What is the link between feedback and teaching?

Perhaps the most useful aspect of using whole class feedback is how it can inform future teaching. In an ideal world, feedback on extended writing should not require extensive remedial work or lengthy commentary because by the time students are asked to apply specific components to longer pieces, they should already have reached a state of accuracy and fluency and the errors, problems and misconceptions should have been ironed out during the earlier stages of instruction in more restrictive practice activities.

If after having read an essay, there are so many problems that you don’t know where to start (poor sentence constructions, misunderstanding about content, lack of paragraphing or whatever else) then this might be a massive alarm bell that there are serious issues with long term planning or sequencing. While it could just be a student not trying hard enough, it is far more likely to be an issue with the teaching.

Did you spend enough time on the components? Did students practice enough beforehand? Have students been taught and asked to apply a specific thing in gradually wider and freer contexts? Did you gradually build up complexity from paragraph to section to whole essays? Did you spend enough time on building knowledge before asking them to write?

If an essay is riddled with problems, writing extensive feedback is probably a massive waste of time. If students cannot do something, then writing you need to write better sentences; your paragraphing needs some work is not going to magically turn them into a coherent writer.

Students don’t need to be told what they cannot do; they need to be taught how to do it.

Looking through student work and noting down omissions, problems and common errors can be really useful. Firstly, it may draw your attention to the fact that there are wider sequencing and teaching issues that need addressing. Secondly, it can help the teacher realize what they need to teach next. An effective and carefully sequenced curriculum will teach students everything that they need in order to succeed at GCSE and beyond and the components of the final performance (mostly essay writing in English) will be sequenced and taught so that students gradually develop their expertise. 

The Link Between Feedback and Teaching

In How Learning Works, the authors discuss how feedback and practice are part of an important cycle:

Practice is followed by performance, allowing feedback. This feedback then guides further practice.

Despite our best efforts at sequencing instruction, students often exhibit a range of problems with their work. When completing whole class feedback, it can be useful to sort issues into ‘tell’ or ‘teach’. Sometimes you just need to tell students something they have forgotten; other times (and this is probably more common), you need to teach them how to do something. There is often a difference between chronic and complacent errors and we should react to these differently.

What to focus on?

Future teaching and practice should be focussed on the highest utility components, bits of knowledge and skills that are transferable and that students can use in future essays, units, years or key stages. This could be vocabulary, analytical components or essay planning.

How to fix problems

  1. Retrieval Practice across many lessons

Spelling errors or basic knowledge problems can be fixed through retrieval practice questions, ideally repeated over a number of lessons to aid retention. If students can’t spell Shakespeare or Priestley(so common!), then put this question into a quiz. If students mucked up or forgot an important quote, you could ask them about this here. If students wrote the wrong thing in a particular GCSE question, asking them to repeatedly list the 4 things that make up a good answer might help. 

  1. Distributed Practice across many lessons

Asking students to correct the errors within a single piece of work that you have marked will probably not result long term improvement. For lasting improvement to be made, students will need distributed practice across many, many lessons. Initial instruction should involve lots of worked examples before students engage in guided and then independent practice so that they become fluent and are able to apply what you have taught them to the widest range of possible tasks.

An example of a feedback lesson: 

My year 7 class have just completed a piece of extended writing on Antigone, writing in response to a short extract and exploring how she is presented.  When ‘marking’ the essays, I note down problems, sorting them out into tell or teach. I also choose the best two answers: these both exemplify what they should have included.

This is the process for the feedback lesson:

  1. All students write Feedback Lesson as a title
  2. All students then note down a list that describes a good answer:
  • Labelling Language (How is the writer expressing their ideas)
  • Short, embedded Quotations
  • Zooming in on interesting words/phrases
  • Fully developed ideas
  • Multiple Interpretations (3+ ideas about each piece of evidence)
  • Zooming in on words
  • Writing about socio-historical context

Each of these components has been taught, extensively modelled, practised and combined across the school year, initially through drills and shorter writing tasks and so I expect them to be meet these success criteria. I ask lots of questions about this list: What techniques did Sophocles use in the extract? Complete the rule: If the quotation is embedded…..CHORAL RESPONSE: The sentence makes sense. Tell your partner three tentative phrases to begin interpretations. Why is the word Patriarchal important when exploring this extract?

3. All students then note down what not do to (these are some of the tell problems):

Some students are writing I know this because it says…

Some students are unnecessarily defining words they are using when responding to the text: Antigone is defiant. Defiant means she is rebellious and doesn’t follow the rules.

I explain that these are 1) the wrong style for this type of writing and 2) a waste of time. I reinforce the second one with what they should do instead: Don’t explain the meaning of ‘defiant’; instead, explain why or how she is defiant and why this is interesting.

4.We then look at 2 brilliant answers under the visualiser and I annotate and highlight where these students have done the things from the list that describes a good answer.

5. Students are then given back their papers and have to highlight where they have done the good things.

This is not enough though. This is just one lesson and the process above merely serves as a reminder that students should be including certain things. Subsequent lessons will involve lots of distributed practice on the common errors and gaps in their writing.

Teaching AQA Language Question 3

Here are some useful approaches for teaching the structure question:

  1. Start with literature texts that they know well

Beginning with texts from their literature GCSE reduces the difficulty: students already know the content and can instead entirely focus on the elements needed for success. This approach works well with question 4 too.

Providing an abstract representation of what an answer requires allows students to develop a transferable mental model that they can then apply when practising.

More often than not, structural analysis can be expressed through reader response. In order to answer why a thing is in a certain place or why a certain order occurs within a text, it can be helpful to think of the effect on the reader. Perhaps we realise something? Perhaps we are encouraged to make a link to something else? Perhaps there is an interesting contrast or difference between two bits? Because structural analysis often deals with larger components (the descriptive opening/the fast-paced dialogue/the linked beginning and ending), students don’t necessarily always need to use quotations and can instead make indirect references to the text in order to substantiate their ideas.

2. Use films and the camera analogy

Structure can be explained by drawing an analogy with camera work in films: what the writer is focussing on or foregrounding is similar to what a director has chosen to shoot.

Car chase scenes often have cliched and predictable cinematography and there are certain camera shots that are almost ubiquitous in such sequences:

The teacher can model lots of oral or written examples of these:

The writer zooms in on the driver’s hands gripping the wheel, so we realise that she is concentrating hard and struggling to manoeuvre the car due to the high speeds.

The writer focusses on the front car wheel which is turned and smoking, allowing us to realise just how fast they are going and that the edge of the road.

The writer changes the focus to a panoramic shot, describing how the car is weaving through a traffic jam, making us realise how dangerous the car chase is and that one error will result in carnage.

Students can then complete half models provided by the teacher, each one with less of the steps completed:

The writer zooms in on the speedometer so we realise…….

The focus changes to smoke coming out of the bonnet……

The writer changes the focus to……..

3. Address common misconceptions

Students often drift away from structural analysis into language analysis and it is worth addressing this error up front. It is also worth being explicit about avoiding vague explanations.

4. Guided Practice

Initial practice should be guided and the teacher can remind students of the what is required in their response:

This support should be faded out as quickly as possible and the goal of guided practice is accurate performance. Students will begin to develop their fluency and later trials should require students to finish in incrementally shorter time periods. Guided practice should involve students making specific checks when they finish the task. Students should label their answer, demonstrating where they have included the three elements (structural phrase + text reference + why is that bit there).

5. Lots of distributed independent practice

Once students have demonstrated accurate performance in guided practice, they need to do plenty of distributed, independent practice, writing in response to as wide a range of relevant texts as possible. The goal of this part of an instructional sequence is fluency and generalisation and this practice seeks to increase the flexibility of their knowledge. Overlearning is important here and students should continue to practice beyond the point that they are able to perform well within a sufficient time limit.

Teaching and Practising Big Ideas: Jekyll and Hyde

Students who get the highest grades at GCSE literature write essays that are focused on abstract and conceptual ideas. Teaching and practising analytical introductions is one way of ensuring that their writing is pitched at such a level. Teaching them an efficient process for answering an examination question is also crucial.

Here is a list of some of the big ideas that students can write about in response to Jekyll and Hyde:

Here is a downloadable word doc version

I usually use this at the end of a unit and from then onwards as a revision tool. Each of the bullet points is a potential paragraph or section of an essay. Here is a list of some useful approaches:

Building Understanding

  1. I annotate it under a visualiser, asking students to copy my annotations onto their copy or asking student to suggest annotations.

2. I ask them questions about the annotations using think-pair-share

3. I ask students to turn the annotations into extended writing, focussing on one row.

4. We discuss them. What does this mean? Which is the most important bullet point for answering the question words in the left hand column? Is there a big idea that is missing here? Do you disagree with any of these? If you were writing an essay using these bullet points, which order would you write the paragraphs in and why? (this gets students thinking about connections between big ideas)

5. Ask them to write an analytical introduction using the bullet points

Retrieval Practice: Strengthening Memories and Recall

  1. Ask students to annotate it themselves from memory
  2. Ask them to think of quotations that fit each bullet point
  3. Ask them to write an explanation of a bullet point or section
  4. Ask them to list the bullet points that fit specific question words
  5. Ask them to write an analytical introduction from memory
  6. Ask them which question words the bullet points match (can they remember the stuff in the left hand column)

All of the retrieval activities should be accompanied with instant corrective feedback so that students can plug the gaps in their knowledge; additionally, teachers can use information from these retrieval activities to ascertain which topics the class need additional help with.

Once we have finished the initial teaching unit for Jekyll, we can then keep returning to these big ideas, using the approaches above to ensure that students are able to recall and apply what they have learned.

Short Stories 6

This is the sixth post in this series; you can find the others here: one, two, three, four, five

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

1. Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin

In 1950’s Harlem, a man discovers that his younger brother has been arrested for selling Heroin. Upon his release from prison, the younger brother is taken in by the man to live with him. This powerful story explores brotherly love and how anger and a lack of opportunity can lead to darkness.

2. I Bought a Little City by Donald Barthelme

The narrator acts like a creator, detailing how he is remaking and rebuilding the landscape of Galveston. Can a utopian society be created? Can the people be placated and manipulated? This story explores the limitations of power and control.

3. The Bet by Anton Chekov

Which is worse: the death penalty or live imprisonment? A young man and a banker make a life changing bet in order to find out.

4. The Burrow by Franz Kafka

Written shortly before his death, The Burrow follows a fossorial mammal as it attempts to strengthen, refine and realise its subterranean realm. The animal is plagued by delusion, anxiety and the threat of invasion as it strives to create and justify its elaborate creation. Is it an exploration of his illness and hypochondria or an extended metaphor for the difficult relationship between writer and reader?

5.Popular Mechanics by Raymond Carver

A story that is both short and shocking. A couple fight, arguing over their possessions.

6. Blood Child by Octavia Butler

An intelligent race of aliens dominates and exploits humans, using them as hosts for their eggs. This disturbing tale explores love, power and interdependence.

7. A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

Emily Grierson is an eccentric old woman who is the subject of gossip for the townspeople of Jefferson. As Southern society slowly creaks forwards and begins to change, she remains, symbolising tradition and the old social order.

8. There Was Once by Margaret Atwood

Two characters talk: one attempts to write a story and the other interrupts, questioning and criticising the choices made by the other. This story explores the process of writing and the often difficult relationship between writer and reader.

9. Signs and Symbols by Vladimir Nabokov

A married couple visit their son in a psychiatric ward. Their son suffers from ‘referential mania’, a delusion where he imagines that everything within existence is a shrouded reference to himself: he sees patterns, signs and self-referential symbolism in the most mundane of things. Is Nabokov satirising interpretation itself? Is analysis a futile pursuit or is it the very essence of existence?

How to Approach a Literature Exam Question that contains an extract

Writing an essay is a composite process that is made up of multiple interdependent components. Here is a list of some of the things that a student typically needs to be able to do or know in order to succeed:

  1. They need to write fluently
  2. They need to be able to use accurate analytical sentence structures
  3. They need to use precise vocabulary
  4. They need a sophisticated understanding of the text

In addition to this, they need to know how to efficiently approach an examination question so that they answer the question fully (focussing on extract and the text as a whole), plan their answer and ensure that their analysis is conceptual, abstract and led by the big ideas within the text.

Here is the approach that I use:

STEP 1: Read the bit above the extract

This tells the student where in the text the extract has been taken from, allowing them to better understand it when they read it.

STEP 2: Read the Question and Underline the key words

This focusses them on what is actually being asked. It is worth spending a lot of time modelling how to deal with questions that have tricky wordings. Students need to be shown how to consider the key words in the broadest possible sense. If the question is How does Stevenson present the temptations faced by Dr.Jekyll, students should be shown that the focus of their essay can and probably should be much wider than one solitary character. They could write about society, Utterson, duty, transgression, Enfield, reputation, gossip and many other things that could be linked to this idea.

STEP 3: Read the extract and find stuff that fits the question

Students should find some useful evidence that fits the question and underline it. Some students may want to annotate here; others may not. It is difficult to say exactly how many pieces of evidence they should find but 3-5 pieces is often enough.

STEP 4: List Big Ideas

This is the start of the actual paragraph planning. Sophisticated essays will be led by big ideas and students should be taught these so that they are able to practice writing about them. Here are some of the possible big ideas connected with Jekyll and Hyde:

In the left-hand column are question words that these ideas could fit. One way of ensuring that students develop flexible knowledge that they can transfer to the widest possible range of relevant contexts is by demonstrating the similarity across different tasks.

STEP 5: Write Analytical Introduction

An analytical introduction (explained fully in this post) acts as a plan as well as ensuring that students keep their essay pitched at the level of big ideas. Here is an example that uses the big ideas above:

Each of the numbered, underlined parts will form a section of their essay.

STEP 6: Write about the extract

After writing their introduction, students should then write about the extract, ensuring that their focus fits the question and using the evidence that they found in STEP 3.

STEP 7: Write about the big ideas listed in the introduction.

Students may not write about all of these and this is ok: they may find that as they are writing, they are able to develop some of the big ideas in more depth than they initially realised.

Additional Points

  • While the approach above is focussed on questions with extracts, it works with questions that do not have extracts too: just remove steps 3 and 6.
  • I don’t think (you may disagree) that there is much to be gained from writing a conclusion in GCSE literature essays as you can fulfil the top band of the mark scheme without including one.

Like with most other things that we teach, this approach is most efficiently taught through explicit instruction and backwards fading, beginning with the teacher showing students how to do it before asking them to complete some then all of the steps themselves. Once students have learned the approach: practice, practice, practice!

Next Post: Teaching and Practising Big Ideas: Jekyll and Hyde

Teaching Writing: Questions for Heads of Department

In my last post, I listed a number of questions that subject leaders could use to evaluate how they approach reading in their subject. This post will list questions that could be used to evaluate how writing is taught and approached.

  1. Do students write in order to develop and refine their ideas and opinions?

Doug Lemov calls this ‘Formative Writing’ and it is akin to Flannery O’Conner’s assertion that ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say’. (She may obviously have never said this but the internet seems to think that she did!). Writing can be a means of clarifying, honing and developing our opinions and ‘formative writing’ refers to precisely this.

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students are usually asked their opinion without having been given time to think, write and therefore formulate their view.
  • Teacher expects students to answer complex questions quickly and verbally

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Everybody Writes: students are asked to write individually in silence before discussing in pairs/whole class discussion
  • Teacher circulates while students write to select good ideas to share/choose answer to show under camera and deconstruct/correct errors/challenge misconceptions

2. Do students write to practice applying a process (explain/justify/analyse)

Typically, the process or style here is dictated by examination requirements.

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students are not given sufficient practice on subject specific skills
  • Students are not taught how to plan, review or edit their writing
  • KS4/KS5: students are not taught exam technique/procedural knowledge needed for examinations
  • Teachers don’t write models live in class

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • KS4/KS5: Students are taught precise, step-by-step processes to answer examination questions
  • KS4/KS5: Students regularly practice timed examination questions
  • KS3: students practice writing that builds useful knowledge and skills
  • Students are shown similarities across exam questions or writing processes to aid near transfer
  • Extended writing is broken down into components, each of which is taught, practised and then combined with others: introductions? Conclusions? Paragraph transitions? Use of evidence?
  • Students are explicitly taught and practice planning, reviewing and editing extended writing
  • Teachers model knowledge organisation using concept maps and other visual methods
  • Teachers regularly model good writing in class

3. Do students write to expand their syntactic control and practice specific sentence forms?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students are not taught or asked to practice specific sentence forms or components
  • Taught sentence forms are not high-utility (they only have a very niche or narrow usage)
  • Taught sentence forms cannot be manipulated or generalised (students are asked to mimic a specific sentence form without learning how it works)
  • Students are not given enough examples to study at the beginning of instruction
  • Students are not given sufficient practice with new forms so they never become automatic and fluent
  • Instruction does not gradually move from restrictive to wider application, causing ‘splinter skills’ where students fail to apply the component to wider writing

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Students use because/but/so to develop ideas and practice vocabulary
  • Students are taught subject specific, high-utility sentence forms/writing components: despite?/appositives?/While?/Firstly…Secondly?/passive voice?/nominalisation?/colons?
  • Sentence Combining is used to teach new sentence forms
  • Sentence forms are taught though examples: students are given a maximal range of relevant examples to develop their mental model of what is being taught
  • Students are given non-examples to help refine their understanding of usage
  • Writing practice exercises are focussed on subject content
  • Practice is distributed across sufficient lessons to ensure retention, fluency and generalisation
  • Initial practice is through restrictive drills with instant corrective feedback (instructional goal here is accuracy and fluency) before widening application to paragraphs and extended writing (instructional goal here is fluency and generalisation)
  • Success Criteria/Checklists/Prompts are used to bridge the gap between drills and application to extended writing

4. Do you combine reading and writing instruction?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students are asked to write about things they know little about
  • Writing processes are taught as if they are generic, transferable skills
  • There is minimal link between reading and writing materials or instruction in your subject

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Students build knowledge (ideally through reading) before being asked to complete extended writing
  • Students regularly read, discuss and deconstruct examples of disciplinary specific writing
  • Students spend sufficient time practicing retrieving and applying knowledge so that they are able to recall it when they need to write in final performances

All of the questions can be found here in a word document:

Reading in Class: Questions for Heads of Department

We all know that reading is a good thing and schools that prioritise reading across subjects are probably on the right track. While the EEF ‘Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’ report provides a good overview of what we should be doing in all subjects, here are some questions that Heads of Department could use to evaluate how reading is approached in their subject.

  1. Wherever possible, is information delivered via well organised, extended reading?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Overreliance on videos
  • Overreliance on bullet points
  • Overreliance on powerpoint (constant slide change can be a problem)
  • Overreliance on discussion
  • Unnecessary/distracting visual imagery
  • Information split across different pages/different text boxes

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Booklets/Printed Text/Textbooks
  • Reading materials with line numbers for efficiency
  • Diagrams that act as important supports for complex texts

2. Are your texts challenging?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Texts lack sophisticated vocabulary
  • Texts lack varied/complex sentence forms

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Texts contain lots of tier 2 (formal/academic) vocabulary
  • Texts contain a good range of sentence forms
  • Texts contain sentence forms that students are expected to use in writing
  • Texts contain core (essential) and hinterland (interesting and less essential) information

3. Do lessons regularly involve a high volume of reading?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Reading is not a regular part of lessons

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Reading happens in many/most lessons
  • Reading is the usual method of presenting information

4. Is reading accompanied by text dependent questions (TDQ) These are only answerable by a close reading of the text

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Questions can be answered using students’ existing background knowledge//opinions without having to read closely

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Student understanding of reading material is assessed through TDQ
  • TDQs can only be answered properly by a close reading of the text
  • All students are expected to answer TDQs
  • Where possible, teachers give instant corrective feedback: students can compare theirs to a model answer and amend

5. Do you scaffold or model answers to TDQs where necessary?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students don’t know how to answer TDQs properly
  • Student success rate is low for TDQs
  • Students do not engage in guided practice where teachers check accuracy of content and approach

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teachers use I-We-You model to demonstrate: demonstrating annotation or finding information/demonstrate answer writing/give success criteria/demonstrate proof reading answers
  • Teachers help students select information by giving hints/prompts or narrowing focus: answer is in lines 2-23/draw a box around the first two paragraphs
  • Scaffolding and support should be the minimal amount required for success
  • Scaffolding and support should be removed as quickly as possible
  • Students should attempt questions independently after guided practice has ensured accuracy.

6. Are TDQs procedurally simple and high utility?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students receive an unnecessarily large range of different question types
  • KS4: students do not practice a sufficiently wide range of question wordings

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Students practice similar question types across texts so that they can maximally think about content not how to approach the task
  • KS4: questions match exam question style, covering all possible wordings/foci

7. Do you unlock challenging texts for students?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students read text without teacher support and struggle: too many new words/complex ideas
  • Teacher reads text then asks students to attempt questions, giving no explanation
  • Students are not expected to annotate their text/make notes

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher annotates, defining new vocabulary
  • Teacher asks questions about new words
  • Teacher gives examples and non-examples for new words/concepts
  • Teacher makes links to previous content
  • Teacher makes links between different ideas within the text
  • Teacher focusses questioning on content needed for success in TDQs
  • Students are explicitly taught everything they will need for success in TDQs
  • Students are expected to make the same annotations and notes as the teacher

8. Does the teacher model good reading?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Students are always expected to read in silence
  • Teacher never reads aloud
  • Students take turns to read out loud but teacher never reads out loud

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher reads aloud regularly
  • Teacher reads fluently with helpful intonation, emphasising parts to aid understanding.

9. Does the teacher model reading strategies?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Teacher doesn’t make the process of sense making explicit and doesn’t narrate thought process when reading

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher focusses on synonyms/pronouns to track concepts across a text: who is ‘he’ here. What does ‘this’ refer to?
  • Teacher narrates though process when reading:  this bit is a bit confusing, I think I will reread it. Hold on, this contradicts the bit I read before. What does this mean? I know this is linked to XXX so does this mean…
  • Teacher asks students to predict, generate questions, clarify and summarise what they are reading

10. Do you teach pronunciation of new words? Do you correct errors?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Teacher doesn’t correct poor pronunciation/reading errors
  • Students don’t practice tricky words
  • Teacher doesn’t insist on accurate reading.

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • If complacency error when reading: teacher repeats error in surprised tone so student can self-correct it: TEACHER: it is ANTITHETIC? STUDENT: Oh yeah, antithetical
  • Teacher uses I say, you say, choral response to practice pronunciation: The word is ‘paean’, you say it…
  • Teacher segments longer words: the word is HO-ME-O-STA-TIC before asking students to practice

11. Do you vary the approach to reading according to student proficiency, text complexity and the aim of reading the text?

Possible Evidence of Poor Practice:

  • Approach never varies
  • Person reading out loud changes too quickly, resulting in disjointed experience
  • Teacher does not consider student proficiency, text complexity or aim of reading when choosing approach

Possible Evidence of Good Practice:

  • Teacher reads sections out loud
  • Transitions between different readers are slick and efficient
  • Students read out loud if appropriate
  • Class reads individually in silence if appropriate
  • Class stops reading after a section to check understanding
  • Class reads whole thing to get a gist before returning to close read or focus on sections.

All of the questions above can also be found here in a word doc:

What do we need to do to Improve?

Whether you are new to the profession or an experienced teacher, there is always room for improvement. Instead of looking at general areas of improvement, it is often helpful to focus on specific components of teaching. Identifying well defined, specific goals is an important first step in the journey towards improvement. This post will list some possible goals that teachers and departments could focus on. I have used this list as a form of audit whilst running CPD with teachers and heads of department, asking them to self-reflect and think about what they need to improve.

Although there will always be exceptions, teachers should probably be doing or insisting upon most of the things below.

Behaviour, Efficiency, Focus

  1. All lessons should be silent when they are supposed to be.
  2. Entrances and exits from classrooms are fast and efficient, taking minimal time.
  3. Relationships with students should be positive.
  4. Narrate the positive: use specific praise.
  5. Warm-Strict approach: consistent and predictable expectations and use of behaviour policy ‘what you permit you promote.’
  6. Choices are used to direct behaviour.
  7. All lessons begin with some kind of Do Now activity so students can begin learning as soon as they enter the classroom.
  8. Behaviour is very good in all lessons: minimal disruption; teacher and students are not interrupted.
  9. In all lessons, students are expected to complete their work to the best of their ability. Support and consequences for those who choose not to.
  10. In all lessons, students sit properly/no heads on desks/only necessary resources on desk.
  11. Lesson tasks are procedurally simple and often predictable: more time spent thinking about content. ‘what do I want them to think hard about?’
  12. Wherever possible, routines are used (how to approach reading/how to hand out equipment/how to correct work etc).
  13. Every minute is used: additional practice/quizzing/extra tasks on hand to fill any left over time.
  14. Teaching is brisk, business like and focussed.

Books and Presentation

  1. Books are neat-dates and titles are underlines/good presentation.
  2. Students have booklets or textbooks that contain everything that they will need for the lesson.
  3. Board=Paper (students are expected to make notes).
  4. Support and consequences for poor presentation, poor note taking or lost resources.

Instructional Choices

  1. Instructional choices are made based upon level of expertise of the student: novice=explicit instruction/worked examples; expert=problem solving, exam questions. Most students are novices!
  2. I-WE-YOU is used to teach almost everything. Each stage is given sufficient lesson time.
  3. Students are taught (told/explained) everything they need to succeed at a task. Procedures/strategies AND content. (I stage)
  4. Sufficient examples/non-examples are presented when teaching new content. Concrete examples to exemplify abstract ideas where possible.
  5. Complex performance (extended writing/multi-step maths procedures/playing whole piece in music/specific movement in PE) is broken down into components, each of which is taught, drilled, practiced and then combined with others.
  6. Teacher annotates reading/models/diagrams, adding examples, non-examples, further information, cues and prompts.
  7. Teacher uses precise and sophisticated vocabulary and expects students to use it too.
  8. Worked examples/models/completion problems used for new content/skills/procedures (I stage).
  9. Teacher live models in class, narrating thought process.
  10. Multiple models are used to compare and contrast: good one vs crap one etc.
  11. Identify and explain common misconceptions before they occur.
  12. Initial practice is guided and the goal here is ACCURACY(teacher help, success criteria, scaffolds, writing frames, some steps completed, half done examples) (We stage)
  13. When ready, students are given extensive independent practice with applying what they have learned to the maximal range of relevant contexts and tasks. The goal here is FLUENCY and GENERALISATION (can they transfer to the full range of relevant tasks) (no support at all) (YOU stage)
  14. Students are given sufficient GCSE examination practice in KS4.
  15. Fluency (accuracy+speed) is used a measure of proficiency: exam timings? X repetitions/sentences in 1 min? 1 page in 20 mins?
  16. Practice is distributed across many, many lessons: content/skills are overlearned until they are automatized and effortless.
  17. Regular, varied, distributed retrieval practice moving from restrictive, prompted tasks (closed qs) to open ended, unprompted application (brain dump/essay)
  18. Retrieval Practice feedback involves follow up questions, telling students extra stuff. Students write all this down.
  19. Retrieval practice used as AfL: if kids don’t know stuff: reteach quickly OR if too complex, plan and teach remedial instruction sequence across multiple lessons.
  20. Checking for Understanding as many students as possible: choral response, mini white boards, cold call, everybody writes, no opt out.
  21. Think Pair Share/Socratic Questioning/ABC questioning/format matters/stretch it for extending thinking.
  22. Questioning is focused on content and procedures.
  23. Meta-cognitive strategies taught and used.

Curriculum Planning

  1. Knowledge Organisers are quizzable and contain high-utility, core information.
  2. Explicit vocabulary instruction in all units, presenting all forms of the word and using examples sentences.
  3. Wherever possible, information is given through extended reading with text dependent questions.
  4. Students are taught how to write in your subject: sentence forms/style/tone/essay structure/exam questions.
  5. Content is chosen based on utility, challenge and exam focus.
  6. 5 year progression model for skills/knowledge is purposive: clear ladder of increased competence/increased knowledge.
  7. Assessments inform curricula change/adaptation. (QLA/areas of weakness etc).
  8. Recap/retrieval lessons are built into curriculum….revision is therefore not just a bolt on at the end of 11.
  9. Units build on each other, yr7 prepares for yr8 etc. Content is cumulatively applied.
  10. Content stretches the most able (building towards a 9); weakest are supported.


  1. Instant corrective feedback given on new content; reduce feedback over time.
  2. Wherever possible, answers, corrections and feedback given live in class: less work and shorter feedback loop!
  3. Students mark their own retrieval practice/classroom work, taking advantage of hypercorrection effect.
  4. Whole Class Feedback when ‘marking’
  5. Whole Class Feedback informs next steps: what needs re-teaching and practicing over many, many subsequent lessons?
  6. Models (student or teacher made) used to feedback: compare work with model, difference=next steps.
  7. Probably a waste of time to regularly write extensive feedback in each book.
  8. Departmental approach is regular, visible (green pen/red pen/Feedback Lesson written as title), purposive (complacent errors= students self correct. chronic errors=reteach) and efficient.
  9. If students know very little or work is very poor, extra instruction is almost certainly preferable to feedback.

The entire list of prompts and components, including additional sections on homework, CPD and supporting colleagues can be downloaded as a word document below.

This is not supposed to be a checklist or a comprehensive list of all aspects of teaching; instead, it could be used as a prompt for self-reflection or diagnosing areas of improvement for a department.