Assess, plan, do, review: The graduated approach to SEN

Spaced Practice in Practice – Author: aclassroomofonesownsite

In my first blog, I mentioned our attempts to use the principles of spaced practice, interleaving and low-stakes testing to help students retain information. This blog offers details on what that looked like in practice.

Firstly, we introduced ten-minute recall sessions at the beginning of every lesson. This meant that we could test students’ knowledge effectively without creating extra workload. However, using some of the principles of interleaving, these sessions would not necessarily be based on the text being studied in the lesson; they would be based on knowledge taught in the lesson, week, month, term, or even several terms before. So, the beginning of a lesson might involve a recall task focused on Macbeth, then the main body of the lesson would be focused on Jekyll and Hyde. With these ten-minute recall sessions in every lesson, we could have mini revision sessions for every unit, almost every week.

These ten-minute recall sessions would take the form of:

  1. Multiple-choice tests.

We try to construct these tests based on what we’ve read on Daisy Christodoulou’s blog where she outlines the application of Dylan Wiliam’s research in Principled Assessment Design. Questions have 5-6 possible answers and have multiple correct answers, for example this question from a Year 7 test:

Which of the following words are adverbs?

  1. Play
  2. Quickly
  3. Beautifully
  4. Lovely
  5. Gently
  6. Exceptional

Or, this one from a Year 10 test on Macbeth:

Which of the following characters are killed at the hands of Macbeth?

  1. Banquo
  2. King Duncan
  3. Lady Macbeth
  4. Macdonwald
  5. Macduff

Often, like the examples above, these questions lead to interesting discussions to help students better understand more complex concepts. The Year 7 example offers an opportunity to discuss adjectives and adverbs beyond the usual trick of looking for words ending with ‘ly’. In the Year 10 example, this question invites a discussion about character development and the significance of certain deaths in the play.

  1. Filling in the blanks (KOs).

We now have knowledge organisers for every unit we teach, but it is the collection of knowledge organisers we developed for the GCSE poetry anthology that I think has had the most impact. After studying and exploring the poems in detail, students learn the information on the KOs for homework, usually one poem or section at a time. The poems are organised by theme – ‘difficult relationships’, ‘familial relationships, and ‘love’ – to help with recall and comparison. During the ten-minute recall sessions, students are given blank versions of the KOs and they fill in as much as they can remember. They then look at the original KO and add anything they missed in a different coloured pen. By the time our students sat their exams, they could fill in nearly all of a blank KO without looking at the original. By using two different coloured pens the teacher could very easily identify students’ progress and follow up with students who perhaps didn’t have the most effective revision technique. We still looked at the whole poems regularly, but we found that by extracting the key ideas, contexts, themes and quotations, students had a better foundation for understanding the whole poem and in doing so gave them the confidence to go further in their exploration and analysis.

Familial Relationships Knowledge Organiser:Family KO

  1. Filling in the blanks (QT).

Students were also given lists of quotations divided by theme or character and learnt these for homework. During ten-minute recall, they would complete quotation tests where some of the key words in the quotation (the ones that would be most helpful for their essays) would be blanked out. For Macbeth, that might be: Look like ________  but be __________’. In the first few tests only one or two words would be blank. By the time of the exams, students could list up to fifteen quotations per theme or character without any aid.

  1. Quick-fire quotations.

To save photocopying, we would also simply ask students to take a scrap piece of paper and write down as many quotations as they could remember. However, we gave structure to their recall by giving them specific themes or characters they needed to recall quotations for. We would then keep narrowing the focus to give students plenty of opportunity to practise identifying more discerning and judiciously chosen quotations. For example, students would be asked to recall quotations or references said by or about Mr Birling. This would then be narrowed down to asking for specific references or quotations that demonstrated Mr Birling refusing to change his views, or him showing insecurity, or examples of his arrogance, or evidence of his capitalist ideology.  This helped students to recall information quickly but also to consider the relevance and judiciousness of their choices. This also helped students to think more about characterisation or about thematic links between characters and contexts.

  1. Interleaving homework

Technically not a ten-minute recall task, but the principle is similar. Whilst we studied Jekyll and Hyde in lessons, students’ homework would be to write essays on Macbeth or An Inspector Calls, or on the occasional Language paper question. Students were then constantly writing responses answering different types of questions on different texts – something they would have to do in the exam. Students then not only constantly revised and practised tasks for all of the units we studied, they also practised having to shift from one type of exam or text to another in a short space of time.


These methods contributed to students writing well-developed, insightful essays using quotations and references that were discerning and judicious to give more interesting responses. This was due, in part, to students being able to quickly recall the knowledge they needed and therefore spend more time constructing a well-crafted argument. We also found that students used these methods when revising independently – no more random highlighting and no more claims that ‘you can’t revise for English’. Instead, they would take extra copies of blank KOs, or create their own fill-in-the-blank quotation tests, or construct their own essay questions based on the themes and ideas from the quick-fire quotation activities.

So, by taking the time to read a couple of blogs and think about the principles in practice:

  • We reduced workload by having tests that we could use to monitor progress without having to do any marking.
  • We saved time by being able to focus on essay practice rather than content in the weeks before the exam, therefore time was better spent in lessons and we reduced the need for extra revision sessions.
  • We saved time in the long term by creating fairly simple but effective resources that could be recycled year after year (or until the specs change again).

5 ways to put challenge at the heart of your lesson

Challenge is not something that should be saved for the most able pupils, says one department head, who shares his strategies for providing challenge to all

When I first started teaching, many moons ago, “challenge” was talked about as something we needed to offer to the most able; known as the “gifted and talented” in those days. Challenge was an add-on to the end of your lesson, an extension task, or more of the same task, to keep those G&T students busy while everyone else caught up.

Things have moved on, though, I am happy to say. We are now all urged to make sure that challenge is at the heart of every lesson.

Over the last two years, my department has had a real focus on making sure that all pupils are being challenged in each and every lesson. Here are five things we have found useful in achieving this.

1. Know what excellence looks like

To challenge pupils to produce the very best work they are capable of, you first need to agree on what this looks like, for your subject and for your key stage. What challenging concepts should students know by the end of the year or course? What skills should they be able to demonstrate?  Look to the expectations of the key stage above and see what could be brought down. We have spent a lot of time deciding on the standard we are aiming for; we bring along pupils’ books to meetings and pick through them to discuss whether we have the same standards. We photograph and log the best pieces of work.

2. Share what excellence looks like

Once you have decided what excellent work looks like, you need to share this with your pupils. This could be through displaying the work you have logged or creating model answers of your own. But it isn’t enough to just show examples; students also need to understand what makes a piece of work excellent. One way to achieve this is to model producing this work live in front of the class. I have found this very effective at raising the standard of their work, as you can explain the thought process of an expert in the subject out loud as you go.

3. Support them in achieving excellence

A common idea put forward by the proponents of Growth Mindset is that anyone can improve if they try hard enough. One criticism of this is that if pupils don’t feel they are improving, sooner or later they will give up. So start the year, or the topic, with a heavily scaffolded piece of work that allows them to see what the finished product will eventually look like. This scaffolding may involve a writing frame, prompts, and exemplar material ─ whatever is needed to ensure that what they produce is of the highest quality. Pupils need to practice getting things right. Then, over time, remove this support so they are creating this work on their own.

4. Secure knowledge – then apply it

Challenging work, in many subjects, involves taking what you know and applying this in a new context. Too often, though, you see classes who have been asked to apply knowledge they just don’t have in the name of “challenge”. One example of this I have seen was at the end of a lesson on the geography of the UK where pupils were asked to answer the question “Should Scotland leave the UK?” This is certainly a challenging question and one that vexes many, but not one these pupils were equipped to answer. They first needed to know a lot more about the issue in order to form any kind of meaningful conclusion. Knowledge first, and then application.

5. Don’t tell me you are finished

On the wall in my classroom there is an A3 poster right by the whiteboard. It simply says “Don’t tell me you are finished. Ask me, is it excellent yet?” I put it up one morning and my classes picked up on it immediately. They started asking “is this excellent?” as they worked; giving me the perfect opportunity to have a look and suggest improvements. I am not a huge fan of marking (what teacher is?) but I am a big fan of feedback. As pupils are working, I’ll check their work and discuss areas for improvement. We have made redrafting part of our culture and pupils correct their work before submitting it. They can do this because they have a good idea of what excellence looks like.

Mark Enser is head of geography at Heathfield Community College. He blogs at

Who doesn’t love a story?

I have always loved a story: a fable, an autobiography, a short one, a comedy, a tragedy, a classic, a yarn, something the children tell you about their weekend … aren’t we all just a collection of our own stories?

What inspires me to teach English is my absolute conviction that everyone needs to be able to do their own story-telling at some point in life:  an exam answer, an interview, to their own child in the future; and we are all enriched by hearing and learning from the stories of others, fiction or fact.  If I can instil that same curiosity (or at least a passing interest – enough to get through a GCSE), in one or two of the children I teach in a year, then I’m making a difference.

As teachers, we are in the uniquely privileged position of having a real and lasting impact on the future lives of the children who pass through our classes.  We all know someone who, in the ‘bad old days’ of education, was told that they’d amount to nothing or might as well give up whatever notions they had of being an astronaut to making do with filling space on the shelves in the local supermarket.  I absolutely believe that those days are firmly buried in the past and we are in a more inspiring, egalitarian world of education but, with that, comes the responsibility of encouraging young people to make the most of the opportunities available to them in their secondary schooling years.

With every subject there is a book.  It may come in the form of a study guide or a text book or a book of musical scores or even, heavens above, a novel.  Teachers have to read to acquire information in the first instance and must continue to read to remain current in their topic, and the students study books both independently and alongside the teacher.  If we, as the teaching professionals, can share our passion for our subject, I think that’s what enthuses students to get involved in the subject at a deeper level, sometimes even reading around a subject voluntarily!  And then there’s just reading for pleasure – a whole separate can of words.

The BBC iWonder website currently has an interesting article entitled, Why is Reading Good For Me? with a section headed, Hidden Health Benefits, which reads:


Studies show that it can increase our emotional intelligence as we understand a range of perspectives and motivations.

There is some evidence that mental stimulation is one of the factors that can delay the onset of dementia and reading is among the activities that can help to keep the brain active. It is far from a passive pastime. When we read we create mental simulations of the activities, sights and sounds of scenes in a story, blending these with our own memories and experiences, all of which stimulates the neural pathways.

As well as this, research suggests that reading for 30 minutes a week increases health and wellbeing. Reading for pleasure has been found to improve our confidence and self-esteem, providing the grounding we need to pursue our goals and make life decisions. It can also aid our sleep and reduce feelings of loneliness.

To the onlooker, reading can appear to be a solitary and passive activity. But the simple act of picking up a book can do us a world of good.

So, the next time you have your young person asking you if they reeeeeeally have to read out loud for 10 minutes for homework, or if they moan when you suggest reading for 20 minutes instead of tinkering with technology, just tell them with real conviction that yes, they really do, because research has shown that it genuinely is for the good of their health!


Jane White

English Teacher

27 Jan 2017

What is the point of education? 

So, having been asked to write the first piece for this blog, I pondered long and hard over what I should talk about. Differentiation? Challenge? Assessment and marking? The joy of data? And then it struck me. A question that lies in the bottom of every Friday evening bottle of Prosecco. A question that inhabits the thoughts at 3.12 every morning. A question that should be the first one in each and every SCITT (other acronyms are also available) interview. What exactly are we doing here? I mean that not in a spiritual or metaphysical way but in a more prosaic ‘why do I get up at some godforsaken hour every day to spend eight hours a day instilling young people with the message that every word I say is vital to their future’ way? What is the point of education and, maybe, are schools the best place to provide it?
So I did what every reasonable person does at this point, I googled it and found the answer. Apparently, according to the philosopher Mortimore Adler writing in the 1980s, education serves three purposes: the development of citizenship; personal growth or self-improvement; and occupational preparation. Now, in my mind, if any prospective teacher were to answer the question ‘What is the point of education?’ with ‘To prepare students for the world of work’ they should be escorted immediately from the premises and never again allowed within 100 metres of any young, impressionable mind. I am not teaching people to be hairdressers or brain surgeons or airline pilots – that is the job of those industries and they are best equipped so to do.

So that leaves us with ‘creating good citizens’ and ‘personal improvement’. Obviously, the concept of being a good citizen is an important one to us and, if that means the primary function of socialisation that we perform, whereby we teach important values such as respect and acceptance, then all well and good but do we really need schools to do that? Isn’t that what communities, churches and families are for?

Somewhat uncomfortably I find all that remains is the rather idealistic and fluffy idea of self-improvement. And still I am inevitably drawn to that abiding image of the late Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poet’s Society throwing aside conventional methods and tearing up books to make his students think for themselves. For surely that is exactly the point of education. Who actually cares how oxbow lakes are formed; or why Hitler rose to power; or even what would happen if you mixed hydrochloric acid and nitrogen oxide? It is not the knowing the answer that matters but the imagination that went into thinking of the question in the first place. One of the most powerful moments in the classroom is the one when the student asks the question you’d never even thought of. ‘If Shakespeare had written The Merchant of Venice after WW2, would it have been different?’ That wasn’t my question, it came from a student at the end of a lesson; she stayed behind to ask me. She knew I didn’t have an answer but she also knew that the answer did not matter. It was enough that she had thought to ask it at all.

And all this reflection has led me to one simple proposal, a radical and unconventional reform: on all our boards, in all our classrooms, for all our lessons, we write –

WALT: To think for ourselves

WILF: At least one completely independent and innovative thought

What else is education for?

 Jane Doar 06/01/2017

Socrative is brilliant

Socrative: The web-based app which allows for instant feedback so teachers can assess how their students are doing. It is quick and simple to use, it allows for thinking time for students (Kahoot doesn’t do this) and has been found to be a good revision tool in the PE department. Within PE we have a shared document that shows all the Socrative quizzes that have been created  and this is shared with all teachers. The sharing codes are entered so teachers can use other people’s ideas without having to recreate the wheel. Pupils are able to download the teacher app so they can also make quizzes (the good ones we then save!) which has proved an effective revision tool.
Socrative has also proved useful in mock exam analysis – pupils put the scores for each question into a Socrative quiz, then allowing teachers to establish what sections of the syllabus they need to revise with different classes.