Category Archives: Challenge

SWAT Conference 2016

We made our way by train which always makes for an optimistic and exciting start to the day and this along with the prospect of meeting people and having time for focussed discussion and likely a yummy lunch in the forum at the university was truly a positive prospect!File_000 (1)In the last 4 years, more than ever before, I have come to love the opportunities to learn specifically about teaching and learning from my peers as very ‘real’ experts. I love the buzz of being around people as excited about learning as I am. Teachmeets, SWAT events and Learning walks in our school , are accessible opportunities.The keynote started with this information on Generation K:

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After 25 years of teaching my subject, I am keen to revive and refresh and develop the quality of learning happening in my classroom more than the content of what I should know about Biology. I remember looking at experienced teachers when I was about 4 years into my career, and wishing that I had the luxury that they had, of experimenting with delivery and practice rather than worrying about behaviour and subject knowledge and here I am. It’s not surprising then that it’s part of my role now in a mixed experience school team.File_000 (5)
To be at SWAT, accompanied by DHSB colleagues and others; all there to make teaching and learning more enjoyable and accessible, was pretty special. I didn’t contribute a thing at the conference other than friendly chatter but I walked, sat chatted and listened. I thought and reflected. As the day went on ideas started to form in my mind. I thought about my teaching, how I assess and the quality of my students learning and also the experience of students coming to the ‘ 5th lesson in a day where the teacher emphasises the importance of the work’ ! I feel compelled to act, having listened to the enthusiastic PHS students as they spoke of the need for variety, “ditch the textbook to independent study” they said, and as they shared their 10 Tips for teachers. See here:File_000 (3)

Following a great presentation from Jill Clayton and John Steiner at Torrington school, I know that I will execute a plan now to embed an ethic of excellence in my lessons too.My outgoing year 13 class were a stunning group who celebrated effort (not achievement ). Together we had built a climate of trust. Following a previously disparate sixth form group, I wanted to grow a more ‘in it together’ and positive culture in my new class in 2014. I wanted them to be united and feel responsible for their own progress. We developed a sense of team and they had definitely developed a sense of autonomy in their learning. We explored their mastery through me helping them to evaluating their answers in past papers (every single one there ever had been too!) The next step in taking this culture forward will be to tie their work with a sense of ‘purpose’ sooner.

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I wholly recommend that you too read : The Ethic of excellence by Ron Berger.It’s about much more than drawing butterflies!


Red hot lesson blog post 5

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Peer Monitoring the SPAG helps fill the pot to success!

On each table is a laminated A3 coloured sheet demonstrating best practice use of SPAG. All students are consciously aware of their grammar expectations.

During the previous lesson, the students were required to write a paragraph using creative writing skills to compose the beginning of a ghost story.

The peer mentor went around the room whilst the teacher (Gemma)  was delivering the next part of the work, reading over the students work and awarding them a gold star if they managed to get no grammar errors. If the peer mentor spotted an error this would be circled to allow the student to make the relevant correction.

Brilliant – 1) teacher spends time teaching instead of marking, 2) it acts as a learning opportunity for the peer mentor, 3) there is no disruption or time lost from peer marking in class 4) the students have the incentive to do well so they get a gold star……which leads to a bigger prize.

What’s not to like? Everybody remembers getting gold star in school it’s nostalgic.

Well done Gemma!

Nicola Lilley  with thanks to Gemma Machray


Red hot lessons- Blog post 4

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“Spot the errors”

Nicola produced an A5 size sheet with five questions/statements each of which contained one or more errors.  As the class entered they were given a sheet and the questions/statements were also projected onto the screen.  They had five minutes to study the sheet before Nicola started to ask students to identify the errors which they then had to circle.  Not only did they have to identify the errors, they also had to justify why they thought they were errors.  The questions/statements were progressively more difficult.

An ideal starter to assess prior learning (could also be used to introduce a new topic) and to get the students ‘warmed up’.  They responded very well indeed and the use of ‘errors’ made it that more interesting.  Some struggled with justifying their answer and Nicola used this as an opportunity to develop their answers with further questions. Sheets were then collected in at the end.  

Kevin Mitchell (Observer)

Interestingly, I called the starter “Beat the Teacher”, but it all amounts to the same thing.  The previous lesson I gave the students the opportunity to fill in a table identifying key aspects of legal structures of business. As I was unsure of whether or not they really appreciated the nuances, I created a starter to check their understanding and reinforce their knowledge by putting the A01 knowledge into context.  

I’m definitely using it again; 1) it gave me chance to get organised and take the register, 2) it got them settled in to the lesson quickly, 3) I was able to challenge their understanding and application to a high level, 4) it gave me an opportunity to hand out commendations at the start of the lesson which got us off to a positive start.

Nicola Lilley (Teacher)

Day 8 Powerful words

gobby_academy_logo (1)During the last training day I attended on “challenging the most able”, the session leader mentioned using a mobile application called Gobby Academy developed by the University of Warwick and Stealth Education. This app focuses on finding the most powerful words to include in essays, university applications, and research reports so the writer can express himself in a successful way.

Since I downloaded it, I used it in different contexts and I welcome any idea so I can make best use of it.

One successful way of using it was with the year 11 going through past papers, working on essay questions and quick planning. I organised a carrousel activity where each group of students had 10 minutes to read the question and plan an answer. After 10 minutes, they were given a different question. I encouraged them to use the “Top Trump Words” in the app to reword the questions. The benefits of it are that first, they had to take time to analyse the question before jotting down on paper any idea. When reading an essay question, they had to make the link between the words used and the assessment criteria.

You are maybe thinking by now that a dictionary would certainly do just the same job, as I was doing at uni and school just a few years ago but you’ll have to admit that beyond the mobile practicality, the context feature helps a better understanding of the word.

You can find the link here to download the app:

Merci 🙂 Helene WeltonGobby

Day 5:The Cookie Monster , Sir Ian and Gollum

One of the reasons I get on so well with my form group is because I believe that positive nurturing in the early years will pay dividends as they move up the school and develop into less angelic creatures.
I like to make one of my tutor sessions each week a bit personal geared towards them and their needs and one of the key skills I have been encouraging them to do is to resist temptation.  When I asked them what this could mean at school, they gave me examples such as
“hitting someone when they upset you”
“shouting out an answer in class”
“calling someone a name like douche”
“pinching someone else’s stuff”
Generally the low level annoying behaviour. that if we didn’t have we would have solved the problem nationally.
I then played them this clip from Sesame street as it’s something they’re all familiar with and often the simple messages are the most effective.
The moral to my episode is that we all have “cookies” in our lives everyday.  Your challenge is to resist the cookie, take a deep breath and think about what effect your actions will have. Doing nothing is better than doing something and getting into trouble.
I hope I can use the cookie resistance ……in teaching it’s called patience.
Happy Christmas,
Nicola Lilley10174117234_b263cd11f2


What is your goal in life? To be happy? Successful? Rich? Helpful?

And do those goals all apply in a career context?

I love this Venn diagram from twitter, but it was supposedly Confucius who said in a pre twitter age “find a job that you like and you will never work a day in your life…”

happy sue m

So how to reach that elusive, happy goal? At this stage of the school year when everyone is questioning whether half term was a dream and the Christmas hols are still a distant mirage there are a few ways to keep going – and ultimately to keep going forwards – and these can be applied in all career scenarios not just the bed of nails/cushy number – depending on which paper you read – that is school life.

Don’t underestimate the power of camaraderie and we’re all in it together spirit. We all know someone whose company brings us down due to endless negativity, or who makes us feel worthless, anxious or uninspired, and who frankly we should try to avoid, but there is also no denying that a shared moan preferably followed by a joke can raise the spirits. Feeling a commonality is always reassuring especially when the going is tough – and may prevent the tough from going!

I try very hard to savour the small successes and good experiences too. Write them down if it helps, talk about them. Aiming for small victories is more realistic than perfection (and quite honestly I’ve long given up on that one)

Be generous in praising others – a (genuine) pat on the back is always a mood lifter for the patter as well as the pattee!

I like to have something to look forward to – and not just the end of term or your next day off. Planning ahead for some good experiences and not just scheduling yet another meeting or audit helps focus on an attainable target. Sometimes with career progress, setting yourself short term objectives is the way forward, even if it is just to write a blog piece, design a display, attend a networking event, or take that evening class you’ve always fancied. It must be better to be at the bottom of a hill you want to climb rather than at the top of one you don’t?

There are two kinds of career happiness or indeed general happiness; contentment & satisfaction (earning enough to live on, liking the people you work with, feeling that what you do is worthwhile) and delight or even joy (getting a pay rise or promotion, specific praise from your boss, getting good exam results)

When I asked people I worked with What makes you happy? Almost all the replies came within the first area.

Being on the beach – whatever the weather – with my family        Seeing my son smile         Exercise followed by a sauna       

 Playing golf & cooking (presumably not at the same time…)         Smelling sunshine and fresh cut grass   

 Driving along the  embankment, proper nice sunny morning, high tide, water like a mill pond     

We are probably deluding ourselves if we think that we can be happy all the time, but it seems to be those small ordinary celebrations that truly make us happy, both in and out of work.  So they need to be savoured and appreciated!

If you want to find out what makes you happy at work, try this quick survey which could help you to pinpoint areas you could develop or even change:

I have felt privileged to be sitting in on mock interviews for some of our would-be medics at school this week. Their certainty and optimism regarding their chosen career is clear; their personal statements a celebration of their achievements to date. Perhaps the discipline of writing a personal statement would be a good step for all of us? What would you be applying for?

So career happiness is attainable, if we can find time to reflect, appreciate and change when necessary. But for those who admit to only one motivation for working, I’ll finish with an old Russian saying:

It’s not money that brings happiness.

It’s lots of money.

Good luck with that…!

Sue Moreton @suemoreton1 

IAG co-ordinator


Do you stretch and challenge in the classroom?

Picture by  @RWM_learninglab
Picture by @RWM_learninglab

It is certainly time for an update on progress for my Challenge project at DHSB. My last post was in May last year! However I can confidently say I have made substantial progress in that time.

I had posed a number of questions in my last post outlining the aim of the project and those remain.

*What is stretch and challenge?

*Why stretch and challenge at DHSB?

*How effective is stretch and challenge at DHSB?

Whilst I cannot reach a conclusion I can start to surmise why I am looking at challenge with DHSB.

My starting point for this research was to survey the teaching staff. They are driving forwards teaching and learning in our school and so their thoughts and opinions are paramount. The data was based on the teacher standards and focused on how we support those students who need greatest challenge.  The data was interesting with 50/70 (check figures) staff completing the questionnaire, a brief summary of some of the data is below

  • 76% set goals which stretch and challenge pupils of all backgrounds and abilities
  • 74% plan homework to consolidate and extend the knowledge and understanding pupils have achieved
  • 66% know how and when to differentiate appropriately

I know these are quite broad and crude calculations, however the important question is how do we know this? How can this be evaluated, triangulated and evidenced more?

The next stage now is for our most able students to go into their lessons and reflect on the teaching and learning going that is happening.  They are receiving their training next week which will enable them to be confident to make judgments in lessons about what they are observing. They will be considering the following:

  • I learn best when…
  • I am challenged when…
  • The type of teaching I enjoy most…

This will naturally require them to highlight particular subjects and teachers, but will also provide irrefutable evidence which is essential to effectively evaluating the provision of challenge at DHSB and whether it meets the thoughts and opinions of teachers.

I am really looking forward to this part of the research, giving ownership to our students who after all are the ones who benefit from the great teaching which happens at DHSB.

Rachael Green @dhsbgeography 

Head of Geography

SWAT Co-ordinator