As mentioned in my previous blog (Year 6), here is the Excel data sheet, free for your school to use. The sole purpose of this design was to make data input easier for teachers whilst providing all the mock SAT’s data for leaders to analyse over time, as well as a handy overview in prep for the big day!
There are 4 files required (see Downloads at the bottom):
Overview – SLT’s edition;
Reading – Teacher edition;
Maths – Teacher edition;
and GPS – Teacher edition.
This will contain all the scores for all the tests across the year.
In this workbook, you will need to input all the pupils’ names, class name or number, KS1 data and additional contextual information e.g. PP, SEND, and EAL. I would suggest arranging the children in alphabetical order for each class just for ease.
The above information will automatically transfer to the Teacher edition workbooks.
Once the Teacher edition workbooks calculate the scaled scores, you will need to input these directly onto this overview sheet – it will calculate the percentages as soon as the data is inputted.
The writing data and the official SATs’ data will also need to be inputted directly onto this sheet. Once you have all the data, in the combined column, you will need to enter the Y (Yes) or N (No) whether they have achieved combined or not; it will then work out the percentages for you. Note – the GDS combined will need to be worked out manually.
Each cell must have a number inputted to calculate all pupils. For example, if you have 30 children in the class and all 30 children are meant to take the test, then even if they were absent, you MUST give them a score. On this overview sheet, input a 0 and this pupil will be used in the calculation.
If you do not want a pupil to be calculated for your percentages, then leave the cell BLANK.
This is useful if one class has 20 children for example, then leave the other 10 cells blank and it will only calculate the percentages for the 20 children you have data for.
You will notice that the headings are colour-coded. Each colour code represents 1 half term’s worth of tests. For no particular reason, I have designated the following:
2017 test to Autumn 1;
2018 test to Autumn 2,
2019 test to Spring 1;
and 2022 test to Spring 2.
The yellow headings stand for predicted. This is where you may wish to update your predictions or targets across the year.
This tab does exactly what it says. It automatically provides the percentages for each subject, of each class, for each term, and the overall cohort percentage.
End of Year Final tab
This is for official SATs only. It saved us so much time understanding our results once we inputted our data. You will need to input the scores and Writing data on the Scores sheet and then the overall percentages will be shown on this page.
Use only Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 and Class 4 tabs
Once the SLT edition form is initially completed, teachers will be able to see the pupils on each of the Reading, Maths and GPS workbooks.
All that is required here is for teachers to input their raw data scores for each part of the Mock SATs e.g. raw score for Arithmetic Paper 1, Reasoning Paper 2 and Reasoning Paper 3, and that’s it! The scaled scores are worked out for you already. These scores now need to be inputted on the SLT overview sheet to be calculated.
Note – for no particular reason, the scaled scores conversions are for 2017 onwards.
For these documents, if you do not want any pupils or cells calculated in the percentages, then leave the cells blank (only the total column should say 0 which will make the scaled score column blank).
I hope this proves useful and saves you and your colleagues some valuable time.
Using the link below, download all four files. To download, either click download in the top left corner, or highlight (by clicking in the space and dragging the cursor over the four documents) all four excel documents > right click > download.
In your download folders, it will save to a folder called Onedrive. From here, you will be able to drag this folder where ever you need it and all four documents (still within it) should still correspond when you open them all.
Click “Grant Access” when prompted.
Click “Update” if prompted.
If you find any issues or there is anything I can be of help with, feel free to get in contact.
Working in Year 6 can seem daunting for some, especially if it’s your first time. Some feel their subject knowledge isn’t good enough and that the pressure can be too much; others worry about the behaviour that can come with teaching older children. However, from my own experience and with working/ supporting a number of Year 6 teachers in recent years, I can tell you that for most, they couldn’t imagine teaching any other year group.
Working and leading on this year group, it has become somewhat second nature to me, and although there’s always something new, having a good grasp of what’s to come and what you need to be prepared for throughout the year will put you and your team in really good stead. The school academic year 2021/2022 was a triumphant year for my school’s Year 6s, especially since COVID-19, and having robust and strategic measures in place early on was instrumental to our success. For what I hope will be of use to many, I have detailed what I believe to be key points to considered throughout the year:
Lesson planning and subject knowledge
Parent information workshops/ meetings/ trips prep
*Scroll to the bottom of the page for a visual timeline
Whether this is something you have control over or not, it is still worth considering for future reference. Depending on school budget, some schools are able to offer an additional class for Year 6: this is extremely helpful as it reduces the adult-to-pupil ratio which allows more time to support those in need. If you have the option to regroup pupils, I would only do so in the best interest of balancing and splitting the needs across the year group to avoid specific ability-heavy classrooms.
What about setting?
Everyone has an opinion on this. I have worked in schools where we have set for core subjects, created base classes that are ability focused, and not set at all. I have also looked into research for this but unfortunately there isn’t really anything substantial to validate one option over the other, so in my experience, I have come to value that mixed ability should be the default choice initially. The reason for this is quite simple – children learn as much from us as they do their peers. In maths, I do advocate setting later on in the year, and for reading, possibly some focused grouping much closer to SATs.
Setting for maths usually happens in Spring term as we would have had two rounds of summative data from Autumn term plus the ongoing formative data that usually highlights this need. Maths is often very teacher-led and allows itself well to scaffolding and challenging similar needs en masse. But with reading, I’d be hesitant to group until a couple of weeks before SATs only with the intention to create a specific targeted focus group which would involve increased adult support in one class.
However, in writing, mixed ability all the way! In order to develop pupils’ vocabulary acquisition and to be confident in being coherent, they need to hear and learn from others. The higher-able pupils always love offering their ideas and actually, this in conjunction with yours, is what is needed to ignite excitement and engagement for all pupils (see my Invisible Lead Balloon blog, my Completing the Circuit blog and my Unboxing Vocabulary blog for some ideas). Then usually once a week/ fortnight (depending on the need), we would create a GD focus group where they can work with like-minded peers to challenge their ideas and syntax further whilst offering some wonderful phrases generated in the individual classrooms – this really does help breathe new life into their work.
So to sum up, I’d recommend mixed ability initially, with setting for maths in Spring term (perhaps a little earlier if needed), some grouping (if required) in reading and scheduled GD focus groups in writing.
Lesson planning and subject knowledge
Like every other teacher, the hard work is in the preparation. Work collaboratively with your team and support one another with planning. Collaborative planning is a must in my opinion as it’s constantly a form of CPD that provides consistency, clarity and sustains high-quality throughout the year group: every child deserves the same educational offer. If you work in a single-form entry, you can still work with other year groups creating a space for challenge and new ideas. Across the year it can get tough so having colleagues to bounce ideas off is extremely helpful and valuable.
Although there is a lot of demand on Reading, Writing, Maths and GPS, it is fundamental to stick to a broad and balanced curriculum. In doing so, it will help offset the pressures and extra efforts required in these core subjects but also allows pupils the opportunities to work on other aspects that they love. Continue to plan in your WOW days, your hooks, experiences and trips but be more mindful to plans these well in advance (especially your residential trip) to ensure the busy weeks that are to come do not distract your efforts into planning these out. Trust me, it does pay off to plan ahead.
Worried about subject knowledge? Well, don’t be. There are plenty of history and geography topics that many of us are expected to teach with little to no prior knowledge of these; yet researching as part of your planning is often all that’s needed – the same with core subjects too. I’d recommend joining teacher forums via social media (Year 5/6 teacher groups on Facebook and Twitter) as there are many like-minded teachers requiring help and/or in-need of some inspiration; it can be a really useful platform. There is often a lot of guidance in CGP books (or other similar workbook providers) as well as guidance in the national curriculum and SATs mark schemes. Also speak with your colleagues and subject leaders too as there is bound to be expertise within your school who can also direct you to useful websites; for example, White Rose premium and SATs companion offers guidance and detailed explanations. If you still require further support then don’t be afraid to branch out to other schools within your Trust or Local Authority as there will be many willing to share and help. I am always willing to help and share my experience and knowledge base without any judgement as I remember what it was like for me, so please ask – it’s for the benefit of the children!
Parent workshops/ meetings/ trips prep
Just as the children are, parents can become anxious with concerns around the pressures and expectations on them and their child, so it is important to address these early on. Depending on how your school communicates with parents will often dictate how you do this but in short, schedule a meeting in the first couple of weeks to let them know what is in store e.g. SATs expectations – the support in place; what key terms means; home-learning opportunities.
Secondary schools tend to have open evenings very early on so although it is not usually the responsibility of primary schools to inform, it is really helpful to let them know how and where they can access secondary school dates. Usually, secondary school admission forms need to be completed by 31st October via the Local Authority in order to be considered for the first round of allocation. As a lot of admissions are now completed online, there may be many families who have limited to no online access. When I worked in a school with high EAL and low socio-economic background, we offered IT support workshops for these families so they could complete the form in school – this was the first year all 120 Year 6 pupils had an admission form submitted.
With parents knowing what to expect thanks to your support, by the time it comes to the first parents’ evening, you will be able to provide specific quantitative data from the mock SATs. By the second parents’ evening, a trend will be evident and so this can be very useful in either reassuring the parent that the support in school and at home is working, or conversely, that more support in school and at home is needed.
In addition to this, if possible, invite parents to workshops for subject-specific support so they can support their child using the same methods and approaches as taught in school.
If you are offering a residential trip, be prepared to factor the planning of this in at the start of the year. Letters should ideally have gone out to the Year 5s in July so parents can begin to save. You will then usually need to plan in a time to explain the residential trip well in advance so they can have any questions answered. From here, you ideally need to get all risk assessments, staffing and itineraries completed as soon as possible as it only gets busier towards the end of Spring.
The SATs are only for GPS, Reading and Maths. There are 2 x GPS (Grammar & Punctuation paper and a spelling paper); 1 x reading paper; and 3 x maths papers (Arithmetic Paper 1, Reasoning Paper 2 and Reasoning Paper3). I have found it helpful to do a mock paper each half term as it allows the children to become more familiar with the process, thus being more confident on the day, but also the papers act as a diagnostic measure to inform us of the areas that they need more support with as well as ‘test technique’: knowing how to manage their time, what to do if they are stuck, and offer familiarity to those pupils who have access to additional arrangements. Currently available to download are 2016 Sample, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 SATs papers. My recommendation would be to schedule a year’s sets of papers to each half term of Autumn 1 & 2 and Spring 1 & 2. I feel this is a good balance to be informative whilst not being overkill. It also means you have leftover questions from the remaining papers that you can use in your planning. There are some suggestions for scheduling them in a particular order as some years were seen to be more difficult than others but that is entirely up to you. Be mindful though, to print, bind/ staple and provide answer booklets for each subject for all pupils is big task so I’d suggest sharing this load with your colleagues at least a week before they’re needed.
To help create a buzz for these papers, we were able to offer the children morning activities and breakfast for each week of mock papers in Spring 1 and 2. The children absolutely loved it! They arrived at 8am and took part in 30 minutes of fun and games with the teachers and their friends. This was great to get all pupils in on time as well as waking the children up and reenergising them for the day. This was then followed by a nutritional breakfast of both hot and cold food. This is something we will continue again and may even offer it in Autumn term too.
Writing – moderation
How you teach writing will be dependent on your school. For my school, we follow a 3-week writing unit. This allows us to build more than sufficient evidence whilst ensuring we have a clear map of all the different genres and purposes of writing. The local authorities are required to moderate a sample of 25% of their schools, which works out that most schools will be externally moderated every 3 – 4 years, so it is worth getting to grips with what is expected and ensure you have a robust overview that ensures your pupils have the opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. If you are selected for external moderation, you are usually notified by the end of May (just before half term) with a morning or afternoon date agreed for the first 3-weeks of June. We were moderated last year (2021/2022) and had all of our judgements agreed with high complements to the standard and range of work. You will need to be familiar with the Teaching Assessment Framework for KS2 (TAF) and refer to this constantly to ensure your pupils have evidence of this. It is important that you schedule moderation windows throughout the year, at least once a half-term. This should involve internal moderation with colleagues and your assessment lead, and inter-school moderations within Trusts and local authorities to ensure your validity of judgements are accurate whilst also offering useful next steps to bring back into the classroom. Being a Local Authority moderator myself for KS1 and KS2, it is extremely useful to have someone familiar with the process so do get in contact with the Local Authority to either become a moderator yourself or to work with someone who is.
Your school may use their own wording when tracking data e.g. On Track; however, the official terminology that is reported to the DfE at the end of the year is whether the child is working pre-key stage (PKS), working towards the expected standard (WTS), working at the expected standard (EXS) or working above the expected standard (GDS).
Raw score refers to the amount of marks the children got correct out of the total possible amount e.g. they managed 25 correct out of 50 in the reading paper. However, without getting too complicated in how it is calculated, the DfE along with the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) convert these raw scores to scaled scores (a score that can be used to compare one test to another taking into consideration the difficulty of the test).
A scaled score of 100 means they have passed the expected standard; a score of 110 means they are working above the expected standard. If you look at the 2022 KS2 scaled score conversion table, you can see that to pass the reading paper, pupils needed to score a minimum of 29 out of 50, yet in 2017 pupils needed 26 out of 50. Note – there is no specific mention that 110 is Greater Depth Standard (GDS); however, most schools tend to treat it as such. These scores are only for the SATs papers; for writing (annually) and science (bi-annually), this is teacher judgement only and so you will need to submit the appropriate code for each pupil via the Primary Assessment Gateway (your Headteacher will have access to this).
You need a good data tracker to help your analyse trends and identify your next steps to meet your targets. Although we use a data system, I have created a bespoke tracking sheet that calculates percentages and tracks the children’s progress throughout the whole year which has been extremely valuable and insightful. It was also so helpful understanding the official SATs data quickly – after 10 minutes of inputting it in, we had all the percentages for each subject and combined!). If this sounds like something that would be useful to you and your school, then feel free to read more about it and download it here: ‘Year 6 data tracker‘. But whatever tracking system you use, you need it to track each pupil closely at regular intervals as this will greatly inform your groupings (along with your teacher judgement) and any additional interventions/ booster groups you decide to implement later down the line.
Once this is all in place, you will need to know the pupils’ KS1 results for each subject and the cohort’s combined percentage (did they get expected or above in all 3 subjects: maths, reading AND writing?) as this informs you of your progress targets. This is used to inform your school’s targets as they look to improve year-on-year. Many schools utilise the Fischer Family Trust (FFT) website to inform them of their cohort’s targets based on their KS1 data too. From this, you will need to make your predictions of who you suspect will achieve Expected and Greater-Depth and can then monitor throughout the year.
Extended learning opportunities – home learning, interventions and booster groups
Home learning can be a really good way to offer additional practice for pupils whilst also empowering their parents and carers to feel more involved with supporting their child. I have found companies like CGP (who offer activity books) alongside online platforms (like SATs companion) have been really useful for home learning. Online platforms allow the teachers to set homework and track their progress which is great to accompany the efforts in school whilst also offering pupils the comfort in seeing their progress throughout the year. I would certainly recommend looking into offering something for home learning.
Pre- and post-interventions are part of practice and so should very much be part of your teaching and learning culture, for example, during early morning work; however, despite the demands of Year 6, it is imperative that a broad and balanced curriculum is still maintained. Do your very best not to take them out of other subjects, especially the ones they enjoy, as they need a break and we don’t want them resenting coming to school. SATs are important, but pupils’ wellbeing is always first and foremost!
Booster groups can certainly generate debate amongst professionals, but ultimately, if you are supported and happy to offer them, and pupils have the choice to attend, I can’t see any problem with it. The Year 6s love coming to them as they feel like it’s somewhat a taste of secondary school working with different teachers. We allow pupils to bring snacks too to create a positive atmosphere for the sessions. These often start towards the end of Autumn 2 as before- & after-school clubs and continue right up to SATs in May. Most pupils who attended felt a lot more prepared and confident when they took their official SATs.
Preparing for SATs week
SATs are usually in May and last for one week (although there is a two week window for timetable variations). Last year (2021/2022), GPS x 2 was on Monday; Reading on Tuesday; Maths 1 and 2 on Wednesday; and Maths 3 on Thursday. But, for all of this to run smoothly, you must be familiar with what is expected of schools. Below is a list of the essential documentation you will need to know to ensure your school meet the correct deadlines and adhere to the expectations:
Engagement model – pupils working below the level of the national curriculum and not engaging in subject specific study.
The DfE outline the provisions allowed for certain pupils to ensure their specific learning need(s) does not inhibit them in demonstrating their knowledge. Using 2022 Key Stage 2 Access Arrangements Guidance will help you know what arrangements certain pupils are entitled to; your mock practices will allow your pupils and staff, time to become familiar with them.
In terms of administrating the papers, use 2022 Key Stage 2 test administration guidance to ensure the mock SATs papers are carried out as expected for the real thing – this helps to reduce anxiety as pupils become familiar with the process. It is also a great opportunity for adults to know what they can and cannot do in different situations e.g. what happens if a fire alarm goes off.
Throughout the year, there are deadlines for when information needs to be submitted, e.g. the attendance register for your pupils; applying for certain access arrangements etc. So refer to 2022 Key Stage 2 Assessment and reporting arrangements in conjunction with the other documents.
The SATs papers are usually delivered towards the end of April. You must have a lockable cupboard where the papers can be kept to ensure there is no maladministration. The Local Authority do carry out random spot checks of schools to ensure the integrity of the papers are not compromised so be sure to be extra diligent and document any interactions with the papers e.g. receiving the delivery, checking them every so often etc. Only certain members of staff should know and have access to this. Refer to the documentation above and How to keep test materials secure to know how to do this. I recommend printing off a sign in and out sheet so that when the papers are checked periodically to ensure they have not be tampered with, you can record who has checked and when; be sure to have a witness with you every time.
For any pupils working at pre-key stage or anyone who your Headteacher feels should not be taking the SATs, you are unable to disapply them – this will need to be recorded on the Primary Assessment Gateway and parents must be informed. A pupil can take some of the subjects, for example, a pupil could take the Maths test but could be disapplied for the Reading paper; however, they cannot be disapplied from part of a subject. For example, they couldn’t just do the arithmetic paper and then not do the Reasoning papers, they must complete all of the maths papers.
Prior to SATs week, you will also need to arrange the timetable for the week and the staff helping. As long as you complete the exams on the designated days, you should not need to apply for a timetable variation, but all of this is explained in 2022 Key Stage 2 test administration guidance. However, prior to the SATs, all staff involved must have received training in knowing how to administer the papers correctly. I have attached the slides that I have used in the past below – you are welcome to use and adapt for yourselves. Ensure you keep hold of the records that the staff involved have signed to confirm their training.
During the SATs week, it is recommended to invite governors and colleagues from other schools to quality assure the process and ensure all guidelines are followed.
The relief of SATs is over but the pursuit for pupils to be masters of learning and obtain long-term memory continues. Of course, you may still be selected for external moderation so the evidence for writing must continue. If secondary schools haven’t already, they will be requesting transition information for all of your pupils, along with dates to visit the children in-person or on-zoom. Some schools use provide you with different transition documents so give yourself some time to familiarise yourself with what they need; work with your office team and Inclusion team to help as this can be quite a taxing job to do by yourself. If you’re worried about meeting their deadlines, speak with the secondary schools; they’re usually very flexible and understand how busy this time is for primary schools.
This is also the time where behaviour can bubble. It is very common for children to perceive SATs as the end point so be sure not to allow standards to slip. Use secondary schools as the next goal to ensure they are working hard for when they meet teachers on their transition days. Set challenges and competitions each week in the other subjects too to sustain their interest and compensate for the core subject focus earlier on in the year. You may also want to invite external agencies like the local police, community workers, mental health services and others, to remind pupils of what is available to them and what they should remember as they go on to be independent citizens of the community.
While you’re continuing with this, assuming you are working in Year 6 again next year, you will now want to be working closely with the Year 5 team to begin sorting groups and preparing data targets for the September start. It is important that you take the successes from this year and set them in stone but also reflect on how this year could have been better and be sure to set this plan up – you’ll thank yourself later. Alongside this comes the finalisation of leavers’ celebrations.
The residential you have been planning will not be too far away now and hopefully all that earlier preparation has helped. The children and parents also love being able to purchase hoodies and leavers’ books. I’d suggest ordering the hoodies as soon as possible so the children can enjoy wearing them to school in their final term (if permitted in your school). Leavers’ books are also a good way for all teachers to pre-write their messages with space at the end for signatures – this saves a lot of time in the last few days whilst also acting as a wonderful and smart souvenir the children can cherish. We also have a Year 6 production as well as an outdoor extravaganza day later on in Summer 2 (to give them all something else to work towards). This year, we also held a school prom for the Year 6s which they absolutely loved – they all dressed up smart, had lots of photos taken and got to dance their hearts out. By doing this on the last few days, you can reuse a lot of the decoration and balloons for your leavers’ assembly.
The leavers’ assembly was a great way to celebrate the children’s journey with their parents. In addition to the specific prestigious trophies (‘most inspiring’, ‘the reader’, ‘the dancer’ etc., voted for by both adults and children), each pupil received a commemorative gold medal with the school year and name engraved. We had heart-felt messages from the teachers and then finished with a song before heading out for our traditional end-of-school-countdown where the children got to throw their pre-made paper graduation hats in the air. It was a wonderful send off that we will certainly do again.
You’ve got this
Without a doubt, Year 6 is certainly challenging and the stakes are high. However, it is an excellent opportunity to really put your expertise to the test as I am sure you will discover areas of your teaching that you may not have realised you had. You will finish the year having a firm grasp of what the entire primary school journey is leading to which is extremely powerful for your career. But, to compensate some of the challenging days, the glorious opportunity to spend quality time with your pupils towards the end of the year ready for their big send off is truly remarkable; it is a feeling of satisfaction like no other. Embrace your year ahead – you’ve got this!
I get it, and for most reading this, I appreciate I am preaching to the converted. Yet, fascinatingly, I still hear many of my teaching colleagues operating without them despite advocating their effectiveness. I am aware that teaching does not lend itself to just one effective approach but considering the technological alternatives, cost and ease of use, I really advocate for school leaders to consider investing in visualisers for their school. I appreciate some of the barriers to this investment is usually down to school funds but quite often, the pursuit for change can fall under a category of what I like to refer to as education’s subconscious cycle of pedagogical dogma: we continue to do what we do, in the way that we do it, because that’s what we’ve always done! If you’re looking to enhance classroom practice and have not invested in visualisers, I’d strongly recommend doing so.
There are a number of useful blogs that offer strategies advocating the effective use of visualisers. And as much as I see the value in them, my intention is to capture and convey to you the impact we have noticed since incorporating this pedagogical learning aid within my own school setting, highlighting how this has provided teachers with greater flexibility to plan, deliver and address learning needs in conjunction with their own innate and developed awareness of how pupils learn.
At the time of writing, we are currently in our 2nd year of using the visualisers. Previously, we were heavily reliant on slides/ PPT and class whiteboards. When modelling, we would either animate each step (which took a very long time to plan), present the outcome already completed or model on the whiteboard (with our backs to the children and our bodies blocking part of the model as we worked our way across the board). It was excellent for easily organising and sharing images and videos, but quite often, due to a variety of constraints, content was being read from the boards and overpowered by too much useful information that together, was ineffective. Our teachers spent much of their time juggling how to achieve impact whilst being efficient with their time, but yet more often than not, felt somewhat de-skilled as they felt compelled to rely on the screen. Just for the record, none of the above were ever used as excuses and our teachers worked incredibly hard to provide their very best; however, as leaders, surely we could cut planning (workload) time, enhance delivery and empower our skilled practitioners… thus, welcoming the visualiser.
Let’s start off with the easy bit: what can it be used for? I have listed some of a few that I have used and have seen colleagues use. This list is not exhaustive and there are many more ideas available online; however, for the rest of the blog, I intend to focus more on the impact with the knowledge of how pupils learn, rather than offering just perhaps variability to teaching (which does have merit too).
Drawing – bringing a concept to life (e.g. modelling how Earthquakes cause Tsunamis); how to hold a pencil when shading.
Zooming in and out on models – focusing small before broadening out and vice versa.
Mind mapping – creating links.
Displays – enlarging modelled work from the visualiser for displays, then using it to inform retrieval opportunities (this acts as a useful cue for the first retrieval process – see Retrieval for Learning blog for more info).
Writing – modelling thought processes; collaborative writing.
Editing – generic as well as modelling with specific work.
Celebrating – sharing successes and allowing pupils to take ownership and invite feedback themselves.
Reading – following teacher read; modelling strategies like skimming and scanning; annotating.
Presentation – how to use a ruler, lining work up, underlining key sections.
Zoom meetings – remote learning to model the above; in-class assemblies (adjusting the angle so the children can be seen).
Staff meetings – subject specific examples (Early Maths training) as well as highlighting key documents (the visualiser was excellent in helping me give a brief explanation how Long Term Memory works when delivering staff CPD).
This teaching tool allows teachers to maintain full control on how new material is presented and used. With the awareness of Cognitive Load Theory, we have full control to manage the effects, paying particular attention to the modality effect. Through the delivery, teachers can ensure they draw/ model/ write/ annotate only the essentials whilst accompanying it with spoken word. We have the option to capture the key words from our speech and show how it links to what is being presented, ensuring it doesn’t become ephemeral like the rest of our talk.
Live modelling appears to be extremely effective. Think of a time where you have needed a food recipe, or wanted to create origami, or have watched a Youtube clip for DIY tips. Although reading instructions isn’t impossible, we seem to learn quicker and make greater links from videos/ live modelling; so why not incorporate this into the classroom too?! Being able to use the materials the children will be using helps to reduce the cognitive load for pupils as they make transferrable links between what they have seen to what they are using/doing themselves; for example, teaching Reception children a counting principle like stable-order principle, it is more effective to use the exact printed pieces/ resources that the children will then be using.
The visualiser is planted on top of a moveable stand (see link at the bottom to the one we use). Initially, we had it positioned next to the interactive board so that we could resume our normal teaching position; however, upon further exploration around the redundancy effect, modality effect and enhancing our classroom environments, we realised that we were in fact the very distraction to the children’s focus. We model crucial methods and show how key facts link yet our gestures and natural body movements constantly “compete for our pupils’ attention” (McCrea, 2017). So we moved the visualiser to the side of the class and what a difference! Whilst still ensuring all children are facing the front and maintaining concentration, they are now only presented with carefully chosen and specific visual stimuli that they need, accompanied with the auditory support: dual coding.
First and foremost, the children love coming up to the visualiser to present their work, like athletes to the podium. In tandem with our positive, supportive culture, the children welcome immediate and specific feedback from both their peers and teachers. It offers a personal touch that all of their peers can access, enhancing that sense of family and belonging where we all can see, promote and celebrate the progress in each other whilst genuinely wanting to help each other. It is wonderful to see.
It allows the teacher to clearly model the content, structure and presentation across everything we expect the children to do; it is particularly useful for non-examples and addressing potential misconceptions before they happen. Being able to zoom in and zoom out allows us to take into account the redundancy effect depending on the focus; for example, addressing incoherence within a sentence, we can zoom in from the whole paragraph onto the sentence in question, removing the extraneous load of the rest of paragraph and enhancing the sentence to the size of the class screen. When modelling the protractor, using a ruler or plotting coordinates, it is excellent to model how to actually mark X on a grid, or how to use the protractor accurately, zooming in and out on the different points. This level of thinking informs our planning as we deeply discuss and model collaboratively what exactly our teaching will look like; not just the content but the specificities of each process for successful learning e.g. moving from “model how to use a protractor” to “Model lining up the centre point, zooming in on 0 on the corners, and following the line markings parallel with the straight line”.
This brings me nicely onto our planning. Since the visualiser has now become embedded within our daily practice, we now dedicate planning time to discuss collaboratively how we can precisely use the visualiser effectively. As we have managed to reduce the planning demands, there is more time for teachers to now dedicate agreeing and modelling to each other what the method or process of modelling will look like exactly. This not only ensures consistency across the year group but enhances practice as we share and explore more effective and efficient models. The high levels of confidence and expertise of teaching is really evident across the school.
When visualisers were first introduced, although there was some resistance, it was mostly uncertainty around how this should be used and when. This was very indicative of where we were as a teaching collective but also an expected response to new technology being introduced. Yet, through staff meetings, team discussions, colleague-to-colleague support, the benefits of the visualiser was beginning to emerge and travel across school. Then, in conjunction with our CPD around our Teaching & Learning principles where we practiced what we preached (delivering sessions via the visualiser), teachers experienced first-hand the learning aid and thus, could see how the research could be transferred directly into the classroom. We are very much striving for “Informed Teacher Practice”, where teachers, informed by practice and research, have the autonomy to decide how best the curriculum should be delivered to their children; the visualiser is the gift that allows teachers to keep on gifting.
Since then, almost all teachers have said they do not miss the interactive touch boards as they feel they can achieve almost everything through the visualiser when it comes down to modelling. Rather than take my word for it, here are a few testimonials from our staff who have kindly taken the time to express the impact they have witnessed for themselves.
“Just sending over some feedback for the amazing visualisers! I cannot express enough how much impact the visualizer has had within the Art room so far this year, it is simply amazing and for me allows me to teach Art correctly and more in depth.
Without the visualiser the past few years I was having to teach sketching skills and basic art to the children on a whiteboard – as you can imagine is not the correct way, so this is such an amazing step for the children and myself.
Just the other day a child said to me ‘Miss …………. this is my favourite piece of Art!” I asked the child why and she said “it looks amazing!” So I said, “has the visualiser helped?” in which lots of children commented and said how it has helped them improve their Art skills, which is now proving in their amazing art work!
So thank you from me and all the children in Art!”
“I can only say I have seen a hugely positive impact from the visualisers since they were introduced. They give the children the opportunity to be able to focus on one thing at a time, instead of watching the adult too. The presentation of my class improved massively last year as they could clearly see what the expectation was, which ensured consistency across the class.”
“It truly doesn’t feel like just a year since we began using the visualizer software. It has already become a well-established part of my teaching style. It has also been a valuable tool that has given me the opportunity to reflect on the impact of the teaching and learning more. When I am in a supporting role, I am able to see the other side of it (what the children are seeing). This has proved highly beneficial as I have picked up on the smallest things like glares on the interactive whiteboards or there being no focus and more specifically that fact that right handers are at a loss when explicitly teaching handwriting and letter formation as their hand covers what the children need to see.”
“It’s been very useful, especially with modelling tasks and supporting with explicit teaching.
– love it! :)”
“Introducing the visualisers to the classroom has had a huge impact on my teaching, planning and delivery of learning.
When planning, I am always conscious of extraneous load on the children, meaning I do not want to overload countless slides with pointless information. Having the visualiser has worked hand in hand with this theory, ensuring I am utilising it in every aspect of the lesson.
The children have been able to maintain high expectations of presentation in books by mirroring my own ‘visualiser exercise book’ thus reducing room for error. This has had a huge impact when giving feedback as I am able to clearly and explicitly give whole class feedback based on my book analysis.
Additionally, the visualiser has had the largest impact on teaching and learning through modelling. I am able to explicitly model techniques and strategies to aid learning, as well as modelling my thought process and questioning the children/inviting them to participate.
Other ways I have used the visualiser:
Instant verbal feedback;
Using children’s work as a ‘good example’ (promoting self-efficacy);
Additionally, the children have thoroughly enjoyed using the visualiser themselves. Please see below their testimonies.
David – I love using the visualiser in art because the teacher can show us exactly what to do and what a good example looks like.
Ruby (uses hearing aids) – The visualiser is helpful because if my hearing aids do not work, I lip read but I can also clearly see exactly what I need to do.
Jessica – I think the visualiser is good to show presentation expectations. My presentation has improved because of it.
Izzy – It is helpful to our learning because we can see everything clearly.
Reece – It helps both children and teachers
Patryk – It is fun because in maths we can use it to show our own knowledge. Like when we used the place value counters.
Isabella- It’s good because you can feed back our spelling mistakes so we can correct them.
Ambi – I like doing ‘show and tell’ using the visualiser because then everyone can see what I am showing.”
McCrea, P. (2017) Memorable Teaching: Leveraging memory to build deep and durable learning in the classroom: 2 (High Impact Teaching).
These are the products we use and are very happy with them (there are other alternatives available online):
“Forgetting focuses remembering and fosters learning; remembering generates learning and causes forgetting; learning causes forgetting, begets remembering, and supports new learning.” Bjork (2015)
Our ultimate goal as teaching professionals is for children to acquire all the necessary learning, and more if possible, efficiently and securely. Having an understanding of the theories behind how the working memory works and how we build schema (assimilating and accommodating new learning) allows us to explore the most effective ways for the learner to obtain and consolidate new knowledge.
Daniel Willingham’s memory model provides a brilliant visual representation of how our mind retains and deals with new information; this links with Robert Bjork’s quote above; I understand it as learning causes forgetting, forgetting causes remembering, and remembering causes new learning. This remembering “part” is essential to ensure acquired knowledge can be easily brought back to memory: this is retrieval.
Retrieval strength and storage strength
Bjork (2015) refers to retrieval as a ‘memory modifier’ as using our memories can alter our memories. Think about how retrieving something more frequently than something else would alter the state of both of those items: one being more accessible and usable than the other.
Robert Bjork’s and Elizabeth Bjork’s Theory of disuse (1992) categorises an item in memory into two ‘strengths’: retrieval strength and storage strength. Retrieval strength refers to how quickly and accessible that item is to be recalled; the latter refers to how well that item has been learnt. So you might be thinking about the need to increase retrieval strength and storage strength; however, that is not necessary the case.
Bjork (2015) states that when something is accessed very often, little to no learning takes place. This could be largely down to recency. Therefore, if we use what we know about the benefits of forgetting and the importance of separating opportunities to retrieve through space and time, this will create desirable difficulties, thus, building storage strength which relates to permanent changes in learning.
Another consideration when planning retrieval tasks is to think about cues: context and state. Context refers to external cues (like environment and other external factors that supported the encoding of that knowledge) whereas state refers to internal cues (emotional, physical and mental state). Godden & Baddeley (1975) conducted an experiment where two groups had to memorise a series of words, one group being under water and the other on land. When recall took place in a different location (context) from where they had learnt (e.g. the scuba divers recalling on land), recall was poorer. Therefore, it’s worth considering the impact of their setting; for example, learning something in Science but then recalling it in Forest school, and vice versa. State cues could be how you’re feeling at the time of learning, considering your emotional, physical and mental state; therefore, returning to the same physiological and emotional state when a memory was formed can help recall that memory (White, 2003). Goodwin (1995) explains how it is not uncommon to hear stories of drinkers who stash alcohol or money while intoxicated and then can locate the hiding places once being intoxicated again.
Thinking about retrieval
Understanding the importance of prior learning and the pre-requisites is key for new learning to be built upon. Having this awareness better prepares us so that we can plan in specific questions, tests and tasks that activate a child’s prior learning. This can act as a desirable load demanding the individual to resurface the forgotten information, remembering it in more detail, and then applying it to the new learning. With this view, we should be seeing retrieval as ‘retrieval FOR learning’ as opposed to retrieval and learning; and what I mean by this is retrieval being seen as a separate entity, an isolated part of the lesson with no particular or evident links.
Now, in contrary to this, I do understand there is a lot of benefit in retrieving facts that are not linked with the lesson of that day; quite often, the use of ‘last day, last week, last term and last year’ quadrants can be useful in agreeing some kind of spacing algorithm across the school to support forgetting and remembering. However, the dangers following this approach is that this can constrain teachers to neglect many opportunities to retrieve prior learning as the pre-requisites for the day’s new learning intention. And I believe this premise greatly correlates with a strong, well-threaded curriculum.
Let me talk to you about my refined purpose for planning retrieval (aside from the obvious: to strengthen memory).
Consider the diagram above (Figure 1) as a representation of my thinking. The elongated bar at the bottom represents a year group from September to July; in this instance, let’s say Year 1. Now, during this period, they are taught a new concept (in yellow). If we could just focus on retaining this information, it would be wonderful to be able to spend all of the following year (Year 2) having hour long (just for argument sake) retrieval maths, reading, writing lessons so that learning is well embedded (enhancing the storage strength). However, of course, we need to teach new learning. So the question is, how do we incorporate retrieval (knowing how valuable it is) alongside new learning. This is where careful and meticulous curriculum design comes into play.
Let’s say the yellow box represents the learning of recognise and sort 2-D shapes. Well, for this knowledge to develop, the curriculum needs to consider how will this knowledge in Year 1 be built upon/ aid the new knowledge in Year 2, then develop further into Year 3 and so on. This is the thread of our spiral curriculum. The concept applies to all subjects, like in humanities, what is the thread of the curriculum? If one year group learns about Roman civilisation and then learns about the Great Fire of London, teachers and children may find it difficult to find links (thinking about the surface facts like dates, locations etc.); however, having a number of threads running through the curriculum that centres around a particular theme will help this (e.g. technological development or inspirational leaders), then these threads are what inform what should be retrieved, identifying similarities and differences across other eras (how does the impact of Trajan’s leadership in Rome compare with the indecisiveness of the Lord Mayor during the Great Fire of London); retrieving for learning.
This idea builds upon the children’s prior knowledge, often first retrieving key facts and dates but then requiring them to retrieve deeper meaning about what they know about the impact of say the leadership, thus, then using their working memory to explore how this memory links to new learning; modifying their memory and increasing their storage strength.
So looking at the arrows on Figure 1, a way to consider retrieval is through the following 4 steps (Figure 2) (this has a broad reference to Fiorella’s and Mayer’s Generative Learning SOI model):
Select (facts and/or procedure) Select
Application (within context) Integrate
Application (across contexts) Integrate
This allows a good progression for learning to be remembered, forgotten, remembered and then strengthened as they broaden their schema making further and stronger links of meaning.
Here’s an example.
Year 1’s Learning intention: Recognise and sort 2-D shapes
Year 2’s Learning intention: Identify properties and draw 2-D shapes
Once the children have grasped how to recognise and sort 2-D shapes, let’s consult the 4 stages in preparation for Year 2’s learning intention.
If it is necessary to recap this surface level, then retrieval questions like “Name this shape,” or “Match the words to the correct shapes” will allow the children to just select from their long term memory.
Perhaps in the previous retrieval they were able to select the information but had low retrieval strength (needed the adult to give further clues), then you may wish to use the retrieval to encourage more practice of retrieving these facts like “Complete the words and then match to the shapes” or “Sort the 2-D shape names into 4 sides vs not 4 sides” (children needing to recall the shape picture and associate it to the written word).
Now, for me, this is where the thought around retrieval really takes some further thinking but is extremely valuable because we are now encouraging children to retrieve the same information but to use it to apply to something else. E.g. “Half of the shape is missing, only a corner is showing, what shape could it be” or “Here are some objects (box, Doritos tube, pencil pot etc.), what 2-D shapes can you see on the 3-D objects” or “Thinking of shape names, sort the shapes in alphabetical order, then in order of sides.”
4. Application (across contexts)
This is where we can encourage the children to retrieve the information, but retrieve its deeper meaning as developed in the previous step and that they see how it can be applied elsewhere, making it more secure and adaptable e.g. “Using double sided counters, what expression would make a square or a rectangle,” or “In forest school, use the sticks to create a triangle inside a square,” or “In P.E, dribble with the ball in the shape of a triangle.”
There are certainly links between this step and the concept of reasoning, and perhaps, this is a type of reasoning, but this process requires meticulous thinking around what exactly do they know and how much further we can deepen this learning through proximal transference: a contextual retrieval link that activates this specific part of learning
For your retrieval slots, thinking about questions that retrieve prior learning is of course the whole point, but it is worth giving consideration to see what parts of the learning you are encouraging the children to retrieve, thinking beyond just selecting the information but creating a desirable load that requires children to really thinking deeply about the meaning behind the learning in preparation for the next stage of their new learning. Ultimately, there is far more meaning that we intend to impart through teaching which only a small percentage of it is well and truly understood. By only planning opportunities for pupils to select this surface information means less time to retrieve the depths of meaning and increases more time for learning to be forgotten and become some-what inaccessible.
So for teachers, think about the pre-requisites and prior knowledge they have learnt the year before that needs to be retrieved to strengthen their storage, but after teaching the new learning, subsequently consider the 4 stages of retrieval throughout the rest of the year in preparation for this to be built upon again the following year or the next time you return to that thread.
Initial objective: sequencing numbers
Complete the sequence of numbers.
Complete the 3rd and 5th sequence of numbers.
On a bus timetable, there are a 4 stops. It takes me 5 minutes to get to the stop. What is the latest time I can leave home if there was a 5th stop?
Creating a graph in science, choose appropriate intervals to accommodate the sequence of data.
Initial objective: learning about the order of planets and gas giants
Recap the mnemonic.
Identify the 3rd planet from Earth (away from the Sun); identify the 2nd planet closest to the sun from Neptune.
Which position are the gas giants? Which planets will orbit the sun faster than Saturn?
Learning about forces, use your knowledge of north and south poles on magnets to represent practically the solar system demonstrating the gravitational pull.
Initial objective: long division
Explain the process; or complete division questions.
Divide with 2 digits, doubling the 2 digit divisor each time and noticing what happens with the quotient.
Improving efficiency with the process, focusing on editing and improving the steps from an example e.g. to speed up the division process, work on strengthening multiplication strategies, so rather than only multiplying by 10 and then if not, doing repeated addition to get close to the first expression, children to practise finding 9 lots by multiplying by 10, minus 1, or doubling and halving, or using knowledge of constant ratio to find close multiples of the divisor in a more efficient way.
Represent each step of the long division process through a bar model.
Further reading recommendations
Bjork, R. & Bjork, E. (1992) A new theory of disuse and an old theory of stimulus fluctuation
Bjork, R. (2015) On the symbiosis of remembering, forgetting and learning
Enser, M. & Enser, Z. (2020) Fiorella & Mayer’s Generative Learning in Action (In Action series)
Godden, D. & Baddeley, A. (1975) Context-dependent memory in two natural environments: on land and underwater
“Writing is an extension of memory.” (Willingham, 2017)
The written language is a relatively new concept in the history books, compared with the existence of speech; it is used to permanently capture and store one’s memory.
Writing is a coding system that allows meaning to be shared and understood, spanning from logographics (Hieroglyphics as an example) to a lettering system (and logograms) that we are familiar with today. Although, the variety of letter sequences forming a word of meaning is dependent on the community, language and context that it relates to (for example, ‘toga’ in English (although originating from Latin) means a loose garment worn by the citizens of Rome, but rearrange the letters to spell ‘gato’ and now constitutes a different meaning in a different language: meaning cat in Spanish).
I have added some suggestions for books and academics I would highly recommend that would greatly support one’s understanding of the integral role vocabulary plays in our every day teaching. The list is not exhaustive by any means but a sample of some that I have found particularly useful.
I strongly believe promoting the love (see my blog “Vocabulary is delicious“) and supporting the development of vocabulary in the classroom will directly aid reading and writing.
You may well be very familiar with Tiered vocabulary by Beck, Kucan and McKeown; if not, it is the idea that Tier 1 categorises your basic words that are used most commonly through speech, primarily learned through conversation. Tier 2 categorise your more academic words found in a number of contexts that often help to convey greater clarity for specific meaning. Tier 3 categorises your domain-specific vocabulary.
Tier 1: was, got, came
Tier 2: challenge, contradict, eliminate
Tier 3: hydraulics, transpiration
This is extremely useful when considering how vocabulary could/should be interwoven across your whole curricula. Of course, it is an extensive task, so it is important teachers are well informed so they can spend time and effort highlighting specific words and phrases, especially through every day dialogue.
For instance, rather than always saying “Ok, now get your pencils and write the date,” replace this with “Ok, please retrieve your pencils and record the date.” Or, rather than “Sit up straight please,” replace with “Ameliorate your posture please.”
Planning your vocabulary lessons
First and foremost, vocabulary generation must be planned collaboratively. It is an excellent opportunity to sit down within your team and generate a body of vocabulary that can be specific to your class whilst adding challenge (focusing on the Tier 2 words predominantly). Figure 1, 2, 3 and 6 are examples of teachers’ workbooks.
Note: the vocabulary generated with the children always exceeded the amount prepared.
It is fundamental this is prepared prior to the lesson as this will reduce your working memory (trying desperately to think of new vocabulary on the spot) and allow you to focus on managing the room: we all can recall moments when we’re trying to draw blood from a stone, so let’s prepare in order to overcome this!
I will describe my process that has proven to be successful within my school.
When considering your vocabulary lesson progression, consider the following 6 steps:
Step 1: Choose your focus
Step 2: The obvious
Step 3: Unboxing vocabulary
Step 4: Enhance
Step 5: Take it further
Step 6: Build your sentences
I have detailed two examples below that myself and my colleagues have used with the children. The necessity of vocabulary generation is embedded across all year groups for every unit of work so six steps can be applied across the age range; it is the level of vocabulary and the complexity of the sentence construction that differs.
The two examples below have derived from specific narrative foci; however, I have included a vocabulary generated example for a non-fiction unit too later on.
Think carefully about the types of vocabulary you want to generate. Ensure you allow time for the children to have plenty of practice experimenting with and learning new vocabulary; for us, we carried out this lesson in the first week so the children could practise across the two subsequent weeks of the unit. This helped with the element interactivity effect (links to Cognitive Load Theory) by reducing the amount of elements the children needed to process when it came to their independent writing: they could focus their energy on carefully selecting which is best to convey the meaning, as opposed to rummaging through their vocabulary repertoire which can be daunting for those less confident.
I do strongly believe that before children can have the opportunity to experiment and even break some conventional writing rules (i.e. manipulating language and sentence structure to emphasise meaning), it is important that we provide bitesize ingredients that help children understand how to create cohesion and achieve a number of skills. For example, we teach that sentences require a noun and a verb, but writing a single abstract noun followed by a full stop (Frightened.) can have a bigger impact on the reader. Below is an example of how we can break down the skill of personification: nouns + verbs
Step 1: Choose your focus
The writing focus was to describe character and atmosphere. For this lesson, we were focusing on personifying abstract nouns, and to extend, we decided to include collective nouns to exaggerate.
Step 2: The obvious
The first part of the vocabulary was to generate positive emotions (easier for the children to start with), followed by negative emotions. Here, we generated synonyms and other nouns that portray positivity. Depending on your skill focus, you could decide to focus on generating a list of adjectives, alternative nouns etc. Note: As you can see in Figure 1, we started with the abstract nouns in the middle of the page. Although the sentence would be created with a collective noun first (hence needing to be on the left-hand side of the page), abstract nouns was the easier heading to start with.
Step 3: Unbox the vocabulary
Once we had generated enough, we then moved on to verbs, for example, dance. Quite often, when you are generating vocabulary with the children, they will give you similar words following the class’s train of thought. Although these are a good start to the get the ball rolling, the generation soon finds itself at a dead end. So, this is when the vocabulary needs to be unboxed. Offer another verb that shifts their thinking and begins a new train of thought. For example, “Let’s think of verbs that now show the emotion taking over, for example, engulfed.” This resets the room with children now suggesting the following: swallowed, enveloped, devoured, encapsulated and so on. Some were even better than what was originally prepared. Great!
Step 4: Enhance
This is the opportunity to replace common vocabulary with better alternatives (zooming in and zooming out); for example, zooming in on different parts and features, zooming out to see how this links on the whole, then zooming back in but even further, focusing on a specific word to improve. An example of this is detailed in Example 2, later on.
Step 5: Take it further
This is the opportunity to add an additional layer to the sentence construction by generating additional words or phrases that will enhance the meaning. In this example (Figure 1 and 2), you can see we added a third category, collective nouns. The children can then use the collective nouns to quantify the personified sentences.
Step 6: Build your sentence
Always allow time for the children to ‘join the dots’ with the vocabulary and generate sentences. This can be done at the end or in smaller chunks throughout the lesson; orally or written. It is a great way to discuss how specific choices of language will alter meanings.
You’ll note that between Figure 1 and 2, the verb drowned appears in both. Through discussion, the children soon realised that drowning is commonly associated with a negative feeling so most children avoided this for Figure 1 (although more aspiring writers were challenged to explore how negative emotions could drown by the overpowering nature of more positive emotions).
Figure 1 details a model sentence whereby the teacher would demonstrate how choosing one from each category can achieve the intended effect. This is a great opportunity to discuss why some choices are better than others whilst allowing for evident scaffolding and enrichment. For example, children who find it difficult can choose from the board to build phrases; those who are ready for their learning to be extended can combine further skills (adverbials or prepositional phrases) to the beginning or the end of their sentences.
For this writing unit, the focus was on character description to convey innocence. The children would tell the story from the Big Bad Wolf’s perspective (in the modern day) on the events that happened: one week we focused on Little Red Riding Hood; the other week we then focused on The Three Little Pigs. Again, we invested time generating the above vocabulary (Figure 3) so the children could experiment and practise.
Step 1: Choose your focus
Knowing we wanted to focus on the Wolf, we decided to focus on his appearance. We broke it down into four main features: Teeth, Eyes, Nose and Fur.
Step 2: The obvious
We focused on generating as many concrete adjectives, and some alternative nouns, as we could for each feature, so for example, for Teeth, we came up with sharp, white, yellow and stained.
Step 3: Unbox the vocabulary
Once we had generated enough, we then moved on to abstract adjectives, for example, unsettling and daring. I then needed to shift the train of thought again and unbox the next set of vocabulary. For example, “Let’s think of abstract adjectives, for example, the menacing teeth.” This reset the room followed by suggestions like dangerous, intimidating, horrifying, misleading and so on.
Step 4: Enhance
Once you have generated concrete and abstract nouns, choose one or two you could up-level: zoom-in to the word. In this example, the word white is a word the children are comfortable using. For this lesson, I wanted them to experiment portraying and enhancing this image. I circled white and generated alternative words and phrases; for example, pale vs glistening, an ivory tusk,a dove’s feather, tip of a wave’s crest and freshly plucked cotton.
Step 5: Take it further
Once you have generated your descriptive language, how might we use it? This links well with generating personification and other figurative phrases. Generate verbs that enhance these features. For example, “What are the eyes doing?” They could be scanning, glancing, gazing, spying, fixating. Then I would unbox the next part, by saying, “What are the eyes physically doing? Could they be suspended?” (especially when showing his poisoned eyes suspended in the shadows). This followed with examples like hanging, clutching, hovering and so on.
Step 6: Build your sentence
When scaffolding, I prepared a short phrase by combining a selection of adjectives: The spherical, golden balls of poison. I prepared to take it further by including a verb using more of the ingredients on the page: The soul-piercing baubles scanning for flesh. This was up levelled further by combining other skills, previously learnt, with the current vocabulary: Emerging from the bushes, the points of the jagged ivory tusks greeted the locals (conveying the wolf’s innocence through a simple smile which could be seen by others as horrifying).
After generating all this work with the children under the visualiser or interactive white board, be sure to leave it present on your working walls so the children can continue to access and add to it. This helps to minimise the transient effect (links to Cognitive Load Theory). Figure 4 is an example of how one class captured vocabulary and example sentences on their working wall. This was added to as the unit progressed.
Below (Figure 5) is an example of a finished working wall at the end of a unit. The children were empowered throughout the unit by working with the teacher to build this extensive bank of vocabulary to describe the sun, sea, sand and trees. They were able to navigate and choose precisely and purposefully.
Setting description – building tension
Reporting – A newspaper article about a building blast (WW2 link)
Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Beck, Kucan and McKeown
The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads by Daniel Willingham
Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Alex Quigley
Write like a Ninja: An essential toolkit for every young writer by Andrew Jennings with contributions from Alan Peat
The Learning Spy blog page by David Didau
Making Meaning in English: An exploration of the role of knowledge in language and literature by David Didau
Vocabulary Ninja: Activities to Unlock a World of Words by Andrew Jennings
Jumpstart Spelling and Vocabulary: Engaging Activities for Ages 5-12 – Jumpstart! by Pie Corbett and Carol Satterthwaite
First and foremost, if you haven’t seen this BBC Radio 2 video recording of the famous Stephen Fry expressing the love of language, I urge you to watch it now.
I have always strongly advocated that writing is a form of art. Through recording our own thoughts and feelings via letters, diary entries, text messages and so on, to painting a mental realm of scenarios and adventures that lure us away from reality, it embodies personal, professional, political and societal views.
Isn’t is just fascinating how a sequence of logograms/ letters and words have the ability to convey meaning, manipulate, influence and connect with everyone. Do we explicitly share this admiration and awe of language with the children?
Quite often, whether it is pre-teaching vocabulary for the reading lesson or just sharing excitement for language, instead of asking the children to write down their “favourite word” from the pre-teach list, I am now more specific:
“Choose two words from the list that you like the sound and feel of.”
“Now choose two words you like the meaning of.”
This is a wonderful way to discuss how the articulation of phonemes impact how we feel about saying the word whilst also implicitly revisiting the skills of phonics.
The feel can impact the feel
During a vocabulary lesson, I was capturing and recording the class’s vocabulary suggestions about a utopia VS a dystopia. The focus was on personification. So we broke the lesson down into focusing on the nouns first, followed by the verbs. However, for this lesson, we decided it would be the change of verb that would distinguish the description between the two settings.
The heading Nouns was at the top, centre of the page. To the left, was the heading Verbs (for the utopia) and on the right of the heading Nouns, was the heading Verbs (for the dystopia).
The outcome of the lesson was for the children to have a vocabulary bank that could be applied to both stimuli.
The noun: wind.
Utopia verbs: whistle, tickled, stroked.
Dystopia verbs: roared, pounded, annihilated
Before introducing the dystopia words, I wanted to share my love for vocabulary and explain how the feelof some words can impact the feeling of the writing.
“Show of hands, who has eaten a crunchy carrot before?” To which many hands went up, accompanied by the bemusement of this question.
“Ok, who has eaten a soft, chewy sweet before?” Many hands.
“What about a crispy roast potato?” Again, many hands and the odd ‘lick-of-the-lips’ from a few.
Although these may have appeared random to the children, there was a very good reason for it.
I explained how we all have a range of textures and tastes in our foods which many of us like, but if we had the same all the time, it would be a bit boring. For me, the same principles apply to vocabulary. Using the same words affiliated to a stimulus, over and over again, can be limiting; of course we want words to be retrieved and recycled but the aim is to broaden this spiral. So using a range is far more appetising: vocabulary is delicious!
Think about describing a feather falling elegantly, the gentle sounds of /s/, /f/ and /t/ in some examples for the words softly, swiftly, swirl and twirl feel soft against the lips with high pitch tones that feel sweet and calming to articulate. Whispering and slow physical movements can support this convention of comfort and tranquility.
However, when wanting to describe the dystopia, sounds like /d/, /g/, /c/, /ct/, /st/ in this instance require harsher emphasis for words like destruction, detonation and eradication.
Of course, this isn’t a set rule for all words but spending time to analyse the physical feel of words can help children make associations (or disassociations) with meaning and spelling.
During a pre-teach vocabulary session, words like simultaneous, grotesque and capricious were highlighted. By asking the children to choose their favourite feeling of the words, many chose grotesque and capricious. Grotesque because the /que/ sound felt satisfying at the back of the throat and capricious, because the quick snap of the /c/ followed by a soothing /cious/ sound felt nice. I was then able to show the children the association of the meaning of capricious with that contrasting feeling of /c/ vs /cious/; for example, the /c/ sound indicates a harsher feeling (a more aggressive mood) yet the /cious/ feeling made us feel the opposite (showing the immediate change of mood); this helped children grasp this meaning quickly.
Embedding this love for language as part of your minute-by-minute teaching and learning experience is just another way of exposing the children to high quality vocabulary.
Whether you are new to teaching, an experienced teacher, or in fact, a professional of any kind, you should be sure to reflect, identify and articulate your moral purpose.
Your moral purpose is the epitome of all your decision-making; whether it is the reason you go to work, see your friends, partake in hobbies or spend time with family, these are the principles that govern your every decision. But sometimes we find ourselves questioning why we do what we do.
Relating this back to a school setting, a moral purpose is often centred around the children. Which seems obvious, right? But, depending on our experiences, beliefs and attitudes, we may find ourselves in the teaching profession for a whole host of reasons.
For those who are not involved in teaching, they may guess “It’s for the holidays,” or “You do it for the money,” (I am sure you consult your inner strength to stay composed to deal with this one), and maybe for a few, that is the case. However, for most, it has something to do with making a difference.
Some want to provide a better educational experience than the one they received; some want the chance to be able to broaden at least one child’s experiences; some find how a hidden part of them comes to life in the classroom setting; and some just love the interaction with curious minds. Whatever your reason is, be clear and true to yourself.
I often ask colleagues, new and current, what their moral purpose is. Quite often, I am issued with a small pause followed with an answer that lacks confidence and assertion. However, for me, I truly want the curtain to be unveiled to see what drives your minute by minute decision-making. It allows me to determine how receptive you will be to learning and feedback, how willing you will be to add value to the educational offer, and how determined you will be to overcome the number of changes and challenges that regularly come our way. And for the majority, the above is positively evident.
Knowing your moral purpose will not only help with explaining why you want to be a teacher or leader (for job interviews or simply reminding yourself why this is the profession for you) but will make most of your decisions, especially the difficult ones, must easier to make. You won’t be so worried whether you should suggest an idea or challenge one when you have your moral purpose propping you up: if you know it’s what’s best for your children, and it resonates with your moral purpose, you’ll have no issues fighting for it.
I have had many debates in the past about what is best for our children, but always upon reflection, I leave smiling with admiration about how passionate my team are to fight (constructively and professionally, I might add) for what they believe in – I am regularly in awe.
It also makes you more open to suggestions and support as you are far more prepared to try new things, seek new, innovative, efficient and effective methods as well as actively seeking feedback. I am often asking my colleagues to provide me with constructive feedback as it fuels my desire to improve as well as helping me to unpick my reflections and better my practice: and I daren’t defy my moral purpose!
A rabbit hole (you might be wondering), it’ll never be perfect! Surely the pursuit for the perfect classroom is a mirage? But that’s the difference between when I first started in education to where I am now: I am all about valuing and improving the journey, not seeking the destination. This brings variability into my practice, enhances my methods and keeps me enlightened to learning.
How wonderful is the thought that through a child’s journey, they will be under the wing of an array of inspirational teachers all governed by principles that have the child’s interests and development at its core. This is the culture we so long for.
Enriching the journey is better than rushing to the destination.
Know your moral purpose: the principles that make you, you!
In my blog “The Invisible Lead Balloon”, I highlighted a number of informed strategies that could be used to maintain engagement for learning. Once you feel confident employing these strategies, the next thing is to question, then decide, which are best to ensure children are engaged with learning.
It is important to note that engagement doesn’t always result in ‘noise’; children can be fully engaged and immersed whilst silent. Through one of my regular, thought provoking conversations with @RumblesCandyce, we posed the analogy of learning being ‘electrical currents’. We all use and rely on many appliances that are powered by electricity. When you plug an appliance/ device into the wall, you know it is receiving electrical current to charge and/or operate it despite not being able to actually see the current. But you still know it is happening. For us, this is learning in action.
Below, I provide some images that could be useful for teachers to refer to when evaluating teaching and learning in their classroom.
With the teacher being the electrical source and the children acting as the conductors, our ultimate goal is to ensure we create, establish and maintain strong, healthy, positive pathways (connections if I may) to allow the electrical current (learning) to flow. The teacher checks for understanding, thus, completing the circuit.
Small sparks: Where teachers may begin
Consider Figure 1. A teacher delivers the input, interacts with one or two children (often the more confident ones) within their line of sight, and patrols only up and down the middle corridor of the class. Only a few sparks for learning may be happening.
The teacher may use this small sample to inform whether there is a good level of understanding and whether their input is being interpreted as intended. As Dylan Wiliam explains in ‘What Does This Look Like in the Classroom’ (Hendrick and Macpherson, 2017), a “more serious issue, is that teachers are making decisions about what to do next with a class based on evidence only from confident students”. This would skew the validity of their assessment.
Being simply aware of our eye movements in the class can be a great starting point when improving practice.
Hendrick and Kirschner (2020) in ‘How Learning Happens’ highlight the work from Van Den Bogert (2016) where eye-movements of an expert and a novice teacher are tracked: “the larger the spot the longer the gaze; also, the opacity of the centre gives the intensity…” Without seeing the image example, the spots are representing all parts of the room, demonstrating the difference that experts tend to be able to scan the room frequently, not just glancing, and then zooming in to every child to check for understanding at different points.
More sparks: progress
Here in Figure 2, we now see the teacher begin interacting with pupils outside their centre line of sight. By interacting and checking for understanding from the front and other angles of the classroom, the teacher can gather a broader picture and spark further thought for learning. This encourages more actives learners (solid green) and influences those nearby (light green).
In Figure 3, we now see the teacher having a clearer sense of what is happening. This could be through active discussion and participation, or perhaps, children working silently but deep levels of thinking are evident. Through a number of strategies, the teacher checks understanding in all corners of the room, feeds the ‘student buy-in’ culture by allowing questions, discussions, collaboration and risk-taking, offering scaffolds and extensions where needed to keep the current flowing.
Now here we see the current affected: an interference.
Not everyone is conducting the current of learning.
This can appear as children struggling to answer, perhaps feeling the pressure of their peers, shutting down, or perhaps this is during a silent independent task and knowing your children well, you spot (even sense) someone who is stuck or trying to mask their understanding through a number of coping mechanisms. This is when you intervene!
Through the positive culture you have created, you can afford to compromise pace and provide them with more thinking time.
Within the open forum of your class, ensure you extinguish the pressure (for example, “I can see why you might be thinking hard here as it is an interesting point.”) but also thank the class “Well done everyone for waiting for James as I know you value what he has to say.”
Then consider the following below:
Provide stem sentences or multiple choice;
Remind them: “I (even better, we) value your thoughts”;
Lead them in “I was thinking this, do you agree? And why?”;
Ask them to say who they agree or disagree with;
Ask them to point to which part of the worked example they find difficult.
If still nothing, then consider the following to maintain the “No opt out” philosophy (Doug Lemov):
Allow them to write or draw their answer;
Share their idea with a partner or TA who could share aloud;
Give them more time to think about it – “Have a think about your sentence and then you can tell me when I come over.”
Get back on track with the lesson – move on to take the focus away.
Once you’ve got a contribution, be sure to hear it and express its value to the child; no matter how small it may be, I am sure you can find some value within it. Then encourage the strategies above (over time) in order for them to feel confident to contribute to the whole class.
Alternatively, if you notice this barrier to learning during independent tasks, this is where you provide your support, scaffolds, extensions and ensure you determine and deal with the cause of the problem, not the symptoms. For example, for a child not appearing to write anything for some time, rather than say “You should be writing”, determine why, strip it back, what is it they are stuck with and then support them as required. On the other hand, a child who is finished and staring our the window, provide them with your planned extensions, ask them to review, unpick, explain and improve. A child waiting for the rest of the class to finish is neither productive nor beneficial – this would suggest a performance orientated attitude to learning as opposed to Mastery.
This is the ultimate goal: fuelling a new source. Children to take charge of their learning, lead the discussion, share their experiences, thoughts and achievements, whilst welcoming and valuing feedback. I am not suggesting children would lead a lesson; however, say in a Science lesson you have provided an image or video of how current flows through an electrical circuit (keeping in theme with this blog), in the positive and welcoming environment established, the child may say “Ah, that is similar to circulatory system.” This then sparks connections. Another child then adds “Oh yes, so the blood has to travel from the heart and go back to the heart to complete a circuit,” followed with “So then the organs could represent the components?” from another child. At this point, you can take it further by building upon it and using it as a new referencing through out the lesson.
We all know and understand the importance of careful, well-thought out planning and preparation that lays the stage for the magic of learning to happen.
I remember early on in my teaching career, I would spend a long time ensuring I had mitigated against the potential barriers to learning as well as the step-by-step progression of what I felt was needed (i.e. different types of questioning; appropriate tasks; effective deployment of TA etc.) in order for the intended learning outcome to be obtained. The lesson begins: I am feeling confident, prepared and determined I will shape the children’s learning one step further. However, mid-way through this particular writing lesson (generating vocabulary for a stimulus), I am struggling for contributions, needing more hands up, noticing the haze casting across the children’s vision. Fearing the lack of engagement, I provide some words in the hope this snow balls further, but no, it was like trying to get blood from a stone – engagement for learning was going down like a “lead balloon”.
Although there are a number of things I would do differently knowing what I now know from the abundance of research that is readily available to us all, I have found across my career, in both a teaching and leadership capacity, that these mid-lesson crisis moments happen. Quite often, this comes down to focusing too much on What do I need to do? as the teacher, rather than What do they need to do? as the learner. We need to blow engagement back into that balloon.
My general recommendation for a starting point would be the following:
Teach 3-5 minutes;
Practice (learner to digest/ have-a go) – Individually or in partners;
Check understanding – questioning, discussion etc. (general consensus);
Teach 2-4 minutes OR address (if needing to address, go back to step 1);
Check understanding – (general consensus);
Check understanding (individual);
Prepare to address (if needed) or extend.
The above would only be a starting point as these timings would change depending on the content and context; however, this process is generally a good starting point.
First, we need to be aware of the indicators to check attention is present. This is what I like to call “Response for learning”. That moment when the deafening silence absorbs the children and dampens your spoken word. You’ll notice children begin to gaze across the room, doodle, perhaps hand-on-face, lowering themselves into the chair. Or perhaps in a group scenario, you notice passive learners, sitting back, with those more confident running the show. More often than not, the temperature in the room has increased; you’ll notice jumpers off, sips from their bottle, fanning themselves in extreme circumstances. And when you do start to choose children to contribute (how ever long this is since they have unintentionally switched off), there’s that panic from those around unsure of what was said, by whom and in reference to what. Of course, we ideally want to be proactive with our strategies that support learning, but realistically, time does get away from us so we need to be prepared to react promptly to the above.
Teacher-pupil and peer-peer relationships are key for engagement. As I heard from Doug Lemov discussing this with Craig Barton on Mr Barton Maths Podcast, “The children won’t care what we say, until they know that we care”. For me, this is the epitome of supporting children’s learning, especially those who find it difficult to engage. When we consistently model and promote positivity for collaboration, discussion, debate and explanations, children begin to realise this is truly the expectation of the room. Be mindful how you choose children because if you regularly choose children to prove whether they are listening or not i.e. John, can you tell me what we have just discussed as you appear to be taking “notes”…, your first question to those that are timid may be perceived as a reprimand rather than a genuine question of curiosity or an invite to the class discussion.
It’s evident that effective classroom strategies sit on a bed of positive culture.
Do the children feel safe to share?
Do the children feel valued?
Do the children know they will receive immediate feedback because you want them to improve, not just because they are wrong?
Is your body language and are your facial expressions welcoming and inviting?
Are you modelling how their answers can be used and responded back into the class or into the learning process?
Using some of the strategies below will contribute to this learning culture and hopefully begin the journey of shifting motivation from extrinsic to instrinic, with the hope of shifting from performance orientation to mastery orientation (Pintrich, 2000, cited in Kirschner & Hendrick’s (2020) ‘How Learning Happens’). You can also hear my thoughts and colleagues’ views on this book here.
For me, this is really important. With careful considerations to Cognitive Load Theory being in the quest to “Eliminate Extraneous Load and optimise Intrinisic Load” (Ollie Lovell), children regularly surprise me at how well they respond to faster inputs. This is, of course, dependent on their prior learning and complexities of the new learning, but in contrary to the complexities, if we have broken the learning down enough, it should be quicker and easier to absorb. With lesson designs, particularly like vocabulary generation and Maths fluency focus, the lesson can be moved on faster than perhaps a history or R.E lesson. Although, I would argue that you could still break down key dates, prominent figures, attributes etc. that could be retrieved, discussed, written down and explored in a timely manner. With the examples below, in some cases, I would employ as short bursts aiming for 10 seconds, 20 seconds being maximum. This helps me introduce a number of strategies throughout the lesson that keeps engagement high whilst not taking any longer than it needs.
Partner talk (see below).
Bounce off – Child A shares their thoughts, then they choose child B and so on.
Choose your best 3 that you like the meaning of.
Choose your favourite word that you like the feel and sound of when you say it.
Which date (or fact) sticks with you the most?
Which fact is harder to remember?
On a whiteboard, circle your favourite.
Point to left wall if you think X, point forward if you think Y etc.
Similar to Dylan Wiliam’s remark about how he should have used the term “responsive teaching” rather than formative assessment (Hendrick & Macpherson, 2017), I refer to questioning in this instance as “Response to learning”.
Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’ highlights “asking questions” and “checking for understanding” as two key principles. This is crucial in determining whether the children are/were engaged in the delivery and how they have understood and interpreted (Piaget’s theory of cognitive development: ‘assimilation’ and ‘accommodation’) that information. There are a number of ways to capture this information whilst maintaining engagement. Here are just some of many:
What is the 1 key thing you’ve remembered on your whiteboard?
What question can you think of?
Using fingers or whiteboard to engage in multiple choice (e.g. show me 1 finger for this word vs 2 fingers for this word being more effective)
Why do you think that?
Why is this better than Jane’s answer?
What have you noticed? (patterns with number, shape; root words, prefixes/suffixes; dictators across history)
The term “cold calling” is extremely prevalent at the moment (or ‘warm-calling’ when thinking about how it contributes to culture as referenced by Michael Pershan), although the practice has existed in many classrooms for years. Doug Lemov in Teach Like a Champion explains the premise behind this and what this looks like in practice. I’d highly recommend reading the TLAC blog and checking out Tom Sherrington’s blog.
Essentially, this does link to culture. Whether you choose to incorporate a “hands-down” approach or not, creating an environment where children feel confident to speak aloud, where mistakes are welcomed and risks encouraged is what will allow this questioning approach to blossom. At first, it will be daunting and you may have to invest lesson time but it will be worth it. Consider the perseverance as ‘short term gains are for the pessimist, long term gains are for the optimist’: a phrase that resonates with me, especially in leadership.
This is an element of cold calling but I am separating this to offer other strategies during this segment of learning. Being purposefully and already considering the seating plan, I want to encourage partner talk as another opportunity to digest. If they have understood correctly, they will regurgitate this information through their own words, providing their partner with now 2 explanations (excellent opportunities to promote oracy). This partner can then use this to support their own understanding. By sharing with the class what their partner has said will allow me to assess how well their partner has understood, how well they have understood, and taking it one step further, how well they understand by agreeing or disagreeing with their partner.
5 – 10 seconds, choose, discuss, agree.
Share your favourite with your partner.
Share your weakest or most difficult to remember with your partner.
Give a tip to help your partner remember (it might not be the best tip, but that act of focusing on this could be enough).
Share with the class one point your partner has raised.
Share with the class one aspect you liked the most about what your partner has said.
With your partner, create a sentence using the following.
Give your partner an answer, they have to make the question.
With an ongoing discussion about the effectiveness of displays in the learning environment, we are all aware that having a board cluttered with lots of examples, printed lettering and posters creates a ‘blur’ within the environment. I know if I swapped one poster or element for another on a cluttered display board, I would highly doubt anyone would notice unless using or looking at the board intensely. So by standing in the same position, I feel that sometimes we can blur into the environment too, especially when that “lead ballon” begins to lower.
Move around, get away from the “left-hand side of your board” or from behind your visualiser stand, or worse, the teacher chair, and patrol. Show the children you’re actively listening to responses, ideas and open a public forum where those less confident can ask you a quick question as you are passing by (what you do with this links back to culture).
Pause (refill the balloon)
After all of the above, you’re keeping the balloon afloat, all children are engaged but there can come a time when all that thinking and functioning of the working memory just feels too much. Pause! Give time for the children to talk with their partner to summarise, discuss and reflect: time to add air to that balloon.
I am yet to find enough evidence and research that explores what I perceive to be an example of cognitive fatigue, but what I do feel links in the concept of “Vigilance Decrement”. This is where the ability for the child to act and deal with signals (teaching input, discussions etc.) deteriorates. If children feel overloaded, learning will be hindered. So be mindful not to sacrifice learning at the expense of engagement.
“We teach explicitly so I need to be telling them what they need to know.”
Whatever your views are and/or the pedagogy your school believes in, children still need to be engaged to receive the quality you are providing. Archer & Hughes (2011) in their book ‘Explicit Instruction’ highlight the fundamentals in eliciting responses: frequent responses; monitoring student performance; providing immediate feedback; and pace. Whether you prefer an inquiry approach to learning or explicit, direct instruction, you still need to employ the strategies that allow learners to learn, make sense of, deliberate, practise, question, argue and conclude.
There are a number of reasons and factors that constitute why lessons need to be teacher focused vs learner focused. Ultimately, the goal is for it to be learner focused, but I am aware of schools at different stages of their journey that need to focus on other priorities, such as behaviour, consistent teaching pedagogy etc. But, with the aim of all lessons to be effective for the learner, it is fundamental to consult your own classroom experience, experience of your colleagues in conjunction with other academics who provide a number of useful strategies. I would also recommend looking at the WalkThrus books (1 and 2) by Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli as these offer a number of useful strategies to enhance classroom practice. Use the examples above that best work for your children and ultimately, which will support the knowledge you intend the children to learn.
Have all the tools at your disposal to keep that “balloon afloat”.