Monthly Archives: June 2013

What makes a great lesson?

In today’s busy working environment and with tightened budgets, the ability to attend courses and CPD is lessened and, as a result, more and more professionals have turned to Twitter to offer support.

A few months ago I stumbled upon an excellent resource offered by The Teacher’s Toolkit entitled ‘The 5 minute lesson plan.’ This lesson plan, I assume, was written with the intention of helping teachers reduce their planning time whilst ensuring key learning strategies were considered in order to attain the elusive ‘outstanding’ tag. Teachers, through this page document, are guided in their lesson planning to consider how we engage students; how we ensure the ‘stickability’ of key skills; how we use Afl and differentiate within our lessons; the inclusion of key words and the teacher vs student activity.

Like many others I was drawn to this resource because it offered a time-saving plan while simultaneously ensuring I was considering key teaching and learning strategies that would help improve my practice.

I used this to help me plan my interview lesson on varying sentence structures and was pleased with how quick and thoughtful the process of completing this plan was.


However, the interesting thing about joining a new school is that you quickly learn different schools interpret the criteria for ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ lessons in slightly different ways. Yes, the progress of students is central but other factors such as responding to feedback and questioning are given more weight in my new school than they had been in my previous school. Having observed a number of colleagues over the past few weeks I have discovered how difficult it is to hit certain criteria when you are seeing only a snapshot of a lesson. This led me to think that we needed a slightly adapted version of the ‘5 minute lesson plan’ to suit the priorities for our school and develop these within our lessons. Where was I to begin?

The first thing I did was read ‘The Essential Guide to Lesson Planning’ by Leila Walker which was recommended to me by a colleague. A useful book for anyone just starting out in teaching, it recapped the basic expectations for a lesson and I was able to draw these out quite easily. I then had the pleasure of attending Tom Sherrington’s session at The Festival of Education where he outlined, what he believed, are the ten qualities of a great lesson:

1) Probing
2) Rigour
3) Challenge
4) Differentiation
5) Journeys
6) Explaining
7) Agility
8) Awe
9) Possibilities
10) Joy

Next I approached colleagues about what they felt constituted a ‘great’ lesson and asked them to feed this back onto a padlet. The responses I got included high levels of challenge, clear progression, peer assessment, differentiation and a clear knowledge of the students in front of you.

Finally, in producing a planning pro-forma that would suit the needs of our school, I had to reflect upon our observation documentation and the key areas identified. These included
 Differentiation
 Revisiting learning
 Students knowing how to improve in English
 Assessment of / for learning
 Questioning (differentiated questioning)

Bearing this in mind, the following document is what I have come up with.


This has also been uploaded onto tes and is available at the following link

As yet, it is not a finished document but a work in progress. Nor is it a document that will become a requirement. Instead I see this as a valuable training document which helps to outline the expectations of what deserves/needs consideration when planning a ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ lesson. I envisage using this in faculty meetings initially to guide us in our planning when considering the schemes of work for next year. I even think I might laminate some of these so that teachers can use them as a reference tool. The possibilities are endless but I feel confident that this will become a useful document for myself / the faculty / other colleagues when planning lessons because it will act as a reminder of all the key teaching and learning strategies I/we need to display within my/our lessons.

Your feedback would be most welcome.


Session 4 – #educationfest – Sheer Brilliance!


I was torn for session 4 between my personal preference and feeling I should attend a session to support my role as Director of English.  I am glad I went with my gut feeling because Phil Beadle (who I have seen twice before) and John Murphy were INCREDIBLE!

 Joining a new school can present challenges with regard to behaviour as students get used to you and your way of doing things.  I was, therefore, really interested to refresh my thoughts on good behaviour management and pick up some new techniques.

 Phil Beadle commands a room and it is clear that he has a great respect for John (who was new to me) so I was immediately intrigued to hear what they both had to say. 

 Good behaviour management stems from three things:

1)    Environment – have we thought about our environment in being safe and suitable for the students we have in front of us?

2)    Social Skills – most of what we communicate comes from our body language – how are we using our body language / facial expression to communicate positively with the students?  The idea being that ‘Our belief about what is possible controls the outcomes we get” (Leo Busgalia) and that if we are thinking negatively about a class or a type of behaviour then this will transmit through our body.

3)    Positive reinforcement (with an emphasis that reactive behaviour from a teacher is the worst form of behaviour management)

We were told that it was absolutely fundamental to remember:

It isn’t about you.

It isn’t about them.

It’s about the learning.

Three core ingredients are vital in teachers if good behaviour management is to ensue:

1)    Consistency – the argument was whether we can be consistent with all students – do all students have the same starting points?  Therefore, should we be treating students in the same way?  For example, the student who genuinely cannot focus for very long could be given an egg timer set to 3 mins and then a reward given and then 3 mins again and then a reward given etc etc.  We need to focus on the individuals and their needs.

2)    Empathy – how do we create something new that promotes our empathy?

3)    Fairness

 Some other helpful tips were:

1)    The power of touch (a theme to be repeated later).  For some students the only form of touch they get is an aggressive form so we need to educate students about how touch is a positive social trait.

2)    When a student is reacting aggressively then 2 arm’s length is a good distance and a sure fire way of calming them down is a closed question that considers what the student needs at that moment such as ‘Do you want a glass of water?’

 A 40 minute session was nowhere long enough for these two!  I could have spent all day with them and, in actual fact, would love to spend all day with these two.  Unfortunately this won’t happen in person but as second prize, I did go and purchase their book ‘Why are you shouting at us?’ which I cannot wait to read.  I have high expectations of it being a gem!

Session 3 – ‘Deliberate difficulties’ and David Didau

Session 3 was a name session. David Didau. A big name in the Twitter world and very popular in the Mandarin Centre. His session entitled ‘Deliberately difficult’ was to provide some food for thought and challenge some misconceptions about the direction in which we are driven by Ofsted.

The first big question was ‘Can progress both be rapid and sustained?’ A resounding ‘no’ came from the audience. If not, what would our preference for learning / progress be? A resounding ‘sustained’ response was given. David Didau himself argued: The most fundamental goals of education are long-term goals. As teachers and educators, we want targeted knowledge and skills to be acquired in a way that makes them durable and flexible.

So, how do we create learning that is sustained, that is remembered? Well, David suggested we do two things:
1) Learn to separate performance from learning
2) Introduce ‘desirable difficulties’

The first argues that whilst students can perform in a lesson, can learning / progress really be assessed within a 20 minute window? David Didau also argues that in training ourselves for that observation / Ofsted lesson we have created a culture where our students are programmed in a certain way which to some extent prohibits deep learning. We need to create uncertain variables and difference within what we do to ensure students are reacting, being challenged and deepening their learning experience.

The second suggests that if we make learning more difficult for students then they will learn more.
David put forward many ideas about how we can deepen the learning experience and why we need to: retention / retrieval rates (or spacing) where it is argued that our memory is limitless but that we have certain ‘storage strength’ and ‘retrieval strength.’ He argued that ‘if learning is difficult, the retrieval strength will decrease in the short term but will increase in the long term.’ We also learnt about generation learning (where students are active learners but also encouraged to make mistakes because that type of learning is essential for the deeper learning to be stored), interleaving (of concepts across a longer term plan) and dare I say it – testing! (the most successful method of enabling students to retain information is study test test test)

All of these were very interesting concepts and ones that take some thought and time to digest. When I am reflecting I think the main idea is that we want out children to make sustained progress and over time that this will mean much of what is learnt will be forgotten. It is important, therefore, that we identify what needs to be retained and use a range of strategies that will enhance our students’ ability to retain information. Strategies such as creating ‘deliberate difficulties’, ‘generation learning’, ‘interleaving’ and ‘testing.’

This was a really useful and thought provoking session. David Didau is a master of his profession – a passionate researcher and I admire his work greatly.

Session 2 #educationfest

me at Tom sherrington

The second session I attended was ‘Rigour, agility, awe and joy – the essence of great lessons’ with Tom Sherrington and a packed Spiritual room (note for next year – please don’t put big names in small rooms!)


The session began by stating that teaching should be varied and offer students a variety of experiences (think, pair, share / drilling / co-construction / using students as experts / film / responding to texts using one specific multiple intelligence / peer assessment of previous work as a starter) and that many of these techniques can work in conjunction with each other.  Students should be taught to expect the unexpected!


Tom then identified 10 key qualities of great teaching (which I have summarised below)

1) Probing – good quality questioning.  This is something I want to look into further and develop within my faculty.  Tom spoke about how a significant number of questions used within the classroom are not probing enough.  Questions such as ‘Why do you say that?’  ‘Do you agree?’ ‘Which one is the best answer?’ ‘Can both be right?’ ‘How did you know?’  ‘Why did you think that was the right answer?’ are far more challenging in getting students to discuss and explore their points of view / answers.

2) Rigour – a combination of classroom management, subject expertise, pedagogy and drive.  Tom argues that it is essential that our knowledge and expertise is up to scratch in order to engage and develop our students learning but also that it is necessary for us not to accept work that is mediocre and to be specific about our expectations in getting the best work from our students.

3) Challenge – there needs to be a continual increase in the level of challenge (difficulty was a recurring theme in today’s edfest).

4) Differentiation – The advice was to find the most able and prepare the lesson for them to make sure that we are raising our expectations for the students in our class.  Students’ mindsets should be ready to accept challenge and increasing levels of difficulty within the classroom.

5) Journeys – Tom stated that lessons should be seen as being part of a bigger process.  We should be asking ourselves what is occuring inbetween lessons to ensure the learning journey continues and develops, and that we, as teachers, really need to harness life beyond the classroom.  Homeworks should encourage students to make connections between lessons so that we are equipping students with the tools to study for themselves and develop their own learning.  It is entirely possible to show students expectations of work (without levelling or grading) to enhance what we receive from them.

6) Explaining – there are a wide variety of resources that are already readily available that explain concepts really well.  We need to ask ourselves ‘What do we explain?’ and ‘How do we explain it?’  The clarity of our explanations is essential.

7) Agility

8) Awe – we need to be responsible for creatimg moments of awe within our classrooms

9) Possibilities – modelling – the ability to give students exemplar pieces of work to show them the possibilities of what can be achieved

10) Joy – Tom’s message was clear: If you are not enjoying it, chances are the kids aren’t either.  Plan for your own enjoyment. 


I enjoyed this session and a lot of what was said made sense.  I definitely think we, as a faculty, need to focus on our level of questioning and I am going to start looking further into this area.  However, I am also really interested in the learning journey and, even more so, the use of homeworks to a) give students the opportunities to make connections between our lessons but b) create independent learners who engage with the curriculum on a different, and more personal, level.



My reflections on #education fest – Session 1

This morning started bright and early with two of my fantastic faculty as we made our way up to The Wellington College.  After a really exciting weekend last year, expectations were high for the sessions on offer today.  At times hard choices had to be made between personal preference and professional development but in the end I decided to attend ‘Improving Writing through blogging with 100 word challenge’, ‘Rigour, ability, awe and joy – the essence of great lessons’, ‘Deliberately difficult: how to focus lessons on learning rather than progress’, ‘Why are you shouting at us?  The dos and don’ts of behaviour management’, ‘Boys will be…Brilliant!  How to help your boys succeed’ and ‘High expectations equals high impact.’  Phew.


Session 1 – Improving Writing through blogging with 100 word challenge.

The premise for this was simple.  Students construct short pieces of creative writing using 100 words or less.  To inspire them with their writing Julia Skinner (on the website sets students one of three prompts:

  • A sentence prompt – minus the capital letter to emphasise to students that they do not have to use the sentence at the start of their writing;
  • A picture prompt;
  • Individual word prompts – a sequence of 5-6 words which can be used in any order, at any point in the story.

Students then post their responses on their classroom blog initially before attaching a link on Julia’s blog for all to see.

So what are the benefits of this?

1)      Authenticity – a word that is being banded about quite regularly at the moment.  By posting responses on the blog, students have a real audience for their writing. 

2)      Instant feedback – people (teachers, other students, volunteers) who read the blogs and the 100 word responses can comment upon the work they read.  This helps students to develop and improve their skills as writers.  Julia cited an example of a student who was a great writer but did not use punctuation despite the teacher’s best efforts.  However, when two students, of a similar age, commented upon the work a light bulb went off in the student’s mind who then began to use punctuation throughout their writing.

3)      Thinking about their writing – 100 words is not a lot of writing so students have to choose their words very carefully.  They have to proof-read and they have to edit.  Skills that are essential for our students to develop.  This is especially useful for Gifted and Talented students who normally like to write reams and reams but in this task are asked to limit the words that they use.

4)      Motivation – on the flip side for students who are reluctant writers, 100 words is not a lot for students to produce and can, therefore, reduce the fear factor!


A team of volunteers are also encouraged to respond to as many of the entries as possible (approx. 700 a week) and then certain entries are put into the showcase.


I really enjoyed this session because I felt that this was a realistic and an engaging task and something, I know, our students could work with.  We are doing a lot of work at the moment to try and engage our boys and I think this will help.  Julia referenced using sixth form students with the process of providing comments which is something I think we should consider but in addition I think tutor time might be a good arena in which to present this to students and encourage the whole school to get on board with this writing task.  I look forward to getting started on this.