Blog of the Week: 7 May 2021 – The power of “by”

A Chemical Orthodoxy

Quick heads-up: this blog uses a lot of technical jargon that you may be unfamiliar with. The jargon springs from the work of Doug Lemov and Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, and if you wish to know more, there is a great summary of all the terms used here.

Which action step is better?

On the surface, there isn’t much of a difference between them. Action steps are all about actions, and the actions in both are pretty much identical (if you aren’t familiar with Ratio click here, and if the various bullet points mean nothing to you click here).

Despite the similarity, the key difference is in the framing. The first action step is a list of things to do, but those things aren’t anchored in any kind of meaning or rationale. Why do we go to Pastore’s Perch? What’s the point of Being Seen Looking? For what reason

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Blog of the Week: 30 April 2021 – Improving teaching: scripting

Scripting is useful for new teachers getting to grips with staged, clear instructions and solidifying classroom routines. But it’s also fruitful in pushing experienced teachers, who may be looking to improve the way they explain a complex concept or expertly cohere different strands of knowledge in a pivotal moment in a lesson. As we look to build a really strong culture across our school, scripting can also be useful in generating consistent and positive responses to children and help all teachers model the interactions we want to see from students.

What is — and isn’t — scripting?

Scripting asks teachers to jot down exactly what they’re going to say before they say it. It gives them a set or sequence of phrases which teachers use in certain situations and it requires teachers to make conscious decisions about the best choice of language to have the desired result.

Some might argue that scripting feels mechanistic, or can destroy spontaneous responses to classroom activity. But it’s important to remember that …

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Blog of the Week: 23 April 2021 – How I use a Visualiser in my classroom


I have about ten thousand PowerPoints stored, across various different storage devices dotted around my desk, bag and school network with varying amounts of best practice for students embedded across them. For years I diligently colour coded the model paragraphs, annotated them and talked students through them but I never fully bought into them. For me, they were a thing to be done because that’s what we have to do. I had a visualiser but it became buried under a pile of stuff and the workspace in front of it ended up housing spare pens before it was eventually unplugged and pushed into a corner completely. Little did I realise that I was burying one of the most powerful classroom innovations of the past 20 years.

I saw various posts start to pop up periodically on Twitter where someone would share a picture of “their exercise book” and I always…

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Blog of the Week: 16 April 2021 – Sustainable improvement – What works in addressing learning loss


Learning loss caused by the covid pandemic has led to a large number of catch-up initiatives internationally, such as the National Education Programme in the Netherlands, which provides schools with significant additional funding to address the issue. This and similar initiatives by national governments are to be welcomed, though the danger exists that money will be squandered rather than spent effectively. In this blog I will describe some evidence-based approaches to address learning loss.

I The teacher at the core

Notwithstanding some controversy around the term, the evidence that learning loss has arisen as a result of the pandemic is overwhelming, as is the fact that the gap is greatest among pupils from families with the lowest levels of education (Engzell, Frey & Verhagen, 2020; NFER, 2021). Government support to eliminate learning gaps is therefore welcome. However, effective interventions need to put the teacher …

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Blog of the Week: 26 March 2021 – Refining Retrieval – What does the evidence say about the testing effect?

Peter Foster

Photo by Pixabay on

I didn’t always include quizzes in my lessons. Quizzes, I believed, tested something superficial and English is far from being superficial. It seems strange to say this now when quizzing is everywhere.

It hardly feels necessary to state that retrieval improves retention. I’ve said this so many times to our teachers that I might need to stop saying it soon to avoid overstating the obvious.

But Yang, Luo, Vadillo, Yu and Shanks (2020) describe a small study from where the majority of teachers thought the main benefit of student self-testing was to find out what they didn’t know and only a fifth highlighted that testing would be better for retention than re-reading.

It made me wonder if the introduction of quizzes and knowledge organisers and all sorts of retrieval practices are understood or if I really understood the complexity of these things.

There is…

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Blog of the Week: 19 March 2021 – Curriculum, Connections and Covid-19

Catalysing Learning

It’s been a very long term. We deserve a break. But already I find myself thinking of the challenges that await us in the autumn.

Many of my students had very successful lockdowns. I am proud of them. Next year they deserve a curriculum that builds upon the work they have done in remotely. Others have not been so lucky. I feel for them. They deserve the chance to go back over the work they missed or misunderstood, for you cannot build on sand. So I have been wondering, how can we use the curriculum to give all our students what they deserve?

Revisiting content

Chemistry is full of connections and we have done our best to emphasise these in our GCSE curriculum. Below you can see a map of this curriculum, which is based on the OCR 21st Century Science course. The boxes are our modules and the lines…

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Blog of the Week: 12 March 2021 – Addressing the catch up conundrum

There is SO much noise in the system about how we respond to the challenges of partial school closures.

I think there are some key principles that we need to adopt to ensure that pupils don’t become the Covid cohort. The biggest risk, as I see it, is that [as a system] we try to do too much, too soon. This could mean we exacerbate the challenges that Covid 19 has brought us. As with issues arising from long term disadvantage, it is not big structural changes that will address these challenges. Structural changes may lay the platform. But it’s what happens in the classroom that matters most.

The following principles, born out of work focussing on long term disadvantage, may help:

1. That strategies to negate the impact of Covid 19 should be intertwined with those to tackle long term disadvantage.

2. Everyone needs to be responsible for the response to Covid 19. Everyone needs to …

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Blog of the Week: 5 March 2021 – Focused feedback: why less is more

Feedback is meant to help students, but too often, it doesn’t. Students may not read it, may misunderstand it, or may not use it. If they clear each of these hurdles, they may still forget it by the next lesson. Meanwhile, giving feedback adds to our workload: it’s meant to be manageable, but too often, it isn’t.

Similarly, feedback is meant to help teachers. But too often, it doesn’t: too many issues are raised, goals are too vague, and there’s too little follow up. To make feedback useful, instructional coaching suggests we prioritise one small goal, practise it immediately, and return to it subsequently.

If teachers need focused feedback, surely students do too. Too often, my comments on students’ work were like an unhelpful observer’s to a teacher: I offered lots of …

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Blog of the Week: 26 February 2021 – Understanding Clues

As students return to schools, what are the subtle clues we can look for to check student understanding?

In just over a week, all students across the country will be returning to school – something we are all very much looking forward to. However, at the forefront of teachers’ minds will be how we are going to assess what students have understood during remote teaching, so that we can use this information to plan how we will fill these gaps. What we refer to as formative assessment.

EEF CEO Professor Becky Francis articulated this concern in June 2020:

​“Taken together, the prior literature on school closures and the growing evidence about the experience of socially disadvantaged families during …

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Blog of the Week: 12 February 2021 – Microsoft Forms and Feedback

This is a post to show teachers how to add feedback in Microsoft Forms and to show where pupils will receive and see that feedback.

Create a Microsoft Forms Quiz

Add questions, in each multiple choice question there is an option to add feedback to students choosing particular answers.  This is seen after a pupil submits the quiz.

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