Category: General Teaching

What makes great teaching?

When I was searching for material from staff CPD earlier this term I came across this report from 2014 that reviews underpinning research on teaching and learning. It is well worth a read for all teachers as it is accessible and something to return to again and again. The report is linked to on the image. I have put below some of my key notes.

Great teaching is defined as that which leads to improved student progress. Effective teaching which leads to improved student achievement using outcomes that matter to their future success.

The six components of great teaching:

  1. (Pedagogical) content knowledge – teachers must have deep knowledge of the subjects they teacher, and understand the ways that students think about the content.
  2. Quality of Instruction – effective questioning and use of assessment. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses, given adequate time to embed skills, and progressively introducing new learning.
  3. Classroom climate – quality of interactions between student and teachers; and teacher expectations. Attributing student success to effort rather than ability. Valuing resilience to failure (grit).
  4. Classroom management – making efficient use of lesson time, coordinate resources and space, and manage student’s behaviour.
  5. Teacher Beliefs – why teachers adopt particular practices, their theories about what learning is and their conceptual models of the nature and role of teaching in the learning process.
  6. Professional Behaviours – reflection on and development professional practice, participating in professional development and communicating with parents.

Six principles of teacher feedback – sustained professional learning is most likely to result when:

  1. The focus is kept clearly on improving student outcomes.
  2. Feedback is related to clear, specific and challenging goals for the recipient;
  3. Attention is on the learning rather than on the person or comparisons with others;
  4. Teachers are encouraged to be continual independent learners;
  5. Feedback is mediated by a mentor in an environment of trust and support;
  6. An environment of professional learning is support is promoted by the school’s leadership.

Rosenshein’s Principles of Instruction

  1. Begin a lesson with a short review of previous learning.
  2. Present new material in small steps, with student practice after each step.
  3. Ask a large number of questions and check the response of all students.
  4. Provide models for problem solving and worked examples.
  5. Guide student practice.
  6. Check for student understanding.
  7. Obtain a high success rate.
  8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
  9. Require and monitor independent practice.
  10. Engage students in weekly and monthly review.

Notes from “This much I know about Love over fear…”


One of the many books that I read over the summer holidays is this book by John Tomsett. This is one of the best books that I have read on the field of education ever.

You need to know your core purpose – what is it that gets you out of bed each day to come to work? Schools should be re-structured to accommodate their core purpose; and that core purpose should guide every difficult decision. For example Hutchinson School’s core purpose is “to inspire confident leaners who will thrive in a changing world’.

“Target your resources on what matters most and just make do with everything else. Teaching is the thing that makes most difference to children’s academic performance so invest high quality continuing professional development CPD – train people to be good teachers.”

“In order to stay focused on professional development we need to stop worrying about things we cannot control and focus upon what we can do something about – our own practice. The only way to develop truly great schools is through each one of us taking responsibility for improving he quality of our teaching. We need to break the glass ceiling which surrounds great teaching so that we all aspire to it and see it is achievable. We need to foster a growth culture which is founded on the belief that all of us can improve.”

In the book John Tomsett quotes Professor Chris Husbands:

“We can all teach well and we can all teach badly.  Even good teachers teach some lessons and some groups less well; even the struggling teacher can teach a successful lesson on occasion. More generally, we can all teach better: teaching changes and develops. Skills improve. Ideas change. Practice alters. It’s teaching, not teachers.”

Taken from:

Another key quote, this time by Tomsett is:

“The one thing that destroys the energy of a workplace culture is a climate of fear. Conversely, people’s energies are maximised when they feel loved and safe. Love wins over fear every time. Ron Berger has never been so right when he says ‘Culture Matters”

Tomsett also quotes Roland Barth when talking about school culture:

To change a school’s culture requires mustering the courage and skill to not remain victimised by the toxic elements of the school’s culture but rather to address them.”

Some other notes that I took from the book:

  • Every teacher fails on a daily basis. If you are not failing you are just not paying attention. Because we fail all the time.
  • In building a classroom culture, I have based my whole career upon a line from Virgil, ‘Success nourishes them: they can because they think they can’ [when working with a difficult group Tomsett stated], I never, ever ,ever, ever diverged publicly from believing that every single one of them would get a minimum of a grade C.
  • When teaching hard classes, laugh with them and let them laugh at you. Trust them. Choose your moment and use the phrase, ‘I’m going to rust you to do this,’ looking directly into their eyes. On some things you have to compromise. I know it encourages learnt helplessness, but just buy a stack of biros and don’t get precious if you lose a load.
  • When giving explanations, pare down what you are explaining, have more than one way to explain something, and try to use subject specific vocabulary in your explanations.

Tomsett also gives some strategies to make time:

  • You have to privilege the time for teachers to work on their teaching if you want to grow a truly great school.
  • Beware of asking colleagues to do anything which impinges on their time without it being to their benefit.
  • Work in twenty-five-minute chunks and use the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Cut corners if you have to – sometimes just good enough is good enough.
  • Some things won’t get done. Period.

There is also a section about the things that are needed in order for teaching to become an evidence-based profession; creating structures in schools where classroom teachers:

  • Work in an environment where continual improvement is the cultural norm.
  • Can access good evidence easily.
  • Feel encouraged and safe to change their practice in the light of the evidence.
  • Are supported by a school-based research lead with a higher education connection.
  • Can evaluate the impact on student outcomes of the changes to their pedagogy.

The final take away from this book is this quote:

“The bottom line is that to be any good at teaching it has to matter to you, properly, right there in your chest.”

Get this book on Amazon here.

Notes from “Embedded Formative Assessment”


I purchased this book when it came out in 2011; however I decided to re-read it over the last few weeks. This is probably the best book out there on formative assessment; it has exactly the right balance between theory and practical ideas.

My notes are as follows:

  • To be able to use assessment formatively; or to use assessment to improve learning requires five key elements:
    1. The provision of effective feedback to students.
    2. The active involvement of students in their own learning.
    3. The adjustment of teaching to take into account the results of assessment.
    4. The recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of students, both of which are critical influences on learning.
    5. The need for students to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.
  • Any assessment can be formative and that assessment functions formatively when it improves the instructional decisions that are made by teachers, learners, or their peers.
  • Assessment is the key process in instruction. Students do not learn what we teach. If they did, we would not need to keep grade books. We could simply record what we have taught. But anyone who has spent any time in a classroom knows what students learn as a result of our instruction is unpredictable
  • The teacher’s job is not to transmit knowledge, not to facilitate learning. It is to engineer effective learning environments for the students. The key features of effective learning environments is that they create student engagement and allow teachers, learners, and their peers to ensure learning is proceeding intended direction. The only way we can do this is through assessment. That is why assessment is, indeed, the bridge between teaching and learning.
  • Putting learning learning objectives and success criteria in student friendly language can have some merit. However it is also important that students understand the more subject specific language used in syllabuses or curricular
  • When a study analysed teacher questions over half the questions (57%) were managerial questions, such as “Have you got your books” or “Who has finished all the questions”, another third only required recall of previously taught information “How many legs does an insect have”, only 8% required analysis, e.g.”Why is a bird not an insect?”
  • Sharing high quality questions may be the most significant think we can do to improve the quality of student learning.
  • Whether feedback is given orally or in a written format it is not important; the most important thing is students are given time to improve their work.
  • When teachers allow students to choose whether to participate or not – for example, by allowing them to raise their hands to show they have an answer – they are actually making the achievement gap worse, because those who are participating are getting smarter, while those avoiding engagement are forgoing the opportunities to increase their ability..
  • There are five key strategies of classroom formative assessment:
    1. Clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success.
    2. Engineering effective classroom discussions, activities, and learning tasks that elicit evidence of learning.
    3. Providing feedback that moves learning forward.
    4. Activating learners as instructional resources for one another.
    5. Activating learns as owners of their own learning.
  • Feedback functions formatively only if the information fed back to the learner is used by the learner in improving performance. If the information fed back to the learner is intended to be helpful but cannot be used by the learner in improving her performance, it is not formative.
  • A technique for structuring feedback relating to a piece of work is called “three questions”. When the teacher sees something they would like the student to reflect they place a numbered circle at that point in the text. Underneath the student’s work, the teacher writes a question relating to the first numbered circle, leaves a number of lines for the student’s response, writes a question for the second leaves space for the student’s response, writes a question for the second, leaves space for the student’s response, and then writes a third question. The first ten or fifteen minutes of the next lesson are devoted to students responding.
  • Having students work together (cooperative learning) is successful because:
    1. Motivation. Students help their peers learn because in well structured settings it is in their own best interest.
    2. Social Cohesion. Students help their peers because it is in their own best interest because they care about the group.
    3. Personalization. Students learn more because their moor able peers can engage with the particular difficulties a student is having.
    4. Cognitive Elaboration. Those who provide help in group settings are forced to think through ideas more clearly.
  • As long as group goals and individual accountability are present, cooperative learning is equally effective for students at all achievement level.
  • Students need to be taught how to self-assess, students’ first attempt at self-assessment are usually neither insightful nor useful.
  • A technique that some teachers have found useful is a learning log; get students to reflect on their own learning by responding to no more than three of the following prompts:
    • Today I learned…
    • I was surprised by…
    • The most useful think I will take from this lesson is…
    • I was interested in..
    • What I like most about this lesson was…
    • One think I’m not sure about is…
    • The main thin I want to find out more about is…
    • After this lesson, I feel…
    • I might have gotten more from this lesson if…



Student Engagement

I am going through the list of tweets I have favourited over the course of the last few months and collating information.

A useful graphic looking at the difference between engagement and compliance.


(Originally from @MrHlow on Twitter)

I have also found a more detailed here about student engagement which links with the image above (pdf).

There is also this image from (@samfr)

poor proxies

Notes from ‘An Ethic of Excellence’


Key Summary

 Students need to see what excellence looks like, encouraged to be given meaningful audiences for their work, and opportunity to redraft.


  • With models of work from former students and models of work from the professional world class sits and admired. They critique and discuss what makes the work powerful. These is kept as a library of excellence – on the walls, on counters, in boxes – pupils visit and recharge their vision.
  • Culture matters – there needs to be a culture of excellence and excellent work rather than the volume of work.
  • When considering improving education, focus lesson on what is delivered to students, consider schooling as an experience not a delivery system.
  • “When kids walk into run-down, ugly buidings constructed as cheaply as possible and often falling apart, what message do these children get? We don’t care about you. We don’t value you. We don’t expect much of you.” Pg 46 – the same could be said for classrooms?
  • Excellence does not just mean excellence in work – but also excellence as a human being – being the kind of person who will be a credit to our society.
  • Students produce high quality work because they did not spend years reading textbooks in unison or filling in blanks on worksheets.
  • Uses project work but projects are structured to make it difficult for students to fall behind or fail.
  • When apprentice builder long explanations were not used – instead a model was given. Therefore RB always knew what he was striving for, what quality work looked like.
  • Need to admire models, find inspiration in them, and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. The same needs to be applied to feedback – need to model it.
  • There will be tribute work, work of a student who borrowed work from an example, but this is to be encouraged as it allows students to develop skills.
  • Students need to know from the outset that quality means rethinking, reworking, and polishing.
  • Three simple rules for critique:
    • Be kind.
    • Be specific.
    • Be helpful.
  • Guidelines for critique:
    • Begin with the author explaining their work.
    • Critique the work not the person.
    • Begin with something positive about the work.
    • Use I statements “I am confused” rather than “this makes no sense”
    • Use questions when possible “I am curious why you began with this?”
  • Teaching is hard, harder than can ever be explained to anyone. Doing it well consistently take a unique stamina.

Potential Action Points

  • Consider modeling for students. Saving past student work.
  • Spending more time looking at work with students – possibly earlier in the process.

Good Teaching and Learning in Geography

The public face of Ofsted, Sir. Micheal Wilshaw; has been widely quoted in the press, and not always speaking positively about the teaching profession. For example BBC Article and another BBC Article. The workshop led by a HMI was totally different.


This workshop was led by Leszek Iwaskow, the HMI National Advisor for Geography. Leszek gave high quality and realistic advice about what Ofsted are looking for. The comments he made were sensible and extremely realistic. A real breathe of fresh air. These are my notes from the session.

He began by pointing out the advice that is available on the Ofsted website:

An Example from English

Leszek began by giving an example of an English lesson. This initially appeared as a bizarre example but was actually really useful and applies to Geography.

This was taken from the 2012 English Subject report, Moving English Forward. .

We were asked to evaluate the following lesson:

The lesson involved a Year 9 class working on techniques of persuasive writing. The lesson was planned in detail. The first phase involved an explanation of the learning objectives and a starter activity where students worked in groups to complete a card-sort activity. In the next phase of the lesson, students used a grid to identify persuasive devices on mini whiteboards. The teacher then took them quickly through the criteria for assessment at Levels 5–7 and gave students examples of extracts from two essays on capital punishment. Students were asked to choose the more effective piece, linking it to the assessment criteria. They were then asked to produce at least one paragraph of writing on the topic of capital punishment. In the final part of the lesson, students were asked to peer-mark two other students’ work, then to look at and review their own work and check the comments. One further activity was introduced before students were asked to say what they had learnt in the lesson. The lesson closed with a final activity where students revised persuasive techniques on the board.

Although the example was English we were able to discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of the lesson.

The English subject report then gives some of the failings of the lesson.

Pace. There seems to be a belief that the faster the lesson, the better the learning. While pace is important – a slow lesson is likely to lose pupils’ concentration – teachers too often concentrate on the pace of their planned activities rather than the pace of learning. For example, a teacher told an inspector that they had been advised that a starter activity should never last longer than 10 minutes. While this may be a sensible starting point for discussion, the inspector’s view was that a starter activity, like any other activity, needs to last only as long as is needed to ensure effective learning.

The number of activities. As implied above, some teachers appear to believe that the more activities they can cram into the lesson, the more effective it will be. This is often counterproductive, as activities are changed so often that pupils do not complete tasks and learning is not consolidated or extended.

Over-detailed and bureaucratic lesson plans. Teachers are encouraged to plan individual lessons in considerable detail. Inspectors sometimes note that excessive detail within these plans causes teachers to lose sight of the central focus on pupils’ learning. 

An inflexible approach to planning lessons. School policies sometimes insist that all lesson plans should always follow the same structure, no matter what is being taught. In addition, evidence from the survey suggests that teachers often feel that they should not alter their plans during the lesson. The notion of a three- or four-part structure to lessons with certain key elements, such as a lively starter activity and an opportunity to review learning at the end, is helpful to teachers. However, teachers need to have the confidence to depart from their plans if early indications are, for example, that the pupils know more or less than the teacher had anticipated. The key consideration should be the development of pupils’ learning rather than sticking rigidly to a plan.

Limited time for students to work independently. A constant criticism from inspectors was that pupils rarely had extended periods to read, write or discuss issues in class. Indeed, inspectors observed lessons where pupils were asked to self- or peer-assess work before they had been able to complete more than a sentence or two. No doubt, teachers feel that they need to be actively engaged when they are being observed. However, this shows a degree of misunderstanding as inspectors’ priority is above all to evaluate the quality of pupils’ learning in lessons.

Constant review of learning. As noted above, in lessons observed, significant periods of time were spent by teachers on getting pupils to articulate their learning, even where this limited their time to complete activities and thereby interrupted their learning! Pupils need time to complete something before they can valuably discuss and evaluate it. To invite self- or peer-evaluation before pupils have had time to engage fully with learning is counter-productive although the principle of self- or peer-assessment remains important.

Geography Lessons

Throughout the session Leszek gave some sound advice for Geography Teachers.

  • Ofsted has no prescribed teaching requriment; there is no need for three or five part lessons; there is no need to introduce learning objectives at the beginning of hte lesson.
  • A good barometer of the Geography department of a school is the number of students choosing to study Geography at GCSE. If it is greater than 25% geographers are doing quality geography. If it is less than 10% there is a serious concern.
  • Most students have poorly developed map work skills – map skills is frequently limited to specific examination requirements.
  • There is often a lack of opportunity for writing at length; this limits opportunity for students to show their understanding. 
  • Students have poorly developed core knowledge; students do not have a coherent picture of the world.
  • Teaching is better at KS4 than KS3, this is frequently because KS3 is taught by non-specialists.
  • It should not be the teacher that is doing more work than the students.
  • Frequently book scrutiny is more valuable than lesson observation – is the work that students are doing now showing progression since September?
  • His key message was that Geography lessons should focus on Geography; lessons should not focus on literacy – good Geography will naturally bring in literacy.
  • Focus should be on pace of learning not pace of activities.
  • Teachers at KS4 should not be ‘teaching to the test’; Ofsted don’t want to see every lesson linked to a GCSE Question.
  • In addition learning objectives should be geographical!
  • Pupils should develop locational knowledge – they should know where places that are being studied are located.

He also pointed out the Good Practice materials on the Ofsted Website, something I had not been aware of before.

He also expressed concern about early entry and two year Key Stage 3 programmes.

This is a series of posts about the Geographical Association Annual Conference 2013; the index to my GA Conference posts can be found here. -this link will work when I have finished all articles – probably tommorrow!

Questioning Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

I have blogged before about Blooms Taxonomy. Below is a list of questions for the classroom based on each level of the taxonomy. Word Document Version


  • Can you identify ….?
  • Can you remember who, what, when, why, how …?
  • Can you picture ….?
  • Who or what were the main …?
  • Can you select ….?
  • Can you find the word for …?
  • Can you recall…?
  • How would you explain …/describe…/show…?
  • When/why/how did….?


  • Which statements/words/support/justify…?
  • How would you compare/contrast…?
  • How would you summarise…?
  • What facts or ideas or words show …?
  • How could you say this in your own words?
  • Which is the best answer? And why?
  • Can you explain what is happening? (and why?)
  • Can you explain what it means by …?
  • What do you predict will happen when/if…?
  • How would you show your understanding of …?
  • How would you solve/find/develop … using what you have learnt?
  • Can you explain what is happening?
  • How would you apply what you’ve learned, to develop …?
  • What would happen if…?
  • How would you use…?
  • What facts would you select to show…?
  • What examples can you find to…?
  • How is …. an example of…..?
  • Can you work out what the structure of … is/would be?
  • What evidence can you find to …?
  • Can you sort out the important information from the irrelevant?
  • What is the function of …?
  • What patterns can you see in …?
  • What is the relationship between …?
  • What are the parts/features of …?
  • What is the theme of ….?
  • How could you show the differences/similarities?
  • How would you group/sort/classify/categorise…?
  • What conclusions can you make?


  • How would you prioritise…?
  • Based on what you know, how would you explain..?
  • Would it be better if …?
  • What is your opinion of …?
  • What would you say is the importance of …?
  • How would you rate/evaluate the….?
  • How would you improve…?
  • What information would you use to support the view…?
  • Give arguments for and against …?
  • What would you recommend?

  • How would you improve …?
  • Suppose you could …. what would you do?
  • Can you say more about the reason…?
  • Can you formulate (come up with) a theory for …?
  • How would you adapt … to create a different…?
  • Can you predict the outcome if …?
  • What is the relationship between…?
  • How would you justify / test …?
  • Could you design/invent a new way to …?
  • Can you suggest an alternative/better way to….?

Image at the top of this post taken from: