Author Archives: Rachel Preece-Dawson

#PedagooFriday 25.10.13

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Consistency, consistency, consistency

I teach in a rural, 3-class school with its sights firmly set on achieving outstanding results for all of our pupils. We are focusing very closely on teaching and learning across school this year, and are looking to achieve the consistency in practice and strategies that our head has seen is a feature of many outstanding schools. We want to lay down very clearly “this is how we do it here”, but we also want to make sure that the consistent approaches we are using across school are being used because we know that they have a positive impact.

At a staff meeting before the summer break we unpicked barriers to outstanding teaching and learning. These included things like too much teacher-talk; glass ceilings placed on fixed groups or individuals; lack of independence in learning; lack of tenacity in learning and keeping some children engaged and focused. As a staff, we also put forward ideas for a consistent, common-core of strategies that could be used
across all year groups from YR to Y6. Some of those strategies and practices were already being used in some or all of the classrooms, and some are new to us all.

The five consistent approaches we agreed to implement from September are:

  • 3 before me
  • No hands up
  • Stop and look
  • Pit stops
  • 8 Secrets of Success

3 before me
In order to encourage independent learning skills, we decided “3 before me” would help move the children from automatically asking the teacher towards being able to support their own and others’ learning. My Y2/3s spent time at the beginning of term thinking about what those 3 things might be and came up with a huge list, from looking on the walls, to asking their talk partner, to asking another child on their table, to using resource books and the internet. My more able children in particular are really enjoying helping the younger ones and, whilst it’s easy to
forget and just give a child the answer to a question they could easily find by themselves, I think this strategy is going to have a really positive impact on the learning skills of pupils.

No hands up
This was a strategy I had already been using for some time, especially in mini-plenaries. I have a lolly stick for each child with their name on and, after everyone has had a chance to talk to a partner or find something particularly successful in their work, I choose a name at random. It’s important that children are given time to talk or look first, and that they can ask a friend to whisper in their ear if they are really stuck for something to say.

Stop and look
We are looking to improve transitions between activities and have children moving around the classroom in a fuss-free way. We also want to ensure that all children are focused in mini-plenaries and that all children are actively listening and on task. In our aim for consistency, we wanted a phrase we could use across school. “Stop and look” was already being used successfully in one class and so we decided to roll it out
across school. It seems like a small thing, but it’s another step on the way towards our “this is how we do it here” approach. The key is zero tolerance – all children need to stop and look before the teacher moves on.

Pit Stops
Pit stops are essentially mini-plenaries: a chance to re-group and refocus, address any misconceptions, move learning on through grasping happy accidents or misconceptions… the list is endless. They’re natural stepping stones rather than forced breaks to tick boxes.

8 Secrets of Success
We use the 8 secrets of success (from Chris Quigley’s Creative Curriculum) to inform our PSHE planning. From this year, we are going to thread the 8 secrets through all teaching and learning, making explicit links to the skills themselves and encouraging children to think about which secrets are applicable to different tasks. The 8 secrets are:

  • Try new things
  • Work hard
  • Concentrate
  • Push yourself
  • Imagine
  • Improve
  • Understand others
  • Don’t give up

More information can be found at

It’s early days yet: we’re only two weeks into term so we can’t begin to evaluate the impact the strategies are having, if any. There may well be tweaks along the way, and there will certainly be discussion about what is working well, and why, and just as importantly, what is not working so well and what needs to change. Those discussions will be collegiate and collective, and decisions will form the basis of our “this is
how we do it here” approach.


The “cursed” chest

My Y2/3 class are half way through our term-long topic on Ancient Egypt and I wanted to stimulate some great independent writing for assessment week as well as continue to engage children with the topic.

I found an old, brass-covered chest and arranged it in the classroom with signs saying, “Do not touch” and “Beware of the curse” so that the children would see it as they came in for morning registration. Some children regarded the chest with idle curiosity; some completely ignored it and a handful of children were absolutely fascinated by it.

I carried on with our usual morning routine, carefully avoiding touching or going too close to the “cursed” chest. Once everyone was settled, I began our first lesson, still carefully and ostentatiously avoiding coming into contact with the chest. I warned a couple of children to move away from it when they went too close but otherwise continued as if it were not there. Suddenly, I remembered that I needed to photocopy something for the lesson. Leaving my teaching assistant in charge, I dashed out of the room.

Whilst I was at the photocopier, the TA investigated the chest closely. She read the signs aloud and carefully inspected the chest, wondering aloud whether or not she should open it. Some children urged her to open it quickly, whilst others told her that it was cursed and that she should leave it alone.

Without too much persuasion, the TA opened the chest to find an old, stained note inside. She read it aloud to the children: it was a warning that the contents of the chest were cursed and that they should not open the fabric bag inside. Ignoring the warning, the TA opened the bag to find some old jewellery, some ancient-looking coins and some chocolate. She ate some of the chocolate herself and gave some to a child to eat.

I came back into the room and was horrified that they had opened the chest. I expressed great concern for the TA and the child who had eaten the chocolate, and hurried to put the contents of the chest back. In the meantime, I asked the TA to do a quick job for me outside the classroom, still concerned for her wellbeing. She returned a few moments later with a face full of red spots and feeling quite unwell.

By this time, the children were completely engaged in the role play. Even the child who had noticed that the handwritten notes looked suspiciously like my handwriting was entranced! The TA went to remove her spots, and we talked about why people might want to pretend that chests, or tombs, or other special things, were cursed.

This led on to finding out about Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the supposed curse on the contents. We watched archive footage of the two men from 1922 and read about the events surrounding the discovery. The children then paired off for some drama work, with one child in each pair pretending to be Howard Carter greeting Lord Carnarvon at the discovery site and explaining what he had found.

The activities took most of the morning. After lunch, the children quickly and eagerly settled down to their writing task: writing a letter in role as Howard Carter to a friend, explaining the discovery. Some really high-quality writing was produced, with not one child saying, “I don’t know what to write!”