Tiny steps

By Zoe Shepherd

shoesWhen it gets to this time of year I often find that some of my exam groups start to go into tailspin. The students begin to get worried and stressed and then decide that they can’t do it. This, of course, then makes some believe that university will never happen and so they won’t get a good job, no one will love them and they will end their lives alone (I am a drama teacher). Without being too melodramatic it can all just get a bit much and they can’t see the wood for the trees.

Today I was looking at a 30 mark exam question with my Year 13s for the first time. I wanted to research, plan and write the essay under timed conditions in a lesson that lasted an hour and a half. If I had told them we were going to write a timed essay before the lesson some would definitely have stayed in bed. Instead, I attacked the whole thing from a different angle.

I used their pre-lesson-learning to focus their attention on design elements in the play we had seen and in Shakespearean times (all part of the requirements). I had then sent several teaser tweets about shoes and different coloured pens – to keep them interested.

When they arrived at the lesson, I asked them to take off their shoes. I showed them an exam question and placed 4 markers along the wall:

  • I totally get this. Bring it on Sheps!
  • I reckon I could do this. Might not be great though.
  • I can give it a whirl. Not sure I really know what I’m doing.
  • I haven’t got a Scooby Doo what is going on.tiny steps 2

Pupils had to place their shoes along the floor, near the wall, to show where they felt they were at the start of the lesson. Throughout the various activities in the first 30 minutes, they could move their shoes further along whenever they felt they had a better grasp of the subject. This isn’t rocket science and it isn’t new, but creating a more relaxed but purposeful atmosphere meant that after 30 mins of group work and stealing ideas from other groups’ sugar paper, pupils were able to sit in silence and write an essay plan. They then passed these to a peer who took a different coloured pen and added ideas and feedback. We were half way through the session and the shoes had moved. Everyone in the class was now at one of the top two bullet points. So they were ready to sit in silence and write for 40 minutes.

The essays are not the best things they have ever written, but they have all done it and it has structure and well selected examples. Also every student said they had made progress and that the essay “wasn’t as bad as they thought.”

I subtitled the lesson “Tiny Steps” to highlight the fact that they wouldn’t all be perfect at this straight away – it would take time to get there. However, having thought about it, I actually think they took huge leaps in the lesson and not tiny steps at all. They surprised themselves with what they were able to do in a short amount of time.

Magic Marking

marking and feedbackWith reports of teachers spending 60 hours a week working, there is always a need to consider how we can make life just a little bit easier. However many teachers quite  rightly feel that time  marking pupils’ work is simply one area which cannot be eaten in to – there is just no substitute for the feedback which pupils receive from properly marked work.

Our Teaching & Learning INSET focused on ideas that might help staff find ways to reduce the time spent marking, but without losing the quality of feedback which pupils receive. We wanted to look at how  we could help students progress with effective and timely feedback and think about whether we are giving pupils the information and time they need to reflect and understand how they can improve in the future. As usual, in our small working groups, staff discussed what they currently do, their concerns and problems, and we shared ideas and tried to support each other in finding ways to reduce time but increase the impact of our marking strategies. We started by marking a piece of work individually and then looking at the ways we had approached this.  Did we take the same amount of time?  Did we find the criteria for marking helpful? What are we looking for when we mark?  how long did it take and could we reduce the time taken?

RAG123Thanks to @Listerkev, Helen Wilson and Sarah Lofthouse have been trialling a system known as RAG123, where books are marked much more often (every lesson in an ideal world) and pupils take part in the marking by assessing both their effort and understanding. This powerpoint was discussed in the INSET, but there is lots more detail in this blog post (and the related links within it) from @ListerKev and on twitter using the hashtag #RAG123. The powerpoint used in our INSET also includes quotes from our own pupils when feedback was discussed by the student voice group. Some staff (eg Fiona Pinkerton in Science) use the idea of “Praises and Raises” codes – pupils receive a code in their book which they can then relate to a list of strengths and targets and find their specific feedback. There was a great deal of discussion about how the different ideas could be applied to various subjects and many staff thought about particular adaptions that they would make to a variety of ideas raised.

Moving onto the feedback we give to pupils, staff were asked to brainstorm about what would be totally ineffective and unhelpful feedback.  We then looked at how we could address these issues.  Examples included making feedback in a timely fashion and allowing pupils sufficient time to act on targets given. Through our student voice group, we also had thought from pupils about what was helpful to them when receiving feedback through marking – these ideas can be seen on the Power point.magic marking stars

A sheet of ideas about reducing marking workload was given to staff before they were asked to give some feedback to the T&L team on the INSETs run this year and also add their own ideas to some “Magic Marking” stars (some of these are already on the staff noticeboard, others will appear on the blog in a later post, in the T&L newsletter and on more cards for the black boxes).

Marking and feedback are a continual source of discussion among teachers, and there no real “right” answers. There are other ideas to read from Belmont Teach in this article. Hopefully you will find something in all of this to try for yourself – if you do, and you want to share you adaptations with us, please get in contact via twitter or email.

Measuring Progress for Sixth Form

By Sarah Hosegood

At the Teachmeet a couple of weeks ago I presented three ideas linked to measuring progress during sixth form lessons. Below is a brief summary of each one and the presentation I showed can be found on the T&L blog.

whiteboard of progress

The Whiteboard of Progress

This idea can be used during a carousel activity, during a practical lesson, during a research lesson or can be left on the board during a lesson containing several smaller activities. On your classroom whiteboard, write up the lesson objective(s) or an exam question they are aiming to answer. Underneath this draw an arrow with key times during the lesson written on. As the students complete activities/ research/ the practical etc, they are asked at these key times to write on a post-it note what they have found out or achieved towards the lesson objective or exam question. These post-it notes can be reviewed by the teacher and can be a point of discussion during the lesson.  The end point of the activities could be the students answering the exam question or presenting to the class the knowledge they have gained in order to meet the lesson objectives.

draft peer redraft

Draft, Peer, Re-Draft = Progress

Either as a result of home learning or a starter activity, students bring in a draft of an exam answer. They give this draft to their peer, who either uses sticky dots or a brightly coloured pen to indicate where in the answer they think improvements could be made. They then join up and give verbal feedback to explain the location of their dots.  The work is passed back to the original student and they re-draft the answer trying to improve using the feedback they have been given.

core challenge

Core, Challenge and Super-Challenge Question Grid

Depending on how many questions you want the students to write, this activity can be a mini or final plenary, or a part of the main activities in the lesson. Students use their learning from the topic or lesson to write questions about it. These questions start as simple ‘core’ questions using basic exam question command words, and then progress to more complex ‘super challenge’ questions. Once the questions have been written students can walk around the classroom asking their peers the questions and listening to the answers given. If they are satisfied with the answer they place the students’ initials in the question box. This can then be reviewed by the teacher. Or, students can challenge one of their peers to answer one of their questions during the lesson and they could peer mark each others’ answers or use the ‘draft, peer, re-draft’ idea above.

I love Twitter!

by Sarah Hosegoodtwitter image 1I attended the Teaching and Learning Team meeting on Monday 21 October and realised I was missing out on a fantastic T&L resource – Twitter. I have been resisting Twitter for a while  now because I thought it would take too much time to get my head around it,or it would take over my life looking at what celebrities were up to, but it has turned out to be the best T&L CPD I have had in years. I signed up on Monday evening and followed a few people Helen, Zoe and Jo were following. Then this evening I have spent an hour looking for new resources and ideas and now have too many ideas! 

 Just from this evening I am going to take the ideas below and try them out in my lessons over the next couple of weeks: 

1) Magpie Cards: when working in small groups give each group a ‘Magpie Card’ which they can only use once. It entitles them to speak to another group to steal ideas from that group for two minutes. The card is then returned to the teacher. 

 2) Classroom Bunting: at the end of a topic give each student quite a large triangle of card. They summarise their learning from this topic on the piece of bunting and present them back to the class. The triangles can then be put together or strung up to make a ‘learning bunting’. 


3) Student reflection: similar to the maths example we have seen at the learning lunches this is an image which enables students to show progress during their lesson. The image is below and the questions which went with it were:

  • Which person on the staircase best represents your learning in this lesson?
  • Which person represents a better position for you?
  • What are you going to do to try and reach the top of the staircase next time if you are not there already?
  • What is going to stop you falling to the bottom of the staircase?


This could be used at the start, middle and end of the lesson to show progress. 

 4) Using cardboard Scrabble tiles: you can download a template for all the Scrabble tiles quite easily on the internet. You could give individual students some tiles for them to spell out as many key words from the topic they are studying or they could compete with a partner to take it in turns to spell out key terms, the person who spells the most wins. Great link to literacy as well! 

 5) Mini or main plenary idea: ‘My Brain’ – students to draw a brain in their exercise books and they have to fill it with what they have learnt in the lesson. This could be done half way through to show progress and then added to at the end of the lesson with a different coloured pen to show continued progress!