When ‘Stretch’ becomes too ‘Challenging’

As part of my role within the GROW Team (a team of teachers who support staff with their professional development) we facilitate in-house themed CPD sessions. My session focused upon developing differentiated strategies to promote stretch and challenge. My aim was to discuss a variety of strategies that could be used with different students/ subjects, which meant that stretching all students in a lesson was less challenging on the teacher.

I started the session with a mix and match worksheet where staff had to link the key words to the online definitions:


This opened up a lot of initial discussions over the terms and their meanings. What I found surprising when researching for this session, was that most of the definitions on a general Google search for Stretch and Challenge, focused upon the students stretching and challenging themselves not the teacher. This flipped how I saw stretch and challenge in my mind: it is not the teacher driving it but the students recognising what they want to achieve, taking ownership over their success by stretching themselves.

I then moved on to a short ppt which highlighted three main problems with differentiated tasks for stretch and challenge with possible solutions:

After discussing each one, what we would like to try/ have already tried etc. we finished  with a plan of action sheet – basically a check list of what are you going to do:

Continue reading “When ‘Stretch’ becomes too ‘Challenging’”

“Put your mobile phone away!”: Are you Kidding?

Some educational institutions have a  very clear rule: no mobile phones in lessons.  I’m not disagreeing with this. What I am doing is taking a reality check. Students are literally… 13557800_1416481335035387_4218592803150921702_n

So rather than wasting time as a teacher constantly telling students to put their phones away or students thinking harder about how they can read their latest message without been spotted rather than the lesson itself (by the way teachers know the book tilt to cover the phone or the interesting light up lap stare – who are you fooling!) why not use mobile phones as part of the learning?

Continue reading ““Put your mobile phone away!”: Are you Kidding?”

“You haven’t done the reading!” How to avoid Flipped Learning Flops

Let me start by saying that I’m not really sure why it is called ‘Flipped Learning’. At the end of the day the learning has not been flipped because the students should have always been doing the learning. What has been flipped is the working roles, by which I mean who is doing all the work: student or teacher?

With flipped learning you are placing the responsibility for learning the material onto the students, rather than the pressure being on the teacher to cover the material (and teach the content, set activities, engage all students, differentiate over abilities, ask a variety of different questions and assess that learning has actually taken place …not to mention all this with new linear specifications and intense content coverage.)

So why use Flipped Learning?

Continue reading ““You haven’t done the reading!” How to avoid Flipped Learning Flops”

Bringing back the Red Pen: Effective Feedback

If you type into goggle ‘red pens in schools’  you are bombarded with newspaper articles of red pen.pngschools who proudly declare that the use of red pens are BANNED! My response: I think education has bigger issues. So why is this move deemed necessary? Well some believe that marking in red pen appears more threatening (like writing in capitals), demanding attention from the reader in a warning manner (you don’t ignore road signs in red for example). Well I don’t mean to be blunt (but I’m going to be anyway) but that is exactly why I mark in red pen. Marking students’ work is one of the most significant ways that they improve their independent essay writing technique, so I want them to take notice of my comments.

I can see the benefits of marking in different colours such as green for praise or highlighting spelling mistakes or grammar errors but I want actual feedback for improvement to be as blatantly obvious as possible. Look at me, read me, take me on board!

So here are some tips for handling ‘red pen marking’:

Continue reading “Bringing back the Red Pen: Effective Feedback”

Who said ‘you can’t teach teachers’: TeachMeet

I attended my first TeachMeet event at Scalby School recently and it was fantastic. Don’t get me words.pngwrong I love teaching and learning anyway but after a long day at work and three more hours of ‘school’ it has to be pretty good to engage me. And it did! The buzz of sharing ideas through quick, snappy sessions was structured and organised (my favourite sort of learning) but more than that I picked up a hoard of teaching ideas that are just golden! Ideas that are so simple you immediately know which class and topic you are going to try them with. So here is my summary of the key ideas from the evening:

Learning Menu
Differentiated classroom activities written as a menu with starters, mains and desserts comprising of differentiated tasks and extension sides. This technique enables students to develop independent learning through challenging themselves.Revision Clock
Using the face of a clock, split the sheet into timed segments to focus revision on short, snappy pointers. This technique maintains focus and pace when revising. I’ve already tried this!


revision clock

Achievement Display: Inspiration Board
Straight forward really – reward the little things (best piece of work, most improved) rather than just top performances.

Continue reading “Who said ‘you can’t teach teachers’: TeachMeet”

Exam Boardroom: The gloves are off!


The all-you-can-eat buffet of exam boards is over (I’ve just returned from Oxford for the Academy Conferences R.S exam boards meeting) and the verdicts are in. OCR offers a content challenging course with clean lines and a seemingly manageable overlap over the two years. AQA appears to offer more questions than answers, with complex layering of exam questions with minimal choices but more manageable content to cover. Newbies Eduqas present a very open, honest ‘we are here to help you’ approach but how transparent is the exam questions and content is unclear over the two years. Edexcel offers a tempting Anthology of original texts to co-teach alongside the main theories, which wets my degree appetite but maybe not my students. And finally Pre – U Cambridge International Examinations (never heard of them – neither had I) offers text based study with Pass/Merit/ Distinction grading but seems to be blissfully unaware of the actual abilities of most 16 year old R.S students (pitching more for public school rigidity and work ethic rather than the reality of the classroom.)

Here is a more in-depth exploration of what is on offer:

OCR (presented by Hugh Campbell)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 19.14.22


  • Current OCR textbooks can be used – still relevant for new spec changes
  • Old DCT text book by Michael Wilcockson provides relevant support
  • A2 writing style prepares students for higher level degree writing.
  • OCR aims for a holistic approach with overlap between topics over two years
  • Text book is currently underway by Hodder
  • Inset training starts hopefully in June
  • Currently awaiting accreditation
  • For a more in-depth exploration of OCR please see my earlier blog on: Out with the Old and in with the New: OCR Spec Changes

AQA (presented by Dr John Frye)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 19.40.53

Continue reading “Exam Boardroom: The gloves are off!”