A fresh look at KS3 assessment

Inspired by Lou Enstone’s  twitter thread yesterday, I thought I would have a go at putting together some thoughts about how we are changing assessment for English at KS3, working along very similar lines, and, similarly, inspired by books such as Daisy Christodoulou’s Making Good Progress.

Since the demise of APP in 2015, we had been assessing pupil progress at KS3 using a system of inhouse mastery statements which were unwieldy and cumbersome and which parents and pupils found difficult to understand, From September, each department has been asked to come up with their own assessment system at KS3: we now have total freedom to decide what this looks like as long as it can be reported numerically on a centralized datasheet. This is used in conjunction with national cohort data to provide a predicted GCSE grade. As a department, we welcomed this, particularly as it coincided with the start of a total reevaluation of our KS3 curriculum, moving from half-termly units to units that have expanded in scope and now cover a term each.

Our first task was to decide on an assessment system that:

  • Made it possible to assess whether pupils had learned what we had taught
  • Was straightforward for teachers to use
  • Made it clear to pupils how they had been assessed and what their next steps should be
  • Made it clear to parents how their child was progressing
  • Could be applied consistently across a 12-form entry year group and three-year key stage.

We created two assessment grids to start with, one for reading and one for writing. These consist of six strands each, based on the GCSE assessment objectives but broken down in a slightly different series of steps. These are used to mark extended pieces of writing and essays and generate a mark out of fifty awarded on a best fit basis.

However, we knew that in the long term, we wanted to measure what pupils had learned in a more detailed way than could be captured by the generic assessment grid. We wanted a way of assessing factual recall, information retrieval, comprehension and inference. At this point, I was working on a completely new unit for Year 7 Autumn Term, based on the Dickens novel Oliver Twist. I decided to use this unit to trial a new format for assessment. Assessment for this unit would be out of 100 marks. This would be divided among two sections. The first section consisted of three parts: multiple choice questions to test factual recall (Part A), followed by a two more parts (B and C) made up of short answer questions covering the broader range of skills. The second section was a piece of extended essay-style writing, based around what, how, why paragraphs. For this, pupils were given some scaffolding in the form of a series of prompt questions.

I devised two different versions of the new section of the test, a practice one and the real one and decided to road test the practice version on my own Year 7 class. This threw up an issue with timing, as most pupils found it impossible to complete in the allotted hour-long lesson so I adjusted it and offered it out to the rest of the department to try. Feedback was positive and we rolled it out for real at the end of term assessment. In response to concerns about workload and consistency of marking, I also added a teacher version with model answers for the short answer questions at this point.

Our next step as a department is to develop a similar approach to assessing all our KS3 units, which have started to evolve this year from six half-termly units to three termly units per year group. We are a 12-form entry school and as teachers we have got a lot of freedom of choice in the selection of texts to teach, so much careful planning is needed to ensure consistency across each year group and the Key Stage as a whole.

For those who would like to have a look at a copy of the Oliver Twist assessment, I have attached it below. Comments and suggestions would be very welcome as we go forward with our new approach.


Oliver Twist Assessment

Keeping track

I don’t know about everyone else, but Twitter sometimes seems like a vast wave sweeping over me, carrying all sorts of treasure that I snatch at but can’t hold on to. I’ve tried using likes and bookmarks to keep track of the things I want to come back to later but it never really works as I can’t organise them logically enough to find easily several months, or years, later.

As well as that, very few of my real life colleagues are on Twitter, so I need a way of sharing the wonderful things I find on here with them. Teachers on Twitter are so generous with their time and ideas and I’d love to be able to spread these as widely as possible.

With all of this in mind, I decided to spend some of my half-term expanding my blog to try to categorise the useful ideas, links and resources I’ve amassed from Twitter and elsewhere in a sensible easy-to-find format. Hopefully in time this will develop into a useful resource for other English teachers to use.

I’d be super grateful for help with this. Please suggest any links that you think I should add to the various pages on the site as well as suggesting topics for new pages.

Thanks very much



Failing better at KS3 Curriculum Design

It’s four years since the introduction of the new GCSE specification caused us to have a long hard look at what we were doing at KS3.  Looking back now, it’s pretty hard to imagine returning to some of the things we thought were appropriate at KS3 then. I remember happily spending weeks facilitating Y7 to design their own village with a theme park Hours of colouring and bubble writing overshadowed the few pieces of transactional writing – a letter of complaint, a speech, a brochure – that were supposed to be the object of the exercise. Challenging it was not.

Looking at the new GCSEs, it was obvious that radical changes needed to be made to our KS3 curriculum. We made some changes in the first year, introducing some new texts and dropping some of the most egregious offenders, but it because quickly clear that more needed to be done.

The following year, I organized an English department planning session that focused on trying to form a picture of what our ideal KS4 ready pupil would know and be able to do and then examining how to build this in to the KS3 curriculum. For this I used this excellent blog post from Rebecca Foster to provide a starting point for our thinking. Once everyone had read and discussed it, each group made notes on what they felt a KS4-ready pupil really looked like. I then typed these to provide guidance for us in updating the schemes of work. I’ve reproduced those notes below to show how we were thinking.

What does a KS4 ready pupil look like?

What do they know?

  • Knowledge of form eg poetry, plays, newspapers and genres eg comedy, tragedy
  • An overview of key cultural capital including Biblical allusions, Victorian and Elizabethan/Jacobean context, Greek and Roman mythology, Romanticism and the Age of Enlightenment
  • Definitions and application of key subject terminology – grammar, syntax, rhetoric and literary devices


What qualities do they have as a learner?

  • Takes responsibility for notes and homelearning
  • Capable of working independently
  • Capable of writing in silence for extended periods of time
  • Resilent to set backs and able to work within the ‘struggle zone’
  • Has viewpoints and is able to support, explain and discuss them
  • Takes risks and actively seeks to improve
  • Open-minded and empathetic


How can we build this into our KS3 curriculum?


Our next question was then how we could build this into our KS3 curriculum. We looked at the existing curriculum to see where we could improve the way we provided opportunities to develop KS4-ready learners. We asked ourselves a series of questins to estabilish if we were giving pupils opportunities to:

Read really worthwhile texts and build vocabulary and contextual knowledge

  • Gain exposure to a range of 19th century texts and their contexts
  • Build cultural capital vital to an understanding of 19th century texts
  • Develop a language around literature?
  • Build an extensive vocabulary?
  • Continually revisit subject terminology so it is embedded in longterm memory
  • Closely examine the literary and cultural value of texts that we choose

Establish a sophisticated writing style

  • Assemble a toolbox of analytical techniques?
  • Able to use a range of analytical verbs in their writing
  • Able to compare texts
  • Able to select and expand on suitable quotations
  • Awareness of the writer as crafter of the story

Remember and apply what they have learnt in different contexts

  • Practice memory and retrieval skills?
  • Work within the struggle zone?


At this point, we divided the department into pairs who were able to use subject coplanning time and gained time to take responsibility for a scheme of work. The following list of bullet points was agreed as a starting point for designing the SOWs.

  • Scrutiny of each text for its literary and/or cultural value
  • A minimum of 10 minutes silent writing in every lesson
  • Regular drilling on subject terminology alongside opportunities to apply it
  • Regular opportunities to memorise and retrieve key facts and quotations
  • Structured vocabulary instruction
  • Structured teaching of analytical language and sentence stems for writing
  • Opportunities to build and develop a line of argument


Going too fast, going too far

In our haste to make KSE GCSE ready we initially overegged it, going rather too far in the opposite direction and cramming our new rigorous KS3 curriculum with way too much content (and far too many assessments, but that’s another blogpost). Teachers were galloping frantically from 19th century texts to drama to poetry with no time to spare. If it’s Thursday we must be reading chapter 11 of Silas Marner. Keep up at the back. Pupils would come in and look at you suspiciously. Are we doing another assessment? We had started to lose the joy.

In the summer term (two years after the initial curriculum revamp) I had a lot of gained time which I was able to use to take another look at what we were doing. Again, a department meeting was given over to looking at what was working and what was not. Working with KS3 colleagues, I came up with a slimmed down version of the curriculum. From the new term, we will be teaching one big unit per term. Most of these are focused around one key text, although a few are focused on a theme or genre (eg Literary Villains in Y7 Term 2). Units are a mix of specified texts and teacher choice and there will be one assessment per term.

Our curriculum map now looks like this:


Term One: Oliver Twist

Term Two: Literary Villains ( teacher choice though a Shakespeare villain and a literary heritage villain must be included

Term Three: Teacher choice of novel (from a specified list) taught through the theme of Journeys.

Year 8

Term One: Teacher choice of novel (from a specified list) taught through the theme of Relationships.

Term Two: Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest

Term Three: The Gothic: teacher’s choice of texts

Year 9

Term One: Literature from outside the UK: Teacher choice of novel from a selection

Term Two: Shakespeare: Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It

Term Three: Poetry: Love, Nature and Society.


The focus on one core text or theme in each term leaves a lot of room for teachers to teach what their classes need. Resources are shared on a central drive so teachers do not need to reinvent the wheel but are free to customise and develop their schemes of work in their own way to suit their own classes. Assessments are set centrally and are sat in an hour in class time. The rest of the time we will be getting on with the job of teaching quality lessons and putting some of the joy back into English.

I’m not claiming this is the definitive version (is there ever such a thing) but I am looking forward to starting to teach it next week in a way that I simply wasn’t last year. My hope is that colleagues and pupils will feel the same way.

Ofsted: the new inspection framework

In his keynote speech at ResearchEd Durrington yesterday, Prof Daniel Muijs set out the rationale for the new Ofsted framework  and expanded on the detail of how it will work in practice. Currently in draft form, the framework will be published in May and implementation will start in September. As expected, Prof Muijs strongly underlined the key role that subject leads will play in the new inspection framework with its heavy emphasis on curriculum and reduced focus on internal data. (Though it is worth noting that he warned that the final decision on whether to take internal data into account has not yet been made.)

The accountability system has moved us away from the substance of education, Prof Mujis admitted, pointing out that overfocusing on data and teaching to the test, have particularly impacted on disadvantaged pupils. The corrective, Ofsted believes, is to put the curriculum at the heart of what matters and this is what the new inspection system is designed to achieve.

What does this mean in terms of how schools are judged?

First of all, there will be an overall judgment on quality of education that replaces the two separate categories of teaching, learning and assessment and outcomes. Alongside this sit three other categories: behaviour and attitude, personal development and leadership and management. The shift in focus from the current four categories is clear: personal development has been separated out from behaviour and attitude and linked more closely to curriculum opportunities.

This, claims  Prof Muijs, will represent the most evidence-based inspection framework ever. He outlined the process Ofsted went through to arrive at the framework, starting with a literature review that informed the development of the new criteria followed by three big research projects focusing on educational effectiveness, curriculum and observation.

Speaking about observation, he admitted that the rise of the dreaded ‘Ofsted’ lesson was an unintended negative consequence of the previous inspection framework and emphasized that inspectors would have rigorous and thorough training in the new framework to avoid a similar situation arising from the new inspection structure.

So what is the new inspection going to feel like on the ground?

Although Ofsted used 25 key curriculum indicators to work from in the initial research phase, Prof Muijs was keen to stress that these will not be used in inspections, in order to avoid creating a ticklist culture. Inspectors are to be thoroughly trained in the research base behind the new model so that they understand why as well as what they are looking for. An ambitious curriculum that focuses on depth of knowledge, strong subject knowledge among subject leaders, effective curriculum planning and ensuring that all pupils can access the curriculum are the key factors for schools to focus on.

After extensive testing of different models of lesson observation and work scrutiny, the new model of observation will be unveiled next month.  Prof Muijs emphasized Ofsted’s recognition that context is vital and that it is impossible to come to a judgement about a lesson without speaking to the teacher about their intention. He also confirmed that lessons would not be considered in isolation, but as part of a sequence and that there would be no return to the grading of individual lessons.

One much discussed aspect of the new framework is the pivotal role that work scrutinies will play in the judgement of quality of education. Prof Muijs explained how pupil books would be used to help come to a judgment of how the curriculum is enacted in practice as evidence of what pupils are learning and not, he insisted, to look at progress made by individual children. Book looks will be contextualized through conversations with pupils, teachers and subject leads and not examined in isolation and the focus will be on evidence about how the curriculum is being delivered.

Book scrutinies will form a crucial part of the socalled ‘deep dive’ approach to inspection, which will see inspectors focusing on between three and six subjects in detail, starting with indepth conversations with subject leads about curriculum before looking at four to five lessons to see its implementations and then speaking to pupils and teachers in a process of triangulation. Although it has been widely reported that Ofsted will no longer be looking at internal data, Prof Muijs emphasized that that decision has not yet been made. However, he reaffirmed that looking at pupils’ work will not be used to judge internal progress because of the unintended consequences that has had. Instead, he said, progression should be built into the curriculum model and the books should show evidence that the curriculum is being followed.

Overall, it was a fascinating and very encouraging insight into the detail behind the development of the new framework.

One school’s experience of whole class feedback

With all the discussion about Whole Class Feedback happening on Twitter at the moment, I thought it might be useful to share my reflections on how it has been adopted in my own school over the past year.

Towards the end of the 2016-2017 academic year, I was asked, along with a colleague, to take on some responsibility for delivering whole-school CPD. As I had had some input into designing our new whole school assessment policy, I was requested to deliver a session on marking and feedback on the first inset day back in September 2017. Our new assessment policy is fairly non-prescriptive, outlining the general principles under which departments then develop their own policies, so the idea was that this session would then lead into some department time to be used for looking at how individual departments could make best use of marking and feedback in their own subjects.

I had come across Greg Thornton’s work on Whole Class Feedback (WCF) during the year and had started trialling it with my own classes. I decided to make it the basis of my session and ask departments to consider if and how it might work for them as part of their overall marking and feedback strategy. One important factor to consider was workload, and I opened the session with an extract from Rebecca Foster’s powerful blog on feedback and teacher well-being.

“Teachers are drowning in a sea of marking. At the start of term we dip our toes into the sea of marking (got to test the temperature) and before we know it our feet have been pulled out from under us by an undercurrent we didn’t see coming. Midway through the term we’ve lost sight of land and when the holidays hit we use that time to wade our way back to shore.”

It was pretty clear that this resonated with pretty much all of us. I used the session to explain the general idea behind whole class feedback with the aid of an excellent summary sheet from Greg Thornton (see further reading, below) and shared examples found on Twitter from a range of subjects, as well as from my own classes, to show how it can work in practice. Staff then went off and discussed in their departments whether this approach to feedback might have any value to them. There was absolutely no obligation on anyone to change their marking practices, if they didn’t feel WCF would be of benefit to them personally.

Following this session, I received a series of emails from departments feeding back on their discussion and attaching versions of the original crib sheet that they had adapted for their own departments. I collated this feedback and circulated it to staff. Five departments – English, History, MFL, PE and Politics – were very enthusiastic about WCF and keen to trial it, while two – Science and Geography – had already put different workload-reducing assessment systems into place which they also shared. Individual members of staff also began to email me with comments and feedback. One teacher wrote:

“I used your idea to mark my books today and it saved me about 3 hours! I also think the pupils will get better feedback as they will learn from each other. Now I have done it once, I think I can improve by being a bit more specific at times.”

A comment from another teacher supported this:

“The crib sheets are amazing and thank you so much for sharing this with the school during the inset last week. I found it so helpful to mark and comment on one sheet. I think the resulting dirt time and feedback session will be far more productive! Also I found the whole process very quick. I have a record of things which I can keep for reference.”

After circulating all this feedback, I did nothing specifically to encourage the use of WCF within the school, apart from responding to a few members of staff who asked for further information. I was aware though, that a large number of my English department colleagues were using WCF, adapting the crib sheets to suit their own needs, and conversations with colleagues in other departments suggested the same was happening elsewhere. My pupils were also telling me that they were been given feedback that way in other subjects, and they liked the straightforwardness and consistency of it. They also love the praise box that many of us include on our sheets!

Finally, last week, a year on from the initial WCF session, I circulated a short Google form to teaching staff asking them to share their experience of WCF during the year. I was interested to find out who was still using it and how useful it had proved over the year. I was also interested in getting feedback from those who not tried it, or who had tried and dropped it. 51 teachers responded to the survey, including some who had joined the school since the original session.

There was a fairly even spread of departments, with 8 each from English and Science, 9 from Maths and 5 from MFL and between one and three from most other subjects.

The first question asked people to describe their experience of whole class marking and, as can be seen from the chart below, almost 40% (20 teachers) were using it regularly while the same number said they were using it sometimes and would like to use it more.

exp of wcf

Of the 40 respondents who used WCF, the following chart shows what they feel its advantages are. 32 teachers pointed to a significant reduction in marking time, while 30 felt it allowed them to get a better understanding of what pupils know. 25 believed it gave pupils a better understanding of what their next steps in learning should be and 22 found it a helpful way of planning DIRT tasks. A few colleagues also added their own reasons – mainly referring to specific tasks for which they found it useful.

use of wcf

A further question asked about reasons for not using WCF and 13 colleagues replied to this. I had offered a range of options and, as with the previous question, also gave the option of adding a reason of their own. The results were as follows, with over half saying that they don’t know what it is or don’t know enough about it. For those who did not find it useful, one of the main reasons was that their subject did not lend itself to that type of feedback.

nonuse of wcf

I will continue to use WCF with my classes and so, it appears, will many of my colleagues. It is not a panacea, and it is not going to work for every teacher, every subject or every piece of work, but, when that undercurrent of marking is sweeping us off our feet, it can be a really efficient way of delivering timely, targeted feedback that pupils can act upon.


 Further reading

Foster, Rebecca,  On Valuable Feedback that supports teacher wellbeing https://thelearningprofession.com/2017/03/30/on-valuable-feedback-that-supports-teacher-wellbeing/

Foster, Rebecca,  On Written Feedback being a fever https://thelearningprofession.com/2017/08/03/on-written-feedback-being-a-fever/

Thornton, Greg, Whole Class Feedback Handout https://mrthorntonteach.com/2017/09/10/whole-class-feedback-crib-sheet-handout/


The reason why

It’s the end of May. GCSEs are already underway and I’m a nervous wreck. Have I prepared my pupils well enough? Have they been doing the revision I set? Did I cover all the themes and characters properly? Can everyone write a PEAL paragraph in exactly 10 minutes? Will they be OK? Have I let them down? I put on pre-exam breakfasts and afterschool revision sessions. I hand out pens and last minute notes and little good luck charms. I feel like a mother of thirty.

Then, in ones and twos, they come nervously into my classroom proffering envelopes and little packages. Some of them hug me. Some of them rush away quickly before I can say thank you. I open the envelopes and I cry.

Thank you so much for being such an amazing and helpful teacher.

Thank you for everything you have done for our class.

My confidence in myself had plummeted massively, but with your words of encouragement I picked myself up.

You got me obsessed with The History Boys!

Thank you for two wonderful years of English! They’ve been great!

Thank you for being a brilliant English teacher who always tried to make your lessons fun and enjoyable.

Thank you so much for everything you have done for us over the last two years. You’ve been amazing!

You’re a bit nutty but we love you!

Up and down the country, I know many teachers will have received similar cards and, like me, shed a quiet tear or two over them. I think it’s important, today, as we wait for those results to remember what we did it for. Not for numbers, not for grades, but to share our knowledge and enjoyment of our subjects with a new generation. What makes me proud when I read those cards, is the fact that despite the pressures of covering a new curriculum, despite my stresses and worries as I tried to prepare my pupils for a brand new exam specification, we managed to keep that enjoyment of our subject at the forefront of what we were doing. So much of my own satisfaction over the past two years came from watching those pupils develop from children into confident young men and women who will meet life’s challenges and overcome them.

So I just wanted to say thank you too, 11BW. You were the best! I learned as much from you as you did from me and I want to thank you for making me laugh very, very often, for making me tear my hair out on occasion and every single day for making me want to be the teacher you deserve. I didn’t always make it, but you were a tolerant, forgiving bunch and I know that tomorrow, whatever happens, you will meet the future with resilience and confidence. I’m looking forward to being there with you in the morning as we finally achieve #squadgoals2017!

Notes from ResearchEd English and MFL April 1 2017


I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Research Ed English and MFL conference yesterday. My main focus for the day was to improve my knowledge of how to use research effectively not only to enhance my own teaching but also to help me in the task of improving the design of the KS3 English curriculum at my school.

In terms of an overview of how and why to use research, I found the session on the English Teacher as Research Lead extremely valuable. This session focused around the issue of how and why to turn knowledge into action. Dr Gary Jones introduced us to the concept of the ‘knowledge mobiliser’ the person whose function is to turn knowledge into action and summarized some very useful research by Vicky Ward (Ward, 2016) into how to turn knowledge into action. This session provided some really useful pointers for clarifying my thinking about prioritizing our needs in developing our new KS3 curriculum.

Gary also discussed the Teacher Development Trust report on Developing Great Teaching (Higgins et al, 2015) which examines the evidence on what makes effective CPD and provides detailed advice on what schools need to consider when planning for effectiveness. He helpfully summarized this as ‘bake it in, don’t bolt it on’: effective CPD focuses on the two or three things that matter, needs to be sustained over time (a minimum of two terms) and, crucially you need to identify the things you will stop doing.

I found Gary’s session really helpful as a framework to help process the messages for the rest of the sessions I attended. As head of learning and research at Wellington College, Carl Hendrick is doing the job outlined by Gary Jones, and amid a scathing takedown of enquiry-based teaching methods in English, illustrated by hilarious tales of his hapless experiments with ‘engaging’ lessons at the start of this career (step away from the sugar paper) the serious takeaway from his session was around using direct instruction to reduce the cognitive load on pupils. A short passage from Jekyll and Hyde provided ample evidence that the ‘turn to your partner and discuss for five minutes’ strategy is supremely unhelpful in unpicking complex texts and this was underlined by a quotation from Sweller ‘If the learner has no concepts in long-term memory the only thing left to do is to blindly search for solutions’.  I walked away from this session with a reading list that will keep me going for quite some time, bolstered by Carl’s parting message that as teachers it is unquestionably better to spend more time reading the good-quality research that is already out there and less time trying to do our own.

Amy Forrester’s session provided an example of how to use research to develop classroom-based teaching strategies that really work. Like so many of us, her KS4 classes were struggling to memorise quotations from their literature texts. Using research on the benefits of retrieval practice (Karpicke et al, 2016) she designed a series of highly-structured tasks that pupils did over an 8-week period. Measuring the number and variety of quotations that pupils were able to use in assessments before and after the 8-week period produced some really impressive results. This session was really helpful for me, because while I was aware of the research and have been, I thought, using it, via adapting Rebecca Foster’s Five a Day starters for my classes, Amy’s adaptation of the concept was so much more rigorous, structured and measurable that it has given me a much clearer roadmap to follow for embedding retrieval practice into my lessons.

Another great session came courtesy of Lyndsey Caldwell, Faculty Leader for English at the Cherwell School, who outlined how she has transformed the English curriculum there. Using the example of the play pump (info here http://objectsindevelopment.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/10-problems-with-the-PlayPump.pdf ) she pointed out the not uncommon problem within English departments of adopting well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective approaches to teaching and learning. At Cherwell School, three underlying principles have shaped Lyndsey’s approach to the English curriculum: Prioritise Knowledge, Crafted Direct Instruction and Standardised Formative Assessment. She referenced (as did Carl Hendrick) two major findings from Rob Coe’s Sutton Trust report, What Makes Great Teaching (Coe, 2014): Pedagogical Content Knowledge and Quality of Instruction as the guiding principles of her work.

Lyndsey put forward an impressive and impassioned case for explicitly building vocabulary in a very structured way from the very beginning of KS3. Again, the importance of using word lists and knowledge organisers to agree and explicitly teach the most important information for each unit of work was stressed. Another fascinating idea for me, was  Cherwell’s practice of storing direct instruction lessons on Youtube to enable pupils who have missed out on learning to catch up. Drawing on the work of Hirsch, Lyndsey also stressed the way in which Cherwell have enriched the cultural value of the texts studied while reducing the content of the curriculum and eliminating poor-quality and low-value tasks.

Vocabulary instruction was also a theme in the highly enjoyable session from Arlene Holmes-Henderson on research by the Classics in Communities project into introducing Latin in schools. She made a persuasive case for using Latin lessons to help close the attainment gap through its impact on literacy development in low-attaining primary pupils and shared some impressive-looking data from primary schools in a number of areas including Solihull. I have some personal experience of this from having run a primary school Latin club as an enrichment activity and Arlene’s session has refired my enthusiasm for reintroducing this as an enrichment activity for Year 7. Arlene also helpfully pointed out that the organisation Classic for All  provides grants to schools to purchase textbooks.

Many thanks to all of the speakers and especially to Tom Bennett for organizing it and providing the stand-up comedy. In his opening address he promised a day of ‘all killer, no filler’ and he totally delivered. Research Ed rocks and that’s even without the amazing bonus of meeting all the fab Team English peeps I have followed on Twitter for so long. Roll on the next one, but meantime I have plenty to keep me busy.


Coe, 2014, What Makes Great Teaching, Sutton Trust http://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/What-Makes-Great-Teaching-REPORT.pdf

Higgins et al, Developing Great Teaching, 2015, Teacher Development Trust, http://tdtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/DGT-Full-report.pdf


Karpicke et al, 2016, Retrieval-Based Learning: Positive Effects of Retrieval Practice in Elementary School Children, Frontiers in Psychology, http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00350/full


Ward, V, 2016, Why, whose, what and how: a framework for knowledge mobilisers http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tpp/ep/pre-prints/content-pp_evidpol-d-15-00047r2;jsessionid=57do5cip1ni5u.x-ic-live-02

Three gifts from Team English

With only a few weeks to go until the new GCSE curriculum is put to the test, I thought this would be a good time to reflect on what my teaching has gained from three brilliant ideas I picked up from other members of Team English and have put into practice in my classroom. My grateful thanks to, among many others, Andy Tharby, Rebecca Foster and Joe Kirby from whom I magpied the ideas.

Analytical writing

It was clear to me from very early on that, given the time constraints of the exams, being able to form beautiful – and meaningful – sentences under pressure would be a key challenge for this cohort. I had spent quite a bit of time poring over Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison’s book Making Every Lesson Count and I was eager to try out Andy’s resource 16 analytical sentences which I felt had a lot of potential to help pupils develop a framework to express their ideas. I duly laminated 30 copies and put them with a selection of other resources on the help bar on my classroom windowsill.

Starting off with my current Y11, I modelled using these sentences to create topic sentences for literature paper questions and encouraged pupils to use them as much as possible when drafting exam-style answers. The improvement in some pupils’s work really began to show when they had memorised a few of the sentence structures. At this point they started to use them naturally in their writing and the effect was particularly noticeable in the mock exams:  the two most improved pupils in the class were those who made the most use of the sentences to help them frame their ideas about texts. I now  use this resources with all my classes  when teaching analytical writing. Below are some samples of work from a recent Year 9 essay on the novel Things Fall Apart.example 1 example 2 example 3

My fear was that using a resource like this might be too prescriptive and overly scaffold pupils’ responses, but I think it has had the opposite effect, as it has allowed them a framework within which to develop their thoughts, leading to more considered and reflective comments about the text.

One important thing I did learn was that, to get the best out of this resource, it is important to model using the sentences to construct an analytical paragraph before letting them loose with the hand outs.


Starters for Five

Many thanks to @TLPMrsF for this one. Again, I had been reading around the idea of memory and retrieval and wondering how I should go about building memory platforms into my KS4 lessons. I happened on Rebecca’s 5 a day starters and decided to open each KS4 lesson with five questions on a Powerpoint slide that mixed up current and previous topics. It took a few reiterations of the thinking behind it for pupils to understand the purpose of these, but they have grown to enjoy testing their knowledge against them and it has definitely had an impact not only on memory but also on their ability to see thematic links between the various texts. I’ve linked to one here  as an example. The beauty of this is that they only take a few minutes each week to create and are infinitely reusable, particularly if you mix them up and retest every couple of weeks.


Knowledge Organisers

Obviously, these have been extensively discussed on Twitter but it was @joe­_kirby with  this blog post that first drew my attention to their potential in distilling the key knowledge required for a topic or text. I made some of my own, borrowed and adapted some from the collection curated by @jamestheo  and my classroom windowsill is now home to a wide array of class sets of laminated organisers to be handed out for a quick memorise and recall starter or to help with planning and writing essays. Next year, I plan to issue personal copies to pupils at the beginning of each unit, as Michaela does, and set learning from them as homework to be tested in class.


These are just three of the things I have put into practice this year that I probably wouldn’t know about were it not for Twitter and #TeamEnglish. Thank you all for creating such an amazing community.

The Power of Mr Bruff’s Rap


With only six weeks of teaching left before the exams, my pupils are beginning to worry about memorising quotations. I started off the year with a somewhat aspirational post on our class website asking them to commit 10 minutes a day to memorising key quotations and suggesting various ways they could do that. We have created class sets of quotations on Quizlet and I have been doing five a day memory starters all year, testing them on quotations from all of our class texts. I have shared various revision strategies over the course of the year and talked quite a bit to them about the various things I have been learning about the science behind learning and memory. In fact, I was beginning to feel a bit smug.

However, I recently realized that despite all of this, not all of my class are yet confident in remembering a wide range of quotations, while for a few panic is beginning to set in. Enter stage left the hero of the hour, Mr Bruff and his Power and Conflict rap. For those who haven’t heard it yet, he has taken one key line from each of the anthology poems and fused them into an annoyingly catchy song which I shared with my class last Friday afternoon. I started the lesson by giving them a handout with the lines on made by the colleague who had originally alerted me to the rap and asking them to name the poems they come from.

I then played the rap, but the class was reluctant to join in, although they very much enjoyed the spectacle of me gyrating like a crazy person at the front of the room trying to drum up some audience response. When I then put them into groups and asked them to create their own memorisable poems using one line from each of the anthology poems, they set to enthusiastically and came up with some clever amalgamations.

This didn’t solve the problem though. How are they going to remember the poems in the panic of the exam hall? As I have explained to them, we can’t afford to spend a lot of class time on this. I decided to revisit the rap yesterday and see how much they could remember. This time I asked them to take their handouts out and spend three minutes memorizing two quotations. I asked them what strategies they were going to use? A surprising number couldn’t think of any, even though I think I have given them quite frequent updates on effective memorisation techniques. I suggested a strategy – look, cover, write, check. When the three minutes was up, I initiated an I say – You say –­ call and response session, where I called out the name of the poem and the class had to respond with the line. Once I had run through all 15 lines they were keen to try it along with the video and this time I wasn’t rapping on my own!

I followed this up by having them take out their anthologies and with the help of Mr Bruff’s accompanying 15 minute analysis video they speed annotated half the lines (I’m saving the other half for next Friday) with his ideas. Then I asked them to choose two of the lines and create an exam style question linking them together using a theme map. They finished by planning an answer to the question before going into a silent 10-minute write to produce a detailed analytical paragraph comparing the two quotations.

Next week we will repeat a similar exercise with the rest of the quotations. In the interim, I plan to use  I say – You say as I take the register each lesson to make sure they really know the lines.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that learning one line from each poem is going to be sufficient to see my pupils through the poetry section of the exam. They clearly need to memorise a range of key quotations, and most of them have quite a few at their fingertips. But we all know that panic breeds amnesia and in the stressful situation of a large exam hall, I am hoping that Mr Bruff’s catchy beat will ensure that at the very least all of my pupils have one quotation from every poem at their disposal – and even more crucially that they have practiced creating an analytical paragraph around it.





Eye Of The Tiger

Predictably, yesterday’s book launch at Michaela School has generated much more heat than light on the corner of the Twitterverse reserved for the educaterati. I have to admit that when Michaela first launched, I was extremely sceptical about its ideology and loath to accord it any credibility. However, gradually my views began to change. Seeing Jo Facer speak with authority about the Michaela take on teaching reading  at ResearchEd Swindon last year prompted me to follow her blog and those of other Michaela teachers. And I liked what I read on a practical level, even when it conflicted with my views about how teaching ‘ought’ to be. I started to question to what extent I might inadvertently be practicing ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’ to quote He Who Must Not Be Named. Obviously, I’m not ever going to go so far as to suggest that Gove had a point, but equally I started to feel that I couldn’t let ideology stand in the way of figuring out what works best for pupils.

Then, this year I read Reading Reconsidered. Here was Doug Lemov promoting a rigorous approach to close reading that resonated with me and looked very similar to the methods advocated by Michaela. I started cutting down the time spent on fancy powerpoints and putting it into planning detailed sequences questions on the texts we were studying in class. Group work features less in my lessons now and I question more deeply and thoroughly. The texts I choose for my pupils are more difficult – and richer in meaning – than before.  Am I going over to the dark side? At least, I am going over to the idea that there is no dark side. When I saw the Tiger Teacher launch promoted on Twitter I signed up. Out of curiosity of course.

Because, here’s the thing. Like every teacher I know, I want the best for my pupils. If you believe (and anyone who saw the passionate conviction of the Michaela teachers yesterday couldn’t doubt for a moment) that Michaela really thinks that they are making a difference to the life chances of the pupils in their care, then why wouldn’t you want to find out what they are doing and how it works, and if it might just possibly work for your pupils too? Why would you allow your ideological convictions to get in the way of improving the outcomes of the children you educate on the basis of a couple of Twitter spats and some ill-informed comments? We are professionals after all; surely we want to weigh up the evidence before we come to judgement?

So here are my takeaways from yesterday. Yes, the behaviour system sounds extreme, but it is coming from a place of care and love – that was really clear. The philosophy behind it was well thought through and aims to give pupils the tools to grow emotionally as well as intellectually.  Every teacher I met was passionate about social justice and positively evangelical about their mission to equip pupils to succeed and excel in the world beyond school.

It is early days, but I am willing to bet that come 2019 their GCSE results will be spectacular. And I will be delighted for them. Because, hopefully, as a result of what I learned yesterday, my own pupils will have benefited too.