Diagnostic Tracking using Google docs

I have always found it useful to encourage students to rate their understanding of sub-topics at the end of a section. I find it helps students to identify areas they need to revisit in DIRT (dedicated improvement reflection time) and as the class teacher I can glance at these to get an idea of topics the whole class is struggling with. A great example of this type can be found on the TES website here.


Students indicate red for poor understanding, amber for intermediate, and green to show confidence in their understanding. To do this at a whole class level was demonstrated to me several years ago by a Head of Department at my former school. Here you record the red, amber and green (RAG) rating for the whole class on one tracking sheet. This gives you a great overall picture and if this is done throughout the course you can identify when the level of understanding is mastered so that it is safe to move on, or individuals struggling can be identified early on. If completed at the end of a course then it is very useful during the revision process. I have used assessment / diagnostic questions to make the RAG rating objective but my experience is that students are very good at both judging their understanding and at being honest enough to share that with the teacher (caution: this is not always the case, use judgement / knowledge of students). Since joining a Pixl school there are a wealth of tracking documents available for many subjects. The screenshot below shows an example from the Physics P1 course and topics that are not well understood and a student requiring intervention is identified:

tracking_pdf As you can see it’s not always as clean-cut as we would like but it certainly gives a starting point for revision. This was produced in Excel and was completed in class with students called up one at a time to RAG rate each sub-topic. What has really worked well with my current KS4 classes is to import this file into Google docs and share the link (editable link) with students who have then completed this as a homework. The spreadsheet looks a little different mostly because it is not possible to have vertical text as the column headings so this causes the spreadsheet to go off the page:


As you can see though we can still identify topics and students requiring more support as before but this can edited again and again by students as they conduct their own revision in the build up to their GCSE exams. Following an after school revision session this week it was very powerful to ask students to re-evaluate the file and many changed some reds to amber, and quite a few to green. There is the potential for one student to go in and delete all or change everyone to red, as many students pointed out, but so far this has not happened as students can see how helpful it is for all concerned. Here is link to a google sheet set up to RAG rate GCSE Science A.


QLC “Same Page” TeachMeet: Independent Learning and Metacognition

I recently attended a TeachMeet at Severn Vale School in Gloucester. The purpose of this was to meet other teachers from across our partnership of schools who are interested in developing the same areas of practice and pedagogy, to make connections, share ideas and perhaps come away with some new ones along with some contacts with whom to collaborate! I was part of the group that discussed Independent Learning and Metacognition. Here is a picture of some of the points discussed:


The literature review produced by Meyer et al. was of great use and helped with some questions we had. Independent learning is described as self-regulated learning with students planning, self-monitoring, controlling, and evaluating learning activities. We found it closely linked to an alternative discussion group findings around Growth Mindset with delegates attending both sessions suggesting we should combine forces in our efforts.

The skills required of independent learners are (again from Meyer here):

  • Cognitive skills such as memory and problem-solving
  • Metacognition skills – learning to learn
  • Affective skills such as motivation (and closely linked to a growth mindset and how to develop)

My own experience of teaching metacognition comes from Building Learning Power (BLP) which was introduced during my NQT year in my first post. I still talk about the fours R’s (Resilience, Resourcefulness, Reciprocity, and Reflectiveness) with my students today and many aspects of identifying steps in learning have been part of the reflecting aspect of KS3 Science in Wales since 2006:


Advice was shared when talking about developing independent learners within the classroom – that teachers must move from being the sage on the stage and aim to be the guide on the side was felt to be a great way of describing the shift in thinking about lessons. It was pointed out however that the recent Sutton Report concludes that quality of instruction (including effective questioning and assessment) is one of two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment. (It’s ok to be the sage sometimes).

Primary colleagues already discuss the challenge of any particular task in terms of how students cope: If it is easy then they are in the green zone, too hard and it is in the red zone – if the challenge is enough to stretch but not to cause panic then they are in the purple zone and they are purple learners. This explains why year seven students have been talking about being purple learners!

Currently, our year seven team and students are focussing on how to be resilient learners, what to do when you get stuck (4Bs), and that getting stuck is part of learning – to expect it in fact! My own year seven class appear confident, as a group, approaching any task and support each other very well in lessons.

A great aspect coming out of the discussion is that we are already doing a great deal to develop independent learners, in both the primary and secondary phases, and that pupils going through QLC are developing into independent learners giving them exactly the springboard for college and beyond that they need to be a success. A common “language of learning” used by our teachers needs to be shared and staff will be sharing activities that will help develop some of the skills discussed. I personally would like to observe primary colleagues developing purple learners and their use of success criteria.

Developing life long learners is really what teaching is all about – its only content that gets in the way! This was a feeling within our group, that time was so precious, using it to develop the skills of independent learners may impact on covering all material (especially following recent changes). Many delegates felt there are activities that do both – students cover content whilst developing the skills. These activities are what our group intend to develop – I will share successful activities here.

The Sutton Report – Spreading Research in Education

The recent report by Coe et al. discusses What makes great teaching? and in 57 pages (including references) covers three key questions: What makes ’great teaching’?; What kinds of frameworks or tools could help us to capture it? How could this promote better learning?

It’s an interesting read with a lot to take in – my advice for the classroom is to read from page 45 starting at Best bets to try out and evaluate. Point 1 of their quick wins list identifies spreading awareness of research in education and in this vein I would direct you to the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning toolkit. This toolkit summarises 34 (currently as it is updated) topics – for each the toolkit reports on the effect on attainment, the strength of evidence supporting, and the cost for each strategy to improve attainment for disadvantaged pupils.

The toolkit estimates progress in months of progress where 6 months is equivalent to an effect size of 0.45-0.52 which equate to a whole grade improvement. The strategies with the biggest impacts (6-8 months) for secondary phase are:

  • Feedback – To learner about performance and relative to a learning goal.
  • Meta-cognition – Learning to learn / developing strategies to help with learning.
  • Peer tutoring – Learners work in pairs to provide each other with teaching support.

I have summarised the toolkit as a mind map here.


Moderate impact strategies (progress of 3-5 months) which can most readily by utilised within the classroom include:

  • Collaborative learning – working in small groups so all can participate.
  • Digital technology – supporting learning.
  • Homework
  • Mastery learning – break subject into units with clear objectives which are pursued until achieved.

How will this look in the classroom?

As teachers we are trained to be reflective practitioners – this was ingrained for me as a PGCE student, filling in endless evaluation forms / sheets after each lesson, or feedback following observations, peer teaching, and lesson study. We pull apart our lessons daily and think about how we can improve or what we would do differently for our students to make progress. With enough time each teacher would use their own intuition for what works with their classes and many would use the strategies outlined and identified by research. But would all teachers use all strategies? Evidence based teachers (described by Geoff Petty) would use the research to identify strategies (such as above), they would try them out, and critically evaluate the impact in the classroom. Keep the strategies that work and throw away those that don’t.

For more detail into research in education look to the work of Prof Hattie in Visible Learning where 138 influences are discussed and ranked according to effectiveness.

Further reading I would recommend is Evidence Based Teaching by Geoff Petty which critically assesses and importantly shares resources and practical examples for how these strategies will look in the classroom.  His website corresponds to the book and is packed with resources to download.

Data analysis the easy way?

The blog by ICTEvangelist discusses school data and the need to ensure data is analysed in such a way as to make sense of what you are looking at. I couldn’t agree more and as a Head of Science data analysis has ranged considerably over the last few years from my own Excel spreadsheets with little guidance, Fischer Family Trust printouts (reams), 4Matrix which never seemed to work for Science as the various entries confused either it or, more likely, me.   In my previous post an in-house data manager was appointed who would respond to requests from one and all – if you wanted to know how many boys on Free School Meals (FSM) were targeted a grade C, had attendance over 80% and achieved a grade C then that information was provided the same day. Now that’s spoilt!

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Clearly, data requires analysis and senior, middle leaders and class teachers need to respond to the findings whether they be positive or not. But the danger is paralysis by analysis and often there is just so much information that responding in a meaningful and useful way can be difficult.

The method I like to use may seem too simple, which is what I initially thought when Steve Garnett delivered this on his course (How to be an Outstanding Subject Leader, which I highly recommend), but I have since shared this with other middle and senior leaders and it has been well received, and I still use it four years later.

This is a great activity in a subject meeting: Staff are provided with a blank version of this graph – they then plot the data for an examination class – target vs actual grade. They can use initials to identify students, use different symbols for gender, and annotate for FSM if required. Points on the line are on target, below the line below target, and above the line above target.

class evaluation

Staff then identify pockets of underachievement, whether it be lack of A*/A, or girls / boys missing targets for example, for their own classes and as a department common issues or themes become apparent. Writing a team improvement plan then develops very easily, from the data, and staff in my experience have more ownership over what needs to be done.

Clearly, this is not a technique to be used beyond a single class analysis as it gets to busy for a whole year group but is a useful and possibly more simple method to look at your class results. I keep meaning to setup a spreadsheet to produce the graph for me – if I do then I will place a copy here.

Starters to calm OR Starters to energise

In my previous post Well begun is half done I presented three starters aiming to get students on task and engaged quickly. These starters could be described as energisers, great for classes that require that input of energy to get them going but not perhaps the best choice for a class who are already energised and require a more calming start to a lesson.
So, at the start of the lesson you can decide if you need to energise (resisting a Star Trek quote here) a class or to calm them down (resisting Harry Enfield reference here).
If energise is the answer then look to my previous post or try this one from Talk Less Teaching another great book from Osiris Educational.
The Walking Chocolate Bar as described by the authors Wallace & Kirkman requires students to fill in an eight square table with facts about the topic under discussion by circulating in the room and speaking to peers. This is great to ascertain prior knowledge or to review at the end of a topic. My year 9s used this to great effect this week for the topic of Respiration, although they were mightily peeved on discovery that no chocolate was actually involved.
Another example works especially well if your lesson involves a diagram – in pairs ask one student to look at the diagram on your computer screen, they have to memorise and describe to partner back at desk to draw. They are allowed up to the view the diagram a total of five times. Then compare drawn picture to actual. The activity can also be done with students back to back where one student has the diagram and the other draws.

If calming is your choice then Talk Less Teaching has another suggestion: Students imagine the lesson as a flight – at the start they fill in their boarding pass identifying three key things they learnt last lesson and one thing they need / want to find out. Follow this up at end of lesson with the landing Card as a plenary. This activity worked very well with my Year 7s work on Forces (balanced / unbalanced forces) recently.
Another example is to use an errors list – produce your own set of common errors identified by marking books or use examiner’s reports for GCSE and A level. List common errors in a list and mix in correct statements relating to the topic. Students have to identify and correct the errors.
Finally, from the classic The Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis is the activity Hierarchies. Here, get students to draw a pyramid – ask students to read a text, watch a video, or a Science demonstration – they have find the big idea and write this in the peak of the pyramid. The main points go in the next layer down and then the real details in the base of the pyramid. This stops students being passive during these type of activities.

If you want it then put a ring on it!

Twitter is a constant source of inspiration with innovative and inspiring teachers sharing their best practice and ideas. Recently, a colleague re-tweeted @wheeler_sally’s idea for keyword key rings and I was inspired to create my own initially for AQA GCSE Science BL1. Here is my handwritten initial attempt:


I think this is a great resource for students – I can envisage asking students to fill in the appropriate card as a plenary at the end of a lesson, and with homework tasks to complete those topics already covered. Or even to complete a card ahead of it being taught for a flipped learning approach.

I have created a pdf file for each of the units BL1, CH1, PH1 covering GCSE Science A – I have ordered 100 key rings from eBay for £2.30 (inc delivery) and next week will ask reprographics to print out the Biology topics onto card, to then cut out the cards, and hole punch. Students will then have the responsibility and fiddly job of adding the cards to the keyring as I hand out the cards for the topics covered so far.

If student feedback is good then I will create files for Additional Science and post here.

Learning Cycle Lesson Plan

Following on from some fantastic CPD delivered by Alan Jervis, a colleague (Mr Robinson) and I were inspired to develop the learning cycle that was discussed into our own lesson planning tool. This has been well received in both interview lessons and recent lesson observations. I have a copy in my planner to help remind me of some of the aspects it is far too easy to forget. Forgive the wine / alcohol references in the plan but most teachers like wine 🙂


The cycle: Every lesson should include / start with assessment of prior knowledge, which can easily be combined with a starter activity as found in a previous post, they can be used to energise a class, or calm them down depending on the class being taught.

The learning outcome may take various forms such as WALT, WILF, All Most Some, or if appropriate, success criteria – my advice is to follow your own school policy. However, always share what you are trying to achieve in whatever form it may be. I have always found Blooms taxonomy helps and when possible try to hang a grade against what we are trying to achieve i.e. if we can do this you will be working at A grade.

The first three parts feels like any other lesson plan I have used but what makes this stand out for me are the next steps: Pouring In, Fermenting, Pouring Out, and Decanting. Pouring in is any activity which imparts knowledge, or allows students to access the knowledge, such as an information hunt (Teachers Toolkit pg 118). Next, students follow an activity to use the information in some way – this corrected practice (Geoff Petty) is an opportunity to develop their skills, and the teacher can get feedback on whether the pouring in has gone as expected. This corrected practice allows Pouring Out to take place – students demonstrate what they have learnt. And finally, decanting where misconceptions and blind spots are identified to inform future planning. Questioning should play a big part in this.

Around the cycle my colleague and I (clearly influenced by the 5 min lesson plan) built areas that we felt were useful or necessary because it is required e.g. we include literacy and numeracy because these are a statutory requirement in Wales.

I include a ppt of the lesson plan if anyone wants to use / adapt for their own use: learning_cycle_lesson_plan_2

I hope you find it useful.

Well begun is half done – Three Engaging Starters

This week I contributed to a session entitled “Engaging Starters” at my school by sharing three activities to start a lesson. These activities are started as pupils enter the room, require minimal explanation (indeed when used a second time they require no introduction), encourage pupils to collaborate, to peer teach, self and peer assess, and is engaging and enjoyable. The task Switch Switch I picked up on an NQT course run by Alan Jervis of Dragonfly Training back in 2004, and Linking just last year when Mr Jervis came to my school.


The task: You write keywords relating to the topic onto flip chart paper and fix to walls (enough for pupils to work in pairs ideal but three’s if space an issue). Each pair is given a pen and challenged to draw links between keywords with the tricky bit they have to write on the line why they have made the link.

This can be used at the start of a topic to assess prior knowledge, or at the end of a topic, but it is best used with both so you can demonstrate progress. I have also used this as starter and plenary to show progress in a single lesson.

Here are some examples:

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You can extend this activity by having pupils move to the next pair’s page to assess, improve and feedback (especially at the end of a unit where each group has a different topic), or pupil A from each pair moves on to be taught by pupil B. Pupil As then return and teach pupil B.

This can be set up in previous lesson by having pupil identify the key words and create the sheet themselves. Alternatively you can put the keywords onto A4 to do individually or even provide list and ask pupils to scatter them onto page in book and start linking.

Switch Switch

The task: Pupils are each given a card with a key question and answer on entry to class. They circulate and who ever they meet ask their question – they should allow the pupil to attempt an answer but then read out the correct answer. The pupil answering then asks their own question in the same manner and they switch questions. This continues and potentially pupils can experience 30 key questions and answers in a very short space of time. It really encourages pupils to remember the correct answers as they want to get it right and they may see the same questions several times. As the teacher you are free to circulate and listen to responses, encourage pupils to expand answers, and even deliver some additional questions based on responses.

This can be used to assess prior knowledge, at the end of a topic, prior to an assessment, or as a three minute motivator as featured in Engaging Learners. The only issue I have had with this is when pupils are not keen to venture outside friendship groups but some chivvying along helps. Pupils who would rarely answer questions in front of the whole class often thrive with this activity as the audience is so small.

Here are some examples for GCSE Diet & Exercise; GCSE Respiration; and Year 7 topic What is Science?

Homework: Give pupils a template and ask them to make three questions each (this should cover any pupils absent when set or failed to complete). They are even more motivated when they have made this resource although you have to check answers are correct!

This activity can be used repeatedly during a topic (although too often would be boring) but its a great activity and my favourite of the three here.

Peer to Peer

The Task: Students collaborate on answering a key question on a topic which you have written onto flip chart paper and fixed to wall, they then either move in pairs to the next (different) question and read / correct and add to the answer, or you can split the pairs into A and B to have Bs teach As from different pairs.

Here are some examples:

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I do not give pairs enough time to completely finish the first question so each group definitely has to assess another groups work and add to complete the question. I have found this activity especially good at producing model answer for the dreaded 6 mark questions in Science.

To take this further you can take pictures of the completed work and create a video on YouTube as I have done here: http://youtu.be/TNiLITyyYEQ

Pupils are then given a QR code to view this which they stick in books (this at the end of Year 9 topic Photosynthesis).

Angry Birds Investigation

I am sure I’m not the first to hit upon the popularity of the Angry Birds as a teaching hook but I wanted to share this investigation as it has proven popular and I have got some great Science out of the Year 6 (transition) students in previous years and current Year 7s.

On entry to class the angry birds music is playing and I choose several students to have a go at one of the multitude of Angry Birds games I have installed on my iPad. Whilst playing I get students to describe the factors they can control to alter the trajectory of the bird. From there we go to the homemade “catapult” I have set up using an upturned stool, elastic material, and a sponge ball.

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We identify all of the factors that could effect the distance the “Angry Bird” will travel and elicit making a fair test by only changing one of these variables, and identifying what we can do to control the others. The booklet I have made to accompany this investigation can be found here  and this is the PowerPoint. We spent one lesson planning and making preliminary trials with students experimenting with Newton meters, rulers, and protractors to determine the best approach to ensure consistency.  2014-10-02 13.01.43 2014-10-02 12.49.33

The following lesson pupils collected results (developing in booklet) – we stopped several times to discuss issues arising and how to make changes (and to not be scared to) to the method they had decided on. Our success criteria concerned collecting a full set of results (with repeats) whilst controlling as many variables as we reasonably could. Some students focussed on the angle as the independent variable, with force / distance of pull a close second.

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Lesson 3 was centred around analysis of results and drawing conclusions, although some groups still needed to collect further data. I provided students with the axis and scale drawn onto graph for them but in retrospect this took away the challenge for some and I need to stretch my more able students in this aspect.

Reflection was the focus for lesson 4 and identifying what went well and changes that would / should be made if repeated are the usual questions we ask. This is also the area where most are usually given least time to develop and this is apparent at GCSE level during the ISA – I am determined to develop this with the new KS3 curriculum.

Metacognition or learning to learn (from Building Learning Power (BLP)) strategies are attempts to get students to think about their own learning explicitly – what strategies or steps did they take in their own learning to complete the investigation? They identify their strengths in completing a task and build a range of methodologies they can call upon when completing another. In the booklet I include some possible ways to encourage students to start this process. It’s effectiveness, as reported by The Sutton Trust (http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/), is high (+8 months by their measure).

Learning Grids

This is my first blog…..

Professional reading is really taking off in my present school, it counts towards CPD providing an impact can be shown in the classroom, and a book club started by a colleague is well attended. The book we have started with is called Outstanding Teaching: Engaging Learners by Griffith and Burns (http://tinyurl.com/o9re4eu). The book is full of activities that can be used in the classroom with an aim to creating flow – becoming lost in learning. Flow is defined in the book as the state when high skill levels meets high challenge – students lead their own learning and teacher input is minimal (the book recommends three minutes to provide instructions to the class)!

With this in mind I have focussed initially on the use of learning grids as an activity to create flow. The example grid here What is Science? was created for my Year 7 Science class. I filled each cell with either a key word, safety symbol, or example science equipment. Students worked in pairs during the activity, rolling the dice to determine which cell in the grid they land on. On reflection I would recommend foam dice (as the book does) as the clatter of plastic dice was not ideal. In my first lesson with the class, after establishing the seating plan, I gave out the grids and a dice for each pair – the instructions were to explain as fully as possible the contents of the cell they landed on. If a student could not explain a particular cell then the old adage of the 4Bs (brain, book, buddy, boss) was used and the resources available to look answers up were explained. I considered the activity a success as the class enjoyed it, I could establish prior knowledge, and it immediately set the tone of student lead, peer teaching which I am trying to develop.

I have produced other grids for Year 8 Geology, Year 9 Photosynthesis, and GCSE Immunity & Disease and they have also gone down very well with each class although the simple definitions I am asking for is not as challenging as I would like and differentiation is not there! It worked well when I asked each pair to role for a cell twice – they were challenged to define / explain each cell but also to explain how one cell linked to another – this could be compare and contrast or a cause and effect relationship. This added more challenge to the task.

More recently, I have created grids (the students are getting used to using them making teacher talk even less) to include cells containing a question mark (students have to select a past paper question and answer in pairs), and a cell with EXAMINER (students have to peer assess using the marking criteria another groups answers). Here is an example Learning Grid where these are included in the Immunity and Disease topic from AQAs BL1. I am impressed with the number of GCSE past questions my KS4 classes are being exposed to and their confidence in answering them is really growing already.

I will be trying out some of the other uses of learning grids suggested by Engaging Learners. Next week I will challenge students to create a concept map using the learning grids – they role for a cell and they have to add the contents into a concept map for the topic – it seems a great way to build links in their understanding.

HOMEWORK – Providing students with a blank grid Template and tasking them with creating their own grid on a topic strikes me as a suitable homework activity and one that will build up a bank of resources to use with other classes and of course to share in this blog.