Sharing Good Practice – MFL – Application of Growth Mindset Principles to increase confidence in listening exams for GCSE

Jon shared with the Faculty how he was using Growth Mindset ideas to help improve the confidence of students in the Listening Exams.

mfl 1

He initially started by sharing a Growth and Fixed Mindset with the students. He then explained to the students that the listening paper is worth 25% of the final mark but can often be seen as the more difficult paper. So how can these difficulties be overcome?

  • Listening exercise is included in every lesson
  • Learning more vocabulary helps to know more words
  • Students are not expected to understand every word but can still gain full marks
  • It might sound faster than English but it is not
  • Making good use of the fact that it is heard twice – make notes whilst listening
  • Make use of any visual clues
  • Read the questions carefully
  • Try and replay the listening in your head when answering the questions
  • The science part – cognitive processing speed – your brain develops this from the age of 8 through to 16 so as you grow older your listening will improve.
  • Train to concentrate too many students (60% in a questionnaire) were distracted not be the room or by others but the length of time needed to concentrate, train your brain.
  • Stay focused and stay calm

mfl 2

A couple of practical activities for the classroom:

  • Train students to find word boundaries for example a starter can be a sentence without spacing and students need to work out what the words are.
  • Make a tally of listening marks in the back of your book and note down words that they struggled with, look for the improvement during your GCSE years.
  • Try listening to Spanish or French radio or pop songs


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Sharing Good Practice – Science Faculty

I was invited to the Science Faculty meeting that was focusing on Improving Year 11 Outcomes, with only a Term to go before the exams what could staff do to make a difference.

science faculty


Exam Marking tips

Liz Watson shared some thoughts from having marked exam papers last year. Some tips:

  • Students must ensure they recognise that some questions use the word Explain
  • Students must learn the practicals they have done and explain them in the exam.
  • Students must learn the equations in physics.
  • Students can annotate the question and graphs
  • Another useful tip was that extended prose questions are marked holistically using generic level descriptions common to all science subjects.

The Faculty then divided into their separate subjects and discussed an exam marker’s comments linked to student answers.

The meeting then moved onto a special guest, Ed Bennetts from MFL, to share some cross-curricular tips.

  • When learning key vocabulary words, MFL encourage students to use the new vocabulary in a sentence. This would relate easily to Science learning and explaining key words.
  • Using 3 steps to differentiate – human; hero and legend – but scientific words could be used for example Chemical Elements. Ensure that in the lesson you scaffold and model how you move from ‘human’ to ‘legend’ to ensure students make progress.
  • Point system in challenging students in MFL to use more vocabulary and tenses. Can translate into Science by how you can gain full marks in a question.
  • Quizlet – create your own or use those already done.

Leyla Pattison – Stretch and Challenge at A-level Chemistry (but can easily translate into GCSE Challenge)

Leyla had recently been on a course and challenged herself by this quote ‘Need to cultivate a culture of scholastic excellent where the highest achievement in academic work is vitally important.’

There is a need to create expert scientists for A-level and the future through expert teaching.

This can be achieved by adapting existing materials and extending students further. The idea is not to give students more work but give them more challenge.

Ways to do this at GCSE include:

  • Giving students example answers and asking them to identify errors
  • Get students writing technician notes for required practicals, encouraging students to think about what preparation is needed
  • Challenge of the day type questions which can be dipped in and out of.

Leyla also provided an update on the Science Capital working party. Science capital is an innovative teaching approach which challenges student’s perceptions of what science is, who does science and scientific behaviours. This has the overarching aim of raising student’s aspirations and engagement within science.

We have been trialling different methods of increasing science capital including:

  • Localising and personalising scientific ideas by using examples relevant to students’ lives
  • Story-telling to make concepts more memorable
  • Linking concepts with recent news stories which students may have encountered.


Black dot in the white square – a simple reward strategy – Leyla Pattison


During his keynote speech at the NSTA INSET day Andy Buck gave people who participated a number. At the end a randomly selected number won a prize. Why? What was the purpose? This provided an unexpected starting point for my five minute teach meet discussion on simple reward strategies.

In our discussion there were lots of ideas on the purpose of this: it turns contributions into a competition, gave us an incentive to engage, provided a mini thumbs up no matter whether your contribution was correct or not, and you got more “tickets” if you worked extra hard. As a collective of teachers we know how to behave during a talk but giving us a carrot made us all sit up a little straighter.

The starting point for my use of raffle tickets came about in a slightly different way. While supervising year 10 students during a PSHE day, it came down to me to sanction 4 students who we unable to display the self-control the session was trying to encourage I know that, as teachers, we should not take behaviour to hearty but I genuinely felt embarrassed, cross and upset that these students could be so rude. Later in the session, I had a moment. I looked around the gym and saw 96 other students. These 96 were behaving brilliantly. They were engaged, listening and taking part in a way that made me feel proud. It made me realise that I had been focusing on sanctioning the 4 students who were unable to behave themselves at the expense of rewarding the 96 who were. I happened to speak to Chris Hildrew about the incident and he told me to focus on the white square, not the black dot. Intrigued, I went away and read about the work of Bill Rogers.

A colleague in science had been using raffle tickets to reward good behaviour in his period 5 lessons. I decided to give this a go.

I carefully explained the rules to my groups:

  • They receive 1 raffle ticket for exceeding my expectations in lessons. I decide the criteria for this. It could be for getting equipment ready and being one of the first to settle. It could be for answering a question or for completing challenge work.
  • The students write their name on the back of their ticket and the number in the back of their exercise book.
  • At the end of the lesson, the tickets go in the class jar.
  • At a time that suits me (could be at the end of a lesson, week or term) I draw 5 names from the jar and those students win a prize. This could be sweets, science-themed stationery or freebies that I have picked up at conferences.

I explained to the students that there will only ever be 5 prizes and they can only win once, but the more times their names are in the jar, the more likely they are to win.

The results were transformative. Students are quick to settle (only the first few get a raffle ticket) and engage with the lesson. Their contributions are immediately valued and good work gets either a public or private thumbs up. I never take raffle tickets away. Just as good behaviour doesn’t erase poor the same works vice versa. They see the fairness in the system and they want to win the prize.

I gave out 1000 raffles tickets in the first term of using this. That’s 1000 good things happening in my lessons. I still use the rewards and sanctions system but this is a very visual representation to me and my classes. The white square is always bigger than the black dot, you just have to make sure you can see it.


Further reading on this:

Bill Rogers – Classroom Behaviour

Sharing Good Practice – English Faculty

Having spent some time in Humanities and Maths it was now the turn of the English Faculty to take part in their teaching and learning discussions. There were two key items on the Agenda:

  • 200 word challenge
  • Teaching the poetry anthology at GCSE

200 Word Challenge

200 word challenge

200 word 1200 word 2200 word 3

 Rachel summarised as a reminder the purpose of the 200 word challenge which was to improve writing provision and performance within English. Rachel had conducted several learning walks to see how the students at Key Stage 3 were rising to the challenge of writing more extended pieces.

Students are given a different stimulus to write about every fortnight. It might be something serious, for example writing a letter to the local council to complain about lack of recreational space for young people, or something much less purposeful, like writing a eulogy for a deceased cartoon character. The aim was to write for 200 words, using their targets from the previous task and to correct their own work.

Rachel then asked for ideas on how to improve the challenge:

  • Use of a computer room enabling students to edit and make it even better. Some classes were then going to use this to enter into the Radio 2 500 words competition.
  • Students to be given a challenge of key facts or words they had to include.
  • Students to bring in their own stimulus to encourage them in their writing (also to help the English teachers to use student ideas in the future)
  • Link to the literature texts used at GCSE
  • The final question was should this be continued into Year 9, the answer was yes.


Poetry Anthology – GCSE

Luke presented a booklet which was full of advice from the exam board and his own thoughts on how to improve the student’s answers during the Poetry Section of the English Literature exam. The main discussion came down to how students should be re-thinking how they would divide up their time in the exam and what they should be including in each paragraph. For example how to be successful in comparing two poems (one known and one unseen); how the unseen poem must be explained and put into context from what they can learn within the poem.







Thank you to the English Faculty for sharing their ideas and making me feel welcome in their meeting.



Sharing Good Practice in Humanities – Knowledge Rich Learning Design and Delivery – linked to Tom Sherrington course run by NSTA November 2018

Siobhan shared in the Humanities Faculty some ideas that she brought away from a course led by Tom Sherrington in November 2018.


  • Think about your core philosophy what you need to be doing in the classroom and in your curriculum: what goes into this, your content and the detail.
  • Find where subjects overlap – Science and Geography as an example – there are links and combine together to work, use a common language and similar examples.
  • Knowledge organisers – can be really useful but not to be over-reliant on their use – students need to use them. It is useful to know what other faculties are doing over the year. Good for non-specialists and are a good summary for parents.
  • Defend your curriculum – what to leave in and what to leave out – can you defend what you spend your time on.
  • Assessment and curriculum – whole curriculum what we value and assessed curriculum what needs to be assessed.
  • What do we want them to know, and why do we want them to know it
  • Reading is crucial in all subjects – a chapter, an article from your subject making it relevant and to read about the subject. Link to literacy and could be set as a homework.
  • Teacher reading is important too, keep up-to-date on your subject
  • Awe and wonder – teachers should be showing their passion for their subject.
  • If someone asks a student why they are doing a task, it shouldn’t be ‘because the teacher said so’ they need to see the big picture of why the question is important to their studies. E.g. ‘so we can figure out the consequences of the Black Death’
  • Getting the most out of homework –practising skills, structured research, building on what they know, to gain benefit from the time spent at home.
  • Timelines– are very useful for example linking different subjects together e.g. Music and Science and History.
  • Probing questions – don’t just take a yes or no – push students to give more all the time.
  • Practice is not a dirty word – rote learning can be useful
  • Live modelling – constantly showing them examples – students like seeing examples of answers. Plot the steps to answer the questions
  • Common misconceptions – How do you get rid of them? How do you teach the students?

the learning rainforest 1

Sharing Good Practice – Problem Solving in the Maths Faculty

I joined the Maths Faculty Meeting last week to find out how they were sharing good practice with each other and to see how their ideas can be transferred to other subject areas. I was told before going that they would be doing lots of Maths, what I wasn’t told was that it was going to be, even for the Maths teachers, really hard Maths – Olympiad Standard (the Maths Challenge).

The team were asked to think about how they set challenging Maths tasks in particular to A-level students and the steps taken to coach the students to the correct answers. They were reminded of 3 questions discussed in a previous meeting:

  • “What do you need?”
  • “What could you draw?”
  • “What algebra can you write?”


Elliot and Jimi had put themselves forward to trial this out in front of the Faculty. Jimi was set a maths problem which Elliot had done but was then going to act as the coach. How was he going to help Jimi to solve the problem – with encouragement and tips but without telling him explicitly how to do it or to just give him the answer.

The Faculty then divided into pairs to solve different Maths problems and then to coach each other on how to reach the correct answer. There were circles, congruent triangles and simultaneous equations… to name just some of the mathematical terms.



At the end, the Faculty discussed some very important points which could easily be transferred to other subject areas:

  • How much modelling do you? At first you probably model more but at what rate do you take the scaffolding away?
  • How do you coach a particular student? This may be different depending on the confidence of the student. Give them tips as they move along giving them confidence in their use of Maths. Some examples of what you could say:
    • “What can you see?”
    • “What does it make you think of?” (“what associations do you have with…?”)
    • “If I could tell you another bit of information, what would you want me to tell you?”
    • “What else could you do?”; “what could you try?”; “do anything!
    • (“Keep it tidy!”)
    • “What information haven’t you used?”
  • You may give a particular student a problem to grapple with for a couple of weeks – the struggle will do them good, gain confidence in their problem-solving techniques as well as helping them when they get to University as this is what they would expect on a degree course.
  • How long should we leave a student to struggle when they’re heading down the wrong path? That depends on the student.
    • We should immediately point out any mathematical misconceptions in their work, so that misconceptions aren’t embedded.
    • We might point out mistakes like adding errors, or might leave the student to find errors themselves.
    • We can train them to spot wrong paths e.g. if they come across a quartic equation.
    • We could suggest that they check for information that they have not yet used.
    • We could draw their attention to how many marks the question is worth.
  • Encourage the students to verbalise their thought process, by explaining out loud their thinking this will help them to work on through the problem.
  • Look at the question again – think what information have you been given; what can you do with that information and how can you use that information to work out your answer?
  • Link to preparing for the exam – ensure your workings out are neat and think about how much time and marks are given to a particular question.
  • Use of the visualiser, often a very useful tool in the Maths Faculty to model and demonstrate how you are doing your Maths.
  • To explain to the students that you yourself found the question a challenge, so that students understand that problem solving isn’t “magic”. Talk through your own thought processes and your own mistakes before solving the problem.

An enjoyable 30 minutes seeing the Maths Faculty working together doing Maths and I also didn’t expect the Russian writer Chekhov to be quoted whilst solving a Maths problem!

Notes from ‘the limitations of working memory’ – Desiree Tomlinson

On Monday, I begged and worried, like a dog with a bone, anyone with half an ear to let me go on ‘the limitations of working memory’, CPD training run by Chris Moyse (@ChrisMoyse) Before this I had been along to Liz Slocombe’s drop in session and got the bug! Liz gave both background information about working memory and neurodiversity and strategies to help students.

Working memory is small, like a post it note for the brain. It is like a rickety bridge between the Environment and the Long Term Memory, if we overload it, it stops working.

70% of SEND students will have poor working memory and more than 80% of them will fail to reach their expected levels of achievement. So hopefully courses like this and the work of people like Liz, will help change such statistics.

The strategies suggested to engage and help students with poor working memory seem obvious.

Keep the classroom environment calm and uncluttered, to give students space to focus and concentrate without distraction. The walls may look bland, but heck, everyone’s facing the right way. It’s so tempting to have masses of colour and ‘things’ covering the walls, but all this ‘white noise’ in the background is a huge distraction for someone struggling to concentrate.

Be positive, give clear instructions, check everyone’s understood; write the instructions clearly and precisely so they can be followed. It’s far too easy for a student to have forgotten the first part of the instruction by the time they get to the last part. Be prepared to repeat instructions, use visual signs.

Now for the lack of equipment – what’s the trick? Ignore this misdemeanour and hand over a pen, so irritating, but so much less stressful! – much easier! However, if the student has sat for 20 minutes dreaming …

Power point, some of us are so old we remember pre white boards and power point – hard to imagine I know. Slides etc. should be minimalist, giving relevant information only – no dancing aeroplanes or whizzy graphics. If it’s not needed to inform the lesson or your teaching scrap it. This may sound like going back to the dark ages (or at least to my young days, but it helps students focus). By the way, if you are not using your white board/screen blank it out, it’s far too easy for students with P.W.M to get distracted by what’s on the screen than to concentrate on the task in hand.

Now for the best bit technology of the evening – I’m assured that hitting the ‘B’ button will turn the screen black and hitting the ‘W’ will turn it white. Pressing ‘B’ or ‘W’ again will turn the screen back on (though I suspect it’s only me who didn’t know that!).

Teach – test (testing promotes remembering).

It takes a lot of practise to move something from the working memory to the long term memory, like learning times tables by rote. Therefore, ‘starters’ could take the form of testing prior teaching/learning, for instance a quiz of two questions from this week’s lessons, two from last week and two from last month.

I have to say that 2 hours went in a flash and I’m looking forward to the next session in February.


Below is a list of recommended literature:

YouTube Feltham School Knowledge Organiser (Leitner System)

Improving Secondary Science EEF (PDF)

Memorable Teaching – McCarea

Principles of Instruction (Teaching) – Barack Rosenshine 2010 (Download)

Education Practices Series 21 (Download)

How to use retrieval practice to improve learning (PDF)

A Classroom Guide – Understanding Working Memory, Susan Gathcole and Tracy Alloway

The importance of reading exam scripts – Alison Crocker and Joanne Gill

With a new exam completed and results given out it was an ideal time to request exam scripts back from the exam board to help with further understanding of the course; how it is marked and to inform future teaching to help student progress. It helps to make us into better teachers.

exam desks

Using these exam scripts in a Faculty meeting is invaluable for several reasons:

  • To feel proud of what your students have achieved – yes they did remember to include the key points; scholars; quotes etc. They have structured the essay how you have taught them and it reads really well.

excellent a

  • Where did they pick up the marks – how will this help to teach future cohorts – how to structure an essay; what to include and what not to include; check that you are giving the correct advice.
  • Where did they lose marks – how will this help to teach future cohorts – how the structure was not always evident; what they failed to include or what they mentioned but did not do themselves justice.
  • Moderating marking – are we the same as the exam board; too lenient or too tough (always prefer to be too tough); are we marking the same in school?
  • Have all of the students made the same errors? Why is the case? Is there something that we did not make clear in our teaching? Likewise what did we make explicit that they are confident to use in their writing?
  • Using small samples to show your students – how did they begin the essay; how did they manage to write for and against an argument; how did they include links to other sections of the course. Also where could it have been improved; where did the writing become confused or maybe a panic due to a lack of time? There are plenty of ways to use previous essays as examples, both good and those that need some improvements.

An hour well spent on quality discussion and targeted actions points to improve future teaching and student progress.

My Meta-cognition week – Becky O’Neill


Y12 analysed key quotes on class and gender in Jane Eyre, through its use of bird imagery. It never fails to amaze me how much all years levels love writing on the desks! They have more pride in their work and it allows them to draft and edit, easily wiping off parts, in order to evaluate and improve their work. It’s also amazing for allowing me to see their work and give automatic feedback. Sometimes I’ll rub out a word and ask them which word might be more precise, for instance, or ask why they decided on that exact word, instead of another. Seeing the work so easily allows me to ask them what their processes were to get to that stage, along with what their next steps will be and why. They then used the note form analysis to write a full paragraph (while embedding other criteria, such as context), the next lesson, and it was their best work that I’ve marked so far because they almost had a duel coded version of their thinking.

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Using Sue Strachan’s (@SusanSEnglish) blog on sophisticated introductions, Y11 wrote some fantastic introductions, using similes and triplets to introduce their theme or character. They’ve been blowing me away with their essays, in the lead up to their mocks, and they definitely met this challenge. Being forced to specify their character through adjectives (and other forms of figurative language), they really had to unpick their thoughts and justify them. They also said that they found characters easier than themes, so not only were they naturally reflecting on their learning, but I now know that we need to develop this when we revise themes next week. I want their work to stand out, as soon as the examiner reads their first sentence.

intro3.jpg RO

After playing my revision dice games, Y10 created their own on Friday. I put up question stems to ensure that they’d use a variety of higher order thinking skills, and it really challenged them to think about the poems from different perspectives. They also had to provide an answer sheet, taking ownership of their work, as others will be relying on them when they play their game. Next week, after they play each other’s games, I’ll keep them so that we can do it throughout the year for embedded learning.

game.jpg RO

Finally, Y7 made posters on Greek root meanings for homework, in order to help their spelling, vocabulary and readings skills. They had to use the prefixes provided in a word, put them in a sentence to show they understand its meaning and then add an image. I always use my visualiser to show 3-4 models of excellence and these were this week’s. I also log rewards for homework that shows time, effort and pride, so that along with being told how the task is beneficial and necessary,  homework has value and they know that I’ll acknowledge effort. These examples are obviously creative and show dedication to the task, but the last two also show that they went above and beyond by providing more than one word and sentence. Next week they’ll use their posters to teach each other ways of remembering the prefixes, so that they don’t forget them (this is also the point of the images: duel coding). Throughout the year, I’ll give them more prefixes and we’ll keep revisiting the posters which will again show them that the homework has value and use. We’ll probably begin turning them into quizzes, like we do with the department’s Knowledge Organisers.

By Becky O’Neill – first published on her own blog called


Action research projects – finding an area of focus

By Leyla Pattison

Last year, part of my role as North Somerset Leader of Education (NSLE) was to undertake an action research project. As a scientist, and particularly someone who spent several years working as a postgraduate researcher, I thought the whole research process would be quite straightforward. However, undertaking research as a postgraduate (where this is your only role) is very different from carrying out a project whilst juggling a full timetable, marking, managing a tutor group, lunchtime activities, meetings as well as desperately trying to maintain a normal home-life!

My aim for this series of blogs is to show you how I carried out my project last year. I’m going to be very honest about the ups and downs of the process and tell you what I have learnt along the way. This is not the only way to go about carrying out action research and I am certainly not saying it is the best way.

Choosing my project

I am very lucky to be mentored by Chris Moyse through the NSLE role and he was absolutely instrumental in guiding me through the process.

Our first meeting in October drew out a number of questions:

  • What am I interested in? Not my faculty, not the school, but me personally. We are all invested in driving our subjects forward and doing the best for our students. What I wanted to focus on was likely to tie in with any faculty or whole school plan, perhaps with a bit of tweaking. If I was going to spend a significant amount of time on this project, it needed to be something that I was engaged with.

For me, this was A-level teaching.

  • What are the issues within this particular area? Having just completed my exam results analysis, I knew that there was an ongoing issue with students targeted grades C-D. Chemistry is an incredibly polarising subject and this group of students were struggling to get their expected grades. I also had a particular student in mind and wanted him to achieve well the following year. I was concerned about him (and others) retaining the massive amount of knowledge he needed across the two-year course. This was also a problem with year 11 students who were just starting their revision programme.
  • Are other people working on this? What are other schools doing? I had already dipped my toe into edutwitter and read so many discussions about how on earth we were going to get students to learn 3 years’ worth of difficult content in preparation for their GCSE exams. Lots of people had spent a lot of time and effort into producing resources and databases and exam analysis. I did not have the time (or the inclination) for this. I found it all incredibly overwhelming.

    Chris encouraged me to find a focus. He had seen retrieval practice elsewhere and suggested I look into low stakes testing. A quick search for this at home brought up a website and some interesting articles that ere manageable and inspired me to look further.

  • What ideas do I already have? I had worked with Chris Cooknell in the past, sharing best practice, and he had introduced me to short multiple choice quizzes. I had started using these as plenaries in class. In the summer term before, my year 10s had really enjoyed writing quizzes and critiquing each other’s questions and answers. This was something I could extend into A-level.

After the meeting, I went away and thought about things. It took another week before I finally settled and was happy with my research focus of retrieval practice.

Low effort, maximum impact

For me, being mindful that I needed to carry out this work with no extra time allowance, it was of the upmost importance that this project would slot into my everyday teaching. It needed to be something that would not take a lot of effort on my part, something that would have a positive impact on my students quickly and in a way that I could measure.

I started trialling a very simple activity: 5- 10 multiple choice questions at the start of every A-level Chemistry lesson.

My action research project had begun!