#TLT15: Achievable challenge: walking the fine line between comfort and panic

Reflecting English

scale up

Image: @jasonramasami

What follows is a write-up of my #TLT15 presentation on ways of challenging students without making the content unachievable. Enjoy.


In 1997, Strack and Mussweiler conducted a study into what is known as the ‘anchoring effect’ – the finding that we tend to let the first piece of information we receive about a subject influence our subsequent judgements about that subject. In their study, participants were asked whether Mahatma Gandhi died before or after the age of 9 or before or after the age of 140. Participants were then asked to guess how old Gandhi really was when he died. Even though the two original questions were plainly absurd they had an interesting effect on the later estimate: the average guess of the ‘before or after 9’ group was 50, the average of the ‘before or after 140′ group was 67.

The anchoring effect is a robust…

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This much I know about…learning your times tables


I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about learning your times tables.

I feel a little less like a dinosaur this morning. Here’s why. I have not always agreed with the young and distinctly un-dinosaurish Kris Boulton. In this article about lesson planning I think he uses a flawed metaphor and what he argues is plain wrong-headed. I think his latest article, on why children should learn their times tables, is, however, excellent. He writes, “if you simply know that “seven eights are 56” then recalling that fact from our infinitely-capacious long-term memory uses no working memory at all; it liberates a person’s working memory to focus instead upon the more demanding, higher-level ideas.” Common sense, except that common sense is not that common.

I am old-school about some things. There are fundamental benefits to…

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Maths Mindsets: My Y10s


Maths Mindsets. Image from indiedb.com Maths Mindsets. Image from indiedb.com

Three weeks into teaching my Year 10 GCSE class, I’ve come to the conclusion that a large part of my task is going to be psychological.  In a class of 28, there are so many different responses to the process of learning maths as well as to the maths itself.  Some of these are probably common to all forms of teaching but others seem more specific to learning maths.  The last time I wrote about maths it was based on observing lessons  – ( Meaning and Magic amid the Muddle of Mental Mathematical Models ). There are so many mental models to wrestle with.  All very interesting as an observer but now I’m teaching maths myself  it’s a constant challenge – and a fascination.

For context, this is Set 2 out of four; all expected to get Grade 4/5 as a minimum; all aiming for more. We’re…

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#TLT15: Getting attitudes right

Teaching: Leading Learning

We’ve been working for a while on getting our attitudes right. We didn’t need excellent blogs like these from Heather Fearn and Tom Sherrington to know that effort and hard work are the key to success. I’ve blogged before about our pilot programme, attitude determines altitude, which ran with Year 11 last year. We tracked attitudes at each monitoring point and worked with students on improving their dispositions in the classroom. In evaluating that programme, we came up against one key question that needed resolving:

How do you accurately assess a student’s attitude?

The question was put pertinently by Sue Cowley back in March:


As a parent with children in our school, I know Sue follows our work very closely. Whether or not her tweet was a direct reaction to our work, or something more general, I don’t know, but it gave us pause for thought. Were we…

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Worth the effort?

Class Teaching

effort dweck

Like most schools, at each data capture point (three times a year for each year group), we also ask teachers to give an ‘effort grade’ for each student.  Up until now, the rubric we used for this was fairly bland and not really used that effectively.  This is not too smart, from a school that celebrates and subscribes to the idea of developing a growth mindset.  To address this, Andy Tharby gathered a group of staff to re-write the effort rubric.  This is what they came up with:


The first group to have this applied to them were Y11 this week – by each of their teachers.  We’ve had a look at the correlation between their effort score (1= exemplary, 2=consistent, 3= inconsistent and 4 = poor) and it’s summarised by this graph;

effort graph

What does this tell us? Not surprisingly, that effort matters!  In my mind though, it’s what happens after…

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Organising instruction & study: 7 recommendations to improve student learning

Belmont Teach

This blog is a summary of a Practice Guide by Pashler et al. from 2007, which sets out to provide teachers with specific strategies for instruction and study.

I came across it in a roundabout way via this paper by Dunlosky et al cited in the “What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research” by Rob Coe et al.

The central tenet of this particular Practice Guide is that learning depends on memory, which can in turn be strengthened by concrete strategies. These strategies help students to master new knowledge and skills, without forgetting what they have learned.

A note on Practice Guides

The Health Care professions have been using practice guides for some time now to communicate evidence-based advice to medical practitioners.

The recommendations contained within Practice Guides are intended to be:

  • Actionable by practitioners
  • Coherent in their approach
  • Explicitly connected to the level of supporting evidence


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DHS TeachMeet 2015

Class Teaching



Last Thursday saw our fourth annual TeachMeet at Durrington High School.  As always, it was a fantastic evening.  A great demonstration of the appetite of teachers for sharing and collaboration – exactly what teachmeets should be about.

tmdd3The evening got off to a great start with David Didau.  David asked us to challenge our assumptions about teaching and learning – something that he is very good at.  He discussed the fact that many of the things that actually make a difference to learning are counter-intuitive – so need us to think about and change our own practice.  He unpicked the difference between learning and performance, the need for desireable difficulties and what we can do about it.  His presentation can be downloaded here.


The Presentations:

Kate Bloomfield – The best revision guide…ever – @tennisbloom

Kate discussed the fact that there was no need to spend loads of money…

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Assembly: Concentration

Teaching: Leading Learning

This assembly owes much to a presentation on the brain given by Bradley from Inner Drive (@Inner_Drive) at #GrowEx last year, and this excellent TED talk by Peter Doolittle (@pdoopdoo) on working memory shared by Huntington Learning Hub (@HuntingtonLHub). It’s well worth a watch:

The PowerPoint slides are shared at the bottom of this post.

We start with a test of working memory (see the video for this test). I am going to ask you to remember five words just by holding them in your mind. Here are the five words:

  1. Tree
  2. Motorway
  3. Mirror
  4. Saturn
  5. Electrode

Whilst you are remembering those five words, I am going to set you three challenges.

  1. What is 23 x 8?
  2. On your left hand, use your thumb to count your fingers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, then back again 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
  3. Now in your head…

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Ideas for Teaching Better. All In One Place.


Screen shot 2015-05-29 at 15.00.47 So many ideas to share!

Most of the blogs I write that get a good response are the ones about teaching.  Thankfully.  I’d write a book but a) it takes too much time b) the money is terrible and c) I’d just be repeating everything I’ve already written here.  It would be called ‘Into the Rainforest of Teaching and Learning’. I like the organic metaphor because it captures something of the mystery, complexity and beauty of teaching well.   This post is my very lazy outline for that book; another way of bringing some ideas together in one place.

Rainforest Thinking 

From Plantation Thinking to Rainforest Thinking:  it's quite a journey From Plantation Thinking to Rainforest Thinking: it’s quite a journey

I like the idea that learning is ‘lush, diverse, unpredictable, evolving, daunting, exciting’. This is my underlying philosophy for teaching better: rainforest thinking.

Great Lessons

great lessons pic

Although I’d change a few things, I’m still very happy with this series as a way…

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Want to share knowledge organisers?

Othmar's Trombone

One of the many powerful things to come out of the brilliant team at the Michaela Community School in North London is the use of knowledge organisers to specify what core knowledge is to be taught in a scheme of work. If you don’t know what these are, before you go any further you should read MCS Assistant Head Joe Kirby‘s blogpost explaining why and how they use them:

Knowledge Organisers

Brilliant, eh? I recently nicked this idea from the MCS crew and shared one of these for one of the texts on the new English GCSE (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and it got a lot of interest. In fact, pretty soon a lot of people were sharing their knowledge organisers for other texts on the new GCSE and there was talk of collecting them somewhere.

Knowledge organisers are used across all subjects at MCS, so rather than…

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