Author Archives: Pete Jackson

The power of self-assessment

Marking and debates around it are in vogue at the moment especially after Ofsted latest clarification about lesson observations and what they expect on marking.

However, I’ve always been a firm believer like many in education that high quality marking and feedback are hugely important to learning. Yet, I know I’ve been guilty of wanting to take responsibility for feedback and I’ve neglected the power of both peer assessment and in particular the impact of self-assessment.

With my Sixth Form groups this year I’ve been trialling a new way of students completing practice questions for their Home Learning. I’d become concerned that students were sometimes simply completing practice questions because they knew they had to and were rushing to get just something done rather than focusing on their best. If they truly reflected on their work themselves they would concede it was not their best work or something they had tried hard enough on. They were being extrinsically motivated by handing in a piece of work rather than intrinsically motivated by the chance to learn by going through the process of completing a practice question. I was also concerned in reading some of my students work that this rush to simply get things done meant they were not engaging with the questions properly or breaking down the questions to consider what they truly mean.

Whilst working with a Science teacher last week I came across a lovely acronym of BUSY which helps focus students on reading the question properly. I think they themselves discovered it on TES. I like this acronym because the very word Busy implies hard work, grit, determination and effort. The B stands for ‘boxing’ the command words so students focus on what they have to do. The U stands for underline so students have to underline key words which is especially important when considering things such as data parameters. The S stands for scribbling a plan. I like the word scribble because it implies a free flow of creative ideas in the planning process which is often important for students to reflect and think. Then the Y stands for You’re ready to write a brilliant essay. Hopefully, this acronym will focus students on thinking about what to do.

The self assessment sheet (pictured above) requires students to re-read and mark their own essays  before handing it in. Crucially, when setting this up with students I explained why I wanted them to do this. I shared that they often knew if they were handing in ‘sub-standard’ work. I explained that my feedback could only be useful if I was marking what represented their best effort. Otherwise, my feedback would simply tell them to work harder which they would have known before they handed it in. If they truly put in their best effort then I could really give them diagnostic feedback which would challenge them and move them on in their learning. Importantly, re-reading their work would help crystallise their thinking but also hold them to account more for the quality of their own work. I think this is a simple but potentially powerful device to embed for my students to make them work towards even higher expectations. Importantly, as they have to give themselves a mark it will force them into reading and make more use of the level descriptors and success criteria for every piece of work. The proof was in the pudding. Having shared with my class this new idea and why I was doing it one student refused to hand in her essay which was due for that lesson. Their reason? They knew their work was sub-standard and this had prompted them to redo and refine their essay so they could hand in their best possible piece of work. If this small tweak gets my students to achieve and aim for their very best for every piece of work then the quality of my feedback and their understanding will improve exponentially.

Open Classrooms Week

Open Classrooms Week was an idea brought to our school by @kerrypulleyn. We first tried it out in March and have since done it again in the last couple of weeks.

The idea behind Open Classrooms Week is simple. Staff are encouraged to visit one another’s lessons and to share ideas and good practice around teaching and learning. It is effective because it gets people talking about teaching and learning and celebrating the great work that goes on in each other’s classrooms. It helps create a bit more sunshine in the classroom.

I first blogged about Open Classrooms here back in March on my own blog. We had already held a couple of Teachmeets at school including one that took place on a training day. This had already helped us build up the collaborative culture necessary for Open Classrooms to work. It is also building naturally on our desire, as a school, to encourage more opportunities for staff to visit one another and see each other teach. I’ve blogged previously about how we hope to change lesson observations at our school here.

Open Classrooms week was first launched to the whole staff in briefing. This was important so that staff knew why it was happening. This was not a drop-in or a walk through and the activity held no risk for staff. Staff did not have to be involved either. It was entirely voluntary and staff could sign up on a sheet in the staff room if they felt they wanted to be involved. A week was set aside for staff to be involved and when staff had free lessons they could go and see somebody else teach. When staff had their door open, other staff were welcome to see what was going on. If staff felt it was not the right time for somebody to come in they could simply close their doors. Some staff even made reversible signs to indicate whether their doors were open or closed!

When staff had been to visit a lesson they were encouraged to write up a leaf for our Teaching and Learning tree in the staff room. Here, they had to write something positive or encouraging about what they had seen. This was great because it shone a light on the bright spots around teaching and learning and allowed staff to celebrate the great teaching and learning that was going on.

A week later, staff shared their experiences at Teaching and Learning briefing and a power point of photos taken during the week was shown with a background track. This was a great Teaching and Learning briefing allowing staff to really focus and reflect on the great practice going on in school. Taking the time out to reflect and celebrate our practice is hugely important and beneficial.

If you have not tried Open Classrooms in your school, I’d thoroughly recommend it. So cast open those doors and let’s learn from one another! Here’s to our next one in September.

A seasonal post? 10 revision strategies…

This blog post is all about revision and sharing some practical ideas both in and out of the classroom.

I’ve always strongly felt that high quality revision strategies are simply high quality teaching and learning strategies. Since I believe that revision is not something that should be left until the end of the course but it something that should go on continually throughout a programme of study any of these strategies can and should be useful in lessons throughout the year.

Here are 10 useful strategies that can hopefully be beneficial to your classroom.

1. Top Trumps

I love a good game of top trumps and they are a great revision strategy. The one above is one we created in the history department about the reign of King Henry VIII and is designed to revise key figures in the AS History course. It helps students evaluate significance, impact and recall key information about key individuals on the course. Even better to get students to make their own and consider the information from across the whole course in a different way.

Top Trumps

2. Only Connect

I love key words in grids to go through key concepts and ideas. This is something I use a lot in teaching Sixth Form Government and Politics where there are many new concepts and ideas for students to understand. Only Connect taps into this and is taken from the popular BBC4 quiz show Only Connect. It is great for revision because it helps students think and make connections between different words. Here is an example for GCSE History.

revision 1

3. Mind-mapping

A timeless classic. Everyone knows everything about mind-mapping these days. However, go a bit further and get them to write them on the table and take a picture for their revision with their smart phones. Fun, engaging and messy!

Table top minds maps 2

4. Revision table mats

These are great for revision. They help to focus students on key words, key events and in particular for chronological understanding. Our students tell us they find the chronology really hard on our GCSE Crime and Punishment course so we made up some A3 table mats focusing on chronology to support with this. This is an example of a table mat we have used to promote academic writing across the department.


5. Revision booklets

We used to give revision notes out at the end of the course before the exams. Why? Now, we always give them out when we start the unit. We use them as a kind of course booklet but students have everything in there they need for revision. It gets them used to the revision booklets. The booklets have activities in them and personal learning checklists so students can use them as a kind of learning diary too.

rev booklet

6. E-Learning

There are a number of great e-learning websites out there which can help you. There are websites which allow students to make mind-maps, quizzes and flash cards. Increasingly, students like to learn and revise interactively so this is going to be a key area for us to continue to develop.

7. Exam questions

This isn’t a new idea at all as when I was studying for my A Levels my teacher gave our class all the past questions and told us to complete revision plans around as many past questions as we could. It’s still a great idea for students to prepare for the exam and doing something active as part of their revision. Revision is a bit like training really and students need to be match-fit for the big day. Here are all the past papers put in a handy booklet for our A Level students.

Exam booklets

8. Revision bookmarks

Exam board criteria and style of questions really needs embedding. We’ve found that condensing this information down into a simple bookmark is a really useful way of helping students with this process. Plus they can use it to keep their page in their revision booklets.


9. Revision songs

We have a brilliant ability to remember words of songs and I like to tap into this by making up some fun songs about different events from the past. My favourite is a song about Thomas Wolsey set to the theme tune of Neighbours. ‘Wolsey, everybody needs a Wolsey’… and so on. The song helps students make sense of the Alter Rex debate and consider how far everyone did actually need a Wolsey.

10. Questioning

Quizzing, regular questioning and getting students to think are hugely important. We often use regular competitive quizzes between groups of students in class to help them revise. Anything along these lines however is useful. So activities like 20 questions, Bingo, Speed dating tasks are all beneficial as long as it gets students thinking.


So there are 10 activities that may help you as students prepare for the final few weeks before the exams. Try and embed this culture of revision throughout the year. Revision is a marathon not a sprint!