NQT – you meet a class midway through the term, where rules and expectations have already been established for you. The task on placement is simply to be consistent and stick to the same expectations as the usual class teacher. I didn’t realise how much of a task establishing my own expectations in the classroom actually was until NQT.

I was very worried about behaviour in my first couple of weeks, and it is something I still worry about to an extent now. Students talking over me, shouting out and being disruptive during lessons was common in my classes to begin with, but it’s steadily getting better.

After getting advice from other teachers, I have found it’s not necessarily the individual strategies I use, but the consistency with which I use them that has really made a difference. Here are three that I’m glad I’ve stuck to:

Count down and wait for quiet

Counting down from 5 to 1 and waiting for silence has been really effective at getting the attention of the class when I want to give instructions or get feedback. I have found that as time has passed, I will sometimes have the class’s attention before I reach ‘1’ – on reflection, this must mean that they have learnt what I expect when I start the countdown.

Using a random number selector for feedback

I have used this with some classes and am planning on using it with all my classes. This has been excellent at preventing shouting out when getting feedback. Now the students expect I will use the selector and won’t shout answers out.

The ‘SAS’ approach to low-level disruption

This came from a great INSET with Nicola Morgan from NSMTC – she describes it as “get in quietly, deal with it quickly, don’t look back” and after learning about this I gave it a go in my classes. When a student is off task or messing around, it’s been a great way of quickly dealing with behaviour issues without getting into an argument with a student.

The plan is to keep my expectations high for behaviour and carry on upholding them until they become the norm. I hope that continuing to use these strategies rather than being distracted by the ‘next good thing’ that comes along,  will help improve behaviour in classes, but I’d welcome any other strategies or ideas that can help tackle disruption in lessons – post a comment below if you’ve got an idea to share!

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September Bright Spots

It’s been my pleasure over the past fortnight to visit as many classroom as possible at Wellacre on the lookout for some teaching & learning bright spots for the start of the new academic year. For those unfamiliar with the term, we borrowed the idea from Shaun Allison at Durrington High School (their excellent blog is here), who in turn borrowed it from the inspirational authors Chip & Dan Heath. Put very simply, to continue developing we need to identify what we’re already doing well and ‘grow the bright spots’ in order to make our best practice even better. Here goes:

The most common theme across lessons I visited was a real sense that the bar has been raised for our students, and they’re working as hard as ever to meet it. There were loads of examples of really solid routines being developed – by some of our newest colleagues in particular, and the highest expectations being reinforced. In Katie McDonough‘s Y11 drama lesson, students starting to prepare for their written controlled assessment were comparing their work to criteria from the highest mark band. It didn’t matter that they’d just started, the message was clear: we’ll draft, improve and redraft until yours is as good as this.

The Geography department have recently moved into new classrooms, and have taken the opportunity to develop some really strong routines. I particularly liked Gill Perry‘s table monitor cards and key word bookmarks, which are already proving effective in improving students’ independence.FullSizeRender (2)FullSizeRender (3)

As a T&L focus across the school this term, we’re all working on using Cold-Call as our main questioning routine (If you want to learn more, see this recent post from Doug Lemov), so after only two weeks it’s really encouraging to see the impact it’s having on our students. In Lisa Fallon’s Y11 photography class, it was almost possible to see the boys’ mental gears turning as they realised that any one of them could be chosen to respond. Lisa doesn’t let them get away with surface-level answers either, often combining Cold-Call with Stretch It to push students towards deeper thinking. New maths teacher Chris Hume uses cold-calling as a time-efficient way of reviewing his Do Now, while over in MFL Celine Cesbron has made the technique her own by adding a routine for students to fold their hands on their desks – reinforces a ‘no hands up’ culture and makes it really easy to see at a glance who’s on task.

I always love to see teaching colleagues taking risks in their lessons. It often leads to amazing and memorable learning experiences, and even where things don’t quite go to plan then reflecting on the reasons why can be a powerful way of developing our own practice. It was really exciting then to be part of two such ‘risky’ lessons so close to the beginning of term – in fact one was the very first Y7 technology lesson of the year. Julia Brunning‘s Great British Concrete Bake-off was a fantastic way to engage students at the very beginning of their secondary experience while laying a firm foundation (pun definitely intended) of the stages of the iterative design process. Did your concrete match the brief? If not, better get mixing to a different recipe!

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender (1)

The second, and an early contender for risky lesson of the year, was a Y10 art lesson from Claire Niebel, and again a magnificent example of how to hook students in right at the beginning of their GCSE course. Claire’s own description, and a piece of student work produced as a result, are below:

After our trip to the Tate fell through, I wanted to recreate the Tate exhibition in my classroom. I set up a screen for year 10 , and gave them only the name of the artists and the title. Students were then subjected to artwork whilst other senses were stimulated, for example: In Francis Bacon’s work students looked at the portrait called ‘figure in a landscape’. They were immersed in industrial sounds and then given some salt to taste. Following this students were asked to pick up the bowl of crushed charcoal and smell it. They were then given a piece of chilli chocolate and finally I sprayed the room with cranberry and asked them to focus on the blue part of the picture.

Students then wrote what the image meant to them. Connor’s responses to all four paintings completely blew me away!

Figure in a Landscape 1945 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Purchased 1950

Figure in a Landscape 1945 Francis Bacon 1909-1992 Purchased 1950

“This image made me thing of the world war as the salt made me have a dry throat as if you are front line. the burning smell of the charcoal is like the men shooting on the front line and the chocolate is in the bittersweet victory”

It’s worth saying that this lesson didn’t necessarily impress me because of how complex or ‘showy’ it was, but simply because of the deep understanding and quality of student work that it led to. For me, this is the ultimate measure of how ‘good’ any lesson is, and otherwise Claire might have put a lot of effort into arranging the lesson for little payback in terms of learning, but thankfully this risk paid off!

Finally, down in maths, I overheard some great student feedback for one of our newest maths teachers: “He makes us do harder work, but it’s like we don’t realise we’re working harder and actually it’s better that way”.

And, simply: “I like maths again now”.

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Slightly updated: A start-of-term reading list

This is an updated version of a blog I posted this time last year. But only slightly…
When I came to rewrite my ‘reading list’ for new staff starting at Wellacre in September 2015, I found that much of what I included last year is still just as relevant twelve months on. Reminisce, enjoy, and if you like what you read then I encourage you to find more like it – let me know in the comments if you think you’ve found something to be added to the list.

Don’t judge me or anything, but I’m actually (whisper) quite excited about the start of term in a couple of weeks. It’s all Twitter’s fault really, with so many excellent #BackToSchool blogs circulating recently it’s hard not to get swept along with all the positivity and good advice!

I’ve collected together this short summary of some of the best articles I’ve read over the last few days, and that I think Wellacre staff will be most interested in. It’s not supposed to be exhaustive, and if you like what you read then I thoroughly recommend following all of these authors on Twitter – there’s a ton more where this came from.

There’s a section further down that’s particularly for NQTs, but in the main there’s thought-provoking stuff here for all teachers, not just those new to the profession. Enjoy!

Reflecting on last year and planning for a new term:

The perfect teacher by @HuntingEnglish – this short guide to ‘imperfect success’ really hits the nail on the head about how we’ll never be perfect as teachers and why we shouldn’t really want to be!

Reflecting on teaching in 2013-14 by @benneypenyrheol – one teacher’s viewpoint on tweaking his practice after 15 years’ experience and not ‘sticking to the routine’.

David Didau’s fantastic ‘Back To School’ blog series – Didau (@LearningSpy) on Routines, Relationships, Planning, Marking and Literacy. Highly recommended.

‘Big ideas’ that link to this year’s focus at Wellacre:

Ten Silver Arrows: Ideas to penetrate the armour of ingrained practice by @headguruteacher – headteacher Tom Sherrington presents his top ten ideas for changing what you routinely do for the better, for each of which you could say if you do just one thing, do this. 

Contemporary educational ideas all my staff should know about by @headguruteacher – Sherrington again on the importance of having a shared language for talking about teaching and learning across a school. If you only watch a few of the video clips here then we’ll be well on the way to doing that at Wellacre.

Video CPD library by @Shaun_Allison – some crossover with the previous link, but well worth a look for the sheer quality of what’s available here. Shaun has collected together some of the very best video clips for developing teaching & learning. A must-see.

Top ten evidence-based teaching strategies by @shaunkillian – We know that some teaching strategies seem to work better than others, right? Here’s a handy list of those with the most research evidence behind them.

For those new to (or unconvinced by) Twitter:

Twitter for Teachers by @SparkyTeaching – a ‘slightly leftfield’ guide to using Twitter as a teacher, especially good for those who haven’t used Twitter before and aren’t sure what it’s all about.

Ten tips for tweeting teachers by @TeacherToolkit – divided into ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced, designed for teachers new to Twitter, or for those who have started out and need advice.

Particularly for NQTs:

100 NQT tips by @Sue_Cowley – does exactly what it says in the title. Snappy and to the point.

Just Keep Swimming by @MissJLud – thoughts on how to make the most of your time in the first year without sinking or burning out. Recommended.

How to teach… Behaviour management by @GuardianTeach – Behaviour is often at the forefront of NQTs’ minds, reassure yourself with this collection of straightforward tips and strategies (and links to even more).

Behaviour management resources by @TESbehaviour – Including some brilliant tips and video clips from behaviour guru @TomBennett71

And finally…

Enjoy what’s left of the holiday!

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What happens in our best lessons, and how do we know?

Open Classroom - come on in!

Open Classroom – come on in!

At Wellacre, we call them Focus Weeks; other schools refer to them as Open Classroom weeks, Golden Lessons, Bright Spots and probably others I’ve never heard of, but whatever the name, the purpose is to seek out and share existing good practice across the whole Academy, and to evaluate the impact of our current teaching and learning priorities. We offer all teaching staff the opportunity to take part in this at least once a term, and colleagues who have been part of previous focus week teams have found it to be a really valuable development opportunity and a source of inspiration for their own teaching.

Focus week at the start of the summer term took ‘resilience’ as its theme – a timely opportunity to revisit some of our growth mindset strategies from the beginning of the year. We visited almost every subject and classroom across the Academy at some point or other and as a result, can be confident in identifying the common threads that run through the most effective lessons at Wellacre Academy. So here goes:

In our BEST lessons…go sign

Students are pushed to justify their contributions through higher-order questioning
I saw particularly good examples of this in Katie McDonough’s drama classroom, where students’ opinions are routinely challenged and conflicting viewpoints are explored. Julia Brunning is also a ninja at never answering a student question without asking a deeper one instead. To do this: see the questioning grid, top right on your T&L placemat.

A ‘drafting culture’ is reinforced by effective use of formative feedback and MAD time
Formative feedback is a real strength of both our Humanities and English faculties, in terms of both the ‘mark less, mark better’ approach to marking and the time that students are routinely given to act on it, aka MAD time. I also saw a strong variant of this in Claire Niebel‘s art studio, in which no piece of work is ever ‘finished’ but just another draft, building on the last. To do this: make sure your feedback is actionable by students.

Students want to contribute because of the enthusiasm and sense of pride and purpose communicated by the teacher
When you walk in to some classrooms, there is a real sense that students have a pride in what they’re doing, and in most cases this pride is driven by the teacher’s own enthusiasm – whether for their subject, for their students or for learning in general. Alison Barnes in English and Heather Morgan in RE exemplified this superbly well, where even a discussion about a potentially misplaced comma in the Shahadah was brought to life through the teacher’s evident passion for her subject. To do this: remember why you became a teacher, and give your students a reason to care about their work as much as you do!

Resources and planning are simple but strikingly effective – no ‘bells and whistles’, just a relentless focus on the outcome
I saw this to best effect in Joanne Lindsay’s maths lesson. One PowerPoint slide, rulers and squared paper plus some great questioning (“Are you sure?” “How would you test that?”) and growth mindset language (“Keep looking… keep going…it’s difficult but that’s ok”) were all that was needed for her Y9s to independently (re)discover Pythagoras’ theorem – a challenging task for these students. Instructions were clear where necessary, but there was plenty of room for students to make their own decisions. Nice to see that precision and presentation are clearly important in this classroom too. To do this: Use the 5-minute lesson plan to focus your planning on what students need to learn instead of what tasks they’ll be doing.

High expectations of student engagement are evident through robust routines and strong relationships
It says a lot about a classroom that students will arrive spontaneously to revise at breaks and lunchtimes. Sinéad Hosty‘s RE students regularly do this as a result of the positive, warm, calm, encouragement and respect they know will experience. To do this: Remember that every interaction with a child is an opportunity for them to learn from you. If they experience negativity, they are likely to respond in the same way.

Thinking time is used to support students in taking risks with their ideas
Rob Linton is one of our PE teachers, and until last week I’d never seen him teach his Y7 geography class, but I’m glad I did. Rob makes a big deal about thinking time, posing a question then narrating the wait “Think… think a bit harder… what does it remind you of…what do you know that it’s similar to…” before choosing a student to answer – this makes all students feel accountable because it might be them! Another technique I observed in Rob’s teaching is that before any writing takes place, students verbally ‘rehearse’ their responses with a partner so that by the time pen is put to paper, they are more confident and willing to step out of their comfort zones. To do this: After you’ve asked a question, but before you choose who answers it, count slowly to 5 in your head (when you’ve nailed that, increase to 10) Then ignore any hands and choose someone to answer.

Classrooms are dyslexia friendly
We’ve done a lot of work on this recently, and now have an agreed list of strategies and plenty of examples of good practice elsewhere on the blog. Leor Holtzman in our English faculty has led the way on this, and will be presenting some of her strategies at #TMWellacre! To do this: follow the strategies here.

Time is devoted to ensuring pupils act on feedback; this is an integral part of the learning
Gill Perry‘s geography lesson was a case in point for this, and I know that many of Gill’s humanities colleagues are following suit – using most or even all of a lesson for pupils to improve their work based on written feedback in order to allow them to demonstrate progress towards the next level of understanding. There was a lot of language of the humanities taxonomy used here as well. To do this: start small and manageable – perhaps focus on a few key spellings first of all, to get students used to the idea of going back and redrafting. Once this routine is embedded you can build up gradually.

WAGOLLs show students how to be successful without trivialising the challenge or ‘dumbing down’ tasks
Head of Humanities Michelle O’Neill‘s WAGOLLs are neither works of art to look at, nor time-consuming to produce, but they work because students know exactly what they are aiming for in a piece of work, without becoming merely a ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ activity. Michelle’s usual technique is devastatingly simple – she has her own exercise book in which she roughs out – in note form – a plan of the piece of work she wants her students to produce. Putting this on the visualiser and annotating it in real time then brings it to life and allows her to incorporate and re-shape the best student contributions while modelling the planning process. To do this: write a WAGOLL that addresses a slightly different question or essay, so it’s a model rather than a writing frame. There are some great ideas on the subject here.

The big picture, and the gaps that need to be closed to get there, are made obvious to students
Jo Hall has only recently returned from maternity leave, but already her GCSE Engineering students could quite confidently tell me about the whole learning journey of their coursework project, and how the lesson we saw fitted into that picture. Jo’s precise feedback had made them very aware of what they done and what they needed to do next, while her regular ‘stop, contextualise, move on’ approach made sure they understood why they needed to do it. Elsewhere, in a history lesson, students were using a 3-way colour code to make visible to themselves 1) what they had decided on their own, 2)what they had found out from their partner, and 3) how they had linked the different information together. This was really effective in making the learning gaps visible to students so that they knew when they were closing them. To do this: regularly expose students to what excellence looks like in your subject, this topic or this particular piece of work. Help them analyse what makes it so great, use it to critique their current work and decide what they need to do next!

Teachers systematically check whether something has been understood by effective questioning techniques
What I noticed in some of our most effective lessons is that teachers rarely ask students directly if they understand something, but instead are adept at checking for understanding by asking other types of questions – like Heather Morgan in RE, who has a real strength in encouraging students to use their own analogies (“What can you compare that to?” “How is … similar to …?”) in order to demonstrate the depth of their understanding. To do this: Instead of asking students “Is that clear?” or “Do you understand?” (the answers to which aren’t useful), think of questions which will allow students to prove what they’ve learnt – doing this at key points in the lesson is referred to as hinge point questioning.

Detailed knowledge of students is used to personalise learning
The difference between teachers who know their students – and know their work – and those who don’t really stood out in the lessons that were visited. One of the best examples was a DEC lesson where students were all completing different aspects of their coursework portfolio by acting on detailed personalised feedback they had received, the ultimate differentiation! The skill of this lesson was entirely in the planning and preparation, and as a result learning was happening without the teacher looking like they were doing very much at all. A student in the lesson told me, unbidden “I’m not at an A* yet, but I can be if I do this and this” (referring to his feedback sheet). To do this: Make sure you have an annotated seating plan to hand for every class you teach. Use it to direct key questions, give specific feedback and differentiate on the fly. We’re looking into investing in a tool like MINTClass to facilitate this.

Teachers have the confidence to empower their students to learn independently
This is something I’ve regularly seen great examples of in lessons taught by our PE faculty, where student-designed and student-led tasks are an embedded routine in practical lessons. Although it wasn’t during focus week, I recently observed our PE NQT Mike Thomson bring this same approach into the classroom in a Y10 theory lesson where each group researched, planned and delivered a different area of the curriculum to their peers, going as far as finding a suitable exam question to assess understanding and writing their own peer-friendly mark schemes. To do this: A great start is to ensure learning materials (dictionaries, word banks, post-it notes, highlighters) are readily available so that students can manage their own learning. Give clear success criteria and time limits for a task, then let them go!

Learning focuses on skills as well as knowledge
In English NQT Sam Parnaby’s lesson, it was great to see that skill with dictionary and thesaurus is built in as a regular feature to lessons – so much so that students are choosing to use these tools to improve their own work without prompting or direction. Sam built this into the lesson I saw in quite a subtle and entertaining way by asking students to ‘improve’ on insults that might apply to Steinbeck’s Lenny – synonyms for ‘stupid’, anyone? Gill Perry in Geography also builds this into her lessons on a regular basis, with dictionaries and SPaG mats always available. To do this: Consider the skills gaps that you might encounter in Y11 students, then make sure your planning from Y7 regularly includes work on these same skills so that the gaps aren’t there 5 years later!

Teachers model and insist on correct, subject-specific language by not accepting sub-standard responses
On my visits to lessons I’ve begun to notice a lot of “In this room, we talk like mathematicians” (or ‘scientists’ or ‘artists’, you get the idea…) and been hearing a lot of variations on the ‘Say it again properly‘ idea. Doug Lemov calls this ‘Format Matters’. In science, Sarah Kilroy and Richard Asha demonstrated this particularly well by not accepting ‘it’ but pushing students to use correct terminology – a close variant of Lemov’s ‘Right is Right’. To do this: Next to a key words list on the classroom wall, how about a ‘banned words’ list: (it, they, nice, thing, stuff, whatever…)

Naturally, at the same time as seeing lots of examples of highly effective practice, it’s difficult to avoid drawing conclusions about what simply isn’t working for our students. I struggled with whether or not to include the ‘other’ list in this blog as the original purpose of the post was to share our best practice, but I strongly believe that not to challenge ineffective practice is to condone it. For our wider readership, let me make it clear that this is Wellacre’s list; these things don’t work at our school. They may well do at yours (although I doubt it).

To improve student progress, the following practice must change:stop_sign_sheet

  • Students are able to choose not to fully engage because the teacher relies on hands-up strategies.
    Instead: Use ‘Cold-Call’, ‘Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce’ or a random generator.
  • All are forced to do the same tasks at the same pace because planning and/or delivery is not differentiated.
    Instead: Assess prior knowledge and give each student an appropriate starting point.
  • Students are not given a chance to make progress because the teacher does not follow the Feedback for Learning policy.
    Instead: Mark less, but mark better. Give actionable feedback and use MAD time.
  • Incorrect spoken and written English are not challenged, reinforcing poor literacy among our students.
    Instead: Use our agreed literacy marking codes. Insist students “Talk like a… scientist / mathematician / engineer / poet” etc…
  • Students are often passive because the teacher is doing all of the work.
    Instead: Use simple strategies like ‘Think-Pair-Share’ or Show-me to make tasks active. Make the most of collaborative learning opportunities.
  • Low-level disruption goes unchallenged, reinforcing low expectations of our students
    Instead: Own your students’ behaviour; have high expectations and reinforce them.
  • Students are given answers before they have been challenged to use other means (e.g. asking a partner, using a dictionary etc).
    Instead: Reshape the question, ‘Brain, Book, Buddy, Boss’, C3B4Me, ask a partner, use a dictionary.
  • Progress is capped because tasks do not offer enough challenge.
    Instead: Provide extension work that is genuinely more challenging, not just more of the same.
  • The minimum operating standards, behaviour policy and QFT strategies are not consistently followed.
    Instead: Remember – if not you, then who?
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