Student Leadership, Student voice

Four Ways to Take Ownership and Make a Change Within Your School Council

Georgia Biltcliffe

Sarah Bonnell School has a long-standing emphasis on student leadership, with a leadership and election model which reflects the values of democracy, as well as the ethos of the school. This is an incredibly successful, inclusive and aspirational leadership model which encourages students to aim high, ensure their voices are heard and make a real change. 

However, it could be said that historically students in the Key Stage 3 Year Councils (Years 7, 8 and 9) were not as involved in school decision making/project ownership as perhaps we (or they!) would have liked. These students would perhaps sit in Executive Council meetings with their older counterparts, often nervous to offer ideas or voice issues that were important to them. By no means was there a lack of inspiration or aspiration, but rather an anxiety to speak out in front of their peers, older year groups and teachers.

SB logo

But I believe we can safely say that this has now changed, with Year 9 students often influencing and sometimes leading these sessions, positively overwhelming both students and staff with their ideas and impressing with their passion. This zeal and eagerness has in turn reverberated throughout the school, with ever more Key Stage 3 students willing to engage in both the politics of school life, but also more generally in their local area. These students are passionate about making a change.

Starting to work with Citizens was the turning point for the then Year 8 Student Council. Working with our organiser Alistair Rooms on the City Safe scheme enabled our students to take ownership of their leadership, empowering them to believe that their voice was just as important as anyone else’s. As a teacher, it was sometimes difficult to sit back and let the students lead sessions – it is normally second nature to offer my own ideas or try and guide a conversation! However, one of the guiding rules of Citizens is “don’t do for others what they can do for themselves”, which in turn allows people to take genuine ownership at all levels. This switch from a directive “teacher” approach to a more supportive and facilitating “coach” role has enabled the students to lead sessions, network at events, build relationships with a variety of stakeholders (including the Mayor of Newham!) and decide on project foci. 


Of course I believe that Sarah Bonnell girls are special – they are to me, including all the members of the student council! However, really, we are no different from any other school in terms of how we were able to encourage student leadership and enable the girls to voice their opinions, and have them listened to. This can be replicated anywhere, with any group of students – if you have the right “ingredients”:

  • Have a mantra – we quite often say to the girls “be the change you wish to see”, which encourages them to take ownership and move away from reliance on their teachers or other authority figures. 
  • Reward students – this can be big: for example those with excellent attendance at council meetings were rewarded with trips and visits, or small: all students were celebrated in year group assemblies and received a Year Council badge for their blazer that they wore with pride. 
  • Include them in decision making, or give the power of this to them – council meetings should be about sharing ideas and coming to a group consensus, not a teacher making a list of 3 suggestions and having the students pick one. Students will often discuss a topic in groups of 3 or 4, then join another group to widen the discussion, and finally feed back to the council and the teachers as a whole. This ensures that any decisions made are joint ones, and every member of the council feels heard.
  • Embrace all of your students’ characteristics and differences – some members of our council love nothing more than standing up and presenting in assemblies or at events, or chairing borough-wide commissions on youth violence, but we also have students who contribute in other ways e.g. designing posters, taking minutes, researching online. Make sure that all students know they are valued, whatever they bring to the table.

This is of course not an exhaustive list, but these four “ingredients” are a fantastic place to start. So, go forth and transform your student council from the inside out!

Google Classroom, Marking and Feedback, Relationships

Redefining Relationships and Trust

Carlos Munoz

I have been working on redefining relationship and trust with my students. I chose this aspect of my teaching practice because I wanted to improve my students’ learning experiences and to help them to achieve higher.

Inspired by my reading on Hattie’s Visible Learning (2008), I wanted to make the learning in my lessons more visible. In order to achieve this, I tried, and I am carrying on trying, different actions and strategies to contribute to it, with a focus on the professional relationship that students and I have in lessons.

My targeted groups were from year 9, as I was focused on them for my NPQML school-
based project, but also year the group I teach in year 10.

I revisited four elements of my teaching which could have a positive impact on relationship and trust with the outcome I mentioned at the beginning of my introduction.

These aspects are:
1. Developing a mutual feedback from me to the students and from them to me
2. Communication of fair and clear expectations
3. The “authoritative parenting style”
4. Reducing anxiety in students.

1. Mutual feedback
In my lessons with Year 9 I wanted to elicit information, listen to comments from my
students and then react. I wanted to know what students thought about the lesson
goal(s), contents, methods and questions to be able to plan my next lessons. I knew by
experience that only relying on my impressions, I would run the risk of no longer
reaching my learners.

In many of my lessons during the Spring term I finished with enough time to run the
My Tick-off and Prove it checklist it as a plenary task.

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 4.30.44 PM

On one hand, the plenary activity contributed to making the learning in that lesson more
visible, as students reflected in a more mindful way on the content and skills learnt in
the session. Also, they had an opportunity to identify achievements and areas to
On the other hand, it was an exceptional opportunity to get feedback from them. This
practice guided me to prepare my next lessons, addressing those areas that needed to
be revisited, those activities that worked well, and those who did not reach the outcome

As students wrote their names on the plenary sheets, I had the opportunity to differentiate future lessons and/or personalised homework.

Just in no time.

I collected the plenary sheets at the end of the lesson and just by flicking over them I got a clear picture of what to revisit. As part of my commitment to revitalise teaching in all Spanish year 9 groups in the department, this practice was shared and used in groups taught by other teachers.

Feedback from the learners to the learners.
As giving feedback is something that needs to be learnt it helped my students to
have and share a rubric of what learning meant in a particular lesson or piece of
homework. To make their leanring more effective and visible, I gave to them a list of statements to provide each other meaningful feedback and to avoid telling each other
vague comments such as well done and revise more vocabulary.

I also developed feedback on the following steps or levels of their performance: the
task itself, the process, and the self-regulation. I got these ideas when reading Hattie and Ziezer’s 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning. (2018)

The objective was to create clear and visible feedback that first encouraged self-
confidence and reduced anxiety as there was always an element or stage of success
and encouraged students to aim for a higher attendance of performance. I started to develop in them the following awareness on:



1) The task


  • Did they meet the success criteria for success?
  • Was the answer right or wrong?
  • How could the answer have been expressed in more detail?
  • What did the answer lack to make it more complete?


2) The process


  • What strategies did they apply in the learning process?
  • What was good about the learning process and what could be improved?
  • What were the students’ strengths and weaknesses in their learning?
  • What further information did the way students complete the task revealed about the learning process?
  • Could students detect the errors in their work?


3) The self-regulation


  • What goals could the students regard as reached?
  • What reasons did the students give for having completed a task correctly or incorrectly?
  • How did they explain their success?
  • How could they self-regulate and monitor their learning process?
  • Could they detect their errors and independently amend them?

Here there is an example of an attempt to make this feedback ideas visible to students:
Feedback on the task:

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 4.27.42 PM

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 4.29.44 PM

Exploring feedback further gave me new opportunities to improve relationship
and trust with my students. They carried on taking pride in their learning and
I improved feedback focused on the task, not on the student. I developed
feedback which was performance-based: task, process and self-regulation levels.
I trialled feedback, showing my learners improvements they made compared to
previous achievements, and feed forward (where to next).

As a checklist, I will carry on:
● being generous with feedback
● helping students at the self-regulation level
● avoiding feedback with empty phrases
● giving feedback from various perspectives and trying to link feedback on the past, present and future of their learning
● including guided learner-to-learner feedback in the lesson and developing
opportunities to give freedom to students to write their own feedback

2. Teacher expectations
“High expectation teachers are more likely to connect new concepts with prior
knowledge, use scaffolding techniques to support learning, provide more frequent and high-quality feedback, question frequently and have a greater use of open-ended
questioning.” (Hattie and Ziezer, 10 Mind frames for Visible Learning, 2018).

Also, based on my experience, high expectation teachers improve trust and relationship
with their students.
The power of rules and rituals. 
I have created a culture of rituals and rules in my lessons to provide orientation, and inspire confidence and trust as they create a feeling of belonging and community, as well as expression of work ethics. My list of rituals includes:
● The register taken in Spanish with frequent opportunities to challenge
students with short questions and revision of vocabulary
● Detentions conducted in a positive way as presented as a gesture of giving
up my time to support learning
● Achievements and effort are regularly celebrated with achievement points
and postcards sent home
● Homework given with enough time to answer it and reminders announced on
Google Classroom
● Feedback written to help to progress to the desired success criteria of

3. The “authoratitive parenting style” (high degree of closeness and high degree of control)
The “authoritative approach” from Hattie’s pedagogical approach to teaching has – in my experience- a great potential for effective learning. This style creates a sense of
fairness and safety to be engaged in learning, with all the related notions of making
errors, seeking help and working positively with others.
I have been more mindful of the language I use in with students developing a positive
and open attitude toward their learning:
● Whenever I have seen them were trying, I showed my appreciation for their
work and achievements.
● I allowed room for humour and cheerfulness in my class and laughed with my
● I have shown fairness, understanding and compassion.

This style is also related to my next point: Reducing Anxiety in the lesson.

4. Reducing anxiety

In addition to the bullet points from the last aspect, I recognised students for their achievement to the effort put into the task and not to their abilities:

Sending out a smile.

As humour can take out the pressure, I made a positive contribution to make learning fun and joyful, especially when challenging.

Screenshot 2020-06-01 at 4.32.02 PM

Adopting the IKEA effect.

It is called that because of the “thousands of pieces” to build up the Ikea Billy bookcase and the value of solving or creating a product. Whenever any of my students put in effort and hard work to complete an assignment showed explicit respect and admiration for their achievement. This practice strengthened our relationship.

Mastery, Numeracy

Teaching for Mastery: Variation

Fatima Ahmed

We will be looking at variation and how it could be used to minimise misconceptions and consolidate students’ learning.

Before we begin, I would like you to watch the following video:

What did you think of the video? Did you spot the gorilla or notice the curtain changing? I sure didn’t!

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 12.16.55 PM

After watching the video, I learned that we can be so focused on one thing that we at times, disregard everything else- in this instance the gorilla and the curtains changing. I for one was so focused on those passing the ball around that I completely disregarded everything else! This is often similar for students, which is why variation can be very helpful in developing students’ awareness.

Variation is described as a method used to better students’ awareness. Awareness has a structure to it and, to support in the development of students’ awareness, similar questions could be presented to students, with a slight variation as this increases the likelihood of students spotting the difference between questions answered, hence increasing their awareness. 

Two techniques commonly used in variation are: 

  • Procedural variation
  • Concept/non-concept

Procedural variation

Procedural variation is described as exercises tightly controlled by varying one component of the questions provided. An example of this can be seen below:

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 12.20.10 PM


Notice the similarity between the questions, this way students’ are able to familiarise themselves with questions presented, before applying it to context. 

This often invites questions and further exploration- some have described that it adds a little shock to the system when they are appointed to the slight change of question. 


A method used to gain a better understanding of procedural variation type questions. This method of variation is used before procedural variation, that way students have built a foundation on topics before getting the practice. 

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 12.21.11 PM

In this case, students’ are asked to determine whether the following statements are correct. Students will need to use their prior knowledge of shapes, dimensions and calculating the area of a rectangle.

The idea is to use examples to explain a concept rather than explaining in words. It has been seen that providing examples of what the concept is, and what the concept is not can encourage students to gain a much deeper understanding of concepts, as they have the opportunity to form their own definition of what was learned in the lesson.


From my own practice, I found that procedural type questions are best used when introducing a topic. Once students have gained a better understanding of concepts, I then proceed to encourage students to apply concepts learned to real world problems to promote higher order thinking. This technique, paired with a clear teacher-led model has worked wonders in my own classroom practice as it not only promoted fluency, but also allowed students to make cognitive leaps necessary to develop conceptual understanding. I am curious to see how variation could be used within different areas of the curriculum outside of maths.

Further reading

National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics: Secondary Teaching for Mastery 

How I Wish I’d Taught Maths by Craig Barton

Resources for variation in mathematics can be found on Craig Barton’s site:

Collaboration, Diagnostic Teaching, Group work, Marking and Feedback, Multimodal Learning, Oracy

Feedback: Written, Verbal and Peer

Emily Watson – Lead Practitioner of PE and Well-Being – @ejwatson89

Feedback can be extremely powerful when delivered effectively; not only for students but teachers too. I am sure you can all reflect upon a piece of feedback that you have received that has been hugely influential, but have you ever stopped to reflect upon why that piece of feedback was so effective?

The purpose of feedback is to allow students to act upon it and make progress, inform teachers future planning and allow students to learn to value the quality of the work that they produce. This feedback is much more effective when it is delivered in a timely fashion. It is important that the students are able to understand the feedback and the purpose of it, before allowing them time to act upon it.

I find a clear success criteria linked to the feedback allows students to strive to close the gap and consolidate the learning. Students appreciate constructive feedback with both strengths and areas for improvement highlighted. This allows students to continue with the positive aspects and develop other areas until they too become strengths, allowing them to see their learning journey. Focusing on the learning, when giving feedback as opposed to a grade encourages students to identify how they can develop and refine their work, rather than comparing their status with others. As a PE teacher I use a lot of verbal feedback. I like to create a dialogue between myself and the students, I encourage them to give me feedback, to show them that we are all forever learning and that we can all always improve. Throughout this blog post I will share tried and tested feedback strategies, focusing on three main areas of feedback: written, verbal and peer – please see the relevant images below:

Written Feedback Strategies:

painting and drawing tools set
Photo by Pixabay on


Verbal Feedback Strategies:

music sound communication audio
Photo by Pixabay on



Peer Feedback Strategies:

school supplies office pens
Photo by Tim Gouw on


I would like to thank Nick Bentley – @NBentleyTweets – and Kiera McDonnell, for their contributions, ideas and support with this blog post.

Assemblies, Multimodal Learning, Student Leadership

Five Elements of Effective Assemblies

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner, Transition Group Teacher and Drama Teacher – @NBentleyTweets

Assemblies can be a hugely powerful element of the school day. An opportunity for large groups of students, or entire schools, to listen, engage and reflect; a chance for key themes, messages and ideas to be understood; a possibility for student leadership and delivery. At Sarah Bonnell School we hold a host of assemblies and always try to link them closely to PSHCE themes. Delivering assemblies has always been really enjoyable and an important part of my job, so what follows is a list of ways I have sought to create and approach this:


Student Leadership

By far the most meaningful element of assemblies is having students partake in their delivery. This helps to foster a sense of ownership and engagement. Students watching the assembly have expressed a real sense of enjoyment at seeing their peers present and lead.


Videos can provide wonderful engagement in assemblies. Educational organisations and charities have often provided a real range of fascinating, eye catching and mesmerising resources which can provide a meaningful counter-balance to the sharing of key facts and information.



Role-play is a wonderfully valuable tool as a means to dramatise the events, themes and issues explored in assembly. This can help serve as a mean to make the abstract seem more concrete, to foster empathy amongst young people, and of course to provide an important sense of fun and excitement!


Students can participate in activities during the assembly itself and this can be a joyful way to raise engagement. Examples of this can include Q&As, paired discussions, and even competitive quizzes using technology. Often this can create a wonderfully lively atmosphere!


Having a Clear Message

When you have a large group of students in front of you a good assembly will keep them all engaged and leave them reflecting on a key message. A theme or a key point to the assembly should challenge the students to think about something or think differently about something. You should ensure that the message is clear – this can often be supported by a key word or a narrative that brings the message to life. If you are able to use a case study or a story that links to your key message or theme then it enables to students to take big things, for example, ‘resilience’ and bring them to life in a context they can understand with a clear outcome.

I would like to thank Ricky Archer for his contributions, ideas and support with this blog post.

Diversity, Student Leadership, Student voice

Why Learning to Lead Matters

Kaydee Neale-Kenwright

In ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the impact of the narratives children consume. When the world around us tells a limited or negative story about us, it takes a breadth of experiences and a certain confidence to rise above the cynicism around how you should be acting and the role you should be playing in the eyes of society, your community and your peers. We must also strive to listen to the stories that are told, and amplify those that are lesser heard. Our students live across multiple intersections, with so many perspectives to be heard; their stories cannot stay with them or us. If we want to see a change in the world, we have to enable them to use their experiences, perspectives and ideas to shape the world around us. Only 32% of MPs are women; fewer are Muslim women, black and Asian women, and LGBT women. While many of our students may not make it to parliament, they should all have the sense that not only can they make decisions, but that they should make decisions where they can.


Where does the SB Award fit with this? In short, the single-story told about the students we work with is often not the same one we watch play out. How did you last see Muslims portrayed in the media? Female MPs of colour? Economic migrants? Then imagine your identity at the centre of that narrative. That doesn’t tell the story of trilingual 12-year-olds who translate for their parents, students studying the Aleemah course alongside striving for 12 GCSEs or students working with local businesses and police to tackle youth violence and create safer streets in Stratford. So our students are already leaders, in their own lives and the lives of others. The SB Award recognises and rewards the collaboration, communication and organisation skills as well as initiative, innovation and ingenuity that is shown through engagement in school and beyond. The recognition and celebration of taking and making opportunities tells students that we recognise them for their talents, ideas and attitudes. It says that what you think and do matters, not just in the classroom, but in making a stamp on the world around us. 


If our students see themselves as stakeholders and capable of making change now, their continued resilience and perseverance in later life is bolstered. 80% of pupil premium students drop out of university in the first year, and only 18% of Russell Group university students are BAME. Studies show it’s not the lack of aspiration; it’s the overwhelming sense of imposter syndrome. Students who are secure in their ability to navigate different modes of being in different contexts have a far greater chance of defying self-fulfilling prophecy. If we teach students to make themselves heard, listen to others and see the value in working to achieve goals and create the change they want to see in themselves, others and the world around them, they will have the skills to face the hurdles they will inevitably meet with grit and determination.  


Our students experience and navigate living in a world shaped predominantly by cis white men. We need to show them that their stories are worth sharing, and they too should create a world that speaks to and reflects them. We celebrate the achievements, attainment and attendance of students; why not celebrate them being bold and curious, having perseverance and determination too? In the not too distant future, they will be voters, doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, business people and policymakers. We need them to be active citizens, not passive passengers. 

Literacy, Writing

“Where do I begin?” 10 Strategies to Help Students Start Writing

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner

Follow him on Twitter: @NBentleyTweets

Writing an be a key element of lessons across the curriculum, and practitioners working in all sectors often seek to encourage their students to develop confidence when starting writing. What follows, then, are ten practical suggestions for ways we as professionals can encourage young people in their written work.

black ball point pen with brown spiral notebook
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on


1) Mini Whiteboards

Trying out ideas on a whiteboard before students commit pen to paper can be hugely meaningful – whether through a thought-shower to get ideas down, or planning sentences first.

2) Hot seating

Asking students to respond in-role to key questions can be enjoyable and can inspire all manner of thoughts and ideas about writing. They could do this by role-playing as a writer, mathematician, historical character, or indeed any figure linked into the learning material.

3) Live Marking

Not only can live marking – sitting with students to give them instantaneous feedback – support students to challenge themselves or extend writing that might have taken place, it can also be a quick and workload-friendly way of providing helpful and meaningful feedback for students on their writing.

4) Technology

This can support students if writing on a page can seem daunting. Assistive technology can support students with their writing, whether on a computer, laptop, or other text-capturing device.

ballpen blur close up computer
Photo by Pixabay on


5) Modelling

Modelling can allow students to visually see an effective way of writing before they complete it more independently. A prepared model or examples of successfully completed student work can be shared and unpacked with students, live modelling can demonstrate the process of completing writing, and shared modelling can allow students to involve themselves in the process of writing alongside the teacher before conducting it independently.

6) Debating

Not only can debating generate ideas and material before students proceed to complete their writing task, it can also allow students to take a specific positions on concepts or ideas.

orange tennis racket beside green tennis ball
Photo by Ingo Joseph on


7) Word Tennis

Before students complete a writing task, they must generate as many words linked to it by playing “Word Tennis” – a physical version of a word association game. Students mime playing tennis, and each time they serve or return the ball they must call out another word linked to the theme of each game.

8) Talking

Having a discussion task with a pair or a small group before writing independently can be a fantastic way of generating ideas or material for students to write about.

9) Writing in-role

Taking on the persona of a character or other individual can provide a way-in to a piece of writing. Students could take on the role of a journalist, scientist, detective, or other individual to support them in having the sense of a “voice” in their writing.

10) Drawing

Sketching out a model, or diagram, or image, before proceeding to break it down or explain it using written language, can be a helpful way into writing.


5 Ways to Implement Numeracy into your Lessons

Grace Gowland – Numeracy Coordinator

As teachers we already have so much to think about when planning a lesson, so here are 5 easy ways to make sure you are having an impact on the development of every student’s numeracy, every day!

1) Play a game:

Have 5 mins free at the end of your lesson? Or maybe you are just looking for a super engaging starter. Then you really can’t go past Countdown! Students love to play along at home and they will love playing it in your lesson. Have students race against each other, or for a more collaborative approach, work in groups and race against the clock. You could use a clip from youtube, or use this fantastic generator. I’m sure you’ll find yourself wanting to play along too! 

Of course Bingo is another classic loved by all, and so versatile. Use it to close gaps in knowledge, check for understanding, or as a plenary to consolidate learning. Your Bingo doesn’t necessarily need to use numbers, since the skill here is about looking for patterns. If Bingo isn’t your thing, then how about a number puzzle or brain teaser – anything to get them to think  outside of the box and exercise their problem solving skills.

Photo by Buenosia Carol on

2) Use real world problems:

Numeracy is an essential skill needed to function in the everyday world. We use it every second of every day: to be on time, to schedule meetings and to make sure we don’t burn our dinner at night! Where possible give students the opportunity to interpret timetables, draw timelines or graph the tension in a scene. Ask students to estimate how long it will take them to complete a task, so they can set realistic expectations for themselves. 

3) Reward your students: 

If one of your students has a lovely little maths moment in your lesson then make a big deal out of it! Girls tend to have less positive attitudes towards numeracy when compared to boys. They have higher levels of maths anxiety and lower levels of confidence in their maths skills (Ganley, 2018). This tip is really about building their confidence and encouraging them to engage with numerical tasks. Students love stickers and stamps irrespective of their age, and better still, use the internal rewards system at your school. This year at Sarah Bonnell School, we are launching the Numeracy Achievement Point as a way of tracking and monitoring student engagement with numeracy. 

4) Challenge your students:

  • When they ask how long it is until the end of the lesson, rather than just telling them, give them a problem to solve. For example, it was 25 minutes until the end of the lesson 15 minutes ago!
  • When returning student work, give them a mark as a fraction and ask them to convert it to a percentage.
  • When students ask what day it is, tell them it is Thursday in three days.
  • And when they inevitably ask you what the date is tell them it has been a week since the 4th of September!

All of these are small ways you can engage the numerate mind and encourage mental fluency.

5) Set a target and use a timer:

I’m sure this is a quick win that many of us already use. As a class, decide how long you will need to complete the task. Involving students in this decision holds them accountable and gives them ownership of the activity. I have found that a real life egg timer is especially motivating for students who struggle to keep on task. You can pick them up on Amazon for next to nothing and pop it on their desk! Or go digital and use one of these engaging timers. They will love to watch the sand drain out, or the candle melt down, and be motivated to complete their task in time.

Student Leadership, Student voice

Student Perspectives: The Value of Being a Teaching and Learning Ambassador

Aliza Babar – Teaching and Learning Ambassador and Sarah Bonnell School Student

Working as a Teaching and Learning ambassador at Sarah Bonnell School has truly been an enriching experience. Being able to represent students and explore our experience of learning has been a fantastic opportunity to develop our understanding of what makes an effective lesson and how to incorporate the feedback we receive into all lessons.


As a Teaching and Learning Ambassador, our goal is to ensure all students are working to the best of their abilities and are working effectively when in the classroom. We achieve this through our learning walks, where Teaching and learning Ambassadors are able to observe learning for a brief period of time and have the opportunity to communicate and engage with the students, in order to investigate what environment and what resources they work with best. Importantly, these learning walks are highly confidential between the ambassadors and the teacher teaching the lesson. The entirety of the process is revolved around the students only and not the teacher teaching the lesson.


Every academic year, the newly selected Teaching and Learning Ambassadors undergo a series of training sessions to ensure they are confident with the process. The series of training sessions that I had participated in were held at Rokeby School, where students from Rokeby School, Lister Community School and Sarah Bonnell School had the exciting opportunity to collaborate and explore some of the key components to effective learning. The sessions were mainly student led, which allowed there to be a much more collaborative atmosphere. Throughout the sessions, we created a ‘learning record form’ which we use to collate our feedback during our learning walks. The experience was definitely helpful as a lot of the knowledge that I carry with me now is a result of those weekly training sessions.

Overall, being a Teaching and Learning Ambassador has helped develop my confidence and how I feel during lessons, and has given me an insight into the development of teaching and learning across the school. It has been a really positive experience for me.

Drama, Literacy, Multimodal Learning, Oracy, Writing

Four Creative Strategies to Support Students’ Communication Skills

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner and Nurture Group Teacher


Teachers are often really keen to develop young people’s communication skills; to support them in their writing, to improve the quality of their conversations, and to prepare them for the reading, writing, speaking and listening they will need to do in their broadest sense, as life skills. It is helpful, therefore, to consider how this can be done in an enjoyable and creative way. This blog post seeks to suggest four ways I have sought to employ create strategies to develop communication skills.

Collaborative Drawing


Image from Collaborative Drawing

An inclusive and often enjoyable way of encouraging students to record their ideas can be a collaborative drawing task. I have had students unfurl large sheets of wallpaper where they can draw ideas which help them to create visual worlds related to the content of what we have been studying. For instance, this could be an interesting setting from a historical period in Humanities, the surface of a planet in Science, or the opening scene from a play in Drama. Students are then challenged to use specific details and impressive vocabulary to describe their designs, using the image of what they had created as a model to ensure they are precise, specific and sophisticated in their writing.

The Value of Reading Aloud

Myra Barrs and Valerie Cork worked with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (Twitter handle @clpe1) in The Reader in the Writer to do some hugely meaningful work in relation to the connection between studying literature and students’ writing. One wonderfully helpful finding has been the relationship between teachers reading aloud and the writing students have been able to produce. This has really inspired me to indulge in creative storytelling, retellings of writings, and shared choral speech with young people, as means to break down pieces of text and encourage young people to develop their writing and responses.

In-role Tasks

Drama activities can be hugely meaningful as a means to support students to access challenging language beyond that which they might ordinarily be confident to draw upon. In English lessons, this might involve participating in a collaborative discussion as a journalist before writing a report. Students could role-play as geographers, scientists, or philosophers – indeed any groups of people who might be relevant – to stretch their vocabulary, before writing.


Image of a Resource from an In-role Task

Language Movement Games

Warm-up tasks where students move around a classroom space, before responding to key words can be an enjoyable way to introduce challenging adjectives and adverbs before young people use them in their writing and speech. As a teacher you can call out words which students must embody in their movement, e.g. “petrifying,” “ecstatic,” or “monstrous.” Alternatively, students can be given the task of calling out challenging words for each other.

These ideas have simply been suggestions for how young people might engage with language and communication as a means to approach the curriculum and develop key life skills. I have found them to be meaningful not only as a way to improve writing and speaking, but also an enjoyable set of activities to support students’ engagement in learning, and to foster a safe, secure and joyful learning environment.

Diagnostic Teaching, Marking and Feedback, Numeracy

Theirs now to reason why: using Exit Tickets to improve pupil reasoning and explanations

Liz Hill – Teacher of Maths

In 2013, reforms to English and Mathematics GCSEs were announced. The aim of the new specification for mathematics GCSEs was to “demand deeper and broader mathematical understanding” whilst also requiring pupils “to apply their knowledge and reasoning to provide clear mathematical arguments.” (Nov 2013 )

When planning lessons, I not only think about teaching how and when to apply specific mathematical skills, but I also want to teach pupils to be able to offer a written explanation to reinforce their understanding, as per the new specification. Whilst I am aware that many pupils are able to articulate the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ verbally when questioned, the process of writing down the ‘why’ is often a challenge. Add to this that the syllabus is now larger and more demanding – how are you supposed to teach content and have pupils provide written mathematical arguments?

Enter the exit ticket!


I cannot take all the credit for the layout of my exit tickets, I commandeered it from MrBartonMaths and have tweaked it to fit with Sarah Bonnell’s marking policy.

The exit ticket is given out 10 to 15 minutes before the end of the lesson after a series of lessons on a topic has been taught. Pupils are to answer the four questions quietly and independently, although I encourage pupils with support workers to have a go at it alone.

From the pupils’ answers, I aim to learn how well the pupils understand the topic we have been studying. Each question is supposed to be more challenging than the last, and each question is diagnostic (a post to be written on this at a later date!) so I get a clear insight in to any misconceptions before even reading the pupils’ explanations.

On the right hand side pupils are meant to offer an explanation. I often tell them to imagine they are explaining to a martian how to work out the answer to the question. For those who aren’t confident and who struggle to write an explanation I ask for clear working out, since this is also a key skill in gaining marks at GCSE.

Since rolling these out in September, I have noticed that the ability of my pupils in articulating ‘why’ when asked has improved infinitely. My pupils are becoming more confident and detailed when sharing their method and thought process for solving a problem. Even more exciting are my pupils’ improvements when providing written explanations. Exit tickets are being answered faster and faster in classes where they do them regularly. Pupils have gained independence when starting their exit tickets – they are quiet, focused and thoughtful.

I have practised the exit tickets most often with my Year 8 class who are set 5 and often lack the confidence needed to allow themselves to progress. In September, some pupils were unable offer any explanation and I made it clear that they just need to circle A, B, C, or D (as I have said already, the diagnostic question lets me assess their understanding straight away). I mark the tickets with excitement and pride as I see the progress of the class. The same pupils who started the year circling only A, B, C, or D, now offer me working-out and sentences of explanation without assistance, prompts or hints whatsoever. When given further time during the feedback sessions, these same pupils are able to reason with my questions  and improve their answers. This will set them in good stead as they hurtle towards KS4 and start being expected to offer mathematical arguments to access the marks in the higher graded questions.



As my groups’ ability and confidence in explaining has improved, I must confess that my feedback on exit tickets has improved too. Each exit ticket is a marked piece of work with a WWW, EBI and clear questions, so pupils can develop their understanding and reasoning to take themselves to the next step. I am currently working with the Exit Ticket template version 2.0. If you think that you could use it for your lessons, and find ways to improve it, please let us know how it goes!

Diversity, History, Reflection

Teaching Diverse History

Lydia Hasan – History Teacher

“But Madam, I don’t want to learn about stuff I can’t relate to…”

The amount of times I have heard students tell me that, and it breaks my heart because I remember exactly what it was like to be in their position. In fact, it was not until I was 19 years old, studying history at university, that I first learned histories of countries other than the ‘typical trio’ that schools give you: Britain, Germany and Russia.


Whilst of course the typical ‘secondary school history experience’ gives you doses of other countries; it is always from a white perspective. Take the Transatlantic Slave Trade for example, usually taught in year 8, this is more than likely the first mention of Black people in the typical history curriculum a student would learn. But is that enough? Is it enough to just ‘dash’ an entire race of people into an already existing ‘British Empire’ scheme of work? For students of that heritage, it feels horrible sitting in a class knowing you’re a descendant of a slave and that’s the only time someone from your culture gets mentioned in history lessons. It’s not nice. So, going back to university, it was no surprise I got involved in movements such as: ‘Why is my curriculum white? and ‘Decolonize the curriculum’.


Fast – forward five years and I am now in a position where I am in control of what history I can teach my students so they will never have to ask, ‘Why is my curriculum white?’. This is very important because one of my main reasons for coming into teaching is to give students the experience that I never got; something that also happens to be part of the school’s ‘Education for All’ ethos. When you look at the demographics of the students in this school, you will notice the large majority are from BME backgrounds. This is something I share with those students; being half Caribbean myself and having the 70th anniversary ‘Windrush’ celebrations last year has given me a passion to design a historical enquiry exploring the history of the ‘Windrush Generation’.


My main inspirations for designing this enquiry came from: my research into ‘Cultural Relevant Pedagogy’; the schemes of work in Robin Whitburn’s ‘Doing Justice to History’ book; and Robin Walker’s ‘Black British History Teaching Materials’. Also, for anyone wanting to read more about this topic, I highly recommend David Olusoga’s ‘Black and British: a Forgotten History’. It’s also been made into a BBC documentary, it’s okay, I watched it before reading it too!


The title of the enquiry will be ‘How far were the ‘Windrush Generation’ ‘Welcomed Home’ in Britain?’. The reason for this title is that the first activity the students will have to introduce them to the enquiry will be to answer questions based on a picture of the cover of the London Evening Standard the day the SS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury. The lessons will go from 1948 right up to the current day, including a wide – range of events such as: the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963; the ‘Rivers of Blood’ Speech; the Brixton Riots and the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The enquiry will end by students exploring the modern relevance and creating a memorial to commemorate the contribution of the ‘Windrush Generation’ to Britain.


As part of my action research, I will be evaluating these lessons throughout the planning and teaching stages. I will also (hopefully!) get some feedback from student and colleagues; ‘student voice’ from ‘Black’ identifying students will be particularly useful as it will allow me to see if it is true that students are more engaged when learning about history that they can relate to.