Author Archives: Lee and David

About Lee and David

We are primary school practitioners who promote creative thinking in the classroom and beyond. Always open to and creating our own ideas to help children develop a passion for learning.

The Educational Cat-Walk

It’s seems that education is littered with initiatives, ideas and approaches that were once heralded as the ‘big new thing’ only to be derided a couple of years later because a new initiative has usurped its predecessor. Not unlike a fashion Cat-Walk, educational fads and fashions come and go; one day it’s fashionable to follow the trend, the next it’s positively cool to hate it! 

Take the following examples; VAK and Mini-Plenaries. In their pomp they were the mainstay of all ‘outstanding’ lessons but a quick scan of Twitter will soon find tweets mocking the idea of VAK and the idea that mini-plenaries show progress. Of course some of the tweets make perfect sense, trying to pigeon hole students as ‘Visual’ learners is a dangerous thing to do, it can lead students to believe they can’t learn from listening, that can never be right! However, whilst VAK is certainly out of fashion, it would be foolish to ignore it entirely; few would deny that trying to plan a lesson using a multi sensory approach is wrong; indeed it can inspire pupils to engage with learning, help contextualise lessons and make the whole learning experience more memorable. 

Mini-plenaries have suffered a similar fate. The name is a little silly (in our opinion) but helping pupils to reflect on their learning, questioning their understanding and adapting lessons to meet their needs is never a bad thing. The problem faced by mini plenaries was their association with Ofsted gradings ;it therefore became the ‘must have’ accessory for any lesson – whether it was necessary or not! Lessons may or may not need such a plenary, it should be for the teacher to decide – the idea that a lesson must have one has led to the mini-plenary being heckled from the sidelines. This is a little unfair – used wisely and perhaps without the silly ‘label’ – talking to students about their learning can support great progress. 

The next ‘big thing’ it seems is mastery. And we’re all on the bandwagon! Schools across the country want the latest ‘Mastery’ range and the word is popping up on planning, assessment and CPD. One thing we’re clear on is that the approach is not a bad idea, we just don’t like the name. I also take issue with using it as part of new assessment labels – how do we really know a student has mastered anything? 

What does mastery mean? 
Ask ten professionals and you’ll get ten different answers. So what’s the real answer? Has anyone mastered mastery? Our take is simple – it’s about the depth of learning, it’s about going beyond knowledge. (I can already hear people shouting ‘progressive nonsense’) Of course knowledge is critical, after all, pupils needs this as a vehicle on which to think. It’s seems maths departments across the land have taken mastery to heart and why not? When done well pupils knowledge and understanding is enriched, they’re challenged, they get confused (we believe this is important because it can drive curiosity) and learning is deeper. As a result the learning sticks and that’s what we all want – not only that, the transferable skills/habits (I’m aware this phrase is unfashionable at the moment) pupils develop whilst they’re comparing, analysing and debating will, over time, become more valuable that the answers on the worksheet. At present were working on some approaches to mastery using Bloom’s taxonomy as a scaffold on which to plan learning. Again, Bloom’s Taxonomy is divisive; popular with some whilst others dismiss it. 

Our point being is this; educational initiatives, ideas, approaches shouldn’t be like a fashion parade. They should be seen for what they are; the thoughts and research of others, the result of tried and tested practice or simply someone’s hunch. Our job as educators is to critically evaluate them, use them (or not) and try to get the very best out of the student we teach. Be brave, go with what you believe, whether the idea is ‘fashionable’ or not or whether the idea is 2, 5 or 50 years old. It’s your classroom! 

The Thought Weavers.

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The Hunt for a better Education!

Education is not for the faint hearted, decisions are all too often made for us and new initiatives are driven by ideology or some would say stupidity.

Last year David and I (@thought_weavers) were fortunate enough to be invited to the DfE for a meeting with Elizabeth Truss and her policy advisors to discuss the new curriculum. We were also joined by a fantastic bunch of bloggers and together we debated the introduction of the new curriculum. I think it’s fair to say we came away from that meeting utterly bemused.

In the Summer of 2014 the group met with Michael Cladingbowl, the director for inspection reform at Ofsted – a very down to earth and honest character with a vision for Ofsted far removed from the opinions formed up and down the corridors in schools. We felt this was a more successful meeting and many of the new reforms and forthcoming changes have been inspired by Michael’s vision.

Today (9th January 2015) the group reformed and went to talk to Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary. Along with @imaginenquiry, @debrakidd and @cherrylkd I went to his constituency office in Stoke-on-Trent. I was brought up in the Potteries and in the past 40 years I have witnessed the dismantling of this once proud, hardworking, industrial heartland. There are no glass fronted buildings for Tristram Hunt, instead he steps right from the door of his constituency office right into the heart of the ‘real’ Stoke on a Trent of which I love and immensely proud to be part of.

On arrival we were welcomed by Tristram and he offered a cup of tea (but no biscuits!!!!) we went upstairs and sat around a small table in a small meeting (a far cry for the grandeur of the DfE) and the meeting began.

Without a set agenda the conversation was fluid and many aspects of education were discussed.

A key issue that soon arose (in our initial discussions) was that teachers were often leaving the profession for different careers and this was a particularly concern of mine. Tristram contended that in the modern workplace, few people went into a careers thinking it was a job for life, instead many of the chose to explore different avenues along the way; the group felt this was a fair point, but when teachers left the profession because of the weight of paperwork, data chasing and stress this was unacceptable – to this Tristram agreed.

We then soon got on to what we came to hear – what is Tristram Hunt’s vision for education? We asked him this question directly. Almost to my surprise he was very forthcoming with a clear and succinct answer. Tristram is adamant that education is the key to social justice and social mobility. He spoke passionately about pupils who were happy, enriched at school and were given opportunities to build character and he believes these aspects of education go hand in hand with academic success. Tristram sees education as the key to sustainable economic success in which a talented workforce can thrive. I was very surprised how easily his vision was articulated, this was certainly something in which he he deeply believed. Tristram was also open to the fact that all of his beliefs were linked to the core of the Labour movement. Whether we like it or not, education will always have an ideological influence but he made no attempt to hide it; he spoke with pride when referring to the Labour Movement.

Of course it’s great to have a sound philosophy of education but how was Tristram planning to make this a workable model of education?

His first priority is clearly early years – and by this I mean 0-5yrs. He wants to reinvigorate the SureStart program. This really excites me – I’ve always believed in this idea but I think it failed becuase no one really new why it existed – Tristram was clear; SureStart should be used to to tackle child poverty, a place where different agencies can work together, where parents can meet and learn for one another. In his own words Tristram wanted to ‘Reboot’ SureStart.

I gave the example of a breastfeeding support group held at a local community centre that was part run by my partner, which has recently closed; this group served as a haven for struggling parents, a chance to see how others interact with children and simply to make friends. As a father of a young bright three year old daughter I am only too aware of the benefits of these initiatives aimed at targeting and supporting young families. The sad irony of SureStart is that whilst the initiative was aimed at families on lower incomes, it was the middle classes that pounce on this opportunity. The challenge Tristram is to promote the value of SureStart to ALL families
Irrespective of their social status. The aim must be to create community ethos routed in learning and support.

Tristram then moved on to school policy. On one thing he was crystal clear; relentless structural reform is not the answer to raising standards. His belief is that the quality of teacher and the strength of leadership is the key to improvement. He stated that “all teachers should be qualified or working towards being qualified” and this was important to the profession as a whole. Tristram also believes that new careers paths that encourage the best teachers who don’t want to move into leadership and management should be available and believes the growth of federations would provide an opportunity for this.

One of my frustrations in education is that teachers don’t have time to think, they are overworked and have little time to reflect and improve; Tristram believes that teachers should have time to think and that well run schools do make this happen. He cited a school he’d visited recently where teachers had less contact time with pupils than is the norm and as a result standards has risen dramatically – he accepted that this was going to be a difficult idea to sell to parents but it was well worth it..

@debrakidd brought up the issue of the examination system. Tristram conceded that their are no hard and fast answers and that a perfect system is difficult to achieve. He did suggest that a number of assessment approaches should be used and mooted the idea of an ‘National Baccalaureate’ – a qualification that included English and Maths, learning outside the classroom and project based piece of work. He was clear that ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’ should be of equal worth.

We spoke briefly about curriculum. Tristram made it clear that the new curriculum is here to stay; namely for the sake of stability and the he trusts teachers to do great things with it. He is passionate about a broad and balanced curriculum and agrees with the new Ofsted approach of ensuring this happens in school. I spoke about the pressure of sats and how this makes it difficult to offer a board and balanced curriculum in Y6. @imaginaryequiry pointed out that since writing became solely teacher assessed at Y6 education hasn’t imploded and surely this approach could be extended to reading and maths. Tristram seems genuinely intrigued by this idea.

I was open throughout the meeting that many teachers felt angry about the attitude of Michael Gove towards the profession and @cherrylkd asked Tristram what his approach to teachers will be, should he become the Education Secretary. Tristram was clear – his priority is children, not teachers – but – he was at pains to stress that a motivated and happy workforce is critical to this. He wants a “world class teacher in every classroom” that is support by an effective CPD framework. He also stressed that accountability is important, given the £51bn spent on education each year.

Tristram is no fool, he has a clear vision and is passionate about education. His ideas are very ‘idealistic’ and by his own admission, achieving them in time of tight financial constraints will be a huge challenge.

The meeting finished after around 80 minutes and we did our usual photo sessions and ‘chit chat.’ After the meeting we had a mini debrief in the local pub and all agreed – the meeting was very positive, it gave us hope.

The Hunt goes on!

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LPoetry for the Totally Terrified


What were your experiences of learning poetry at school?

I don’t know about you but my experience of the dreaded poetry lesson at school was always a rather torturous affair. My memories are rather clouded nowadays but I distinctively remember the fear and humiliation of not being able to conjure up words quickly enough to appease my teacher.

I didn’t have the ability (at the time) to randomly pull from my brain – long, flowing prose like that of my very gifted peers. I definitely had the ideas but I didn’t have the ability to express myself. I therefore fell into the myth that poetry (like Shakespeare) was only for the posh or clever kids – of which I may add – I was neither!

There were a number of poets we learned about in school; all of them had very different and distinctive styles and approaches to poetry. What I did observe was that 99.9% of them were either – male; white or dead!

I remember the excitement of reading Spike Milligan for the first time. Spike was – dare I say it? Funny! It wasn’t until I got into my early thirties that I found such gems as:

Nick Toczek – The Dragon Who Ate Our School
Roger McGough – Mafia Cats
Michael Rosen – Chocolate Cake
Celia Warren – Chimpanzees in Dungarees
Benjamin Zephaniah – Pencil Me In

There are hundreds more I could mention consequently they taught me:

You could write a poem on any subject
The poem could be any length
It didn’t matter if it rhymed or not
The most important part being; that if the poem made you happy (as the author) well that was the main thing.

When encouraging children to learn poetry you only need to keep these four basic principles in mind. It allows freedom and encourages their creative to flow.

Another great tool for writing poetry is the use of Personification – ask the children
“What do the first six letters of personification spell?” ‘PERSON’
They love the idea of making inanimate items come to life; in others words giving non-living things ‘person-like’ qualities.

This does come with a health warning though! If personification is taught using the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century models it will invariably turn kids off! You know the sort of thing I’m talking about; where personification becomes entwined with simile and metaphor:

“Trees were dancing with the wind.”
“The cruel Easterly wind roared like a lion.”
“The Sun threw down his majestic rays of golden sunshine.”
To make it more fun and exciting use everyday examples.
If all the items of clothing in your wardrobe had a debate which one has the best job? The worst job? Think about a cake shop – who are the toffs? Which items are the down and outs. I’ll share some more examples and ideas in my next blog.

Sticking with the clothing theme my class thought a silk tie would have the best job as it is worn on special occasions and is on full view for all to see. Where as the title of the worst job goes to the pants (for obvious reasons) see the two examples below:

Personify the Tie
Pete the Dancing Pants.

I hope you enjoy them.

Cheers Lee & David (The Thought Weavers)


“Oh my!” Sighed the tie,
suspended from the collar white.
“All alone, no friends have I,
to sit and chat with through the night.”

Then a voice came from beneath,
Twas the yellow polka dot handkerchief.
“I wish I were you instead of me,
you are on full view for all to see.”

“You are lofty like the rocket –
I am crumpled and stuffed in pocket.
You are bought as a forget-me-not,
I am cold, damp and
full of SNOT!”

David Anderson – ©02.11.05


Peter Pants began to dance
around the bedroom floor;
the washing basket all looked on
and the clothes they yelled for more.

Fifi French the Flirty shirt,
Whispered “Peter I love you thing.”
Vin the Vest was dead impressed.
and he was completely made of string?

Peter spun and ducked and dived
Then flew backwards in mid-air.
Ian tie said “I’ll have some o’ that”
and slithered from the chair.

Jim and Jock the tartan socks,
began to Rock and Roll.
But Jock the Sock says
“We’ll have to stop – I think we’ve got a hole!”

The Sponge and the Flannel did the ‘Cha, Cha Cha’
The Hand Towel the Boogaloo.
Pete gave a wink to the lady in pink
And said “Madam, how do you do?”

Pretty soon the party parted –
In walked a Super-star.
She was white, she was lacy and rather racy
Her name was Barbara Bra.

Barbara sauntered up to Peter
And grabbed him by his ‘Y’
She kissed his cheek, his knees went weak
Then he began to cry.

“Oh Barbara, not again –
this is getting beyond a joke.
I don’t want to dance – I’m an old pair o’ pants
and I think my elastic’s broke.”

David Anderson- © 09.12.05 (8)

Fantastic website if you are stuck for rhymes

Brilliant YouTube clip demonstrating the rhyming patterns within an Eminem song:

Fantastic performance of ‘Chocolate Cake’ by Michal Rosen, demonstrating what one can do with poetry:

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Poetry for the Totally Terrified

One from the Thought Weavers archive – POETRY FOR THE TOTALLY TERRIFIED



What were your experiences of learning poetry at school?

I don’t know about you but my experience of the dreaded poetry lesson at school was always a rather torturous affair. My memories are rather clouded nowadays but I distinctively remember the fear and humiliation of not being able to conjure up words quickly enough to appease my teacher.

I didn’t have the ability (at the time) to randomly pull from my brain – long, flowing prose like that of my very gifted peers. I definitely had the ideas but I didn’t have the ability to express myself. I therefore fell into the myth that poetry (like Shakespeare) was only for the posh or clever kids – of which I may add – I was neither!

There were a number of poets we learned about in school; all of them had very different and distinctive styles…

View original post 724 more words

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Our meeting with the DfE

Meeting with the DfE and @emmannhardy, @heymisssmith, @educationbear, @debrakidd, @cherrylkd, @imagineinquiry and @theprimaryhead


Wow –we were invited to the DfE to talk about the new curriculum – came like a ‘bolt out of the blue’ and a sense of ‘at last they’ll listen to us’ pervaded our thinking. We soon calmed down though, but the thought of attending a meeting with a bunch of passionate bloggers and tweeters can never be turned down. The thought of meeting Elizabeth Truss was also exciting, perhaps we were getting a little ‘star-struck.’

Despite knowing we would be meeting about the national curriculum we knew little else. Like swatting students we downloaded the National Curriculum ‘APP’ and ensured we could talk about it with some authority. However we were not naïve enough to think that a bunch of educational bloggers would not be forcing their own agenda – And why not!

We arrived in London the evening before (From sunny Staffordshire) and stayed at the YHA near St. Paul’s Cathedral (I promised I’d give them a plug – they’ve got some excellent rates for school parties! Ask for ‘Matty’). On the morning of the meeting we ambled (with a few diversions) across to Westminster for our meeting scheduled for 2pm.

Finally, the time had come and we went to the reception area of the DfE and eventually we were escorted through to the meeting room and off we started.


The precise content of the curriculum was never going to be the focus. Many of us felt that in reality there is little change with relation to content and we pointed out that given any curriculum, talented leaders and practitioners have the ability to create a fantastic learning journey for their pupils. We did point out that whilst the English primary curriculum is 88 pages in length (including appendices), many other subject areas are only three pages in length; on the face of it, this doesn’t suggest a broad and balanced curriculum will be insisted upon.


A key weakness in ‘the system’ that was highlighted was the lack of support for implementation, both from the DfE and the LAs. Elizabeth Truss made the point that ‘Teaching Schools’ should be taking on this role, but as @cherrylkd highlighted, teaching schools are only just getting to grips with changes themselves. Overall the group felt the curriculum content wasn’t a major issue but the timeframes and support for implementation were a big challenge.


We spoke a lot about assessment and we came away from the meeting with an ever increasing sense of uncertainty. The policy advisers were unsure how the curriculum would be assessed. Their thoughts were that English, Maths and Science would be formally assessed at KS1 and KS2 but what these would look like remains a bit of mystery. When pushed, some mumbled response about pupils having a standardised score might be an option, where a score of 100 is the ‘Expected’ outcome. This really concerns us: whilst schools/clusters of schools are creating new assessment systems, some at a considerable cost; financially and time; the government plans to bring in a national standardised test for pupils at the end of Y2 and Y6. Should this happen, we’ll be back to ‘square one’ – schools will ‘re-build’ there assessment systems to fit around ‘National Assessments’ and pupils will be funnelled in to a curriculum where Maths and English scores rule. Pupils who have score of ‘100’ in Y3 will be targeted to get a score of ‘103’ in Y4, making accelerated progress (sound familiar?) Where a score of 100 will be acceptable for Ofsted to begin with, before long, a score of 103 will become the new ‘expectation’ and Gove will pull out his favourite line of “We make no apologies for raising expectations.”(Sound familiar?) At the meeting the rationale behind removing levels was so avoid labelling pupils; but really, what is the difference between ‘John Smith’ being a level 3a or having a score of 98? Both systems are still ‘Carrot and Stick’ and they both attach a score, tattooed into the psyche of teachers, parents and pupils!


No educational debate is complete without the mention of Ofsted. What was very interesting at the meeting was the luke warm response from the DfE with regard to Ofsted. Rather than defend their ‘trusty’ (though independent-ish) foot-soldiers, Elisabeth Truss seemed keen to know more about their impact on teachers/schools, with particular reference to workload and moral. We talked about the vast swathes of marking expected of teachers and the vast array of differentiation we’re expected to provide. We were met with “Where did this message come from?” – Truss was clearly unaware of the pressure from SLTs, LAs and Ofsted to jump through these hoops. Truss was keen to point out that the government does not have a policy of differentiation and she seemed genuinely surprised at the level of marking required. Our key point was that when the Ofsted handbook changes so does educational policy; the question remains; who is charge of education? The DfE or Ofsted? And we think this is where the battleground lies!

There was clearly an undercurrent of disquiet towards Ofsted, whilst this was never mentioned explicitly, the policy advisors and Truss made no attempt to defend them.


The ‘Gang’ #DfEgreight

Whilst no-one could really deny that an invite from the DfE is a great opportunity to share views, the most positive part of the day was the opportunity to meet with an eclectic group of bloggers from around the country, each with their own point and style. During the meeting the views were delivered thoughtfully, passionately, honestly and sometimes angrily, but every view had its own merit. For us, it was great to hear such a range of perspectives about Education. Ultimately the visit wasn’t for ourselves, we all went to the DfE to get a better deal for the pupils we nurture and educate. Let’s never lose focus of that.


The Thought Weavers.

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10 Ways to Use and Apply in Maths

I’ve never wrote a ‘Maths’ blog before so this is my first attempt. I’ve spent much of my career in Y6 and one aspect I’ve worked particularly hard at is developing ‘Using and Applying’ (U&A) in maths. There are lots of definitions as to what U&A actually is however; I’m not going to get bogged down in this debate. In my opinion it’s less to do with word problems and more to do with reversing the transactional norm of a maths question. To clarify what I mean here is an ‘shape’ example:


The staple diet of this area of maths is to label a shape with its properties. Nothing wrong with this except it can be a bit ‘dry’ and for the most confident learners presents little challenge. To reverse the process try this; give pupils a list of properties, ask them to choose 5, then to draw a shape to meet the criteria they have set. Immediately pupils have to be creative, they have to USE their knowledge and because the teacher has not given a specific shape, learners have a lot of choice.

10 ways to Use and Apply across the maths spectrum:

  1. Area and Perimeter: Give pupils the answer first and then ask them to draw the shape. For example, draw an ‘L’ shape with a perimeter of 50cm. The same approach can be used for area; draw an ‘L’ shape with an area of 25cm². To extend this further create statements to investigate; for example, Rectangles with a perimeter of 20cm always have the same area.
  1. Measures: Reading scales can be notoriously laborious and often too easy for the best mathematicians. Try this though. Give the pupils a ‘menu;’ create a table with three columns, the first column is the ‘start number,’ the second is the ‘end number’ and the third column is the ‘number of intervals.’ In each column place 5-10 numbers. The pupils now have a menu to create their own scale.
  1. Shape: When the class are learning about different types of shapes or categorising triangles or quadrilaterals the concept is often picked up rapidly. To move the learning on create simple statements for the pupils; the pupils then investigate whether they are true or false (or sometimes a bit of both!) and provide evidence to support their view. For example:
  • An isosceles triangle could have a right angle.
  • A square can only be split in half along a line of symmetry.
  • Two rectangles can never make a square.
  • Two squares always make a rectangle.
  • A rhombus is half of a parallelogram.
  1. Line graphs. This is a simple one to set up; discuss with the pupils how line graphs often tell a story. Give the pupils a range of ‘blank’ line graphs; only draw the X and Y axes and the line. Do not label anything or put values on the axes. Pupils can either tell the story or create a title. This is a great activity done collaboratively. Over years I’ve heard some amazing stories!

  1. Rounding numbers; in my experience this is the archetypal ‘they’ve either got-it or they haven’t’ type lesson and when they’ve ‘got-it’ it doesn’t matter how many decimals places your throw at them it doesn’t get their brains thinking. Instead give the answer and pupils predict what the question could have been; for example. 6.7 has been rounded to the nearest tenth, what could the original number have been?

  1. Multiplication. If pupils learn the ‘grid’ method in your school, you’ll know that some get through the calculations as quite-a-pace. By giving the answer first the thinking begins. For example, A TU x TU calculation gives an answer of 475. What could the numbers have been and what would the completed ‘grid’ look like?
  1. Co-ordinates. This is an effective plenary idea if the pupils have been learning to plot co-ordinates in all four quadrants. Imagine the classroom is a grid and label each corner/area with the numbers 1-4. Give the class a co-ordinate and the pupils move to which quadrant they think the co-ordinate lives!
  1. Time: Calculating differences in time can be quite tricky for most. However, for some pupils it comes quite easily. Instead of asking pupils to find the difference between the start and finish times, give the pupils the answer and either the start or the finish time. For example, the time difference is 3hrs 56mins, the finish time is 06:34 – what is the start time?
  1. Odd one out: This can be used across maths. For this example I’ll use fractions. Write 5 fractions on the board; assign a fraction to each table/group in the class. The challenge of the table is to prove why their fraction is the odd one out. Always ask for evidence to support their argument.
  1. Plan the plenary. Again this can be used for any type or maths. This is a great idea to challenge those pupils who finish in double quick time. Their challenge is to plan a simple game/activity to finish the lesson that MUST help everyone reinforce their learning. The pupils must lead the game/activity. This idea takes some time to embed, but once it does the results are incredible.

If you have any other ideas, let us know – or even better, write them in the comments box below so they can be shared!

The Thought Weavers.

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Effective Feedback – PAIR marking

Effective written feedback – PAIR marking


I don’t remember much of the marking from my school days; but one ‘grade’ does stick in my head – I once got a D+ for a piece of work in geography. I was gutted, I worked hard in geography and Mr Machin, my teacher, seemed pretty decent or “sound” as I might have said then.

So why does this piece of marking stick so vividly in my head? Well, for one reason it damaged my fragile teenage ego (But really that’s just tough!) but the other reason is simple; there was no explanation for it – I didn’t know why the grade was so low and I didn’t know how to improve it. It was poor marking!


I’ve read a few blogs about marking and the first point I note is that marking really should be called feedback. The purpose of marking is to give feedback to learners to help them assess their progress and make improvements.

 Prof. John Hattie highlights the importance of feedback in his book ‘Visible Learning’ and the Sutton Trust ‘Teacher Toolkit’ corroborates this evidence. The key to feedback though is to get it right. Poor feedback doesn’t help learners and wastes the time of the teacher who writes it.


So what does ‘effective’ feedback (in the guise of marking) look like?

I’ve introduce PAIR marking at my school. PAIR is an acronym, not to be put into books, but as a guide to structure effective feedback.


The P stands for:

PRAISE – this is the most ineffective aspect of marking I see. ‘Good work,’ Well done,’ and ‘Brilliant’ are vague terms that offer no useful feedback to learners. There are some who argue that effective feedback has no room for praise, and to a point, I’m sympathetic to that view. However, praise can be highly effective when it acknowledges personal attributes. To justify this I would point to the work of Carol Dweck who explains that praising for effort and tenacity develops a growth mindset; a belief that you can get ‘brighter.’ Praising the thinking behind the learning can also acknowledge the mental effort afforded to the task.


The A stands for:

ASSESS assessment of the learning (not the task) is critical if the learner is to use the marking to gauge their progress. It is essential that the feedback is accurate and explains reasons behind it; for example – This is effective writing BECAUSE… is better than scribbling  ‘Great writing.’


The I stands for:

IMPROVE – This aspect of PAIR marking presents the student with an opportunity to improve their learning. The teacher offers guidance about improvement so that the student can reach the next step. Phrases such as ‘your next step is,’ and ‘to improve…,’ provide useful starters. I often pose questions to pupils, encouraging them to think about their learning and how they might improve it. Questions are particularly powerful for learners who find it difficult to reflect on their learning by themselves. Short ‘improvement’ tasks to address weaknesses/misconceptions can also be set to be completed at the start of the next lesson. Improvement can be explicit (e.g. ‘to improve…’) or implicit, where a question is posed to promote further thought.


The R stands for:

RESPOND – This is a great strategy to make feedback ‘Stick!’ The chance for the pupils to have their say! Pupils can respond in a number of ways; a signature to acknowledge they’ve read feedback; answer a question posed by the teacher; complete the short ‘improvement’ task; agree or disagree or maybe just a personal response. When pupils respond to marking this creates a learning ‘dialogue’ between the teacher and the learner; highly effective AfL!


What does pair marking look like?

Here is an excellent example of PAIR marking I saw in an English book the other day:


         Great resilience today. As a reader I was ‘hooked in’ because you varied the sentence starters. To improve vary the length of sentences.

‘How can I ‘PAIR’ mark every piece of work?’ 

A very sensible question and that’s never the expectation. I would recommend that 1/3 pieces of work should have every aspect of PAIR marking and for the others pieces use ‘PAR.’

My final piece of advice about marking is to keep it short, precise and meaningful as in the example above.


The Thought Weavers


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The Mini-Plenary – Friend or Foe?

It wasn’t until a couple of years into my teaching career that I’d heard of a ‘mini-plenary.’ According to the local authority my lessons should have one. When I asked what that might ‘look like’ in the classroom I was given a garbled response about checking progress half way through the lesson.

“But what if I know that the children are doing just fine – why would I want to stop them?” I asked. The reply was short and sweet and straight to the point; “Because Ofsted want them!”

The ‘mini-plenary’ is very en-vogue at the moment, it’s a bit of an educational buzz-word (phrase) and I can’t remember the last time I made a lesson observation and didn’t see one (Or at least an attempt at one)

The problem with ‘Buzz-words’ in education is that they become so familiar to practitioners that they lose their meaning. They become the Boweneque “super, smashing, great,” feature of the educational world; said so many times the meaning is lost.

Getting back to ‘Mini-Plenaries’ then; they can be very useful. It is however, important to remember the purpose of a ‘Mini-Plenary’ is to:


  1.   Enhance the assessment of the teacher; ensuring the learning is meeting the needs of the learners
  2. Give the learners the opportunity to ask “How am I getting on?”
  3. Challenge the thinking of the learners.
  4.  Assist learners in target setting.
  5. Address whole class patterns of misunderstanding 


Too often Mini-Plenaries are for show; little thought is given to their timings, they become a show and tell session with little evaluative significance and are not intellectually demanding. Even worse, they become a trick to ‘show progress’ to an inspector every ten minutes; if we believe that pupils make progress this often and at this rate then we’re either exceptionally gifted educators or deluded.

Assessment for learning during the lesson should be ongoing; it doesn’t necessarily need a whole ‘slot’ with a ‘wizzy’ name to be useful. Assessment takes place at every stage in the lesson, whether it is with one pupil, a group or the whole class.


Effective Mini-Plenaries

The best Mini-Plenaries (for want of a better phrase) are intellectually demanding;  ask challenging questions of the pupils and ensure that when the learners get back to their task, they apply their new skills and understanding with greater authority and confidence.


 Ideas for the classroom:

  1. ‘Plenary’ questions display – great prompts for the teacher. The students will know they will be expected to respond to them as some point in the lesson – raising expectations.
  2.  Pupil led Mini-plenary – put the ‘Plenary’ questions on to key rings/cards with a ‘group’ leader who will then guide the discussion on each table.
  3. Review the success criteria – Are the prompts effective? How could we make them better?
  4. Peer assessment – students to pick one aspect of the success criteria for their partners/peers to work on.
  5. True or false statements related to the learning. Ask the pupils to move to a specified area of the classroom based on their response. Demand reasoning here!!

Mini-Plenaries are not a foe; the phrase is just over used (We suspect due to Ofsted ‘game’ playing) All of the above ideas should be part of learners’ experience in class, they don’t need a label; reflection is part of the learning process. Ultimately ‘Mini-Plenaries’ are for the benefit of the pupils, not just another box to tick on an observation form.


The Thought-Weavers

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Preparing for Ofsted 2013

Last year I gave a presentation at the education show entitled ‘Preparing for Ofsted.’ I sifted through lots of Ofsted reports, founds patterns of ‘behaviours’ and looked for things inspectors seemed to be consistently asking for. I then created a slide show based on my findings.

In February 2013, Ofsted visited my school. As a result I’ve recently updated the slide show and below is the new updated version. I hope it will help you when your visit is due.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2″ target=”_blank”>Preparing for ofsted! 2013 v2</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>paceanderson</a></strong> </div>

The Though_Weavers

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The Ofsted Effect

I visit many schools and talk to hundreds of professionals all of the time. Never far from the conversation is Ofsted. Ofsted worry schools to the point that the whole ethos is to please Ofsted. This is wrong because a school’s ethos should be built around its pupils.

I was listening to Mick Waters just the other week and he talked about ‘Game Theory;’ the idea that organisations adjust their practices because of the coercion of others. He gave the example of the railways. Since privatisation, the government has set train operating companies punctuality targets, in response to this the timetables have been adjusted to allow for more ‘slippage;’ the outcome is simple, journey times are longer but targets are met. A classic case of:

“Hitting the target but missing the point”

Schools are in danger of doing precisely this! The Ofsted game has led to some dubious practices; below are just a few that come to mind:

The learning objective must be shared.

We’re not saying it should never be shared, but for every lesson? Surely great learning is great learning and pupils will know this! We shouldn’t forget that learning is never ‘objective!’ It’s a personal process, it belongs to individuals and groups; it is therefore subjective!

The mini-plenary.

Of course great learners need time to reflect, to think about how it might be used; a chance to ponder. However, I heard a story the other day of a class given just 1m 40s before the first mini-plenary was delivered. Pupils need time to question, discuss and just to get on with learning; they don’t need the teacher stopping them every five minutes to check progress.

The end of curiosity.

I’ve seen too many lessons in the past 5 years where the learning outcome is measured in levels. The message is clear; “no need to be curious or inquisitive, I’ve given you the outcome using an arbitrary numerical level and that’s where we’re all heading.” What happened to wonder? Wondering what the outcome might be, the chance to play, to experiment and take risks. I asked a learner in July what he needed to do to get better at maths and he replied “Get a level 5.” Earlier this year I asked a girl what she was learning in English and she replied “AF5” – she could tell I was bemused. I then asked her why and she replied “to get a level 4.” Needless to say writing for pleasure is not one of her pastimes!

Tick Box Teaching

The arrival of the ‘lesson observation grids’ has done great damage to teaching. Instead of teachers, the danger is we become technicians; just ticking the boxes as we go along and ticking as many boxes as possible when an observer is in. Of course there should be guidance, hints and tips, strategies shared and practice observed but when you’ve seen practitioners shower praise like confetti, include a dozen mini plenaries and share enough differentiated learning outcomes for the entire population you know it’s ‘Tick box Teaching.’

Teaching to the tests.

Ofsted predominantly measure a school by their ‘standards.’ Some argue this is not the case, but I’ve yet to come across a school with 100% level 4s at KS2 who’ve been put into special measures. So along comes the ‘SPaG’ test and hey presto, grammar lessons are back on the menu, the ‘how many pieces of punctuation can you fit in a sentence’ game is played and spelling tests, lots of spelling tests! Some argue that children should have this type of experience, but if they felt so strongly why weren’t they doing it last year?

If we continue down this ‘Game,’ education will lose its heart, writing will be a technical experience marked with levels, learning will become boxes to tick and teachers will become robots who simply deliver the packages of contents…And pupils…I fear for them…

So please, follow your philosophy, don’t be compliant and ensure the children in your class/school enjoy an education fit for their futures.

The Thought Weavers

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