“What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure”. Discuss.

If Joseph Heller was correct when he declared “every writer I know has trouble writing” then it is little wonder that we mere teachers can find teaching writing difficult. Apparently even English teachers do not find teaching writing easy and research by Gannon and Davies (2007) shows that many teachers are drawn to teach English by a love of reading but are less enthusiastic about writing and often lack assurance as writers.


.flickr photo credit Froderik Rubensson

While Jarod Kintz might exaggerate slightly when he asserts – “Sometimes writing is easy. Other times it’s as hard as trying to eat a whole whale, after the whale has just eaten you.”.  Henrietta Dombey (2013) in “What we know about teaching writing” reminds us that writing is a complex process and that “ Hayes and Flower(1980) proposed that the experienced writer engages in three different kinds of activity: planning, creating text and reviewing. In their view, this is not a simple three-stage sequence but a process in which the writer weaves back and forth between all three activities in the course of writing a single text.”

Perhaps it is a lack of confidence which means that we fall back on the same types of prompts when we are teaching students how to write in our subject.  Relying on writing frames and well worn structures such as PEE and PEEL do help students structure their ideas but can often produce rather dull prose.  If we return to the words of Professor Coe – ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’  we have to consider whether an over reliance on the same types of writing scaffolding stops children from thinking hard.

Abandoning scaffolding is a step to far for most of us and perhaps the challenge is “to mix up” the scaffolding we use.  The Literacy TLC introduced you to the idea of slow writing by David Didau (David Didau on slow writing and David Didau revisits slow writing) and several of you have used it to pleasing effect.  Sam Gibbs used slow writing with Y13 to write up some notes and tlinked it to the A2 mark scheme which demands flair and fluidity in geography writing.  Andy Daykin has adapted it get more depth into answers to a GCSE question by challenging his group to: “Use at least 6 sentences in your answer. The second sentence should start with “Although” and somewhere in your answer you should endeavour to use the word “consequently”.  Jane Brierley has kept it simple with her Y11 geographers and made them include at least 3 highlighted connectives before she would collect their work in.

We also looked at Alex Quigley on micro writing.  This has provided interesting summaries of the Gun Powder Plot for Rebecca Lees and a student in  Ian Barnes’ Y10 science group defined the Big Bang Theory (in seven words) as “Rapid expansion of space, time and matter.”

Finally we were introduced to the many graphic organiser available on line (especially on pin interest). The fishbone has helped my Y13 structure an essay paragraph and the word definition sheet has helped Y12 come to grips with very specific political terms including, rather topically, “left wing fire brand” and “rank and file Labour party members.”

Links to graphic organisers are below (there are others available)




Lean Lesson Planning by Christina Watson (inspired by @pepsmccrea)


, , ,

When I hear the word planning I automatically think: “Fail to plan. Plan to fail”.  However, when it comes to planning lessons Lean Lesson Planning by Peps Mccrea [1] suggests that we should channel Dwight Eisenhower who allegedly said : “Plans are worthless but planning is everything”.


flickr phot credit – Joel Montes de Oca

The book’s 116 pages (with a nice big font and big margins) manages to combine the wisdom of Hattie, Lemov and Wiliam in one slim volume and encourages teachers to view planning as a “process rather than a product”.

He suggests that teachers start with the questions “where do I want my students to get to?” and “what do I want my students to have learned by the end of the lesson?” This method of “backward design” is recommended by Hattie[2] and others because it has been observed that the most effective teachers spend more time identifying the outcomes and less time selecting activities than other colleagues.[3] Starting with excessive clarity about what you want your students to be able to do should allow you to identify a range of learning milestones (tasks that your students are unable to do at the start of the lesson but with your support they achieve by the end for your lesson). Leading Learners writes about this in depth in his excellent blog post “Classroom excellence demands destination clarity”.[4]

The next step of lean planning is to build in activities which allow you to know where your students are on their journey. Building in methods to check understanding are often under utilised and when they are not planned carefully we can rely too much on single student questioning which gives us information about an individual but not about the whole class. As we start a new academic year I want to use much more multi student questioning, perhaps with, mini whiteboards to have students answer planned multiple choice questions to check understanding. Some of this will involve questions which check knowledge acquisition but I would like to become more skilled at framing multiple choice questions which highlight common misconceptions. Exit passes (or socrative) can provide a useful alternative to plenaries with students: having a class answer 3 to 5 questions on a slip of paper which is handed in before students leave the classroom will provide useful assessment data.

When planning how you can help your students get to their learning destination Mccrea suggests we think in terms of: “What is the least that needs to happen for my students to make progress towards their next learning milestone?” and then select activities which allow our students to take “the shortest path.” (Lemov). It is important to build challenge into the process and to keep students out of the comfort and confusion zones. Mccrea reminds the reader that the “low floor high ceiling task” which is accessible to all but can be taken as far as the student is able and the “all start no finish” task which is a graduated series of questions were all students can answer the first question but no one can answer the last are lean ways build in challenge. @Headtacherguru provides some advice if stretching students is your pre term resolution in his Pedagogy postcard 19-pitching it up[5]

The role of feedback in helping students on their learning journey is crucial. Well structure peer feedback and self assessment can be used alongside a well timed piece or oral feedback as well as more formal written feedback. McCrea reminds us for feedback to be most effective it must

  • Close the gap between where students are and the next learning milestone
  • Focus on how students can move on rather on what went wrong
  • Go alongside opportunities to put feedback into practice (DIRT)
  • Focus on the smallest thing that will help students make progress.

it is important to remember that to  consolidate learning we also must build in spaced learning techniques [6] and plan to reactivate the initial learning not just in the next lesson and revisit the learning a few weeks later.

In conclusion, Mccrea says there are 4 non negotiable aspects to consider when starting to plan a lesson.

  • Where are the learners starting from?
  • Where do you want (need) them to get to?
  • How will you know when they get there?
  • How can you best help them get there?

I am going to add a fifth:

  • How do I ensure they retain what they have already learned?

More information from Peps Mccrea found at The 7-habits of highly effective lesson plans

1 Lean Lesson Planning Peps Mccrea (2015)

2 Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement John Hattie (2008)

3 Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better Doug Lemov 2012

4 Leadinglearner.me/2015/02/17/classroom-excellence-demands-destination-clarity/ accessed on 25/9/2015

5 http://headguruteacher.com/2014/04/25/pedagogy-postcard-19-pitching-it-up/ accessed on 25/9/2015

[5] http://www.innovationunit.org/sites/default/files/Spaced_Learning-downloadable_1.pdf accessed on 25/9/2015o

[6] edium.com/@pepsmccrea/the-7-habits-of-highly-effective-lesson-plans-f785f1f8974e accessed on 25/9/2015

Mindset. Are we there YET? By Ian Gaunt and Christina Watson


, ,

It has been nearly three terms since Barry Hymer introduced us to the ideas of “Mindset” and in the interim we have had three teachermeet sessions where we have considered how we translate the key messages into classroom practice. As a staff we have argued mainly over whether Dweck’s views on praise are “right” and whether or not the ideas she puts forward are just too simplistic. There is no doubt that the ideas are appealing and many of us have been encouraged when a student has declared that Churchill had a “fixed mindset” or has apologised for giving up too easily and “being a little bit fixed mindset!” but it is probably time to take a more nuanced view.


FLCKR photo credit megan Lynnette

The phrase “Mindset” actually brings to mind a quote attributed to Henry Ford: “whether you think you can or you can’t you are probably right”. But is believing that effort will help you get better enough – even if you reframe it as Virgil’s more positive “Success nourished them: they can because they think they can”.[1]

Over the course of the 2014-15 Year 7 students have undertaken mindsets training based on a model designed by the University of Portsmouth which QKS had access to as part of the “Closing the Gap” research funded by the NCSL. The course was delivered by Geography, History and RS staff and involved students studying: how the brain works; how language and feedback can influence the learning process: breaking down stereotypes; identifying role models and their journeys to success and allowed students to plan their own routes to potential success.

As part of our evaluation process students completed a mindsets questionnaire before and after the course in order to ascertain if their mindset changed. As we had this data we used it in a variety of small ways. For example, we compared the change in scores for matched samples of children of higher and lower prior attainment (as measured by KS2 SAT scores) as we wondered if either or both groups were more likely to change mindset after the training. However, we found no significant difference in the scores.

Another very small scale study looked at the mean mindset score against progress made in Maths over Year 7. Students from a sample Year 7 form made one National Curriculum sub level more progress if their questionnaire responses indicated a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Using mean growth mindset set scores we also looked at progress in maths for pupil premium students of a growth mindset, comparing them with pupil premium students with a fixed mindset. Again, on average, those with a growth mindset made a sublevel more progress.

The initial signs (based on some very small samples) suggests very tentatively that the Mindsets course is beginning to make an impact on students but mindsets is a long journey – we haven’t got there… yet. It is clear that just delivering mindset training is not enough.

After reading Yeager Walton Cohen 2013.pdf a colleague Heather Wilson summarised success as being mindset+effort+teacher help.  This fuller formula echoes with a blog written by John Tomsett who summarises the research as effort+startegies+help from others as perhaps being a fuller formula for mindset success.

The ideas of Dweck are complimented by those found in Practice Perfect[2] which asks us to reconsider that practice does not necessarily make perfect if you are practising the wrong method. It is more accurate to assert that “practice makes permanent.” and therefore, knowing how to practice and using modelling and feedback in a culture of practice are equally as important as the belief that the effort spent practising will result in improvement. The book then goes on to give us 42 strategies which will help us in these areas!

Although the ideas of Dweck are appealing not least because they appeal to our desire for hard work to be rewarded but creating a classroom climate which attributing “student success to effort rather than ability and valuing resilience to failure (grit).” Coe et al (2014) is only the first step to embedding a holistic mindset culture at QKS.


[1] This Much I know about Love Over fear John Tomsett Crown (2015)

[2] Practice Perfect Doug Lemov Erika Woolway and Katie Yezzi Jossey-Bass (2012)

Using IRIS by Lynne Coulthwaite and Richard King

IRIS Connect is a web based video technology which allows for reflective practice, coaching and collaboration.  Our TLC used this system to establish whether we found it to be a useful tool to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom.


flickr photo credit John Spade

IRIS connect promises much ……

“We put the power of professional development in your hands….. We help you to take greater control over your professional development, by enabling you to reflect on teaching and learning and collaborate with peers in our secure online community.

You don’t always need someone else to tell you what’s going on in your classroom. You can gain great insight by using video to observe yourself and reflect privately on teaching and learning. Having time for teacher reflection is vital for improving schools with effective teaching. IRIS Connect provides a powerful solution to the barriers that can hinder this process.”

….but would it deliver?

Research by Professor Christina Preston (found here) looks at the impact of using IRIS Connect for developing communities of practice, efficacy and collaborative CPD; and her report summarises the findings from the first phase of the research.

  • 94% of teachers actively using IRIS Connect feel there has been a positive impact on their teaching
  • 88% say their confidence has risen
  • 85% feel that there has been a positive impact on collaboration.

It is a relatively easy system to use, necessitating the booking online of the camera (which goes by the name of Lewis), which is then timely delivered and set up by the every helpful and exceptionally patient boys in IT. A simple logging in, wearing the microphone and pressing start means the camera whirrs into life. The recording of lessons can be stopped, started and replayed at any time, putting the classroom teacher in full control. The log in system allows only the teacher concerned to view the recording, unless he/she wishes to invite someone else to view it.

By filming the lesson and watching the videos back, members of our TLC group agreed that it allows an insight into things that might have been missed whilst in “the thick of it” in the classroom and provides a better understanding of the learning that has taken place in the lesson. It also allows for a general overview of student effort and behaviour. The camera was situated at the back of one classroom and provided much information on which students were off task. It also gives the opportunity to see your own performance – any little mannerisms or particular phrases you use repeatedly without being aware of it.

We found it most effective if we focussed on a certain aspect of teaching and learning. In our TLC individuals focussed on areas such as behaviour management, use of the Target Language in the classroom and monitoring group work. Lynne Coulthwaite looked at how much German she spoke in the classroom and at the response of the students to this. In turn this allowed Lynne to reflect on the times she had used English and whether this was justifiable in the circumstances or whether, in retrospect more German could have been included in the lessons.

Members of our group only used the self-reflection aspect of IRIS, which is essential for improving practice, but it would be possible to share good practice with colleagues and allow other colleagues to watch your videos and for you to watch theirs. IRIS can also be used for lesson observation from afar, so an observer can watch another teacher’s lesson via the IRIS system rather than being present in the classroom and it is also possible through an in ear device to be given comments from the observer as you teach.

As is often the case with technology we did experience a few technical hitches along the way. Occasionally the video did not record for no apparent reason and there was interference between the mike and any other sound system which meant the recording had to be halted to allow some activities to take place. However, there are ways to overcome most of the limitations we came across and, as in anything in life, practice was the key to success.

Whilst filming yourself in the classroom may not be something many people would  relish (many of our group members were very reticent) but we all found it beneficial and would encourage anyone else to try it. If you want to have a go, the camera is booked through its own online system, have a chat with Jarrod Collings and he will get you started. We also found it beneficial to book the camera for a block of time so that your students can get used to its presence in the room and eventually ignore it.

A Summary of “What makes Great Teaching? Review of the underpinning research.” Summarised by Christina Watson


, ,

As we approach the end an academic year and start to think about the new courses we deliver next year is it time to reflect on what great teaching is? “What makes Great Teaching? Review of the underpinning research”was written by Coe, Aloisi, Higgins and Major and published in October 2014 and gives some insights. (full report found here)

My favourite bit of the report writes “How teaching leads to learning is undoubtedly very complex. It may be that teaching will always be more of an art than a science, and that attempts to reduce it to a set of component parts will always fail. If that is the case then it is simply a free-for-all: no advice about how to teach can claim a basis in evidence. However, the fact that there are some practices that have been found to be implementable in real classrooms, and that implementing them has led to improvements in learning, gives us something to work with. “

The report starts by defining great teaching “as that which leads to improved student progress” and identifies six key factors that contribute to great teaching based on 200 pieces of research.

(Pedagogical) content knowledge: the most effective teachers have a deep subject knowledge and understand the way students think about the content. This in turn allows them to identify students’ common misconceptions.

Quality of Instruction: high quality instruction includes effective questioning; using assessment; reviewing previous learning, providing model responses; giving adequate time for practice to embed skills and scaffolding new learning.

Classroom climate: the interactions between teachers and students creates a classroom which demands more whilst recognizing students’ self worth. The climate attributes student success to effort rather than ability.

Classroom management: the teacher’s ability to make efficient use of lesson time and manage student behavior with clear rules consistently enforced is important to maximising the learning that can take place.

Teacher belief: why teachers adopt particular practices; their theories about what learning is and how it happens are important.

Professional behaviours: teachers reflecting on and developing professional practice, participation in professional development, supporting colleagues and liaising and communicating with parents enhance learning.

While it is never desirable to concentrate on the negative: the report also identifies common teacher practices, which the evidence suggests, have no significant impact on student learning. These are

Using praise lavishly as a number of studies suggest that the wrong kinds of praise can be very harmful to learning, for example, Stipek (2010) argues that praise that is meant to be encouraging and protective of low attaining students actually conveys a message of the teacher’s low expectations.

Allowing learners to discover key ideas for themselves as enthusiasm for ‘discovery learning’ is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favours direct instruction (Kirschner et al, 2006). Although learners do need to build new understanding on what they already know, if teachers want them to learn new ideas, knowledge or methods they need to teach them directly.

Grouping learners by ability as evidence on the effects of grouping by ability, either by allocating students to different classes, or to within-class groups, suggests that it makes very little difference to learning outcomes (Higgins et al, 2014).

Encouraging re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas gives a satisfying – but deceptive – feeling of expertise (Brown et al, 2014) but a range of studies have shown that testing yourself, trying to generate answers, and deliberately creating intervals between study to allow forgetting, are all more effective approaches.

Addressing issues of confidence and low aspirations before you try to teach content: teachers who are confronted with the poor motivation and confidence of low attaining students may interpret this as the cause of their low attainment and assume that it is both necessary and possible to address their motivation before attempting to teach them. In fact, the evidence shows that attempts to enhance motivation in this way are unlikely to achieve that end. Even if they do, the impact on subsequent learning is close to zero (Gorard, See & Davies, 2012).

Presenting information to learners in their preferred learning style is a belief that continues to persistent, but the psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style (Pashler et al, 2008; Geake, 2008; Riener and Willingham, 2010; Howard-Jones, 2014).

Ensuring learners are always active, rather than listening passively, if you want them to remember is a claim is commonly presented in the form of a ‘learning pyramid’ which shows precise percentages of material that will be retained when different levels of activity are employed. These percentages have no empirical basis and are pure fiction. Memory is the residue of thought (Willingham, 2008), so if you want students to remember something you have to get them to think about it. This might be achieved by being ‘active’ or ‘passive’.


Life without levels in RS by Katherine France

“Life after levels is primarily a curriculum issue not a data issue. I worry that too many schools are rushing to create new labels which don’t actually mean anything” @LeadingLearner

The RE community is struggling and debating with the question of what life without levels will look like. Some schools are adopting the GCSE grade to replace the level using sub categories of establishing, developing and emerging. The idea of ‘emerging progress in RE.doesn’t sit too comfortably with my educational philosophy and, for me we need some more thought on how we connect the major concept and schemes.

In our TLC life without levels we have thrashed around a number of ideas one of which has been SOLO taxonomy. SOLO is an acronym for the structure of the Observed Learning Outcome developed by University academics, Biggs and Collins.

For instance, thisis how I have used SOLO taxonomy ito plan a year 7 lesson on baptism.

Baptism lesson plan

In my experience SOLO taxonomy has become a really interesting planning tool in measuring progress in lessons. However does it answer the 7 questions proposed by Michael Tidd to evaluate any replacement assessment system.

  1. Can it be shared with students?
  2. Is it manageable and useful for teachers?
  3. Will it identify where students are falling behind soon enough?
  4. Will it help shape curriculum and teaching?
  5. Will it provide information that can be shared with parents?
  6. Will it help to track progress across the key stage?
  7. Does it avoid making meaningless sub divisions?

On reflection probably no single system can do all that but perhaps by combining a system such as SOLO taxonomy along with clear learning objectives we might just be on the right lines. The work of Joanne Harris from Broughton High School combines the learning objectives purposed by the RE Education Council or England and Wales with SOLO taxonomy.


Remember though that learning is messy and unpredictable My favorite metaphor for learning is Robert Siegler’s ‘overlapping waves’ model; the tide may be coming in, but individual waves roll in and recede unpredictably.”. ASDavid Didau explains ‘Levels, ladders, thermometers, graphs are all metaphors. They’re meant to help us to think about something so complex and mysterious it makes the mind boggle.

Perhaps it will be impossible to develop an assessment system which we can agree accurately measure individual progress but we can effectively plan for learning to take place and have a clear idea of what learning we are looking for.


Biggs, J.B., & Collis, K.F. (1982). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy (structure of the observed learning outcome). New York: Academic Press.





Time to go SOLO in Music? by Rob Shilitoe

What follows is a series of reflections on how I have experimented with SOLO Taxonomy in Music over the past year.


Fig 1: Produced by Pam Hook (2012)

Hattie (2012) explains how SOLO Taxonomy describes increasing levels of complexity in a students’ understanding of a subject and how moving through this model allows students to progress from uni-structural/multi-structural (surface learning) through to relational/extended abstract (deeper learning).

Pam Hook, director of HookED, is widely known for using innovative classroom based approaches to SOLO Taxonomy (2011) and through much of the work Hook has produced, I have started to develop my use of SOLO Taxonomy in Music.

Over the past year and from the research I carried out, I came to see SOLO as a tool used in planning learning to ensure that there was appropriate challenge and aspiration. My first experiment focussed on a year 7 scheme of learning where students compose an Impressionist piece of music in response to a picture. I thought about the type of questions that could be asked by both teacher and student to assess which stage students were at and what questions/feedback could be used to challenge students and help them progress (fig 2).


Fig 2: V2 SOLO Taxonomy Formative Assessment Too

Looking at this tool, if a student can describe and/or show through practical music making how musical elements can be used in composition, he/she would be working at a multi-structural level. Therefore, in order to challenge this student I could engage him/her in a discussion about analysing the picture and then model how musical elements could be used to portray descriptive words developed through analysing the picture. This would hopefully encourage the student to move from shallow learning (describing musical elements) through to deeper learning (using musical elements in practical music making to portray descriptive words).

This tool is far too cumbersome to ‘carry round’ and physically use in lessons. However, using SOLO in developing this tool during my planning has led to greater clarity in understanding what learning I expect to take place in this task and the different levels of challenge. If I wanted to produce a tool/resource based on this for students to engage with, it could look like this (fig. 3):


Fig 3: V3 SOLO Taxonomy Student Outcomes

Moving away from KS3, I have also taken inspiration from Hook’s SOLO Hexagon Generator app (2011). This tool produces hexagon shapes with each one displaying a key word. What students then have to do is as follows:

Ask students to arrange the hexagons in sequences and clusters, justifying and annotating any connections made:

    Unistructural learning outcome – student identifies one hexagon

   Multistructural learning outcome – student identifies several hexagons

   Relational learning outcome – student connects hexagons and explains the connections with annotations.

   Extended abstract learning outcome – student tessellates (clusters) hexagons adding annotations to make generalisations about a vertex (intersection point).

Hook (2011)

Here is a set of hexagons based on Baroque Music:


After giving the hexagons to students, they began by defining and describing these individual terms:

Students then linked these words adding annotations:


Students then clustered these terms, making generalisations about these clusters with some students producing their own hexagons:


This one hexagon task allowed students to move from simply identifying and describing key words (shallow learning) through to linking and contextualising key words (deeper learning).

So, is it time to go SOLO in Music? I certainly believe there is a place for SOLO in planning learning and challenge at KS3 Music (I have moved forward and have begun to develop a scheme of learning built on SOLO Taxonomy), and most certainly at KS4 with a demand to learn key terms and music theory, I believe SOLO tasks such as hexagons can certainly encourage students to progress from shallow to deep learning.


Biggs, J.B., & Collis, K.F. (1982). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy (structure of the observed learning outcome). New York: Academic Press.

Hattie, J., (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge.

Hook, P., (2011). HookED Educational Consultancy: About <http://pamhook.com/about/&gt; [Accessed 19th May 2015].

Hook, P., (2011). HookED Educational Consultancy: HookED SOLO Hexagon Generator <http://pamhook.com/solo-apps/hexagon-generator/&gt; [Accessed 19th May 2015].

Hook, P., (2012). The Learning Process <http://pamhook.com/wiki/The_Learning_Process&gt; [Accessed 14th April 2015].

Effective learning – what should we look for? by Christina Watson and Liz Samuel

As another season of lesson observation ends I re -ponder the $64 million question what does effective learning look like? I am drawn once again to the words of Professor Coe – ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’ [1] but can learning be seen in the classroom?

A Thinking Man

Flicker photo credit – nitsckie

Graham Nutall’s “The Hidden Lives of Learners”  provides some initial food for thought with the section, “the problem is that teachers can be very sensitive to what their students are doing and feeling, but their focus is, as it must be, on managing the behavior and motivation of their students. Changing what students think and believe requires more than just involvement and motivation. Being sensitive to student learning requires something more”[2]

Nutall’s research “discovered that a student needed to encounter, on at least three different occasions, the complete set of information she or he needed to understand a concept. If the information was incomplete, or not experienced on three different occasions, then the student did not learn the concept.” [3] However, the three times rules “ does not mean simple repetition……What it does seem to mean is that students’ minds need time to process new information. It also means that the simple brilliant explanation is not, in itself enough”[4]

David Didou [5]suggests that Learning is invisible and that as teachers “we need to separate learning from performance. Performance is what we can see and measure but it’s the tip of the iceberg. Learning takes place inside students’ heads and lurks beneath the visible surface of a lesson. Often what appears to be learning is really just mimicry.” However, even if learning is not quite as easy to spot in busy as we would like, there is evidence (beyond outcome measures) that supports the view that learning is happening.   Whether we believe learning is visible or invisible teachers we still need to plan for learning to happen.

After discussion with Liz Samuel we think that learning might be more effective when,

  • Students are working on content and/or skills that build on current achievement levels and the learning activity is challenging but accessible. Planning challenging activity means that students need to sustain concentration on the task in hand and think very hard to succeed.
  • Existing knowledge and skills are being recalled and rehearsed in new contexts to create more complex schema and/or overlearning.
  • Students are making links to existing learning and question and evaluate as they learn
  • Student have a scaffold or model to support their learning and can try an alternative learning strategies when struggling to succeed.   Students take some responsibility for their own progress.
  • Relationships allow students to question to clarify and develop their understanding.
  • Students value their work, recognise their progress and have an awareness of their development needs.
  • Students are moving toward independence of thought and creativity.

What do you think?

[1] http://www.cem.org/attachments/publications/ImprovingEducation2013.pdf

[2] Nuthall, Graham (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research Press (page 25)

[3] Nuthall, Graham (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research Press (Page 63)

[4] Nuthall, Graham (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research Press (Page 81)

[5] www.learningspy.co.uk/featured/learning-is-invisible-my-slides-from-lef15/ accessed on 20 May 2015

Might ‘humble research’ fit the evidence informed agenda? by Liz Samuel



Our research TLC closed its final session for the year with a discussion about whether we should leave research to the experts. We recognised that academic researchers have much more time and they have skills that have taken a long time to learn. There was a feeling that ‘teachers don’t know if they are doing it correctly’ and a sense that practitioner research lacked depth. However, everyone had completed a small research project during the year and one member suggested that he had got to know year 7 really well in the process. Another colleague pointed out that being involved in research in your own classroom was an aid to understanding and interpreting academic research.


In 2013, Goldacre drew attention to the potential of random control trials for improving teaching. Subsequently, the EEF and the National College both ran large scale trials where RCTs were managed by academic researchers. Goldacre suggested that some projects might be too small: that one person running a project in isolation was less valuable. However, the National College’s ‘Closing the Gap’ Project is currently encouraging (and funding) small scale RCTs in school. As a classroom teacher I have been designing my own research as part of this project.

My most recent small scale RCT looked at the impact of ‘DIRT’ when students had written feedback they could apply. It involved structuring ten one hour lessons very carefully so that two groups of students were getting ‘matched’ lessons. Undoubtedly, one of the advantages of completing an RCT is the level of reflection and planning for learning that it encourages. The research also involved designing a comparable and reasonably objective method to provide feedback on A level written work. With thirty years’ experience of teaching my subject, I learned a lot from analysing 90 pieces of written work to a standard format, not least that many answers looked superficially good but lacked thorough explanation.

For 10 hours, I taught my classes knowing that I was formally measuring the impact of my work. I’m sure the heightened awareness led to me noticing more and reflecting more on the impact I was having on individuals. The students for whom ‘DIRT’ was not working seemed suddenly more noticeable.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that there are no ethical issues in doing RCTs in school and decided that I would fully debrief my students. They were fascinated by the process that we had gone through and keen to offer their view of ‘DIRT’ and its impact. Their feedback was far more incisive and relevant than the response I would expect from a student survey.

Having listened to my students, reflected on my observations as I taught and applied an objective measure very carefully, my feeling was that the impact of DIRT was quite variable. Some students made considerable progress after having the opportunity to apply feedback but for others the gains were less obvious. The statistical analysis matches my professional judgement – the null hypothesis has been supported. It is important however to acknowledge that, without the RCT, my professional judgement would have been considerable less informed and probably wrong because, like many teachers, I enjoy innovating in the classroom and tend to think new things are working.

It would be unethical to try to replicate the results – we can only justify RCTs in school when we expect that students will gain from the experience. However, academic research suggests student engagement with feedback improves progress so there is justification for trying to develop my approach. Having invited a colleague to observe a subsequent lesson using ‘DIRT’ and help me reflect, I read John Tomlinson’s blog on metacognition. It’s a new thing, I’m innovating and it seems to be working. David Didau perhaps would see that as enough, but past experience suggests attempting some research might be a good plan. Following from reading Gary Jones blog on ‘humble inquiry’, my colleague Christina Watson coined the term ‘humble research’ – teachers trying to minimise bias and preconception and genuinely (though perhaps not expertly) discover what is going on in their classroom. As Jones suggests, we need to look at a range of evidence to inform improving learning in our classrooms but for me ‘humble research’ will continue to be part of the mix.


Didau, D., (2015). Do all good ideas need to be researched? [blog] <http://www.learningspy.co.uk/research/should-good-ideas-be-researched/ [accessed 14th May 2015]

Goldacre, B., (2013). Building Evidence into Education <http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/b/ben%20goldacre%20paper.pdf [accessed 22nd March 2015]

Jones, G., (2015). The School Research Lead – Evidence Informed Practice and Humble Inquiry [blog] < http://evidencebasededucationalleadership.blogspot.co.uk/ [accessed 17th May 2015]

Stuart, W., (2015). Leave research to the academics, John Hattie tells teachers [TES Connect] <https://www.tes.co.uk/news/school-news/breaking-news/leave-research-academics-john-hattie-tells-teachers [accessed 17th May 2015]

Tomsett, J., (2015). This much I know… The Sutton Trust/EEF Toolkit and the Golden Thread of evidence to student outcomes, via deliberate intervention [blog] <http://johntomsett.com/2015/02/13/this-much-i-know-about-the-golden-thread-from-evidence-to-student-outcomes/ [accessed 15th May 2015]

Life without Levels by Rob Shillitoe


, ,

The decision

Following the reform of the national curriculum, the DfE announced:

“the current system of ‘levels’ used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed from September 2014 and will not be replaced. By removing levels we will allow teachers greater flexibility in the way that they plan and assess pupils’ learning.                     

(DfE, 2013: 2-3)                                            

As schools would not be given a new system to use, from September 2014, teachers would have the freedom to develop, trial and implement an original system that suited our students, our curriculum and our school.

Why has this change been introduced?

For too long now, schools have used an assessment system that teachers had not developed. Performance descriptors were produced that teachers had to ‘buy into’. Originally levels were only meant to be used at the end of KS3 (Y9) and students were to be graded with a single number. However, and perhaps inevitably, the levels were broken down into sub-levels (5c, 5b, 5a) and they were used more frequently resulting in some schools assessing using levels every half term.

 The result?

We now have an assessment system for data and not an assessment system for students and teaching and learning.

Tim Oates Group Director of Assessment Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment and Chair of the Expert Panel on assessment during the national curriculum reform, provides compelling reasons in a video posted on YouTube by the DfE, into the rational behind this move to abolish NC Levels (DfE, 2014).


What are we doing at The Queen Katherine School?

In September 2014, a group of teachers have met as part of our TLC sessions to begin research into assessing without the NC Levels. We decided, however, not to concentrate on developing a new system focussed on producing data and reports and saw this as an opportunity to redefine what assessment meant to us. We wanted to start in the classroom and look at how we use assessment to inform planning, teaching and learning and to ultimately support student learning, progress and achievement.

Our journey has been aided by a groundswell of educational research and the Internet and social media has been instrumental in the sharing of ideas and thoughts.

A fascinating blog by executive-Headteacher Stephen Tierney provides much food for thought. In it he states how ‘life after levels is primarily a curriculum issue not a data issue’ and how too many schools are rushing to setup new systems to satisfy the needs of data and reporting . This combined with the work (Pam Hook – @arti_choke), we began to investigate SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs and Collis, 1982).


Produced by Pam Hook (2012)

Hattie (2012) explains how this model describes increasing levels of complexity in a students’ understanding of a subject and how moving through this model allows students to progress from uni-structural/multi-structural (surface learning) through to relational/extended abstract (deeper learning).

Although we have only started to investigate this “, we believe SOLO can be powerful in planning assessment to support teaching and learning. Stephen Tierney (2014) had the following to say about the use of SOLO in his school:

“It has helped teachers structure the learning within lessons, projects and schemes of work in a sequential and increasingly complex manner.”

Our latest TLC session challenged members of the group to plan and implement a SOLO task in a KS3 lesson. They were asked to reflect on whether planning this task using SOLO led to greater clarity for them in terms of and what they expected from students, and then to see if students’ learning was more visible as they work through this SOLO task. Following on from this, we hope to approach the design of schemes of work and subject curriculums with the use of SOLO.

Why all of this focus on SOLO and the classroom? This is the most important element in a school. What happens inside the four walls of a classroom is key to student progress and achievement. Before we start concerning ourselves with how we quantify assessment in a new system and how we report this on paper, we first of all want to aspire to high quality first-time teaching and learning using assessment. And we feel that SOLO is the first step towards this. Once we have cultivated an ethos and strong drive to using assessment and high quality feedback to support student progress and achievement, we will then work on designing the system that requires data and produces reports.


Biggs, J.B., & Collis, K.F. (1982). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy (structure of the observed learning outcome). New York: Academic Press.

DfE., (2013). National curriculum and assessment from September 2014: information for schools [Online PDF] <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/358070/NC_assessment_quals_factsheet_Sept_update.pdf&gt; [Accessed 11th April 2015].

DfE., (2013). Reform of the National Curriculum in England [Online PDF] <https://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/n/national%20curriculum%20consultation%20document%20070213.pdf&gt; [Accessed 11th April 2015].

DfE., (2014). Tim Oates talks about assessment without levels [YouTube Video] <https://youtu.be/yDYjF_bQy4Q?list=UU4NkS_w8o50U6jw2oksEMxQ&gt; [Accessed 10th April 2015].

Hattie, J., (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximising Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge.

Hook, P., (2012). The Learning Process <http://pamhook.com/wiki/The_Learning_Process&gt; [Accessed 14th April 2015].

Tierney, S., (2014). #SOLO Heaven [blog] <http://leadinglearner.me/2014/02/22/solo-heaven/?wref=tp&gt; [Accessed 16th April 2015].

Tierney, S., (2015). Life After Levels – An Assessment Revolution? [blog] <http://leadinglearner.me/2015/03/24/life-after-levels-an-assessment-revolution/&gt; [Accessed 12th April 2015].