Demonstrating learning – how I want it to be in my classroom

This is a much contextualised word depending on your subject area. The over arcing concept is that that the students must show by whatever outcome you choose that they have learnt something new and put that learning into practice. The pit falls of this are the legitimacy of the pedagogy put in place in order to measure that the students have made said progress in their learning. The argument that is always put forth is that too often one activity that is concentrated on that skill is not an accurate enough measure to securely say that the student has effectively learnt and retained the information that they have just acquired. The teacher must therefore make sure that the demonstrate activity that is created includes enough scope for the students to use their new learning in a VARIETY of ways in order to retain the skill rather than simply the knowledge. A demonstrate activity should consider the higher order thinking skills of SOLO and BLOOMS to make sure that the students are accessing the new learning from a variety of angles. The progress of learning comes from testing it within different contexts, ranges, choices and depth. A question / answer demonstrate is therefore not substantial enough to say that the student knows how to use that skill. Take for example the idea of percentages – if a student answers 100 questions that ask him or her to work out the percentage of this or that does that mean without doubt that the student can effectively use percentages when it ultimately matters? So when faced with the reality of a “cash Loan” advertisement with small print of 2075% APR on a £1000 loan, are they able to put their learning of percentages into practice to work out the benefits or negatives of this? Or how about comparing benefits of a long term bank loan against the short term credit card APR? Or even in a shop working out if the three or two deal really is better than the individual price?
As a teacher do we complete a skill in our subject and then move on? I haven’t met one yet who does – skills are building blocks and thus our demonstrate activities should reflect this; this means our students outcomes become more complex and we are asking them to show they can use a range of skills together. This is relational thinking – SOLO Taxonomy! And a skill that in my opinion is NOT addressed enough.
Making links is THE key to our students’ success. Linking the skill to another skill; and then that skill to another subject; and then the subjects’ skills to their own life: this is the basis of all learning, right? So shouldn’t it be the FOCUS in the classroom, after all if the students can’t link the learning to themselves how will they engage with it; know that it is useful; push themselves at it? The demonstrate activity should consider how the students put their new learning within the context of what they NEED it for and how it links to their past learning. Do we cater for this? How can we cater for this?
Therefore a demonstrate activity that works for the students should include some of the following:
• Variety of approaches
• Contextualised to real life
• Clear progression steps
• Reflection
• Variety of outcomes
• A chance to pair, group and individualise outcome
• MAKE LINKS to other skills

Some examples of demonstrate activities that I have used are:
• SOLO thinking (Taxonomy) building blocks / stations
• Pyramid thinking (Blooms) towers
• Learning grids
• Paper chains / hangers
• Hexagons
• Tarsia

SOLO Taxonomy and Paper Chains – Developing an analysis

As an English teacher the demonstration of understanding is in the written outcome (most of the time, and particularly when preparing for a literature exam)

SOLO thinking (as I use with my students) is the students own checklist of their development… and to make it visually clear I added the ‘thrill’ of making paper chains. My year 11’s were enthused! (no hint of sarcasm I assure you!)

I began the lesson with a development of Ian Gilbert’s THUNKS – my own question that tied in with AN Inspector Calls; and also a rubric that forced the students to test how deeply they could development their own opinion.

SOLO thinking as a connect

This connect activity begun the use of SOLO and reminded the students of the depth needed when answering any question within English. We then moved onto a practice exam question and used stage 1 of SOLO to consider the focus and what was needed:

SOLO stage 1 - the question and developing and answer

The students’ first paper chain link was the question – becoming the beginning of their thinking and the focus for all the next comments. Stage two was therefore about finding an idea and quote:
SOLO stage 2 developing an idea

The needed to be able to find at least three quotes and ideas to reach the Multistructural stage but I wanted to expand on these too so our paper chains took on another dimension:
SOLO thinking stage 3 - developing comments

Using this stage to link back to the C grade criteria and showing the students how SOLO was helping them hit their expected grades (this was for a middle set in year 11)
What I like about SOLO is the freedom to make different comments about the quotes – there is no prescription or force to follow a script (PEE, CAT, SAIL) and all the other acronyms that we had created. SOLO puts the students thinking together with the criteria; no middle man needed for the students to understand the HOW, WHY, WHAT.

The relational stage was created through each paper chain link being a different CONNECTION they had found between their quotes and the question – thus the longer the chain, the more connections, the better their answer:

SOLO thinking stage 4 linking

Finally, the extended abstract stage. This was a stage the students in my class needed more guidance on – thus the introduction of the jigsaw pieces I was using with key stage 3: ME, WORLD, BOOK.
SOLO thinking stage 5 - extended abstract

The students had to show they could make a connection between the question and book to personal experiences, and reflect on the impact as a reader; then towards real life situations occurring in societies around the world; what impact had it had of any? Lastly the book image was any links they could make with similar things that they had read – was this a movement, was the author being controversial? This, being the final stage of SOLO pushes the students in their thinking and I feel I could create a whole separate SOLO stage within extended abstract to help the students develop this area; yet the results of the paper chain / SOLO paper chains had had its intended impact: students knew the depth they had to go through to answer a literature question, without the prescribed acronyms and therefore rehearsed answers.
That, in my opinion is what real learning is about. Not just knowledge but the ability to transfer the skill of learning to which ever path the students want to follow.

Selfish Networking

Twentieth century brought power and greed
But twenty first century encouraged another breed
Of selfish communicators
Typical one way escalators
Updating others with statuses
For purposes
Unbeknown to the reader.

We feed each other regular snippets of our lives
From mundane to ‘I won the prize’.
I question the affects;
What do these people expect?
A measure of friendship by how many ‘likes’ received?
The comments have to be seen to be believed!
And there it is,
The vicious cycle that social networking creates:
Of gossip, jealousy and self-satisfying states.

The whole experience aiming to duplicate
The way a person communicates
Yet all we find is software that illustrates
Mankind’s desire to manipulate
Contaminate and replicate –
A new generation that hibernate
And forget the skill of talking and listening.

Only interested in the former
The latter failing to make the top ten lists of ‘must haves’
For 2013.

Project Based Learning for Reading Skills


Having been given the task of creating literacy sessions for a year 7 PE residential trip, I was daunted to say the least. How can I, an english teacher, create something that will compete – engagement wise – with zip wire and abseiling?

I have read a lot about project based learning and though this was the perfect time to try it out. Groups, challenge and competition were the key elements of the PE residential so I knew I had to intergrate those.

Luckily the trailer for Revolution gave me the idea I needed to base the reading skills around for session 1: A world without electricity. The key element was enthusiasm; I knew that if I didn’t 100% sell this world to the students then none of the activities would work.

With the umbrella idea sorted I had to begin intertwining the reading skills elements. I knew I wanted to take them on a journey to improve the skills so it fit nicely to build that into the concept of the world I was creating.

Task 1: they recieved the letter about the electricity being turned off… now they had to use select and retrieve, in groups to work out what had happened. Around the room I stuck up 8 different text types (with one being an auditory clip). The students had to visit each text and bring back three pieces of information about it. They then colour coded what was of importance to know about the world, and what was least important. They had successfully used select and retrieve and it wasn’t a “find this word” task! Fab. project based learning was growing on me.

select and retrieve

The second element I wanted them to engage with was language features; a little more difficult than the first skill to embed into the world. I chose, however, to use language features as the “code” that the group in charge of switch off the electricity were using to send messages. The groups worked out the “code” by matching up the features, with examples, meaning and images – I scored the teams depending on how quickly it took them to complete the task and used these to help create a leaderboard. The team that had come first could then get a head start in the demonstrate task.

activating knowledge of languageexample answer

To get the students to practise using the language features (demonstrating the learning) i created a classroom length board game with trivial pursuit style question cards. The idea was for groups to get their whole team across the board (the bridge to safety) by answering the questions. Each square was a colour that related to a specific language feature, on each space it either asked for the name of the feature being used or an explanation of what it meant. This was the activity that made my day; the students had demonstrated, more quickly and explained imagery with more accuracy that the year 11 students I teach! But what was most surprising was the enthusiasm in which they completed it with. The creation of the world and the project based learning had had a significant impact on the engagement and therefore understanding of two of the key reading elements needed in English.

board game for demonstrating knowledge

The final part of the session focused on apply skimming and scanning skills as well as thinking skills to work out the more light hearted code breaker. Working out that the capital letters spelt out a message that would lead them into the second session: writing skills.

secret code

Through out the whole experience of project based learning I was surprised and encouraged by the students enthusiasm. They worked towards a goal; having been provided with an “enemy” to beat (metaphorically this was their own lack of confidence or esteem) and a more active environment in which to exercise their english skills.

I am officially pro project based learning after this experience and am actively seeking to embed these ideas into my classroom SOL.


It’s an internal implosion.
Your very own Big Bang
Causing a black hole so vast
It envelops the very essence of you.

It’s a spiralling infinity
Of endless repercussions
Mistake after mistake
magnified by the blackness or error

The you that was looks down from the
Reducing tunnel of right above
Disappointed, criticising, angry at what you’ve become

And you stare back
Agreeing but helpless
You deserve this punishment
You deserve more
Because you know
Mistakes are your dominos
One can cause your whole world to fall down.

You are reduced to a shell of you
An error message screen
Repeating. Repeating.

Instilling Independence Through Homework

My quest to help the students gain independence in their learning is slowly growing in strength. The progress has been slow due to having to change my mind set in order to encourage such behaviour; yet has still believed in independence and had it instilled in me from an early age.

Educationalists (us!) have so much thrown at us about how to do our jobs and very little is aimed at the students and how they should be learning. This media criticism, certainly I speak for myself here, has caused this dependence on the teacher. If the media criticize schools, teachers and teaching methods for the decline or lack of improvement in the students’ grades where do they think the students and parents are going to lay the blame? Certainly not at their own doorstep, especially when the media frenzy bites! Our society has created this dependence – where did it ever become acceptable to blame someone else for your failures? I definitely was not taught that way. What changed?

With all of this roaming around in my head I consider the effort it will and is taking to instill this independence in my students. Nearly a year into my initiative I find myself thanking each course I have attended; every author I have read; every twitter account I have read and every blog I have been directed to. Without this network of support and constant ideas circling I know this would be a much more difficult process!

And with that in mind I present another idea I have acquired from an independence course I attended before Christmas. As a department in English we have been struggling to balance and integrate a more rigorous aspect to homework.  Booklets seem to have been the answer yet on top of the marking of books, and assessments I found them being left to the end and therefore not having the intended impact on the students progress. What TED homework provides the students with is an opportunity for the students to discover, learn, and expand on the knowledge. It requires complete independence and works on the individual students MINT strengths as they can display the information they gain however they like on the page.

The introduction lesson to this type of homework I have developed looks like this:

TED lesson



Your connect activity could be the T part of TED (think) by getting them to come up with questions they could ask about or to the teddy bear. TED ultimately i

TED booklets explainedThis is part of my booklet that I created for each student which explained what TED was and what it required them to do.The idea was they had a topic – the created questions on the topic – as interesting and varied as they could, then they choose three or four to EXPLORE. They then DISCOVER the meaning or answers to the questions and use a double page spread in their booklet to display, creatively, their findings.

TED booklets example

This example is part of the booklet they have and shows them just some of the more simple ways to create their page. The idea then is that they spend two

weeks creating this homework INDEPENDENTLY; improving on their skimming, scanning, inference, deduction, knowledge, creativity skills. Once they have finished the marking becomes a gallery display exercise where you and students can go around posting comments on each student’s work – looking at the Attitude to Learning.

I will add at the end of this post the three stages of TED that I am using in lesson to help introduce the idea.

Any other ideas for creating positive and creative homework ideas please feel free to share them!


Thanks for reading!



Aging Friendship

You watch it as a teenager – tied so strongly to those that know you the best.

You confide in those about the loneliness of adults.

You snigger at the lack of friends your parents seem to have.

You vow never to be that way.

Then you grow…


You don’t feel yourself changing,

You don’t see your friends parting,

You don’t recognise you’re living,

The teenager in you is furious!


You anger at your friends’ betrayal,

You cry over the emptiness in your heart,

You ignore the silent phone.

This is aging.


Suddenly you are the future you weren’t prepared for.

The one with a comfortable job.

The one with a mortgage.

The one with a partner to share your time with.

You met all expectations

But they didn’t prepare you for the unexpected…


I didn’t see the threads of friendship pull apart

Stretched            by different paths,

Torn- by – opposite – choices,





I sit at the end of my friendship

Clutching the last threads.

I fight to keep them together;

I hold close my teenage vow

But I know it is failing.

I am losing.

I am lost.

I am alone.





Connect Activities: engage and encourage thought.

From everything I have read and experienced the importance of the starter activity cannot be understated in my opnion. Unfortuantely we are human and we all know if we aren’t gripped in the first few minutes we are less likely to retain what ever is to follow. Think of the last film you watched? The last book you began to read? The last meeting you attendend? The last course? As much as we don’t want to believe it humans judge in the first few minutes and these emotions controll our responses and our memory.

I have tested out and gathered over 30 different starter activities, some working for all students and groups, some not. But the one thing they all have in common is the students requirement to THINK and ENGAGE.

I thought I would share some ideas here of the activities that have worked particularly well.

The first set are self reflection  activities:

self reflectionThis has come from Dave Keeling. I love BECOME – it is the biggest display in my room. In preparing the students for the key stage four English GCSE exams for the second time I wanted the students to understand the key elements they needed to suceed and how important owning these skills were. They had to fill in the last time in life they had used the skill, what they needed it for and WHY they needed it.





self reflectionThis activity was linked to a poem about getting old but was a brilliant self reflection activity and discussion task. You really get to know the students and what they think of themselves. Self awareness is an important life skill that I think needs to come with education.






think ofThis starter I used to link to Of MIce and Men. The students were analysing Crooks’ room description. Asking them to consider the items in their room and what it said about them meant they were not just self reflecting but also INFERRING meaning which is the skill they needed for the analyse of the language in Steinbeck’s novella.






self reflectionThis task was linked to ODES – a poem dedicated to something, but I think it is also a good starter for many subjects. Another self reflection task that makes students aware of what they have in comparison to others. Empathy and sympathy are skills that, again, I think are essential to develop in education.






inspired by Roy LeightonThis final self reflection idea I have taken from a training day spent with the fantastic Roy Leighton. I LOVE this V line. The connect idea is that they practise inference, interpretation and connotations of images.

Yet the importance of the image here is also important as it represents how we feel when learning something new. If you want to know MORE about this please see Roy Leighton’s book or tweet me and I will fill you in.




Other connect ideas involve student engagement and enquiry.

thunksTHUNKS (Ian Gilbert) were the beginning for me, in engaging connect activities. This takes a while to embed but getting students to discuss the question and debate the ideas encouraging communication skills, empathy and a link to the lesson topic. I love playing devils advocate with this one – it can last a while!






answer firstAnother stolen idea! Thank you Dave Keeling! This was a connect I used in one of my lesson for my AST assessment day.

It was for a poem about Blood Diamonds in Sierra Leone, so asking students to consider the questions that would end in the answer DIAMONDS engaged their curiosity and encouraged the skill of asking MORE questions which students MUST learn to do to improve.

Unfortunately I chose Rhianna Diamonds to coincide with this task which I used as a time device only.

It is a good one to go back to as well to see how many MORE  questions the students can add at the end of the lesson.


abstract thinkingFinally, abstract thinking. This skill is the one students need to be able to use to reach the higher grades at GCSE  – it is stage 5 of SOLO taxonomy.

Can students relate the topic to something else? I was surprised to find that my lower ability students grasped this much quicker than my higher ability students.

We need to rid the students of the “right answer” attitude – students need to feel safe enough to experiment with their thinking and ideas in order to make sophisticated and original comments and more importantly: THINK FOR THEMSELVES.



These are just a few of the ideas I have used. As always if you have any more ideas I would love to know what works for you!

Thanks for reading.

5 Ideas for Showing Progression In Lessons

With the focus of progression being even more scrutinised within our lessons I became a hoarder of ideas: beg, borrow, steal and even creating ideas for showing clear progress within my lesson.

Below are five ideas that I have tested out with my students; disseminated to my faculty and felt have had a significant impact on the learning.

1.progress through literacy This is a literacy based progression sheet. The idea being you set a set of targets in the table above; in this case connectives, and throughout the lesson the students have to monitor the connectives that they speak and write down. They write them down on their sheet to monitor the progress in using connectives over the lesson. This also works well over a day of lessons too – especially if you have a form group – you can check the students’ challenges and discuss in which lessons they seem to use more connectives than others and why.

As always the challenge can be replaced with something else  – it works particularly well for terminology for a topic too.


life lines

2. I love this – especially with key stage three students. I wanted my year 7 students to stop asking me what to do after I had explained the task. Therefore, I explained that the instructions are going to be given once and another student will repeat them to make sure they are understood. Each student was then issued with a life line card to put their name on it. The idea is that the students need to have a go at the task without asking the teacher for help; they can use the classroom displays, their books, and help from each other. ONLY THEN if they are STILL stuck can they ask the teacher for help but they must give in their life line card. At the end of the lesson the students with their cards are entered into a prize draw for the end of the year. This is a great task to use when you want the students to give tasks a go.

3. Setting personyear 8 personal targetsal targets is another way to involve the students in their progress. I asked the students to set their own reading, writing and speaking and listening targets from a list of skills needed within English. The students chose their three to focus on in the next term and wrote them on the card. This was then copied and sent home to parents to make them aware and keep them informed of their child’s current level as well as the levels they were aiming for. This becomes useful as a plenary task as students can check their work against their targets and highlight or indicate IF that piece of work proves they have helped themself reach their target.


4. All you need for this progress idea is a highlighter. Each student uses their highlight to show the NEW things they have learnt in the lesson. It helps them keep track of their own progress and also provides clear indicators for them when they need to go back and revise. I noticed how little students actually used their exercise books to help themselves. This is one way to encourage students to USE their books to help them when they are stuck too!

Marking dialogue

5. Finally this is a marking dialogue sticker. The idea is that YOUR marking becomes useful and shows progress. After you mark something you provide them with a level and a target of HOW to improve. BUT how many of our students actually follow your advice? The lesson after marking their assessments, make it a Make A Difference lesson: the students look at your comments and the criteria and note in the box exactly what they should do to their work to get to the next level. They are then given the lesson to make the changes and indicate in the margin WHERE they have hit their target. All that leaves for you to do is go around and check you agree with their targets…. OR get the students to check each others!



Any other ideas for showing progress in lesson are more than welcome.


Thank you for reading!

Improving Writing Skills 1

In preparation for the English language exams the students were finding that it was the basics in their writing that they were struggling to get right. They created a list of all the things they were finding difficult and I created lessons to help them.

The FOUR key areas are:

  • variety of sentence structures
  • creating language features
  • getting punctuation INSIDE a sentence correct
  • Spelling strategies to improve vocabulary

The first area was sentences:


differentiated writing criteria
differentiated writing criteria

I highlighted for them what they needed to do with their sentences to achieve their target grades. This formed the way in which the lesson was structured too.Focusing on the C grade – varying the structures; we looked at the complex sentence and the three ways in which it would be created. The students were then given one section of a complex sentence and they had to work out whether it was the clause or the subordinate clause…

example sentence resource
example sentence resource
going through the structures
going through the structures

They stood and moved to the left of the room if they thought they had the clause  – and to the right if they thought they had the subordinate clause. The dicussion was then based around HOW they had figured out which part of the complex sentence they had. The students with the clause circled the subject and verb in the sentence whilst those with the subordinate clause circled the verb and the connective. They then had to find their partner in the room in order to complete their sentence and sit together trying to reorder their complex sentence in the three structures. They should have recognised that some complex sentences work in all ways and others in only one or two of them.  The final part of the lesson involved expanding the sentence making sure it was “clear and developed ideas.”

extending the sentences
extending the sentences

I was shocked to find students were unclear about where and how to use adjectives and adverbs. At this point in the lesson I got the students to label for their sentence the nouns and verbs. Then they had to work together to include adjectives and adverbs to improve the sentence “developing” the ideas. Students had to label the parts of their sentence and use a thesaurus to come up with improved adjectives and adverbs for their sentence.