Preparing for linear exams course – day two

25 February 2018

Author: Dr Caroline Creaby, Sandringham Research School Director

On Tuesday 6th February, the Sandringham Research School welcomed delegates back to the second of our three day course on ‘Maximising achievement in linear exams’. In this blog, I signpost some of the research evidence we examined and reflect on what delegates found helpful.

Day one of the course had focused on the research evidence about student learning. We explored science of learning research including the memory model, working memory, retrieval practice and metacognition. On the second day, we were keen to explore the research about promising teaching strategies. This gave us the opportunity to get to grips with the findings of the Sutton Trust and University of Durham’s ‘What makes great teaching’ report. The following six aspects of teaching were found to have promise from the 200 pieces of research examined (the first two having the strongest evidence):

  • teachers’ content knowledge, including their ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions
  • quality of instruction, which includes using strategies like effective questioning and the use of assessment
  • challenging students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in the lesson
  • asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students
  • spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting
  • making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material

These aspects of teaching provided a useful frame to reference when delegates visited lessons. It enabled them to discuss together what their next steps in the classroom might be.

During the second day of the course, we also spent time considering feedback. It is claimed to have the potential to provide students with eight additional months’ progress (EEF Toolkit) but we were keen to put a spotlight on this area of our practice because it can generate a significant workload, and, if we’re honest, may not always necessarily lead to the learning gains reported in research studies. Together we examined helpful ideas including the pre-conditions for feedback, how we give feedback and how we can work to ensure a response from students. Helpful papers and resources we looked at were ‘A Marked Improvement’ from the EEF and Oxford University and ‘Embedded Formative Assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy.

The final dimension of teaching examined during the day was literacy, given its renewed importance in linear exams. We spent time exploring the importance of vocabulary, including tiers of vocabulary instruction, along with strategies to suport learners to broaden their repertoire of vocabulary. We flagged up Alex Quigley’s forthcoming book on the topic (which is a bestseller already!). We also spent time considering how to support learners to develop their writing skills – ‘think aloud’, modeling and metacognition strategies all emerge from the literature as helpful. This guide from the US-based What Works Clearing House is a really helpful starting point.

Having had a rich day full of evidence, practical strategies and opportunities to reflect on practice, we’re now keen to explore how delegates can effect change in a more strategic way back in their school. Our third day together will explore topics including curriculum design and effective implementation.

Posted on 25 February 2018
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