EEF Research & Evidence Library of Guidance Report References

Staffordshire Research School have collated ALL the EEF guidance reports into one padlet – amazing work. Over the last few weeks they have invested a fair few hours to source direct links to as many pieces of evidence and research referenced in the EEF’s Guidance Reports, with the hope that it will save school leaders and teachers 1000’s of hours replicating the searches, as some are pretty hard to track down!! In the Padlet link you will find:

  • 15 EEF Guidance Reports
  • Over 760 direct links to the research sources
  • The overwhelming majority of the links we have sourced are freely accessible (but not all unfortunately – and really should be to educators, in our opinion!)
  • Where possible we have located and provided links to PDFs so they can be directly accessed, saved and stored (or we have saved them and uploaded them already for you)

Be patient – it’s a very large Padlet page so takes a short while to load all links and documents – stick with it, it does work! The internet evolves rapidly too, so if you find any links are broken, please let us know so we can keep this as up to date and as useful as possible. you can email here.

In return, all we ask is that you follow us on twitter @JTStaffsRSch tweet/retweet it, tag us in and spread the word so that as many people can benefit as possible and we all save each other as much time as we can. Feel free to share it, use it and signpost it in training and with colleagues.

Here’s the link, we hope you find it useful –…

Nathan Morland – Research School Director

Carly Kelly – Research School Co-ordinator

Thoughts on Yr11 – the countdown…

57 Day Plan

Here at Durrington our Y11 students have sat their mocks and had their results and in a number of subjects, teachers have already finished teaching the content of the course.  It’s parents evening tonight and a common topic of discussion will be what the students need to do in between now and when the exams start to maximise their performance.  Curriculum leaders and teachers have been discussing the same thing – how can teachers optimise the use of the next 57 school days (starting on Monday) before the GCSE exams start?  The most effective teachers seem to have a degree of commonality between how they plan to approach the next 57 days with their classes, which we have tried to formulate into a ‘to-do’ list in this blog.

  • Work out how many lessons you have left within these 57 days.  You then know what you are working with.
  • Interrogate the mock papers for the classes you taught.  Which questions and topics  did they perform poorly on?
  • Go further than this though.  It’s not good enough just to identify the topics they under-performed in, as topics are very broad.  You need to know which specific parts of the topic they under-performed in and why?  For example, in physics, they may have under-performed in momentum.  However, there are a number of reasons why they might have lost marks e.g. they couldn’t recall the equation p=m x v; they didn’t know that momentum is conserved, so it’s the same before and after a collision or explosion; they couldn’t remember the units kg m/s.  This is important – you have to know where the specific knowledge gaps are, in order to address it through your teaching.
  • Know your students.  Who under-performed and why?  Have a plan about how you are going to support them e.g. one to one modelling and scaffolding; checking they are OK when they start a task; asking them more challenging questions to really stretch their thinking; boost their confidence when they successfully tackle a question they have previously struggled with.
  • Look at moderator reports and the exam board analysis of students in your centre compared to national results – in the subject you taught.  Whilst this was a different cohort, it might still give you an indication of potential areas to focus on.
  • You now know the lessons you have left and the content that you should cover, so use this to produce a plan.  Lesson by lesson, what are you going to cover?  This will ensure that you cover all the potential problem areas in the run up to the exams.  Leave yourself some flexibility within this plan though, as you will probably need to review it.
  • Producing a plan like this will reduce your anxiety.  You won’t have to worry that you might miss something, or that you won’t fit it all in as you’ve already done all the planning.
  • Next – plan carefully what you are going to do in those lessons?  Retrieval of knowledge will be key and will help boost the confidence of students.  So start with some retrieval questions of the main topics.  Build this up over the weeks, so they have an every growing list of cumulative questions to revise from independently
  • Think about how you are going to model to students how to choose, use and evaluate  the best strategy to tackle an exam question (metacognition).   The EEF metacognition guidance report provides a great 7 step approach to help you model this with them:

  • A number of curriculum areas have simplifed this down to an ‘I, we, you‘ approach, which lends itself perfectly to modelling answering exam questions.  The teacher does one on their own, explaining and discussing each of the steps on the way. The teacher and the class then work through a similar question together. Finally, students work through another similar question on their own.
  • Make sure they have worked examples in their books (after the ‘I’ stage, above), as that will reduce the cognitive load when it comes to tackling similar questions on their own.
  • Give them lots of opportunities to answer really hard exam questions – purposeful practice.  This article in The Guardian talks about a Cardiff maths teacher whose whole class achieved an A* at GCSE.  A colleague describes the teacher:

“We call him the maths whisperer. He instils the belief that they have practised the hardest maths that they have to ever face, so why be scared of an exam? It’s the belief that they absolutely can do it, and the children think it’s magic.”

  • Use this in-class exam question practice formatively.  Where are they going wrong?  Is it identifying topics that you need to re-teach? If so, re-teach them.
  • Use homework wisely – plan carefully the exam questions they can do at home to link it to what you have been doing in lessons, but also include topics that you haven’t covered recently, as an opportunity for some spaced practice.   This should also be used as an opportunity for whole-class feedback – how did they do? What common mistakes were made? How can they avoid these mistakes?
  • Make it easy for parents to support what you are doing at home.  We have put copies of knowledge organisers from all subjects on our VLE for parents to download and use for quizzing.  We have also recorded some YouTube videos for parents, explaining how they can support with flashcards and knowledge organisers.
  • Review your seating plan this is a great time to refocus a class with a new seating plan and think about who might benefit who, through sitting together?
  • And finally – review your plan.  As time goes on, you will almost certainly discover that you need to spend more time on X than Y.  Be responsive.

Shaun Allison


Thoughts from Durrington to discuss:

Cracking homework

Homework has been on my list of whole-school responsibilities for some time now.  In fact, this will be the sixth year in which I’ve been charged with leading on all things connected to learning outside of the classroom.  Other than revision that is.  Although that is partly me as well.


So surely five years has been enough time to crack homework.  You could reasonably expect to see a school in which all staff set purposeful and meaningful homework that has watertight consistency across subject teams, students are intrinsically motivated to complete it and so do so without prompting, detentions are a thing of the past as every piece is handed in on time, to a high standard, and the learning train travels smoothly on towards its destination of brilliant outcomes for all.

Perhaps not.

However, while the homework utopia described above may be out of my reach no matter how long it remains my responsibility, I certainly feel we are much closer to it that we were when we started.  As one curriculum leader who will remain nameless said to my colleague: “We have gone from a school where students generally don’t do their homework to a school where they generally do.”

There are multiple causes of this positive shift.  The starting point was to improve the quality of the homework that was set.  Research evidence tells us that, for secondary school children, homework has a significant positive effect.  Sources such as the EEF ToolkitHattie’s meta analysis and Paul Kirschner all support this idea.  However, while they and others suggest homework is worthwhile, the huge and somewhat obvious caveat to this is that only good homework is worthwhile, rubbish homework is not.  Therefore the starting point for improving homework was to make sure that if students were being asked to spend their time completing it and expected to value it, then it must be high quality.

In order to achieve this lofty objective we asked departments to write homework policies that ensured that all homework set met one or several of the following four principles:

  • Embed – consolidate learning that has taken place in the classroom, e.g. revision for assessment or learning key knowledge.
  • Practice – refine knowledge and procedures learnt in the classroom based on feedback from the teacher, e.g. DIRT activities.
  • Extend – move learning beyond what has been achieved in the classroom, e.g. adding breadth to their existing knowledge.
  • Apply – use learning from the classroom to complete a specific task, e.g. writing a practice exam question based on content covered in a lesson.

These principles allowed leaders to articulate what was and was not purposeful homework in their subjects.  What it is has also led to is most departments developing generic and centrally produced homework that all teachers set at the same time.  Due to our curriculum focus being on the long-term retention of knowledge (both declarative and procedural) the majority of homework set tends to fall into the embed category.

Below is a typical example taken from a recent homework report I ran:

Romeo and Juliet revision Please focus your attention on Romeo and Juliet this Easter holiday. You must use the knowledge organiser (you can download a copy below) to create flash cards. You must use retrieval practice techniques to learn the content. We will do a test on this on the first lesson.If you would like to watch a version of Romeo and Juliet, I have also included a link below.

Good luck.

In terms of monitoring quality and setting consistency we use an online platform called Connect.  This communicates homework to parents/carers and students and allows leaders to run reports looking at all the homework set across the school, within a department or by an individual teacher.  This allows for regular audits of the homework being set to ensure it meets one of the four principles.

Sitting alongside these principles is the problem of motivation.  One of the lessons of self-regulated learning as explained in the EEF Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning guidance report is that without motivation self-regulated learning will not take place.  In other words if they can’t be bothered and don’t see the point of homework they are unlikely to do it.  While intrinsic motivation is the gold standard we are unlikely to achieve this with the majority of our students and therefore have to rely on extrinsic motivation to get them on board.

The first step is to make them value homework and the see the purpose and benefit of doing it.  In order for this to happen we must make sure the output is as strong as possible.  In a recent blog Alex Quigley posed some excellent reflective questions for schools to consider when asking themselves whether the homework they were setting was good enough and students understood its purpose.  They were:

  • Are the students in possession of all the resources required to undertake the task independently?
  • What are the existing beliefs about home learning (students & teachers) that we need to recognise/challenge?
  • How can we best leverage parental support for home learning that is effectively communicated?
  • How do you plan to provide specific and timely feedback to students on their home learning?

I recently shared these with SLT for discussion and with line managers to take back to their subject leaders.

The final question is particularly pertinent and underpinning our principles is the non-negotiable that all homework must elicit feedback.  This can be in whatever form is most appropriate, be that peer marking closed questions, adaptation to teaching or detailed formative comments.  However, for students to value homework they need to know that the teachers place equal value on it.  Ensuring feedback is an essential facet of this.

Lastly there is the question of what to do about students who persistently fail to complete homework across several subjects.

The problem here falls broadly into those that are not willing and those that are not able to complete it.  For those not able due to a learning barrier or due to a chaotic home not conducive to completing work, we must provide support in completing it.  We run a support session once a week in our LRA (library) where biscuits, hot chocolate and support are offered for those students we identify as needing extra support.

For those that we identify as simply choosing not to do it we use tough sanctioning.  We want to create a culture where homework is valued by all and as such we must ensure that alongside all the work we doing on raising the quality and value of homework we must also send a clear message that not doing your homework is not acceptable.  As a result we conduct fortnightly homework sweeps on any incidences of missed homework logged on Connect.  Appearing on this sweep leads to increasing sanctions following each appearance.  Here we seek to support the classroom teacher as following up 6 or 7 students who have not done their homework is a huge drain on their time, which we want them to spend planning brilliant lessons.

The picture is still far from perfect, but is improving.  As I often tell our staff and students, homework is here to stay so we might as well get it right.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

Tutor time – some thoughts from Durrington

Our programme is similar but please feed back to LW with your thoughts…

Waking up to Desirable Difficulties at Durrington

This year at Durrington we have made some major changes to how our students start their school day. Gone are the ‘tutor times’ of old and in their place every student now engages with ‘Period 1’ – a structured programme of learning with the aim of ensuring the best outcomes for all.

Up until last year, Durrington students would arrive at school and spend 20 minutes with their form tutor in the morning and a further 10 minutes with their form tutor after lunch. Since September, we have merged these sessions so that now all students have a 30-minute lesson with their tutor every morning instead. During these lessons, students engage in tasks that cover a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach here at Durrington:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

We feel confident that bringing these underpinning principles of effective learning to the fore will benefit students across the whole curriculum and help them to succeed in all subject areas.

Accordingly, we have implemented a very structured weekly programme:

Content Aim
‘In the News’Students watch a range of news clips from the week with their tutor and then work on specific evidence-informed vocabulary tasks to discuss the items viewed.


We want to develop students’ background knowledge and provide an opportunity for explicitly teaching tier 2 vocabulary in a range of contexts.
KS3 DEAR (Drop Everything and Read)KS3 students have two ‘drop everything and read’ sessions per week. However, this is not a case of students simply bringing a book and reading in silence. Instead, one session is dedicated to reading aloud and the second session is spent reading a personal choice of book but with structured questioning.


We hope to continue developing the wider reading culture that is already a strong feature of school life at Durrington, but to also model evidence-informed reading strategies to ensure no student is left behind. There will be more about this in next week’s classteaching blog.
KS4 DEAR (Drop Everything and Revise)KS4 students have two lessons per week learning about and practising evidence-informed strategies for revision and independent work away from the classroom. We want to ensure that the time students are spending revising is as productive as possible. See below for more details on how we have endeavoured to make this the case for Year 10 and Year 11 this year.


AssemblyEvery student still attends a traditional assembly at least once a week. It is important to us that students are aware of their place and role in the school and wider community, and assembly is a crucial site for this sense of belonging and responsibility to be fostered and maintained.


Friday ChallengeThis is when students work as a team with their tutor to prepare for a whole-school memory challenge. For example, this half term all tutor groups have been memorising the countries of Africa. There will be a quiz at the end of term to test students and tutors to see who can remember the most. This provides an opportunity for students to develop their cultural capital (challenges have been designed with this in mind) and practise essential learning skills such as retrieval practice. Additionally, we did not want to lose the vital pastoral care that is intrinsic to effective tutoring, so the Friday challenge provides a way for students to build relationships as a group and with their tutor that are vital to wellbeing in school.


Our programme with Year 10 and Year 11 students aligns with Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties which you can read more about in Ben Crockett’s Durrington Research School blog this week. Bjork and Bjork identify three problems that learners face which mislead them into thinking they are learning effectively when in fact they are not:

  1. Subjective impressions: Bjork and Bjork state that we can often feel that we are learning when we are not because of what we are doing. The researchers provide the example that rereading a chapter a second time can provide a sense of familiarity and perceptual fluency that is interpreted as understanding but is in fact just low-level priming.
  2. Use of cues: Students can encounter information coming to mind readily and interpret this as learning when in fact it is a product of cues in the environment that will not be present at a later time.
  3. Challenge: Conditions that rapidly improve performance often fail to lead to long-term learning, or in other words retention and transfer of knowledge. Conversely, conditions that create challenge often optimise long-term retention and transfer but are a lot less popular because they are slow.

We are using P1 to try to support our KS4 students in overcoming these challenges. Crucial to this is the introduction of desirable difficulties, which Bjork and Bjork describe as conditions of learning that apparently create difficulty but actually lead to more durable and flexible learning. We have tried to create these ‘conditions’ in the ways set out below.

  1. We have varied the conditions of learning by requiring students to revise specific-subject material with their tutor, i.e. outside of the subject classroom and not just with their subject teacher. This has taken a lot of preparation and coordination by assistant headteacher Steph Temple so that tutors feel supported in dealing with content outside of their specialism but has, so far, proven totally achievable.
  2. We show students how to interleave rather than group topics. For example, most recently Year 11 have been working on the English Literature GCSE text ‘An Inspector Calls’. Using knowledge organisers, students have created banks of revision materials based in topics such as characterisation, themes, context etc. Crucially, the tutors have then modelled to students how to interleave these revision materials by mixing up their topical resources rather than revising in blocks of topics.
  3. The students have P1 DEAR for 30 minutes twice a week which allows for spacing rather than massing their study.
  4. Finally, the revision resources that students have been making and using are specifically flashcards with questions or instructions on one side and the answers on the reverse. This is so that students use self-testing rather than presentations as study events.

Bjork and Bjork emphasise that the desirable element of desirable difficulties is fundamental, and explain that desirable difficulties trigger encoding and retrieval processes to aid learning, comprehension and remembering. Essential to this is the fact that students must have the required background knowledge in place – asking them to revise content they do not already know would create undesirable challenges that would thwart learning . This is why the KS4 DEAR programme has been carefully designed so that students are only revising knowledge that has already been fully taught in subject lessons. For example, Year 11 students are currently covering topics they studied in Year 10.

So far the new P1 KS4 DEAR looks very promising, and, although it is too soon to evaluate the impact, we are hopeful that P1 will benefit students both in their school outcomes and beyond.

Next week we will take a closer look at the KS3 DEAR programme and how this is supporting literacy across subject areas.


Fran Haynes

A Walk through of every lesson counts…

This week Michael Chiles has produced an excellent ‘A walk thru…’ series of documents for each of the six pedagogical principles featured in ‘Making Every Lesson Count‘.  Michael explains his thinking behind these documents here:

Since Shaun and Andy’s release of Making Every Lesson Count it has been an integral part of our approach at school, focusing on applying the six principles every lesson, every day. The practical strategies have enabled us to use CPD time to review our approach to each one of the principles and look to share the best approaches in departments to implement the different strategies. This has enabled us to embed a more robust and consistent approach to teaching and learning.

One of the barriers to implementing CPD that is robust and focused on the ‘main thing’, such as the six principles, is time for teachers to engage with and continually review the implementation of strategies. After the initial discussion around the principles, teachers want a handy guide to be able to quickly refer to. This is where Oliver Cavilglioli’s work on providing visual clarity has been integral in providing an approach that will enable teachers to be able to quickly review the strategies for each principle over the academic year, using the A3 walk thrus. This has led to me creating a series of 6 walk thrus for each principle to provide a visual step by step guide of five strategies that teachers can implement in the classroom.

Here are Michael’s six ‘walk thrus’:


Michael has very generously shared these as powerpoints for you to download, using the links below:

On the 19th May, we are hosting a one day workshop on the 6 principles.  Details and booking here.

Modelling – a whole school approach

A Great blog by Durrington School on Modelling ! Original post can be found here:

In last week’s Class Teaching blog we explained about the changes we have made to the start of the day here at Durrington High School. In essence, students now begin learning as soon as the first school bell rings. This is because the tutor times of yesteryear have been replaced with Period 1. Period 1 is a structured programme that covers a range of teaching and learning foci that are central to our approach:

  • Developing students’ background knowledge.
  • Developing students’ cultural capital.
  • Increasing students’ range of tier 2 vocabulary.
  • Teaching students the most effective evidence-informed strategies for learning to use during revision.

KS3 and KS4 students diverge in the programme for two of the five days in the week. Last week’s blog explored how KS4 students have DEAR: Drop Everything and Revise. In these lessons, Year 10 and Year 11 students are making use of Bjork and Bjork’s desirable difficulties as part of cycle of revision. KS3 students, on the other hand, also have DEAR time, but this is Drop Everything and ReadIn these lessons, Years 7, 8 and 9 enjoy and prosper from the benefits of reading a range of fiction texts.

The evidence-informed rationale behind KS3 DEAR is explicated in the EEF’s guidance report for ‘Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools’. As this report suggests, it is imperative that all secondary teachers ‘should be supported to understand the fundamental ways in which students learn to read, and the most common barriers to their doing so’. Achieving this understanding, through an effective approach, across a whole school, for every teacher, is no mean feat but one that we consider imperative to students’ success.

Coupled with the requirement for this widespread understanding from teachers is also our desire to maintain and further develop the reading culture that is already woven into the fabric of school life at Durrington. Ideally, we would like all students to see themselves as ‘readers’, that is individuals who independently choose to read and feel confident in identifying themselves as someone who reads. In his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads (2017) Willingham pinpoints four attributes of successful readers:

  1. Reading attitudes – having a positive emotional attitude to reading.
  2. Motivation to read – having a belief that reading is worthy and a belief that you will succeed at reading.
  3. Choosing to read – being in an environment that facilitates reading.
  4. Reading self-image – seeing yourself as a reader.

Above all, Willingham emphasises that being motivated to read is closely related to reading ability and therefore verbal persuasion is unlikely to be effective. Consequently, KS3 DEAR is based on two principles:

  • Modelling effective reading practices so that all students can participate in reading, irrespective of their starting points.
  • Making reading something that all students can access, both physically (i.e. given a time and place to read) and emotionally (i.e. made to feel like a valued member of a reading community).

The first KS3 DEAR session of the week is based on reading aloud. It is understandable that many people may be surprised that we have adopted reading aloud in the secondary school setting as this is often viewed as a primary school practice. However, as Doug Lemov advocates, reading aloud can be a powerful way of modelling fluent reading of texts (which is a key reading skill), especially texts that are more challenging. Accordingly, during the first DEAR session the tutor reads aloud from a selected fiction text that has purposefully been chosen because it incorporates more complex issues and includes a range of tier 2 vocabulary.

This is not all. Crucially, during the reading aloud session, the tutor models other key reading strategies as well. The EEF’s guidance report identifies five reading strategies that ‘support the active engagement with texts that improve comprehension’ – comprehension being the end goal of all reading. Students who are proficient readers in secondary school will have these skills in place and be using them tacitly every time that they read. However, students who are struggling with reading need these skills explicitly modelled time and time again until they can use them independently.

The five reading strategies are:

  1. Activating prior knowledge — students think about what they already know about a topic from reading or other experiences […] and try to make meaningful links. This helps students to infer and elaborate, fill in missing information and to build a fuller ‘mental model’ of the text.
  2. Prediction — students predict what might happen as a text is read. This causes them to pay close attention to the text, which means they can closely monitor their own comprehension.
  3. Questioning — students generate their own questions about a text to check their comprehension and monitor their subject knowledge.
  4. Clarifying — students identify areas of uncertainty, which may be individual words or phrases, and seek information to clarify meaning.
  5. Summarising — students summarise the meaning of sections of the text to consolidate and elaborate upon their understanding. This causes students to focus on the key content, which in turn supports comprehension monitoring. This can be supported using graphic organisers that illustrate concepts and the relationships between them.

In order to explicitly model these reading strategies, as they read aloud the tutors purposefully stop and ask one or several of these questions as appropriate:

At the start of a new book:

  • Look at the front and back covers. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?
  • Consider the title. What do you think the story might be about? What makes you think this?

 During reading:

  • What would you like to ask the characters or author at this point?
  • Are you finding anything difficult to understand? If you go back and re-read, what can you look out for?
  • Have you read, watched or seen anything else that is similar to this? In what ways?


 After finishing a book:

  • Tell me what happened in the story.
  • What is the most important message or idea in the story?
  • What was the turning point of the story?
  • What one message or idea do you think the author wants you to remember from the story?


 In the second DEAR session of the week, the students read their own books, and these can be fiction or non-fiction. It is critical that in these private reading sessions, the tutors circulate and have one-to-one conversations with their tutees using the reading questions (above) as a basis for their discussion. In particular, tutors specifically target those that seem to be stuck with their reading as these are the students who are likely to be in most need of the explicit modelling of the reading strategies – thus these students have the opportunity of learning from the modelling twice in a week.

As with KS4 DEAR, it is too early to confirm any clear successes from the implementation of KS3 DEAR. However, our school librarians have reported that the issues figures for books from our Learning Resource Centre have increased from just over 1600 books in September 2018 to just over 2000 books in September 2019.

Ideally, we would like to adopt a disciplinary approach to teaching reading across the school, which you can find out about on our Research School blog here. However, as a step in our journey for embedding effective whole-school reading, our KS3 DEAR programme has made a promising start.

Fran Haynes

The best list of research links – brilliant!

The go-bag

Here, the #CogSciSci community has brought together a whole bunch of blogs, articles and research to help you answer the question “Why are you doing that?” This is far from an exhaustive list but instead aims to find writings that give a good rationale behind the choice explanation of particular areas of cognitive science and how they can be applied to the classroom.

The idea started with this blog by A Common Biologist, looking at ways cognitive science mutates in schools. It’s important to realise that two very different areas of research impact upon the classroom: education research and cognitive science research. Education research takes place in the classroom, with well-designed studies having large sample sizes and well designed control groups to monitor the effect of any intervention. The results from education research tend to be quite hazy, owing to the difficulty in isolating a cause for a particular effect once in the classroom environment. Cognitive science research, on the other hand, is laboratory based, giving researchers a considerable amount of control over the subjects (their environment, their attention etc.) and so teaches us a considerable amount about how we learn. The downside is that results from cognitive science studies will always require a certain amount of interpretation before they are used in a classroom setting.

Here, the ideas of cognitive science are introduced, and teachers/educators then go on to explain how they are using some of these findings within their classroom, altering their practice to become more ‘research-informed’. This list is far from exhaustive and both Adam Boxer and Craig Barton have excellent research lists with their own commentaries.

If you have any questions that you want answered please send them to


“How do our brains work?” answered by Efrat Furst.

“What are all these fancy terms to do with memory that you keep using?” answered by Elizabeth and Robert Bjork whilst discussing how desirable difficulties can improve learning.

“What on earth is working memory?” answered by Professor Susan Gathercole and Dr Tracy Alloway, discussing what it is, its limitations, how it changes and how you can support students to learn in spite of their limited working memories.

“What is a schema?” answered by Greg Ashman.

“Do students remember what they learn in school?” answered by Daniel Willingham, drawing on education research and cognitive science to explain why our memory is an incredible but fallible resource.

“Why do students forget things?” answered by Jemma Sherwood who discusses how to design lessons with memory in mind.

“What is the ‘forgetting curve’?” answered by Durrington Research School.

“Is forgetting a vital part of remembering?” answered by Dalmeet Singh Chawla who interviews a range of researchers from neurobiology who point out that if we remembered everything, our brains would be far more inefficient.

“What will improve a student’s memory?” answered by Daniel Willingham, giving examples of methods that work and those that don’t when helping students commit ideas to memory.

“How does research into our memories affect teaching?” answered by Craig Barton, whose commentary on memory research (particularly that of Elizabeth and Robert Bjork) shows that memory lies at the heart of retrieval, interleaving and spacing.

“What are neuromyths?” answered by Thomas Moran, listing the 10 most common misconceptions about the brain. Do we only use 10% of it? Do we have preferred learning styles? Is your mental capacity something you are born with? No, to all of the above.

Remember also that we have an entire module on the basics of cognitive science here.


“Can somebody explain simply how cognitive load theory applies to the classroom?” answered by Adam Boxer, who simplifies the theory for practical usage by teachers.

“How can I take into account cognitive load theory in the classroom?” answered by Blake Harvard, who introduces the idea of ‘element interactivity’ as a consideration for when trying to manage the cognitive load.

“What is the difference between learning and performance?” and “What is a desirable difficulty” both answered by Nick Soderstrom. The learning vs. performance argument is a crucial one for teachers to understand and has huge implications for how we assess the ‘understanding’ of students within a lesson.

“Aren’t cognitive load theory and the idea of desirable difficulties diametrically opposite?” answered by Blake Harvard, who tries to reconcile the need for simplifying (from cognitive load theory) and the need to challenge students (from desirable difficulties). A fascinating insight into how to understand ideas from cognitive science when they initially seem to point in opposite directions.

“Why are some things easy to learn and others are so hard?” answered by Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner, looking at David Geary’s work into biologically primary and secondary knowledge, an idea that aims to explain why we can learn to understand facial expressions much more easily than we can understand chemistry.

“Why can we learn some things naturally from our environment but need instruction to understand others?” answered by David Didau, again looking at Geary’s work, but thinking about the relationship to explicit instruction and discovery learning. Why do we discover the talent for speech, but discovery approaches to reading are less effective?

“Why do students think they understand, when they don’t?” answered by Daniel Willingham, demonstrating why ‘familiarity fools our mind into thinking we know more than we do’.

“Why do they seem so confident they’re right, but they’re wrong?” answered by Kendra Cherry, exploring the Dunning-Kruger effect.


“What is spacing?” answered by Daniel Willingham.

“What’s the difference between spacing, interleaving and retrieval? Are they desirable difficulties?” answered by Nick Soderstrom.

“What is retrieval practice?” answered by Efrat Furst.

Remember that we have an entire module on retrieval practice here.


“Can’t they just google it?” E.D. Hirsch explains why knowledge is a cornerstone of our understanding of the world.

“Why is knowledge important?” answered by Daniel Willingham, who shows how ‘knowledge brings more knowledge’.

“Why does everyone keep talking about Rosenshine?” answered by Tom Sherrington, who explores why the principles in Barak Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’ are so useful in the classroom.

“What are Rosenshine’s principles?” answered by Mark Enser.

“Can’t we just teach skills?” No, explains David Didau.

“Can’t we just teach skills (number 2)?” Daniel Willingham explains why comprehension can’t be taught as a skill in isolation as it relies on knowledge of the subject matter that you’re reading about.



“Why don’t you have a lesson plan?” answered by Bob Pritchard, who uses cognitive science as the basis to explain why he plans for a longer period of time than simply one lesson (and hence doesn’t have a lesson plan: here are some examples of when he probably did have one…).

“What interventions can I use to help those struggling students?” answered by Ruth Walker, who argues that we shouldn’t focus on interventions to specific groups but instead on the overall quality of teaching to all students.

“How can cognitive science help in the planning of the curriculum?” answered by Ruth Walker, drawing together ideas about schema, memory, hinterland and the true meaning of interleaving to create a better curriculum.

“Can you give me an example of interleaving within the curriculum?” answered by Ian Taylor, who uses ‘teaching by contrast’ as a way of ensuring the links are made between ideas within a topic instead of teaching each idea in a single lesson.

“What is mastery learning? And what isn’t mastery learning?” answered by Daisy Christodoulou.


“Why aren’t they discovering this for themselves?” answered by Paul Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard Clark in one of the must-read papers for understanding one of the fiercest arguments in education.

“Why are you explaining the concept rather than letting them do problem-solving?” answered by Greg Ashman, whose research indicates novices perform better when explicitly taught in the first instance. This study contrasts the predictions of cognitive load theory and productive failure.


“Why are they doing SLOP (shed loads of practice) in your lessons?” answered by the learning scientists, who link to and comment on the best ideas about what deliberate practice is and why it is so powerful.

“I don’t like the idea of SLOP, convince me otherwise,” answered by Niki Kaiser who uses her own experiences to show how she came around to the idea of giving students extensive practice.

“Why is practice so important?” answered by Daniel Willingham, discussing the balance between ‘practice makes perfect’ and student motivation.

“Why does success lead to motivation and not the other way around?” answered by Carl Hendrick, giving a motivational background as to why SLOP is effective for all students.

“How can reducing the cognitive load lead to more motivated students?” answered by Greg Ashman who uses cognitive load theory to help students see that is is the ‘process of getting better at something that is motivating’.

“Is interleaved practice better than blocked practice (in maths)?” answered by Doug Rohrer, Robert Dedrick and Pooja Agarwal, exploring the differences between giving practice in distinct blocks (as would be common practice in a curriculum split into defined topics per lesson) and interleaving practice within a mathematics setting.

“How big should spacing gaps be?” answered by Damian Benney, who shares his practice in planning spaced homework, giving reasoning behind his choice of gaps.

Remember we have an entire module on designing practice sets here.


“How can I reduce the cognitive load of practical sessions?” answered by Adam Boxer, introducing the idea of the slow practical, a crucial read for new science teachers.

“Isn’t real science like discovery learning?” answered by Bill Wilkinson, drawing on his research experience to explain why ‘real scientists’ aren’t doing discovery as might be assumed.


“Why aren’t you doing more AfL?” David Didau explains why we should be cautious about AfL given the issues with performance vs. learning.

“How should I be using AfL (assessment for learning) in the classroom” a symposium of ideas from Adam Boxer, Ruth Walker, Niki Kaiser, Deep Ghataura, Ben Rogers, Matt Perks and Dylan Wiliam.

“How can I use multiple choice questions in the classroom?” answered by Blake Harvard, giving a guide to best practice in creating MCQs.


“Why would you want to use booklets?” answered by Adam Boxer, giving reasons behind his choice to move to a booklet model that come from cognitive science and the need to reduce teacher workload.

“But really, why would you want to use booklets?” answered by a guest post on Adam Robbins’ blog, with a very useful set of responses to the possible questions from sceptical colleagues.

“How did you write that booklet?” answered by Ruth Walker. It’s best for her to answer it since we’re probably using her ones anyway.

“Why are you using a visualiser? Isn’t that from the 90’s?” answered in a twitter thread by Mark Wilkinson, giving a whole heap of suggestions for how to use a visualiser.

“How can I use a visualiser with a class? What on earth does Show-Call mean?” an example of Courtney Betar from TLAC. The TLAC website has a huge amount of video evidence of great techniques to try in the classroom.

“Why are you using a visualiser and a booklet?” answered by Ben Newmark, bringing together the benefits of booklets and visualisers (in a post that surprisingly doesn’t demonstrate his incredible handwriting).


“I know they reduce the cognitive load but aren’t completion problems a bit easy?” answered by Ben Rogers, who gives examples of how completion problems can be used as scaffolding to reduce the cognitive load and get students to focus on the subject matter at hand.

“Which is better: problem-solving or worked examples?” answered by Greg Ashman, in a post that attempts to resolve the conflict that exists between desirable difficulties and cognitive load theory.

“What is a non-example?” answered by Ben Rogers.


“Why do you think practice supports the lower attaining students?” answered by Adam Robbins, who explores how he uses SLOP calculation sheets to ensure opportunities for success for all learners.

“How do you teach the use of equations?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, giving a scaffolding method to ensure all students can be successful in performing calculations.

“Why did you design your calculation sheet like that?” answered by Tom Millichamp, going into detail about each of his choices that he makes when creating a resource.


“What on earth is dual coding?” explained by Rufus Johnstone.

“How can I use dual coding in science? Isn’t it just pictures?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, who gives simple, implementable examples of what dual coding truly is within the science classroom.

“Can I see more examples of dual coding please?” Gethyn Jones shows how he uses dual coding (and always has done) to teach SUVAT in Physics, as it’s a topic that naturally lends itself to dual coding, rather than it needing to be shoe-horned in.

“How can I change the layout of materials to ease cognitive load?” answered by Ben Rogers, who has excellent posts on the layout of materialson the drawing of diagrams in science, and a post full of examples.


What is the testing effect?” answered by Efrat Furst.

“Doesn’t all this testing just stress students out?” Blake Harvard explains why testing actually reduces test stress.


“How can I use knowledge organisers?” answered by the Learning Scientists.

“Can you give an example of using knowledge organisers?” answered by Adam Robbins, who kindly answers the question and gives out his knowledge organisers for science.

“When shouldn’t I use knowledge organisers?” answered by Kris Boulton, writing why they are less applicable to maths (and arguing they often shouldn’t be called knowledge organisers at all).

“What are some of the limitations of knowledge organisers?” answered by Helen Skelton, who uses the idea of schemas to show where knowledge organisers can fit into teaching.


“Why aren’t you differentiating?” answered by a guest post on Adam Boxer’s blog that should really make you think about why you’re asked to print off three different coloured worksheets.

“Why aren’t you differentiating by task?” answered by Greg Ashman, who looks at TALIS data which seems to show a negative correlation between differentiation and maths scores.


“Why are they doing so much writing in your classroom?” answered by Pritesh Raichura, Ben Rogers, Ruth Walker, Tarjinder Gill, Jasper Green and Judith Hochman in the Writing in Science Symposium, an amazing collection of works on why writing should play a crucial role in the classroom.

“How can student writing help me to learn more about what they’ve learned?” answered by Tom Millichamp, who uses ideas from The Writing Revolution to delve into student understanding.

“Why would story telling help students retain more information?” answered by Ven Popov, explaining why research scientists are wary of story telling in their writing but why they shouldn’t be.

“How can I introduce stories to the classroom?” answered by Bill Wilkinson with a link to the #sciencestories project to encourage story-telling in the classroom.


“Why isn’t competition always a good thing?” answered by Adam Boxer, discussing the notion that ‘boys will like it if you make it a competition’.

“Why aren’t you playing more games?” answered by Mark Enser, showing how inequality might be increased in the name of engagement.



“What does a sensible marking policy look like?” answered by Adam Boxer by giving out his department’s marking policy.

“Why are we marking?” answered by Gethyn Jones, clarifying the difference between feedback and marking and which is useful for students.

“What is whole-class feedback?” answered by Andrew Percival.

“How can I make whole-class feedback fit with my school’s marking policy?” answered by Ruth Walker who shows how her marking can tick a lot of the boxes that a school’s typical marking policy would have.

“Why aren’t books a good proxy for learning?” answered by Sarah Barker, who points out the issue with book scrutinies.


“What is my data showing me: progress or attainment or something else?” answered by Matthew Benyohai who shows the stupidity behind colourful trackers and why he uses bee-swarm plots instead.

“How should I be using assessment data?” answered in many blogs by Matthew Benyohai.

“What should I be doing with target grades?” answered by Ben Newmark, who explains why they don’t help the learning process.

“I need more convincing on this target grades thing, can you give me anything else to read?” Adam Robbins kindly obliges.

“What should I do after a mock exam?” answered by Adam Boxer, using a bit of assessment theory and knowledge of schema to rethink the post-exam strategy.


“Why aren’t you setting more projects?” answered by Adam Boxer, arguing through an example that grand projects only act to highlight inequality.

“Does flipped learning ever work?” answered by Bill Wilkinson, who uses some of the cognitive science basics to make flipped learning work for him and his students.


“How can I explain to students how to study?” answered by an article in Scientific American, explaining the basics behind retrieval, interleaving, spacing and elaboration, as well as what no to do.


“Why do you have your windows open?” answered by Jess Staufenberg.

Rosenshine in action…

Putting theory into practice

CPD Books

A Great blog from Mark Esner (Heathfield School) on how he is using Rosenshine in the classroom: Full blog page is here

I love a good teaching and learning book, as anyone who has popped into my classroom or tried to find something on my desk can attest. I also really enjoy attending research conferences (I’m speaking at ResearchEd Durrington this weekend and ResearchEd national conference in London in the Autumn) and find leafing through a research paper relaxing. I’m weird like that.

One question I am sometimes asked is what difference all this reading, tweeting and writing about education actually makes in the classroom. I’d like to take one example of a research review and show how I have applied it.

Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (2012)

Barak Rosenshine’s article may be the most useful thing ever published on teaching and learning. It takes research from cognitive science in how people learn, the cognitive supports that make this process easier and from looking at highly effective teachers in the classroom. He suggests that excellent teaching contains ten key characteristics.

1. Begin each lesson with a short review of previous learning

Starting a lesson by recapping things the class have already learnt means we can take advantage of the testing effect, which suggests that every time we recall information we make it easier to access it again in the future. It also means we have somewhere to hook new information so that it fits with what we already know, we start to build a more complex picture of the subject.

I do this by ensuring that the start of the lesson is dedicated to recall. This will often be a short quiz (10 questions on one slide and answers on the next) or one longer question to which they need to apply what they learnt previously. I make sure that these questions link to the topic that we will be about to cover. For example, before a lesson on rainforest management I’ll include questions on low pressure weather systems, the nutrient cycle and sustainability. These are concepts they will use in the lesson and strengthening recall now will support their working memory later.

2. Present new material in short steps with students practicing after each step. 

When I started teaching we were encouraged to limit the amount of time we spent at the front of the class (I am sure that most of us will have been told the myth about pupils only remembering 10% of what they are told but 90% of what they discover for themselves) and to set long open ended projects for pupils to complete during the lesson. This would allow them to explore the task for themselves and construct their own meaning. This form of minimal instruction “discovery learning” leaves pupils swamped with information they struggle to process and lacking the guidance to make sense of it. This influential paper by Clark, Sweller & Kirschner (2012) suggests that pupils benefit from very clear and explicit instruction from an expert rather than the expert simply facilitating their discovery.

Rosenshine’s research found that the most effective teachers spoke for a total of 23 minutes in a 40 minute maths lesson compared to just 11 minutes from the least effective. Effective teachers used the extra time to explain new material very clearly, give lots of examples and asked lots of questions (see below). This time wasn’t in a block but spread over the lesson, interspersed with deliberate practice from the pupils.

This research has made me much more comfortable standing at the front and being a “sage on the stage”. I use a clear Input – Application model of teaching where I talk the class through something they need to know, give them examples, use analogies, show model answers before giving them a short task to do. They still carry out longer pieces independent work but only at the end of the phase, once I am sure the building blocks are in place.

3. Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students. 

Rosenshine suggests that not only do the most effective teachers ask a lot of questions, they also ask different questions; they are more likely to ask questions about the process that they have used to work out the answer. Questioning allows pupils to practice using the information they have been taught. It also allows us to receive feedback on their understanding and correct any misconceptions.

In the classroom I try to ensure that I target questions carefully (rather than using a random generator) and ask follow up questions. These might include

  • Why do you think that would be the right answer?
  • How does that link to what we know about X?
  • Can you explain that but include a reference to Y?
  • How would you know if that was the right answer?

I try to make sure that I receive feedback from as many pupils as possible by asking pupils to discuss it in a pair before sharing, using mini-white boards and by continuing to ask questions to small groups during the lesson. I try to think about the feedback I need from the class and focus my questions on common misconceptions and threshold concepts (See Meyer & Land 2003 and this piece on Threshold Concepts).

4. Provide models

Models and worked examples help to provide cognitive support to pupils so that they can focus on applying what they have learnt rather than concentrating on the form of the answer. They also allow pupils to see very clearly what your expectations are and allows you to set the bar high.

Over the last couple of years I have started using more and more models in the classroom. I try to show pupils examples of excellent answers and then unpick this answer with them so that they understand the criteria that makes this an excellent piece of geography. I also try to make sure I model things carefully where I know there are often misconceptions. Addressing the problem before it appears in their work.

Over time, it is important to remove the scaffolding that pupils get from modelling so that they can complete the task for themselves. I try to do this in a structured way. When they first try to draw a climate graph I will draw one with them and talk them through the process before giving them one to complete for themselves. The second time I remind them of the key points to remember and remind them of common mistakes before leaving them to complete it themselves whilst I circulate and support as needed. By the time they try it for a third time I expect them to be able to complete it with minimal modeling.

5. Guide student practice

As mentioned above, pupils benefit from guided instruction and having material presented in small chunks. It is important that they do something with this material as soon as possible. Using the information will mean they have to think hard about it and, as Daniel Willingham explains, memory is the residue of thought. It is also important that this practice is monitored. Some feedback, especially feedback on processes, might be best off delayed but feedback on the task, on tackling misconceptions, needs to be tackled immediately to prevent the error being embedded. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent. For more on different types of feedback and feedback during practice see Hattie and Timperley (2007) The Power of Feedback.

I try to apply this to my own classroom by making sure that lessons are built around answering “fertile questions” (See Benson and Knight 2013). These big questions are then broken down into the small steps that pupils need to take in order to answer them. This naturally encourages the lesson to be broken into smaller chunks with a focus on applying what they have learnt to a problem they have to think hard about.

I also make sure that I am monitoring the room as pupils are working and pick up on misconceptions as they happen. I am much more likely to stop the lesson to address a problem and reteach something than I used to be.

6. Check for student understanding

Rosenshine explains that the most effective teachers are always checking for student understanding whereas the less effective would ask “any questions?” before moving on. When we are building knowledge we are taking new information and linking it to other things that we know. This is the point where misconceptions can develop and information is mis-linked. For example, pupils learn that global temperatures are increasing and link that to what they have heard about there being a hole in the ozone layer.

In the classroom, I try to check for understanding by asking pupils to apply what they have learnt to a new situation. For example, if pupils have learnt how the nutrient cycle works in the rainforest and have learnt about the conditions in the desert, they should be able to apply one thing to the other and describe what the nutrient cycle will be like.

I am wary of plenaries at the end of a lesson to check for understanding for two reasons. Firstly, checking for understanding that close to the end of the lesson risks the chance of just getting mimicry rather than genuine learning. Secondly, the end of the lesson is too late to do anything about misconceptions you may learn about. If you check for understanding as they leave the room and discover most are walking out thinking the hole in the ozone layer is responsible for global warming, what then?

7. Obtain a high success rate

Following on from the points above, Rosenshine is clear that teachers  need to ensure that pupils really understand something before working independently on it. The idea that pupils need to be secure in a small step before moving on to the next one is sometimes called mastery learning. Most work on this seems to come from the context of maths where knowledge is structured hierarchically with a clear progression in the subject’s difficulty. Geography, and many other subjects, are organised cumulatively whereby pupils gain a greater breadth of  study over time but difficulty only tends to increase between key stages.

There are, however, areas where I have been able to apply some of this idea. As mentioned above, I am more likely now to stop a lesson to reteach something that clearly hasn’t worked and to set homework tasks designed to fill very specific gaps in what a pupil can do.

8. Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks

This point overlaps with that requiring the use of models. Scaffolding can take many forms but can be thought of as anything that lessens the cognitive burden of the task. This might include providing prompts to start the lesson, talking through the answer yourself out loud to show your own way of approaching it or providing  checklists for a task to make the expectations clear.

One way I increasingly use scaffolding is through the use of diagrams and images. As I explain an idea to the class I make notes on the white board, draw flow diagrams and pictures to illustrate the key points. This serves two functions.

  1. Pupils take information in on both a visual and auditory channel. Both spoken and written text uses the auditory channel and reading out a text as they are reading it themselves can make it more difficult to learn. However, talking over images can strengthen recall. This is the principle of dual coding (See Mayer & Anderson 1992 – The instructive animation)
  2. It also acts a reminder of what has been said. Spoken words are transient and too many ideas overwhelm the working memory and can’t then be applied to the task. By leaving a visual record of my explanation and thought process I am allowing them to use part of my schema to support their work and build their own.

9. Require and monitor independent practice

Most of the preceding 8 principles are about effective direct instruction. It is important however for pupils to have the opportunity to apply what they have learnt. Rosenshine suggests that pupils work best when the teacher is circulating the room and monitoring their work and when there is an opportunity for pupils to share their work with those around them.

As mentioned above, I tend to phrase my lesson as a “fertile question” that needs to be answered. This question is answered independently using what they have learnt. During this time I stand back more than during the knowledge building phase but look for pupils who may be struggling or who I know might be having a problem. I find that my classes work in near silence but I always remind them that they can talk but it needs to be “A whisper, to their neighbour about the work”. This allows them to check a point or receive feedback on what they have said from someone else more quickly than I am able to do so.

10. Engage students in weekly or monthly review

This principle returns us to the beginning. Pupils need the chance to review what they have learnt and to consider how it fits into a bigger picture. The better they can do this the more load is taken off their working memory as they can recall the information they need to undertake a task from their long term memory.

I try to support this regular review in a number of ways.

  • I sit with a pupil during a lesson and talk back over their work from the last few weeks. We look at the progress they have made and discuss what they have learnt.
  • We use learning checklists and knowledge organisers to help them see how what they have learnt fits into a bigger picture.
  • I make sure that the regular quizzes at the start of the lesson goes back over previous topics and not just material from the last lesson.


When re-reading Rosenshine’s principles again I am struck by just how simple it all sounds. But this shouldn’t be surprising. Teaching, at its core is simple. Recap previous information, input of new information, apply it, test and respond. However, doing these simple things well is complex and deserves some consideration.

Mark Enser


How to have a calm, controlled and effective classroom.

Great blog from @ASTsupportAAli for both new and experienced staff.

Here are our top tips to having a controlled and calm classroom.

I tweeted the below thread out a week or so ago, I wanted to expand on the comments and highlight the work the leadership team has been doing to establish effective T&L and behaviour and culture in our school.


Establish a way of doing EVERYTHING.

From entering to leaving the room, to handing out worksheets, books, resources and so on. There should be a procedure. A well practised, set of methods to getting those things done. They should be reminded every time those things are going to be done to ensure they are done smoothly.

We line our students up, outside their classroom, greet them, inform/remind/emphasise the routine on entry and expectations and they enter our classrooms. The first 5 minutes of a lesson are crucial, create the environment where the expectation is to learn.


Every lesson should begin with one. A Do Now Activity.

This should usually be a talking or thinking one, as the books are being handed/taken out. Get your students thinking about your learning instantly, give them a challenge as soon as they pass the threshold.

Let them know in your lesson, every second is a learning opportunity.

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My procedure for handing out books is that I always ask 5/6 people to hand out 5/6 books each so the books are handed out quickly. As soon as you get your book, They have a task to do.

This is writing down the title (we call it a Big/Learning Question.) The date. And THUD in the margin.





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Start your lesson with a THUD. Give the responsibility to the students. Give them the criteria and expect it. I wander round with a red pen. I place a red dot next to anybody’s work that is missing something, or something is not done correctly. Students then instantly correct.

Students should also underline off last lessons work, and start reading what was covered, to aid with their recall check, if they have finished the DNA.


Ensure you engage with proximal praise at this point.

Notice who has done what they should be doing rather than who hasn’t. I personally use my VIP method here, and hand out a cushion to students who are doing the right thing! See here.

If a student hasn’t started the DNA or opened their book when they’ve got it, don’t ask

“Why haven’t you done what I have asked!”

Just state the instruction again, with a thank you.

“Sylviana open your book, write in the big question and THUD. Thank you.”

Continue with proximal praise.

DON’T overpraise basic expectations. Well done & thank you for things that are simply required is fine. But only praise formally when students have exceeded (their) expectations.

When you want the classes attention; do it in the same way.

Notice the bright spots!


Have a system, be it a countdown or count up!

We use a 5-0 countdown system. The Pivotal way. Include instructions in between each number. For example.

“Right, when you’re ready. 5,

Facing the front 4.

Thanks to those listening 3,

Pens down and looking up 2,

OK, great let’s begin 1…”

Silence should and is always expected at this point.

I use Mary Myatt’s method of ‘When you’re ready’ to alert students attention.

Retrieval- Education is the best therapy:

Start the lesson with a 5 question recall check.

No matter how many times they’ve done it. Remind everybody of the routine or procedure for your recall checks. I will ask students-

How many questions? 5 questions Sir.

How long do you have? 5 minutes sir.

How do you answer the questions? In Full sentences sir.

What does that mean? It means including the question in our answers sir.

What do you do if you can’t remember the answer? If unknown write down question & leave space. Then we will fill in the answers later sir.

Ensure there is at LEAST one answer that EVERY student can answer! This is to enable students to instantly feel like they can participate in the lesson.

Let the students know how long they have by using a timer. I have now phased this out, for some classes, as I want them to practice using the clock to manage their time.

Continue to use the countdown from then onwards. Any time you want the classes attention, use your countdown.

Stand up, be seen, be clear.

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When explaining a task, after you have explained ask at least 2 students to explain back what they’ve been asked to do. Then still go over to any other students who you think may need another round of explanation and re-explain! Don’t get upset by that fact!

  1. Every task should have a sequenced set of instructions.
  2. Every task should have a time frame. Ideally both available, visually.
  3. Every task should have the opportunity for you to check/model/support/reaffirm. That could be sat at your desk.

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All your visuals should be clear. The font should be large enough to read. Avoid confusing backgrounds.

Use bold to emphasise words and keep colour coding consistent.


Here, we do not cut and stick sheets into our books. We hole punch every book and treasury tag the sheets in. This way sheets can be used for multiple lessons, without students flipping backwards and forwards and if a student misses a lesson, there work can be added in, with ease. It also saves time!


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Image by Heather Mary James (@LDNHumsTeacher)


See here for more details!

Noise Levels:

And be clear about expected noise level from/for each and every task. Spy Talk, Low Flow, Formal Normal. If they can’t differentiate, then revert to silence.

Again proximal praise at this point, but not just for doing the right thing.

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 07.44.34

Do not be worried, or afraid or insisting on Zero Noise or Silence for a task.

Anchoring Effect:

Do you give students unconscious opt outs? Instead of saying:

Right here’s an quick, easy, simple task.


Here’s a challenging, hard task.

After the quick, easy, simple task, there could be a few students that thought, wow, that was meant to be quick, easy and simple and I could not do it! Or, a few that thought, why am I wasting my time with easy work. Those students could then be put off the next task, which is more challenging and harder.

Instead say:

Here’s task 1 and here’s task 2.

Reduce the chance for students to be anchored out of a task. Avoid using language that may make students feel like a task is unachievable.


Remind students of what you expect, by explaining why it’s beneficial. Be clear about expectations and beliefs. Have high expectations and clear beliefs about students progress and intended goals. Let students know everybody is going to complete all the tasks and you will help WHEN needed.

I expect calm, structure and respect so we can learn as much as possible, so you can concentrate and challenge yourself. So we can all feel the benefits of school. That’s the language I use.

If a student is off task, ask them,

“Eric, are you clear about the task I’ve asked you to get on with?”

“Sebastian have you made a start? Can I give you any suggestions?”


“Why aren’t you working? Doing as I asked.”

If this is repeated.

“Alisha can you come and show me your work pls.”

If noise levels get too high, then knock it down to silence. If people talk whilst the task should be completed in silence, speak to those students individually.

Use mini whiteboards and post it notes to attempt work before writing it down in books. (Sometimes.) Allow students to talk through an answer first too. As Mart Myatt says, writing floats on a sea of talk!

Your seating plan is vital. Another thread about that, another time.


What do your displays say about you? Your classroom? Are they too busy? Are they updated? Do they support learning. Here, we all use the same colour background and border colours to not make them too ‘loud.’ We are given dedicated time to update them and encourage them to be used as learning tools. As guides to help with recall checks.

Do not afraid to be you in your classroom. I share a few photos of my baby boy, by my desk. Showing students the diversity of us, might be the only diversity they hear/see/feel.

Being “strict” doesn’t mean you are boring or unliked.

It doesn’t mean you shout all day.

It means you have clear routines, procedures and possibly an assertive tone of voice when need be. Don’t fear breaking off task every one in a while to simply have a little joke/giggle with your class!

You will also notice I have not used the word relationships in the entire blog, this does not mean I feel we can have quiet, calm, controlled, effective classrooms without relationships, I just feel whilst we can achieve the above we are creating and building those relationships. I have written about relationships here too.

Remember, you may be really great with all of the different types of students, but ensuring you follow the schools behaviour policy is vital. Whether it is needed for you or not, it helps the teachers that it is needed for. Consistency in approach is vital. Students should not have to second guess what each teacher will do. It should be clear.

Also, do not feel you have ‘nothing to learn’ from those who have well ordered, controlled classrooms, just because ‘they can do it.’ I feel there are the above characteristics in their rooms which enable the calm and control. Go check it out?

Planning Scripted Instruction: A ‘Sort-Of’ Guide…

Have you ever tried a scripted lesson ?

“There is order in what we wish to teach, just as there is order in the pattern observed in clouds, sea shells, or traffic moving down a freeway. Our task is to discover it and to communicate this order. If we do it properly, the development of the skills will seem so easy that it might strike the naive observer as “cheating”” (Siegfried Engelmann) 

I started experimenting with scripted instruction this year. From the outset, it felt like cheating. Just telling students the answer, testing them on it and then asking them to apply their learning felt like a rebellious act. Yet the evidence before me suggested that it was working. Whilst I do not want to suggest that Direct Instruction could be all things to all people, it has transformed my teaching. In this blog post, I will share some of the principles that underpin the planning of some of the DI inspired scripts that I have used in the classroom.

The most striking difference between a ‘normal’ lesson and a DI lesson is that the latter uses “concise teacher scripts and choral student responses” (Barbash, 2012, p.24). Many teachers may balk at the idea of standing at the front of the room imparting facts and hearing students chant these facts back verbatim. Yet, if it’s good enough for the most effective teaching method ever invented, then it’s more than good enough for me. Yes, it is weird to teach from a script to begin with. Sure, students may be initially hesitant to chant in unison. However, there is something unique about seeing 32 students in a classroom understanding a concept and working hard in silence on a topic that you are sure they are achieving success in.

Engelmann’s scripts had the benefit of 50 years of experience, meticulous design and field testing before they were published. There are some fantastic examples available for Mathematics, English, and the social sciences online. As a caveat to everything I am about to share, my scripts are merely imitations of Engelmann’s work. They cannot, and should not, be held up as an example of his work. Nonetheless, I hope they exemplify the application of some of Engelmann’s principles in a more conventional classroom setting.

Typically I have used scripted instruction in content heavy lessons. For example, teaching about the adaptations of flora and fauna to Arctic environments. Alternatively, teaching about the impacts of deforestation in the rainforest. I have not used scripted instruction for teaching ‘skills’ such as interpreting a bar graph. That is not to say one could not design instruction for teaching skills, Engelmann’s work shows that you can, Instead, the context of my planning is that it is to teach content rich lessons.

Some examples of these scripts are available here:

1. Start at the end

Every lesson that I have used DI style scripts in have a clear question defining the lesson. For example, ‘why did world population explode?’. The outcome of all of my lessons is for students to produce a extended piece of writing to answer the question for the lesson. The planning process will begin with me writing an exemplary model answer to that question. For example, students will need to know that world population exploded because of the control of death rates. They will also need to know that we have controlled death rates by reducing deaths by war, famine and disease.

Having written a model answer I will identify ten pieces of content that students need to know in order to produce a good quality piece of work. These constitute the objective facts and knowledge that I will design my instructional script around. To return to the quote which began this post, this constitutes giving ”order in what we wish to teach”. There is clearly a debate on which knowledge should be taught. However, my experience with DI is that there is a limit to how much knowledge can be taught in an hour so that the students ‘get it’. Therefore, choices have to be made on which knowledge is the most important to teach. Whilst ten pieces of knowledge sounds arbitrary, I have found it to be enough that students can remember it all and apply it properly in a relevant context.

Below is an example of ten core pieces of information for a science lesson script.

better 10 facts
An example of ten facts to base scripted instruction on

2. Atomise the knowledge and chain it together

Once I have a list of ten pieces of ‘content’ for students to learn, I try and break it down into easily digestible chunks. For example, I may intend to teach that some plants in the rainforest have a waxy surface known as a drip tip to drain water so that they do not die. An example of these chunks would be “one example of a plant in the rainforest is a drip tip. Drip tips have a waxy surface. Drip tips have a waxy surface to drain water. Drip tips drain water to avoid rotting and dying”. These instructions would then have simple expected learner responses. For example, “what type of surface does a drip tip have?” in which the expected response was “waxy”. This ‘atomisation’ draws out each important piece of information for the learner to memorise.

Throughout, the expected student response is kept as simple as possible. As Engelmann states in The Theory of Instruction: “if the statement is too long for the learner to repeat, we present only part of the statement at a time”. Getting students to chant “they are waxy so water drains off of the leaf” is unlikely to be successful. Breaking long statements up aids working memory by reducing the amount of information students have to hold. In addition, it keeps the pace of the lesson high, which is an essential part of DI. As is exemplified below, students are then given the chance to build this chain back up by explaining to their partner how a drip tip is adapted.

Atomised and broken up
Instructional sequence on drip tips

3. Be economical and consistent in your language

The first two of Shepard Barbash’s rules are ‘be clear’ and ‘be efficient’. The atomisation of content aids this process. However, one method of efficiency is the be consistent in your use of wording.

One example of economy of language is using the same phrase to indicate student response. In the case of my scripts, I will always use the phrase “okay, your turn”. Another way of improving efficiency is the phrase questions in a similar way that you have phrased the instruction. For example, if the information is presented as “the drip tips waxy surface helps water to drip off the leaf”. The question is best phrased as “what does the drip tips waxy surface help water to do”. A less optimal phrasing may be “why do drip tips have waxy surfaces”. Whilst the learner response is essentially the same “to drip water”, the latter example requires a deeper level of complex thinking. In my experience, this deeper complexity can come at a later stage in the lesson. In the initial presentation of information, consistency and simplicity is key.

A second way of improving efficiency is by consistently re-emphasising important pieces of information. For example, one way of presenting a drip tip is to point at a picture and say “some leaves have drip tips. These help them to drip water off.” However, there exists an additional opportunity to re-emphasise the name of the plant. Instead, a more optimal instruction would be “Some leaves have drip tips. Drip tips help water to drip off the leaf”. This is a strategy used later in a script. For example, “draining the water stops the leaf rotting. If the leaf rotted then it would die” this is a more optimal example than “draining the water stops rotting. If this happened it would die”.  Alongside the inflection and pacing of instruction, consistently re-emphasising this information can aid student recall.

4. Apply Engelmann’s ‘three level’ strategy 

Engelmann’s three level strategy is very similar to small scale interleaving. Within the instructional sequence, information is constantly re-tested, even after learners have given a positive response.

Three level strategy
Engelmann’s three level strategy

The strategy starts at level 1, which is the easiest, and progresses to level 3, the hardest. In this example, the circled A constitutes an expected student response. For example, each time there is a circled A, students may respond to the question “what percentage of Earth do rainforests cover?” with the answer “7%”.

Level 1 may represent the very first introduction of the piece of content. To progress to Level 2, students have to provide the correct answer to a question straight after the presentation of the information.

Level 2 is the next level of complexity. Students are presented with new information, tested on that new information but then also tested on information that they had previously been exposed to. An example of Level 2 is available below, with students asked to identify the rainforest coverage of Earth and the location of rainforests straight after being tested on other newly presented facts. Throughout the instructional sequence, each set of facts are repeatedly interwoven to aid Level 2 testing.

Level 2 better
Level 2 testing

Level 3 is the final level of complexity. After being exposed to each instruction of atomised information, students are asked to review all of the information at the end. This has given them time to forget the information and places a greater complexity demand by requiring learners to switch between lots of newly learned information.

Reviewed answer
Level 3 testing

If students can answer all of these questions at the end of the instructional sequence, then the lesson can move from scripted instruction and choral response to individual level practice drills and extended writing.

5. Plan the application of learning

Once the instructional sequence has finished, I move my students rapidly into a silent 10-12 question quiz on the content. The vast majority of time, if there has been loud and convincing choral response to all of the recap questions, then at least 90% of the students will achieve 90% on the quiz. If the students haven’t done this, then it is likely that there is a problem in either the planning or delivery of the script.

Individual written quiz following oral recap

Once students have achieved over 90% in the individual level quiz, then can then apply this new learning into the extended writing that had served as the basis of the planning in the first place.

An example of a longer extended writing task

6. Remember, it’s just an experiment

In all of this instruction, it is important to remember all of the caveats surrounding scripted instruction. It is a difficult and time consuming process to go through. In addition, as Engelmann himself emphasised repeatedly, it will often go wrong in a myriad of stunning unexpected ways.

However, if you were interested in planning your own script then I hope this can be of some use. Feel free to get in touch and tweet me @s_hall_teach if you wanted to share any thoughts, ideas or scripts.

Examples of some of my scripts are available here: