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Teacher PLCs – A forensic and focused approach to improving teaching practice.

Teacher Personalised Learning Charts

@beautifullyfra1 wrote here (link) about our approach to evaluating teaching and we now have a truly authentic model for evaluating teachING not teachERS which ensures that all learning and teaching actions are data informed.  But, it has led to many questions about how we ensure that all of our teachers are continuously refining and developing their classroom practice. It’s taken some time, but I have finally got round to writing up part 2.

With a rapidly changing assessment landscape, significantly different accountability measures, and the most over stimulated generation of children ever, it is essential that all teachers are continuously reflecting on and refining their practices.  It’s fair to say that for many teachers entering the profession, marking, planning, resourcing and other pressures can lead to a plateau in engagement with new pedagogy; pedagogy which would have been a regular part of training courses, degrees, and PGCEs. With this in mind, all schools face the challenge of finding innovative ways of ensuring that professional development, and ultimately improvements in the quality of teaching, continues. Coaching is well established in many schools, but how do we ensure that every teacher is committed to developing a specific aspect of their teaching practice?

For me (as I am sure is the case for many others), formative assessment underpins everything that I do in terms of continuously checking whether or not my pupils have understood the content that I have delivered.  Student PLCs are fairly common place in schools these days whether used formatively or summatively.  So if we can use them to build up a clear picture of what our students are good/not so good at, why should formative assessment not be equally as important in building up an accurate and organic picture of what teachers can do?

The best teachers spend a lot of time thinking about what they would have done differently if they were to teach a lesson again.  Invariably there is always something or multiple things that we would change.   The best teachers will do this anyway as they are naturally reflective practitioners, but a PLC specific to teachers could ensure that there is a more streamlined approach to being reflective. Dylan Wiliam has written much about the dangers of trying to develop more than one area of practice at the same time, but how do we identify a teacher’s specific area for development/refinement?  In my mind, the teacher standards provide the best common language with respect to splitting teaching practice into fundamental elements.  Every teacher should be working on developing their practice in relation to one specific element.  A performance management target could then be linked explicitly to evaluating anything and everything the teacher has done during the year to improve their practice in relation to that particular standard.

So alongside our approach to evaluating teaxhing, we have created a personalised learning chart for teachers not dissimilar to the subject specific PLCs we use for students.  The Teacher PLC provides a clear language for formatively assessing teaching practice in relation to the individual standards, lesson to lesson, week to week, term to term.  The Teacher PLC (pictured below) consists of teacher standards 1-7 with a key description of what best practice may look like.  At this point I want to make it clear that the teacher PLC is categorically not used to grade, or quantify data about the quality of teaching in terms of an overall judgement.  Instead, the purpose is to encourage all members of teaching staff to reflect, in a low risk environment, on the 7 different standards, in relation to their own teaching practice.  Staff then identify what they consider to be their main areas of strength as well as the areas where they would like to invest time in developing their practice.  They can discuss their PLC with their Director of Learning to help them clarify their thoughts on where best to invest time.

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In addition to the teacher reflection sheet, a rubric has been created to provide loose guidelines for each standard ranging from limited to extending. Before the cynical people reading this tell me this is just another way of grading teachers, the PLCs were never designed for that purpose.  The rubric can be useful in identifying what might be missing with regards to classroom practice in relation to a specific teacher standard.  It also ensures we have a common language and consistency across the school when we look to share best practice.


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Supporting Development
To ensure all teachers are equipped with sufficient ideas to develop their practice in relation to a particular teacher standard, or to simply encourage all our teachers to take a risk and try something new., we regularly launch teacher challenges in relation to a particular teacher standard.  They usually contain 6-12 practical, easy to implement ideas which have been very well received.  They are also designed so that there is something new for every teacher to try regardless of their level of experience.  You can see an example of this for teacher standard 5 below.


This approach has only worked for us because we are absolutely clear that for us, it is not about grading teachers.  It would be very easy to take this approach and use it as a behind closed doors attempt to quantify or attach a number or grade to a teacher.  The authenticity of our evaluating teaching cycle depends on us absolutely not using it in this way.

Finding Flow


Finding Flow PNG



Finding Flow

I have recently become fascinated with the notion of flow, and after reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book it has provoked a lot of thought in relation to whether we can create flow experiences for children within all lessons across the school.

For those who are unfamiliar with Csikszentmihalyi’s work, ‘The metaphor of “flow” is one that many people have used to describe the sense of effortless action they feel in moments that stand out best in their lives.’(Finding Flow: p29)  In these moments ‘The sense of time is distorted: hours seem to pass by in minutes.’(Finding Flow: p31)  I have experienced flow many times whilst playing sport competitively but I can’t remember experiencing a similar sensation when completing other tasks which leads me to the question:

Can a student experience flow in any lesson?

Before I tackle the practical side of creating such situations in classrooms, it is important to delve further into the notion of ‘Flow’.  “Athletes refer to it is as “being in the zone”, religious mystics as being in ‘ecstasy’, artists and musicians as aesthetic rapture.”  Athletes, mystics and artists do very different things but when they reach flow, but their descriptions of the experience are remarkably similar.”  This quotation suggests that it is possible to experience such a sensation regardless of the activity and makes me more hopeful with respect to students experiencing such a sensation in any lesson.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting students to be in ecstasy when solving an algebra problem but there are ways to create tasks which will ultimately help students to achieve that magical state where they will be most effective in their learning.

So what can we do as teachers?

Csikszentmihalyi  suggests that  ‘Flow tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable.’  This is best illustrated by the following graph from Csikszentmihalyi’s book.
Finding flow graph















As teachers, the biggest consideration is whether or not tasks are perfectly matched to a student’s ability level.  If a task is too hard, the student will become anxious and disengaged.  If the task is too easy, the students will become bored and disengaged.  This in itself is nothing revolutionary, but the key for me is to establish how a student might behave when experiencing flow.  Once we establish this, it is easier to reflect on how often such behaviours are exhibited by the students within our care.

One strategy could be articulate to students what a ‘flow experience’ feels like so that they recognise it for themselves.  The best example I can give is that when I am mountain biking down a steep and technical route, my skills are pushed to their limit.  Perceptual narrowing is at its peak and my concentration is solely on the way my body and bike respond to the environment.  For that brief moment, I can think of nothing else.  In a classroom environment, I think you see glimpses of such an experience when students take an idea and become completely immersed in it.  What’s happening in the room fades into the background as the student focusses solely on completing a difficult problem or constructing an emotionally charged piece of writing.  I have seen Art lessons where a student using a new medium for the first time and has made it over the initial barriers and suddenly the picture begins to take shape and the student embraces the challenge further.

‘Another characteristic of flow activities is that they provide immediate feedback.’  When a student hits a ball in tennis, they receive a wealth of kinaesthetic feedback.  Did the ball make good contact with racket? Was the timing right? Was the power right?  Similarly, in an invasion game, when a player makes a decision to try and beat an opponent, they receive immediate feedback as they either pass the opponent or they don’t.  In a maths lesson, where the answers are clearly right or wrong, the student can quickly assess their progress.  This becomes more difficult in subjects where the assessment criteria are more subjective.  The key point here is that once a student reaches ‘flow’ we as teachers want to keep them in that zone for as long as possible and quick feedback is essential to this.  Personalised success criteria in student friendly language may help so that students can regularly check their progress against the criteria.  Circulating the room as frequently as possible to provide timely feedback could also be key in preventing students from falling out of ‘flow’.

As Csikszentmihalyi states  ‘A typical day is full of anxiety and boredom.  Flow experiences provide the flashes of intense living against this dull background.’(Finding Flow. P31)  I am really keen to hear what teachers do to encourage such experiences within their classrooms.


Finding Flow: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 1997 Basic Books


Lessons in Leadership Straight from the Sports Field

footy pitch

You have just been on the end of an absolute pummelling.  Players around you are breathing hard as you sit shivering in the changing room at half time.  On paper, you were always going to get beaten, everyone expected you to be behind at the half way point.  So what are you going to do about it?  You look around at your team mates with their heads down, looking at the floor.  Where has the belief gone? Where is the hope?  Whatever team you lead or are a part of in school, your role is essential in helping them to overcome any barrier.  I have been in difficult situations on the football pitch but I have also been fortunate enough to play with team mates who have inspired me so that I felt ready to take on the world when I returned to the pitch after half time. And there is much, I think, that can translate from the sports world directly into school leadership.


Leading by example 

I am a strong believer that the best way to get people to buy into you is to practice what you preach. This is no different whether you are on the field or in a classroom.  I like to think that I lead in the same way that I play on the pitch.  I see myself as equal to everyone in my team and I gain buy in from staff by demonstrating the behaviours I expect from my team.  There is nothing worse than a leader who implores you to do something but does something different themselves.  But what I have also learnt is that leading by example doesn’t mean expecting everyone to do things in the way you would do it.  To me, leading by example is about having high expectations and expecting the same of those around you, but at the same time understanding that there are many different ways of achieving the same result.  The balance is always going to be in guiding and supporting people, whilst at the same time allowing them the freedom to take risks and think for themselves about the way they want to lead.


Failure can enhance the future

In 2012, the nation watched an emotional Andy Murray finish as runner up in the Wimbledon tennis tournament.  The loss clearly left him devastated but he found the strength to say that he was ‘getting closer’ to that elusive Grand Slam title.  A year later, hard work, perseverance and determination paid off as Andy Murray was triumphant in winning the tournament.  Failure is always difficult to deal with, but through failure, leaders learn many valuable lessons.  We learn to be more self-aware, more reflective and ultimately more resilient.  In education there are so many unknowns that there is always going to be some degree of failure.  The introduction of the progress 8 measure, life after levels, new specifications and the simple fact that we live in the most over stimulated generation in history, all leads to a constant battle of reestablishing our ground. Resilience is mentioned regularly in schools, and one thing that I am absolutely certain of, is that sport helps people to become more resilient.  It is disheartening as leaders when something we have put blood, sweat and tears into ultimately doesn’t quite work the way we want it to, but what we take away from such situations is valuable experience.  In my mind, there is always room for improvement and therefore is always something to learn.


Hard work 

No leader who has achieved something special has done so without hard work.  Cristiano Ronaldo is not one of the best footballers in the world simply because he was born with the physical attributes that gave him an edge in the footballing world.  In his book, he talks about the fact that he is consistently the first person into the changing rooms before a game, and is always the last player to leave.  There are many theories that suggest 10,000 hours of practice are needed to master a skill and it is no surprise therefore that people such as Cristiano, who work hard, are viewed as some of the best in their field.  For leaders to be successful there is no substitute for hard work, and many of the best leaders I have met value hard work above all else.  But I am also clear this doesn’t mean just the number of hours they work.  Working hard has to also be about working for impact. Cristiano knows what to practice and when.  A great leader isn’t one who just puts the hours in. A great leader ensures that the hours they put in translates into something meaningful for students and staff.



As a leader, there are always times when we question what we believe in; we doubt ourselves and our capacity to fulfil our role.  Sometimes it is hard to stay positive when everything seems to be going wrong.  It is also difficult to stay true to our beliefs in the onslaught of pressure.  Every leader feels pressure and the best advice I can give for dealing with pressure (again from my experience in the sports world) is to keep your focus on the variables that you can control. If you think about any situation in leadership there are things you can control and things you can’t.  For example, you can control  how you prepare to deliver training, the delivery of the session and the resources that go with it.  You can’t control how people will interpret the information or whether the key message will resonate with your team.  Just the act of being mindful about what you can and can’t control can make a pressured situation seem manageable.

In 1978, Michael Jordan went home and cried in his room after seeing that he hadn’t made it onto the varsity roster but his close friend, Leroy Smith, had. It was extremely rare for Sophomores to make Varsity.  Whilst Jordan has been prone to self-aggrandizing, the message here is clear – although his confidence took a big blow, he never lost the belief that he could go onto to be a player that dominated the sport for the next two decades.  The point here is that leaders need to be clear about their core beliefs, and consistently remain true these if they wish to be viewed as an authentic leader.  With so much noise about education on various social media sites, beliefs can be challenged radically.  There is no doubt this challenge is beneficial,  but leaders also need to filter out and use that which is applicable to their vision.


Everybody can be a leader

Never doubt the influence you can have as an individual.

In 2001, David Beckham stood over the ball in what would be the last kick of the game against Greece.  At the time the free kick was awarded, England were set to be leaving the competition.  He struck a curling free kick up and over the wall to the keeper’s right – and that one kick sent England through to the finals of the competition.  Any one member of a team can at any time contribute to something truly special. Actions no matter how big or small can have a significant impact on bringing a vision to life.  In schools, many of the unsung heroes are the classroom teachers who consistently lead the way in developing high quality teaching practice ultimately helping students to make rapid progress.  Although I lead learning and teaching across my school, I am very conscious that first and foremost I am a member of the teaching staff.  I welcome and encourage feedback on my teaching practice as a member of the department within which I teach because that is what I want for everyone else.  In this situation, I am part of the lesson feedback cycle just as much as anyone else.  I don’t promote regular feedback because it is my job to do so. I promote it because I believe in it.


Uniform and presentation

It takes just 2 hundredths of a second to form a first impression.  In the changing room, just by looking at who has cleaned their boots and who hasn’t, you can tell a huge amount about how someone will perform.  In the midst of a uniform drive, I have had plenty of discussions with students about the importance of uniform.  In terms of leadership, someone who turns up with a dishevelled or slovenly look is never going to initially evoke trust in those they lead.

I made the point to students, that in the world of sport, they are expected to wear a specific kit.  Let’s look to the All Blacks. When Ritchie McKaw, arguably the greatest rugby player ever to play the game, was first handed his all black jersey, he placed it over his head and just sat there for a period of minutes whilst he took in everything that the jersey means.  Wearing a uniform with pride denotes a certain attitude and link to the desired behaviours of your team.  High expectations should permeate every aspect of leadership – right down to presentation.


Vision and Expectations

Despite the pressures, fluctuations in desire and drive, highs and lows, an outstanding leader somehow manages to maintain perfect discipline. What I mean by that is absolute clarity regarding the expectations of staff. Vince Lombardi once said, “I’ve never known a man worth his salt who, in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline.” Discipline doesn’t have to be enforced in an authoritarian fashion when leading, but I know that to fulfil any vision, every member of the team must be absolutely clear on the non-negotiables.  Deviance from expectations can cause everything that has been built to become fractured and damaged.  One way in which I have approached ensuring a clarity of expectations is to ensure that the learning and teaching priorities permeate all elements of school life.  All teachers have a placemat on their desk which has the non-negotiables for each priority as well as practical strategies.  I also regularly send out ’12 solutions’ for implementing each of the priorities.  The idea behind this is not that everyone teaches in the same way, but that everyone is aware of the non-negotiables and adapts what works for them within this.


Sometimes the bigger picture is what is important

Not necessarily a lesson in leadership but a final reminder of the power of sport.  In a time where two countries and thousands of soldiers occupied trenches separated by a muddy field strewn with bodies, on the eve of Christmas 1914, something special happened.  British and German soldiers climbed out their trenches, laid down their weapons and played a game of football with people who hours earlier were firing bullets at them.  Anything that has the power to momentarily stop a war and cause soldiers to halt all hostilities, is something that has plenty to teach us.

Confessions of a PE Teacher: Breaking the mould










Confessions of a PE Teacher: Breaking the mould


There is nothing worse than listening to ultracrepidarian comments about your subject:


“It’s alright for you PE Teachers, all you do is organise a game of football.”

“It’s not like you have to plan your lesson.”

“Those who can’t teach, teach PE.”


For the most part, the comments are said in jest, but the reality is that these comments reinforce a certain PE Teacher stereotype.  On top of the onslaught of comments suggesting that PE Teachers are less worthy than other teachers, the government constantly places PE at the bottom of the priority pile which can make it very difficult to stay positive.  I won’t be the only PE teacher who has sometimes questioned why I went to university for 4 years of my life to complete a degree in a subject which for some people actually has very little status in education.  The stereotype that PE is somehow for a ‘lesser’ teacher because they weren’t capable of anything else saddens me, as does the low currency that some schools place on the subject and its value to students.  We all know the positive impact that playing a sport can have on our students and in my experience, it is not often the case that I see successful leaders who have not at some point in their lives participate in sporting or other creative activities.


It also seems odd to me that despite all of us being aware that we are in the middle of an obesity crisis, there is little recognition of the huge part that PE as a wider subject has to play in raising students’ awareness of the importance of healthy living – particularly those students who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds.  To dismiss it as something which is a luxury if the budget can afford it seems short-sighted to me.


PE is not just about kicking a ball about.  It requires acute critical reflection, the tenacity to deliberately practise skills, the resilience to persevere, and the ability to think strategically and quickly under pressure. On top of this, there are huge benefits for students in terms of team work, confidence and, crucially for me, competition.


PE teachers consistently teach some of the largest ability spectrums within the school.  It is common to have a group with a county footballer at one end of the spectrum, with a student who can barely make contact with a ball at the other end.  Regardless, PE teachers still ensure that all students make good progress.


Being a PE teacher has taught me much and given me the skills to undertake all the leadership positions I have held.  It has helped me build relationships with even the toughest students.  It has allowed me to witness some truly inspirational sporting performances.  But ultimately, it has allowed me to retain my passion for teaching because it is a subject that I truly believe in.


Evaluating Teaching not Teachers


Evaluating Teaching Cycle V7








I am really excited about this model which has been well received by the teaching staff at our school.

Principles of the Model

The principles behind our evaluating teaching cycle are straightforward:

• We are evaluating the quality of teaching NOT teachers. There is a subtle but important difference.
• It is a flawed methodology to arbitrarily judge the quality of teachers through lesson observations.
• The best schools promote a collaborative and shared commitment to improving outcomes for students.
• There is no prescriptive approach to quality teaching – what’s good is what works.
• Data is merely the starting point – it gives no answers, just generates hypotheses.
• The most important aspect of any evaluation cycle is the input – the quality and personalisation of research, actions, and strategies which recognise that different approaches work differently for different teachers, departments and students.

The Cycle
These principles led to @beautifullyfra1 and I designing the following cycle as our methodology for both evaluating and improving the quality of teaching:

Data Collection
This is just the start (or once the cycle is implemented – the checking process!). This is not the post to discuss the process we go through to collect data, but needless to say it has been through a process to ensure that it is meaningful and robust. For us, this is just summative data and we do not pretend for it to be anything other than this. If you look at my previous post (http://www.benbainessle.com/part-2-how-do-we-prevent-data-being-the-catalyst-for-change/) I have written about how we are using PLCs and grain-sized data as the most important form of assessment to inform teaching for students.
Key Questions
This data forms the basis for Directors of Learning and SLT line managers to draw hypotheses from:
• What are the trends for key groups across the subjects?
• How are the students performing in relation to their prior attainment?
• Is there a difference between performance at key stages?
• Is there in-subject variation?
• Where is there good practice?

Cause and Effect
Our Directors of Learning are constantly evaluating the quality of their department’s work, but following the generation of the hypotheses from the data collection, we have a consistent review week across the school to allow for quality assurance, and joint work between middle and senior leaders, to ‘test’ these hypotheses. If the data is suggesting, for example, that in Year 8 maths the high prior attainment disadvantaged students are underperforming in comparison to the advantaged students, we will make this a focus for further investigation on top of our everyday evaluation. We will visit lessons, look at schemes of learning, look at books, talk to the students, look at parental engagement, compare attainment of these students in maths with other subjects and so on.
Once we have interrogated the data and our initial hypotheses, we discuss as a department team, and as a team of middle leaders, what our priorities are as a whole school, as well as highlighting any in-school variation.
The Difference
Once these have been identified, we move to the most important part of our cycle – how we use what we know to ‘productively tinker’ with our practice. We tackle this from both a teacher and student perspective. Some of the strategies we have found effective for us can be seen here:

The work now really begins and students, teachers, middle leaders and senior leaders work together to implement the actions with an emphasis on shared ownership and collaboration. Our data scrutiny meetings have completely changed emphasis. Rather than focusing on the numbers, they are instead driven by a discussion and commitment to the changes that will take place in the classroom in schemes of learning, teaching approaches, assessment approaches and department work.
The next data collection is then an opportunity to ‘temperature check’ the impact of the work we have been undertaking. And so the cycle begins again – in all likelihood, we will need to continue with what we are already doing as sustainable improvements don’t happen overnight, but ‘checking in’ allows us to track progress against priorities and alert us to anything else which may need investigating.

But what about?
The concept of the cycle was welcomed unanimously by Directors of Learning, and their input into how the cycle would work in practice led to some effective changes to our initial thoughts. Unsurprisingly for them, the collaborative approach was the most important aspect.
It is worth noting though that this is not a ‘soft’ option – this model does not excuse underperformance. This model is not one which precludes tackling and addressing individual underperformance. Nor is it only during ‘review’ weeks that teaching is evaluated. We all know that you don’t need an observation or a data collection to tell you that a teacher is not performing. If at any points, there are concerns, these are raised and addressed in the appropriate way.
And whilst I would hope nothing I do is driven by Ofsted, I am not naïve to these pressures. I have every confidence that when we are next inspected, our approach to evaluating teaching – with not a single grading of a teacher in sight – will be welcomed. In fact, I won’t allow it to be up for discussion.

Next steps
Alongside trialling and refining this cycle, I am currently working on a teacher PLC which we will use to forensically identify where we have areas of strength in terms of pedagogy, and where we need to do further work at both a teacher, department and whole school level. We are excited about the potential of this and again, this has been welcomed by staff. I know he intends to blog about it in the near future and I would definitely recommend looking out for it if you are a senior or middle leader.

We would love to hear your thoughts / feedback on what we are doing. Please do leave us a comment.

#12 Solutions for Embedding Spacing and Interleaving – Creating a More Durable Memory.

Memory fascinates me, I am constantly on the lookout for ideas to helps students retain information.  I want to start with a few questions; how many lessons do you walk into where a starter activity is based on the content from the previous lesson? I would imagine that this is very common.   How often do you walk into a lesson and see a starter based on content that was covered 6, 12 or even 18 weeks ago?  What would students find more difficult, a starter based on something they did in the previous lesson or a starter based on something they covered weeks ago?  The answer is likely to be the starter based on older content and the fact that they find it more difficult is the absolute key to building a more durable memory.


There are many posts on the principles of spacing and interleaving that go into far more detail with regards to relevant research and so I promise to keep the preamble brief. It is the practical solutions which are most important to me.  This post is fuelled primarily by a fantastic article by Bjork and Bjork and sections of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.   Firstly, I want to address spacing which in essence is increasing the time in between delivering content.  What many people recognise as traditional curriculum design is where content is taught in discrete topics. Students sit and end of unit test and then may not revisit the content until the terminal assessment at the end of year.   A curriculum designed with spacing in mind aims to spread the learning out so that students have to recall information at greater intervals.  For example, in science they may do a lesson on current, followed by a lesson on osmosis etc.  At first, this is a frightening concept because immediately teachers are thinking that students will struggle to keep track of all the information, but this struggle is essential.  To quote  Brown, Roediger and McDaniel, ‘Rapid-fire practice leans on short term memory.  Durable learning, however, requires time for mental rehearsal and the other processes of consolidation.’ When delivering a curriculum structured in the traditional way, students rely too heavily on their short term memory and so may perform well on the end of unit test but when trying to recall the key information in the distant future they will struggle.


Interleaving two or more subjects or skills has a significant impact on retention of knowledge.  This is the process of inserting content into lessons to challenge them to recall knowledge out of synchronisation.  The big draw backs are that the progress is slower and students find it confusing which makes it unpopular with teachers.  However, I defy anyone to read pg48-50 of Make it Stick:The Science of Successful learning  and not be fully convinced  by the concepts.  In short, one experiment with interleaved practise showed an increase of 215% in performance on a final test.  ‘The research shows unequivocally that mastery and long term retention are much better if you interleave practice rather than you mass it.’


There are some fantastic articles in relation to spacing and interleaving which are referenced below.  They are all well worth a read if you can find time.


Here are 12 solutions for embedding the principles of spacing and interleaving:



12 Solutions


  • Plan starter activities based on content from previous units.


  • Design schemes of learning which factor in time to reteach/review content.


  • Less terminal revision, more reviewing during units.


  • Use cumulative exams and quizzes throughout the unit.


  • Explain the evidence behind the methodology to get buy in from students and parents.


  • Mix up the order of practice problems for greater retention.


  • When planning learning, vary practice: -Teacher input –Student recall – Application.


  • Pilot spaced learning with a group and compare outcomes with a similar group.


  • Multiple exposures –students need 3-4 exposures to information over time.(Hattie)


  • Use programmes like Quizlet for frequent low stakes quizzes.


  • Use PLCs to identify common weaknesses and interleave questions related to the weaknesses.


  • Collapse lessons periodically to provide spaced practice on common areas of weakness.


Spacing and interleaving 1-6








Spacing and interleaving 7-12










Make it stick:The Science of Successful Learning – Peter C Brown, Henry L Roediger III, Mark A McDaniel.


Learning: Chaprter 3: Making Things Hard on Yourself, But in a Good Way: Creating Desirable Difficulties to Enhance Learning. Elizabeth L Bjork and Robert Bjork

Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 354-380. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.132.3.354.

Cepeda, N. J., Vul, E., Rohrer, D., Wixted, J. T., & Pashler, H. (2008). Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention. Psychological Science, 19, 1095-1102. DOI : 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02209.x.


Spacing and Interleaving of Study and Practice: Shana K. Carpenter Iowa State University. 

Bahrick, H. P., Bahrick, L. E., Bahrick, A. S., & Bahrick, P. E. (1993). Maintenance of foreign language vocabulary and the spacing effect. Psychological Science, 4, 316-321. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467- 9280.1993.tb00571.x.

It’s not about pace, it’s about efficient teaching.

I don’t particularly like the term pace when talking about teaching.  ‘Good pace’ suggests that it is desirable to move through content as swiftly as possible during lessons which doesn’t necessarily translate into good progress.  I have heard teachers comment on the pace of lessons many times and with a recent move to 50 minute lessons at our school, the notion of pace raised its head again.  As an alternative to pace, I prefer the phrase efficient teaching.  It’s not about getting through as much content as possible, it is about using the available time effectively to enhance learning and support good progress for all.  In order to embed this notion of efficient teaching, it is essential that the term translates into everyday classroom practice.


Efficient teaching relates to maximising the use of time available.  The amount of time available to deliver and redeliver content is finite and therefore it is essential that every opportunity is taken to use this time effectively.



As James Kerr highlights in Legacy “A vision without action is a dream.”  Its all well and good introducing the idea of efficient teaching but without the How, it is just a an idea.  So how can we ensure that teaching is efficient?



What does it look like on an everyday basis? Here are some ideas for ensuring that everyday teaching is efficient as possible.


A Culture of Curiosity: Dreaming out loud

Dreaming out loud

(Image from http://www.psych2go.net/category/dream-facts/)z\a

Earlier this year I spent some time refining my vision for learning and teaching. One of the phrases I included was ‘a culture of curiosity’.  Is it just a dream to hope that one day all children will have an insatiable thirst for knowledge.  I often think that I might just be a bit odd as I have always been of the opinion that if you could know something about how a process works or why something looks the way it does, why wouldn’t you want know it?  What I find hard to swallow is not everyone shares my thirst for learning. In fact, I may be in the minority probably with the people that are reading this post!


With reference to a quotation from Legacy by James Kerr ‘A vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.’  In order to create a genuine culture of curiosity I need to think very carefully about the actions I take to bring the vision to life.


A few years ago, I sat through a science lecture at a local school which focused on human capacity for thinking.  Research they shared suggested that as little as 1 in 5 children are born with the capacity for high order thinking.  I was, and still am, sceptical about this statement but I do think there is some truth in it, especially when I relate it to my classroom experiences.  Think about a particular group that you teach. How many students in the group accept everything you say as fact?  If your classes are anything like the majority of my classes there will be two or three students who will frequently challenge what you say as they are curious about what you have said and therefore think about the content more deeply. Whether or not this can be engendered in other student is central to the notion of creating a culture where curiosity is highly valued.

Do children become less curious with age?

Young children are keen to investigate anything and everything using multiple senses. I know from my own children that very often this is by putting everything in their mouth!  Is this simply because everything is new to them? Are some young children more curious than others even at a young age?  As children grow older, do they become less curious because less of what they encounter is new to them?  Thinking about the classroom again, students are taught new concepts and ideas on a daily basis but the level of engagement with the content varies significantly. The why can be attributed to a range of factors but how important is an interest in the subject?


Do you have to be interested in a subject to be curious?

It definitely helps.  Some students flourish in one particular subject because it is the subject that they are passionate about.  Some students are keen to ask questions regardless of the subject or topic and come across as naturally more curious.  Why?  Could it actually be that some students are born naturally inquisitive about everything?  I am keen to know how much the home environment affects the development an inquisitive mindset.  Young children ask hundreds if not thousands of questions a day.  If a child grows up in an environment in which more or less every question they ask is answered in detail, are they more likely to succeed when at school? If they grow up in an environment where the majority of questions go unanswered or the answers they receive are brief and inaccurate, does this stifle their curiosity?

To create a genuine culture of curiosity will require tenacity and a great deal of work.  The concept of curiosity needs to permeate all areas of learning and teaching, lessons could utilise teaching styles from across the discovery threshold and questioning in lessons should be led by students where possible.  This post has raised so many questions that I am keen to explore further.


Part 3 – Data – What information do schools report? What information should schools report?

Data for reports


My previous two posts have led me to this point relating to what information schools share at each data point.  Parents, teachers and students all have different priorities when it comes to the information that is shared with them.  My aim is to unpick why we communicate certain pieces of information and whether or not we communicate the most important pieces of information.


Of the data available to report home at each data point, what is each stakeholder interested in?


Parents – As a parent of two children, I can understand why parents are so keen to ascertain what specific grade or level their child is working at.  They may be keen to compare it with any targets set or they may want to know how the grade or level compares with other students and subjects.  The more competitive parents may want affirmation that their child is one of the top performing students.  The big question here is, if the grade is the main priority for parents, how much do parents value information about what their child actually can and can’t do?  I would hazard a guess that if teachers started by talking about a child’s strengths and areas for development parents would be thinking this is interesting but what grade are they working at?



Teachers – The cynical side of me would say that teachers are mindful of PM targets and so information about the performance of groups as a whole is important.  Again trying to shift the mindset, the most useful information to teachers is that which relates to the strengths and areas for development of the individuals within our groups as it is this information which will allow us to adapt our teaching.


Students – In an earlier conversation with @Concordmoose, she informed me that the results of a student voice survey revealed that students want grades they can trust as well as information that will help them improve.  The same can be said for the students in my school.


Although students want feedback on what they need to improve, the grade/level still seems to be the priority to them.  Where grades are the most important piece of information for both students and parents, we face a constant battle in articulating that the grades/level are simply a result and that what we should actually be focussing on are the individual areas for development which could relate to particular topics or specific skills that need refining.  Primary schools may well be better at this than secondary schools with regards to the specific feedback they give to parents.  Equally, many secondary schools may have refined the way they report to parents to give them more information than the predicted grades and attitude to learning.  At my school, there is still work to be done on this.


This leads me to two key questions:


  1. Is there a way in which schools can report information that is useful to all stakeholders?


  1. Should schools report information based on the needs of all stakeholders?


One solution to the first question would be to apply a PLC methodology to summative tests in order to give both a grade and forensic feedback on areas of strength and areas for development.  I have included an example of this below.

summative PLC

With regards to the second question, the honest answer is that I don’t know and I would welcome   feedback on this.  What I am absolutely sure of is that every effort should be made to shift the focus from specific grades/levels to what students can actually do and what they need to do better.

Part 2 – How do we prevent data being the catalyst for change?

Just to clarify, I am no data heathen.  I merely want to stress that we should not rely on data to set our learning and teaching priorities.  The most important data to me is the data which tells us exactly what the students within our care can and can’t do.  A school with a good grasp on this will find no surprises when it comes to analysing whole school data.

I don’t particularly like the term data as it removes the personal element from the information about the students we teach, turning individual skills and talents into numbers and graphs.

As made abundantly clear in my previous post, my biggest gripe relates to the use of summative data to inform learning and teaching actions.  That being said, how then do we ensure that there are no surprises at the data entry points throughout the year?  For me, the key is for teachers to focus on establishing a much clearer on-going picture of what exactly the students in their classes can and can’t do.

A reapportioning of time to formative assessment methods is one way to ensure that lessons are adapted regularly in order to respond to the ever-changing needs of the students.  One way of tackling this, which many schools are now utilising, is by using Personalised Learning Checklists which help to provide an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of each student.  I have included a couple of examples below, but I am keen to stress that the focus is not on what they look like or indeed how they are filled in.  The one key focus is that the information is used to inform teaching on a daily basis.

PLC example 2


PLC Example 1

PLCs in essence, are a breakdown of whole specification or individual topics into key areas or statements which are then used to assess pupil progress.  They can focus on key skills or the whole subject content but when used effectively, they give a comprehensive overview of the individual strengths and areas for development for each student.  Although the statements can be progressive and can be used to attribute a grade, the key point is to give a personalised overview of progress for each student.

So how can PLCs prevent surprises at each data point?

Using formative assessment methods to fill out the PLCs, identifies gaps at the beginning, during and towards the end of a unit allowing teachers to adapt their lessons in response to the needs of their groups.  This methodology should systematically prevent gaps from opening meaning that there should be no surprises when analysing the data at the end of a unit of learning.  Any gaps that are apparent from summative data, will already have been identified by subject teachers and work will already have begun on strategically using PLCs to modify teaching to close any such gaps.  Actions off the back of PLCs could include:

  • Interleaving weak topic as starter tasks.
  • Personalised homework tasks.
  • Lessons focused on common problem areas.
  • Communication with parents about exactly what their child can and can’t do as opposed to identifying units that they underperformed in.



PLCs can help ensure that lessons are personalised, teaching time is efficiently used and that any developing gaps are systematically closed.