Guest Post – Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

This guest post comes from Emma Currie, a tutor mentor who writes about her recent completion of an online course via Future Learn.

After recently completing ‘Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People’ (accredited by the University of Reading) I was very impressed by the content and informal assessment strategies, even more so when trialing some of the approaches with my students.

Firstly the exploration of different perspectives; a young person; the parents and those working with young people; gave good advice, prompts and direct questions to use in certain situations to encourage teenagers to talk to someone about their thoughts to ensure their safety.

Suggestions on how to approach the topic of low mood and self harm with a young person in a non judgmental but supportive manner resonated with me as it is something I feel I am coming across more and more within my role.  

Discussion around the connection of low mood, depression and self harm offered  ways and questioning techniques to help better understand self harm. By thinking about:

  • What are the triggers?
  • How does it help with things – e.g does it stop overwhelming thoughts, or block out painful emotions?
  • Are there any situations or people which help you not to self-harm?

The course also examined other strategies which could also lead to considering alternative coping mechanisms.

Finally, the links between depression, low mood, sleep and healthy eating were reviewed offering ways to identify a repeating cycle in order to alter the thought processes and ultimately break the chain of events.  

The course reminds us that we aren’t alone in our struggles and offers many sign posted to specific organisations and charities for help and further information.

I have been a Tutor Mentor at the college since the role was created, I have attended various training events and completed a number of courses that focus on depression and low mood. When given the opportunity to engage in this course online I jumped at the chance, as a way to enhance my understanding and new ways of thinking. I have been working with a young person that is struggling with sleep and I tried a new approach (questioning) as suggested on the course and I was so impressed with how the conversation opened up. I feel the information shared is something I can embed greatly into my role, making me more effective.

I cannot recommend this course enough. It is well worth the time spent.

Guest Blog – What good schools know and do

Monday 6 November 2017 and John Hattie was going to be in Sheffield. It would be an opportunity to meet the man himself. Unfortunately (or perhaps not so unfortunately), I would be enjoying the sun in Lanzarote, but I wanted a colleague to benefit from the opportunity. A prize draw took place and the lucky winners were notified.

What follows are notes taken by Matt Cannon, Science teacher, and a colleague he met at the conference on the day. There will be some questions to reflect upon and notions to consider against your own practice. The hope is that it will challenge existing thinking and the questions might prove productive, alongside some supporting reading or resources, for a team meeting or similar.

The importance of Impact

How teachers teach is irrelevant. We should only care about the impact.

Be cautious about staff who say ‘I’m this kind of teacher’, as we can’t guarantee ‘that kind of learner.’

We are evaluators – How do I know that what I am doing is working? What am I comparing it to? What value/impact am I having? If it’s not working how do we provide reliable evidence and support to encourage staff to change?  


We don’t engage children to learn. When children learn they become engaged.

Small vs Large Classes

When we look at staffing groups do we consider who is effective with large / small classes? Do the skills for effective delivery to large and small classes differ? Evidence shows that smaller classes teach more. What are teachers doing differently in smaller classes than larger classes?

Growth Mindset

Growth mindset ONLY has impact when students are in a position of struggle. Only then is it better than a fixed mindset. This is about student confidence, and resilience.


Time doesn’t matter (5 or 30 mins). The worst homework is a project as it’s ineffective and relies on parental engagement (still applicable to older or adult learners?). Homework to practice what they’ve already learned is good. Assessment of homework is vital for it to have impact on learning.

School Leadership

Instructional leadership approaches are more effective than transformational leadership.


Self-verbalisation, peer tutoring and peer influences are especially significant where deep learning is concerned. Against such high impact strategies, on average, teachers talk 87% of the time in class. (esp on deep learning)

Most questions asked in class, staff and students know the answer to and they require less than 1 second of thinking and therefore level of challenge is not high.

Student Questioning

How many questions about the work do students ask that they don’t know the answer to? On average = 2.

Goal Difficulty

Students will invest heavily in challenging goals (as long as they’re not too hard) if it’s engaging. Learning Objectives without success criteria are pointless. Learning Objectives should be linked closely to success criteria. Success criteria should be the same for all – it is just how individuals get there and the time taken to get there will differ. It’s important that the destination is the same. The other vital aspect of success criteria is that they’re centred around what learning will take place, rather than what products will be created.

Classroom Discussions

These are important for a teacher judging their impact as it’s where we hear it articulated.

Learning and Failure

How do we get students to see that when they get things wrong they are moving in the right direction?

How do we allow children to fail?


This is not about how we deliver it but it’s about teachers better understanding the impact they have on their students. Building a coalition of trust and success around teachers is important.

Successful teachers see learning through the eyes of the student. Successful students see themselves as their own teachers. Students can do this at age 5 but lose the ability by the age of 8.


When students are faced with a problem we need to consider :

  • How they can manage their emotional response
  • How they find a starting point
  • Students need to consider their approach – mathematical, drawing, guess and check
  • Students need to remember their strategy
  • Good teachers will apply that strategy to new problems

**When students find a successful process, how do we explicitly link the process to new problems?

What strategies do we deliberately teach our students?

  • What do students do before / during / after when posed with a problem or task?
  • How does this fit in teaching across subjects?
  • How do we develop mindset in students where pupils actively seek feedback and set own success criteria?
  • What is the link to aspiration?
  • How do we capture students individual learning intention and feedback against that?
  • Do staff model effective use of different strategies?
  • Do staff ensure students have opportunities to use different strategies?
  • Use instructional goals and feedback – not for students to monitor and plan their own learning – they need guidance.
  • Do staff provide opportunities for self evaluation?

**3-5 years to change the culture of a school

Student Voice – Craig Parkinson

Treasure Hunt not witch hunt. 

Trust and not accountability for what students say 

Why do it?

  • Evidence of impact
  • Development
  • Staff have to be prepared to fail (hear criticism)
  • Feedback to staff needs to happen, be honest, supportive for change, impact monitored.
  • How does student voice increase effectiveness of teaching and learning?
  • What tools can we use to capture student voice(SV)?
  •  Is SV primarily to gather good impact? How effective is it for change? Do we triangulate SV with walkthroughs, obs…? What do we then do about it? Where does SV sit in Quality Assurance(QA)? Does it confirm / add to big picture or do we use it to guide the QA? Does SLT ask why certain students have been selected and what questions are being asked?
  • Do students verbalise what they are doing or what they are learning?
  • What is the language of learning we use as staff?
  • Do we (SLT) discuss SV and then summarise this into 4 key actions points to feed back to staff?

Open questions 

What do you want to thank your teachers for?

What would you ask your teachers to change?

Collective Efficacy


Image available from here

A shared understanding and ethos. Staff believe that through their collective actions they can positively influence outcomes for students.

1) My job is to cause learning. I change students.  

Student control over learning has limited impact unless the teacher guides and acts as the control / expert.

Staff to take credit when progress is good – they caused that learning.

2) The role of expectations 

I explicitly inform students what successful impact looks like from the onset.

Student expectations are more powerful than teacher expectations.

The teacher’s job is to check expectations and help children exceed their expectations.

3) I am an evaluator of my impact 

Evaluation of impact of T&L – Who did I affect, about what, how much?

80% of what goes on in a classroom is unseen/unheard so make sure to evaluate the 20%

Every child deserves to make at least 1 year progress in 1 year.

4) Progress to proficiency  

How do we get to top right? How do we stay in top right?

If you plotted your students on this chart, how could it help you to better support students?

Biggest issue for progress are those students who are above average but cruising!


Image available from here

5) Evaluative thinking  

Not what teachers do, it’s how teachers think.

I skills

  • Is self-aware
  • Is a learner
  • Can manage conflict through collaborative sense making
  • Demonstrates social sensibility

We skills

  • Collective efficacy
  • Shared purpose to improve
  • Problem solving
  • Trust
  • Strength Based

Social sensitivity is crucial – opportunities to discuss learning not what is being taught; shared across departments and visiting other schools.

Need collective motivators – positive, credible feedback

6) impact  

How do we measure a year’s impact. What does it look like?

What are the early indicators that progress is not being made – these observations should lead to intervention

7) Teachers are to DIiE for 





Do teachers have a common concept of progress?

8) School leaders  

They construct a narrative around impact

They build trust

They move from ‘plans and good plans’ to ‘purposeful practice for all’

They ensure all are involved

They share joint ownership of all students and all successes as a result of the above actions and activity

Key Messages

Visible learners

Inspired and passionate teachers

Know the impact


Children just want to know, ‘Where to next?’

Guest Blog – A Day Out at Google HQ

This guest blog comes from Nick Hart, a Lecturer in Engineering at The Sheffield College. He and colleagues have recently made the move to Google Classroom and so we funded his trip to an event that might provide further inspiration. Turns out, it did.


Ok so thoughts on Google…

Incredible, mind blowing, inspirational, endless possibilities, potential are all words I would use as an educator for the Google family of software.

As a dad and a human the word I would use is scary!

But with my educator hat on I have to think about the time we could save, the efficiency we could build into our working life, and the positive effect we could have on our students’ experience here at College.

In no particular order:



A fantastic way of collating information from different sources. I could see this being a great way of doing all of the following-

  • A plenary. Exit ticket.
  • ‘What a good one looks like’ (WAGOLL) activities for students to respond to
  • The forms could though be used by our technical assessor facilitators to create a record of industrial visits/work completed by student/evidence of knowledge. The information could then be collated through an extension called Autocrat and put into a Google Doc or PDF for a neat and tidy record.



Mind blowing…

Geo charts is a way of evidencing data captured as a heat map (on a map). This can then be linked to a presentation file and remain live and linked.

Something called sparkline which gives a really quick idea of what a graph would look like for one line of data.

Sheets is a spreadsheet with all the functionality of a normal spreadsheet. It will also answer questions which are worded rather than a formula. The Explore button, bottom right, will allow the user to interrogate the data with a written question.

There was mention of a couple of add-ons which I haven’t yet had chance to play with. Goobric and Doctopus both are aimed at automating marking.


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The use of the explore button was explained here and the link with creating citations which Kieran Briggs had already shown me. The students love it by the way.

If you use tools – document outline it will create an automatic heading menu.

One that I really like and is connected to the comments is the ability to download the document as a webpage. This then includes the comments and links the comments to the text written by the student. This could be useful for when we have an external verifier who can’t use Google (heaven forbid!).


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The presenting part of the Google suite (that’s what they call it). It is really making sense to switch for me, it’s just the time factor converting everything. A couple of things that I liked were:

  • The link with keep, you can include keep notes in slides and then present them within a presentation. If you change them in keep then they change in slides too.
  • You can insert a YouTube video into a slides presentation and trim the length of the video, change the start or the end point of it.


There were a few fun bits too


  • Google trends – if you search Google trends visualiser it makes a really good starter for classes.
  • My maps – again could be a starter or an ice breaker. (also great for the geography department!)
  • Be internet awesome – brilliant for younger people or people with younger minds for teaching internet safety.
  • The teachable machine – making geeks out of normal people with a camera.
  • Reverse image search, drag an image into google image search and it’ll tell you anything about it. (not people, although I’m sure it’ll do that as well).
  • Google earth time lapse – clue’s in the name.
  • Set timer for – if you type ‘set timer for’ into Google in the chrome browser, it’s an automatic timer.
  • Type in ‘fun facts’ and you get fun facts, which then allow you to talk about them in class. (‘I’m feeling curious’ will do something similar).


Really important bits –


Image available from here

Equatio – it’s an extension which I have nearly got working perfectly in class. You can write an equation in and it will convert it to text which can then be inserted into a doc. I have had a maths teacher using it today and he thought it brilliant and would save him hours preparing documents and resources.

I would also like to use it for mathematical assignments, in conjunction with a chrome book and a tablet (not an iPad type thing but a graphical input), the students could then work on their own document live and write in the text. Equatio then converts it into the document and you then have an auditible trail of evidence.

Realtime board – essentially an infinite white board. This could be superb as you could do a years work on one white board and then frame each sessions writing and be able to refer back to it later in the year. Jamboard, an expensive and small white board. Not for me, the software though could be even better than realtime board and can do handwriting recognition. But it’s the collaboration which may be better.

Forms were being used for all sorts of applications but exit tickets were high on the list as I mentioned before.


An Experiment within an Experiment, Informed by Evidence within Evidence #CPDinFE

The feeling I experience at this moment in time will be familiar to many an educator. It is the end of the first half-term of the academic year. For an educator in a Further Education College, this means that most staff have been in College since the end of August. Our half-term is a week later than seemingly everyone else in the country and so this makes it at least 10 weeks since the start of term (closer to 12 weeks for many, including me). That’s a long slog when it’s involved new classes, timetable clashes, fresh faces and names to learn, room changes, new syllabi, as well as the usual high levels of decision making, pace of activity and load of teaching in a normal week.

It would seem that I have enough left in my batteries to eek out a short (actually not so short now I’ve written it!) review of the very first day of our exciting #CPDinFE project as I feel the need to consider, reflect and contemplate before true rest and relaxation can take place.

The day’s activities began with me asking participants to answer the question,

‘What challenges are your students experiencing with their learning?’

We had purposely framed the question in this way so that students would be at the forefront of practitioners’ minds and therefore the shaping of their projects throughout the day. Beyond the numerous external factors, some themes emerged –

  • Independence
  • Study Skills
  • Literacy skills
  • Challenging behaviour
  • Confidence

I’d like to explore these challenges in greater detail and see what other themes could be pulled from them. It was soon clear that many of the challenges listed were either structural, procedural , or related to the practice of the teacher rather than the learning of the student. I wonder that if we ran the same activity at the end of the project, the responses would be the same. I’d hope not. My hope is that we’d see practitioners even more in touch, at a deep level, with the challenges their students face in their learning.

This activity, after hopes and expectations were shared, gave us a platform for Tom Sherrington to introduce the five approaches participants would choose from. His input, and indeed input from Joss and I in the afternoon would focus on ‘effective practice’. Teachers make so many decisions and have so many aspects of practice to consider that this project would provide the space and permission to focus on a single aspect and practise it deliberatel, as well as measure its impact on learning. Phil Stock‘s latest post about why we need to resist the urge to implement all that is new fits incredibly well with our aims.

Tom began his introduction to the five approaches with – 

Retrieval Practice and Knowledge Organisers

He began by asking, ‘What is Learning?’ He shared that it was something you do in the long-term. He could teach us how to tie a knot today. We could follow his instructions and do it there and then. That’s performing only. He can see us doing it but it doesn’t mean we’ve LEARNED it.

When he referenced a chapter of Daniel Willingham‘s book titled ‘Why do students forget everything I say?’  there was a murmur of recognition around the room so palpable I could almost hear their eyes roll back in their sockets as smirks spread across their faces.

We need to develop the skill in our students to process knowledge from their long-term memory into their working memory. There’s limited capacity in our short-term memory and so what works its way quickly into our long-term memory needs to be secured with clear links and connections so that it can be retrieved when needed rather than left to fade altogether. I need to read much more on this to understand it a deeper level as it’s a complex process that would be valuable to understand better. The odd blog or tweet just won’t achieve that.

We need to plan, not just for our input (in fact, we spend far too long planning that), but on our students’ learning – leaving time for them to forget and recall until they can retrieve knowledge quickly and easily. This might seem as though we’re planning solely for knowledge; prioritising rote learning but in fact, we’re preparing our students for problem solving in the future. 

Tom gave the example of chess players. They study moves and games and learn them. When they’re presented with a scenario. A game. A problem to solve, they are then able to draw on all of this knowledge and apply it to the problem that sits in front of them-

This question, how do chess experts evaluate positions to find the best move, has been studied for decades, dating back to the groundbreaking work of Adriaan de Groot and later to work by William Chase and Herbert Simon.  de Groot interviewed several chess players as they evaluated positions, and he argued that experts and weaker players tended to “look” about the same number of moves ahead and to evaluate similar numbers of moves with roughly similar speed.  The relatively small differences between experts and novices suggested that their advantages came not from brute force calculation ability but from something else: knowledge.  According to De Groot, the core of chess expertise is the ability to recognize huge number of chess positions (or parts of positions) and to derive moves from them.  In short, their greater efficiency came not from evaluating more outcomes, but from considering only the better options. [Note: Some of the details of de Groot’s claims, which he made before the appropriate statistical tests were in widespread use, did not hold up to later scrutiny—experts do consider somewhat more options, look a bit deeper, and process positions faster than less expert players (Holding, 1992). But de Groot was right about the limited nature of expert search and the importance of knowledge and pattern recognition in expert performance.]

In de Groot’s most famous demonstration, he showed several players images of chess positions for a few seconds and asked the players to reconstruct the positions from memory.  The experts made relatively few mistakes even though they had seen the position only briefly.  Years later, Chase and Simon replicated de Groot’s finding with another expert (a master-level player) as well as an amateur and a novice.  They also added a critical control: The players viewed both real chess positions and scrambled chess positions (that included pieces in implausible and even impossible locations). The expert excelled with the real positions, but performed no better than the amateur and novice for the scrambled positions (later studies showed that experts can perform slightly better than novices for random positions too if given enough time; Gobet & Simon, 1996).  The expert advantage apparently comes from familiarity with real chess positions, something that allows more efficient encoding or retrieval of the positions.

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This example has resonated with me so much and has left me contemplating how we treat knowledge in the Further Education sector. Not with disdain but perhaps something akin to it. Skills are prioritised – study skills, English skills, maths skills, digital skills, collaborative skills, reflective skills, technical skills, vocational skills… Whilst these are clearly important to our vocational learners, how much do we spend time thinking hard about the knowledge that will underpin the acquisition, development and mastery of these skills? One for me to continue contemplating…

At the time of teaching, we need to avoid over-loading working memory. We need to stress the main things. There are too many things to remember and that’s where knowledge organisers and micro-testing come in.

We do first have to define what it is that the students need to know about a particular topic. What do they need to retain? Apply in an assessment? Apply to a problem or challenge in the workshop? Once we’ve decided on this then we gather all of this necessary knowledge in a one page A4 ‘organiser’. We have structured the information in a logical way for students. We have likely included some icons, drawings, pictures… to accompany text so that there are visual cues to support the learners.

Tom shared this Twitter account as they manage a Dropbox where practitioners can place organisers @knoworganisers These two have been shared by this account and give you an idea of what they look like-

  1. Give students a knowledge organiser
  2. Teach a lesson.
  3. Tell them what they’re going to be tested on (give them the questions)
  4. This is what you’re going to be tested on.’ ‘You need to learn it.’

If we test students in this way then it builds their confidence and sells the concept of working hard. Revising. Learning. If they do a test one week and don’t do well, we’ll talk not about the content again but about how to revise better and then we’ll try again. Every week, content is revisited frequently and over time in low stakes quizzing (usually best placed at the start of a session). This regular quizzing should have a routine around it. A pace. It should feel celebratory rather than a chore. Use whiteboards or paper rather than something that looks and feels like a test or an exam. Success and confidence will both build over time. It’s a cumulative process. The retrieving needs to be slick and business-like so that you can move on to teaching new content without fuss.

TOP TIP – Invest in good questions that you can use repeatedly. Work with peers to develop a list.


Redrafting for Excellence

We need to focus on teaching students to the highest level. Have you defined what excellence looks like in your subject and considered how re-drafting might help students to achieve excellence?

No matter how many times I watch this video, I see more in it every single time. The main lesson from Austin and his teacher’s use of critique is that it teaches an important lesson and sets a high standard for learning – it’s not a case of ‘good, you’re done.’ Or, ‘thanks, that will do’. It’s about a constant challenge to improve in a climate that fosters perseverance. 

As teachers, we must believe that our students are capable of much more than the first thing they offer us. The butterfly was always inside Austin, he just didn’t know it was

Some questions for any educator to begin developing this culture –

  • What does excellence look like in your subject? Can you articulate it easily? How is it communicated to students?
  • Do you provide students the chance to practise something, receive feedback, and redraft it enough before they’re assessed? What needs to change about the design of your curriculum to achieve this?
  • Do they need to redraft the whole or is it possible to break down the parts and encourage the students to practise just the one part to build their skills?
  • How often do we replace jargon-filled success criteria with multiple examples of both mediocre and excellent so that students have models to follow and points of comparison for their own work?

Once students feel and experience ‘excellence’, they never want anything less. If they aren’t given the opportunity to achieve this then they just see themselves as a ‘pass student’ eternally. Once more, I could hear the murmurs of agreement around the room.


Responsive teaching through questioning and checking for understanding

Yet more of Tom’s content resonated with the room when he shared this next approach. ‘I’ve taught something but I’ve no idea if anyone’s learned it so I’m going to spend a lot of time checking it.’

He referenced some of the pre-reading participants had been asked to do – The principles of Instruction

In it, more effective and less effective teachers are described. Less effective teachers ask fewer process checking questions and they don’t seek answers from multiple people in the room.

One of Dylan Wiliam‘s biggest regrets about the launch of assessment for learning via ‘Inside the Black Box’ was that it was interpreted as testing and assessment in a high stakes way. He wishes he had called it ‘responsive teaching’.

  • Have a destination in mind.
  • Constantly take bearings and consider how you need to adjust in relation to how the students are responding.
  • What does excellence look like? How are are we going to achieve it?

Tom modelled the kind of questioning I see (and I’m certain I use) on a far too frequent basis. It’s important that all of our students are able to demonstrate their learning during the lesson. Tom references an abseiling analogy used by John Hattie. Before abseiling down the side of a cliff, you don’t just take a look at one person’s carabiner, discover it’s fastened correctly, and say , ‘Everyone cool? Thumbs up. OK!’ Translate this to the classroom and it’s, ‘Everyone ok? Nod at the students. OK, then let’s move on!’

If we rely on reading the room in this way then we’re doing it wrong and we won’t receive the information we need to about learning. Body language tells you zero about learning. Even students who self-report positively, might be wrong. Whilst they may THINK they’ve got it, their knowledge could contain all kinds of inaccuracies and misconceptions that won’t be revealed until we ask them and we don’t want the first time we ask them to be their summative assessment.

We obviously need to generate questioning strategies that work for a whole room. It can be too time-consuming to go around everyone one by one and it’s not a beneficial use of students’ valuable time for their learning. Make use of peer assessment and peer critique so that students become resources for one another. We need to develop our students’ capacity to assess their own performance accurately too. They need to learn to self-correct.

Whiteboards can be a good solution but are they being used correctly? Use them  Every. Single. Lesson. Ensure the students hold it up until you’ve really seen, absorbed, praised and probed their responses. Like other techniques it’s useful to hone over time this can be yet another punchy, dynamic, and proficient part of students’ learning.

There are many other questioning techniques that can be utilised. Mainly from Doug Lemov. These include-

  • Cold Call – Always individuals. Never hands up. Removes the ‘does anyone know the answer to…’
  • Think, pair, share or turn & talk – Provide the opportunity for students to build their answer together before reporting back to you
  • Right is right – Continue to question, clarify and probe until the answer that returns to you is as complete and knowledge/understanding-filled as possible.
  • Student-led demonstrations – Show the rest of the class how you did…
  • Information checking questions – I learned this on my CELTA course (to teach speakers of other languages). State an instruction. Ask specific individuals to repeat back what you’ve asked them to do. Check with a couple of people before proceeding. Don’t just ask, ‘Does everyone understand?’ Ask – ‘What are we doing next?’ ‘Explain it to me.’ ‘June- do you agree?’

You can access a range of resources related to these methods (including mini whiteboards) here-


Click here to view this collection

Modelling and Metacognition

This was one of the key moments of my day. It was all in Tom’s analogy of the ‘mystery of excellence.’ We often reveal a great piece of work to students as just that. Here’s one I made earlier! The mystery of success remains and achieving excellence remains an inaccessible achievement for our students.

Live modelling is best so that it fits with a responsive teaching approach. Consider the content of the session and think about what those students will need to practise to move them on in their learning. Model that part in front of them and as you do, talk your thought process through. ‘I’m putting this here because…’ ‘I’m going to write it in this way, and not that way, because…’

We need to remember not just to give students the answer but talk about why it’s the answer and how it’s been arrived at. If we just give the answer without any of the reveal then we reinforce the mystery of learning. We should also ask students to articulate their own thinking so that it can be brought to the surface, aired, and reflected upon.

A perfect example of this occurred when I went to the Estates office to ask for the air conditioning to be put on in the room we were in as it had become a little warm. We chatted for a while about random things and I returned to my original question to check if that was ok. The reply was,

Yeah. It’s already done.’

‘Oh really? That quickly? But… you didn’t move from your PC… Is it just some sort of button?’

‘Oh, I couldn’t tell you that. You’d be far too dangerous with that piece of information.’

I’m not quite sure the level of havoc he imagined I would be capable of (he does know me so perhaps he was accurate) but he had created a mystery over the success of the air con. And that was ok because I have no need to be able to do that for myself. But when it comes to our students’ learning, we need to own the secrets of success a little less.

Evidence-based revision strategies

These 6 strategies are not intended for teachers but to be used by their students. 

When it came to selecting the approach they would focus on, none of our project participants chose this approach. In reflecting with Tom about why this might have been, I felt that it was related to the original challenges they had shared around study skills and independence. This strategy would be far too high risk. It sets out complete reliance on the students, when the other approaches each provided an element of control for the teacher still. They could really be in charge of how successful these strategies would be. 

However, it’s not a strategy I want to let go of and would like to explore how we use it with tutor mentors and the development of their study skills.

We need to get students to focus on the most effective rather than what’s easiest.

Two of the key elements Tom highlights as part of the above video and 6 strategies from The Learning Scientists are the following two things – 

  • Make links and connections between the parts of knowledge so that they’re not just reciting but ‘making useful’
  • Use visuals alongside text

We ended Tom’s session by leading into lunch, where practitioners would be asked to select one challenge their students experience that they wanted to address. This wouldn’t be about implementing everything at once with carefree abandon but exploring one idea carefully and considering its impact on students.


Setting a question and considering data collection

Joss made use of Nancy Kline’s thinking environment philosophy to set out enough space in the afternoon to set up some quality time for reflective thinking.

‘The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.’ Nancy Kline, 2012

We would be referring throughout the project to it being ‘practitioner-led research’-

  • It is called ‘practitioner-led’ to emphasise that the questions, the methods and the meaning of the results will be determined by practitioners
  • Extends reflective practice by moving from ‘gut feel’ to an evidence-base, making it easier to argue a case or justify the need for change
  • Can be about very small-scale change and achievable within the constraints of everyday work
  • Is more likely to involve research via: the internet; talking to colleagues or learners; following-up ideas gained during a training programme; etc …… rather than researching ‘learned journals’
  • Does not require sophisticated statistics: simple data collection and presentation in tables, bar/pie charts are fine; qualitative data such as feedback from colleagues or learners can be summarised into key points
  • Does require a common sense understanding of what data means and whether improvements are likely to be ‘real’ or due to other factors
  • Does require a ‘mature level’ of critical thinking and reflective practice.

These definitions led to a deep level of discussion between participants in relation to their own experiences of research.

As we moved into forming the project question, Joss shared that The chance of finding out something useful depends on the quality of the question that is asked in the first place.

She introduced practitioners to the PICO model @DrGaryJones and they were all given the opportunity to shape a PICO question once their approach had been selected.

Friday 27 October.jpg

We encouraged a small-scale change with a single group of learners that would have 2-3 data measures included. 

We explored the varying pros and cons of different data measures available to practitioners and they had the chance to explore these in relation to a couple of case studies of already-implemented research.

We discussed the importance of context, perspective and how we ensure our data is as reliable and valid as possible. One colleague raised a shared question which was, ‘How do I know if it’s this action that has had the impact’. Well, ultimately, the answer is that we won’t. But we can attempt to demonstrate impact if a variety of measures are used and data is gathered in an appropriate way.

  1. We have encouraged a data collection before the intervention is put into place
  2. The intervention will then be put into place
  3. The final data measures (whether quantitative or qualitative) will be taken before findings are produced by the end of February

Practitioners left the day with an approach they want to try, a fully formed or somewhat-formed project question, and an idea about measures they may wish to use.


What Next?

Online materials will be shared with participants and we’ll ask them to share final questions and plans for implementing their project with us. This will undoubtedly lead to another blog as we gain a better sense of the kinds of interventions they’ve each selected to run in their contexts.

More practitioners will be recruited from the College so that we have enough to make the project more viable.

We’ll plan for the 8th of December day when project participants can get back together and share how their interventions are progressing so far.

Support and feedback will be provided during this time to ensure practitioners can progress with confidence.

Further excitement as we see where this experiment within an experiment, informed by evidence within evidence, will lead us.

Final reflections

I’m left reflecting on the parts of the day that have already left an early impression –

The approaches we’re experimenting with, at their heart, are really all about heart. They are about providing students with the best possible chance of success and believing in their capabilities, without conditions attached.

As teachers, we must believe that our students are capable of much more than the first thing they offer us.

Body language tells you zero about learning. Even students who self-report positively, might be wrong.

‘The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.’ Nancy Kline

Revealing the mystery of success and learning is an image that has stuck with me from today, not least of all because of the Wizard of Oz magic required to get Tom’s slides walking by disappearing to the PC in the cupboard behind the screen. Teachers need to own the secrets of success a little less.

Guest Blog – Positive praise and reward reaps success!

This guest blog is written by Jane Wilson who works in the SEND team at The Sheffield College.



I have worked within the College environment for 10 years and enjoyed various roles around student support. My main interest and experience is working with students with Autism and I am an ABA trained therapist. I decided to participate in the Big Learning Project this year as we had a student enrolled on a Games Development course with complex needs including Autism, Pathological Demand Avoidance and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These needs were proving to be a huge barrier to this students learning and ability to access the curriculum in a positive way. He was not completing work and had negative relationships with many staff members. In light of this I was inspired to look at alternative ways and approaches of supporting him as his PDA was such that any demands or confrontations immediately provoked a negative barrier. I felt by focusing around positive praise and reward some of these issues may be lessened and therefore enable the student to engage with staff.  

Learning from elsewhere  


During my research phase I spoke to several members of staff both within my team and in other areas to get different ideas, views, and perspectives on the project I was engaging in. I spoke at length with the lecturers and staff involved with the specific student I was basing my project around to discuss their views on different strategies and how they felt these may or may not work within the classroom. I monitored the students’ progress and behaviour patterns closely to get an insight into what strategies seemed to enable the student to work to the best of his potential.

Discussions held during the Big Learning Project sessions with colleagues enabled me to think and reflect more clearly about ways forward with this student and how positive praise and reward could be beneficial. I also researched a lot of information on the internet around praise and reward systems that are working in other establishments utilising some of these strategies alongside others of my own learnt from my work as an ABA therapist to see if these produced a positive response from the student.

One of the research materials I found most useful was The Management and Memory Tour 2012/13 Richard Bradley which talks very clearly about positive engagement and praise, focusing on good behaviour rather than constantly picking up on the negatives. The clear message I got from this piece of research was by saying phrases such as “ Stop shouting “, “Stop messing about”, “Don’t do that”, we are reinforcing bad behaviour. Instead, we should be telling a good behaviour story, “Excellent John you’re looking at the board and thinking” “I’m liking the way you are ready to engage with this task.” By offering these positive phrases we are paying attention to the good behaviour and not the bad so hopefully the disengaged  students will soon realise that to get attention they need to model good behaviour. Within this document it also said “Research shows praise is the most effective way to modify behaviour but it is extremely underused and we should try to praise far more than we criticise.” Another key phrase from this piece of research and the message I feel is most important is, “Talk to your students, congratulate them when they achieve something however small it may be. If they do something nice tell them you appreciate their kindness as this lets them know you really do care about them.” To summarise, this stage of information gathering from colleagues and the internet has lead me to believe that positive praise and reward is the key to success!  

The question to be answered  

I turned my research into a question by thinking about what is was I really wanted to achieve from taking part in the Big Learning Project and the impact it would have on the students I work with. This was the outcome: 

“If students are given more positive praise and rewards will it have an impact on their attitude to work and achievement? I will measure this by monitoring a specific student with complex needs who is identified at risk and see if he successfully completes the course using this system. I will also obtain feedback from student and lecturers.”   

The experiment journey 


During this project there were a lot of ups and downs and highs and lows! Various strategies and interventions were used by SEND, the Tutor Mentor, LSAs and Lecturers some of which worked and others that didn’t. The key to the success of this project was for everyone to work collaboratively together ensuring regular communication and feedback at all times. 

At the start of the journey, the student I based the project around was presenting with extremely challenging behaviours; posing lecturers and LSAs working with him huge difficulties. He was often verbally rude to members of staff and would not engage with them when they tried to offer support. It did not help that this particular student had originally started on a level 3 course in which there was no in class support or support network for this extremely vulnerable student. After several weeks it was very apparent that the student was not going to cope without a vast amount of support, although academically he was very able. The decision therefore was made to transfer the student to a level 2 course where he would get the support structure he needed for his complex social and emotional behaviours. Due to the specific needs of this student, he saw this as a failure on his part and got very angry about the fact he had been moved meaning he became totally disengaged with the work and staff around him. As he had joined the level 2 course late he had work he needed to catch up on which he refused to do saying it was a waste of time. This is the point at which I felt it was vital to implement different approaches and strategies to give this student any chance of success. 

I started by speaking at length with the SEND staff from the student’s previous school, trying to establish what had worked for him whilst with them. They indicated that although he needed firm, fair boundaries he also needed the security of knowing someone was fighting his corner for him and thrived on positive praise rather than negative or confrontational situations. They also advised that what might work one day for this student wouldn’t necessarily work the next so variation and flexibility in approaches were key. Having collated all this information I then met with all staff working with the student to discuss and plan a way forward that was acceptable to all involved. I stressed that this was going to be a difficult and at times frustrating journey but one that was imperative to try for the success of this student. It was agreed that regular catch up meetings to re-asses and review strategies would be held. 

And so the journey began of a ‘Praise and Reward System’.


The student’s attitude and behaviours meant a lot of negative comments were recorded but when they did do something positive or co-operated with staff, this went unmentioned so I suggested that each time this occurred, even if it was only a small step forward, this too was to be recorded. I also suggested that we implemented a reward system whereby the student was given a short, achievable piece of work to do and once they had done it was rewarded with free time to do drawing and spend time on their own personalised art work. Obviously there also had to be consequences for unacceptable behaviours so the student was also informed that if they continued to dis-engage in class and not complete tasks or were rude to staff, they would be removed to work in a separate room with myself. This was something the student really didn’t want to happen although it did have to be implemented on several occasions. The student was angry and at times verbally aggressive but did do the work and generally apologised afterwards. Whilst this was a difficult situation I knew it was all part and parcel of the student’s difficulties and never took anything personally. Regular meetings with all staff involved with the student were of paramount importance and we all discussed openly what strategies were working and which weren’t. At times people felt frustrated, angry even upset and there were times when the student was very close to being removed from the course. The BRAG rating for the student was at this time red.

One lecturer in particular really embraced the difficulties of this student and having had a few negative experiences in class spoke to me then took the student to one side and had a long, frank discussion with them. This seemed to be a turning point and slowly but surely the student began to trust this particular member of staff and would listen to and work for him. The student began to look forward to his lessons and said he worked for this person because he “got him”. He would complete some work, fetch me to show me, then have free time for the last half hour. Whilst the student still wasn’t being very co-operative in other lessons he was becoming less confrontational and dealing with demands put on him a little better. With a combination of some work in class and 1:1 sessions with myself and an LSA work slowly started to be completed and the BRAG changed to amber.

It was a tough year for all involved and particularly the student whose complex needs and difficulties presented such a huge barrier to his learning but with regular discussions, a praise and reward system and everyone working together as a team the student slowly embraced the support network and although there were many ups and downs right to the end the findings show it was totally worthwhile!


I drew my findings from this project from various sources – learning logs, tutor comments, interviews with the student and lecturer, BRAG ratings and progression route. The table below best indicates the results. 

Sept 16-Jan 17  1 ,2 ,3  Very behind, insufficient info. Lots to catch up on.  Refer  Red 
Feb/March 17  4,5  Submitted on time, just sufficient info.  Pass  Red 
April 17  6  Submitted on time, good work, a strong pass.  Pass/Merit  Amber 
May/June 17  FMP  Student managed to complete his FMP and catch up all other unit work to successfully pass the course.    Pass  Green 

As can be seen from the table above, this student went from BRAG rating red and being extremely close to being asked to leave the course to successful completion and BRAG rating green! It is interesting to note that the project submitted in April 17 was of a high standard and was when the student had started receiving more positive praise and the reward system was well in place. When the moderator came to oversee the work this student was one she looked at. Her comments were, that given the students complex needs she felt his work was of a high standard and that he had done remarkably well. She did also suggest that for such students in the future all their work did not need to be written it could actually be recorded and presented in different ways, which is definitely something to be observed in the future. Whilst it was not felt it was appropriate for this student to progress onto a level 3 course within college, I took them to visit an establishment in Sheffield called SHIFT where they secured themselves a place on an art and design course starting in September.

Also as part of the findings I interviewed the student and one of the lecturers with whom the student gradually engaged with and here are some quotes: 

Interview with Lecturer:  

Q – “How do you feel the year has gone with this student? “ 

A – “Challenging… but we got there in the end”

Q – “What strategies do you feel were most effective?” 

A – “Patience… Questioning my first response… Is this actually going to be helpful? Not being in the student’s face… being able to approach but not be over demanding.”  

Q – “Would you have done anything differently?” 

A – “Definitely… I felt the first half of the term I floundered… would have liked to have been more experienced and knowledgeable on the student’s specific needs… regular meetings and discussions definitely helped and the second half of the term the relationship improved and we worked well together.”

Q – “How do you feel a positive approach and reward system has benefited this student and potentially others in the future?” 

A – “By finding the good and not criticising the student responded better. Giving positive praise is a more effective way of teaching and gets results without confrontation. This particular student responded well to short blasts of work with a reward at the end.”

Interview with Student: 

 Q – “Who have you worked well for this year and why do you think that is?” 

A – “Ben… he understands stuff I’m going through… he didn’t talk down to me … he treated me with respect so in turn I showed him respect. He understood when I was tired …he was completely understanding… he never annoys me now… he did at first because I barely did any work… then we had a very serious talk and we understood each other and things started to work.”


Conclusions and Recommendations: 

I have thoroughly enjoyed taking part in The Big Learning Project and found it extremely useful choosing a topic relevant to the work I do. Focusing on one specific student has really contributed to that student’s success and given me ideas and inspiration for the future. The key factors I have learnt and will carry forward are: 

  • Lines of communication must be kept open at all times. 
  • Sound knowledge and preparation is key to success. 
  • Flexibility in approaches are of paramount importance. 

Many times, the student I have focused on was on the verge of failure but implementing different strategies, working collaboratively together and keeping lines of communication open resulted in success. It made me realise that it is easy to pick up on the negatives of such students but not so easy to praise and highlight the positives which is something I feel needs continual work in the future. I intend to circulate a leaflet bullet pointing some useful strategies and suggestions for this. 

Lack of knowledge and understanding around specific complex needs was a point highlighted by several people during this project so I would like to see more awareness training in this field.  

It was evident from the eventual success of this student that working collaboratively and in partnership with all staff and the student was a key fundamental point and I feel it is important to see this expanded on and continued in the future. This can be implemented by regular discussions and meetings and ensuring that lines of communication are kept open. 

In conclusion and returning to my question “If students are given more positive praise and rewards, will it have an impact on their attitude to work and achieve?” along with other contributory factors I think the success story of this specific student says it all…

 “Positive praise and reward really does reap success!”   

Guest Post – Effective Collaboration of   Teaching Staff and Learning Support Assistants in the Classroom

In 2016/2017, colleagues at The Sheffield College were encouraged to participate in a Big Learning Project. A collaborative small-scale research project that would lead to the development of their practice. I’ll be sharing a few of the write-ups here and the first comes from a trio of staff who chose to work together on their project. 

They knew that teaching staff and LSAs could be working more effectively together; sharing knowledge and expertise so that each student’s learning experience could be improved. So, they set out to explore what might work.

What follows is a write-up of their journey.

By Cath Clarke, Louise Nunn and Isaac Howell


This project was inspired by feedback from a staff development training event about ‘How to effectively utilise learning support assistants in the classroom.’

In the first instance, training was requested by the Staff Development team to improve communication between English and Maths Staff and Learning Support Assistants (LSAs). This was delivered on Staff Development Day in early January 2017 by Cath Clarke and Louise Nunn (English teachers) with expert guidance from Isaac Howell (SENDCO).

The training included an overview of the Specific Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Department, vocabulary associated with SEND, and effective work practices.

Screenshot 2017-09-11 at 19.png

Click here to view a PDF version of this poster

The intention was to give an overview of protocol and procedure when English and Maths Staff work alongside LSAs in the classroom.

On the day of the event, more than 40 LSAs came to the training session and one member of the English and Maths Department. Unfortunately, most of the English and Maths team were either delivering or were involved in other essential training. The event was supposed to run for one hour. This was too short, and the session overran significantly as it became apparent that there were so many issues and queries. This highlighted the fundamental need for specific strategic guidelines and training for SEND staff and English/Maths staff.

The key finding was a lack of understanding of roles and responsibilities as well as poor communication between academic and support staff in the classroom.


In the initial stages of preparation for the training event it became apparent that expert guidance from within the SEND team was needed. Isaac Howell was approached and agreed to input on the training session. On the day of the training Steve Kelly also checked the training content to ensure it was sending the same messages that he was delivering to the wider team. This was done informally as a result of the relationships between staff but again would benefit from being part of a standardised approach.

In reading the College SEND policies there was an immediate realisation that the vocabulary and acronyms were unfamiliar and confusing. Staff were also ignorant of or confused by latest legislation changes. The only experience of this was at the start of the academic year when new Educational and Heath Care Plans were put in documents on Pro Monitor. No specific training seemed to have taken place for academic staff. When searching on the Hub – there didn’t seem to be any appropriate information.

We discovered most of the SEND acronyms by general searches on the Web – but again were confused by the meanings and definitions. Some terminology seemed to be nationally recognised across educational institutions and others were organisationally specific.

SEND is an integral part of the College’s four Cornerstones;

‘The LSA or any other support staff in a session are aware of their role and how that fits into the wider aims’ – it is essential that all staff College-wide have clarity of their roles.

Additionally, Ofsted state that for an OUTSTANDING OUTCOME-

Staff plan learning sessions and assessments very effectively so that all learners undertake demanding work that helps them to realise their full potential. Staff identify and support any learner who is falling behind and enable almost all to catch up.

This demonstrates the vital role that the SEND support team has to play in the classroom.

The Question

Following feedback from the training event, more questions were raised.

Our first question was how to improve the system and situation regarding teaching staff and LSAs working effectively together in the classroom.

The second question would naturally be –

If the teaching staff and LSAs did have a strong rapport and more effective communication, would this have a positive impact on their work?

Whatever was revealed by the question could then be carried over so that the focus was on the impact on learning for the students.

The Journey

Using the feedback given at the event – both of the academic staff attempted to follow some of the suggestions/guidance to try to improve their own effectiveness with their own LSAs in the classroom. This involved a trial experiment over a period of 6 months – January to June.

Cath Clarke had 8 lessons with LSAs in both Functional Skills English and Maths and in GCSE English. Support needs ranged from deaf learners, moderate learning difficulties, students with EHCP plans, and visually impaired students.

Louise Nunn had 4 LSAs which included support for hearing impaired students, EHCP plans, and learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Both academic tutors had LSA support for learners with Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties.

Draft guidelines following the training event were emailed to the SEND Department and Staff Development – using the suggestions from the session and the online evaluation feedback.

Both tutors followed a number of the guidelines to establish a model of good practice over the period of the experiment. Feedback was then requested from relevant LSAs on the effectiveness of this practice.

Both tutors also used Peer Observation with each other and other tutors within English and Maths – to check if the model of Good Practice worked effectively.

Model of good practice used with the aim of improving communication

  • LSAs informed on what was being covered in lesson each week.
  • LSAs given copies of lesson plans, resources and SOW.
  • Tutors and LSAs had informal and formal meetings at the start and end of lessons.
  • Updated Pro – Monitor reports/ emails to LSAs to inform decision making.
  • Tutors made aware of glossary terms and definitions to help with planning and delivery.
  • Use of technology to support effective Teaching, Learning and Assessment.
  • Increased proactivity in utilising and directing LSAs.
  • LSAs more proactive in HOW to help teaching staff with specific SEND issues.
  • Regular reflection and review of student progress outside the classroom.


Findings based on the 6 month trial were mainly anecdotal and qualitative, using feedback from LSAs and tutors’ own experiences (plus peer observations – one per tutor).

Both tutors agreed that the experience encouraged reflection on their own practice.

Tutors felt the training event had revealed a deficiency in awareness of SEND – despite being ‘experts’ in English and Maths. After the 6 month period – both tutors felt they had raised their own awareness of SEND.

Both tutors felt far more confident in directing LSAs during lessons.

Isaac Howell felt the bond between the SEND Dept and English and Maths was much better and communication had improved for those taking part.

LSAs involved felt ‘included in the lesson’ and more ‘aware of overall aims and objectives’.

LSAs felt more able to discuss issues and input in to lesson planning.

Experiences encouraged greater review of teaching practice and promotion of inclusivity.

One LSA remarked on feeling more ‘valued’ and having an impact on the sessions.

Conclusion and Recommendations

To establish cross-College agreement on comprehensive guidelines that clarify roles and responsibilities for all SEND staff and teaching staff.

To have a working party to implement these changes and cascade to the wider College.

For College to provide urgent staff training on SEND legislation, responsibilities, terminology and protocol.

To provide documentation to support the above – specifically the Vocabulary of SEND.

To provide a more coordinated approach to the student experience – ensuring all staff are aware of student needs (updated and regularly reviewed support plans etc on Pro Monitor).

More effective use of College systems especially Pro – Monitor e.g Group Profile Document with guidance for staff and recommended support for students.

For all staff to use the Model of Good Practice.


Ofsted (2017) Further Education and skills Inspection Handbook, Available at:

The Sheffield College (2017) Shared Expectations of Students’ Learning, Available at: PRIVATE WEB ADDRESS

The Sheffield College (2017) The Staff Hub, Available at: PRIVATE WEB ADDRESS


Dr S Miah – Overcoming the Challenges of Extremism

In July, a colleague in our maths department approached me and shared that he’d had an idea for an event. One that might support staff confidence when it came to speaking to students about extremism, radicalisation and challenging the myths perpetuated by the media. We loved the idea and so a team of us set out to have a panel discussion on the subject for the September development day. Within 24 hours we were almost full and with just 90 places, we knew we’d have to run similar events in the future.
What follows are some of the notes I took during Dr Shamim Miah’s (@shamim1) talk.

The talk was built around his recent book, ‘Muslims, schooling and security‘. Primarily chapter 6 of his book, which was centred on the way in which the whole agenda around security has changed and developed. He would focus on ‘radicalisation’ – So what is it? How does it work? Where does it come from?

The word has its origins in the Latin word, ‘radix‘. It means the ‘primary source’ or the origin of something. So radicalisation really refers to the moments before the bomb goes off rather than the violent acts themselves.

Prior to 2001, there was no reference to extremist radicalisation. After that, the political discourse and academic debate begins and the term comes into existence.

Olivier Roy and identity

A French political scientist and professor says that the reason certain individuals get involved in terrorism is due to the realignment of identities. If there is a disconnect between what an individual perceives their identity to be and the social/political climate then there is an imbalance they find a way to address. Religion isn’t the primary driver.

Mark Sageman and networks 

He worked as a CIA Operative and spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. His thesis about radicalisation is that the cause is not the religion but the social network an individual interacts with.So what of the suggestion, often reinforced by the media, that there is a clear correlation between segregation and radicalisation?If you look at some of the most segregated communities, the Amish in America for instance, you’ll struggle to find any examples of extremism in their communities (where the segregation indices are high).

Ludi Simpson and integration

Working at the centre for ethnicity and diversity, explored the longitudinal census data for several locations- Bradford, Oldham, Birmingham and London and discovered there was more integration than self-segregation.

Read about this study here

In the early part of the 60s, integration meant assimilation.

Integration after 2001 meant community cohesion.

Post 2006, integration had some security connotations to it.

There’s an issue of interpretation regarding integration and segregation.

When we drive through a city, there are often physical forms of segregation. The assumption is then often made that the individuals have self-selected to live in these areas. Perhaps we often neglect to consider the economic factors that may impose the area in which individuals end up living.

Equally, we can’t jump to conclusions about segregation when it comes to arrests either. It’s indicated that of the numbers of individuals arrested and sentenced under the counter-terrorism act, a significant number come from middle-class backgrounds and there’s no clear indication they come from segregated communities.

Bob Pape

At the Chicago centre for he study of suicide bombing, he conducted a longitudinal study between 1983 and 2003 and discovered that religion wasn’t the key motivating factor and they generally took place in response to a military occupation.

‘He says that religious fervor is not a motive unto itself. Rather, it serves as a tool for recruitment and a potent means of getting people to overcome their fear of death and natural aversion to killing innocents.’

‘What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military intervention is occupying territory—that’s what prompts suicide terrorism more than anything else.’

Click here to read more about his work


So what draws people to join foreign fights?Foriegn Fighters.png

One particularly noticeable factor, is that if religion were to be a driver, why is it that Malaysia and Indonesia, with the largest populations of Muslims, are not on the list?

Within the list of top foreign fighter nationalities are countries with political instability themselves and this could be a contributing factor.

Within the Western Europe figures, the highest countries are France, Belgium and the UK.

Of the individuals who travel to fight, there is not a single universal trend that draws everyone’s experiences together. Each individual has a different journey.

One possible pattern is that many seem to be 2nd and 3rd generation migrants, not first.

“If you are a youngster in the French suburbs, your mates are second-generation Muslim immigrants and you want to wage war against society, the system, where do you go?” Olivier Roy

There are certainly some indications that the number of foreign fighters who have criminal backgrounds already is high.

‘In his survey of 31 incidents of jihadist terrorism in Europe between September 2001 and October 2006, Edwin Bakker found that at least 58 of the 242 perpetrators of these attacks—or 24 percent, a “strikingly high number,” he says—had a criminal record prior to their arrest for terrorism-related offenses. According to a study by Robin Simcox, of 58 individuals linked to 32 ISIS-related plots in the West between July 2014 and August 2015, 22 percent had a past criminal record or were in contact with law enforcement.’

Click here to read more about this

Increasingly with foreign fighters, there’s the Islamisation of radicals rather than the radicalisation of Muslims.

It has been estimated that 6% of foreign fighters from EU countries are converts to Islam, many are second or third generation immigrants, very few have a prior connection with Syria, and almost one- fifth (18%) are women.

Click here to view more of this data

Most government policies focus on religion. Make sense of that and you understand the individuals. This is, most likely, leading us down an unhelpful path.

So what can be done to overcome some of the challenges extremism presents to us?

Education gives us a way forward.

Critical led pedagogy.

We have tools.

We can challenge ideas.

Empowering our students to think critically is essential.

We must teach them to look at facts and not to internalise them but to question their origin and potential bias.

Education can provide knowledge but there should be a greater focus on what students do with this knowledge (hopefully consider it critically). We should be a more enlightened individual at the end of our education.

Too much of education is about the economics- What do you want to earn at the end of this? Where do you want to go? Education should be far more about self-actualisation than about how much money you have in your bank.

Self-actualisation certainly sits well with the diversity of the FE landscape and environment. Helping our students to differentiate between fact and fiction is our duty.

In fact, a study at the end of 2016 carried out by Stanford University indicates students’ ability to determine fact from fiction may be in a worrying state already-

‘The students displayed a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their responses, the researchers wrote, getting duped again and again. They weren’t looking for high-level analysis of data but just a “reasonable bar” of, for instance, telling fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources and ads from articles.

“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there,” the researchers wrote. “Our work shows the opposite.”

“What we see is a rash of fake news going on that people pass on without thinking,” he said. “And we really can’t blame young people because we’ve never taught them to do otherwise.”

Read more about this study here

We’ll be looking more closely at how we develop students’ critical thinking skills at The Sheffield College and we’d love to know what resources you’re using to develop this in your students.


Unfortunately, Shaykh Sadaqat Hussain was ill and couldn’t make it to this event at the last minute but we hope to rearrange his visit.



Olivier Roy, Jihad and Death
Mark Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks
Mark Sageman, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century
Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists
Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Getting Better at Feedback

The last few weeks have seen us progress through each of our Cornerstones of Teaching & Learning at The Sheffield College with drop-ins from the Digital and e-Learning team, links to browse via our Twitter feed and a blog each week for staff to reflect on –

So in the fourth and final week, our attention turns to feedback. As I spent some time reviewing and gathering links related to feedback, I realised that if I let it, it could easily fill my entire week. This page contains the best of the links I came across-

  • What research/evidence has to say
  • Practical ideas
  • Encouraging metacognition/student reflection/self-assessment
  • Food for thought
  • Books

Feedback pearl.png

If you think I’ve missed any essentials then please comment below or share your links on Twitter @hannahtyreman

It would seem that feedback preoccupies the mind of many an educator, leader and researcher. You’d think that this concerted effort by educators around the globe might result in some concrete answers that could transform feedback forever more…

If that’s what you’ve chosen to read this blog for, that silver bullet, then let me disappoint you now before you get much further. I’m doubtless any such thing exists where education is concerned. After all, it’s one of the most complex jobs in existence and I’m sure if I suggested to a heart surgeon that there was just one solution to each of the ailments her patients presented with, I’d be laughed out of the room.

I’m aware that there will be a variety of educators reading this blog – from schools, colleges and other settings too. For those of you who teach on summative assessment heavy courses (such as BTEC qualifications), this blog is still for you. Whilst your final feedback on those courses must be criteria based, there are multiple opportunities for feedback before that point- as part of in-class activities designed to replicate the final assessments, as part of answers to questions students respond to verbally or in writing, as part of the feedback that can be provided whilst they’re working towards assignment hand-in, not neglecting of course the feedback once an assignment has been marked and submitted with what they can learn for future assessments.

Feedback as a CPD Project



I first began experimentation into feedback in 2013 with A Level English groups after reading blogs by David Didau, Tom Sherrington and watching a video from Andy Lewis. This resulted in an extensive project I dubbed ‘Fabulous Feedback‘. The focus of the project was on getting students to be better at critiquing one another’s work. We’d always gone through the motions of peer feedback but more because I’d been told it was ‘good practice’ than because I knew how to make it meaningful. In choosing to embark upon the peer feedback project, I felt that if my students got better at peer feedback then they would benefit from reading a peer’s work and really understanding, closer to a teacher’s level, what made it a great piece and what needed to improve (thus being able to identify improvements required for their own work). I also hoped that it might result in students receiving more meaningful feedback in the moment thereby leading to more immediate learning and perhaps (fingers crossed!) less workload for me. The majority of these expectations were met.

Click here to read about the project

I chose to start here because it was the real beginning of my journey with feedback but also because if you’d like to embark on a journey with feedback (or indeed, any aspect of your practice) then I would look no further than this approach for an excellent way of leading your own CPD (with the only added enhancement being- running the project in tandem with colleagues teaching the same subject so that you can learn from one another). This project was one of the most worthwhile I’ve chosen to engage in as an educator because it had a tangible impact on my practice. It challenged me to learn one thing for a whole year and get really good at it-

  • It had a specific purpose- adding value and getting more students to achieve high grades (A*-B) – and this was achieved with a higher % of high grades than had been achieved before in the subject at the college
  • It was focused on one aspect of practice (feedback and peer critique) that paid dividends in other places (practise, engagement, motivation, confidence)
  • The CPD itself was not overly time-consuming (it involved reading blogs, communicating with colleagues on Twitter, developing resources to try out with my students and blogging)
  • The project was sustained for an entire academic year with multiple groups so I was able to practise repeatedlygradually improving and learning

The remainder of this blog contains three golden nuggets I’ve been able to magpie from other educators over the years to enhance my own practice. As with anything else I share, not everything will suit everyone – please use your own professional discretion.

What you don’t like, discard, what you’re intrigued by, try and what you love, adopt.

Whole class feedback

Teachers at Michaela School have been sharing their approaches to teaching and whilst their approaches seem to cause a great deal of debate on Twitter, one approach that has certainly stuck for me is their ‘whole class feedback’ written about by Jo Facer. It manages to encompass many of the learning gains you’d like to achieve with feedback whilst also reducing workload.

Click here to read more about it 

These are just some of the ways in which I think it might work in FE-

  • A Games Development teacher could review work completed by students via OneNote and provide whole class feedback every 2-3 weeks on the themes identified about progress and quality of work
  • A sports teacher could review work completed by students on Google slides and share  whole class feedback via video for those students working remotely
  • An ESOL teacher could review workbooks every couple of weeks and use the whole class feedback to plan a review lesson to work on themes emerging as students’ remaining areas for development
  • A Health & Social Care teacher could present whole class feedback as a result of BTEC assignments submitted so that students can learn lessons for future submissions
  • Maths or English teachers could use it every week after a review of exercises or paragraphs completed in the previous session to lead to quicker progress and much less workload with just as much impact when you have hundreds of students in your care

Here’s an example to inspire the approach from Mr Thornton

Click here to read all about this approach

More work for the student than you

Whilst the above is all about reducing the teacher workload but still having maximum impact, these suggestions are all ways in which we can extend the impact feedback might have, especially written feedback. They relate to the student doing something with their feedback: reflecting on it, responding to it, acting on it. It’s important that feedback leads to learning, as what’s the point otherwise? Now, every time I engage with feedback, I consider how the students will engage with it in return. In my heady ‘Fabulous Feedback’ days, this even extended so far as them taking home sets of books to mark and reporting their findings back on a class rather than an individual level.

How many times have you sat for hours writing feedback only for most of it to go ignored as they move onto the next thing? This leaves a gap in learning; a gap we must learn to close.

This crib sheet from Tom Sherrington may prove useful to indicate how activities you currently engage in to provide feedback could be replaced by something with a higher level of impact instead.



Click here to read more about these approaches.

Growth Mindset

How feedback is received by a student is a significant factor in how much learning will take place as a result, whether we engage them in follow-up activity or not.

In a coaching teachers MOOC I’m working to complete, we have been introduced to ‘fixed mindset tax’ and this is defined as

The learning lost in a feedback session between a coach and a teacher who isn’t optimistic about his or her ability to improve at the classroom skill they are discussing.

It follows for me that the same might be lost for a student during feedback. Let’s remind ourselves at this point that when providing feedback, we do not need to consider whether a student has a fixed or growth mindset as we are not one or the other. Our mindset changes depending on the activity we’re presented with or the skill we’re asked to demonstrate. When we’re in a fixed state of mind, we believe that our ability is fixed and there’s little we can do to change it. When we’re in a growth state of mind of then we believe we can, given time and effort, change how good we are at something. An individual’s mindset is not an overall disposition therefore we need to consider growth mindset more often than not, and always consider the language we use when we present feedback to students, whether verbal or written.

Click here to read more about growth mindset


These are just some suggested phrases that can be used dependent on the scenario and student we’re working with. Why not try using one of these phrases instead of something you might ordinarily say and see what impact it has on students’ motivation and confidence?

Click here to access the full list of phrases


Further your learning

If all of those tips weren’t enough for you and you’re left feeling keen to extend your learning then browse through some of the links I shared at the start of this blog (click here) or watch one of these videos from some of our Cornerstones’ champions- Doug Lemov, John Hattie and Dylan Wiliam.




If you have longer than 10 minutes (an hour!) then this is really worth a watch/listen to-

Practise, Practise, Practice

In my previous two blogs (part of a series of 4), I’ve been confident enough about my own practice to share reflections on planning learning and engaging students without much agonising over it. I knew that week 3’s blog on ‘practice’ would be the most challenging because I feel it’s the place where so much more learning lies for me. It’s one of those aspects of teaching where the more I read, the less I feel I know and the more I want to find out. You’ll find that the following blog contains references to things that have provoked thought and reflection for me with regards to practice (don’t expect all the answers!) and I’d love your comments below or on Twitter @hannahtyreman.

My focus on ‘practice’ and what made it effective all began with Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion in his book, ‘Outliers‘, that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. Great, we all love a target to aim towards but what do those 10,000 hours look like and how do we get the commitment from our students for this Olympian level of dedication? How about Angela Duckworth and grit? What answers might her explorations of what it takes to stick at something offer us? What about having confidence in our abilities like Will Smith; possessing the unwavering belief that we are the best? Would this be enough?

Effort and dedication seem to get some people pretty far but there are other significant components to consider. An olympian doesn’t become such without something beyond hard work. They usually have a coach or several by their side; all working to consider the range of factors contributing to their possible success.

Doug Lemov

One of the key educators we’ve referenced for the ‘Cornerstones’ at The Sheffield College is Doug Lemov and there is nowhere his work is more significant than with regards to ‘practice’-

“We are fond of saying “practice makes perfect,” and indeed the title of this book plays on the connection between practice and perfection. But it is more accurate to say that practice makes permanent.” (Lemov, D, 2012)

Within Further Education, practice is the basis of what our students do. They practise their skills and apply their knowledge in a variety of ways from day one with us. Much of this takes place in workshop spaces or even the workplace (as well as in classroom settings). By the time they reach us though, many of the things they’ve practised previously have become somewhat permanent. Much of our job involves undoing a great deal of what they think they’ve mastered (especially where English and maths is concerned); often getting students to approach problems in new ways and with a fresh mindset.

So how do we ensure that students don’t take a demonstration or an explanation and move to practise it for themselves incorrectly; learning bad habits instead? Feedback, our fourth cornerstone, certainly plays a pivotal role. It seems important that students receive a great deal of feedback, along with repeated demonstrations and modelling in the early stages of their learning before they enter more free and independent practice.

Here’s an introduction to ‘practice’ from Doug Lemov-

As Doug shares here, the practice that is often most valuable takes place when we’ve mastered something.

Lessons from Formula 1

As a fan of Formula 1, I have long since been fascinated by the teamwork and precision required for a swift tyre change. In recent years, a good tyre change can make all the difference between winning or losing a race.

You can watch one of the fastest pit stops here-

This kind of thing doesn’t happen by fluke. It has taken the team a great deal of practice to get to the point of achieving a pit stop in 1.9 seconds. You can read more about the art of a perfect pit stop here. The hours of practice leading up to a race, the summative assessment if you like, are designed to lead to the process becoming instinctive for all parties- and if it’s instinctive then it’s more likely to be smooth, fast and problem free.

‘Managing that crew is a delicate business. Dropping a pit stop in the low two-second window is the result of many hours’ practice at the circuit and in the factory – but not too many hours.

“You can wear the guys out and – worse – lose their enthusiasm if you don’t consider it carefully,” says Wheatley. “There has to be a balance, and part of that means not scheduling so much practice that people start to lose motivation. We wouldn’t, for example, practice in the factory the first day back after a race – because everyone will be tired. We also won’t practice the standard stop all the time. We’ll break that up by practicing the ‘set-piece’ stops – punctures, nose cone changes and so on.”

One aspect of my students’ practice in GCSE English that I’ve considered recently is how often I ask that they focus on the whole piece from start to finish where all of the components will be assessed. How much better could it be instead if I broke down a whole assessment into single components where they can hone certain skills so they can move on once proficient in that area of their work?

Busy, Busy Busy

 A sample chapter from Doug Lemov shares how students being ‘busy’ does not necessarily mean that learning is taking place

‘Let’s begin by looking at a youth sports practice. It is a brisk evening and a group of nine-year-old soccer players are bustling about on a patch of turf. The drill they’re doing requires them to dribble the ball through a set of cones, then pass the ball underneath a bench as they run to one side of it, meeting the ball on the other side. Once they do this they move into a square of cones where they tap the ball back and forth between both feet quickly ten times. Next they race off to a new set of cones where they tap the top of the ball with alternating feet. The sequence ends with their dribbling in for a shot on goal. At first glance, the drill seems first-rate. It offers constant activity and continuous variation plus the opportunity to practice a myriad of skills. Busy bees! A closer look, however, reveals that what these players are doing may not lead to much improvement. It’s not enough to just be busy.’ (Lemov, D, 2012)

You can read this extract and more in this sample chapter available online here.

These students are going through the motions but what are they gaining as a result of this activity? Do they know what skills they’re practising? How their activity might link to the requirements of a football match? Do they know the small changes they could make that might have a big impact on how successful they are? Peer critique and feedback from the teacher could have changed this, as might more focus on one particular activity repeated with feedback stops in between as well as coaching during.

Deliberate Practice

This term is one you’re likely to have come across and it entered the mainstream after Malcolm Gladwell’s work rose to prominence. His book was written long after the paper was written by Anders Ericsson about deliberate practice and expertise. You can read the paper here. Like most theories, his assertions have been contested and his theory almost certainly won’t apply to all ‘experts’ in their respective fields but how might it help teachers?

The theory of deliberate practice, in basic terms, is that expert performers are not just so because of innate talent- their difference from ‘normal adults’ is in fact that they have dedicated their lives to making a deliberate effort to improve their performance; practising things of increasing difficulty and engaging in feedback along the way.

Translated into sport, one article cites how a golfer used deliberate practice to improve his game-

‘Hogan methodically broke the game of golf down into chunks and figured out how he could master each section. For example, he was one of the first golfers to assign specific yardages to each golf club. Then, he studied each course carefully and used trees and sand bunkers as reference points to inform him about the distance of each shot.’

Read more here-

Practice for Teachers

Whilst deliberate practice clearly offers a great deal to our reflections on how students improve, the theory can also be of help for teachers and their own development. How often do you engage with CPD that focuses on one aspect of your practice for a period of time? Everything you read, observe, watch, discuss and practise relates to that chosen aspect? How often do you then receive ongoing feedback on that particular aspect of your practice? If you’d like to engage in this kind of approach then watch this space as we’d like to explore more of this kind of CPD in the coming months at The Sheffield College. You could begin to try it for yourself using colleagues, videos of your practice and these suggestions of 10 techniques to practise from Tom Sherrington-


Over the years, I have seen engagement take a variety of forms. When I first began teaching, I was an Associate Lecturer and was therefore handed whatever bits and pieces the College I worked in at the time couldn’t get covered by other members of staff – NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) groups on employability courses, Functional Skills classes at odd times of the day or week (Saturday mornings anyone?) and on other sites. With the majority of these groups, engagement was the main purpose- re-engaging them in education, re-engaging them with English, maths and ICT, re-engaging them with learning in general (making the assumption that there had been a time when they were engaged to begin with). More often than not, engagement was about distracting these young people from the major life challenges they faced, moving them away from previous failures in education and preventing them from hurting one another (trust and relationships weren’t generally their strong suit).

Since this time, I’ve placed a high value on ‘engagement’ and its foundation is almost certainly found in positive relationships. I’ve written before about ‘The Best Teachers I Know‘. These are teachers who show genuine care for their students in the relationships they have with them; earning trust. This genuine care is apparent in their high expectations, feedback, praise and valuing of their contribution to learning.

Whilst I believe the foundation to engagement lies in relationships, there are a number of other aspects that I feel make a significant contribution and so I was compelled to discover exactly what was meant by the act of ‘engagement’.

As an English teacher, I headed to the first place I felt would be able to help me with this week’s blog for the ‘Engage for progress’ week – the dictionary.

The first definition I found was from Merriam Webster online and it stated that to engage would be ‘to hold the attention of‘. This was an unsatisfactory definition for me. There are projects I engage with that still lose my attention at times. This can be because they’re a challenge and I’m unsure how to proceed- I feel the fear. It can be because life throws competing priorities my way and I find myself in the midst of another project. Just because my attention is elsewhere, it’s not to say that these projects don’t engage me.

So, when faced with an answer I didn’t like, I searched for one I did and this was to be found in the Cambridge Dictionary online

‘to interest someone in something and keep them thinking about it’

Surely this is the kind of engagement we want as educators? The kind of engagement that leaves students thinking about a lesson long after it has ended.

The beginning of a lesson can certainly trigger engagement-

  • A warm welcome that makes students feel as though the environment they have entered is one that offers a safe and secure learning experience
  • A clear routine that helps them to enter a focussed state of mind.
  • A question to raise curiosity or a short problem to solve as soon as students enter the learning space (explore a range of starter activities here)

Beyond the very beginning of a lesson though, what kind of learning experiences lead to a longer lasting engagement that stretches beyond their timetabled learning time?

The following patterns about engagement have emerged as a result of speaking to colleagues this week, reflecting on the best teachers I’ve seen, and considering learning I’ve chosen to engage in for myself. Engagement results from the following-

  1. Teachers with strong subject knowledge
  2. Teachers with passion for their subject
  3. Problem solving activities and well-pitched challenge

The best ‘teacher’ I can think of that embodies the first two of these is David Attenborough. He never ceases to engage me in a subject I have little natural affinity with.

In addition to his subject knowledge and passion, Attenborough has an authentic warmth, sense of humour and joy that certainly provides an entertaining edge.

It is often easy for us to be drawn towards the ‘fun’ aspect of engagement but this should never come first. In setting out to engage our students with their learning, fun may be the product of what they engage with and how rather than an end in itself.

Problem solving and well-pitched challenge


When I considered the learning in my life that has engaged me the most, it has always hooked me into a ‘state of flow’.

Flow is about finding the perfect balance of challenge in line with what the students abilities are so that you can work them away from anxious and stressed and towards a high level of control and focus.


So how do we get students into a state of flow?

‘The flow experience is when a person is completely involved in what he or she is doing, when the concentration is very high, when the person knows moment by moment what the next steps should be, like if you are playing tennis, you know where you want the ball to go, if you are playing a musical instrument you know what notes you want to play, every millisecond, almost. And you get feedback to what you’re doing. That is, if you’re playing music, you can hear whether what you are trying to do is coming out right or in tennis you see where the ball goes and so on. So there’s concentration, clear goals, feedback, there is the feeling that what you can do is more or less in balance with what needs to be done, that is, challenges and skills are pretty much in balance.

When these characteristics are present a person wants to do whatever made him or her feel like this, it becomes almost addictive and you’re trying to repeat that feeling and that seems to explain why people are willing to do things for no good reason — there is no money, no recognition — just because this experience is so rewarding and that’s the flow experience.’ (Csikszentmihalyi, M, 2008)

A useful model for challenge and pitching it right is ‘The Learning Pit’ from James Nottingham.


For further practical ideas about engagement and its components then the writers of ‘Outstanding Teaching – Engaging Learners’ may have some answers in their model for ‘outstanding’ teaching-


Image available from here

They have a page filled with 4×4 grids on a variety of aspects of Teaching & Learning. here’s a sample of their version for lesson starts-starter.png

Click here to view all of the grids available


I began this blog writing about the reasons ‘engagement’ was important in my early career. Working in Further Education sits squarely in the ‘second chance education’ bracket and whilst the aim of getting students to be enthused about our subject long after the lesson is over is a worthy one; there is a social and personal perspective at play in their education with us too – How are we engaging students in developing connections with their peers and others? How are we working on their personal development so that they are able to progress and make a positive economic contribution to society? (Savelsberg, H et. al. 2017) ‘to interest someone in something and keep them thinking about it’ must stretch far beyond the realms of the subject content of their BTEC qualification. Enrich their time at College with social experiences, community contributions, and employer-led projects and we might be closer to engagement than any dictionary definition might get us.


Csikszentmihalyi, M (2008), Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, LONDON: Harper Perennial Modern Classics

Savelsberg, H et. al. (2017) ‘Second chance education: barriers, supports and engagement strategies’ in Australian Journal of Adult Learning, Vol. 57, Number 1

How do you plan your lessons?

Whenever I ask colleagues the question, ‘How do you plan your lessons?’ I never get the answer I expect to get. Their immediate starting point is often to describe the comprehensive written lesson plans they might produce for an observation or Ofsted. The kind where they pull all the stops out, justify their every move and add the cherry on top. A dancing, singing figure prances across my vision before I respond, ‘No, I don’t care about that kind of ‘planning’. ‘I’m interested in how you plan your lessons week in, week out – the planning you do for your students, not the big O.’

Then I’m invariably met with ‘Well I haven’t got time to write 4 page lesson plans for every single one of the hours I teach…’

After wondering how better to rephrase my question in order to avoid this in the future… I share that mine invariably consist of illegible scribbles on scraps of paper in a weird and wonderful layout that could only ever make sense to me. This appears to free colleagues up into a far more open and honest dialogue about what their lesson planning really consists of.

This, as you’d expect, varies wildly-

  • Some have ideas in their head with minimal to no notes on paper
  • Some stick to a linear layout with intricate timings and details for everything
  • Some plan on the back of a post-it (there’s a book in there somewhere Rachel George and you know it!)
  • Some make use of a 5 minute lesson plan (like this from Ross McGill or these from Shaun Andrew )
  • Some will just take an index card of questions in with them – the rest of their lesson has been plotted on their slides and electronic resources
  • One has a ‘mad Venn diagram’!

Layout aside (because I’ve never seen a single template used effectively across an entire body of teachers- please feel free to share one in the comments below if you know differently), the more pertinent questions become –

What does the process of planning a lesson actually involve?

What are the most important things for us to plan in advance and why?

imagesThe end point

Image available from here




Engage with a video about Doug Lemov’s ‘Start with the End’ stategy here

Perhaps a little odd to start at the end but for me (and a number of colleagues I asked on Twitter), this is the most logical beginning for the planning process.

Where do you want your students to reach by the end of the lesson?

Someone once described it to me as ‘Students are walking out of that door at the end of the lesson- What knowledge would you like them to possess? How would you like them to be different? What questions would you like them to still be contemplating?’

I then take some time to plan how best to check this- Will it be a series of questions or an activity for them to complete? Will it be a reflection in a learning diary? Do I need to conduct this individually or could a small group assessment work at this moment in time?

This process logically leads me to writing some learning objectives for students to work towards during a session. These will be the guide on our learning journey ahead.

Kompas_Sofia.JPGLearning objectives

Image available from here



You can read more about the use of learning objectives/outcomes here –

I generally choose a maximum of 3 learning objectives (because more just seems a bit crazy and less doesn’t always serve us well)-

  1. START IT – this will scaffold (support) students’ progress – a piece of knowledge they’ll need to be familiar with and have an understanding of.
  2. PROVE IT – to stretch them and demand some application and practice.
  3. DEVELOP IT – to challenge them still further and generally develop some longer-term attributes useful for their futures (digital skills, reflective capabilities, evaluation or problem solving skills).

(PS. This is never a to do list – it has to be about their learning!)

I’ve always struggled with how to relay these effectively to students and in recent years have resolved just to use questions. These take some crafting during the planning stages but once formed, they are then perfect for measuring levels of confidence at the start and end of a lesson – How confident are you that you could answer this question? How confident are you now? How about now? Students can then answer the learning objective questions for me during or at the end of a lesson and I can feel more secure that they’re leaving the classroom with all that I initially felt was important.

So I now know where I want them to get to but how can I get them there if I’m not sure where they’re starting from?

Leichtathletiklaufbahn.jpegStarting Points

Image available from here

It’s important for me to consider, via planning, the best way to determine where each of my students is starting from (and part of this is often about their emotional wellbeing so that I can be aware of this and respond accordingly during the lesson). Is asking students’ levels of confidence enough? Do I need them to map out all that they know about a new topic? Could they teach the person next to them all that they’ve learned so far about a topic? Could they free-write for 2 minutes about the bits they know and don’t? Could they complete an activity or engage in an online quiz?

There are multiple ways to achieve a sense of this starting point but its importance is in the reflection that can then take place at the end of the lesson- What kind of a journey have they been on? Could I have pushed them further (as they knew a lot to begin with)? Could I have scaffolded activities more to ensure their progress (as they knew little to begin with)? Did they end up where I thought they would and does it matter? Knowing their starting point is a crucial part of me being able to ‘measure’ their progress.

I can also consider what I’ll use to warm up their brain and generate intrigue as they walk into the room and get prepared for the lesson -a question, a conundrum, a name, a face, a challenge. This and the all important routines we’ve established of meet and greet, catch-up about the week, find your place (different every week), lanyard, pen, paper, rewards for positive engagement…

You can explore a range of starter (and plenary activities) here –


At_The_End_Of_The_Tunnel.jpgThe journey in between

Image available from here

I then consider how I’m going to get the students from their starting point to as close as possible to the desired end point.

  1. How will the new learning be introduced- Will that be me? Could that be them? Will it be researched? Could video and/or demonstration be helpful?
  2. What will their ‘practice’ look like?
  3. How will they give or receive feedback?
  4. What assessment strategies can I use throughout to check their learning and move it forward?

My group profile is crucial for informing this part of my planning – Where are each of my students at currently? What are their strengths in this topic? What do they need to develop? How can I best shape activities to maximise learning for each of my individual students?

pexels-photo-92028.jpegWhat else?

Image available from here

Them and me – At each point of the lesson- What are they doing? What am I doing?

Questions – What questions could I ask at pivotal moments in the lesson that might further their learning? How might I differentiate these for each of my students? What questions might they ask me? What misconceptions might they have?

Schedule– In a longer lesson- What timings are important (because I know I won’t be able to stick to them all)? What breaks from learning could I provide to refresh students’ energy and what will these consist of?

Connections– What pieces of previous learning could I make connections to? What learning to come could I relate it to portray a sense of the bigger picture?

Extend– How might their learning be extended outside of the lesson?


7512877940_2720e3be12_b.jpgA word of caution

Image available from here

During my initial teacher education, I was given a card that said, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail’. Whilst I have experienced failure even when I have planned, I can agree that few great lessons have come from no lesson plan at all (although I do remember an awesome one!). So planning seems to be worthwhile but a word of caution is shared in this piece of research (thanks for the link Deep Ghataura).

‘Once the teacher decides what outcomes (s)he wants from the lesson and how (s)he will achieve them, (s)he sets out to produce these outcomes regardless of what pupils introduce into the teaching-learning situation. Pupils’ ideas and remarks are words to be heard, not thoughts to be dealt with’ (Zahorik, J, 1970).

So, whilst we plan where we want to take our students and predict how they will get there, we must not adhere so rigidly to the plan and what we expect that we miss the rich learning experiences that could result from us being more responsive to the reality of the students in front of us.

There are, of course, many, many elements of a lesson that I’ve missed out here but I chose only to write about the fundamental aspects- the parts that I think make the biggest difference to learners’ progress as well as those parts that make me feel more confident entering a lesson. I’d love to know what you think? Please comment below or contact me on Twitter @hannahtyreman

Back to School

Yesterday saw me go back to school.

I had preconceived ideas about how it would feel to be back in school but none of this played out as I thought. The most overt sign that I was in a different education environment was the bell. I was not accustomed to a bell. A bell that was soon followed by a rush of sound and people. A rush that was then to be proceeded by a second bell signalling the descent of quiet as formal learning commenced proper. It certainly lent some purpose and energy to proceedings.

The second bell of the day began my first lesson of the day. The lesson entitled,

What rigour and high expectations can do for a group of A Level students.


John Keats

Image available from here

High challenge
A range of high challenge activities were present in this revision class –

  • A Venn diagram designed to throw students in at the deep end of evaluation.
  • A selection of out of class reading designed to connect students with theorists and context at a deeper level.
  • A paired activity designed to connect the students with language and structure.

A couple of the phrases I heard this teacher use on multiple occasions to guide the learning taking place were:

‘Shoulder partner’– for the person sat next to them.

Share your ‘rich ideas’ – sharing their mere thoughts wasn’t good enough- this demanded an exchange of the ‘rich’ variety.

There was zero hesitation for these students to share their reasoning behind their thinking when I asked them to. They were more than used to elaborating on their responses and expanding their answers to incorporate all that might be expected from a detailed response.
As these students’ learning progressed, mine was about to enter the long since forgotten land of A Level Lang and Lit but with a new lesson-

What a collegiate environment and ownership of learning can do for a different group of A Level students.


Image available from here

As I entered, students had just been given some feedback from the latest ‘trial’ exam (a subtle difference to ‘mock’ but one that feels far less threatening somehow. They were each setting out what would be useful in the weeks after Easter:

  • 1 urgent priority on their red card
  • 1 semi-urgent priority on their yellow card
  • 1 ‘if we get to it’ priority on their green card

It soon became obvious that these priorities wouldn’t just be for the teacher to integrate into his lesson. It would also be a responsibility for the students to incorporate these aspects into their own revision.

Students had taken responsibility for their learning outside of class.

  • The students had been sharing photos and having discussions via a Facebook group they managed between them.
  • They had been working independently and in pairs on work that would help them to pass their exams; willing to share this with their peers so that everyone could benefit from learning together.
  • They were happy to share how other teachers had approached tasks so that they could make the most of their learning in this class.

As another bell signalled yet another whizz through the bustling corridors and past the visiting Lady Mayoress, it occurred to me that both teachers so far had been referencing some of the following attributes:

  • Resilience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Reflectiveness
  • Reciprocity
  • Respect, Values and Attitudes

They were providing praise to students based on demonstrating these attributes in meaningful ways. The teacher I had just seen had been able to share what one student had achieved as part of their rewrite. The teacher revealed that this act had shown resilience on the part of this particular student and a conversation was had about how other students could achieve the same. I felt impressed by a school-wide explicit dialogue about what qualities and attributes students were developing that would surely lead to their future success. Good practice was not just being praised and modelled in terms of students’ subject knowledge and understanding but beyond this too; a more holistic view of ‘success’.

View more about their learner attributes here

And so I was to land on my third lesson of the day-

What routine and yet more high expectations can do for a group of year 8 students.


Julius Caesar

Image available from here

I was back with the same teacher who had taught me my first lesson of the day but this was sure to be an entirely different lesson altogether. She shared what her class were due to be exploring and said they were much more lively than some of her groups. From my perspective as a post-16 teacher, I wondered what year 8 group might not be lively.

I’ve always felt that routines for learning are so vital for instilling positive learning behaviours. In this lesson, their benefits could not have been plainer.

  • They all knew to start the lesson by completing their spellings for the day (first lesson of the week, they copied the words out. Second lesson of the week, they covered these and had a go, third lesson of the week would be a spelling test).
  • They all knew that on the first lesson of the week, they would read some of their book and have their planners checked (40 pages a week and merits given for more).
  • Students were given responsibility- distributing whiteboards to each student.
  • There was a routine in place for getting the students attention after a discussion or an activity- a clap from the teacher that would be copied by the students. Sometimes a clap that would be started by a student she selected and then copied by everyone. Sometimes the clap would not be returned loudly enough by the students and the teacher would say, ‘where’s my class?’ They would all return the clap louder than before to demonstrate they were ready for the next piece of learning/instruction/explanation/modelling.
  • Shoulder partners‘ emerged again as students were asked to work with their partner or shared ideas. They knew the routine.

I was bowled over by the focus of this close to 30 strong group of students. I was even more in awe of the carefully honed techniques of this teacher holding them all in the palm of her hand- even whilst they analysed the challenging language of Shakespeare using ethos, pathos, and logos.

With much to think about, it was lunchtime and down to maths where my fourth and final lesson of my day was awaiting me.

What energy and freedom can do for a top set group of year 10 students.


Quadratic equations

Image available from here

As the bell signalled the commencement of the first lesson after lunch, in walked this group of more than 30 year 10 students. The teacher signalled for them to look to the right for their starter activity as they walked in and yet again more routine was present as they all collected their whiteboard, textbook from the back of the room and headed for their currently allocated seat (a seat that had changed as the year progressed).

Before long, there was furious problem solving taking place as the students grappled with quadratic equations and negative co-efficients. Having studied intermediate GCSE when it existed, I hadn’t the foggiest what these students were up to so I asked. Before long, I reached the conclusion that these students must just be practising some kind of magic…

As part of the lesson, the teacher divided a group of the students off for some extra teaching whilst the others continued their learning on the topic. This group were to be taught by their peers and to begin with, this was to appear out of control and lead to some confused faces. After a little input from the teacher and some time for the initial fear and excitement to dissipate, I could hear one student say to the other, ‘come on, let’s go check on our class’ and when I looked over next, these two student teachers were checking solutions and offering advice; working around their allocated group to check that learning was secure. Meanwhile, all other students progressed with purpose and worked collaboratively with one another- moving around the room as required to seek the advice and support they needed from one another. The teacher circulated too- contributing to their learning experience however it was required.

As I moved towards another pair of students working to solve a problem I could see a frustrated student grappling with something. I knew I wouldn’t be able to help but I asked her what she was working on anyway. She explained that she was working on a problem but that whatever way she tried it, she couldn’t get it to work. I asked her how she knew none of them were right and she said, well the answers are on the board… But she said she couldn’t move on until she knew how to get to the answer.

In these students, I saw none of the defeat and lack of confidence I can so often see in so many of the students who arrive at college. All I could see was a genuine thirst for learning and a determination to succeed. This is not inherent in all students and so had clearly been cultivated by their teacher; a man who believed in his students and was joyous to see them arrive- ‘Hello sunshines’. He praised them for their resilience and marvelled at the resourcefulness and reciprocity. But this praise was not empty and fleeting, it was continual, heartfelt and most importantly, supported by high challenge. As he encouraged their work, he simultaneously challenged them with – ‘What if I said/did this…’ ‘What if I removed this part…’ ‘How about if you were given this instead, what then?’ As they came up with questions to match answers he had given, he enthusiastically shared the ones he felt would challenge the class the most. He asked students up to the board to demonstrate how they had solved a problem and getting something ‘wrong’ was not a bad thing, in fact it was frequently used as a learning opportunity for the rest of the class who may have made a similar error.

So where were my GCSE resit students?


Image available from here

As I sat in the year 8 English lesson, I wondered where they might be hiding. Was he in the student who didn’t have his reading planner with him? Was he in the student who moved across the room because the radiator was annoying him? Was she in the student who was asked to leave the lesson by a senior member of staff?

Was it just too early to tell? Probably. But what was it about the students I saw who were resilient; who were determined to succeed? What set them apart from so many of the students who arrive at college with their confidence at rock bottom; lacking purpose, direction and determination? If some of my current resit students had been in these teachers’ classes, how would their learning have fared? Or are there so many other factors at play in their lives that a resit class was inevitable? I have more questions than answers about how some students accelerate ahead of others but it’s a question I’ll continue to ponder.

So what future lessons await?


Image available from here

I plan on arranging a visit to a primary school to see what lessons might lie in that sector for me.

The day has caused me to consider how we might get some of our staff to learn from the practice in other sectors. How we might make use of development days to visit others and reflect as a group on what we have seen?

There’s a bigger learning journey ahead in terms of effectively transitioning our students from school to college. The students I saw were well used to routine, clear sanctions and rewards and whilst many were developing the attitudes required to learn independently and enter the workplace, they have not got there yet. When they enter the college environment, they are just expected to adjust to the lack of a bell, the many spaces on their timetable and ‘study days’, the more flexible learning environments and learning online. These are big things for students to become accustomed to. I’m considering the whole college approaches that might have to be taken to scaffold this transition process as much as we might scaffold the rest of their learning.

Yesterday saw some of the best learning I have seen in a long time. Classrooms filled with joy and purpose. Lessons that have left me with the following messages:

  1. Never underestimate the power of routine, however small and seemingly insignificant.
  2. Never underestimate the power of freedom; allowing students the freedom to make their own learning decisions.
  3. Never underestimate the power of carefully chosen phrases and carefully crafted questions. Language is king.


Featured image available from here