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?’

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.

Click here to read more

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.

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-

Transforming Teacher Education – Week 2

You can read about week 1 here

In this face-to-face session as part of the Education and Training Foundation funded programme, delivered by a number of University partners (mine being Sheffield Hallam University), we began by exploring the design of an Initial Teacher Education curriculum. What is it that trainee teachers need and how could we enable them to make progress with this?

We were asked to discuss the aspects of teaching we felt were the most important for trainees to engage with- especially those things which the mentor might be best placed to support. Much of our list turned out to be aspects we felt had been missed out of our own teacher training and/or mentor relationship when we started out-

  • The practicalities of the role- managing workload, time and being organised
  • Appreciating ‘impact’ so that strategies can be adjusted/prioritised accordingly
  • Being friendly versus being friends- boundaries
  • Setting ground rules in the form of ‘shared values’
  • Practical classroom management-including assertive discipline
  • Pastoral care side of the role
  • Their expectations versus the reality of the sector
  • Aspects of the role best summed up as ‘teachery things’


Teacher Identity2000px-Fingerprint_picture.svg.png

Image available from here

As a trainee teacher, it’s important for them to begin defining themselves- what kind of ‘self’ will they bring to the role and their students? Observing others helps them to shape this but they need to be encouraged to reflect on the development of this ‘person’ for themselves. Who are they as a teacher? This is especially important in the post-compulsory sector when teacher identity is so much more complex- they may be an engineer, hairdresser, plumber, veterinary nurse- but is this who they are as a teacher? Stepping into their role as teacher and figuring out how to still be their professional selves as they’ve known it will be the hardest journey for them to take.

They ‘have an expertise and identity from their original vocation as well as a new identity that derives from their role as teacher.’ (Orr, K, 2008) The problem arises in that they are unable to eradicate their preceding identity as ‘their previous experience gives them the credibility required for their new teaching role.’ (Orr, K, 2008)

As we move our trainees beyond this initially challenging journey, the sector then faces the unique challenge of continuing to develop all teaching staff (qualified teachers or not…) towards being tri-professionals. As Dan Williams describes, there is a need for them to continually update industry expertise to keep up with changes in industry that take place once they leave the profession. They must also continue to develop both their knowledge and pedagogy as well as the subject content and knowledge (Williams, D, 2015).

The Curriculum


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From here, we entered initial discussions about the shape of the curriculum. The mentor would be one very important part of this but what of the remainder and would we refer to it as ‘training’ or as education’? WE remained unsure throughout- discussing that it was perhaps training at the start with education later.. but at times we’d need to conduct it the other way around…

We had all of the usual elements you’d expect on a teacher education curriculum. We also spoke about the incorporation of 360 assessments, development of digital skills, discussions about resilience and mindset and engagement with the latest in evidence based practice.

Developing Expert Teachers


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John Hattie

Whilst the core aim of any teacher education programme, developing ‘expert’ teachers would be a longer term aim; establishing the conditions and foundation for them to become ‘expert’ teachers in the future.

‘Expert teachers identify the most important ways to represent the subject that they teach.’

‘Expert teachers create an optimal classroom climate for learning.’

‘Expert teachers believe all students can reach the success criteria.’

‘Expert teachers influence a wide range of student outcomes not solely limited to test scores.’ (Hattie, J, 2012)

Modelling expert teaching then becomes a large part of the job for any teacher educator- engaging trainees in learning experiences and then talking about the decision making involved in getting them there. Why did I choose to do it that way rather than this way? How was that activity beneficial for your learning? Which expert teacher attitude and belief was being used there and what was ‘expert’ about it?

Developing English and maths skills


It’s become increasingly important for all Further Education teachers to develop students’ English and maths skills, both for employment and to pass their courses. Prior to the session, we were asked to complete a Functional Skills maths paper and one for English.

English- practice paper

Teaching English and having taught Functional Skills before, there were few surprises on this paper. I was however surprised that so much of the reading task was multiple choice – the new GCSE English course certainly demands a great deal more of students than the level 2 FS appears to. The jury is still out here as to which qualification currently serves our FE students best (I’m currently inclined to say neither). There’s certainly an opportunity for this paper to develop students’ evaluative and critical abilities far more than it does currently.

Maths- practice paper

The maths paper held an entirely different experience for me however. I had heard it was wordy and that our students were often struggling with the language on the paper before they could even move onto the maths. It is wordier than I had even expected and there are a great number of details to take in before a question can be answered- students’ comprehension skills will need to be well-developed if they are to tackle such papers with success.

In some of the questions I was asked to check my answer and show that I had done my check… I had no idea how to do this. Along with this, it was clear there was certain knowledge that I was particularly rusty with and how highly knowledge features in the paper (conversion from degrees C to F for instance..). I soon found that when I was able to do a question, I felt pleased and motivated to continue. The questions I could recollect how to do were an enjoyable challenge BUT when there was something I didn’t have a clue about, I felt tired out and bored… I decided I would find a question I liked instead! Like, ooh, a graph! I know these!

The reforms to FS will no doubt be welcome for the sector when they arrive; hopefully making them far more functional and far less contrived. How often, really, do our students need to read a timetable for a bus or train these days with apps that will give them the information merely by inputting the times and days they wish to travel to their destination? Whilst being able to apply English and maths skills confidently is key when they enter the workplace we’re preparing them for, there is far more to the education English and maths can offer that we mustn’t forget about – logical approaches to problem solving, curiosity and determination to reach an answer, evaluative skills and approaching unfamiliar situations with curiosity.

So, the teacher educator needs to work with their trainees on how to develop English and maths skills but they also need to develop trainees’ English and maths skills sufficiently well that they, in turn, can develop the skills of their students.

This, in short, requires continual revisiting. Regularly asking at the end of the session, Where was the maths and English in today’s lesson? develops students’ reflective skills as they can explore how well this development was executed but they can then begin to explore how they’re achieving it in their own lessons. Much of the battle is helping trainees to translate how they feel about their own English and maths skills into a) doing something to develop their own skills and b) allowing themselves to appreciate how this affects the mindsets of their students in similar ways.

We’ve been working on a set of English skills (still a work in progress) that all of our teachers need to develop in students and we’ll be working on materials to accompany the development of their own skills too. We will be working on a maths set to accompany this.

English skills
Reading Writing Speaking Listening
Making use of a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words Writing in full, clear and concise sentences Organise ideas into a clear structure for presentation (individually or as part of a group) Listen to questions carefully and respond in a straightforward manner as part of a presentation
Reading to understand meaning (explicit) Spelling key terms correctly Plan language carefully for a presentation (individually or as part of a group) Listen to questions carefully and respond in a straightforward and suitably detailed manner as part of a teacher’s Q&A
Reading to understand underlying meaning (implicit) Make notes in a logical and clear manner Choose words carefully when contributing to a discussion Listen to others’ contributions during a discussion to avoid repeating their points
Reading to locate specific details (searching for information) Plan ideas carefully in a logical structure Structure ideas before contributing to a discussion Listen to others’ contributions during a discussion in order to make a meaningful response
Differentiate between facts and opinions, including ‘fake facts’ Spelling commonly confused words correctly Listen to and carefully follow instructions
Reading for structure- sequencing information Use appropriate punctuation
Make use of a wide ranging vocabulary (find alternatives for words you repeat frequently)
Writing to explain – writing about concepts in a clear manner
Writing to evaluate – writing about ideas in a critical way
Writing to persuade – writing about subjects in a persuasive way (convincing someone of a POV)

Embedding, Promoting, Developing

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Image available from here

Whilst movements have been made to move beyond embedding (an action that became ‘hiding’), a new term has been introduced- that of ‘promoting’. I can’t think of that as anything other than ramming English and maths down students’ throats, willing or not. Beating them relentlessly over the head with the benefits.

‘Developing’ students’ skills works well for me-

  • We’re not including English and maths for the sake of it merely to tick a box.
  • We’re not working on their skills but without explicitly sharing that it’s English and maths so that it’s by stealth.
  • We’re not marking out the adding of two numbers in a level 3 class as ‘maths’ when it’s something most of them could have achieved when they were 6 years of age.

In developing, we are actively reflecting on where their English and maths skills are currently, both in general and in relation to the subject-specific skills that will serve as the foundation for their future success in their chosen industry. We’re then working to create activities that will provide maximum space and opportunity for them to develop a wide range of skills towards both competence and confidence.

Berliner, D C (date unknown) Expert Teachers: Their Characteristics, Developments and Accomplishments, Available at:

Hattie, J (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers, quoted in The Main Idea, Available at:

Orr, K (2008) Dual Identities: enhancing the in-service teacher-trainee experience in further education, Available at:

Williams, D (2015) The Tri-Professional, Available at: