Faculty Leadership – Tips for those starting out on the journey

Seven years in, and what a fascinating role being a Head of Faculty is. It is an incredible opportunity: to be able to directly shape the direction of how your subject will be delivered, to build and motivate a team, to deliver results that can make or break a school. I’m ready to move upwards now and hope to secure a SLT position in the not too distant future, but I will look back over these middle leadership years extremely fondly.


I’d like to acknowledge some people who have been major influences on my leadership journey since taking it up 7 years ago: my headteacher, Chris Hildrew for his individual guidance and clear sense of vision, my line managers, Fran Dawes and Mark Branch for their continual encouragement and support over the years, Mary Myatt and her book ‘High Challenge, Low threat’ which has so many positive annotations in from me it’s unreal(!), Katherine Birbalsingh, Head of Michaela school, for being inspiring in her single-mindedness and unashamed quest to break the mould, and Tom Sherrington and his book ‘The Learning Rainforest’ for a range of highly effective systematic approaches to teaching and learning.

Here are 17 things I’ve learned about leadership that may be of use to new or aspiring Faculty leaders.

  1. Lead by example

Don’t ask the team to do anything you are not going to do yourself. Simple, really. It gives you a sense of integrity that it is vital in the role.

2. Have a vision, share it, work closely with the team to turn it into a reality, and give it time


As a leader, you need to provide a vision regarding what you believe the team should be aiming towards, and a clear sense of direction on how to get there. My lightbulb moment came around 3 years ago when I began reading about the science of learning, and the critical nature of recapping and an interleaved curriculum model. I presented my vision strongly, and didn’t shirk from the message that things needed to be done differently if we were truly going to engage with how students learn most effectively. The vision was that if we get things right, students should be getting to revision season in Year 11 with many, many skills and schemas of knowledge embedded in their working memory, as automatic to recall and utilise as 2+2=4.  I really like the three stonemasons leadership anecdote with the most attuned stonemason of the three knowing he’s not just chipping away at a stone all day; he’s building a cathedral!

A vital part of this process was engaging the team at the crafting stage. I presented the vision, but emphasized how I needed their input to shape the vision into a reality. What are our potential hurdles? What are our solutions? How will our context specific needs be met? Without engaging with the team on a project in the early stages, buy-in suffers. I admit, with certain initiatives in my early years of leadership, I didn’t always get that part right. With the embedding learning vision a few years ago, I ensured I did and have checked in with them regularly since.

Give it time too. I’m a strong believer in providing sufficient time for major initiatives to be rolled out, if they are to have a chance at success. Work with the dissenters to understand reservations, harness the positive influencers, and reiterate both the overall purpose, and the smaller logistical steps constantly along the way.

3. Build strong, professional relationships

Take time to get to know your team. Check in with them regularly on a 1 to 1 basis with no agenda other than to see how they’re doing, and if you can offer support or advice for any concerns they may have, provide it. Challenge will be much easier if you have invested time in support. I think it’s important to maintain a professional distance though too -I’m not sure nicknames, or Facebook links always help.

4. Empower others


I think a key role of leadership is to empower others. It is natural at first to want to keep hold of things, but learning where and when to delegate responsibilities to others is part of your new role. Give people opportunities to take on organisation of Faculty events, to present in Faculty meetings, and more, and celebrate their efforts not only with them directly, and in front of the team, but also with Senior Leadership. I regularly encourage my SLT to have an extra word to my coordinators to reiterate how pleased I am with their work.  Look for their strengths and talk to them about possible next steps -courses, CPD opportunities – this shows that you are interested in their career, and believe in them to take on further challenges and risks. Make sure you are happy with the set-up of your leadership team too, and that it works for you. If it doesn’t, find ways to change it to suit if possible. Typical set-ups may involve a second, or heads of Key Stages. Are their roles clearly defined? Are they evenly weighted in terms of responsibilities?

5. Listen hard, consider, act


It’s something I’ve worked hard to get better at over the years, and I think to be an effective leader, you need to get this right. There are 8 different levels of listening quality apparently and many of us don’t get beyond stage 2 or 3 which is where we’re acknowledging but basically waiting for our turn to speak! Many people want to simply vent; they don’t necessarily want solutions which is hard as a leader to resist. It’s vital also not to take challenges personally, but instead try and help, where needed, to rationalise concerns and maintain perspective.

If it is something that you are being asked to consider, then always take time to do so before acting. Knee jerk responses are rarely the best ones.

6. Remember you won’t please everyone. You will be spoken about.

This is par for the course and can be hard for a new leader. Decisions will need to be made that will get people talking about you, and that tough exterior will need to develop. Not everyone will agree with you all the time. Provide your rationale for what you believe is the right way forward, give people the opportunity to  discuss, raise queries and feedback, but if you believe it is the way to go, be strong and stick with it. Continue to check in with major dissenters, listen, and look for the best ways to support them in moving forward.

7. Evaluate regularly but look to identify the strengths

It’s vital as leaders that we consider regularly whether things are working, whether they need to be refined, replaced, or given more time. In order to continue on an improvement path, you need to make time to reflect on what’s happening. Evaluating properly too is crucial; are we paying lip service to a quick student survey, or are we really engaging with a large sample, and engaging with the findings however painful?

However, it’s all too easy to focus on the tweaks needed. I look to regularly identify and share the strengths of our practice, something crucial for team morale..

8. Be prepared to apologise but don’t be an apologetic leader

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s too easy to hide away from them. I will be honest, humble and hold my hand up if I’ve got something wrong, but I will always come equipped with a solution.

As leaders, it can sometimes be easy to get swayed by people and I’ve learned to not be afraid to hold firm if I believe my decision is right. Equally, you don’t have to preface comments with ‘Sorry, but…’ and allow for sidetracking. It is expected of you to lead meetings and be prepared to steer discussion at times. This can be done kindly but firmly. People need to have a voice, but you need to provide the direction or nothing gets achieved.

Also, on this point, I would advise not under-playing pointers in an apologetic way -e.g. if there is a new direction that is needed, and you soften the message with ‘we’re doing all this already really so don’t worry’ -nothing will change; people won’t take you seriously. There’s nothing wrong with making clear that we’re going to do things in a different way, and there are now different expectations.

9. Trust until sufficient reason to distrust, then be prepared to challenge the work not the person

I think it’s vital to build mutual trust, letting people know it’s ok to take risks, to praise and encourage, and to check in with people regularly reassuring them about their progress. I also think it’s important you start with everyone from a position of trust rather than suspicion. If sufficient reasons are given to lead you to a position of distrust, then they need to be challenged. As a leader of teachers, it would be easy to bury my head in the sand with certain issues; ultimately, it’s not going to matter that much, is it? It does. What you ignore will shape the culture in your department. You need to be selective of course with what you challenge, but when needed, you’ve got to be prepared to ask those tough questions, and challenge directly. This can be done in a spirit of kindness, and any challenge should always, always be focused on their work, not them as a person; ‘People should be treated like people’. Support should be offered, and then follow up points are crucial.

10. Positivity and gratitude – ‘You make the weather’


Every day I walk into work, I recognise how fortunate I am to be doing a job I love, and I try and be relentlessly positive with my team. I think as leaders we set the tone, and if we are too prone to moan, it quickly seeps into the fabric of the department. I must use the word ‘thanks’ 10 to 20 times every day, and I never miss an opportunity to recognise and thank people for what they’re doing. Something my headteacher has said before that has stayed with me, is to thank us for ‘all the little things that happen that no-one sees’. This profession can sometimes be a lonely one, but if you feel like you’re appreciated and someone always has your back, it can be empowering.

11. Build a team ethic

Always use the collective ‘we’. Everyone wants to belong and feel part of something bigger. Find ways to celebrate the ‘we’. Encourage the team to share resources and create time for people to work together on things. Sounds simple, but not every department does this.

12. Create effective systems (Relationships aren’t everything!)


Yes, of course people and relationships are important, but systems are absolutely critical too. If your systems are poor, and putting people under undue strain, then relationships will break down. It’s very easy to mock those who are systems focused, but the underlying motive behind systems is that they make working life manageable and effective, indirectly building positive working relationships between people. I have worked hard over the years to establish work monitoring, quality assurance, T&L, and behaviour support systems that are highly effective.

Another example: I don’t go to voluntary CPD because of my ‘relationship’ with our Teaching and Learning lead (lovely as she is!). I go because I’m self-motivated, and because the system of provision in place is excellent. If it wasn’t, I’d wouldn’t bother.

13. Don’t be afraid to seek out advice from others

Speak to other Heads of Faculty, Heads of House, Senior leaders. Many of these people have been in the game for longer than you, and basically it’s utterly unwise to suffer in silence just because of some perception that you’re ‘weak’ for asking for help.

14. Don’t forget the role below you, and get to know the role above you

Just because you’ve got a few more frees in a week, your team won’t have. I think it’s vital as a leader that we don’t lose sight of the workload pressure that comes from being an ‘ordinary teacher’: the planning, marking, tutor responsibilities and more. When considering a new step, we need to ask ourselves: Will it create more or less work? If more, what can we remove to compensate?

Equally, you need to quickly understand the role of your line manager, likely to be a member of SLT. Their time is even scarcer than yours. Can you cut to the quick in meetings? Can you select the information they need or are you drowning them in data and other documents? Have you considered their wider responsibility -that you’re not the only Faculty they will be caring about?

15. Drop the perfection drive. Sometimes your lessons will suffer. Get over it!

It’s 8.30am, two staff members have called in sick and the cover needs sorting out. There’s another member of staff at your door, asking if you can take a student in your lesson due to their behaviour last time. Your own lesson may have to wait. As a leader, you need to prioritise the needs of the team, and your wider responsibilities.

You’ve had to spend 3 hours preparing a report the night before; your lesson may not be 100%! The students can simply count themselves lucky that they’re being taught by an excellent, experienced teacher, if the powerpoint is not up to scratch!

Equally, if a member of SLT wants to speak to me during my lesson about something pressing (and this only happens occasionally) I’ll speak to them and help them out. The lesson will have to wait and that’s just the way it is.

16. Reiterate, reiterate, reassure and reiterate

It’s always an eye-opener to sometimes see how instructions get lost in transit. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to make explicit, for busy teachers, the key things you’re looking for from them, and then reiterate at regular intervals. Check in with people, reassure they’re nearly there with it and reiterate again. Reiterate some more. If it’s important enough, it needs to be reiterated consistently until you’re genuinely worried you’re on the border of patronisation. Even then, reiterate again. No-one dislikes a well placed reminder!

17. Finally, don’t denigrate the manager part of being a leader too.


In middle leadership, you will need to have an excellent eye for detail. SLT will expect your data reports to be spot on. You’ll also need to have the eagle-eye to spot upcoming potential workload crunch points, to identify quirks and patterns within book monitoring and observations, not to mention getting the all important stationery orders right. Running out of marker pens or exercise books too early in the year won’t go down well!


To conclude, it’s a wonderful job, being a Head of Faculty, and I wish you every success with it. Thanks for reading.



A Level Literature – Five tips on getting students writing quality essays quickly

I’ve been working hard with my Year 12 and 13 english Literature classes recently to refine their essay writing skills. Here are some fundamentals we’ve been working on that may be of use to teachers new to A-level. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but the foundations are always the trickiest to get right for students, as bad practice is often embedded.

  1. Stepping outwards / Linking to writer’s wider intentions


Students who are used to zooming in on words and techniques, will often look at a poem or text and think that’s all that’s required of them: the word ‘diamonds’ suggests something precious, sparkling, etc. However, students need to recognise their essay question will usually ask them, ‘How does the writer present theme X?’ therefore they need to ‘step outwards’ and answer with reference not to the language in the poem, and not just about the character in the poem, but to the wider point that is being made about people in society.

Here are ways students often struggle to ‘step outwards’:

  1. Analysing exclusively what the character is doing: The metaphor of ‘paranoia for lunch’ conveys how the character is feeling guilty.
  2. Analysing the language in isolation: The metaphor of ‘paranoia for lunch’ is interesting because ‘paranoia’ is a guilty feeling.
  3. Automatically assuming the poet is the character: ‘Paranoia for lunch’ conveys how Duffy is feeling guilty.

Here’s an example of what they should be doing –stepping outwards more regularly and linking to the writer’s wider intentions:

Duffy here may be conveying the danger of infidelity in relationships and how it can cause guilt and intense suffering for people.


2. Identifying clear argument points, and sticking to these


Marking A-level coursework recently has really opened my eyes to this major danger we need to alert students to.

Firstly a clear topic sentence needs to be established: ‘Women are often helpless victims of the patriarchal society of the time’ then it needs to be stuck to. Two, possibly three quotes might be used to develop an argument around that point, but by the end of the paragraph, it should still be crystal clear that we are considering the same point. Many students stray from this which causes big issues in terms of their overall argument coherence. The key words of ‘helpless’ or ‘victims’ should be returned to at least twice in the paragraph.

3. Being tentative


Look to quickly stamp out the following: – This means / this shows / this is saying / here the poet is telling us

Encourage a style that explicitly acknowledges their reading is not the only one: This implies/ this indicates / this could suggest / perhaps /

4. The art of linking well


Having focused on a point about ‘identity’ from one poem, there are different ways students might start a link in our second poem. We need to get them towards the third example as quickly as possible, but it’s amazing how many are stuck on 1 or 2 for ages:

  • Implicit link   –In ‘The biographer’ identity is seen as…
  • Basic link identified – Identity is also an interest of Duffy in the poem ‘The Biographer’
  • Link established with clear comparison connective and subtle distinction between the two made –


Similarly, intrigue and fascination regarding another’s identity is also clearly shown in the poem ‘The Biographer’, however, while in ‘Before you were mine’ we see a daughter intrigued and inspired by her mother, ‘The Biographer’ looks at the way a writer is intrigued by his subject, almost to the point of obsession

 5. Engaging with rather than bolting on critics/context


In A-level study, students need to incorporate critical opinions, and contextual factors into their essays.

However, they need to be careful not to let these inclusions construct the arguments for them (don’t put them in at the start of a paragraph), sidetrack them from their main argument (make sure they fit with what is being said about the poem), and finally not be plonked in and left with no comment (they should be engaged with)

Here’s how:

Larkin is seemingly depressed by the focus on consumerism in society, and in ‘Here’ his structural use of a list and a caesura at the end of the line- ‘toasters, washers, driers –‘ indicates his overall frustrated perspective that these are never-ending in their production. Swarbrick mentioned how Larkin focused on ‘a society pursuing its fantasies and illusory satisfactions in material possessions’ and this seems certainly true as he views such goods as ultimately throwaway items and not something to spend one’s life hankering after.


Good luck out there, but overall, isn’t it such a joy to teach A-level? Thanks for reading.




Embedding Learning Year 2: Simplicity, Consistency, Impact

Much has been shared about embedding learning, knowledge organisers and the like on Twitter, and I wrote about the start of our journey here. Many departments are moving into the refinement stage now, and that’s where we’re at currently, having evaluated the process carefully with staff and students. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few things we’ve done this year to consolidate, tweak, remove, and overall –improve.

  1. Refining the consistency of our Knowledge Organisers


Myself and the coordinators shared our KOs once again with the team, and asked for suggested tweaks and amendments. We removed terms and concepts that were not being used by teachers, and kept the ones that were. We moved towards assessment specifics over general guidelines.

KO specifics

We kept a focus on broadening students’ vocabulary but didn’t make this dominate our KOs.

Finally, we checked very carefully that the same definition given for a simile in a Year 8 Narrative Writing KO was the same as the one given for a simile in Year 11 Narrative Writing. That seems obvious, but it wasn’t in place. One thing we recognised as absolutely vital for embedding knowledge effectively was that the core knowledge would be reinforced consistently by every English teacher across every year group.

2. All in one place


Last year they were separate loose sheets. This wasn’t ideal and didn’t work as well as we’d thought. This year, they’re now in a lovely pink booklet which students keep in their books and have easy access to in the lesson and for homework.

3. Provided a variety of Knowledge Organiser starter activities ideas for staff to use


These ranged from Bingo to quizzes to picture tasks and more! The team have been brilliant in continuing to send specific examples round for each other. Here’s a couple of quick examples:

KO Ideas

KO Fun

4. Using Interleaving weeks rather than individual lessons


One of the concerns raised at the end of our 1st year was that interleaved lessons felt weird, disjointed, and disrupted the flow. Having studied this area closely, I was aware that this is a common complaint: interrupting a module seems counter-intuitive, but the research tells us that this deliberate forgetting period then a spaced return is actually highly effective. We agreed that a compromise could be struck, and that rather than just saying ‘in Term 3 you need to offer a recap lesson around work from Term 1 and 2 for example’, we thought it would be easier in Term 3 if we built a set week into our curriculum model where these interleaving lesson took place. This helped teachers remember when to run them, and students got the clear sense that they were ‘pausing’ and recapping for the week. The team have also been fantastic in collaborating on lessons for these weeks to reduce planning time.

5. Continued to make the procedure and rationale explicit with staff and students


Everything takes time, and has its teething problems, and checking in with members of the team to clarify understanding and misconceptions has been a vital part of making the process work.

Our rationale is simple: If students get more core knowledge embedded early, they will be in a stronger position when it comes to assessments. The basics will have become automatic, and they can use their working memory instead to dig deeper and refine their responses.

Our process is below:

Embed Process

Recognising the power not only of KOs as starters, but of regular KO learning homework as a low teacher input/ high student impact activity is clear now within the team.

We also identified that some students thought they needed to ‘just learn’ sections of the KO. As teachers we have continued to make explicit the strategies contained in the sheet below has now been included in all students’ KO booklets, and sharing this with them has been a revelation in many classes:

KO Revision strategies

Gone is the writing stuff out, in is the proven self-quizzing, match ups, dual coding and even more exciting activities.  Imagine if every one of our students was regularly learning things effectively each week for 5 years! That’s the dream, but it’s starting to happen… I’ve shared the pics of homework below with students in my classes who ‘don’t get it yet’ and with members of the team who needed a reminder on the process.

KO Model 3KO Model 2


Technology was a tricky one at first, and making the quiz procedure explicit has been vital, but putting everyone’s quizzes all in one place in GoogleDrive has been really welcomed.

KO Quizzes organised


6. Ensuring quizzes strike the right level of challenge


We’ve gone for a series of multiple choice questions, ones that are not extremely complex, but also make students think and weigh up at least two similar options before deciding. These have all been checked and refined for this year:

KO Qn example

I started this blog with 3 words: Simplicity, Consistency and Impact. The final one is seen below in recent learning walk evidence. I see embedding learning as an exciting 5 year journey for the department, with KS5 our latest tricky focus to integrate in the future.

Year 2 is going well. Thanks for reading.

Key Stage Strengths
  • Clear evidence of KOs being engaged with and made digestible for students
  • Good understanding of different students’ needs and tailoring of task to suit this
  • Self-reflection used well by students and this promoted progress
KS4 ·         Best practice was seen where teachers were adapting the concept of embedding learning to their own pedagogical style and the needs of their students

·         Clear evidence that this strategy has been embraced throughout the department

·         Lots of evidence that prior learning is being retained by students, even some time after the initial teaching of content




Analysis by numbers

Is there a way of quantifying how many marks a piece of analysis should earn?          What is the optimum number of words for a good piece of analysis?                                  Can we use our answers to either of the above questions to help boost the metacognition process with students?                                                                                                                 Finally, and most importantly, can we achieve consistency in our analysis approach across 12 teachers, improving the coherence of hundreds of students’ daily experience?

Despite my English leaning, I love numbers. I like data and statistics (both football and work related!), give students marks/10 for effort sometimes, and enjoy trying to quantify things not normally quantifiable like the wonderfully rich, academic discipline of analysis.

Let me share my disclaimer at the start: none of the following is set in stone. My figures are subject to many other subtleties that teachers and examiners will have to juggle, but I do think some of the aspects below could be useful for teaching purposes. Humour me!

In our first Faculty meeting of the year, it seemed like an opportune time to come together to refocus on our bread and butter: analysis, and as a team, we looked together at some of our analysis principles and how they work, with a curve ball thrown in -namely, my use of numbers.

We started by reminding ourselves of the fantastic system we established last year called the ‘CAS’ -Concise Analysis System, basically a far more useful advancement on PEA. See below:

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 10.13.16 PM

A question for you now:

How does the writer present education in the line ‘School is a prison‘ ?

I set the team the task of writing 30 words of analysis on and including the quote above. We then allocated 1 mark for each of the 8 components of the CAS system we used. We reminded ourselves that our ‘red 3’ (Qn link/Quote/explanation of meaning&effect) were the foundation and without them, any analysis was effectively useless. 5/8 seemed to be a typical score from teachers within the space of 2.5 minutes that I set them and that this would therefore become the target for our students.

Why not have a go with your students?

We recognised that 8/8 was simply not consistently sustainable, as it would lead to 60 words+ and straying over the 2-3 minute recommended timeframe. Therefore our ‘green’ aspects like overview, zooming in, terminology, linking in a related quote, needed to be hit with some quotes, but not all. This was an important learning point to clarify. If students think that by covering all our 8 principles every time they consider a quote, it will equate to top level success, as many often do, they are in for a real shock, as a sufficient quantity of quotes is unlikely to be covered as a result, and their marks will invariably tumble.

The magical analysis figure? 30-40!

Why 30-40 words? Well, you’ve got enough words capacity there to get a technique in, reference to the writer’s intentions, quote, link to the question, and consider the meaning/effect of the quote content itself, potentially even offering more than one interpretation.  Also, for top marks, most of our Eduqas Language and Literature exams require us to aim for 7-8 quotes in 15 mins (Fiction Reading Paper -Qns 3,4,5 / Non-Fiction Reading Paper -Qns 2,4) or 7-8 quotes in 20 mins (Literature Paper 1 -Romeo and Juliet extract, Anthology Single poem, Unseen single poem). No more than 30-40 words for each quote should keep students on track for this.

Here are two Literature examples of succinct 30-40 word analysis that hit at least 4 of our CAS system each time:

In the line ‘Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace’ Shakespeare’s use of the adjective ‘rebellious’ emphasises how the Prince feels they are challenging the law that he has laid down, and they are almost out of control.

Shakespeare’s use of the rhetorical question in the Prince’s line ‘Will they not hear?’ indicates to the audience that he is losing patience, and is determined to take steps to ensure they will be unable to ignore his warnings again.

Here’s one from Language Paper 1 – Qn 4- Tension/Drama:

The writer creates tension through the description of the ridge in the line–‘dropped steeply on either side’. The adverb ‘steeply’ highlights a possible danger as the sheer drop indicates one step in the wrong place may be fatal.

Making the drive for succinctness explicit

Our next challenge was to reduce the number of words in a piece of analysis to 30, something that works really well with students. (No adding in words, just removing words allowed!) This has been a powerful learning experience in my classes before as we discuss what and why things are superfluous, and on the flip side, where exactly the ticks are likely to come from the marker (after ‘angry’ and ‘animals’ if you’re wondering!)

The audience could become almost fearful and worried in their seats and they have questions in their mind as the Prince becomes angry when the writer, Shakespeare uses the line ‘you beasts!’. This is a metaphor because people cannot be beasts of course. It is also a short sentence which makes it impactful and stops the audience in their tracks making them want to think more. The metaphor indicates that the Prince sees the fighting families as no better than animals, and that he views conflict in this powerful way.

Can we ever award a numerical mark for how a student deals with a particular quote?

From my experience of teaching the Eduqas spec. so far, and looking at recalled exam papers, we can, and are likely to be accurate. It’s my belief that a piece of analysis where the quote’s content is dealt with sharply earns a tick and invariably a mark. A piece of analysis that offers something extra: referencing/exploring a technique, offering overview, offering an alternative reading – is probably worth roughly 1.5 marks.

Therefore 8 quotes where the content is sharply analysed = 8 marks/10.                                               6 quotes with sharp analysis + something extra = 8 or even 9 marks /10

Most importantly for our verbose top students -3 quotes dealt with beautifully, even with the ‘Wow factor’ will struggle to scrape to 5/10. We need to warn them explicitly about this.

Have a look at the examples below. Which of the 5 analysis examples would you give 1 mark or 1.5 marks to?

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 9.09.20 PM

I have used this exercise as a really powerful peer assessment activity in class, crucially ensuring they are able to justify why they have awarded 0, 1 or 1.5 marks each time. Writing poor models is something we so often forget to do as teachers, but I sometimes feel the learning experiences are even richer than with the good models, as we are trying to explicitly point out the lack of reward for certain analysis foibles, and pull students out of ingrained bad habits.

So to conclude, we’re not Mathematicians, but sometimes grappling with the numbers we’re facing, particularly with the Eduqas exams where quantity, in my opinion, seems almost as highly regarded as quality, may help successfully refine your students’ analysis approach.

Hope it can be of help!

Narrative Writing Top Tips – Summer 2018

Hand holding a pen over paper.

I thought I’d share a brief overview of my personal top tips from marking many stories over the last year.

To prepare or not to pre-prepare

So, narratives – I blogged about my belief in the wisdom of students preparing plans/stories beforehand here last year, and it has been clear from my experience this time round that there is a far improved array of structures being employed by students, so good work everyone!

If you’re still sceptical, my advice would be not to worry too much about the danger of tweaking; I would simply encourage students to practice writing convincing tweaks from a host of possible question titles, and you’ll be fine.

Major areas where students can improve

  1. Tense control

My major tip here is to simply not let students write in present tense. I know it is en vogue at the moment in Literature, but it is only the most amazing student writers that can maintain control of the present tense throughout their story. Most mess up after a couple of paragraphs – we then have ‘tense inconsistency’ and the Vocab/SPAG side has quite a few marks knocked off.

2. Editing

We all tell students to check for errors at the end of their writing. Few do by the look of it.   This is so critical for marks as if it is riddled with errors, marks are knocked off for coherence in the Content section of the mark scheme, AND for sentence control/punctuation in the Vocab/SPAG section.

I am going to set specific editing starter activities next year  where students look for errors in both tense, word omissions, and punctuation. Where punctuation errors are not spotted due to a lack of understanding, then a discussion is obviously needed.


Things to encourage

Speaking to the reader (Asides) – e.g. She was the irritating, know-it-all (You know the type, right?)

When done well (and no doubt better than my example above!) it offers a sophisticated, knowing, self-aware, self-deprecating style which is really endearing.

Humour / Embarrassment

Stories are great that involve embarrassment, often as a potential love interest falls by the wayside as a result of said embarrassing actions of the protagonist.

Things to avoid

Fancy punctuation. Forget over-promotion of semi-colons and colons as top marks guarantors. If there is control over speech punctuation and complex sentences, then students should be well on for the top band ‘a range of punctuation is used confidently’.

Any stories involving the following that leads to excess action focus, and insufficient craft: Sporting events, exam results day, War (SO DULL!), Basements, Dark alley ways or woods. For further tips beyond this blog on Do’s/Don’ts -see Component 1 Section B-Creative Prose overview document-DHG and also check out a colleague of mine’s Narrative tips too -there’s some great interactive resources – here

Structuring story writing with lower attainers through providing a range of basic story plots that just ‘work’!

This has proved incredibly useful with my lower set students. In recent years, I have discussed the plot structure -Hook/Exposition/etc and then basically said -off you go. I then had to go through countless revisions to the planning before we even had a workable plot to begin drafting. NOT ANY MORE! This year, I provided students with a lesson to consider their own ideas as normal. 2/20 came up with ones that were goers; the rest didn’t, so next lesson I provided them with a list of 13 plot structures for them to choose from with the brief ‘to make it their own’.

This was a revelation.

Screen Shot 2018-07-19 at 9.55.52 PM


They instantly became more engaged with the ideas and actually offered some lols at a few of my ideas, some of which I invented, some of which I have adapted from students’ stories over the years.

I also told them all that they would all be writing in 1st person. Again, my experience is that this enables better descriptions of feelings and emotions.

Next step was crafting each section. I talked through a model of different narrative hooks/problems then asked them to write it. Holding them back from ploughing on was torturous for some. One student literally had written the entire story in a paragraph. Making explicit that we would literally only be working on one section at a time -a few sentences, and they were not allowed to go further, was a battle…but it worked!

We then moved on to the different sections, and I made clear to them that we were all going to be looking at the model, crafting, crossing out, redrafting each section in turn for a couple of lessons at a time, and that they were all going to be producing an excellent story that they could learn and then deliver in the exam. Here’s the document I’ve been using with guidelines, complete with extra challenges like the sentence I’m about to awkwardly christen as a ‘triplet-positive-positive-negative-cliff-hanger’.

e.g. He would always come first on Sports day; he’d always come first in Spelling Bee competitions; but something that had proved beyond him thus far was girls. 

Narrative Plot Ideas 2018

Alas, we have had to break for summer before they hit the Dramatic Peak section(!) but all the signs are promising for finishing them on our return.

Hope this has been some use. Happy holidays everyone!

Exhibition of Progress Evening

Which students have made phenomenal progress this year for you? How have they done it? How can we share their work?

These were questions that I had in mind in my early planning for my ‘Exhibition of Progress’ event at my school. Inspired by the great man, Ron Berger and his wonderful book ‘An Ethic of Excellence’, I set about creating something similar on a small scale. However, whilst Ron seemed more about exemplifying the absolute top level work, I was keen to celebrate simply ‘significant progress’. That might have been from a Level 3 to a Level 5 in a piece of work; it might have been major improvement in a sporting skill, or simply a substantial positive change in a student’s attitude and workrate over time.


How were the students selected? I simply asked all staff to nominate any students that stood out as making ‘significant progress’ in their subject. I got about 30 names across all Faculties which was a good starting point – but I’d like to increase that number next year!

Next, I got these students off timetable for a morning to really try and drill down on what they thought their reasons were for being nominated. Worryingly, many didn’t really know at first(!), which made me consider hard whether as teachers, we need to much more frequently make explicit to students the steps they have taken that have led to achievement. We are quick to return to targets, but celebrating those specific steps to success too would definitely help to build motivation as well as understanding.

I tried to get them to consider what they were like ‘before’, the things that had made a difference to achievement/attitude, and the ‘after’ -with the start and end point often being exemplified with comparative pieces of work.


I also got a specific quote from each teacher about their progress which was lovely – Here’s one: ‘Consistent effort and focus in English. She listens carefully… and her ability to take on advice has led to her going up 4 grades and is the result of a motivated mindset. Her resilience is inspiring.’  

Well done to Becky in my team for inspiring this young lady!

I also set them a questionnaire to rate different things that contributed to their progress.

What did we learn?

Some fascinating stuff:

  1. Managing to break out of one’s comfort zone has a huge impact

‘If I contribute more, it boosts my confidence and helps me to understand.’

‘I wasn’t afraid to try new things’

*We were pleased with this one as it directly links to our core school value of determination!

2. Self-discipline is a major driver

‘I started to ignore distractions’  , ‘ I started concentrating more’

3. The power of metacognition

‘I started taking on advice’ , ‘I started thinking about how to get better grades’

‘I know what to do to get to the next level’, ‘Before tests, I look back at my targets’

Survey results of which factors rated most highly in the progress journey

  1. Effort in classwork
  2. Personal determination to get better
  3. Positive relationship with teacher
  4. Effort in homework
  5. Personal understanding of the work/how to improve
  6. Enjoying the subject


What was the overall impact on the students as learners, as a result of their new approach?

‘I see the bigger picture’

‘I make people around me happy and energised’

‘I’m improving because I enjoy it’

I think the final quote can, importantly, be reversed too. It’s interesting that the majority of students enjoy the subject where their progress is substantial, but fail to recognise enjoyment comes often as a result of hard work and success first. (Can they apply this learning to other subjects I wonder?!)

Hard work/Challenge —Success— Confidence— Enjoyment

I talk more about this element in an earlier motivation blog here

The event itself was a really fantastic experience for all concerned. I displayed all the students’ posters around the room and invited parents of all the students along. Students were asked to explain to any visitors to their ‘stand’ what the contributing factors to their success were (basically talking through their posters). I encouraged parents to go round and not only listen to their own son/daughter’s progress ‘story’ but other students too.


What was really moving for me was to see several students who are no ‘angel’ shall we say, and not normally commended for their work, suddenly brimming with pride as they explained how they had turned the corner in a subject, and were now enjoying the buzz of feeling like a success.

Next steps

I want to share some of these students’ progress journeys with staff, and look at ways of honing in on the ‘secrets to success’ within our teaching, and perhaps in our efforts to engage with those under-performing in our subjects.

I gave all students a ‘Learning Ambassador’ certificate which acknowledged not only their progress, but also their work in understanding the steps that took them there. My plan is to seek to pair these ambassadors up in the future with students who are ‘passive’ or ‘disengaged’ in their learning in the same subject, and look at perhaps peer mentoring them towards a change in direction, and an improvement in attitude and achievement.


Thanks for reading.



Cultural Capital – Football, Forbidden Fruit, and evaluating what’s behind the spark…

Cultural Capital

It seems to be the new buzz phrase in education, and is normally bandied around as a strategy to develop pupil premium students’ aspirations, but what does it really mean? Is it a case of the dominant middle class imposing their world on the supposedly hapless working class, and what should be the underlying drivers behind any whole school approach?


Pierre Bourdieu, a French Social theorist (1930-2002) coined the term after his uneducated father encouraged him to pursue the best educational opportunities available, and as a result Pierre progressed substantially in life, becoming a renowned philosopher.

Here’s an overview of the theory:

Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital refers to the collection of symbolic elements such as skills, tastes, posture, clothing, mannerisms, material belongings, credentials, etc. that one acquires through being part of a particular social class. Like Marx, Bourdieu argued that capital formed the foundation of social life and dictated one’s position within the social order. Bourdieu also points out that cultural capital is a major source of social inequality. Certain forms of cultural capital are valued over others, and can help or hinder one’s social mobility just as much as income or wealth.

From -Routledge –Taylor&Francis Group –Social Theory Rewired.

A recent conversation with my Year 13s though made me pause and reflect on what my own perception of the phrase was. I had been implicitly ‘valuing some things over others’ , bemoaning the fact that students seem to no longer have many cultural reference points – biblical references like ‘forbidden fruit’ are going over children’s heads, many cannot name more than a couple of Shakespeare characters, and few have no understanding of the geographical term ‘The Middle East’ or its current relevance. I took this further, started blaming reality TV, the anti-intellectual society we live in and said it was saddening that your average person walking down the high street would know little of Charlotte Bronte or the impact of Malcolm X. Some things have vitally, stood the test of time (Shakespeare) and surely should be worth ‘knowing’ more than others?

My Yr 13s saw it very differently, as did my degree educated ‘middle class’ non-teaching friends. They attacked this as middle class elitism and questioned why it was saddening.

They made the following points:

  • Culture changes – Who is to say knowing about Call of Duty or how a car works is not of more worth in society to a particular person than knowing about the reign of Queen Mary, or the philosophical debates in Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
  • There’s always been a working and under-class that have a scepticism/lack of regard for more ‘worthy’ interests (The theatre/Classical music/News debates) due to it being alien to their upbringing and their world. What are they gaining from classical music when all their friends listen to rap?
  • People are actually more culturally rich than ever due to the increasing numbers of people staying in education to 18. This was not the case 100 years ago and earlier.
  • Exam boards are to blame for narrowing cultural capital by denying an outlet for curiosity where it arises, e.g. dictating stuff to be taught – and not offering enough angles for independent investigation – e.g. the war in Syria.

These were intriguing points that made me ponder…

Deep down, I recognized there was possibly an unintended touch of Gove-esque elitism in my perspective (I’m passionate about this wonderful stuff –surely it would benefit people too?), but I know my underlying drive to promote these things as a teacher lay in nurturing something else. Something I hadn’t yet put my finger on.

That ‘something else’ that I wanted to promote as a leader of a core Faculty and as a person who believes hugely in the power of social mobility, I decided, was three things:

  1. Breadth of life experience

Charles Dickens, John Keats, Mozart, Beethoven, Mary, Queen of Scots – Learning about these people is perceived to be of higher cultural worth. But why? Because they’ve stood the test of time? So has gardening, so has football.

Football is part of many people’s culture and is deeply embedded in my own. Some of my most memorable life experiences have been when watching football, yet this is looked down on by many people. Numerous people with supposed ‘cultural capital’ have no awareness of football culture – Maradona, Messi, the offside rule, etc, or the beauty of the game beyond the stereotype.

NU Football vs Brigham Young University (BYU)

Is this of less cultural worth? I would argue it is, if it represents the extent of their interests. But equally, if Dickens was what a person devoted their entire life to, with little or no other interests, then this would of course be a waste too. One isn’t necessarily superior, but it is less likely some students will experience Charles Dickens’ writing in their home life, which is one of the main reasons we share it at school.

As teachers, we have to try and promote experiences which are different, outside of some students’ normal experience, so I think my reasoning for this comes down to a desire for breadth – something we are aware certain children will not receive at home.

But, crucially, we need to ensure we are taking an interest in their current interests and asking questions of them. We need to model that a breadth of interests is most important in getting the best out of life! There’s nothing more depressing than the student that says they have no hobbies.

Breadth, not necessarily hierarchy.

  1. The process of igniting the spark

By providing a school food club that shows how cooking can be an art form, and something from which a living can be made, rather than a microwave means to an end, we are making young people curious, open-minded, aware of the need to learn more about something –what it feels like to see something new for the first time.

And it is this process that is important, not the activity in itself.

Here is where anti-intellectualism can be challenged – If we can provide a pursuit likely to be outside their family and friends’ experience, likely to be mocked as something snooty – that they find they actually enjoy (Chess, The Violin, Debating) then this is incredibly powerful in shifting their thinking. Maybe their immediate world’s walls have shifted outwards. With a spark kindled and new found knowledge and understanding growing, maybe they might be more likely to defend one of these pursuits from mockery in the future?

Can we move against Sugarman’s concept of Immediate Gratification Theory here too? (Something self explanatory associated more readily with the working class) I think this is a worthy aim –to try and encourage young people that there are life journeys to embark upon that will take an investment of their time and effort. University might be; it might not be that journey, but the need to apply themselves to a pursuit for the long haul is very much worth promoting. As an English teacher, I make this explicit to students of all social classes readily – the reading experience is one that does not yield instant gratification, but like many things in life, the greater rewards are a just a little bit further down the line and worth waiting for.

  1. The spark itself and a life long passion for something

When we take students to the theatre for the first time in their life perhaps, to see Shakespeare, learning about the content of that play is beneficial, sure, but what is more important is the fact a student might see the artistry, the mirror to real life, the buzz of the laughs and applause, and think this strange new world could be for them in some form or other.

When we encourage students to read non-fiction articles in English about foreign cultures, about different traditions and ways of life, our aim is to build knowledge (that foundation base to access the world, to be able to engage in many conversations) but primarily to present material that just might nurture a fascination with something that may last a lifetime, and what a wonderful thing that can be, right?

So what can we do as leaders, as teachers?

  1. Breadth without snobbery – offer Shakespeare and Dickens and challenging texts of course, but talk to them about their books too, talk about football, climbing and computer games and model the openness to the new, and the breadth of experience that we seek out for our own lives.
  2. Find out about the gaps and create experiences/school trips to fill these. I live in Bristol, and was shocked to hear recently that it was likely many students in some schools had never seen Brunel’s Suspension Bridge. We must organise trips to fill these gaps where they arise for the majority.
  3. Working with parents is absolutely vital for building cultural capital. Ensure they know how they can help. Challenging the norms at home and attitudes like ‘I was no good at Science… etc’ is key. Why not point them in the specific direction of a website where they can become more knowledgeable and help their son/daughter to achieve? That’s something every parent wants!
  4. Using ambitious vocabulary (and remembering to define it for them, otherwise it can be lost in my view) rather than dumbing down language in classrooms. Model, encourage, explain, celebrate it!
  5. Making every student offer a viewpoint every lesson gives them the impression their voice counts.
  6. Referring to news on a weekly basis in tutor time to show there’s a crazy but exciting world out there for them just waiting to be explored.


Thanks for reading.

For many students, our status quo is killing their aspiration

What do you accept from students in your classroom?

I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately and have come to the conclusion that, collectively, if we are not reflecting regularly on our own classroom status quo, and occasionally shift it, then students’ aspirations may slowly diminish, and their attainment will suffer.

You might think this is just a post about high expectations, but it’s not; it’s more than that. What we accept covers not only our expectations of students, but our entire pedagogical approach to lesson planning, delivery, questioning, feedback, the lot.

Tom Sherrington’s brilliant  abseiling anecdote about the instructor who accepts the learners’ thumbs up, and then lets them jump over the cliff without checking they have successfully secured their harnesses is slightly hyperbolic for the classroom, but has resonated for me in terms of the profound consequences of what we accept on a daily basis.

Here are a few examples –

  1. You’ve asked a question to your most apathetic group. Finally, a partial answer from a student comes in. How often do you accept it, breathe a sigh of relief and move on, conscious of time, full of gratitude? Could you probe that student’s answer next time via further questioning until it mentally hurts, or bounce the response around the room until a wider understanding is elicited?
  2. Using Hands up questioning. The message you are giving to the majority is 7 or 8 students will do most of the work each lesson, and the rest barely have to bother to think. Aspirations subsequently fall. It’s so much easier to accept that sometimes that’s the way to roll the lesson along – with the positive reinforcement of the keen few. Could you try a week with a No Hands Up rule?
  3. The classic ‘Are we all ok with this? Is this making sense?’ when our tone is virtually rhetorical/please don’t ask me as I need to move on with this. How often do we accept that their silence or a few nods is a signal to proceed, or worse, that bless him, little Jimmy in the corner he’s just not going to get it in a month of SundaysCould you take time to make them explain what you’ve been going on about to each other, then down on paper, then back to you. Check for proof regularly even if it yields desperately uncomfortable truths, even if it screws with your lesson / medium term plan. 
  4. The kid who’s always in on time, nervous, quiet, always tries hard, but never impresses enough in his work to get rewards. Do you take his/her engagement for granted, accepting their attitude as the norm for kids in your well managed classes, and reassure yourself that you gave 200 rewards out last term, albeit to the high flyers? Or could you take 5 minutes this week to phone home to praise that nervous student to their parents, to the two people who instilled in him/her that smile / politeness, and a responsible work ethic over hundreds of evenings?
  5. The formative target written on ten assessments- ‘Use more ambitious vocabulary‘. We accept that they need to reach further into their brains for better words, and ultimately it’s not our fault if they don’t read extensively. Could you take time to show them/the class 5 new words for the next 5 lessons and insist they are weaved into the improvement work that they are going to do for homework? 
  6. The vague self-assessment activity – I understand / I partially understand / I don’t understand – or (sorry -I’m not a fan), the traffic light or thumbs up/down/ exit plenary. You’ve accepted from the 20 thumbs up/greens that the lesson has been a success and that they’ve learned what you intended, when in reality, they just wanted to get to break to see their mate waving at them through the classroom door, and feared a thumbs down would lead to Miss being upset, friends thinking they were thick, or even worse – an extra explanation, holding up break time. Could you make them show you at the start of next lesson what they can recall or make them do a task that explicitly demonstrates their understanding to you of your last lesson’s success or otherwise? 
  7. You accept that your Head of Faculty expects you to get to the end of the module before half term, and there simply isn’t the opportunity for students to spend any more than 10 minutes responding with yes/no to your carefully considered feedback questions. Could you secretly knock a couple of less important lessons out of the scheme of learning, and make the students spend two whole lessons improving, refining and improving further based on the feedback, before reflecting and labelling up all the process steps taken for homework. Imagine a ratio of 1:16 where a teacher’s 10 minutes of feedback is engaged with for 2 lessons of 60 mins and 40 minutes homework. Why not? The Head of Faculty will never know!
  8. The high achievers in Year 9 who could sit an A-level exam tomorrow, you accept are challenged by the lesson’s diary entry/poster mash up activity, and that it’ll be ok, as they’ll do it in a subversive way, and originality is one of the top criteria for a Level 9. Could you next week set 2 starter tasks that are so challenging that half the class will flounder, but some of those high attainers will remember the incredible rush of solving an intensely difficult problem? 
  9. The student who often forgets his/her pen, but you’ve already given them a sanction for the previous lesson, and don’t want to now ruin the good relationship you’ve built up with them, plus it’s more admin work after the lesson to write it up… You accept they’re just a disorganised sort, and comfort yourself you’re a kind, caring teacher as you throw them a pen and they give you a nod – you’re cool. Could you spare 2 mins at the end of the lesson next time to challenge them strongly about the importance of good organisation habits for life  -otherwise the learning for him/her is that it’s ok to continue?
  10. The homework handed in from a mid attaining student who always gives you 5/10 effort. You accept ‘that’ll do for them’ and again, can’t be bothered with the aggro that will come if you challenge them over it, plus their parents are hard work, and the Head of House is on their case, so it’ll be alright in the end. Could you take the stance of handing the homework back to them and say quietly that you expect a marked improvement in the effort levels next time or their break times will be taken to achieve just that? 

All of these steps in bold are time consuming, all of them make us step out of our comfort zone, but vitally, force the students to as well. That one step may just be the one that gets that student to aim that little bit higher. If we all do one of these, imagine what that kid might achieve.

Thanks for reading.


Learning Points from @teacherhead Tom Sherrington’s Inset sessions at Backwell School

I just thought I’d share a quick summary of a few of the excellent points from

Tom Sherrington’s recent Inset sessions that I attended at Backwell School, North Somerset recently. It was a mostly reassuring day for me personally, as many of the ideas and strategies he discussed I was aware of, being a keen reader of edutwitter and the latest books on pedagogy. My department are definitely moving in the right direction I believe! However, many of these tips around embedding learning, a knowledge led curriculum, and strategic planning were delivered with humour, humility and fresh insights from Tom’s own personal experiences. They offered specific strategies for support, and Tom was happy to explore teachers’ questions. He was a really engaging speaker, and I would highly recommend him as a speaker who would offer a lot of thinking points for school CPD sessions. (A free book would be a lovely Xmas present, Tom -hint, hint!)

Learning Points from @teacherhead Tom Sherrington’s Inset sessions at Backwell School – Wed 29/11/17

  1. Major Focus on Task based Intervention work for under-performers rather than reflection work. What is the specific task to improve? Encouragement of a move away from self-reflection work: ‘I can do/know this’ to ‘here’s a task to SHOW me you can do/know this’ – Let’s test whether you know this. Tom offered the brilliant analogy here of an Abseiling instructor. They wouldn’t just say ‘All ok?’ with a group of beginners and let them go over the cliff! They’d double check key elements first until they are confident in the learners’ ability to go independent.

2. Questions were raised about the challenge and rigour of Yr 7-9. Are we leaving it too late if we only really push students in Yr 11? One school was cited as having 9-10 as the focus GCSE years, then going ‘beyond’ in Year 11.

Is our curriculum model coherent? Do years link together effectively?

  1. Embedding learning over time was also considered heavily.

Don’t mistake performing for learning. Information is only learned if students can do it in a week, a month, 6 months. Use strategies from the ‘Learning Scientists’ here. Elaboration, use in sentences, retrieval practice, etc.

Nothing wrong with rote learning at times. Higher ability problem solving is reliant on memory/ knowledge of an array of procedures and information to choose from. Plumber/Chess players analogies here. Both would not suddenly get all creative and try brand new ideas out. They would select the right course of action from their prior knowledge of many situations and experiences.


  1. Exam Practice is not necessarily the best way forward, although it was acknowledged that stamina for longer papers needs to be built as students get closer to the exams.

We looked at the ‘Learning Zone’ as opposed to the ‘Performance Zone’.

In the ‘Learning Zone’ students took their time over small components of exam skills; they would be set drills to practice; they were allowed to make mistakes, and learn from them, reflecting on improvement steps in a low stakes environment without grades.

This was preparation for the ‘Performance Zone’ where mistakes must be kept to a minimum, time management is crucial, and extended writing is encouraged.

The message was that LEARNING happened in the ‘Learning Zone’ not in the ‘Performance Zone’. Don’t over-play lots of broad, lengthy exam practices.

Some students in one school were told exactly what the Mock questions were, so they could prepare fully for them. They did well, earned confidence, and recognised that if they revise the main material, they’ll do well!

  1. Are we specific/explicit enough with our revision instructions on what to learn?

e.g. If this character comes up –what are the four main things you need to talk about?

  1. Major focus on increasing Challenge in classrooms

Are our expectations high enough of learners? Are we ‘lifting the lid’ on occasions and seeing what happens?

Are we all ‘hand on heart’ setting really tough work that our top attainers can struggle with from time to time?

Let’s challenge our top attainers through depth not speed.

Top end Modelling is vital.

Are we tolerating mono-syllabic answers out of gratitude or really probing students to extend the depth of their thinking?

We need to build strategies for ‘deep end survival’. Set super tough work, but make it clear that there is support there for them if they need it / they can use X resource if they need it. Don’t let them drown!

Eliminate soft filler activities – wordsearch / cover page / posters. There are students in our mixed ability classes who can sit A-levels now – what are we doing to stretch them?

Are we occasionally setting work that is ‘impossible to finish’? An example of a question set to a Yr 7 for homework was ‘What is the difference between Science and Philosophy?’

Are we the experts in the room? Do we take time in Faculty meetings and in our own time to build up deep subject knowledge?

There was an acknowledgement we differentiate for different people at different times, and can’t always focus on ‘lifting the lid’ for the top. But now and again it’s worth trying to see which students will surprise you by rising to the super-tough challenge level!

Thanks for reading, and well done to Tom for some excellent ideas.


Motivating Lower Attainers – Blog 3/3 -Via Secret Markers and other Audiences

My final post on Motivation was again inspired by Ron Berger and his inspirational book ‘An Ethic of Excellence’.

Berger examines the motivational factor of ensuring students’ work is shown to different audiences: other students, parents, local business people, and the community.

He asks the questions of students? Why should your work matter? Why should they care for your English lesson?


A student in Berger’s book says – ‘There is a reason to do the work well, and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way. People cared…I didn’t want to let them down.’

The reality is we often feel prouder of something when others are there to witness/share what we’ve done.

This idea of experimenting with different audiences intrigued me, and whilst I can’t hope to compete with some of the amazing project work Berger speaks of where kids’ research alters things like council decisions(!) I thought there were things I could do to harness this powerful motivational factor.

So, this year I devised the idea of secret markers. I’m sure it has been used before but I hadn’t heard of anyone doing it, so it seemed pretty exciting! Basically, my Year 11s were allocated a student’s book from my Lower set Year 10s, and have once a fortnight, provided encouragement, and tips.



The Year 10s have loved it! They keep urging me to tell them who their ‘secret marker’ is (I won’t until the end of the year -the 11s are sworn to secrecy!) and have had some really sweet exchanges, not in the books I photographed tonight but saying stuff like – ‘Thank you, I appreciate it!’

This has had a direct impact on motivation levels. Here are some quotes from a recent survey:

·     ‘It’s good that others comment on our work’

·      ‘It made me want to try a lot harder’

·      ‘Make me think I’m not rubbish at English’

·      ‘Makes me feel more confident if there are good points’

Here are some other audiences I’ve used / planning to use:

The Headteacher. I told them he would be popping in to see what they had learned recently. Again this was a new experience for them (not the SLT walk which are regular and great(!), but the time to discuss the work of each member of the class). My class  spent half a lesson refining, and reflecting on what they would show him that they were proud of.  Chris Hildrew kindly spent 15 mins with us, talking to each of my students in turn, discussing their progress with them. Their pride and motivation levels grew.

I have used the audience of parents. They were asked to listen to their son/daughter discuss their learning around a particular area, and comment on it. This was fairly successful, but didn’t have full take up. More work in getting this right is needed.

I want to use their teacher from last year once or twice if they’ll let me!

I want to get an author to pass comment on the stories they do later in the year, and a business friend of mine with their non-fiction letters. I keep reminding them of the 200 quid I got from a complaint letter once!

It all just broadens the sense that the work they’re doing is not just for me!

On a whole school level, I’m excited to take Berger’s audiences idea even further. I’ve asked every Faculty to share a project in a year group where there are 2 or 3 drafts of a piece of work, and select a handful of students where the progress is significant. I’m going to then get those students together to make a display of the draft stages, and invite parents in to an ‘Exhibition of Progress’ evening at the school. I hope to invite other students along too, and build motivation and pride via this avenue where they discuss their successful learning steps. My remit would be different to Berger’s though, as I want to see progress, but not necessarily ‘excellence’. I want to choose students from all attainment ranges to share work in this way.

More on this to follow later in the year.

Thanks for reading!