Archive for May, 2014

Developing Quality Peer and Self Assessment

In this post, I will go over a few strategies that I use in my lessons to improve the  quality  of peer and self-assessment.  While this is not a stand-alone training session but instead simply a collection of resources and tools that I use with my classes, they could easily be put together to become a discreet CPD session on developing skills in using peer and self-assessment.

Strategy 1: Aiding student reflection and metacognition

This is a very simple resource that I used in lots of my lessons as a plenary  between activities.  I have built a reflection display using the sentence stems here that occupies a wall of my classroom.

The sentence stems are as follows:

  • The most difficult thing was…
  • I think I need to improve on…
  • I now understand that…
  • I am now able to…
  • If I did my work again I would change…
  • I have learnt today…
  • The thing I enjoyed most about today’s lesson was…
  • The term………..was used today. It means…
  • A question I have about the lesson is…
  • The progress I have made today is…

The PowerPoint (attached below) can be randomised to provide an instant plenary or you can allow students to choose for themselves; the important thing is that the students are taking time to think carefully their learning.

Reflection posters

Strategy 2: Ensuring good peer-assessment comments

When teachers begin to use peer-assessment comments with their groups, they are often surprised at the poor quality of comments the students make.  The lesson to learn from this is that, like anything else, students need to learn how to be good at assessing work: we can’t just expect them to have as good a grasp of assessment as we have.  They need to learn how to assess work properly.  The great thing about peer-assessment is that if students develop skills in accurately judging and assessing other people’s work, they also improve at their own.

When students first start to peer-assess and they are not explicitly shown how to do this, they very often make comments like good handwriting,or write more next time, comments that give no guidance on how the work could be improved. The trick is to get them writing comments that explicitly look at the success criteria for the work and, in particular, which of these criteria have missed or used incorrectly.

Some strategies for building peer-assessment skills:

  1. Use a success criteria.  There is pretty much no point asking students to peer-assess a piece of work if they don’t have a success criteria or mark scheme to work from.  Otherwise, how will they know what they are judging the work against? The success criteria needs to be very clear and easy to understand, and students need to be reminded again and again that they should mention the criteria specifically when they set targets.
  2. Model peer-assessment for the students, using their own work.  This can be done in a variety of different ways.  One way that I often use is to take a photo of student work using my iPhone and then email it to myself.  I then add the image to a slide so that all the students can see it.  Finally, I assess it and write comments in exactly the way that I would wish them to.  Although I have yet to do this, another potential strategy is through using a webcam connected up to your interactive whiteboard to allow for ‘live’ marking.
  3. Get students to annotate success criteria on pieces of work. To help them get familiar with the idea of judging a piece of work against a criteria, it can often help to have them annotate the piece of work they are assessing with the criteria before they write comments.  If you get them to copy the success criteria down in the margin, they can also tick these off as they find them.  Finally, it can help to give the students a different coloured pen to do this, as well as to write comments, as this will stand out from the normal ink colour as well as feeling more like ‘proper’ teacher marking.  I use green.
  4. Give students examples of good and bad comments.  The attached resource is a list of ‘banned comments’ such as ‘Good handwriting’, and ‘Next time add more detail’ as well as a list of sentence starters for more success criteria based peer comments, for example ‘You have not met all of the criteria because…’

Good Peer Comments

3. Encouraging Dialogic Marking

This is a fancy way of saying that students should enter into a dialogue with their work and with each other about the improvements that they make to it.  The procedure for using dialogic marking is as follows:

  1. Students complete a piece of work according to a success criteria
  2. This work is marked, either by the teacher or by a student.  Comments are written which point out which criteria are missing from the work
  3. Students improve on their initial piece of work, attempting to make the improvements required
  4. Dialogic Marking: put the students in pairs and ask them to complete the following sequence of tasks –  a) Show your partner what you were told to improve. b) Explain to them how you improved it. c) Ask them to write a comment proving that you met your targets d) Swap and repeat.

When discussing their targets, I have found that it helps to give the students a ‘script’ to use, and some sentence starters / models to help them write good comments:


In the ‘write a comment’ stage, it is also useful if students are aware to base their comments explicitly on the initial target set and whether this has been met.  Any areas of shortfall should be mentioned in this.

Please find below slides containing the explanation of and resources related to dialogic marking.

Dialogic marking



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Using an Exit Ticket to Guide Planning

This post links back to one particular element of my 10-Minute Skill Builders posts, a series of sessions designed to help teachers develop core skills through a series of short training sessions.

In this particular one, I focused on an element of Assessment for Learning that I think is incredibly effective  -not to mention simple and quick – in making lesson planning responsive to what students achieved in the previous lesson.  The idea is that for their plenary, the teacher designs a question or task that tests for the achievement of the learning objective.  Good questions or tasks should be designed so that they test for misconceptions, giving quick and clear information to the teacher about exactly what needs to be covered in the following lesson(s).

I personally would take the use of an exit-ticket at the end of a lesson over pretty much all other Assessment for Learning techniques; I think that when done well they fundamentally demonstrate what good AfL should be about.

Success criteria for a good exit ticket:

  1. Designed to test for achievement of the learning objective
  2. Helps the teacher to determine misconceptions / issues with student understanding
  3. Quick to mark: the teacher should be able to work through an entire class set in under 10 minutes.  I go through mine immediately after the lesson in the space before my next class comes.

The procedure for using an exit ticket, as discussed in the session, is as follows:

  1. Teach a lesson
  2. Ask students to complete an exit ticket, answering a question / set of questions that clearly tests whether the objective has been achieved
  3. Mark the exit ticket after the lesson
  4. Design a task for the beginning of the next lesson which responds to the different mistakes made on the exit cards

I attach the session below, which contains an example of a learning objective, exit ticket question and a before and after example of an exit ticket that a student in one of my classes completed.  I hope this comes in handy!

10 Minute Skill Builders 6 – Exit Tickets to Guide Planning


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Quick and Efficient Marking

One of the things that I found most challenging as a trainee teacher was meeting the school enforced, ‘every book every two weeks’ marking policy, let alone marking after every single lesson.  In fact, the trainee teachers at my school often see marking as one of the most stressful elements of their job; many really struggle with – and feel cripplingly guilty about – their ability to keep up with the demands of marking all their books.  I think this happens for a few reasons:

1) Marking books is a task that takes an awfully long time, especially if you feel that you need to write long personalised comments in each book (which many new teachers do).

2) It is a boring task, resulting in sub-par performance.  The heavily administrative nature of the job means that it is easy to become sidetracked, begin to day dream or simply stop being efficient.  This means that a potential hour long job can take twice the time.

3) Marking is the task the is never done.  There is no end-point in the on-going cycle; once you have finished one set of books, there is always another to do.  This psychological effect has an massive impact on the will to mark.

4) A reason that affects trainee teachers more particularly than anyone else: when you don’t really know what you are doing, every task within teaching is incredibly time consuming.  Take planning lessons, for instance. While experienced teachers can plan a good lesson in (say) half an hour – or sometimes even less – new teachers can often take three hours to plan a single lesson.  Walking out in front of a class without a lesson plan is understandably more terrifying than failing to mark their books.  As a result, other more urgent tasks take precedence over the, often equally important, task of marking student work.

In my own practice, I had a moment of realisation about book marking after reading Joe Kirby’s fantastic post on the issue.  I have unashamedly stolen parts of my book marking CPD session from this.

The post chimed with some of my thinking about marking, thinking that had been lurking in the back of my mind for some time.  In particular it helped me to see the following truths about marking books:

  1. There is no point marking absolutely every piece of work that the students ever do.  Most students don’t – at least in my current school – automatically respond to their marking and internalise the targets on their own.  They only do this if there is a manageable amount for them to work on, and if they are given directed lesson time to do so.  As a result, it makes sense only to mark the final or largest piece of work in a lesson.  To rephrase, giving the students their books back with numerous pages marked at the same time is pretty much pointless.
  2. Students find lots and lots of targets difficult to manage.  As a result, setting loads of targets and writing long comments is often counterproductive as the student does not bother with any of them, and can find them discouraging.  From this, it is clear that a limited number of short, simple, easy to understand targets will result in a better outcome for the student.
  3. Students need to be given time to address their targets.  There is no point marking books and then ploughing on with another topic.  While some students will address these in their own time, for most the marking will be ignored and the teacher’s time will have been spent in vain.
  4. If you have a book check coming up and are worried about lots of unmarked space in the books, there is absolutely no point spending hours flicking through books and writing comments on each page.  Yes, maybe you should have spent more time marking, however writing those pointless comments in the books does absolutely nothing for your students.  It is, therefore, a waste of time.

The session:

As a result of my thinking on the issue of marking, I decided to give a session to the trainees about how to mark books quickly and efficiently while also maximising the impact that their marking has.  The session contains four different techniques for marking.  All of them mean that a set of books (or at least a piece of work from the most recent lesson in a set of books) can be marked in under twenty minutes.  My record is nine.

Technique 1: Coded marking.  This technique involves writing a comment bank of numbered comments.  The teacher reads the student work and annotates it with numbers matching the appropriate comments (I think that there should be a maximum of three to avoid swamping the student).  At the beginning of the lesson, students copy out the appropriate comments and are then given time to address them.

Technique 2: Traffic Light Marking. Instead of even commenting on work at all, this technique simply requires teachers to add a block of colour underneath the work: green for the learning objective being met, yellow for partially met and red for not met.  At the beginning of the lesson, students choose from three different tasks corresponding to their colour, with the greens completing an extension task, the yellows perhaps working on improving their work and the reds given extra scaffolding and another chance to complete the task.  This marking style is not appropriate for every type of lesson, but I think works really well in subjects like maths.

Technique 3: Exit ticket marking.  I have talked more about exit tickets in this post.  Rather than marking the books at all, this technique requires students to complete an exit ticket in which they demonstrate their learning.  The teacher then marks the exit tickets before handing these back the following lesson.  Students then complete a task corresponding to the comment on their ticket and glue the ticket into their book.  In the past, I have combined this with technique 1, using a numbered code on the exit tickets.

Technique 4: Coded literacy marking. This marking strategy deals with the problem of marking for literacy, something which could fall by the wayside if the above techniques are followed on their own.  This uses symbols to match different potential literacy errors, for example C for a capital letter problem, SP for a spelling error and an underlined section for when a part of the work makes no sense and the student must go back and fix it.  There are some important rules to be followed when using this technique: firstly, I think that there should be a maximum of 3-4 instances of this code in a piece of work, otherwise students can find it very discouraging and can feel swamped.  Second, as with all the other techniques, students should be given time to address these mistakes then and there.

I am not saying that these are a complete replacement for written comments, however I do feel that marking is an area in which many teachers spend their time inefficiently.  Sometimes it is entirely appropriate to lavish hours on marking student work, but on the other hand sometimes these hours of marking have little or no impact on the students themselves.  Through using the above techniques, teachers have an opportunity to mark work after every single lesson, which surely provides a massive benefit to students, even if the marking is that little bit less personalised.

In-built uptake time: To avoid the CPD paradox, discussed elsewhere on this blog, I think that it is important for participants in a CPD session to have time within the session itself to implement their learning.  Discussing and sharing the techniques took me about 25 minutes, meaning that there was another 30 minutes of actual marking time.  I asked participants to bring a set of books to the session and issued them with a 15 minute marking challenge in which they chose a system appropriate to them and used this to mark an entire set of books.  All of them managed this within the set time frame.

Please find the Power Point of the session, containing all the resources required, below:

Quick and Efficient Marking

I hope this comes in handy.  Even if you do not agree with the techniques themselves, I think that the lessons about avoiding pointless time wasting when marking books are valid.



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Creating Hard-Working Students: Effort Tracking

At the beginning of my teaching career I, like the majority of teachers, struggled with behaviour management.  The students looked straight through my facade of calm experience and saw me for the trembling, terrified novice that I was. I don’t blame them for exploiting this: in the same situation, I would have done the same!

Similar issues crop up time and time again with new teachers; their inexperience means that they struggle to create an atmosphere in which students are pushed to work hard and learn.

In this post, I will share something that I developed to help engender an atmosphere and expectation of hard work and effort in more difficult classes.  It is something that I have also shared with all my trainee teachers who have found it effective in dealing with the often crippling lack of a “work ethic” in some of their trickier groups.

When the behaviour in a class starts getting tricky, I think that the resilience and effort of the students – even ones who are not directly involved in any of the bad behaviour – are two of the things that fall by the wayside first.  The ideas here are also useful for getting across to students the idea that time is precious and that wasting time, both for themselves and for others, is a serious thing.

In essence, the system is pretty simple, although I think that for the students to buy into it the set-up is important.  First you need to share exactly what ‘effort’ means.   I showed a video given to me by David Didau at a training event that he ran.

After a discussion about how this relates to effort, in which the students pointed out that by not trying this close to the exam they were in many ways similar to the people stuck on the escalator, I said that this was why I was introducing some expectations about their effort in class.

The expectations that I introduced are as follows:

What does effort mean?

1.Non-stop work when asked

2.Make progress every lesson

3.Try hardest at all times

4.Do not distract other students from making their best effort

These are completely replaceable, however what I like about them is that while 1 and 4 are objective (students either do or do not meet the expectation and there can be no discussion about it) 2 and 3 are more subjective and allow the teacher some room to reward or penalise for more fine-grained and debatable issues.  One example of this is a student who rushes through all their work at the last minute so has evidence of work within their book, and yet you as the teacher know that it is not their best effort, no matter what they say.  You can easily say that while they completed their work, they were not trying their hardest at all times. It is useful to have some room for qualitative and subjective judgements about effort to ensure that students don’t find loopholes in the system.

Each lesson, you use a spreadsheet to track each students’ effort against the criteria.  The tracking system works as follows: gives students a green for if they entirely met each of the expectations, a yellow if their work and effort was satisfactory but you know they could do better and a red if they did not meet the expectations at all.  This spreadsheet is then displayed and discussed at the beginning of the lesson to remind students of how they did last lesson and at the end for your judgement of each students’ effort.

I attached the following rewards and sanctions to the system:

1) If the students get three greens in a row, they get a call home to say how well they have been doing

2) If they get a yellow, they are on a ‘notice to improve’.  Two yellows in a row automatically becomes a red, leading to a call home.

3) A red leads to a call home to register concern with a parent.  Two reds leads to a parent meeting, the seriousness of this measure merited by the fact that the student in question has wasted two whole lessons of their exam preparation time.

These rewards and sanctions are of course completely subject to your own preferences.  Mine are quite severe in this instance because I ran this system with an exam group with a looming deadline.  As a result, I wanted to get across that we really could not afford lessons where effort was not at 100%.

Below is a screenshot of my spreadsheet for the class in question, with the names removed.  You can see that most instances of yellow became a green in the following lesson, while in every case a parent meeting (two reds) led to improved effort in the following lessons.  This might not seem that impressive, but this really was a challenging class!  It also allows you to see really easily who the most challenging students are, the ones who could potentially be a real negative influence on the group, and act swiftly with parental contact to nip any issues in the bud early on.


This system has really worked in moving a class in which the majority of students would get very little done in the course of a lesson to a class with a much more hardworking mentality.  In particular, students who are on either yellow or red are desperate to ensure they get a green the next lesson, and then will put in considerable effort in class to get a good phone call home to counteract the bad call.  It is the kind of system I wish I had in place in my first year of teaching which is why I shared it with all the first and second year trainees in my school this year.

The tracking spreadsheet and PowerPoint I used to share it with my class are below:

Effort resources Effort Tracking Spreadsheet


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Setting and Maintaining Behavioural Expectations

I usually give this session when we first get trainee teachers into school, often some weeks or months before they hit the classroom for the first time.  In my experience, new teachers always underestimate the lengths  they will have to go to to ensure good behaviour in their lessons.

Often, the “it won’t happen to me” attitude leaves new teachers making mistakes in their first few lessons through not setting and reinforcing their expectations clearly enough.  These mistakes can then take them the whole rest of the year to rectify (it is common to hear first year Teach First trainees say that they can’t wait until the fresh start offered by the second year so that they can toughen up), and they are actually easy to avoid: the way that a class can smell the difference between a rookie and a hardened pro is, I think, simply a matter of how clear and forceful they are about expectations right at the start.  Equally, it is vital that expectations are clearly thought through and practical; it is equally as damaging to set up an impossible to maintain system as it is to not bother at all.

This session goes over what I consider to be the fundamentals of solid classroom management: 1) entry into the room, and routines for settling down, collecting books and resources, 2) deciding on which elements of your lesson you will insist be “perfect” and so need constant practise (i.e., students walking into the room and taking their seats in silence), 3) having a solid routine for silence and active listening that is embedded in classroom practice and used consistently.  In my opinion, with these three elements in place a lot of other potential issues are completely avoided.

The session:

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov is the book that has had the most drastic effect on how I view and practise classroom management.  It contains numerous techniques that are vital to having an ordered classroom and a behaviour system which avoids unnecessary interruptions to learning.  As such much of this session is based on four techniques from this book: Entry Routine, Threshold, Do It Again and SLANT.  While I am able to post my resources and PowerPoint here, I cannot post the chapters from the book.  I would highly recommend getting a copy if you don’t already have one.

The session is composed of three elements:

1)Learning the techniques:  Participants work in small groups to become experts on one of the four techniques.  They read the chapter and condense the information into A3 poster form.  Next, one person from each group remains behind to teach and explain their technique while the others visit the other posters.  Finally, the roamers return back to their group and teach the teacher what they found out about each of the techniques.

2)Watching them in action: Using the DVD provided with the book (each copy of Teach Like a Champion comes with a DVD where excellent teachers are recorded in their classrooms using the each of the 59 techniques), participants watch and analyse the  clips, picking out and discussing examples of the techniques.

3) Designing a routine: Participants are provided with a series of questions that will aid them in thinking carefully about their own routines.  They use these questions to design the routine that they will set-up when they begin their own teaching careers.  The questions are below:


The participants then present their newly designed routines to each other.

Please find the slides and resources for the session below:

Setting and Maintaining High Behavioural Expectations Video Analysis table


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Agree, Build Challenge (ABC) Questioning

Not quite a stand-alone CPD session, this post instead contains a resource that I use frequently in my own teaching as well as sharing with my trainees. The technique here is designed to move question away from the traditional “IRF” (teacher initiates, student responds, teacher gives feedback) model and towards questioning that is more centred on the students listening and responding to each other.   I feel that this encourages much more thinking on their part, does not allow them to switch off so easily and I suppose also encourages them to be more independent.

To facilitate this, I use Agree, Build, Challenge questioning:


In essence, instead of the questions being bounced back to the teacher they get passed  between students who need to say whether they agree, want to build on or challenge the previous statement (as well as supplying a reason).  To improve this further, I also insist that students use the above sentence stems when they respond to each other.

This can be further improved through getting students to take notes during the discussion, which I discuss in the ‘Encouraging Attention and Focus During Questioning’ post elsewhere.

The attached PowerPoint contains the above slide, as well as each individual sentence stem on its own slide.  I used this to create permanent display within my classroom that students could always look to during questioning.  This could also be stuck into the back of their book for reference, or – as one of my maths trainee teachers has done – be combined with ABC cards so that the front of the card has the letter and the back has the sentence stems.  I have seen this used to great effect to combine questioning with AfL.

ABC display



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Questioning: student ownership, accountability and attention

The techniques in this post are a combination of three that I ran in my ‘10 Minute Skill Builders‘ sessions for my department, re-posted here as they are on the topic of questioning.  They could easily be formed into a single session, or each expanded out to become a full CPD session in its own right.

Student ownership of questioning

This session focuses on encouraging students to take control of questioning sessions themselves, rather than having the teacher as the locus of control.  It really is worth investing a lot of time in training your students to use these techniques independently; I personally use A,B,C questioning, and, after half a year of training, have got to the stage where some of my classes can run substantial discussions without any input from me at all.

The session contains a procedure to encourage more independent questioning sessions, as well as two different frameworks on which classroom discussions can be built: ‘Clarify, Probe, Recommend’ or ‘Agree, Build, Challenge’.  Finally, it also has a technique for encouraging students to come up with their own excellent questions.  I borrowed the Clarify, Probe, Recommend and the deep questioning tool from David Didau.

10 Minute Skill Builders 7 – Student Ownership of Questioning

Ensuring accountability during questioning

This session responds to what I consider to be the biggest issue with using questioning within lessons: that not all students participate, either actively or even mentally, with the discussion and, as a result, not everyone is learning.  Rather than explain the technique myself, below is a slide from the session which does so:


In particular, I think that it is difficult to overrate the importance of the pose (giving the question before the name of the student) and the long pause in terms of building a sense of the importance of students listening to each other in class, as well as the sense that every student must do the thinking required.

10 Minute Skill Builders- 8 Questioning – Accountability

9. Building attention and focus during questioning and class discussion

In a related session to the previous one, these are techniques for improving the attention that students pay to classroom discussion and questioning, again responding to the issue about maximising learning from questioning sessions.  In this session, I go over three different techniques for helping to build attention and demonstrate learning during questioning.

A favourite of mine from this session is a technique that I call ‘Active Note-Taking’ in which students are trained to take down notes of what is said in a class discussion in a kind of short hand.  I find that it really helps to maximise the learning from a questioning session.

10 Minute Skill Builders 9 – Questioning – Attention and Focus


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