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The challenge of making progress!

Here at @Rossett School we are now into our second cycle of the teaching learning community (TLC) staff CPD meetings. Our 5 areas linked to our school development plan are:

  1. Technology/ipads to promote student responsibility. 

  2. Consistent use of feedback/DIRT to improve student reflectiveness.

  1. Providing challenge to promote resilience. 

    4.  Progress for all (particular PP students)

    5.  Improve independence and responsibility through 6th form teaching.

All staff are part of two TLC focus areas over the course of the year. My first one was providing challenge and I am now working in the progress for all TLC group. For me the checking of student progress has been something good teachers have always done, through effective questioning and guiding them with structured feedback. Therefore the Ofsted craze of “rapid and sustained progress” although clearly crazy, is something that we all probably strive to achieve.

I have over recent weeks thought about this concept of progress a lot more. How do I know students have “got it” and how do I know whether some of them have got it more than most. Have some of them just learnt things on a superficial level when I really want them all progressing, with a deep understanding of what I am teaching them.

With my AS PE Anatomy & Physiology group I had reached the part of the syllabus where they needed a deep understanding of various coronary heart diseases and what impact an active healthy lifestyle could have. When I plan lessons like this that cover a wide range of content and require students to link, explain and show a deep understanding of key concepts, I do find myself going back to using Solo taxonomy stations. Here is what they looked like:

I firstly allowed all the students to walk around and look at the questions that I had written down on each station. In that way they could note down on a pre-structural level what they actually didn’t know or were unsure on. This helped them and me see where they were in their learning and where I needed to guide them. I then used the post it plus app recommended by @ictevangelist to record down their pre-structural thoughts. Using the app to record their post it’s meant I could annotate them, noting common elements and display them on the screen for all the students to see. There were quite a few similarities in their learning gaps of knowledge. I then just let them go and was able to physically see their progress as they individually moved around the room from station to station gaining a deeper understanding as they progressed.

All the students at least reached the relational section with few of the higher ability students exploring the questions on the extended abstract part. It allowed the students to make progress at their own rate and meant they could question each other, aswell as me, to improve their learning as they moved through the stations in the lesson.

I feel that this area of questioning and explanations are vital for students to learn and progress. After reading this great blog below on the how important explaining concepts in detail are by Tom Sherrington, I really started to think carefully how I needed to ensure my explanations on concepts were clearly understood.

I put this to the test with my BTEC Level 3 Anatomy Physiology students when we looked last week at the difficult concepts of energy systems. Here I used simple laminated task cards and got the students to act out and explain to each other how an energy system breaks down a fuel with an enzyme to create energy to resynthesise ATP. By not just relying on my explanation, but instead making students feel, do and explain to each other the actual processes involved, all of a sudden a difficult topic became one that they started to grasp. That to me was progress!

I again used the post it plus app to get a written gauge of what they knew at the start from our previous learning and then how their learning had progressed by the end. I have annotated on the post it’s and given some students a number so you can see their progress.

I am certainly now going to think a lot more about my explanations to students and also encourage them to explain things to each other as I believe this is a vital component in their learning and progress.

TLC’s @Rossett & providing challenge for all

Last year at Rossett School our cross curricular teaching and learning communities focused on the key areas of questioning, differentiation and feedback. It culminated in a fantastic end of year learning fair where all the departments in school showcased how these three key areas had impacted positively upon student learning. I must thank the excellent @westlyish here for putting together the video below showing how great the fair was. (It’s a little long but if you skip through some bits you get a real feel of its success)

The challenge this year was how do we build on that and keep improving our standards of teaching and learning. We were helped in May by a peer review at school undertaken through our membership of the Red Kite Alliance. They helped us confirm that our 5 whole school focus areas should be:
1. Technology/ipads to promote student responsibility.
2. Consistent use of feedback/DIRT to improve student reflectiveness.
3. Providing challenge to promote resilience.
4. Progress for all (particular PP)
5. Improve independence and responsibility through 6th form teaching.
These 5 key areas would be our “marginal gains” for the next academic year. They fit in with the small gains we have to keep looking to improve upon to maintain our status as an outstanding school.
Heads of department consulted with their staff and decided which two out the five areas each person would focus on. Colleagues would be in one focus TLC up until Christmas and then look at their next area during the second half of the year. It allowed staff to develop two areas of their teaching specific to them that would be tied into their performance appraisal.

My first TLC focus is to be “providing challenge to promote resilience”. I decided that if I was serious about this it would have to come through all aspects of my teaching. With my A2 PE group last week I began my push! I was lucky enough to have Paul Taylor @ticktock80 from Penistone Grammar in my lesson on a visit, and he helped me to sharpen my focus even more. The topic was the ATP-PC energy system which is quite difficult. In the past I may have put students into groups asking each to find out different parts of the system, it’s application to sport etc and then got them to feedback to each other. However I was conscious that this sometimes didn’t challenge them all and some just sat back whilst others did the work for them. Therefore following a short Socrative quiz on the iPads to check where they were in their learning I allowed the students to choose which Solo station they wanted to start on. For those not familiar with solo taxonomy, it can be a great way to get students to challenge themselves and make great progress.

What happened next was that most of the students began at the first unistructural station just to check they were happy with their understanding. One student went straight to the complex extended abstract station as he felt through his Biology knowledge he was fairly confident. As it turned out his level of understanding was good, but he still needed some support and by the individual structure of challenge I set up, it allowed me to challenge him personally. If he had been sat in a group, I may have missed this opportunity to see where he was in his learning and then push him accordingly. The others then began progressing at their own rate as the lesson moved forwards. They were able to ask individual questions that was of interest to them and often their peers answered their questions before I could.
The lesson wasn’t perfect by any means and the plenary was a bit rushed, but that was only because the students kept challenging themselves to learn more and on reflection I probably shouldn’t have stopped them.
As someone who has tried and failed at times with group work as a means to challenge students I was happy with my solo stations to individually challenge those in my class.
As ever I will be looking for ways to improve and keep challenging myself to make it even better!


Differentiation, feedback and questioning

Here at Rossett we are looking at how effective differentiation, feedback and questioning can enhance the learning of our students and make them and our staff more responsible, resilient and reflective.
All staff are going to look to focus in detail on one of these three areas through our teacher learning communities. This stepping up a gear and having the opportunity to become say a differentiation expert by exploring all the small marginal gains necessary, will be built upon later in the year, when faculties come together with their experts from all three focus areas. Faculties then with their differentiation, feedback and questioning experts will all showcase their work and evidence of impact in lessons through our end of year learning fair.
Below are some of my key principles around the three areas which I must thank the many people I follow on twitter for their contributions:


Sometimes with differentiation I know I am guilty of lowering expectations for some students, by capping aspiration and potential achievement. I have moved away from learning outcomes for “all, most, some”. For me by lessons starting off like this I was using differentiation by dumbing down and not providing challenge for all. I have changed things so now my learning outcome has the connector of “so that” in the middle. For example,
Learning Outcome.
“Reflect on your knowledge of periodisation of training, so that you know of its benefits and how to plan a programme for a range of athletes.”

What follows the “so that” gives students the reason why and also the opportunity to explore and challenge themselves.
Differentiation is about all students given hard work they can do. Tasks should be designed to give students a clear element of challenge, but they should be do-able. Lessons need to have sustained student involvement, where activities are set up for students to discover part of the answer at least. Having guided group work is another key element. So planning in advance how you want to group students (by ability does allow you to intervene more) caters for greater progress, rather than “just going round the class”. This planning could come from previous marking, which lends itself very well to the obvious idea of marking for planning. Your groups could then be made up of a Teach/Do/Review structure, where the targeted teacher intervention takes place with the teach group. The do group carry out a form of extension task where the review group review their work and come up with further ideas/theories or questions to ask.
Think too about differentiated resources and choice of tasks. Or how some tasks can be attempted without support by some students.


Marking is going to form an integral part of ensuring effective feedback is given. It will also link very well into how we effectively differentiate too. Marking should be done to inform planning and is in fact a key component of effective planning. It should be handed back the next lesson and used as a starting point for that lesson. Time has to be built in then for students to reflect and act upon this feedback, with the idea that they are striving to “close the gap” between what they have produced and where you want them to be. This sounds common sense and when you think about it, to not build in time for students to reflect and close the gap, when we have given up alot of time to mark, is just crazy.
I have also for a long time been interested in how the use of public critique by students can enhance the quality of work produced. Too often here at Rossett, students are happy to submit sloppy work. I have now started to embed with my students the idea of re-drafting work once they have received feedback from either myself or their peers. Apps like Edmodo are great for this. This gets the students to be become more resilient and not be happy until they would be proud enough of their work to have a wide audience look at it. This seeking of perfection following feedback, is how I want our students to operate.


Questioning is one of those areas that teachers engage in alot. We are always asking questions of the students, often in a whole class didactic manner. Whether you adopt a no hands up rule or use Mr Dylan Williams lolly pops this doesn’t really give much room for differentiation. Flipping things a little and getting the students to come up with their own questions is one way of changing things. I have used on many occasions to really good effect, question formulation technique. (Look it up!)
For me it has helped to use the concept of questioning to engage students in finding the solutions to questions they want answering and not the ones I think I should ask them.

As always your thoughts and comments are greatly appreciated

Responsibility Week @Rossett

As part of our 3R’s Culture Of Learning here at Rossett we have been looking this week to really embed the quality of responsibility amongst our students. In the lead up to “Responsibility Week” all staff worked in their teaching learning communities (TLC’s) to collaborate and plan together lessons which involved handing more responsibility to the students. Within the TLC’s, staff were in cross curricular groups of 3 or 4 and had to look at ways of making the students more responsible learners. They then agreed times for this week when they could observe each other delivering these student led, responsibility focused lessons.

As we approach the end of the week I have been looking at evidence of impact. It has been easy to see it with the students themselves as all of them were given on Monday, responsibility passports.


Students have been aiming all week to try and collect responsibility points in lessons as they aim to be more self-motivated, work well in groups, help and support each other and be responsible for making progress in their learning.
There have also been some fantastic assemblies and lessons delivered by staff who have pushed this theme of responsibility all week.



We have also been embedding videos from staff on our Realsmart Rossett homepage where students have been talking about what being a responsible student actually looks like. Please feel free to browse through the link below:

Rossett School Realsmart

We are only in the early days of embedding our 3R’s Culture Of Learning, but initial signs are that it is something worthwhile persevering with. At the end of each learning cycle we will be having a week emphasising each of the 3R’s with resilience coming up next, followed by reflectiveness.

Thoughts/comments very welcome.

Flipping Lessons & Responsibility!

As we have just launched our 3R’s Culture of Learning here at Rossett I was keen to keep pushing the culture straight away with my A level PE class and see if responsibility, resilience and reflectiveness could come through in students learning. I also wanted help from our iPads that we as staff all have, and the iPads that we can book out for the students to use.
I firstly wanted to promote responsibility amongst the students by flipping the lesson before it started. I used the Explain everything app to put together a short video where I introduced our topic of “Ergogenic Aids”, which I tweeted to the students insisting they watched it before they came to the lesson.

Now when the lesson arrived it was obvious which ones had watched it and which ones hadn’t. I was able to see this when as a starter I used a quick Socrative quiz. I then had on the board a visual representation of the learning journey that we were going on & I simply asked the students to record in their Evernote accounts what they were expected to learn by the end. As the students completed the Socrative task I then got them in pairs to brainstorm using the app Ibrainstorm about which ergogenic aids were suitable for either aerobic or anaerobic athletes. The students here had to be both responsible and resilient as all they received from me were two QR codes which took them to my wiki and also to the Explain everything video again. I was determined to make them take responsibility and see that if they done this beforehand, then they would have started the lesson at an advantage. Tough love if you like.
We then reflected together as a class reviewed their initial answers to the Socrative task that I had by this point downloaded.

This review allowed the students to see where they were in their learning and more importantly where they now needed to go to progress. I then split the students into two groups, where one looked at aerobic athletes and the other anaerobic. I then set up an activity where they now had to demonstrate responsibility, resilience and reflectiveness. Although they could work together in their groups they had to individually create a presentation using an app of their choice that they had show to someone from the other group. They had 15 minutes! Most choose the Educreations app, although a couple chose Mindjet. As well as putting the presentation together they also began screenshot their work to save to their Evernote accounts.

Then after the 15 minutes were up, the magic started. They began seamlessly teaching and learning from each other the the specific areas that they had been researching. They took responsibility for questioning, analysing and praising each other for the work they had covered. All I did was walk around, facilitate and answer some questions.
For students who have for the last six years been spoon fed information at school, I was really impressed by their willingness to embrace our new 3 R’s culture. Watch this space for more developments.



Solo stations with IPads

As Solo taxonomy is such an integral part of my teaching now I wanted to see how it could be combined with our recent purchase of iPads here at Rossett School. All our staff have had iPads for a few weeks now and we also have extra ones that can be booked out to for the students to use.

I was inspired by the fantastic post from Tait Coles aka @totallywired77 on solo stations. This involves using each of the solo stages from prestructural to extended abstract to set up a differentiated learning experience for the students. As the name suggests solo stations means you have stations placed around the room which allows the students to plan out their own learning journey. This week I tried it with my A2 PE exercise physiology group and also incorporated into it the use of iPads. The topic was the role of ATP and how the ATP-PC energy system works. First I made a short video using the app Explain everything. As this app allows you to upload it to your YouTube channel I tweeted the students the link for them to watch before the lesson. I wanted to try the flipped classroom approach with them to see if this type of homework task wold engage them more. It certainly did!

The lesson itself started with a short Socrative app quiz on simple uni and multistructural questions on ATP & the ATP-PC energy system. As the student were doing this on the IPads I set up the solo stations around the room. We didn’t use prestructural as this was revision. At each station there was an A3 laminated solo sheet with some success criteria on linked to the stage of solo. I also included highlighted copies of the referred part of the syllabus and a QR code picture of a link to my Explain everything clip and one of our class blog on Realsmart. Here is the multi structural one below:


Once they had finished the Socrative starter we then reviewed the results as I simply just emailed myself the report and showed it on the whiteboard. I then asked the students to decide where they were in their learning and choose their solo station starting point. I told them it was not a race and they were to move only when they felt they understood the success criteria.
The students then used the Evernote app on their iPads to move around the room, taking notes, pictures and learning from each other and responding to questions from me to check their learning. The Evernote app allowed them to then access their notes later on their phones or computers at home. By the end of the lesson, most, but not all had progressed the the extended abstract station which you can see below:


This was a great demonstration of progress as at the start of the lesson this and the relational station before it were empty!


We closed the lesson by the students tweeting on their iPads about how they thought solo stations had helped their learning
and progress.
The most poignant quote was that:

“The solo stations really helped me as it allowed me to be independent and learn at my own pace.”

Solo stations is certainly a great tool to move forward learning!!!

Using iPads in A2 PE

Today was a bit of a step into the unknown as I taught a lesson which involved the students using the new ipads. Like many staff I have been impressed by how my own personal ipad has opened up many areas which has helped in my lessons. What I found today was that with a little pre-planning the ipads can be a fantastic aid to learning when the students use them too. I can reassure everyone that there were not just these 3 below in the lesson.


The lesson was based around revising the aerobic energy system with my Yr 13 A2 PE students. Prior to it I had made a short video of what I wanted them to learn in advance. I did this with the explain everything app which then allows you to upload it to Youtube. I shared this over twitter with my students. The video is below:

I then started the lesson with a short quiz to establish understanding using quiz I had made on Socrative app. The students then in pairs started brainstorming on simple facts about aerobic system using the brilliant Ibrainstorm app. As they were doing this I got Socrative to email me the report and the initial quiz and we then as a class reviewed our knoweledge and progress. I then split the class in half and they all produced a presentation using the Showme app on the areas that I gave them. With this they could use screen shots from their Ibrainstorm work or from the notes app. Some even revisited my explaineverything video by searching for it on Youtube on their iPads.


They then presented to their partner on their respective areas. Finally to gauge progress and check understanding, I used the exit ticket on Socrative to get the students to answer an exam question and also tell me what they had learnt, or still found difficult. There was even time for some students to copy their ipad notes and paste them into the google docs that I set up which they can all now share on Realsmart. With the exception of the explain everything app all the apps mentioned here are available to use on our student ipads.


The power of solo taxonomy!

It has been a couple of months now since I started using Solo taxonomy with my students at Rossett School. I wanted to really try to embed & gauge it’s impact first before I reflected upon it here in my blog.
Firstly I must thank Tait Coles @totallywired77 & Darren Mead @Dkmead who I follow on twitter for introducing me to Solo.

For those new to the “Power of Solo” it stands for:
Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes. A brief summary of Solo can be found through this link below:

The different levels of Solo can be seen in the picture below:

I started using Solo firstly to try and show my A level PE students how to think more deeply when answering synoptic 10 & 20 mark exam questions. My students were able to think on a unistructural level & give me one fact about a topic. For instance an effect of exercise on the CV system was a stronger, bigger heart. They could even move onto a multi-structural level by stating other effects like increased stroke volume, lower resting heart rate & increased number of red blood cells. However before I introduced Solo to them that was often as far as they got. Like alot of students they struggled to think deeper & to then draw links between some of the facts that they knew. With Solo I started to get them thinking on firstly a relational level. That is could they go beyond simply listing facts and instead analyse these facts, compare & contrast them & explain in detail their relevance to each other.
Then the power of Solo guided some of my more able students into the final layer of learning which is extended abstract. Here in addition to drawing links between facts students started thinking about how other areas or layers of knowledge could be added. Going back to my CV system question from earlier, the students now started linking the different types of training used to improve CV fitness, which principles of training needed applying & which energy system would be pre-dominant & why. I was hugely impressed by what impact Solo had upon their thinking & learning. It really tied into how at Rossett we are striving to create more resilient, responsible & reflective learners.
Solo then shaped my thinking into allowing the students to present their findings to each other, to peer assess using Solo, how their learning had developed. They were able to guide each other through the different stages of learning.

During my recent visit to Australia to present to 3 schools in teaching & learning I took my Solo experiences & shared them with staff there. The results were really positive with colleagues seeing how Solo taxonomy can underpin so many different aspects of learning. The pictures below show them hard at work.image

Finally I asked some of my A level PE students to make short videos of themselves talking about how they had used Solo to answer a 20 mark exam question all about flexibility. Here is what one of them had to say:

Powerful stuff!!

The what, the how and the why?:

The what, the how and the why?
Often we start our lessons with this order.
We tell the students what they are going to be doing, then, we tell them how they are going to be doing it. On many occasions we often fail to get to the why. For me then the order should be reversed. It is the why that we should start with.
It’s the why that gives learning meaning, purpose and motivates students.
They want to know, like we all do, why are we doing this? As those of you with kids will know “Why” is the probably one of the most commonly said words they use. If your children are anything like my daughter, Ella, this why is often followed by the word not!…… we say no to their 7th demand for chocolate at 8 o’clock in the morning.
So no matter how you do it, keep that thought in mind. Why am I this activity? Is it giving this lesson some purpose? Can the students see the reasons as to why we are doing this? As teachers we need to keep that question in our heads all of the time. Before lessons as we plan, after lessons when we reflect and for me the most important of all, on a constant basis throughout the lesson.
Once we start to embed this with our students it starts to create a culture of motivation, intrigue and discovery. Ultimately this is what true learning is. It is a bit of a Holy Grail and one which is constantly moving as young people change with society, but it is one that as teachers we should never stop striving for.

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