“They will forget most of what we made them think but they will always remember what we made them feel”

Last week my school had a ‘celebration INSET day’ to reflect on our rapid rise from Special Measures to Outstanding and the key part of the whole day, (even counting the bounteous barbecue and fruity punch!) was the inspirational talk by Sir John Jones. A three times head teacher and genuine educational enthusiast, Sir John reduced many of our teachers to an embarrassing state of happy tears. I’ve titled this post, ‘They will forget most of what we made them think but they will always remember what we made them feel,” and quote from the talk. I will remember the pride and awe that I felt to be a part of this wonderful profession, but I also hope to remember some of the nuggets of wisdom Sir John Jones left us. Here are some of the lessons I interpreted from the talk:


So many of the Educational blogs I read and discussions I have had with teachers over the years dwell on the downfalls of being a teacher today. He commented on the stress and work we wade through and the manic ‘teacher walk’ we develop just to be able to fit in a hasty toilet break at lunchtime. Teaching IS difficult. But it is also very rewarding and worthwhile. Sir John told the story of a man who had attended one of his talks where the audience were encouraged to track down a teacher that had changed their lives and thank them. The man searched for this teacher for 6 months before getting his contact details and reluctantly emailing him, saying that he knew the teacher wouldn’t remember him, but he wanted to thank him for inspiring him as a young person. He received an email back saying that of course he remembered him. A few days passed, and the man received a second email, this time from the teacher’s wife showing her appreciation for making the last few days of her husband’s life filled with happy memories of his time teaching and changing lives. We are in an amazing position as teachers.


This was a quote from a conference at a cutting edge organisation where the staff were at the top of their game. The audience’s reaction to this statement showed that they were the best: they nodded in agreement. I hope that I never feel that I have ‘cracked it’. There is always a better way to do what I am doing.



The idea is that we complete an action  and get results. When the results aren’t what we were hoping for, we often are tempted to go back to the action (in this diagram this is labelled as goals, values and strategies), then repeat the action again. This is when we try a but harder with what we were already doing and hope that we’ll get a different result. Sir John described this as ‘the definition of insanity’! He said the really courageous way to make changes is the go back to our underlying assumptions and rethink the problem from the beginning.

I’m hoping that I will remember both what Sir John Jones made me realise again about my role as an educator, as well as how he made me feel about this privileged professional.


Changes to how Ofsted judges YOU!

English: A vector image of a mortar board hat.

I had an illuminative CPD this term that looked at the recent changes to the way Ofsted inspectors are trained. The new guidance is as follows:

‘Inspectors must not expect teaching staff to teach in any specific way or follow a prescribed methodology.’

‘When inspectors observe teaching, they observe pupils’ learning’.  (School Inspection Handbook p34)

‘ The only orthodoxy is that there is no orthodoxy.’

‘Data should enlighten judgement not dictate- people led not data led’.

This is useful info for us teachers. It allows us to stop worrying about whether or not we’ll be penalised for failing to display the learning objectives throughout the lesson and other such pedanticities. In a letter  to all inspectors (March 2013), it was made clear that inspectors shouldn’t favour particular teaching methods over others.

When evaluating teaching we must not advocate a particular methodology or teaching style. Our inspection frameworks are not prescriptive on teaching style. However, inspection reports often contain phrases that give the false impression that Ofsted expects teaching to occur in a particular way or that adopting a standard approach will lead to effective teaching and learning.

Instead, the focus should, as always, be on the quality of the teaching and learning. This might sound obvious, but it does make me think more about a fantastic talk I heard by an experienced teacher at a conference years ago in which he underlined the importance of thinking about the desired outcome first, and letting all our jazzy teacher’s toolkit-style ideas come into play only if they are the best way possible to aid deeper learning.

So how will inspectors judge the quality of out teaching? Here is a reminder of the five key areas they are looking for:

—* Challenging
* —Pupils’ responses demonstrate gains in knowledge
* —Good monitoring by teachers and adapting teaching as needed
—* Good questioning and discussion to check learning
And here is the difference between Good and the often elusive Outstanding!
Teachers experiment in the classroom and take risks
—learning is often pupil led
—Teacher’s welcome pupil feedback: they ask the question ‘How can I help you to learn better?’
—They allow thinking time. Pose, Pause, Bounce and Pounce!
—They are often inspirational
—Their pupils know how to improve

Practical Strategies for Students with Dyslexia

The Mona Lisa.

Q:What do Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso and Tom Cruise all have in common?

A:They were all dyslexic. While dyslexia presents a range of challenges, with effort and an understanding of strategies that can be used, these challenged can be overcome over time, and can even be a strength. ‘Dyslexia in Secondary School’ by Jenny Cogan and Mary Flemming, and ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’  by Ronald Dell Davis outline some of these challenges, and offers practical techniques that can be used to help. There’s so much useful information out there about dyslexia, and I recommend you learn more about it. Here, I offer a starting point and a summary of some of the ideas these great books suggest.


The Challenge: People with dyslexia will be occupied with decoding words and the pronunciation of words, and they may not remember much of the information, meanings and connotations in what they read.

The Strategies:

  • Practise reading aloud in private, not in a classroom setting, where there will be pressure to decode and pronounce words properly
  • Encourage students to visualise the text in images. This can be done by: explaining what they should specifically be looking for in a text, verbal recapping of events at regular intervals, then  discussing the whole, and attaching pictures to a text using drawing or ready-made images, e.g. putting pictures in the correct order to show a plotline, drawing a cartoon strip as a text is read to them then asking them to recall the story without the pictures, annotating character drawings
  • Break texts down into the senses and discuss each of these
  • Use colours to represent moods or different parts of the text
  • Make abstract problems link to real-life situations e.g. maths should be learnt in terms of slices of cake or money, not just numbers.
  • Difficult terminology can be linked to an image ‘amps’ in science reminds the student of the humps or ‘umps’ on a camel’s back. Subject specific terminology needs to be focused on before they are included in a task e.g. words with multiple meanings or connotations, homophones and figurative language
  • Practise decoding example exam questions prior to an exam so that students focus on what is being asked, rather than  struggling with decoding the question


The Challenge:

Many people with dyslexia have difficulties with remembering an auditory or language-based sequence of events or words. They also can get frustrated when asked to multitask using too much information.

The Techniques:

  • Spider diagrams for bringing together ideas
  • Number ideas in a sequence, discussing links between ideas
  • Include colours and striking images where possible
  • Mind-mapping on the computer may be more appealing to students as they can create neat boxes with clear handwriting
  • Always discuss the mind-map afterwards and try to recall it without the map in front of the student


The Challenge:

Some students with dyslexia have genuine hand-eye or language-co-ordination difficulties that cannot be overcome with practise. By the time dyslexic children reach secondary school, their handwriting skills are pretty well-formed and difficult to change. They often find it difficult to re-read their own writing and the efforts used in forming neat, legible handwriting and remembering basic grammar can distract them from using their other creative talents and intelligence.  Computers can illuminate this frustration and allow students to develop other key skills.

The Techniques:

  • Allow the use of word-processing  –  this is a learning tool, not a hindrance to improving spelling
  • Students may apply to use a computer in exams: exam boards will ‘make every attempt to respond positively to requests for candidates to use computers’, however they will need evidence from an educational psychologist or qualified teacher
  • Encourage the student to go back over his work and check for mistakes before handing the work in – this is a skill he may have previously found difficult when editing work in his own handwriting
  • Touch-typing illuminates the need for the student to look down at what he is typing, which means he is multi-tasking less and can concentrate more on what he is writing, rather than how
  • GCSE Bitesize has interactive activities and revision notes broken up into chunks, often with audio clips, which are good for revision http://www.bbc.co.uk/eductaion/revision
  • Autocorrect in Word (Menu bar – tools – autocorrect) is designed to correct common mistakes and can be programmed to correct subject-specific vocabulary and extend abbreviations
  • Creating power point presentations allows students to convert written information into a more visual medium with colour, images and graphs. The student can then present the slideshow verbally, turning the pictures and prompts back into words


The Challenge:

Students with dyslexia may find it difficult to keep up with note-taking in class, their notes may be messy or incomplete, and they may be concentrating solely on the task of copying down from the board, and not retain any of the information from the lesson.

The Techniques:

  • Help students to organise and file notes
  • Teach abbreviations where possible
  • Encourage the student to use mind-maps, tables and bullet points

Essay Writing

The Challenge:

Like many other students, students with dyslexia often find the wording of questions difficult and fail to answer the question. In English, they may re-tell the story of a text, without including a deep analysis of a text in relation to the question. They may find planning difficult without having someone there to help organise their ideas, and may be anxious about how to begin, and how to structure essays. Timed essays may not allow enough time for a dyslexic student to complete the task to the best of their ability. Dyslexic students tend to write as they speak, and may not adapt their style easily to a specific purpose, or they might have problems maintaining a register throughout their response.

The Techniques:

  • Identify which writing skills are not automatic for the specific student, e.g. can they: create believable characters, vary their style, organise ideas clearly, use appropriate word choice, grammar and correct spelling, and organise paragraphs?
  • Practise interpreting exam / essay questions, including identifying the key words
  • Practise using a type of mind map that works for the student and purpose
  • Teach essay structures that fit the task e.g. using PEE paragraphs, mnemonics etc.
  • With students who have problems with timing in exams, it is best to first, identify the issue: understanding: do they find it difficult to decide on a question, do they panic because of stress, or daydream? Remembering: does worrying about time make them forget their points? Do ideas wander once they have written one point? Organising: does a muddle of ideas prevent me from writing? Do they rush in and run out of ideas fast? Writing: does worrying about handwriting, grammar and spelling slow down the writing process? Do they have problems with checking work due to poor handwriting?
  • Beforehand, help the student draw a pie chart showing the timings of different tasks
  • Make it clear to the student beforehand whether handwriting, grammar and spelling will be marked
  • Have students take in a watch that they are comfortable reading (maybe digital)
  • Different writing styles can be taught, and it should be made clear which exam questions require which style


The Challenge:

Revision is essential for any student who has difficulty remembering information, key words and approaches to exam questions. Parents naturally can be anxious about how effective the child’s revision is, and students with dyslexia may have disorganised notes, or find organising an effective revision routine difficult. As visual and auditory learners, dyslexic students may find reading notes alone an ineffective and frustrating way of revising.

The Techniques:

  • Parents should plan revision time in advance, and in collaboration with the student. They can help with verbally testing the student after revision sessions and talking through approaches to exam questions
  • Revision notes should be organised in  advance, and an adult could check that they have everything they need for the correct syllabus
  • Short sessions of around 20 mins are usually more effective
  • Help students to change information from one mode to another e.g. text to taking, pictures, diagrams, power points, posters, quizzes, games timelines, cards etc.

Snazzy Starters and Bell Activities

Cover of "The Little Book of Thunks: 260 ...

Cover via Amazon

The 2012 Ofsted criteria for an outstanding lesson states that “Pupils demonstrate excellent concentration and are rarely off-task,” and this should start right from the moment that the first student enters the room, which is why ‘bell work’ is s great idea. In ‘The Perfect Ofsted Lesson’, by Jackie Beere – a great little book that can be downloaded cheaply onto your Kindle, or bought in paperback – Beere points out that “students should expect to start work as soon as they come into the classroom without you directing them… it neatly shows how you are completely and effortlessly in control.” I would also add, that it is said that independent, student-led or group work should make up around 80% of your lesson – a tough ask – and so you might as well start right from the word ‘go’.

Quirky bell activities that are designed purely to wake the students up and get the little grey cells working can be fun and useful, however, in lessons where you are being observed, I do believe that every part of the lesson should be linked to prior learning and / or the learning intentions.

Here are some suggestions of bell work I’ve collected from ‘The perfect Ofsted Lesson’, and my reading in general.

  • Thunks: Ian Gilbert’s ‘Little Book of Thunks‘ offers a goldmine of beguiling questions with no right or wrong answer. Some examples are: Does a goldfish know it is your pet? If you always got what you wished for, would you always be happy? Which is heavier: an inflated or deflated balloon? What has the most freedom – an ant or a school child?
  • Work for, party with, or send to the jungle? Set pairs a discussion task where they say what they would do with the following and why, e.g. Prince William, John Terry, Russell brand
  • A Curiosity: for example, a box where students have to guess what’s inside. I did this with a year 8 class studying war poetry. I brought in an antique hairbrush set in its original box, which was presented to a woman for her 21st birthday just before WW1

Here are some ideas from ‘Pimp Your Lesson’:

  • The Beach Ball Trick: throw a beach ball around and ask each student who catches it to recap something from the last lesson / name one key piece of German vocab learned last lesson, etc.
  • Secret Mission: disguise pair or group activities by putting them in envelopes and presenting them as ‘secret missions’. You can also show differentiation by tailoring tasks according to ability
  • The Rule in the Room: while one pupil waits outside the classroom, the remaining students are given a rule which will govern their behaviour. On re-entering the room, the student must ask random questions and try to guess the rule in the room, e.g. English: participants must use alliteration in their speech, Science: students use a word that can be associated with digestion, etc.
  • Mind the Gap: use mini whiteboards and read something to the class referring to prior learning. Miss out a key word and have students write the word on their mini whiteboards and hold them up
  • Bumps: this retro party game can be adapted so that students must identify examples of a particular concept as they listen to you read a text

Another sneaky way of getting that tick in the Ofsted criteria box is to incorporate ICT. Remember, however, that ICT should only be used to enhance learning, not distract from it. “Resources, including new technology make a marked contribution to the quality of learning”

  • Blockbusters: on the teachers direct website, you can create your own interactive blockbuster quiz before the lesson
  • Create a random-o-meter with thunks on (see above) using a power point presentation set on slide show setting with the time reduced to 0 seconds

Starters and bell activities are opportunities to be creative and wander off the beaten path of the curriculum for one delicious moment. Enjoy it!

Using Drama in the Classroom

Newcastle University

Image by blenky64 via Flickr

Voula Foscolo-Avis is one of those precious rarities that is the experienced, passionate (and I don’t think she’ll mind me saying this) eccentric Drama teacher. She currently teaches the use of Drama in English to Newcastle University’s Secondary English PGCE students as well as lecturing on voice and presentation skills to trainee teachers from all disciplines. She offers workshops on using drama in the teaching of all subjects to staff in schools and universities across the North East. She kindly agreed to chat to me about some of her views and experience in using drama in the classroom for this post.

Throughout our conversation, Voula expressed a fear that the eccentric, “rogue” teachers are becoming a dying breed in an age where education is becoming more and more focused on ‘box-ticking’ and assessment. However, Voula didn’t originally want to be a teacher. She admitted, “I really wanted to be an actress, and at drama school they told me I wasn’t the right type – not tall enough, not pretty enough, so I decided to become a Teacher of Drama because that was what I loved.”

After getting involved in youth theatre work she went on to teach in secondary schools and over the years was appointed head of two drama departments in comprehensive schools. Drama school taught her not to teach, but to perform and so she developed her own teaching style and techniques and describes herself as a “self-taught” teacher. “One of the best compliments I ever got was from two University Lecturers – great practitioners – from a Diploma course at Durham and a Masters at Newcastle University. They said that they saw me as an intuitive teacher: that I’d learned to listen, to look, to identify non-verbal signals from my pupils and to adapt what I was doing in the moment so that my teaching became more useful to my pupils and more successful.”

A champion of taking risks with the goal of finding what works for students, Voula described the key qualities of exceptional teachers to be “rather rough qualities of doing things your way, going for it and being able to justify your methodology to those who want to observe you with a ‘ticky-box’.” She went on to say, “I think that that kind of rough quality is tremendous. Good teachers have courage: they are able to experiment with activities and then stop and ask pupils to tell me them if it’s working and if not, why not?”

Voula illustrated this with an example of an exercise she has enjoyed trying out with pupils that quite frankly, would strike fear into the hearts of many secondary school teachers. “I’ve done experiments where pupils have woken up from a deep sleep to find that they are in a world with no adults. In that situation, a lot of lads become rouges and renegades, and the girls and some of the boys sit down and discuss laws and behavioural systems and the whole tussle that they come up with is what it is to be human.”

“It’s just an experiment. All I’ve demanded is that the work has quality and depth of thought, and that the pupils can justify what they’re saying, why they’re saying it, and if and how they’re dealing with the outcome. All teachers need to have moments or days or lessons where they go with the flow, have moments of joy, and a time when they can experiment. Only when you break the mould do you realise that strength of understanding.”

While many educators may agree with this in theory, there is an undeniable reluctance among staff to include drama in their lessons. I asked Voula why she thinks this could be, and what she would say to encourage those who are reluctant.

“I think the reluctance comes from the idea that children are going to be free to move around and to make noise and they worry about control. And actually, drama lessons, if they are well-constructed, are the most controlled of all lessons. Give very strict time goals and strict ideas about what the questions are that the students should be asking. There is no reason to worry. Teachers need to try and learn and be aware that there is a certain kind of noise that is chaotic, and another kind of noise that is constructive, and to know the difference is the mark of a very good teacher.”

“So my advice to teachers who fear drama is to set up only five minutes or ten minutes of a lesson, where for example, a character who has great power can enter into a classroom, can look around very deliberately, can pick up a crown and put that on their head very deliberately, and have the rest of the pupils respond and analyse the effect of power, considering the statement: ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. If you’re studying Macbeth, that is the absolute question the students should be exploring. If you’re focused, that will last longer than your notes to them about Macbeth. Such a short piece of work is not dangerous, you don’t lose control, and as confidence grows you can do more active work. To tell a class what you understand or for them to see it on a video does not do the job because the pupils are not involved actively, spiritually and mentally. Through drama, they are practical participants.”

Another valuable ‘top tip for using drama in the classroom’ consists of forgetting the word ‘drama’. “For many children and for a lot of teachers the word ‘drama’ means ‘acting’, which means performing to amuse and titillate an audience. Drama in education is practise for life. I owe that phrase to Gavin Volton who taught for many years at Durham University. It gives children an opportunity to involve themselves safely and at a slight distance with issues that are important. They can step in and out and experience a kind of life, explore moral and practical issues, and test out their theories and ideas, and I often find that testing these ideas leads pupils to question an assumption. Dorothy Hethgate from Newcastle University said, “The question for drama is: how should man live?” All of drama is answering this question, tousling with this question.”

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Voula teaches the use of drama in all curriculum areas from Science, to History, to Foreign Languages to enhance learning. “It’s the old adage of what you hear you forget, what you see you remember, what you do, you understand. And if at all levels from primary upward, the most important thing is that pupils understand, there is no way of getting to that level other than doing participative work. The memory from the muscle and the brain is deeper when you are actively learning.”

It is the aim of this blog to document my professional research into different areas of teaching, learning from the experts in the hope that my readers will come along on this learning journey with me. At the end of our discussion, I gave Voula the opportunity to add any thoughts. It had been a pleasure to talk to such an inspirational, opinionated educator.

“My one concern is that people like me are fast retiring or losing influence and that people who are coming into this profession are overly concerned with passing exams and being seen to tick boxes rather than with understanding this wonderful of all art forms. It is ancient, it is wonderful. The Greeks saw it as a tremendous experience: they paid for their slaves to go to the theatre and to see the most wonderful plays, to see that drama can be a cathartic experience. It’s so important to our humanity and yet, now in education we’ve lowered it to the expectations of, ‘Can you sing in time and dance in time?’ I’m sorry, but drama is much more than that.”

Remembering Students’ Names

I simply had to research this.

I’ve discovered that not knowing the names of students and staff can lead to complete disaster: appearing uniformed about your students, talking to parents about their child when you can’t quite remember which Lewis in Year 9 you should be discussing, talking to the SEN specialist about EAL students… embarrassing. My issues are both remembering names and faces, particularly when students are dressed identically! Here are some tips I’ve picked up from colleagues, family and friends and my very close and helpful friend, the internet.

If you have access to photographs:

  • Create seating plans with small photographs and details about students e.g. levels, targets, SEN, EAL, etc. Takes time at the beginning of the year, but you will use it all year. Take along to meetings for reference.
  • Stick little photos inside the cover of exercise books to glance at each time you do your marking

If you don’t have access to photographs:

  • Write out the names of students on lollypop sticks, or on a random-o-meter, and when you direct questions to the class, call out a random name, asking that student to answer the question. After the student answers, thank them by name.
  • I find it easier to recall handwriting and pictures, so I always ask students to write their names on their work themselves, and if the school allows, to personalise their books in some way for example, you might let them draw a small picture next to their name or cover their books in coloured or patterned paper.
  • In her blog thinksimplenow.com, Tina Su suggests that when you meet someone with the same name as someone you already know, visualise the two faces bouncing up and down next to each other while repeating the name in your head
  • At buildyourmemory.com, two techniques are suggested. In a nutshell, the first is where you really make an effort to turn different parts of names into images e.g.John Standish = John stand dish. This is obviously a technique that is easier with some names: others will take practise. This website includes a list of common names and appropriate visual hooks.The second technique is to then think of a singular attribute (usually physical, but this could also be something like a lisp or accent), and repeat the person’s name in your head as you think of that particular attribute.
  • Erin Matlock, at http://www.braintraining101.com/how-to-remember-names-five-easy-tricks/ suggests associating names with famous people of the same name by picturing them together in a vivid image, e.g. imagine your new student Jennifer in a coffee shop next to Ross. Jennifer goes to sip her coffee and spills it all over Ross’ trousers.

Games, Exercises and Techniques that Encourage Students to Write

Writing should be fun. Here are some funky writing exercises that will kick-start students’ creative writing:

  1. The Story Game: Put students into small groups. Play a range of atmospheric music and ask them to start writing a story using any genre and topic they feel like. They must work individually, in silence, keeping their story a secret. When the music changes, the first student in each group calls out one word that they think is interesting or is a piece of high-level vocabulary and everyone in his or her group must incorporate this word into their story before the next song change. Through this game, students’ stories will change and develop in unexpected and unusual directions, which encourages students to be creative and fearless in their writing. It can also be adapted by assigning a topic or genre or providing connective mats, thesauruses, etc.
  2. Getting to know new students: Instead of asking new students to write ‘about themselves’, ask them to either create a facebook page for themselves, or write their own obituary, including a grizzly account of the cause of death.
  3. Verbal ghost stories: Telling stories verbally can develop skills in shaping a narrative and building tension. Turn out the lights, show a flickering candle or fire on your whiteboard to set the scene. Sit the class in a circle and pass a torch around, encouraging students to tell their favourite scary stories by the ‘firelight’.
  4. Story bags: Put together story bags with unusual or inspiring objects that students can base a descriptive writing piece around. Alternatively, you could include quirky newspaper articles, photographs of characters or students could pick out two genres from one bag and write a zombie romance or a sci-fi costume drama!
  5. Random-o-meter: create a Power Point with thought-provoking questions for students to discuss during planning stages in story writing, for example, ‘what is your protagonist’s greatest fear?’, ‘what kind of home was your character raised in?’. Change the Power Point setting to advance slide automatically after 00:00 (find this under the ‘animations’ menu), and under the ‘set up show’ options, tick the box next to ‘Loop continuously until Esc’. This means your presentation will loop continuously and quickly until you press ‘Esc’ on the keyboard to reveal a randomly generated question for the students’ perusal!
  6. Story consequences: Each student starts with a blank sheet of paper. They write a sentence describing a setting for a story in the past tense, e.g. ‘It all began in a grimy scrap yard in an isolated part of town.’ Students fold the paper over, covering their sentence and pass their papers to the next student, who describes one character, folds the paper and passes it on. This continues until the story has: a setting, a character, who the character meets, what the second character says to the first, what the complication is, what makes the complication even worse, and a resolution.
  7. Funny faces: Students get into pairs. One pulls an interesting expression and holds it for 30 seconds as the teacher counts down the time. The second student makes a list of words they could use to describe the emotions their partner is expressing, e.g. anticipation, excitement, enthusiasm, hysteria, etc. The students swap roles, then, as individuals they write a few paragraphs on an event that led to that expression. (Note: this is particularly good if you are brave enough to demonstrate some faces to the class first, or show some funny ones on the whiteboard.)
  8. Balderdash: Game based on the board game. Use a dictionary to find a list of unusual words that the students are unfamiliar with. You can do this beforehand, or ask the students to do it for other groups. In groups, one student reads the word aloud and the rest of the group writes a definition for the word. All definitions are read aloud by the first student and everyone else votes on which definition they think is the correct one.
  9. Graphology: Encourage students to think about how they present their work, by getting them to analyse each other’s handwriting. Guidelines can easily be found  on the internet. You could also use a range of examples of handwriting from other teachers.