The struggle against the perfect lesson

This is my first post to share and reflect on some of the things I have learned from reading  ‘Making every lesson count’ by the two quite brilliant writers Andy Tharby and  Shaun Allison .

I was blown away by this book when I read it recently, and it has really made me consider the direction I’m going in as a HOF (Incidentally, I’ve always liked the fact I can refer to myself as the bouffant one from Baywatch). hasselhoff-david-photo-xl-david-hasselhoff-6210194_400x40041baXFvN4UL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

In my first 3 years since taking charge of a Faculty, I have done many things I am proud of -developing my team, developing a wider array of extra-curricular activities/competition, improving various systems, promoting high standards, achieving pretty good results… BUT promoting real study and engagement with the craft of learning methods – nope.


I recently heard a fellow HOF say there was nothing he could suggest to improve a member of his department’s lesson. Really?

Excellent Rating

We’ve all learned the tricks in observations haven’t we? My last 12-14 lesson jobs over the last 4 or 5 years have all been rated the big ‘O’, until I recently persuaded my school to abandon the ratings system! The perfect lesson though clearly doesn’t exist; if we’ve got nothing to recommend, it says more about us that we’ve run out of ideas! It also reminded me of a friend who once said that he had all the music he needed (at age 35) -Craziness!

While I have encouraged my team to work on some important things as the route to great teaching and learning, I’m really starting to think we’ve not done enough in honing in on the research and evidence that points the way to effective learning strategies over time, outside the formal observation process, something that often struggles, of course, to judge whether learning has been embedded anyway..

Here are just 5 briefly summarised ‘Damascus Road’ points from the book and my reflections:


Pete Jones and his work on the ‘Gallery of Excellence’ is mentioned in the book, and I love this idea. He uses it in the hall, as a source of inspiration for all students to try and get their work into.


But it could be on a micro-level too. My classrooms display good work, but I definitely think more discretion could be exercised. I’d like to shift the balance from displays to learning messages next year which encourage much of the growth mindset work our new headteacher, Chris Hildrew has promoted with us since his arrival, and reserve display space for the very best work only. In addition, I want students to be able to put some key notes alongside their work (if chosen) regarding the process they undertook to get what they did to the best they possibly could. A more visual representation of module targets reflection work in books if you like.


Practice, redrafting

So many people have written about this that I have read since joining Twitter, and the guys in the book make it crystal clear. They state ‘ We should provide students with the time  they need to practice new material, and this practice should be careful, deliberate (slow but developed as @Xris32 also mentions) and just outside of the child’s comfort zone.’  This was backed up by my recent visit to a primary school where re-drafting was EVERYWHERE! The effort, the pride in the highly visible progress… So, action point:  find more time for this next year! It’s tough in pressured exam courses but I’m positive there’s ways.

Regular recap until long term memory absorbs the learning. 

I have often thought the end of lesson plenary needed a re-think in terms of effectiveness over cursory checks, and that it was the next lesson recap that actually mattered. It’s good to be supported partially in this! The guys talk about a teacher who had 20 recap questions on previous lessons at the start of every one of her lessons – Wow! So simple – and she enjoyed spectacular results because of the embedding of information and skills into long term memory.  Action point – Promote this strongly – it is often amazing that students forget the basics of how many exams they’re sitting on a regular basis, so how can we expect to make changes to long term memory unless we recap more frequently?


Another big moment for me – ‘It is bizarre, morally questionable even, that we have come to believe that only those we describe as the most able need or deserve to be challenged’ . Again, what a simple truth. We always talk in terms of ‘support’ for lower ability students, but they of course must be ‘challenged’ too. I had always known about the need to find ways of ensuring every student in the class is able to experience success, but the idea of abandoning ‘all/most/some’ as counter-productive and leading to default positions for certain students is fascinating. The guys instead advocate 1 challenging objective for all.

Also, avoiding ‘dumbing down’ talk is a must. Again, this stopped me in my tracks. I have prided myself at times over recent years in using phrases like ‘That’s a posh way of saying _____’ and patting myself on the back for how I’m able to help get down to their level, or allowing students to stay ‘cool’ and give a response in simplistic language – but this is so wrong! The question ‘how might you rephrase that?’ is encouraged in the book, and the clear and brilliant message advocated by Chris Moyse that ‘In this English classroom, we talk like writers‘ -is something I want up in every classroom next year!

Finally, I loved the very simple strategy of never going immediately to a weaker student first (as you know they’re likely to struggle with your task). The message sent out to that student that you expect them to need help before they’ve even picked up a pen is terrible and one I’ll never be doing again!


Finally,  the whole concept of struggle is something I’ve implicitly been aware of, but never really thought about it in depth before. The book outlines the importance of the’struggle to move beyond what they know to new learning‘ and again, this made me stop and think. The number of times in the past I have thought when lesson planning ‘They can do this -let’s go with that’ rather than ‘They’ll find this really tough-let’s try this’. I guess it comes from a reluctance to have a lesson die a death in front of you which often happens when a lesson is pitched too high.

However, it’s clearly much more important that we do embrace students making mistakes and struggling to break through to new learning.

One of my students the other day self-assessed his work, and said he had too many crossings out and mistakes in his work. I told him with a big smile that this was absolutely vital to his learning, and I couldn’t care less about his crossings out!

The guys encourage ‘live modelling’ -something I recently tried to become a fellow struggler and want my team to work on more next year. This was hugely powerful – I made mistakes, changed things, students told me things afterwards I could have done –  we discussed the processes I had employed as I worked. It was a hugely powerful learning activity and actually quite enjoyable in a masochistic kind of way!


So much stuff I’ve not included here, but I wanted to offer my huge recommendation of this book as a great template for developing teaching and learning in departments. I will certainly be referring to it regularly in coming months.






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