How can it be,

When you there’s a whole host of interactive technology,

That we feel more lonely?

Isolated in four walls,

My cast, a microcosm of my prison.

Wrapped like a mummy from elbow to fingertips

I sit and try to ignore the pain.

It Sears through my brain 

Ripping, tearing and pulsating through my train

Of thought.

But the longer it lasts, the higher the walls grow.

At first they’re just bricks, protecting and housing pain.

The white plaster encasing, supporting the agony.

But 21st century leaks through and comments, texts and calls are made…by 

Those you recognise as friends. 

You sigh, I’m not alone…

At first.

Then, time runs out.

An invisible stopwatch of friendship, you feel you should know about

Runs out.

A black out ensues.

One that lengthens the minute by minute pain.

You know, deep down, life goes on

So you mop up your one handed attempt at breakfast along with your tears

And silently soldier on. 

Those brick walls have thickened to block out phone signals now.

Only monosyllabics squeeze through.

The monotony of pain becomes your routine friend.

You even ignore the lack of thank yous for your attempts to work through the pulsing pain.

But the cast is so tight, nothing is getting in

And I can’t breath. I’m a has been.


TLT16 take aways

I thought I would make the best use of my 4 hour train journey back to reflect on my practice in the context of the teach meet in Southampton this weekend. 

As always when I attend these events, I have found it reenergising. If nothing else sometimes this is enough. Everything else is a bonus and I think I managed to take away several bonuses with me today.

The one thing I am constantly worried about is not knowing if I am doing the right thing by the students. You get so caught up in the bubble, and when we get on that rollercoaster in September the opportunities to reflect and ensure that your practice is purposeful is so limited it is difficult to feel you are on the right path. 

So in the true blog style, I am going to just note down my reactions and thoughts for each of the session I attended and reflect on how that matches into my previous reading and pedagogy.

The opening from John Tomsett:

I was looking forward to hearing from John Tomsett for two reasons: one, I read his book over the summer and loved it, and  secondly from an English teacher’s perspective I wanted to pick his brains regarding the way he has moved forward with the new GCSE.

His opening used the buzz word that has been so central to my reading over the last 3 years: metacognition. Frustratingly, this isn’t something that I’ve been able to get off the ground in schools in terms of outside of my own classroom but in hearing this word reiterated today and throughout many of the sessions is I attended helped me see that this is something I want to persevere with. As I feel it has really merit. 

Session 1: questioning with Andy Tharby.

I played safe here as I have read ‘Making every lesson count’ and feel quite confident in questioning. What I did take away was the a sense of relief that I wasn’t the only one reall hammering the questioning. NOt only using it as retrieval practise but also from Readingn Reconsidred by Doug Lemov, using it to shape the questions that I use to analyse a text..

What I did think was particularly powerful was the emphasis on creating lists of questions from a text. A whole departmental approach is a fab way to ensure that you are supporting the less experienced staff and also providing resources from all. 

I bought a book at the Crown book stall today called the Philosophy Shop which also helps develop students thinking through questioning that I think I will begin building into schemes of work to help link contextual factors, questioning and diverse thinking on a topic we are studying. .

Session 2: Assessment with John Tomsett

This was out of sheer curiosity I went to this one. LIfe after Levels is a struggle for many schools and for English at the moment it is not exception. Schools are trying to balance the accountability factor alongside not giving levels and changing mindsets and I definitely took away from this a need to change my mind set on levels.

I came away with many questions. How can we help students progress within specific skills if we are only saying they are below, on or above target? What are we basing this on if we never know their target? How can we use mark schemes and ask students to take responsibility for their progression if we aren’t giving them a scaffold? Can this be used or phrased in a different way?  If SLT want us to have targets in front of the books but then not give arrest to the students how do we have this conversation with parents and child when they ask?

I understood John Tomsett approach and he really has changed the mindset of his staff and students  I am just wondering how to have an impact or work through this as a middle leader in a new school?

Session 3: Literacy with Lindsay Skinner

I really enjoyed this session. NOt only as the subject was directly related to what I enjoy and teach but also because of its charismatic no bullshit delivery. I’ve been an avid fan of teaching grammar over the last 18 months mainly because I realised my grammar knowledge was shocking and I needed to improve it asap. There were plenty of quickwins in this session with activities that helped embed the terminology . I loved the mindset that it wasn’t teaching the terminology but the effect of how using this terminology worked with the experts. .

Session 4: Teacher Development with MIchael Slavinsky

Another passion of mine was the central theme of the final session: staff CPD. It was a really interesting debate and I am looking forward to reading the research attached to the ‘bets’ discussed and ‘pegged’ during this session. The one that really sticks in my mind is whether it is best to offer CPD for general teaching pedagogy or for the individual and whether knowledge and skills should be offered as training over mindset and values. 

Overall,I think I came away from the session wanting to sit down and look over the CPD on offer at my school and subject and devise a really clear path forwardthat was supported with research and a knowledge of th we w, what why when and how. .

I did enjoy the day and I will never miss an opportunity, if I can help it, to attend sessions like today as it really is the personalised CPD that helps reinvigorate me as a teacher and helps me feel inspired for the next half term.  I just hope next time I can take someone with me to bounce ideas off. 

Action Research – Metacognition Part 2

Research in Practice

In order to build the metacognition into my teaching, I knew I needed to start with the way I wanted to continue throughout the year. Students are much more astute and aware of their surroundings and, as the research has suggested, engaging in the dialogue of learning with students and teaching with them rather than to them has a dual effect: it builds the teacher and students’ relationship – which, according to Hattie’s Visible Learning research, accounts as the highest effect size when measuring students’ progress – and it explicitly explains what is in it for the students and how they are responsible and involved in their learning now they have the facts. Therefore making students the ones responsible for their learning (growth mindset).

Figure 1

Growth Mindset – in practice

From September 2015, my goal was to introduce the importance of Mindset to all staff and students.

Figure 2

Ideally, I wanted staff to be aware first so that the mindset rhetoric would feed into as many lesson as possible. This was half successful, with a page in the teacher planner being dedicated to explaining the basics of mindset, and also an optional training session for staff. This was attended by around 20 members of staff from a variety of areas in the school. It was an opportunity to introduce the key research and prejudices we are prone to. (figure 1). I ran the session similarly to the way I introduced the students so that the Mindset ‘diet’ was the same. I introduced some praise phrases and asked them to pick which they would identify as liking to receive. As these were a mixture of fixed, growth and dependent mindset comments, it allowed the conversation to develop into our own personal mindsets and therefore how we influence those children in the lives around us due to this. I showed some examples of strategies in the classroom; both long and short term, that staff could incorporate in order to address students’ mindsets. Over all the feedback for this session was very positive. (figure 2) with many staff commenting on the ease with which they could begin incorporating strategies to encourage a growth mindset in their classroom.

Translating this into my classroom practice was also a priority with all of my classes as I wanted students to be aware of the way they thought about English and approach learning in my classroom over the academic year.

Another member of staff, Sam Cook, the Learning Dispositions Coordinator, also asked me to deliver a growth mindset lesson for some of his Key Stage 3 students too, to help understand how to approach teaching this from a pedagogy stand point and how the students would react to the research.

Figure 3

I began the lesson by addressing common misconceptions about what it takes to be a great learner. There were lots of responses about ‘listening’ and ‘copying what was on the board’ (figure 3). As you can see from this starter activity my other aim was to see how many students chose to complete all the tasks or only one of them. Colour coding was one way I wanted to introduce differentiation into my lessons too, as the colours would indicate the effort they put in. Again, for the first attempts – I found the majority did one or two but not all three.

The lesson followed a series of quizzes and personal tasks, asking students to identify which praise they liked, which statement fitted them and where they ended up on the flow diagram (figure 4) before allowing them to see the definitions of Growth, Fixed and Dependent mindset.

Students were then asked to reflect on what they had learnt as a consolidate activity and note down things they needed to remember when they were learning. The act of reflection and writing in their own words was also a pedagogical approach from Make It Stick to ensure students remembered what they had been taught.


The reflections from the Learning Dispositions Coordinator, after teaching this to his students were positive:

“Hi Jemma

Thank you so much for coming into my lesson during your free time to demonstrate mindset this morning. The pupils and I learnt so much from the lesson! It was really interesting to see pupils responses to what they perceive what is an outstanding learner and the pupils their response to their mindset”

Of course, students cannot show progress and full understanding within one lesson and therefore it was not enough to just teach this as a one off lesson. Students can show their performance of their new knowledge (Didau: What if everything We Knew about Education was Wrong) but until they have remembered it and applied it, we cannot say they have taken on the new learning of Growth Mindset on board. With this reflection in mind, I created a min scheme of learning entitled ‘Thinking about Learning’ to be delivered before teaching the curriculum in which I continued to incorporate Mindset.


Thinking and Learning lessons

The first scheme I wanted to teach all my year groups from year 7 through to year 12 was thinking about learning. AS you can see in (figure 6) I chose to be completely open about the research and where the information has come from so the students could develop trust with myself and also the credibility that Willingham has identified as a precursor to lack of progress and students being disengaged.

The first lesson of the scheme took them through the idea of memory and how we forget what we have learnt. (figure 7)

This was coupled with several activities and quiz questions that tested their preconceptions of the ways they think of learning against what has been proven to work, according to the research.

As you can see in (figures 8 and 9), I addressed the ways in which I wanted to give feedback to the students for their work and the way I wanted to teach my schemes because of what the research told us. This enabled the students to see my thinking and provide the credibility and ‘proof’.

The second lesson was tied into the growth mindset lesson taught previously and applied to the method I wanted to use for marking. To encourage independence I wanted the students to interact with the marking and feedback rather than become dependent and passive. I created a MAD time mark sheet for students to use when I mark. The students would see numbers in their margin to indicate a certain mistake. It would be the students responsibility to look up what the number means and read the guidance to then improve or correct their errors.

This dependence was developed further in this lesson with the introduction of the progress stickers. I designed these to help students take responsibility for their own progress and take ownership of how they were progressing through the year. Using the growth mindset thought process I took them through how this worked and why they want to aim for beyond expected progress. This was something students have used all year and every term have recorded their progrerss. Students are now seeing, at the end of the academic year, how they have progressed in their subject are and, particularly my year 10 students, have noticed their progress and how far they have come.

In addition to the growth mindset lesson and applying it to the marking and tracking progress, I also encouraged students to use the resources around them. Therefore, this display (figure 12) is an example of the growth mindset display I created that was designed as a constant reminder about the effort the students need to put into their owkr in order to do well. This has also encouraged me and altered my phrasing in the classroom. I often find I now say ‘this is a challenging task’ ‘it will take time to master’ ‘if we are struggling then we are learning and improving’.

Finally, as part of this mini scheme, I wanted to provide students with tangible and transferable learning tools that would help students revise and learning in all areas. Again, using the strategy of explaining where the research has come from, I asked students to go around the room and read the 9 strategies. They had to use elaboration (one of the strategies) to write down, their own words, what the learning tool was and how it could be used.

(see figure 13 and 14)

On reflection of this scheme, I do feel it was a lot of information at once – and could further be differentiated in terms of year groups – especially as a whole school initiative – ‘drip feeding’ elements each year and building on the knowledge of learning to learn would have a more consistent and long term effect on the students.

I did have a positive experience in terms of the students’ reaction to the information, being treated like adults in their learning and responsible allowed them to feel like they were involved and many students said so. I even had some interesting conversations with year 7 students on their learning and how their parents were reading and telling them similar things.

Incorporating metacognition throughout the year

Now I had taught my students the methods I wanted to use, I began incorporating these into my schemes, designs and pedagogy on a daily basis. A few examples I will explain below.

(figure 15) This is an example of interleaving (Willingham) for year 11. It covers the final year revision of all topic areas. I developed this interleaving for all the topic areas with areas in black key places for low stakes testing to help them prepare. This covered the other research findings which identified testing often help students recognise key mistake and errors.

Another example of interleaving with year 10 poetry can be seen in (figure 16). Here I wanted to incorporate Didau’s explain circle for creating a scheme which developed students’ independence through building the confidence of students. The colour coding (which I also shared with students) showed how I began with explaining how to analyse a poem, modelled it, talked though it and then gradually pulled back the help leaving the scaffolding in places. Finally, the purple shows where the students were required to use their growth mindset and confidence built throughout the scheme in order to analyse poetry on their own. This is a requirement of the GCSE too so was a tool they can take with them and apply elsewhere.

Retrieval practice is something I have made much use of with year 10 and year 8 studying of texts. (Figure 17). As a way of measuring progress rather than performance these have been placed as my connect activity of the next lesson to see how much students have remembered / learnt from the previous lesson. This has had a positive impact on students’ view of testing but also a clear way for students to see how much they know.

Alongside this openness, I have kept track of these low stakes tests as seen in (figure 18). Using my own pedagogical approach of FAIL SAIL TAIL (first, second and third attempt in learning) students have been scored and then reflected on their performance – keeping track of how they have done and where they need to improve.

Calibration and Reacting to Feedback

At the beginning and end of every scheme for each year group I have tied in a routine way of approaching the skills to aid the students in their progress and understanding of their learning.

(figures 19 and 20) are both examples of these. With 19, it shows an example of feedback that the students have asked for and help they requested in order to improve. IN 20, this is an example of a calibration activity: students identified what they thought they felt for each skill – then were tested and re-reflected in the “truth” to show that their brain can sometimes trick us into the way we think about our knowledge.

Both activities had encouraged students to really be on board with the tasks and also take them seriously. Year 8 for example have significantly improved in terms of their effort, even when given difficult tasks. This is surprising with many of the students I have in that class, to see them pushing themselves to improve because the feedback in a lot of cases is instant. This is always an issue in English as things take a while to mark so this strategy I have found has had really positive responses from the students.

Flash cards are another method I have used with significant impact on students revision techniques and methods. There is a lot of content to remember for GCSE and figure 21 is an example of a flashcard for a poem. The questions on one side the answers on the back and again it is one way for students to have a piece of work that can be used to revise from with any one. And students know this is a tested method that words. I had really positive responses from Year 11 using this method in preparation for their English literature GCSE, both last year and this year. It is definitely one that I will be continuing to use.

Overall Impact

From my own personal perspective in taking on this research and actively incorporating it in my lessons, I feel it has significantly improved my knowledge and therefore my confidence in my delivery. I know I have research that backs up and supports what I teach the students and I can say so. This confidence has translated into the classroom and I feel really helped me build the credibility and rapport with the students that so essential to ensuring students make good progress.

When we look at more concrete impact and the data of students over the year we can see the progress they have made. Year 9 is the first set of data with students highlighted to indicate how much progress they have made this year. 6 students making outstanding progress; 8 making good progress and 10 making expected progress. 4 students haven’t yet made expected progress.

So over all 35% made expected progress and 50% made beyond expected progress. When we consider year 8 students progress we can see that 6 students have made outstanding progress; 6 have good progress; 13 have made expected progress with only 2 not making expected progress in this set 2 class. (3 students with no KS2 data). So, 44% made beyond expected progress and 48% made expected progress.


Both examples of data here have come from half termly assessments and an end of term test. Each half term they sit an assessment that tests the knowledge and skills taught in the new schemes I have created. Each scheme I have developed this academic year has incorporated the metacognitive strategies that I have addressed though out this evaluation. These final figures reflect the progress students have made this year based on KS2 data and where they are heading at the end of the academic year and beyond.

When we look further at the KS4 data we see a similar pattern however not as extreme as KS3 with 45% of year 10 student on expected progress and 80% of year 11 expected to get a C or above in their final exams.

On reflection of the data, it is clear that for high impact metacognitive strategies have to come into students’ educational careers much earlier to help them prepare mentally and also have the tools needed to approach their exams and futures independently and resiliently.

There is a question of using form time to help aid in this however for these strategies to work and be fully embedded within the school it has to be part of the ethos of staff and students. Whole staff training is essential with a clear teaching and learning focus on how to embed these into the daily practices of teaches and their delivery of the curriculum. If form time is to be used, like with BLP, then there must be a connection between form “activities” and what happens in the classroom – something that ties both together and form metacognitive activities are interweaved with what goes on in the classroom.

Finally, I feel there needs to be a step by step guide to introducing these to students. Growth mindset I feel is the baseline for students and was clearly really taken on board by the younger students. It was good to revisit and remind the year 8 and 9 students particularly when things became challenging however as Mindset plays such a big role in the students’ responsibility to engage with their learning I feel it should come first. After Mindset in year 7, year 8 students could move onto memory techniques and feedback strategies to build on the need for students to use their growth Mindset and improve their work and have a go at challenging tasks. This would then leave year 9 to work on the more demanding pedagogies like calibration and elaboration.

Again, I feel, as much as this has worked for my students on the whole in my classroom, if you want a bigger impact on progress then these strategies need to become part of the ethos of the school and be the driving message to students particularly in light of the new, more demanding GCSEs.

(all figures are below)

Action Research – Metacognition Part 1


My research aim is to evaluate the impact of metacognitive strategies on learning and progress in a secondary school.

Focusing on research by:

  • Daniel Kahneman: Thinking: fast and slow
  • Peter Brown et at: Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
  • Carole Dweck: Mindset
  • David Didau: what if Everything I knew about Education was Wrong
  • Daniel Willingham: Why Don’t Students Like School?


What the Literature Says:

In every piece of educational research or research on metacognition there is one key phrase that is repeated: “it is OK to be wrong.”

To put this phrase into context, the literature suggests that quintessentially, learning can only improve and progress if you are secure in the knowledge that it is “ok to be wrong”.

Hanging on this premise is the development of each of the pieces of literature that I have read to encourage students to become better learners and more self-conscious learners they must first embrace the acceptance of failure and also the willingness to put in effort.

Why has this research gained such ground of late? Is this not a known fact: learning is challenging and hard work? I think the message, due to the large influx of metacognitive research, is that, no, students, and to some extent teachers, believe that learning is easy and education should help as much as possible to ensure that all children succeed. The literature, to some extent is not negating this fact, instead it is suggesting we have misread the way in which we approach inclusivity. Instead we seem to have swayed to the polar opposite: dependence and a fixed mindset that has been nurtured throughout the twenty first century society and media.

 “we are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we are not. When the going is harder and slower we are drawn to strategies that feel more productive. But these strategies are temporary and short term.”


If we first take into account the basic sciences: Dweck and Kahneman, both recognise that we have two types of brain, metaphorically. Nobel prize winner Kahneman notes that our brains have two reactions (fast and slow) and typically our immediate reactions tend to be how we live our lives. Our emotional reactions, remembering our phone numbers, brushing our teeth, yet it is also the fast reactions that causes us to make mistakes. The best example of this is optical illusions or logical puzzles; we tend to jump to immediate reactions without slowing to take in other views and new information. Thus demonstrating a fatal flaw in learning: if we always go to our immediate reaction and believe ourselves right then how likely are we to spot out mistakes AND therefore develop our learning by correcting them? I know as a student this was something I was unaware of but, as Brown points out it is one of the most prominent flaws to our learning. He suggests:

Calibration is the act of aligning your judgements of what you know and don’t know with objective feedback so as to avoid being carried off by the illusions of mastery that catch many learners by surprise at test time.”

But how do we encourage students to think slower? How can we develop a culture of independence in our students?

This ultimately is where this action research stems from; students are not independent. They are spoon feed, for whatever reasons: be it pressure, time, disengagement, behaviour or any other number of stresses in the educational environment. Yet, what is this dependence culture created? Students who, as Carol Dweck calls it, a fixed mindset:

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.”

This fixed mindset has been nurtured through shot lived reality TV stars, football players and their wages, parents praising intelligence and an ‘I don’t know the answer, Miss,’ attitude; amongst many other examples. The lack of motivation to succeed is reduced heavily if your mindset is already fixed in the “this is all I can do” phase. It doesn’t seem to matter what a teacher does then, the students as already accepted this as their limit. So what do we do?

In Dweck’s words, we need to help students create a “growth mindset” through John Hattie’s top strategies: teacher relationships:

“-growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way – in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests or temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”

If we are to follow Dweck’s train of thought here she states that anyone who is willing to have a sustained growth mindset in their learning “especially when it’s to going well” is more likely to develop and grow as a learner and a person. Her research, which compared students given fixed mindset comments and growth mindset comments found that “those people with the growth mindset were not labelling themselves and throwing up their hands. Even though they felt distressed, they were ready to take the risks, confront the challenges and keep working at them.”

This seems like the best environment in which to develop metacognitive strategies for students in order for them to become better independence, lifelong learners.

Daniel Willingham points out:

“people are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.”

So, teachers, how do we encourage students to think? What strategies do we give students to enable them to develop their own curiosity and take control of their learning?

This takes us back to Daniel Kahneman: thinking is slow and we have to encourage students to work with slow thinking.

This takes us another step deeper in the understanding of learning because what has been recognised as important for real deep curious thinking is knowledge: “we must ensure that students acquire background knowledge parallel with practicing critical thinking skills.” Again, Willingham points out, like the other researchers and psychologists, that thinking is not a skill we can isolate. In the broader sense in education we cannot, therefore, detach and teach skills from the knowledge?

English for example has a set of core skills that are tested across a broad range of texts. Can I critically teach the effect and impact of metaphorical language without linking to the contextual and social representations in Animal Farm or Frankenstein? The research here suggests no; how can students think about the effects of language if they do not have previous knowledge of its use by other writers in other contexts in order to compare and develop the analytical effect? Not to mention the knowledge of vocabulary that will need to be looked at and understood in relation to historical context.

So to summarise so far:

  • Thinking for learning is slow
  • We don’t develop our learning if we think we cannot improve
  • Learning from mistakes and resilience develops learning and progress
  • Critical thinking takes effort: a growth mindset
  • Critical thinking cannot occur without knowledge

Therefore, it seems the next step is to ensure that students are given strategies to develop their knowledge and thus apply it to critical thinking tasks. And this is where the reintroduction of Peter Brown et al is needed.


Improving my Teaching of Grammar

I set myself a challenge this term to improve my teaching of grammar in order to help students develop their understanding and analysis skills.

I have found every year, by the time my students reached GCSE, they are struggling to identify the basic word classes like nouns and verbs when analysing writer’s craft. So, I set out to ensure that every other year group that got to their GCSE’s never found themselves in that position again.

Purchasing and reading a fantastic NATE book on grammar, I was inspired and decided to create a scheme of work, of 13 weeks, focusing on the theme of dystopia and the writer’s craft. The first half term I wanted students to recognise word class, sentence types and syntax and be able to explain the writer’s choices and the impact that it has. In the second half term, the students are to apply their understanding and learning and create their own dystopian world and emulate sophisticated writers studied in the previous half term.

I thought, as it has been such an epiphany for me, that i would share some of the things i have tried out successfully with my year 8.

I began with some calibration (Make it Stick by Peter Brown et al).

calibration of grammar

Students assessed how much they thought they knew in each area. Then i gave them the new KS2 grammar test. After marking it (student self marked) and dividing the scores between the different elements of grammar, the students were able to go back to this calibration sheet and compare the results – highlighting to themselves the importance of our grammar scheme to come.

I used the theme of dystopia and collected the opening chapters of dystopian stories from youth fiction like Gone to Orwell’s 1984.

word class and goneword class definition

We began with word classes; I asked students to note down all the word classes they knew first. Then in pairs I got them to play the matching game of these word classes. This was an activity i got them to play repeatedly as a starter over the next few lessons. Students were asked to try it first and checked their understanding and then I got them to play it against each other and the clock, turning the cards face down and mixing them up before continuing the activity.

gone and finding word class

The next step was being able to spot these purposeful choices of language. We read Gone and students identified the word classes specifically with regards to words that revealed the dystopian world of the story in order to begin linking to intention.

I ensured that my starter activities always built on and checked the learning and development of word classes (retrieval practice). Once students have secure knowledge of word classes we moved onto understanding the shifting of words amongst  the classes – used ‘hand’ as an example and then asked students to find another in the extract from Gone we had been studying.

word choices

We developed word classes for another lesson by helping students understand how each word choice is specifically chosen for purpose. I modelled (rather precariously) one sentence from the story and then changing each word class until the whole sentence has a new meaning. Students then emulated this and looked at the meaning of their new sentence word by word.

creating sentences

The next week we moved onto a different dystopian story and focused on sentence types. I began by using common words from a fairytale asking students,  in pairs, to recreate simple, compound and complex sentences in turn. This was the students calibrate activity as they had studied sentences in a previous scheme of learning.

phillip pullmans sentence

Before accessing the second story i asked students to look at the opening to Philip Pullman’s Snow White (from the Grammar NATE book). Students looked at where the clauses were, what they told the students and then attempted to emulate this sentence for the opening of The Game (a prediction activity for the second dystopian story). I have posted on twitter some of the examples the students came up with – I was that proud of them!

These activities helped when we moved onto reading the story. I asked students to identify sentences that revealed the dystopian world along with the sentence type used. This helped students prepare themselves for the analysis.

analysing sentence structure

I modelled the plan before also showing the step by step analysis of grammar. (above)

This was an opportunity for students to show that they could identify word class use and sentence type use along with analysing the choices made.

This was students F.A.I.L – first attempt in learning to help guide them for the S.A.I.L (second attempt in learning) and then their final T.A.I.L (third attempt in learning).

Before I allowed students to give it another go – I wanted to challenge them a little further and so, as our final story, we looked at 1984 and syntax choices, particularly the first two sentences.

I gave students the first sentence cut up and asked them to create a sentence using all the elements. We then identified the sentence type and the word classes choices. This was further developed when we looked at Orwell’s first draft in comparison. This enabled students to develop even further analysis of word choices and the impact it had on the reader. I have to say myself and the teaching assistant in the room at the time was blown away by what the year 8 students were coming up with.

Hopefully, when students are given their final analysis a go next week, students will be able to show their learning of accurate grammar elements learnt.

As a teacher, I feel that I’ve improved my teaching and understanding of grammar uses. Also I have really seen the impact of subject knowledge in this area – students are much more confident and sophisticated in their responses. It will definitely be something I will be bring into my teaching more often.

Revision techniques for the classroom

We all know the feeling when it gets to exam season; the students have covered everything and we’re all tired. 

Over the years, thanks to some fab colleagues, amazing books and Twitter I’ve managed to collect a good 10 “spiced up” revision techniques to use and adapt for all subject areas. I’ll list these below with a brief description on how I’ve used them in my subject area: English.

1. Jenga 

This is good if you have a few of these towers so students can work in groups. Number each Jenga piece and create questions for each number. Students take turns picking a piece, then answering the correlated question. If they get it correct then they can place it on top. There are lots of alternatives ways to play this too and if you’re feeling like creating 50  odd questions on a topic maybe long winded then get the kids to do it and swap them around the teams! 
2. Dart board

Cheaply purchased from a pound shop. The Velcro is also covering the safety issue. Again a team activity, each number relates to a question. I correlated the numbers to the grades of the questions. I gave each group a target of 650. They only got the score if they managed to land on if they correctly answered the question. I got each team to write the questions to ask their opponents so it was double revisions! This work particularly well with the boys. 

3. Skittles

Satisfying revision and teenagers love of sweets. Put a mixture of sweets in a bowl in the middle of the table. Each student takes a sweet in turn and the colour correlates to … Here you can fill in the gaps with what you would want students to revise. As an example I’ve used this to revise poetry where each colour represented a different theme they must find quotations for in 2 different poems. 

4. Balloons

A packet of 50 balloons can be as cheap as a few pounds. Create a list of questions, or things to remember / find. Put one question into each balloon and blow it up. Throw these around the classroom. In teams students are then challenged to answer as many questions as possible in the balloons. I’d advise two things here: only one student from each team can pop the balloon and students must complete the question and have it checked by the teacher before they can pop  the next balloon. I used this with Of Mice and Men revision and got each team to stick down the question from the balloon with their answer underneath. 

5. Connect 4

I loved seeing this used on Twitter recently and tried it out myself.  Give one board out per pair and two different coloured post it notes (small ones to fit the holes). Set each pair a challenge to compete against each other. For example, for An Inspector Calls I took the themes from past questions, such as responsibility, and challenged each pair to find quotes. Each quote was per post it note. You can chose to let the students take turns or, more competitively they can race. The quicker they are the more chance to get a connect 4.

6. Play dough 

This has multiple uses and I am sure you can think of lots of creative ways this might work in your subject area. As in the picture, I have used this to help students visualise the language and image used in the poem. We also challenged the students to create an image with one line from a poem and the students had to guess which one and explain why the image is used. 

7. Blockbusters

The old ones are always the good ones. Create which ever letters you want and get students to play in pairs or in teams against each other trying to play across the board. . 

8. Dice

You could ask students to create their own dice with challenges on each face. Or I like using dice wi a choice board. Create a grid 1-6 across the bottom and 1-6 along the side. You can fill the grid with any questions or challenges from your topic area. Students play in pairs here with one person controlling the X axis and one controlling the Y axis. What ever they land on is they challenge they need to complete. I’ve further examples of this that I’ve used so if you would like more details please don’t hesitate to ask me. 

9. Cards

I love using playing cards. You can buy blank versions online quite cheaply. Questions, challenges or answers can go on the cards and you could get students to play snap or pairs. I’ve played this with poetry, each card had a quote on it and students had to play go fish to find the quotes that related all to the same poem they were collecting. 

10. Board games

I was inspired by my NQT buddy with this one. She made a fantastic board game after I set her the challenge of using play dough in her lesson. Laura’s board game was hand made with the squares coloured one of four colours. The colour correlated to one of four areas of the exam papers. It was fantastic and so I decided to make my own board game which you can see on my Twitter page. It is a SOLO taxonomy theme and so can be adapted to any topic. The cards are blank so as to be filled in for the area I want to cover.

I’m always on the look out for more creative ideas so please do share how you have managed to help your students revise. If you have or do use any of these ideas I’d love to hear how they have worked / helpe your students. 

Reflections of the last year back as an English Teacher

In January 2015, I took a big leap of faith and left the job I loved as an AST in English and moved to a different school without my role. Why? Many reasons, some personal, some not but ultimately after 7 years in the same school working my way from NQT to head of Media Studies to Advanced Skills Teacher I had become lost and frustrated in the politics and felt a fresh start would give me a chance to refresh my love of teaching and my passion for research based practice. 

There doesn’t exist AST officially any more but I also found the lead practitioner role didn’t exist at all in my new school which was disappointing. Teaching and learning are the foundations of schools and therefore I assumed all schools placed high emphasis in leaders of learning, curriculum, research… 

Never mind, I was disappointed but not jaded. I took my SLE qualification ready to help others when called on and took to work supporting and getting stuck in with the English department. 

After, what will be 18 months at my current school, I am going back to the job I love as Lead Practitioner of English in a different school. Yet I wanted to share, from my own recollections mostly, but also to help other teachers who are interested in developing their own practice further. 

I think the most frustrating thing for me going back to an English teacher was the sudden loss of input I was allowed for my students. Being able to help my colleagues and delivery training session that would help with English teacher’s busy schedules was one of the best parts of my job; I was able to use research and educationalist to help staff and students create a curriculum that was demanding and creative. How was I going to find my passion for the job without this?

Fortunately, there are, as you know, many enthusiastic English teachers out there who want to do right by their students and have just as much passion for teaching and learning as me, phew! 

Therefore it was fantastic to work with the head of English on the new curriculum for KS3 to begin the challenge of preparing students for the new GCSE whilst maintaining the innovation. 

I am particularly proud of the work I did with the Literacy coordinator in mapping out a new 7 – 11 criteria map, incorporating the GCSE grades, skills and new grammar focus. I am even more proud that this was taken to an SLT meeting as an example of ways to develop a grading system that was continual. 

Linked to both of these I created a progress booklet for year 7 and 8 so students could map each assessment they did. This booklet is kept for two years and students can see how they are progressing. I also included a MAD time page for each assessment too, aiding students in their reflection and self editing skills. It has been a fantastic tool to use a parents’evenings too; students can’t argue with their own work!

Working with our lovely librarian I’ve been able to put together a reading challenge scheme (with badges) that has helped motivate and officialise reading lessons – students know that we care about their reading, it now has purpose and direction. 

I’ve also ran training sessions and shared resources on growth mindset and meta cognitive strategies with various staff along the way.  (Just to keep my hand in with the teaching and learning side!)

I think in writing this I am helping myself to see that the leap of faith wasn’t all bad. I hope that I’ve managed to help the students I’ve taught this year , just as I hope that some of the strategies that we have began will be continued and improved, adapted and developed in my absence. I recognise some of this is vanity, we all want to be recognised – teachers work hard enough without praise on a daily basis. BUt I want all teachers to feel that you should and do have a voice and if you have read something , a piece of research or an idea tried else where, don’t feel afraid to share it. Try things out for yourself – be your own leader in your CPD. 

As schools tighten their belts even more with the reduction of their budgets (this year has cost me personally £500 on resources!) it’s important that each teacher places some focus on their own needs as a practitioner – find 10 minutes at the end of the day to read a few tweets or a blog; sit with a colleague and magpie and idea for tomorrow’s lesson, anything to keep your work self refreshed.

I feel a little lighter after this some what cathartic post. If you have any questions or what to share please feel free @teachertrying.

Carnegie Medal Short list, book two: The Lies We Tell Ourselves

Second day, second book, which tells me straight away I must have enjoyed it as this was slightly longer than Fire Colour One.

This fiction story of Sarah and a group of 9 other black children who are the first to be integrated into a Virginia school is both painful and insightful. I particularly liked the shifting perspectives of the book from Sarah to Linda (a white, popular girl whose father is a segragationalist). 

Despite it being a story told many times, the struggle of equality in America, I liked the almost no holds barred approach to the reality the children faced. The author’s note describe how athough not factual, this is a representation of some of the realities faced by African American children entering white only schools at the time.  Which could be a great link up, as an English teacher, with representations of History. However, I’d be unsure to use the whole text unless with a mature class as the gay themes in the story are a string to this book’s bow that I’d be unsure how children would handle in the classroom. Yet outside of the classroom, as a personal read, I think this is great for students to be able to read a story that shows the process of growing up and finding out who you are, sometimes against your parents’ own views and finding out what is right and right for you is a theme that will always be current for teenagers.  

So, over all, I enjoyed reading the fiery character of Sarah and especially her arguments with Linda. It was so frustrating to see how segragationalism had been justified and promoted in the 1950’s but also how Sarah’s responses are so accurate. 

Is it better that Fire Colour One? That’s a difficult question to answer as they work on two different levels. If I consider which I was more affected by, I’d say The Lies, but if I consider which writing I enjoyed the most it would be Fire Colour One for its character’s wit and perceptive descriptions. 

Carnegie Medal book review 1: Fire Colour One

So, I’m sat on a beach in the Dominican Republic, enjoying my Easter break and have swallowed up the first of the Carnegie short list. I felt I wanted to record a short review of the ones I read for several reasons: the main one being how blown away I was by the beauty of the writing and the second to take time to appreciate what I read. As an English teacher , we often miss out on the joys of reading in the quantities and depth that we want to. This Easter I’m righting that wrong.

Right, so first impressions of the book Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine wasn’t great if I’m honest. The cover and the blurb didn’t really sell it for me – it all seemed a little young. So it was a surprise when I sat down to read it that the main character Iris wasn’t anything like the cover and blurb suggested. Her character has depth and a use of metaphors about the world that seem insightful, almost spiritual whilst still in keeping with the age of the character. 

Her view of her mother and step father, Hannah and Lowell, are cleverly encapsulating of, not just of their personas but also the issues surrounding materialism and superficiality. 

The journey of Iris is told in flash backs along side the present as we meet her mid teen life on her way to visit a father that she believed all but abandoned her. The only comfort she has is her friend Thurston and her obsession with lighting fires. Her descriptions of the fires she creates are like a window into her soul, making her sharp tongue and honest approach to her ‘parents’ all the more touching and meaningful: they just don’t see her.

I was a massive fan of the Thurston character and the off kilter approach he has to life. We don’t ever really find out much about him other than he sees the world differently and is more than a form of escapism for Iris but his parallels with her father later in the story are evident.

On the whole I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It was thought provoking, moving and made me wish I had a friend like Thurston. The irony of children knowing more than the adults and seemingly more world knowing was not lost on me either and I can definitely see why this is contender for the Carnegie prize. 

For Kiera

For Kiera

No one teaches you this part.

People are so afraid of it, they won’t even give it a name.

A name taints the feelings,

It puts them in a box

As if we can lock them away,

As if we can pretend that it is another us




They tell you not to let it be you,

They don’t know that these things define us,

Shape us,

Become us,

Consuming –


Every day is a battle to breath above the drowning sea.

The suffocating air.

It hurts

Everywhere       and        nowhere.

There is no pocket of oxygen that is yours and yours alone.


To step outside of  – this-


They come in small glimmers

Barely there moments. I know.

Slowly these moments become graspable time

A word,

A smile,

An appreciation of the who you are now,

A recognition of your strength,



They come from places you want them to and some you don’t expect.


But remember to wait


Take those glimmers – hold them a moment longer each time

And you will be –

I promise.