Maximising success in linear exams – day 2

14 December 2018

Day two our our three day ‘Maximising success in linear exams’ course focussed on embedding promising teaching strategies. Based on research evidence, we focused the day on three key areas:

  1. ‘What makes great teaching?’ and the ‘Principles of Instruction’
  2. Effective feedback
  3. Literacy.

What makes great teaching?

The day started with a look at The Sutton Trust’s ‘What makes great teaching’ report. Published in 2014, this has been a real mainstay in our attempt to further improve teaching and learning strategies over the last few years. Top recommendations include: Pedagogical content knowledge (thinking through how students learn the content, not just having sound subject knowledge.

In addition, we referenced the 2012 National College’s for School Leadership publication ‘What makes great pedagogy; Nine claims from research’ This has used the evidence base to distil some areas for consideration; pay attention to  student voice, clear thinking about longer-term learning outcomes as well as short term goals, building on student’s prior learning and experience, providing scaffolding for students, focus on higher order thinking, make good use of dialogue and questioning, embed assessment for learning and use a range of techniques, including whole class and structured group work, guided learning and individual tasks.

From both sources, as well as recommendations from many other more recent research, we felt that Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’ was worth exploring in some detail. The original research paper is found here: A simpler distillation of the key points can be found in this article:

Rosenshine based these principles on three key areas of evidence; cognitive science, the classroom practices of master teacher and research on cognitive supports to help students to learn complex tasks. Several of these principles were very much based on content from day one of our course in terms of thinking through cognitive load and strategies to retain learning through retrieval practice and small steps. We discussed further strategies from the principles such as effective questioning and guiding student practice.

Further to this, there are some very useful recent blogs from Tom Sherrington (teacherhead) who really emphasises the need to; Specify the knowledge even more precisely, check for understanding even more, in more varied ways, and apply the knowledge in more ways. More can be found in the blogs below:

Whilst the Sutton Trust’s report and Rosenshine’s Principles were familiar to most of us, it was definitely a useful exercise to spend some time really reflecting on our practice in the light of the new exam qualifications and the challenges that they pose.


Feedback is one the the most highly rated interventions in the EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit but the evidence in this area is complex, with some studies showing very high effects on learning and others showing feedback having negative effects. Further details from the EEF can be found here:

We have found Hattie and Timperley’s review of the research evidence around feedback incredibly useful, particularly what works and what doesn’t. It is a hefty 33 pages long, but well-worth the time investment and can be found here.

Harry Fletcher-Wood’s website also contains a lot of useful thoughts and ideas about formative assessment:

His book, Responsive Teaching, is also excellent, with a really useful chapter on how we can help every student to improve using feedback.

Three key areas are worth considering in terms of helping students to respond more effectively to feedback provided; understanding, emotion and time.

Understanding: How could we ensure that feedback is easier to understand? Is our feedback very specific about how to improve some work? Is it simple to access?

Emotion: Try to avoid feedback on the self-evaluation level. Students can miss the point of feedback if their emotions take over due to comments about them, or their engagement, in the task.

Time: There is clear evidence that feedback is most effective with a minimum time delay.

Modelling was drawn out as a key stage in the feedback process. Students need to see what is expected of them in a certain task. One strategy which we have trialled is ‘checklists’. Students can complete these before handing in some work; this enables students to cut out the same frequent mistakes and helps us to focus feedback on the true understanding of each student.

A very useful report to look at is ‘A Marked Improvement’ (The EEF with The University of Oxford)

This has helped us to rewrite our whole school Feedback Policy to consider the full range of effective feedback and not rely purely on time-consuming written comments on work.

Added to this evidence base is Dylan Wiliam’s book ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’. This is particularly useful for looking at all aspects of feedback; written comments, peer and self assessment, as well as questioning.

Our final task in this section was to think through some of the many challenges involved in providing effective feedback and closing the gap in understanding for each student. This included looking at whether we should use praise, thinking through the pros and cons of written feedback and considering classroom climate. It is certainly a complex area, but it seems that there is great value in trying to improve the effectiveness of our feedback.


The afternoon involved a session on literacy focused on reading and writing. Increased literacy requirements within exams means that this is a key are of focus for all of us.  We started by referring to some key resources in the EEF Improving Literacy in KS2 report, which highlights the complexity of reading:

We then looked at a GCSE Latin paper to illustrate this complexity, focusing on the cognitive processes involved, which clearly highlighted the challenges our students might face when confronted with reading in our subjects. This article then encapsulated the active process of constructing meaning when reading: 

Considering vocabulary was up next, with a 4 strategies discussed to support students with developing their vocabulary:

  1. Considering the morphology and etymology of words
  2. Using visualisations, like word gradients
  3. Quizzing
  4. The Frayer model

A range of resources for teaching vocabulary can be found here at Alex Quigley’s Confident Teacher website:

A consideration of writing was up next and we referred to a comprehensive summary of how to go about teaching students to write effectively: 
What Works Clearinghouse, Teaching secondary students to write effectively (2016)

An important part of this process is enabling students to review their writing as they work, and supporting them with monitoring their writing. Kate Mouncey’s excellent blog on this can be found here.

Overall, it was an incredibly productive day, with lots of ideas shared and strategies considered. We are already looking forward to Day 3 on Tuesday 29th January.

Posted on 14 December 2018
Posted in: Blog

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