Rosenshine in English: Small Steps

One of the key features of deliberate practice, a highly effective approach to teaching writing, is to approach instruction at the level of components, splitting up the complex task of extended composition into small steps that can be practised in isolation before being combined together. Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction also suggests that we should ‘present new material in small steps with student practice after each step’. Both of these frameworks are explored in depth in my new book, along with lots of fully explained examples about how to apply them to the classroom.

This post will explore how to build up increasingly complex analytical writing by teaching and combining individual analytical components.

Last term, my year 8 class completed a 20 lesson instructional sequence that taught them how to write noun appositives: see this post for an overview. At the end of this sequence, all could produce and manipulate  the structure in both descriptive and analytical writing. A fully explained sequence can be found in Explicit English Teaching. This term, I wanted to give them additional practice with using this structure when writing in response to texts; I also wanted them to combine it with other skills so that they become accurate and fluent in creating transferable, useful and well-crafted analytical paragraphs.

Here’s an overview of the steps that are being combined, in the order that they were taught:

  1. Appositives used for labelling language and as the start of analysis
  2. Appositives + not only….but
  3. Appositives + not only…but + zooming in
  4. 2 adj start + Appositives + not only …but + zooming in + authorial intent

Here’s what we did. The lessons below did not only focus on the things described and there were other lessons in between that involved reading and discussing the Crucible and other texts.

Lesson 1:  Recap of Basic Appositives

I asked students to write an appositive about some of the characters from the Crucible (our main text this term), giving them labelled models to use as analogies.

Lesson 2: Combining Appositives with ‘not only..but’

We read Lamb to the Slaughter and used this as a focus for analytical writing. First, I asked them to write a couple of sentences about two characters, giving two labelled examples and harnessing the ‘worked example effect’.

I then wrote this example under the visualiser while they watched:

After writing it, I labelled and numbered it, highlighting to the students the components that make it successful and the things that they would be including when they write theirs:

  1. An adjective that adds interpretation to the appositive
  2. The appositive which labels the type of language in the quotation
  3. (and 4) ‘not only….but’ A means of adding multiple interpretations to writing.

With the example up on the board, I asked them all to write a similarly constructed piece, using this quotation:

Before they started, I asked them to answer the following questions in pairs, using Think Pair Share to help them generate and develop ideas. What type of language is it? What does it tell us about Mary’s state of mind? etc After a short discussion, they all began writing in silence. While they did this, I went round checking, giving little prompts and helping a few students. When they finished, I asked them to label their writing with the 4 things that are on mine: this is a precise form of AfL self-assessment, acting as a check and reminder that they have completed it properly. I then showed 2 student pieces under the camera to the class, giving a further model to everyone and motivating the students that I chose. Because 4 students were still a little inaccurate, I asked everyone to do a second one, following the same procedure as A. This part of the lesson can be seen as guided practice where I am helping them to move from examples to application.

After this one, the whole class were successful. This high success rate meant that I moved to massed, independent practice, asking them to complete two more without support:

Success rates were high and we ended the lesson by showing more great student work under the camera.

Lesson 3: Further development: adding in ‘zoom in’

The next lesson we read and discussed an article about pollution, looking for interesting language that the writer used. First I wrote a model under the camera that mirrored the example from the previous lesson:

This model shows them that despite the fact that the text is different to the previous lesson (non-fiction vs short story), they can still use this construction when responding to it. Transfer is difficult to achieve but two promising avenues for increasing the likelihood that students can transfer what we teach them is by creating varied practice opportunities as well as drawing their attention to the similarity across different tasks: varying the text type here meets both of these requirements.

I then wrote a second model, showing them how they can extend their writing further by adding in another analytical skill: zooming in on a word. Because they have practised this skill in isolation, there was no need to practice it before asking them to combine it with the previous structure. See this post for an overview of how to teach zooming in.

After labelling this second model with the three things that make it useful (analytical appositive/not only…but/zoom in), I asked them to complete 5 similar pieces of short analysis using five pieces of evidence that they had found in the article. This is independent massed practice and the aim here is accuracy and fluency.

Lesson 4: Further development 2: adding in ‘2 adjective start’ and ‘authorial intent’

In a previous lesson we had spent time discussing John Proctor’s language when he decries the absurd and unfair accusations against his wife. I wrote this model under the camera and labelled it:

I drew students’ attention to the addition of authorial intent (number 5). I then showed this quotation:

We discussed it using think pair share: What does John Proctor mean here? What technique is being used here? What phrases or words could you zoom in on? Etc

I then asked them to write a comparable structure to my example. They all needed to include the 5 labelled elements in the model. While they were doing this, I went round and checked, sometimes commenting on what I read to give people further help: ‘Darren has started his with Fearful and Skeptical…..Penny has zoomed in on ‘born this morning’ etc as well as making corrections and giving reminders to those who need it. This is guided practice and the goal is accuracy and the beginnings of fluency.

When they were done, I showed 2 students’ work under the camera as further models of excellence. I asked the class to discuss in pairs where each of the 5 elements were in the answer, giving further reinforcement on the components. Because success rates were high (all had completed the task successfully), I asked them to do one more, using this quotation:

I removed my model from the screen and replaced it with a list of what they need to include, increasing the challenge and removing the scaffolding:

What’s next?

High success rates in these lessons are perhaps unsurprising due to the models, success criteria and highly restricted nature of practice tasks: as a result, it would be silly to equate success here with learning. Success here is performance not learning. Over the next 10+ lessons, I will ask them to keep practising this with less and less support until they can do it fully independently. This practice will be increasingly distributed to ensure that they retain what they have been taught. Practice will be maximally varied: different text types, different ordering of components, sometimes doubling components (2 ‘zoom ins’ etc). This is to help build flexible knowledge. The sequence above and the lessons that will follow are moving students through ‘The Instructional Hierarchy’. Learning often begins with restricted mimicry but this is often a necessary foundational stage on the journey towards adaptive, flexible and generalised application.


How I teach AQA English Language Paper 2 Question 5

This post will explain how I teach students to write well-crafted pieces of persuasive writing. This is one of the strategies explained in my new book which is out now.

This strategy leans on the approach taken by charity advertisements and quality journalism, both of which tend to use the stories of real people to captivate the attention of their audience. Charity adverts show pictures of people suffering in order to elicit sympathy from the viewer; literary newspaper articles often begin with an emotive vignette into the life of a person who is affected by the issue. This can be really powerful. People rarely become emotionally engaged with abstractions or statistics; however, people instantly sympathise with characters and narrative. While factual arguments can seem insipid and distant, dissuading those who are not invested in the issue from continuing to pay attention, an evocative description can bring an issue to life, enthralling the casual reader and heightening their interest. Not only that, but vivid descriptions are ideal for showing off, helping students to increase their out of 16 mark for fancy language.

The Personal General Approach

This approach to question 5 has four sections:

  1. PERSONAL: Start with a personal story, describing someone affected by the issue
  2. GENERAL PROBLEM: Show how this issue is a problem across the country or world, describing the problem
  3. GENERAL SOLUTION: Offer an alternative approach and solutions to the problem
  4. PERSONAL: Return to the person described in section 1

Section 1: Personal

Here are a couple of examples….

Question: Exams are too stressful. They should be banned.

Question: ‘We should celebrate different accents. No-one should feel under pressure to change the way that they speak.

I tell student to show off like crazy in the opening section so that the examiner cannot fail to reward them for fancy language (thanks to Di Leedham for suggesting this!). Crucially, all of the highlighted things are taught to students initially through restrictive practice drills so they become accurate and fluent before they are asked to include them in wider writing. See this post for an explanation as to how to move from drills to extended writing.

Section 2: General Problem

Once students have produced an evocative description of someone affected by the issue, section 2 demonstrates the scale of the problem. This section allows students to write developed explanations and arguments. It also allows them to include rhetorical techniques and other figurative language to bring the issue to life.

Here are a couple of examples:

Question: Exams are too stressful. They should be banned.

Question: ‘We should celebrate different accents. No-one should feel under pressure to change the way that they speak.

Section 2 can be started with some kind of linking sentence that connects the person to the general problem. Here are some possible examples:

Dave is not alone.

Dave’s situation is not unique

Dave is one of thousands of people who……

Section 3: General Solution

This section allows students to present an alternative; like with section 2, they can include lots of rhetorical techniques and figurative language to make it sound more polemical and passionate.

Here’s an example:

Question: Exams are too stressful. They should be banned.

Section 4: Return to the person from section 1

This section asks students to return back to the person described at the start of their piece, making their writing seem coherent and well planned in a sort of circular narrative type approach. Perhaps their character has undergone some kind of change and the problem has been solved; perhaps the character is imagining a better life or perhaps nothing has changed at all. Like with section 1, this involves creating a vivid description and allows student to show off and include all the fancy things that they can do.

Here’s an example:

Question: Exams are too stressful. They should be banned

How to teach this approach?

Here are some things that I do:

  1. Students become accurate and fluent in whatever components (participle phrases? Anaphora? Colons? Counter-arguments? Etc) I want them to include through restrictive writing drills before they are asked to apply them to wider writing like this.
  2. I practice each section in turn, gradually combining them together into wider pieces of writing. First we practice section 1 a lot; then this is combined with section 2 and so on.
  3. I write live under the camera, highlighting my work to show how components can be integrated into extended writing.
  4. I sometimes interrupt everyone to show them what I or someone else has done: Look at the way that Dave has linked his section 1 and 2/ Look at how Vikki has used three grim metaphors to describe pollution.
  5. I show lots of excellent student work under the camera and label what makes it successful

Why is this approach useful?

  1. Irrespective of whether the examination asks for an article, letter or speech, this approach fits them all! (It doesn’t matter if students forget to write Dear Mr. Smith if the task says letter: if their writing is brilliant, they will get high marks)
  2. Practising this structure over and over again gives students a massive help in the exam. While we cannot predict the topic, we can give them a highly transferable, high-utility strategy for them to use. This allows them to direct their attention to developing their ideas and crafting their writing instead of panicking about how to start or what order things should go in.
  3. It is ideal for showing off: the inclusion of descriptive elements allows students to put in all their fancy skills.

Here are some other complete models of this approach:

  1. Homelessness
  2. Child Labour (showing how this approach fits a letter)
  3. Prison is not a good punishment

Analytical Introductions 2

Teaching students how to begin their essays with an analytical introduction can help them to produce writing that is critical, abstract and conceptual. This method can also help students organise and structure their extended writing as the introduction also acts as an essay plan. Here’s the first post that I wrote about this approach.

When learning how to write these for the first time, students can often find it hard to distinguish between ‘big ideas’ and ideas that are used to exemplify, justify or substantiate these big ideas. Students mistakenly write introductions that list things that happen in the text rather than the ideas that the text might be exploring: they write about the arrogance of Mr. Birling instead of the arrogance of the ruling class.

Here’s a useful approach to eliminate this misconception:

Step 1: Write an extended writing question.

At whatever stage you are teaching this approach, start with an easy task from the easiest text that your students are studying, following Engelmann’s principles regarding the sequencing of skills. This is to ensure quick success which builds motivation.

Question 1: Explore the character of Mr. Birling in An Inspector Calls

Step 2: Model to students possible big ideas with accompanying examples, doing each pair in turn and asking students to make:

Big Idea (listed in intro)Not a big idea (main part of the essay)
1. (socialism vs capitalism)
2. Arrogance/Ignorance of the older gen.
3. Exploitation of the poor
4. Sexism/patriarchy
1. Birling=foil of Inspector
2. ‘Lord Mayor’/Mrs. B oblivious to plight of poor
3. ‘She had to go’/’cheap labour’
4. Gerald/Birling=idiot+ selfish
  1. This should be done with lots of useful teacher explanation, highlighting the relationship between the two columns: ‘Mr.Birling symbolises the callousness of capitalism’ ‘The Inspector represents a socialist viewpoint’ ‘Mr.Birling sees the working class as cheap labour which is exploitation.’
  2. Using think-pair-share, you could ask students questions to help make the link between the two: ‘How does Birling represent capitalism?’ ‘Why are many of Sheila and Mrs.B’s stage exits examples of patriarchal ideas?’
  3. You could use oral because/but/so sentences: ‘Finish my sentence…..When Birling says that Eva ‘had to go’, this is exploitation because….’

Step 3: Write a second, similar extended writing question:

Writing a similar question, perhaps by focussing on the same text or asking students to use the same knowledge base, increases the likelihood of success. I want them to focus on the discrimination between big ideas and examples without the additional difficulty of retrieving a different body of knowledge.

Question 2: How is Gerald Presented in An Inspector Calls?

Step 4: Model to students possible big ideas with accompanying examples, doing each pair in turn:

Big Ideas (listed in intro)Not a big idea (main part of the essay)
1. Predatory nature of rich men
2. Exploitative behaviour of rich/mask
3. Double standards
1. ‘young and fresh and charming’
2.  Kindness in bar
3. Sheila/marriage

Step 5: Write a third, similar extended writing questions:

Question 3: Explore the theme of responsibility in An Inspector Calls

This third question is thematic which may involve a larger possible range of relevant big ideas than a character question, increasing the challenge.

Step 6: Complete a similar table, this time asking for student assistance with completion:

Big Ideas (listed in Intro)Not a big idea (main part of the essay)
1. Arrogance of Upper Class
2. Inevitability of change in society
3. Rapacious upper classes
4.Iniquity of capitalism
1. Mr Birling: ‘titanic’
2. Inspector wants change/ ‘fire and blood and anguish’
3. Birling wants ‘profits’/Gerald and Eva
4. Birling sacks Eva
  1. I would model the first pair, explaining that ‘Mr.Birling: titanic’ is one possible focus for the big idea ‘Arrogance of the Upper Classes.’
  2. I would then write ‘Inevitability of change in society’ outside the table and ask students to decide if it is a Big Idea or not. This is to gather initial inferences about whether students have understood the distinction being taught. For this to be maximally effective, choral response or MWB could be used so that all students respond.
  3. The process in number 2 could then be repeated for each of the listed Big Ideas/Not a Big idea
  4. You could then ask students to suggest additional big ideas, always making it clear that the list is not exhaustive.

Step 7: Write another question, this time focussing on a different text:

In order to promote generalisation, increase the flexibility of knowledge and improve the chances of transfer, it is important to present a wide range of relevant contexts where they can apply what it is you are teaching.

Question 4: Explore the theme of Fear and Horror in Jekyll and Hyde

Big Ideas (Listed in Intro)Not a big idea (main part of the essay)
1. Innate capacity for evil within us all
2. Society is too restrictive
3. Addictive nature of transgression
4. Fear of Evolution
5. Ambiguity/Unknown
6. Uncanny
1. Hyde kills a man
2. Utterson doesn’t go out
3. Jekyll loves being Hyde
4. ‘ape-like’
5. Jekyll’s attempts to describe his mind
6. Setting/Hyde’s appearance

This could be approached in the same way as the last question.

Step 8: Write a simple, example analytical introduction based upon the first question (Mr.Birling)

First, list the things that it needs to contain, following the ‘Call Your Shots’ approach from Practice Perfect. This prepares students to focus on the important parts before you demonstrate what they look like.

It must contain:

  1. A list of big ideas
  2. Authorial intent
  3. At least one unanalysed quotation.

Then write an example live under the camera before labelling it with the three things listed above:

The play exposes the ‘Titanic’ arrogance of the Upper Classes as they exploit the poor for their own benefit. Priestley invites us to criticise the iniquity of capitalism and entertain the optimistic possibility of change.

Step 9: Students write their own version of the example

Step 10: Write a more complex example:

An arrogant and entitled man who symbolises the ignorance and selfishness of the older generation, Birling also represents the exploitative behaviour of the Upper Class who were fixated on ‘profits’. Priestley invites us to be horrified by the patriarchal, stratified world where capitalism is valorised and ‘community’ is seen as something abhorrent.

Step 11: Repeat steps 9 and 10 for all of the questions

Why this approach is useful

  1. Starts with massed practice of each component to help students acquire and become accurate in what you are teaching them.
  2. Harnesses the Alternation Strategy (worked example problem pairs) which is probably a faster way of learning that just massed independent practice
  3. Uses examples/non-examples to help set the boundaries and range of the thing being taught (Big Ideas)
  4. Gradual Release Model: Moves from I to WE to YOU
  5. I can go round and LIVE MARK when they are writing, making instant corrections to stop errors being retained
  6. It is a very effective synoptic retrieval task, cycling through taught texts at a conceptual level

Explicit Instruction Stage 1: Retrieval Practice. 10 Minute writes

This is the first post in a series that will focus on the different stages of a typical explicit instructional sequence. You can find a generic lesson plan for an explicit instruction lesson here. Although many of the stages within that lesson plan may happen within a single lesson, they may also span multiple lessons.

Retrieval Practice Strategies

For an overview of some of the theory and a range approaches to retrieval practice, see these posts:

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 1

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 2

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 3

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 4

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 5

While closed questions and extended quizzing can be really useful to build, organise and connect knowledge (particularly with students who are novices in that they lack relevant prior knowledge), asking student to apply their knowledge in small bursts of extended writing can also be really useful.

10 minute writes

I often start lessons with a recall/application task that asks students to write about what we have learnt and discussed in the previous lesson. Students are asked to write for 10 mins in response to a question prompt. Here are some examples:

Example 1: Jekyll and Hyde

Sometimes I ask students to list the prompts first as a retrieval exercise before asking them to write; sometimes I provide the list of prompts to remind them of things that they could write about, making it clear that there may be many other things that you could explore and that this is not an exhaustive list. As they write, I can go round and check that they are on the right track. The prompts can also act as a useful AfL strategy: if students can’t remember or do not fully understand them, I can stop and reteach the ideas, perhaps through some notes or live modelled writing under the camera.

Example 2: An Inspector Calls

In this example, I asked students to initially make some notes for 2 mins in response to the question. After that, I took suggestions from the class, writing notes under the camera and telling students that they should add anything that they don’t have to their notes. Each idea, once displayed to the class, then can form the basis of a think-pair-share discussion. For example, after writing ‘Entrances and Exits-women leave when discussion is serious!’, you could ask  What does that tell you about gender? How do the entrances and exits mirror Edwardian society? This process could be repeated for each note before then asking students to write for 10 mins using the ideas.

Example 3: Jekyll and Hyde

In the previous lesson, we had read, annotated and discussed a model essay that explored some of the dichotomies within the novella and these are listed as prompts under the question.

Example 4: An Inspector Calls

Sometimes, if I think it is necessary to build knowledge, I will start with a model answer to one of these questions:

Sometimes this is written live under the camera as I explain my thought process and choices of language; other times I display the model and ask students to borrow and adapt ideas from it. At this stage, student answers are close to mimcry but this may be an important first step on the journey towards flexible knowledge and independent practice.

Example 5: An Inspector Calls and Macbeth

Because I want students to remember these ideas-they have high utility and fit many possible examination questions-I often ask students to write about them again at a later date, sometimes increasing the scope of the question like this:

Example 6: Macbeth

This example points students to a particular page in one of our booklets which they can use to support them in writing their answer. In later lessons, I will ask them to write without this support, increasing the challenge.

Possible Benefits of this Approach:

  1. It provides students with lots of writing practice, building their writing fluency and stamina as well as helping them to think deeply about important content.
  2. It acts as a useful form of AfL: if students cannot incorporate a particular note or prompt, it probably needs reteaching.
  3. Students can use the ideas that I provide or they are free to add their own.
  4. When they are writing, I can walk round and check. I often stop the class to draw their attention to something that someone has written to give them additional ideas and interpretations: Rachel has cleverly argued that Macbeth’s anagnorisis doesn’t really come until his nihilistic comment that life is ‘but a walking shadow’.
  5. Students who regularly write about high utility, abstract ideas in response to a range of different question prompts are more likely to be able to apply these to a different question prompt. Transfer is difficult to achieve but one way of helping students to achieve it is to show the similarity across different tasks, essentially helping them to group examples (in this case the ideas) under a superordinate category (in this case the questions) through a process of induction.

Possible detriments to this approach:

  1. If you don’t gradually fade away the support (remove the prompts etc) then students are unlikely to be able to do it independently.
  2. If you don’t use distributed practice, students may not retain what they are practising.
  3. If your students didn’t pay attention to the previous lesson where the content was originally taught, retrieval will be ineffective. Failed retrieval can, however, be mitigated through feedback after the task: this could be through deconstructing a model answer under the camera and asking students to make amendments so that their answer is of a similar quality.
  4. If the ideas that you are asking them to write about are not as transferable as possible (i.e. they only fit a very narrow set of possible question prompts), this may not be an efficient use of their time: some ideas are more useful than others!
  5. If students do not fully understand the components that you are asking them to combine in these wider tasks, you may be better focussing on more restrictive practice tasks before gradually combining them.

Moving From Drills to Wider Application

Teaching writing through restrictive practice activities can be an efficient way of developing student expertise but how can you bridge the gap between drills and wider application? One of the concerns about using restrictive practice activities is that they result in ‘splinter skills’ where students are unable to apply what they have learned in wider writing. In Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching, the authors suggest that this can be avoided if

‘students understand how the pieces (i.e., skills) fit and by bringing the pieces together through contextualized practice and expanded instruction.’

But what does this mean? How can we avoid ‘splinter skills’ so that students are able to independently apply what we teach them to the widest possible range of relevant contexts?

Here is an example lesson for year 8 where students were asked to apply components to a piece of extended writing:

TASK 1: Retrieval Quiz

This was to activate relevant prior knowledge that they would need in their essay

Success Criteria

Because they had spent the previous lesson discussing the ideas in vocab table and annotating an extract, we went straight into extended writing. I wrote these success criteria, explaining that they needed to include all of these things AND that this may mean their writing would be slower and more deliberate than normal:

Apart from ‘vocab table’ which reminds students that they could use words that they had learned last lesson, the other success criteria were initially taught in sentence drills across multiple (15 or so) lessons before this point. Students had also completed shorter paragraph length pieces of writing where they were asked to include one or two of the components. At this point, all (except 2 students who still make errors) were able to use them accurately and fairly fluently. This lesson was one of the first where I asked them to integrate so many components in a more extended piece of writing.

I asked them all to begin with an appositive sentence. I wrote mine as an example. They are free to use my ideas but they are not allowed to directly copy my sentences:

They then wrote for 30mins or so while I wrote under the camera, labelling where I had met the success criteria:

Writing my model in front of the class gives further support for students who need it. As I write, I occasionally stop and ask them to watch me complete a certain components so that they are reminded to include the same construction or skill in their writing. Sometimes I stop writing and walk around the class to check student work in order to find students who have included the components in their work. Temi has included a brilliant appositive construction, listen: ‘A symbol of his increasing savagery, Jack’s stick makes him seem like a predator’ Well done Temi. These interruptions necessarily slow everyone down but at this stage, this is fine as they help ensure that students bridge the gap between drills and wider application. Further along an instructional sequence, these reminders are removed and students write without a labelled model to support them.

Check list for self-assessment

Once students have finished writing their extended piece, they could be asked to underline where they have included the components in their essay. Alternatively, they could tick off each success criteria that they have met. If they have missed any out, they could write these as stand alone sentences underneath, providing some additional practice.

The teacher could either display a good piece of student work under the visualiser to demonstrate how a student has integrated these components or they could ask individual students to read out specific components, providing further models for the class to hear.

What is Next?

This lesson can be seen as guided practice (Or the ‘We’ stage from I-We-You) as students are being asked to perform with a lot of assistance. Later lessons in an instructional sequence may involve:

  1. Asking student to list the success criteria, providing retrieval practice of the components that may form an extended piece of writing
  2. Asking students to write in the absence of a model
  3. Asking students to write without interruptions from the teacher
  4. Distributed practice, gradually asking students to complete it in shorter time frames to help build fluency

Whole School Home Learning Strategy Part 2

In my last post, I outlined how we have helped staff ensure that they are setting appropriate home learning. I also explained how staff can help increase submission rates.

This post will explore how we have helped students become more organised and develop better study habits.

Home Learning timetable

Class teachers are asked to set and collect home learning on the same day each week to make it as easy as possible for students to meet their deadlines.

Academic Planner

All students are provided with a simple A5 academic planner which they are expected to have with them at all times. This contains their lesson timetable and home learning timetable at the front. Students record all their home learning in this planner, making it easy for parents, teachers and leaders to check that a student is being organised. For each piece of home learning, they are expected to record the following things:

  1. What is the home learning?
  2. When is it due?
  3. When will I do it?
  4. Where will I do it?

This approach borrows ideas from Harry Fletcher Wood’s writing on behavioural psychology. Asking students to write down when and where they will do it will hopefully make it more likely that students will complete the task. Not only are they holding themselves to account by being more specific with their intentinos, but they are also developing the kind of organisational habits that we would associate with efficient, successful people. Regularly thinking about the week ahead and arranging their time will hopefully translate into the ability to plan their time better. I cannot do it on Tuesday evening because I have football practice…Wednesday looks good, I can do it at 7:30pm after my dinner. I’ll do it in the kitchen. My brother needs the laptop so I will go to home learning club on Wednesday at 3:20 and borrow a laptop to complete it.

Home Learning and Study Skills Curriculum

Every week, we dedicate one form time session to teach students how to be better learners as well as checking that their academic diaries are being used properly. Here are some of the topics that we cover:

  1. The science of learning
  2. Ineffective study strategies
  3. How to self-quiz efficiently
  4. Deliberate Practice
  5. Spaced Learning
  6. Interleaving
  7. The Pomodoro Technique
  8. Using flash cards: the Leitner method and other approaches
  9. How to use your academic planner

Home Learning Club

Every day, we run home learning club after school and anyone is allowed to attend. This is a quiet study room where students can borrow a laptop if they need to. This is to help students who may not have a suitable place to study or who may have problems with accessing the internet or using a suitable device at home.

Accountability and Communicatoin

For a whole school strategy to be effective, everyone involved needs to be clear as to what their responsibilities are as well as how they will be held to account by others.

Here is an overview of who is responsible for what:

The intention here is to be as clear as possible whilst also creating the conditions where we can easily work out why a student has not completed their home learning. Is it because they are not using their planner properly? Is their teacher fully supporting them to complete their home learning?

Here is a more detailed version for Heads of Department:

Here is a more detailed version for class teachers:

So far, these expectations have not changed since the start of the year and I have been repeating them through as many relevant channels as possible, including staff briefings, emails and meetings.

Using data

If students do not complete their home learning, they are given a detention, which is logged on our behavioural system. Our school has a centralised detention system which means that this is easy for teachers to set detentions and difficult for students to avoid them. We can see which teachers are setting home learning detentions; which departments set lots of detentions; which students receive them and finally, we can monitor trends over time.

Every two weeks

I check which staff have given detentions-if a staff member has not logged a home learning detention, the assumption is that all their students have done their home learning properly. While this is possible, it is also possible that they are not holding students to account properly so I can speak to their HOD to investigate further. Perhaps they are not setting regular home learning? Perhaps the home learning is not reasonable or suitable? Perhaps they are not checking that students are recording their home learning properly? Perhaps they are not being consistent with sanctions? Or, perhaps they are doing everything right and deserve some well earned praise!

Every Friday

I check which students have been given the most home learning detentions in each year group. These students are asked to come to compulsory home learning club.  I send a list to the office who contact home using a script that outlines why the student needs to attend along with a list of answers to some to questions that parents may ask. These students attend compulsory home learning club on Monday and Tuesdays where they are supervised by a senior member of staff. Class teachers provide outstanding work for them to complete in these sessions so that they can catch up and this also functions as a further deterrent against non-submission.

Last summer, I visited Stepney All Saints School and Ashcroft Technology Academy. We owe a debt of gratitude to these fantastic schools as much of our approach is inspired by their approaches.

Whole School Home Learning Strategy part 1

One of my senior leadership roles, and one of our key strategic priorities as a school, is the improvement of whole school home learning.

But what is it that makes a good home learning strategy?

For it to be truly successful, it will require staff, students and parents to be doing the right things. An effective strategy will upskill all of these groups, providing clear guidelines and support whilst also having an efficient quality assurance process, holding them to account if they fall short of what is expected.

This post will focus on staff.

Staff: What makes useful home learning?

In order to ensure that staff are setting home learning tasks that seem purposive, reasonable and achievable, we began by setting some parameters. These were initially presented in an INSET and can also be found in our Staff Handbook. They also help subject leads and line managers to hold staff to account as there are clear expectations.

Amount of Home Learning

Home learning should be approximately 15 mins per lesson. For example, if staff teach a class for one lesson per week, they should set 15 mins home learning per week. If staff teach a class for 2 lessons per week, they should set 30mins home learning per week.

Examples of useful home learning

The list below is not exhaustive, instead acting as guide.

Self-Quizzing/Retrieval Practice

Self-quizzing should focus on specific content from knowledge organisers, key word lists or booklets. It should be an achievable amount of memorisation. Staff should teach students how to self-quiz effectively and efficiently, modelling how to do it in class. Submission day should involve a test to check that students have done the work.

Independent practice

This style of home learning will follow on from modelling, explanation and guided practice that occurred in a lesson. Pupils must have demonstrated a high success rate in guided practice in lessons before being asked to complete independent practice without support-all pupils must be able to complete practice without teacher support.

Teachers should give feedback. This could be feedback to the teacher through sampling the work to ascertain what the misconceptions are and what needs teaching next; alternatively, feedback could be for the student. An efficient way of doing this is through model answers, allowing student to compare their work to the model, meaning minimal written marking for the teacher.

Reading and Text Dependent Questions

Chosen texts must be accessible enough for all pupils to attempt without support and text dependent questions should be used to check for understanding. This style of task could involve wider reading to broaden their knowledge base connected to what is being learned in class, or it could involve information that will then be discussed and used in class. Submission day should involve a focus on the text that students were asked to read for home learning to check that it has been completed.

Online learning Platforms

Wherever possible, we use online learning platforms to assist with home learning as they can often save teachers time as well as providing an easy way to check if students have done their work. Here are some that we use:

Seneca learning

This has modules and courses for most school subjects and allows teachers to set specific assignments and see exactly how much of the work a student has completed.


Mathswatch has thousands of explanatory videos and practice questions that staff can assign to students.


Commonlit has thousands of articles, poems, speeches and extracts on a wide range of topics. We use ‘guided reading mode’ to set KS3 English home learning each week.

Examples of bad home learning

In order to define something, it is often useful to provide non-examples . Here’s a list of home learning tasks that are unlikely to be useful:

Open ended research type activities e.g. research glaciation/use the internet to find out about The Peasants Revolt

There may of course be times when this style of task is appropriate but more often than not, such tasks are an inefficient way of learning. As an example, I used to teach in an international school in Penang and I remember a history teacher asking his class to research Chariots as part of their unit on the Romans. Two students submitted some writing on The Chariot, a hardcore punk band from Georgia, USA.

Independent Practice before pupils have demonstrated a consistently high success rate in guided practice

If students are given independent practice, skipping guided practice, this may result in disengagement as students will find the independent practice work too difficult and, as a result, will quickly give up.

A mismatch between content and task design

Home learning where the nature or medium of the task detracts from or limits student thinking about the actual content should be avoided. Asking students to make posters, models or powerpoints may be examples of poor task design in some subjects.

Tasks that can only be completed by the most dedicated or high attaining pupils in the class

Memorisation home learning that focusses on low utility knowledge or things that aren’t really relevant

Too much variance in the nature and style of home learning tasks: novelty can cause confusion.

Behavioural Nudges

After defining effective home learning may look like, I wanted to help staff to increase the amount of submissions by nudging students in the right direction, using insights from behavioural psychology. This (and many other) blogs from Harry Fletcher Wood and this report from ‘The Behavioural Insights Team’ have massively helped shape our approach.

Harry’s writing pointed me in the direction of the EAST framework: students are much more likely to complete their home learning if it is Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. The following list of tips are based on these four ideas:

  • All home learning should be a maximum of a week cycle: if the work is more than can be completed in a week (e.g. a project or extended piece) it must be split up into smaller goals and spread across multiple week-long cycles
  • Habit forming requires repeated actions in stable conditions. Home learning should be set and collected on the same day each week. The nature, medium and format of tasks should be predictable so pupils know what to expect. Novelty and excessive variance of task type should be avoided wherever possible
  • Pre-empt barriers to completion: address possible reasons for not completing work and provide solutions. E.g. ‘Please come and see me if you can’t do the home learning: I can help or reexplain.’If you lose the sheet, it is on TEAMS.’ ‘If you know you will be absent the next few days because of the trip, you need to start this evening.’
  • Get pupils to pre-plan when, where and how they will do their home learning and share this plan with another pupil or the class. All pupils have an academic diary: they must have this in lessons and write their home learning in it.
  • Teach students how to be organised and take advantage of spaced learning by showing them how to plan out the work across the week. E.g. if you set 10 concept + definitions to learn, they need to learn 2 on day 1, 2 on day 2 (checking the first 2), 2 on day 3 (checking the first 4) etc.
  • If you can, remind pupils through the week of where they should be. E.g. ‘Home learning was set 3 days ago-you probably should have learned 4 concepts by now.’ You can include these items in retrieval practice in lessons that fall between setting and submission as a further nudge, praising those who are on track
  • Build the social norm of completing and submitting home learning by telling the class things like ‘most people have done their home learning and this will help them because…’ If compliance is low, don’t advertise this by saying things like ‘hardly anyone has done the task’ as this could reinforce the fact that avoiding doing home learning is a social norm.
  • If compliance is reasonable, think about publicly advertising completion. This could be in the form of a table on the board with green/red squares or something similar
  • All types of home learning require public checking/feedback on hand in day: pupils need to know that the work matters and that they will be held to account
  • There must be a consequence if they don’t do the work. This should be a detention in the first instance. Multiple instances of non-completion must result in parental contact

Next Post: Whole School Home Learning Strategy Part 2: Supporting Students and Quality Assurance

I-We-You/Explicit Instruction: An Example Lesson

I have just started teaching Lord of The Flies to a year 8 class and here is an example lesson that follows an I-We-You/Explicit Instruction approach:

I want students to understand and enjoy the texts that we teach and be able to grapple with the big ideas that are contained within them; however, I also want them to learn how to write with precision and sophistication. Lessons often involve tasks that address both of these aims.

What we did in the previous lesson:

We read Chapter 1 of the book, stopping to discuss bits using think-pair share. I read the first 70% out loud; I asked the class to read the last 30% or so individually in their heads, followed by some text dependent questions.

What they can do already:

We split up analytical writing into distinct skills. We model, drill and practice these before combining them into wider pieces of writing. This is so that students become accurate and fluent and develop flexible knowledge that they are eventually able to apply to the widest possible range of relevant contexts. This class are already proficient at tentative language, zooming in on words and multiple interpretations. They are also able to write appositive phrases.

This lesson:


Students were asked to re-read the final two pages of Chapter 1 and think about what Jack is doing and saying and why.


1. I wrote this question on the board:

2.I added the purple explanation to explain what ‘presented’ means.

3.I asked them to Think Pair Share about how Jack feels and why he is acting like that.

4. I asked for lots of ideas and feedback from the class, using ‘ABC questioning’:

Agree=Paraphrase what someone said about Jack to demonstrate understanding

    Build upon= add an additional idea to what someone said (multiple interpretations)

    Challenge= disagree with what someone said and explain why.

    5. I then showed my LOTF book under the visualiser to model finding evidence.

    • I chose a particular sentence and then made the important point that only 2 words were really of interest (I have drummed into them that evidence should be as short and concise as possible)
    • I wrote my evidence into my book under the camera

    6. I asked them to find 5 more bits of evidence, reminding them that a single word or phrase would be best.

    7. I collected some evidence and wrote it under the camera, telling the class to write down any they like so that everyone has at least 5 (this then helps kids who were struggling and allows them to do the next task)

    8. We discussed these quotes using Think Pair Share

    9. We all wrote this title:

    10. I gave some spoken examples of appositives to remind them of what they are. They had all completed a 15+ lesson instructional sequence last term moving them from models to completion problems to free, independent practice. I knew that they could all write this style of sentence but, in order for ALL of them to be successful in the later tasks, I felt that it was important to activate prior knowledge here and give them some reminder.

    11. I showed this model:

    12.I drew their attention to the following things, explaining their importance and function:

    • The ‘When’ clause in the first sentence which contextualises the subsequent analysis
    • The appositive which allows me to label the method as well as connecting it to its effect.
    • The ‘Not only….but’ part which facilitates my multiple interpretations.
    • The final ‘Despite’ sentence which adds another idea.

    13.I then asked them to do their own using the word ‘white’, giving them this paragraph plan:

    Students were able to use my initial model as a guide. The word ‘white’ has a potentially very similar meaning in this context to ‘pause’, the evidence in my first model. This similarity meant that their initial guided practice was very successful, motivating students as they realised that they could do it.

    14. While they were writing, I went round, giving help, checking etc

    15. When they had finished , I showed one kid’s work under the camera, providing a model of success that the others could use to compare theirs against.

    16. I asked them to do a second, restrictive practice task, turning this paragraph plan into proper writing:

    This is a bit harder because the quote is not a word, it is a statement/comment/remark etc and they will need to adapt their appositive slightly. I also asked them what kind of remark it is: angry? Frustrated? Embittered? (adding an adjective before the appositive adds to nuance) e.g. …., a frustrated remark that…. I also asked them to add ‘ZOOM IN’ as well. Because they know how to do this (taught in yr7), there was no need to model it.

    Success rates were very high for all students but I cannot take this as evidence of learning as they have had so much support here, so this is what will come next….

    10+ lessons of restrictive drills practising this construction, moving from MODELS to paragraph plans to independent writing.

    • I will begin to further combine this with other things (Zoom in/Authorial Intent etc)
    • I will ask them to write increasingly more (1 evidence-2 evidence-3 evidence etc)
    • Eventually they will be writing with just success criteria and then with no prompts whatsoever

    Macbeth: Some Ideas and Interpretations

    Here are some collected interpretations and analyses that I have used when teaching Macbeth.

    Cyclical Structure: inversion.

    The witches begin the play by saying ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, a chiasmus that could convey the cyclical structure of the play and Macbeth’s narrative journey. At the start of the play, Scotland is ‘fair’ because of ‘brave’ Macbeth, a lauded war hero who has killed a traitor. As the play continues, Macbeth commits regecide, changing Scotland into a ‘foul’ place as it suffers under his ‘slaughterous’ reign. The play ends in an inversion of its beginning, just like the chiasmus that the witches ominously say in the opening scene: Macbeth is the traitorous ‘butcher’ who is killed by Macduff, restoring order and making Scotland ‘fair’ again. Perhaps Shakespeare is accentuating the pleasing inevitability of justice and how the divine order will prevail. Perhaps he also exposing the futility of usurpation and insurrection as both insurrectionists, Mcdonald and Macbeth, fail in their attempts to disrupt and therefore invert the natural order. If we take the witches’ opening chiasmus as foreshadowing the ending, this also points to the power of fate and destiny. While Shakespeare could be highlighting the idea that all human action is led by fate or God’s plan, he could also be hinting at the malign agency of the supernatural as if the witches themselves dictate the events of the play. Interestingly, the witches speak in trochaic tetrameter which is an inversion of the usual iambic pentameter within the play: a trochee is the exact opposite of an iamb and their influence could also be seen as an attempt to invert the natural order.

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Supernatural
    5. Horror

    The motif of clothes: power is temporary:

    Shakespeare uses the motif of clothing in order to highlight the temporary nature of power. When Macbeth meets the witches, he exclaims ‘why do you dress me in borrowed robes’ as he doesn’t understand how he can be Thane of Cawdor. Later on in the play, Macbeth’s kingship is described as ‘like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief’ as people realise that he does not deserve his crown. Macbeth’s moral failings, the fact that he stole power and his disruption of the Divine Right of Kings suggest that he is unable to wear the ‘robe’ of kingship in a convincing or acceptable fashion. Perhaps Shakespeare is highlighting how powerful men can become obsessed with chasing something that can never really become a part of them and like clothing, that will always be something that can be removed. Perhaps it also hints at vanity like an obsession with clothes and appearances as Macbeth desires the throne for power, status and even the ‘golden opinions’ of others rather than the ability to serve his country. Despite being King, Macbeth is ‘dwarfish’ and Shakespeare wants us to realise that he is pathetic and insignificant when compared to Duncan, the rightful King, but also the monarchy as a whole, an institution that is underpinned by God himself. Perhaps Shakespeare is flattering King James here, making him aware that he is the rightful King, a sentiment that is further strengthened by comparing Macbeth’s failings with the benevolence of Duncan and the piousness of King Edward.

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Power

    The motif of Sickness: evil and the natural order

    Shakespeare uses the motif of disease in order to represent evil in the play. The witches, characters that could be seen as agents of the devil or symbols of malevolence, are described as ‘withered’ as if their evil has caused them to shrivel and become physically weakened. The witches are supernatural and by definition exist outside of the natural order and the implication here is that shunning the natural order, a framework ultimately created by God, will result in sickness. When Lady Macbeth is trying to persuade her husband to commit regecide, she fears that he lacks ‘the illness’ to go through with it. Again, Shakespeare is linking evil to disease as if disrupting the Divine Right of Kings will require a moral illness. Not only that, but it will cause the perpetrator to become sick and this is first seen when Macbeth hallucinates, his ‘heat-oppressed brain’ evidence of his initial descent into psychological turmoil and suffering. This mental deterioration can also be seen in Lady Macbeth’s final scene as she babbles in confusion, having been reduced to a deranged automaton.

    The motif of disease is also used to highlight the malign ramifications of disrupting the natural order. Regecide causes reality to warp and illness to descend upon the world. Shakespeare highlights how ‘the earth was feverous and did shake’, personifying the world as something vulnerable and weakened as a result of Macbeth’s evil. Perhaps God has inflicted a punishment as a result of Macbeth’s sacrilegious actions. It is as if Shakespeare is encouraging us to support the Great Chain of Being by exposing the horrific and sickening consequences of rejecting the natural order. 

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Lady Macbeth
    5. Power
    6. Violence

    The motif of religion: ostracisation and damnation

    As soon as Macbeth begins to consider committing regicide, he is aware of the sacrilegious nature of his plans. He says ‘stars hold you fires, let not light see my black and deep desires’. Perhaps ‘stars’ and ‘light’ can be seen as symbolising God as well as righteous and moral thought. Juxtaposed with ‘black’ and ‘deep’-the second word hinting at the underworld or even hell-the imagery of illumination conveys Macbeth’s awareness that he needs to hide his horrific intentions from not only God but also society as a whole. He knows that he will be judged and condemned. It as if, even at this early point in the play, he is ostracising himself from his creator and drawing away from the natural order. This positions him close to the witches, supernatural characters who also exist on the boundaries and outside of the natural realm. This desire to hide from God quickly turns into abject shame when he finally kills Duncan. He exclaims he ‘cannot say Amen’ as if he is too ashamed to praise God. It is as if Shakespeare wants us to realise that God has shunned him. Macbeth asks ‘will all Great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood’. Perhaps his pleading to a non-Christian deity is further evidence of the fact that he has ostracised himself from God. It is as if he has turned to other supernatural forces to aid him, something that continues as he become further embroiled with the witches.

    As Macbeth becomes increasingly ‘slaughterous’, he is described using the imagery of hell and damnation. He is ‘devilish’ and his wife is a ‘fiend’. It is as if they have aligned themselves with darkness and evil as Shakespeare warns his audience of the infernal consequences of regecide. Macduff describes Macbeth’s reign as ‘new sorrows strike heaven on the face’. This brutal personification conveys how Macbeth’s violence has now spread from Duncan to God himself. It is as if he attacked and killed his own chance of salvation and the afterlife. When the witches say ‘something wicked this way comes’, Macbeth’s evil and exclusion from God is recognised by ‘the instruments of darkness’, accentuating his malevolence. Perhaps Shakespeare wants us to realise that he has drawn an allegiance with the agents of Satan. He has been ‘ripped’ from God and plunged into ‘darkness’. Eternal damnation and hell would have been horrifying ideas to Jacobean people and Shakespeare’s increasing use of hell-based imagery when describing Macbeth cements his tragic fall from grace.

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Loyalty
    5. Violence
    6. Power

    Short Stories 7

    This is the seventh post in this series; you can find the other ones here: one, two, three, four, five, six.

    Here are some more short stories that I have enjoyed reading and teaching:

    1. The Last Question by Isaac Asimov

    According to Asimov himself, this is his favourite of all the stories that he has written. This short story explores the connection between humans and technology and whether we will ever be able to transcend the limitations of reality

    2. My Father by Rita Chang Eppig

    Eppig’s writing is stunning: her sentences are filled with beautiful imagery and rich symbolism. My Father tells the story of Stella, Lucifer’s daughter, who leaves hell on a journey of self-discovery.

    3. As The Last May Know by S.L Huang

    Winner of the Hugo Award in 2020, this story explores the ethics of nuclear weapons and human sacrifice.

    4. A Witches Guide to Escape by Alix E Harrow

    Books are portals to other worlds, allowing us to escape our problems and find refuge in imaginary universes. This short story, winner of the Hugo Award in 2019, is centred on a librarian who recommends books to wayward teenagers, helping them overcome their struggles in the process.

    5. Sticks by George Saunders

    An emotionally stunted father struggles to connect with his family. This very short story is both comical and tragic.

    6. The Swan as a Metaphor for Love by Amelia Gray

    Love, beauty and grace are concepts that we hyperbolise and idealise; we often gloss over the imperfections, closing our eyes to the full picture and pretending that everything is flawless. This amusing story explores these myopic tendencies

    7. The water that falls from nowhere by John Chu

    Two men visit their parents, worried about revealing their secret romantic relationship. Will tradition clash with young love? This story won the Hugo award in 2014.

    8. Bridesicle by Will McIntosh

    Imagine if you could cryogenically freeze yourself in the hope that you can be reanimated in the future. Imagine if your reanimation was dependent upon a man choosing to marry you.

    9. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu

    The world has been destroyed by an asteroid and the last survivors of humanity escape on a ship. This engrossing tale asks questions about duty, honour, sacrifice and identity.

    10. The Lumber Room by Saki

    Children and adults perceive the world differently. From a child’s perspective, adult decisions can seem absurd. Saki brilliantly satirises adult authority in this playful tale.