Teaching and Learning Blog
Welcome to the Teaching and Learning blog! This is a place for us to share the innovative and student centred work that happens across the school each and every day. We are proud of our teachers and the creative and challenging lessons they plan to help students develop their understanding and build life-long learning skills and curiosity about the world around them.
This blog will help us share insights into what our teachers are working on as part of our imaginative CPD programme, as well as a platform for teachers themselves to talk about the techniques and strategies they are using for the benefit of their students. This will include fascinating information about about how we meet the needs of, and challenge, all of the students in our classrooms.
We are committed to sharing students’ perspectives from inside the classroom, and our Teaching and Learning Ambassadors will also share their insights and experiences.
We hope you enjoy reading about this impressive facet of our school this year.
Teaching and Learning and CPD
20th May 2019
Always aspiring and striving to learn more. Interminably dedicated and driven. Resilient and motivated. These are the qualities we seek to promote in Advanced Learners, life skills without which the most able cannot achieve their potential.
Yet no two Advanced Learners are the same and defining what makes an Advanced Learner is an inexact science. They may, perhaps, have the ability to learn quickly, with a long attention span, keen observational skills, a rich vocabulary and a vivid imagination. They may also be compassionate and show mature moral sensitivity. However, left uninspired and unchallenged, they may begin to question authority.
Stimulation, therefore, is essential for Advanced Learners: challenge that starts with the high-quality teaching that we deliver every day in the classroom. But what does challenge for the most able students look like?
While preparing for a PDP session for our Interns, I sought out top tips for what works in practice in the classroom. A common theme focused on higher-level questioning and reasoning: evaluating and synthesising information, identifying patterns and trends across multiple datasets. In history this might mean comparing the outbreaks of WWI and WWII to see whether they had anything in common; in physics, making synoptic links to earlier chapters of learning; in English, making wider connections between a text and its context, or other texts.
That all said, anecdotally, we often find that the most able groups are not those who like to freely discuss ideas and make connections of their own; they are as likely to simply want to ‘sponge’ information from a teacher. They are hungry for knowledge, so we must not ignore the lower levels of Blooms Taxonomy either: they want us to impart our knowledge to them. Not everything we can possibly throw at them, but carefully selected, directly relevant and thought-provoking content.
Then, the challenge is to use this knowledge: teach it to others, connect it to prior learning, and further it with independent study. “The true sign of intelligence,” said Albert Einstein, “is not knowledge but imagination.” It is not the possession of the knowledge that will see our Advanced Learners achieve highly, it is what they do with it – and we should give them opportunities to be imaginative with it.
Learning may come naturally for Advanced Learners, but their success is by no means guaranteed. Yes, they may aspire and strive to learn more, they may be motivated and resilient, but they may also feel the pressure of expectation: above all, their own. We must take care to nurture their mindsets, help them prioritise and manage workload; they must recognise that learning should be difficult, and feel comfortable with that, embrace it even.
Being gifted, or advanced, academically is not better; it is different. Thus, differentiation is fundamental to making them the most successful they can be, through challenging, enriching and inspiring them.
Ms Siân Hall
Advanced Learner Lead
2nd April 2019
“In the years I’ve devoted to literacy, I have learnt what I should have always known – that nothing matters more than words.”
Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders
At Didcot Girls’, we have recently given every student in Years 7-11 a booklet, full of key vocabulary appropriate for their learning in their curriculum. This was no small task and involved a huge number of teachers spending many hours selecting and defining key words, before collating them together in accessible booklets, and then printing them for every student in the main school. Why did we go to all this effort?
The fundamental reason is that knowledge of key words is thoroughly empowering, and – in a world of 100% exams – vital.
A recent survey of 1,300 primary and secondary school teachers across the UK, conducted by Oxford University Press, found that “more than 60% saw increasing incidents of underdeveloped vocabulary among pupils of all ages, leading to lower self-esteem, negative behaviour and in some cases greater difficulties in making friends”(The Guardian newspaper, 2018). Put simply, a broader vocabulary can help students in many different areas of their life, as well as being a strong indicator of future academic success.
A third of secondary school teachers reported a widening vocabulary gap between the first and last years of secondary school. Kate Nation, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, said, “low levels of vocabulary set limits on literacy, understanding, learning the curriculum and can create a downward spiral of poor language which begins to affect all aspects of life.”
As a school, we therefore feel passionately that to help students to broaden their vocabulary is a vital part of our mission to empower them for successful and happy futures, whatever their chosen path.
More immediately, our students will be sitting GCSE exams that demand a broad knowledge of words. In the 2017 English Language exam, students were expected to know the meanings of the following words:
I am sure you will agree that this would be considered by many to be formal, challenging language. Clearly, not knowing the meaning of these words would have put students in that cohort at an immediate disadvantage.
It has been proposed that vocabulary can be divided into three tiers, as described by the diagram below:
The examples from the GCSE English paper above are Tier 2 words and, broadly speaking, students can learn lots of such vocabulary by being exposed to a range of language through regular, high-quality, independent reading. But that is a different blog post…
Our new vocabulary booklets seek to address the Tier 3 words. This “subject-specific, academic language” will enable students to better understand concepts and ideas; grasp clearly the questions they are being asked in assessments; give them the language they need to express their understanding precisely and accurately; and empower them with a confident knowledge of their curriculum. As our booklets have been written by the very teachers who are delivering the curriculum, they contain exactly the vocabulary that students need to know to help them to be successful.
Each booklet contains a list of fifteen words for most subjects, alongside a definition for each word and an example of that word being used in a sentence. Students are encouraged to learn key words in our Extended Student Guidance Time, to test themselves and each other, and to use a retrieval resource at the back of the booklet, to help them to apply the word in different contexts for themselves.
Our hope is that, as students become more confident using this terminology, so their confidence and academic success will increase.
If you would like to read more about this issue, please see: Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Alex Quigley.
Miss S Vassiliou
Associate Senior Leader
Lead Practitioner (English Department)
5th March 2019
Lesson Spotlight Series
This term our blog comes from Miss Moody in the Maths team. In the following blog she explains how she has been using retrieval activities to engage and challenge students.
One of the teaching and learning priorities for this academic year is retrieval and so I have been looking at ways to develop my own practice in this area.
Jo Morgan, founder of the website “Resourceaholic”, spoke at a BBO Hub training day on mastery about retrieval and paid particular attention to the use of retrieval starters. I have recently started to implement the starters that she spoke about in my lessons and have found them incredibly worthwhile.
This is the format of starter that I am currently using and it refers to the template that Jo Morgan spoke about. I test recall of information that was recently taught (last lesson and last week) and also work from previous topics to retrieve information from a long time ago.
A very effective teaching and learning technique is to ensure that students experience some success at the beginning of a lesson. This builds up their self-confidence and encourages even reluctant learners to be engaged in the lesson. I chose questions that were not too challenging, but did recap important methods. The questions are also carefully selected. The knowledge for the “last lesson” question was required for the current lesson and they had previously found the “last topic” question difficult so I decided to retest that.
Students were given approximately 7 minutes to complete the starter. I then modelled the solutions under the visualiser and students must write down the method if they have not got that one correct. It is difficult to process lots of information at once, so instead of showing a pre-written solution, I use the technique of "live modelling" where I go through the solution step by step
Insisting that students copy the solution down means that if a question was answered inaccurately, I can retest that topic in the next starter and the students have the framework to follow from the previous starter, if they could not answer it initially by themselves.
Generally to assess understanding I usually do a “put your hand up if you got that one correct” as I model each question. That way, I can decide which questions to repeat based upon how well they were answered.
When we have marked all questions, I award star stickers to those that got all 4 correct.
Miss N. Moody
10th January 2019
'Thinking about thinking'-the value of metacognition in the classroom
‘Metacognition’ is one of those concepts which remains slightly confusing even after you have sought a definition. When the dictionary asserts that it is the process of ‘thinking about thinking’ and ‘knowing about knowing’ it is quite easy to dismiss its relevance as something quite indulgent and unnecessary. Surely the thinking is the important part? Why bother stopping to put that process under consideration? Why waste the time?
But convoluted as the definition might seem, the value of stopping to reflect on the processes taking place while we and our students are learning is crucial, and spending time developing these skills can be transformative.
Research tells us that self-regulated learners are more aware of what they need to work on: they reflect more effectively and take more effective steps to develop their understanding. These skills amplify achievement, build confidence and foster resilience, but, like everything we try to develop in life, they require deliberate practice.
In a recent study, the Education Endowment Foundation condensed current research into metacognition into five suggested areas for schools to consider. I have summarised these below, with proposals for how we might make progress in these areas:
Teaching metacognitive strategies
Far from shoe horning lessons on self-regulation into the curriculum, much of what the EEF suggests involves crystallising processes which already exist in lessons and harnessing opportunities to increase the quality of the thinking which is happening. The three key facets of self-regulated learning are already hallmarks of effective teaching: planning, monitoring and evaluating, but often these processes aren’t specifically highlighted in lessons, with a clear focus on refining metacognition skills. The tweaks are small ones:
Planning: There is real value in realising the importance of taking time to activate prior knowledge before launching into a new task. Setting retrieval activities and asking questions which encourage students to reflect on linked content and previous attempts at similar tasks can help students to avoid making the same mistakes, moving forwards with gaps in their knowledge and slowing their progress.
Monitoring: Well-structured monitoring questions and resources encourage reflection during classroom processes and enables students to increasingly monitor their own progress, predict stumbling blocks, redirect their efforts and correct errors BEFORE the end point of the lesson or task.
Evaluating: Students are used to self-assessing their progress against PLCs and success criteria, but the real impact of this time depends on whether this evaluation is given time and precision and whether students are encouraged to increasingly set their own targets for improvement based on a developing confidence to reflect on their progress honestly, constructively and effectively. The better a student’s metacognition is, the more likely it is that they will be able to learn from their mistakes: seeing errors as growth opportunities and calibrating their results against previous learning and experiences.
Modelling your own thinking
We’ve talked for many years in CPD sessions about the importance of modelling and we understand how crucial it is as the ‘expert’ in the room to demystify the processes and knowledge we find so easy to access for the benefit of the ‘novice’ students we are teaching. We have to make overt what we often keep covert. Live modelling is an invaluable tool in this process. It allows us to lay bare the thinking we do; the links we make; the prior knowledge we call upon and the edits we run through. Far from wasting time, thoughtfully crafted direct instruction is one of the most valuable tools a teacher has to support their students on the path to subject mastery.
Getting the pitch right
The cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork popularised the term ‘desirable difficulty’ as a way of explaining the importance of challenge in teaching and building reflective learners. When students have to labour in their learning they are more likely to encode the new information, storing it in long term memory and finding it easier to retrieve later. Essentially when the pitch of a lesson is perfected, students are more likely to engage in formative metacognitive strategies: asking themselves questions, drawing on prior knowledge and recalibrating the processes they are using to ensure maximum success. Too little or too much challenge leads to disengagement, eroding resilience and leaving students floundering outside the zone of proximal development. As teachers we need to be aware of the takeaway lessons from Sweller’s ‘cognitive load’ theory: the importance of finding that ‘goldilocks like’ sweet spot for challenge which avoids overloading working memory, but pushes understanding forward.
Talk the talk
Questioning and oracy are whole school priorities and areas of real strength, and it is no surprise that the verbal interactions we have with students offer us an invaluable tool for developing their reflection and self-regulation. Metacognitive talk probes reasoning, seeks rationales and forces more pensive evaluation. This type of ‘dialogic teaching’ moves beyond simple call and response structures and increases the number of turns taken in an exchange as a means of deepening student thought processes.
Practice makes permanent
We have worked hard over the last three years to help students develop their independent working skills through the Revision Revolution and the expansion of student guidance time. We know that revision and reflection are skills which require practice and that students who are better able to regulate their learning have a better chance of hastening their progress. The ideas outlined above are -for the most part- suggestions for how our already exceptionally strong teaching and learning practice can be harnessed to put a spotlight on developing these reflective acumen, both in the classroom, during independent study and in interactions students have at home about their work.
Mrs F. Ashton
Assistant Headteacher for Teaching and Learning and CPD
SLE (CPD and English)
26th November 2018
Teaching and Learning Ambassador: My Favourite Lesson
My favourite lesson is Drama, mainly because I simply love being on stage performing, but it also has boosted my self-confidence. Drama allows you to use your imagination and think outside the box - especially when creating performances - as you have to listen to others and challenge your original thoughts. As well as this, you need to combine the creative ideas and abilities of all peers in the group for the best outcomes. This means that everyone is required to engage in discussion, feedback, rehearsing and the performance.
My drama teachers have always said 'anything that is happening outside of the Drama room, stays outside of the Drama room'. This makes Drama a safe and friendly learning environment, where everyone is included. It also reduces stress, as for me, it takes my mind of anything else that is going on.
As you would expect, Drama also improves verbal and non-verbal communication, however most people don't realise that by understanding different characters you get to see the world from different perspectives. This has really helped me realise why others around me make certain choices and actions.
By Ellie Hillsdon 8HEE
6th November 2018
Revision Revolution: Retrieval
'Twas the night before the exam, in the study café,
A student with a highlighter got carried away;
The textbook was read, again and again,
In hopes that the words would stay in her brain;
Until finally she made it to bed,
If only she had a way to keep it all in her head!
Equipping students with effective study strategies prepares them not only for GCSE and A-level assessments, but also with the skills required to be lifelong learners. Many preferred study strategies, such as re-reading notes and highlighting, lead to only short-term learning. They are not that effective when it comes to retaining information over a long period of time. Fortunately, a simple shift towards the use of a technique called retrieval practice can lead to big improvements in long-term learning.
Retrieval practice involves deliberately recalling facts or concepts from memory to enhance learning. Every time a memory is retrieved it is strengthened and less likely to be forgotten. Evidence from research demonstrates that retrieval practice is more effective than re-reading material that you want to remember. It seems unintuitive because when you re-read something you become very familiar with it very quickly. However, it is easy to mistake this familiarity for meaningful learning. Being familiar with textbook notes does not necessarily mean that you will remember them. Retrieval practice can feel much more difficult but it is exactly this challenge that improves learning more than simply looking up an answer in a textbook. The struggle to drag something from your memory also provides information about what you do and do not know. It is easy to believe that you know the names of the six wives of Henry VIII but you cannot be sure unless you actually try to come up with the answer yourself.
As teachers we support students to learn our subject content through the use of retrieval practice in lessons. For example, through the use of low-stakes starter quizzes, questioning and tasks that require students to think back to previous topics. But how can students use retrieval outside of lessons to make the most of time spent revising?
Retrieval practice can be as simple as writing down everything you can remember about a particular topic on a piece of paper. Many traditional revision activities such as mind-mapping and practising exam questions can be retrieval if they are completed from memory only checking answers afterwards. Here are two strategies that students can use to embed retrieval in their revision repertoire.
Retrieval when revising from a textbook:
When revising from a textbook condense key points and important information on a notes page. Next, form questions that could be used to test this knowledge. Write the answers in a separate list so that you can practice answering them later on. Regularly go back to these questions to strengthen your memory for the information. The revision revolution booklet contains templates for revision from a textbook and self-testing (pages 5-7).
Retrieval using flashcards:
Flashcards are a popular tool for revision and can be very effective if used properly. Flashcards should have a question on one side and answer on the other side so that they can be used for regular self-testing. When self-testing using flashcards, it is important to actually generate the answer to the question by writing it down or saying it out loud before checking the answer on the back. Flashcards can be shuffled to mix up practice so that lots of topics can be tested in one sitting. It is important not to drop flashcards from the pile if you think you know them. You might know it now but for long-term memory you need to keep coming back to it!
For more revision tips, resources and videos visit the Revision Revolution section of the Didcot Girls’ School Teaching and Learning webpage.
Miss A Kyriakides
Head of Biology
Why we care about Teaching and Learning: a student perspective.
As head Teaching and Learning Leaders, we feel as if it is our duty to inspire younger students to develop their learning skills so that they become the best learner they can be, as well as enjoying the experience. In this process we are working alongside the teachers at Didcot Girls’ School to ensure that all lessons are at the best standard possible – by which we mean adapting lessons to help students learn in a way that will suit them individually, as well as the class as a whole.
Our vision is that all students at DGS can have a more active role in how they learn, as well as giving them the confidence to take ownership of their learning. All the Teaching and Learning Leaders have started making revision strategy videos to help students refine their study skills as part of the Revision Revolution. These will be used in Student Guidance time next term to support independent work. In the future we hope to speak to more of the teachers at DGS to discuss how students learn best in lessons to ensure that every lesson is highly effective.
We both wanted to be Teaching and Learning Leaders in the school because we are so passionate about it and wanted to make a difference. This is because during our four years at this school we have felt like DGS have made such a huge impact on the way we learn, partly due to having an amazing support system to ensure you can understand everything you learn and receive help if not. As a result, we wanted to be part of the difference staff and students make to continue making the school a better place. We are going to do this by inspiring other students to enjoy the process of learning as an experience so that they can achieve their potential.
We will keep you updated with the exciting plans of the teaching and learning team in the near future.
Kimberley Turner and Clara Inglett
Lead Teaching and Learning Ambassadors, Year 11
24th September 2018
Dyslexia affects 15% of the population and is often a diagnosis associated with ‘not being able to spell’. In actual fact, Dyslexia is multi-faceted and varies from individual to individual. Some co-occurring difficulties include; motor co-ordination, language, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation but these are not, by themselves, markers of Dyslexia.
The definition of Dyslexia according to the British Dyslexia Association, 2009, is:
'Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
Characteristic features of Dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.'
A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to intervention.
Here at Didcot Girls’ we are aware that the term ‘Dyslexia’ can be used very loosely and can cause students to feel anxious. As a school we are determined to banish the negative connotations associated with Dyslexia, support students in finding strategies that work for them and also educate the wider community about the varied impacts Dyslexia can have on people’s lives. We are working hard to ensure that all classrooms across the school are Dyslexia friendly and that teaching strategies allow all learners to access the curriculum. Some examples of the strategies that teachers are using each day include:
- Having visual aids available for every lesson, or asking pupils to create some as part of the lesson, therefore making effective use of multi-sensory sources of information.
- Varying input and outcomes, such as through the use of small groups, discussion and audiotapes to maintain interest and provide memorable experiences.
- Avoiding long lists of instructions given verbally and providing clear lesson structure – using the board to provide information visually, where appropriate.
- Making sure that high frequency work lists and subject-specific key wordlists are available on each table for any writing task.
- Outlining the lesson at the start helps to remove uncertainty about the session ahead and enables learners to monitor and mark the different stages of the lesson
4th October – World Dyslexia Awareness Day