Teaching for distinction

A really interesting blog from Tom Sherrington about teaching for distinction:

Teaching for Distinction @OldhamCollege

The most exciting job I’ve had since starting out with Teacherhead Consulting has been working with Oldham College.  Principal Alun Francis approached me to explore whether there was scope in applying current thinking around teaching and learning, curriculum planning and my experience of the delivery of CPD in schools to the FE setting.   He was keen to move away from the one-off CPD day where the impact can be marginal.  He was also keen to explore the idea of a ‘powerful knowledge’ curriculum in FE, not least because so many technical and vocational courses are moving to include examined components.

Working with Alun and Rachel Irving, the Head of Teaching and Learning,  I spent a few days in Oldham talking to a range of members of staff – tutors, Heads of Faculty, members of the senior leadership team.  I observed a few lessons and got a feel for the context.  FE is radically different to school in some ways:  there are huge plumbing workshops, rows of painting and decorating booths, hair and beauty salons, design studios.  Oldham even has the front half of an aeroplane parked outside. Some students are engaged on 100% work-based learning programmes where they receive visits from assessors.  The Maths and English departments are dealing with over 1000 students all taking the same GCSE resit course.   As well as the scale, the language is different: it’s all about learners, tutors and ‘quals’.

But, the basic business of teaching students so that they succeed is the same. Students need structure, guidance, support, quality instruction, high expectations, feedback, chances to improve.  The also need to acquire knowledge.  Teaching for Distinction has a clear double meaning. We want students to reach Distinction in their BTECs and other qualifications; we also want tutors to teach with distinction, using evidence-informed wisdom about effective practice to design and deliver a successful curriculum for all learners.

We designed the programme around some core texts – Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, which the college was already using,  and the excellent Didau/Rose Pyschology book, which captures so much of the research evidence in an accessible format.  We’ve also used some firm favourite resources for CPD such as the Austin’s Butterfly video, the Learning Scientists six strategies,  the Rosenshine Principles of Instruction and the Tharby/Allison Making Every Lesson Count flow diagram.



I will report back on our progress, but here is an outline of what we’re doing:  There are six teaching and learning modules:


The programme is designed so that it follows best practice, blending external input from me with regular CPD sessions every fortnight or so in between.  This will allow each faculty to design its own tailored programme so that the common learning is interpreted in the context of the needs of learners in specific technical disciplines.  So far we’ve planned up to the end of February 2018 but it will continue beyond that:


Part of the programme has been training for faculty leaders on running effective CPD sessions.  We’ve borrowed the structure from Dylan Wiliam’s ideas about teacher learning communities:


Thanks To give you a flavour of the content, here are some of the unit outlines and the headline course overview:

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I’d like to say a huge thank you to Alun, Rachel, Nick, Roger and all the other members of the Oldham College team who have made me feel so welcome. The first sessions for faculty leaders went really well and I’m very excited about returning to deliver the first round of training for staff.

If you work in FE and would like to talk to me about working with you, please get in touch.

Here is the infographic produced for us by Oliver Caviglioli. Modules 1-3 infographic v2

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Revision, Testing and improving memory – useful tips

Teachers and students need to recognise that mastering exam success, even in our new, more challenging conditions, is achievable. Stress is a challenge, but we can mitigate and even control its impact if we help young people maximise their memory potential. We need to teach more cannily, with the destination in our view and with long-term memory in mind. Happily, evidence from the science of learning and memory provides us with a roadmap to plan our school year ahead, so that our students will best remember what they learn along the way.

Crucially, revision is not something to do at the end of the learning process – a last minute rush to prepare for an exam. Instead, revision – or even better, ‘relearning’ – is integral to how students learn and remember best. We know repetition is crucial, but we can too often fail to explicitly plan to do this strategically in the rush of the teaching week.

One easy principle about relearning and teaching with memory in mind is that three can prove the magic number. If we want a concept or idea to be learnt and best remembered, we need to plan to repeat teaching it twice more, ideally in slightly different, novel ways. The revisiting of knowledge and understanding that we tend to place at the end of units, terms and courses should instead be a fundamental facet of each lesson we teach. By doing so we provide lots of opportunities for relearning.

Here are some strategies supported by the science of learning, which can help you plan the school year ahead so that those tricky terminal exams are met with confidence and success:

Spaced testing: We needn’t have our students wade through entire half-termly mock exams, but we can plan to test singular exam questions. Typically, we might teach the content, then go straight to the exam question, A better method, to strengthen our students’ memory for the material, is to question them before you have taught the content, thereby making it much harder, but helping priming them to learn. Then, follow this pre-testing by ‘spacing out’ tackling a similar question one week away, then one month away…you get the idea. By forgetting, paradoxically, our students remember better in the terminal exam.

Cumulative quizzing: Similar to spaced testing, this method takes the humble, but potent learning tool of the quiz, but lifts it up a gear by carefully planning a method of repeating questions and revisiting previous questions (the ‘cumulative’ bit). For example, if you taught a Dickens’ novel in English you would quiz students on chapter 1, but when you get to quiz for chapter 3, you would return back and include questions you asked of chapter 1. This repeated low stakes quizzing can consolidate key knowledge and understanding in our students’ memories.

Twenty questions: We all have a thirst for answers and knowledge and even our truculent teens are no different. By strategically harnessing this instinct, we can make learning more memorable. Before you teach a topic try the simple strategy of getting students to ask twenty questions: good, bad and ugly. This will prime them to want to know more, as well as give you feedback on their prior knowledge. At the end of the unit, return to these twenty questions to close the loop with some vital relearning.

Knowledge organisers: Get students to summarise and relearn a topic by creating their own knowledge organiser: effectively, a single side summary of the key elements of the topic. This is a simple strategy for active relearning and it becomes a useful revision tool.

‘Active’ wall displays: Sticking a word list on a wall, or vague exam criteria, adds little; however, you can bring a unit of learning to life by establishing a display (you can keep it simple) that is developed upon week by week to record, making students revisit the key aspects of whatever topic you are teaching.

With planning foresight, structured relearning and a little good luck, our students can make the journey to exam success a memorable one.

by Alex Quigley The Confident Teacher – article from Teach Secondary Magazine.