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.

Reviewing a Test

By Helen Wilson

One type of lesson which necessarily has to take place, but which deep down, until recently, I would dread, is the “Here is the test/exam paper you recently sat, and your results” lesson. It seemed that no matter what I  tried, these lessons always seemed to go one of two ways – either I would spend a great deal of time talking at the front of the class, trying to highlight where mistakes had been made and what ideal solutions for questions would look like; or the lesson would result in me feeling dragged from pillar to post, as student after student wanted me to look through a particular question with them and discuss what they needed to do to improve their score. Invariably, there would always be a number of pupils who would use the lesson to check and double check and, yes often, triple check my allocation of marks and adding up, in the hope that they would find an extra mark and feel good because they had done so. This seemed to serve no sensible purpose at all, and I would leave the lessons wondering how I could make them actually look at the paper to find areas where they needed to practise their skills further, or even better, start coaching each other in how to improve their scores on the test.

Luckily, through my trusty twitter feed, I came across this fabulous article by @TheMathsMagpie which explained a great collaborative activity for reviewing exam papers, called Ask the Expert. I have used the activity 3 times now, and each time have been astonished by the amazing amount of intense activity generated – pupils genuinely trying to coach each other in how to improve their score in order to reach their target grade.

I’ll leave you to read the details of the activity yourself, @TheMathsMagpie explains it far better than I could, but I will just note a couple of changes I made to fit with my classes:photo

1. I did give pupils the grade boundaries and asked them to calculate how many marks they would need in order to reach their target grade – for those who were already there, they had to calculate how many more marks they would need to exceed their target.

2. I didn’t give pupils a long grid to complete, simply 3 pieces of post-it notes on which they had to write down their name and a question on which they achieved full marks.

3. They then had to use the chart created at the front of the room to find an expert to ask to help them get closer towards their target. I emphasised the need to coach each other – it should not be just one pupil teaching the other but a collaborative effort to increase the marks of all pupils in the class.

Although the system seems complicated on first reading, it really does run like a dream, even engaging the pupils usually most reluctant to work with their peers in seeking support.

I’ve thought a lot about why it works and I think there are a number of factors:

  • Everyone is an expert somewhere – and the fact that their name is up on the wall as such, encourages everyone to talk to others to share their knowledge;
  • It fits in with our whole school approach to Skills for Success (which Nat Moody spoke about at the November TeachMeet) and uses all the skills which pupils are becoming more and more adept in using on a day to day basis;
  • It gives a very specific task to do – getting the marks to reach (or exceed) your target.

Each time I have run the lesson, I have had time to focus on pupils who perhaps needed some specific guidance or support, and yet have seen all pupils completely engaged and not spending a lesson surreptitously checking the adding up of marks for a fourth time.

Thank you to @TheMathsMagpie for another winner idea – saving me from dreading test paper return days.

The Learning Lunch Tackles Differentiation

differentiation 1Led by Sarah Lofthouse, staff gathered for the Learning Lunch and sat down for half an hour to talk about how they can differentiate for all types of pupils in their lessons. Whilst the general opinion was that the sandwiches were not of the usual favoured varieties, the discussion and ideas were up to the usual standard.

Sarah noted that it can be all to easy to make a note on the lesson plan that “differentiation will be by outcome”, and conversely for the teacher to spend hours producing several different graded worksheets. However there is much else than can be done quickly and without too much effort, which gives more helpful support and differentiation to pupils.

Teachers are already differentiating in many ways, but it is done intuitively as part of the every day job of teaching and facilitating learning in the classroom. Sometimes it is just a matter of highlighting to others that this is how you are doing it.

Seating plans

You have probably thought pretty carefully about where you seat each of the pupils who have special educational needs in your classroom. You have also probably thought about where you have sat the child who is chatty, or easily distracted, or who is particularly gifted in your subject – so this will have been part of your differentiation strategy, and is well worth a mention should anyone (observers) wish to know.

Group workdifferentiation 2.jpg

This is another way in which lots of teachers differentiate. There was much discussion on how to group and most agreed that there are different ways to group and each way can be suitable for different situations:

  • grouping with mixed ability in each group (could be done by looking at target grades);
  • putting all the pupils who need more support in one group if some would benefit from TA support and the TA then only has to work with one group – also allows the task to be easily differentiated between groups;
  • friendship groups, as often pupils will work and learn best with those who they feel most comfortable with;
  • groups organised based on relationships within the class which you know from experience work well.

However pupils are grouped, the ability to use this as a tool for differentiation is only really apparent when the expectations for how those groups operate and work well together are clearly set out by the teacher.

Take Ownership

At Beaumont School we place great importance on pupils using our “Skills for Success” (see the presentation by Nat Moody at the Beaumont TeachMeet in the menu page), one of which is Take Ownership. All pupils need to be encouraged to take ownership of their own learning, and knowing what your own targets are and what you need to do to get closer to those targets is an important part of that process. Setting sensible targets, and pupils being encouraged to regularly look at how they are progressing towards their targets, is another way to differentiate for ability groups.

Discussion moved on to the many other ways in which differentiation can take place – much of which is intuitive, but nonetheless effective:differentiation 3

  • being aware of what is happening in the lesson and moving on or slowing down as appropriate;
  • providing a choice in lessons regarding where to start on tasks or how work and learning is to be presented;
  • the teacher presenting information in different ways to accommodate different learning styles over a period of time;
  • perhaps providing a menu of tasks, possibly for home learning;
  • using the TA to support particular pupils on the same tasks as other pupils – providing guidance to the TA on what should be expected, or how the tasks can be broken down.

All the used by Sarah in the Learning Lunch can be found here, and also in the resources section in the menu.

The Teaching and Learning Take Away

measuring progress boardDo you find yourself in sudden need of a progress check for your lesson, but haven’t got time to go searching for something suitable? Fear not – head straight to the board outside the staffroom where there is The T&L Take Away – on the menu, examples of progress check sheets for staff to use.  The ideas in the folders will change and we are hoping to add a “mystery” progress check for the week.

Of course, if the opposite is the case, and you have a sudden flash of inspiration for a great progress check in your lesson, why not send us the details and your great idea can be shared by others – maybe the next “mystery” of the week. Email a member of the teaching and learning team or tweet us @Beaumonttl

 Links to the resources featured can be found in the resources tab – thanks to @Ashley_Loynton (modified original by @abbie_tucker from http://www.teachertoolkit.me #5MinPlan Series)


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.

Learning Lunch 1 – Progress in a lesson

Regular learning lunches are an important part of CPD at Beaumont. They are entirely voluntary and always well attended. Our first learning lunch of the year proved as popular as ever, with about 40 teachers getting together over lunchtime to talk about teaching and learning, whilst enjoying the crucially important sandwich and cake.

Learning lunches give an opportunity for staff to share ideas across departments. They create a level playing field, where the ideas from new and recently qualified teachers are shared equally with those from SLT members and those with more years’ experience in the classroom.

On Monday 14 October, our topic of discussion was “Showing Progress in a lesson”. Zoe Shepherd shared a “Check list” (developed in collaboration with Dave Guinane and Elena Piazza) which could serve as a useful reminder of a variety of ways in which teachers can check progress in a lesson, quickly and effectively.


 Of course, it is important that any of these ideas are not seen in isolation. Findings would need to be followed up, and visual checks clarified through questioning to establish whether the pupils’ views are a true reflection of their understanding.

Helen Wilson explained how the Maths Department have been using “confidence strips” to regularly check progress and demonstrate to pupils how their understanding has developed during a lesson – thanks to The Maths Magpie for sharing this fabulous resource, which can be found on her blog http://themathsmagpie.blogspot.co.uk/. Pupils seem to be able to think quite carefully about which colour to show when they have the worded prompts on the card to help them.


 Ideas then began to flow thick and fast, and teachers were keen to share their ideas and discuss how a tip from someone else could be transferred to their lessons in another subject – always the beauty of the learning lunch.

Some tips and tricks which were highlighted:

  • Mini-whiteboards are always good – AGo explained how he uses them to help pupils develop their thinking so that they are not afraid to put any idea down because it is not on paper.
  • Pupils draw everything they know about a topic at the beginning of the lesson, again mid lesson and then at the end (each time from memory) so that they can see how their knowledge and understanding is growing.
  • Asking “experts” (from the confidence strips) to explain or show their understanding using a task from “The Cube” – see previous blog post on the INSET – Challenge.
  • Use multiple choice questions – find the answer, but also explain why the other answers have been eliminated.
  • Asking pupils to put their own question or concern about a topic onto a yellow post-it to stick on the board /wall. As the lesson progresses and questions are answered, ask the pupils to put their own post-it in the bin (very satisfying for the pupil concerned!)
  • Ask a question of pupils as they leave or have an “Exit Pass” where they can demonstrate what they have learnt. There is a lovely resource which has been produced by www.ayleebits.com. A link to an editable template can be found here:  Exit ticket plenary