‘Remember and Remember and Remember’: How I’m boosting recall and retention of ‘Macbeth’ by Zoe Taylor

In the past few weeks, I’ve been working with my Year 11 class on recall and retention of key quotations from ‘Macbeth’- keeping in mind Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning for Literacy’ and Hattie/Donaghue’s Learning Strategies. Essentially, I wanted to do the following with my class:

  • Increase student retention of key quotations
  • Increase student knowledge and understanding of the whole text
  • Boost confidence with low stakes ‘easy win’ testing, especially where my more challenging students are concerned
  • And finally- get the balance right between surface and deep learning by establishing a ‘rhythm’ to the lessons. Or, as ‘Visible Learning’ puts it:

If you turn too quickly to the next set o’ facts, without giving students sufficient time and tools to go deeper, they will quickly learn that surface learning is what you value, and in turn, surface learning is all you will get.’ ( Hattie, Frey, Fisher ‘Visible Learning for Literacy’ (2016))

Screenshot 2017-12-03 at 15.43.07

The Process

Firstly, each student received a little yellow ‘test’ book. They loved these, and came over all nostalgic for primary school spelling tests.The notebook is where they record answers to a series of tests that (hopefully) fall into a rhythm over the course of a week. To get students used to the process of using their test book, I started simple by gauging prior knowledge of ‘Macbeth’- students wrote down anything they knew about the play in their main workbook. I wrote down any misconceptions (e.g. King Duncan kills Macbeth…) with a view to crossing off any ‘mistakes’ when our knowledge of the play had improved. We then read a text on the historical context of ‘Macbeth’, looking at details like the Gunpowder Plot. During this stage, students were encouraged to highlight key information/underline important facts- for this I looked to a blog from @PeterMDeWitt which helpfully outlines the best strategies to use for surface/deep learning. Next, students had to shut their books. This terrified them- I think they had a sense that their knowledge was going to be put to the test.

  1. They had to summarise what they had just read in their workbook. Most of them hadn’t been prepared for this, so we had to repeat this stage. This wasn’t a problem as it led to some useful discussion about how quickly we can forget information we read.
  2. They then looked back at the original text, using a red pen to add any information they may have missed.

Then, as we read, we continued the process of closing the text, summarising, then checking our knowledge and discussing what we missed.

At the start of each lesson, students would be retested on their knowledge of the scenes covered in the previous lesson. But each test would be gradually more open ended. E.g.

Test 1

  1. ‘Fair is foul and ____/_____/_____’
  2. The Great chain _______/_______
  3. Thane of _________

Test 2

  1. ‘Fair is _____ and _____/_____/_____
  2. The Great _____/______/_______
  3. Th___ of ________

Test 3

  1. This quotation from Act 1 scene 1 symbolises the inversion of the natural order
  2. An Elizabethan concept of social hierarchy
  3. Macbeth receives this title

Once students had consistently started scoring 9/10 or full marks, we moved on to the next scene and started testing on that. Amongst this, I was conscious that if I only focused on surface level knowledge, I would end up with a group of students who could recall information from the play but wouldn’t be able to analyse the text in any depth or make connections.

Screenshot 2017-12-03 at 15.45.36

So to build on the low stakes testing at the start of each lesson, we:

  • Summarise constantly. Students use information from each test as part of 5 minute written summaries throughout the lesson.
  • Make connections. Students write about a new scene, but are required to make links back to information recalled in their test books.
  • Use blank extracts and close copies of the text when we write

In addition, I’ve set high expectations for homework. Students have pre reading before each lesson (not much- this may be only 1-2 paragraphs) and take their books home to revise following each lesson, ready for a test.

Finally, I raided my son’s toy box for one of these:

Screenshot 2017-12-03 at 15.45.42

We’re also learning quotations by chanting them together. Every time they hear the bell, they have to stop whatever they’re doing and the whole class recites quotations from Macbeth. A different student takes charge of the bells each lesson and we gradually build up the number of quotations used in each chant. A new quotation is added in each lesson- we’re currently up to seven.

Impact so far

Compared with similar classes I’ve had (this is a middle ability group), this group have been able to demonstrate a far more varied knowledge of the text. Rather than written responses focusing on picking apart the little bit of the text they can recall, they’re moving through different points, linking to new evidence. Also, they’re far more confident. When a challenging student with a history of poor confidence with Shakespeare gets 10/10 on a recall test in the first ten minutes, it’s a springboard into producing something later in the lesson that demonstrates ‘deeper’ learning.



News from the Market Place- Extension tasks in PE

In the PE department, extension tasks are in the lead- here are a few ideas picked up from the market place:

Extension folders: full of laminated GCSE exam questions from the new spec for those students finished with a GSCE task.


Chalk on a table tennis table: teachers write different learning objectives and questions on each table e.g. ‘did your ball bounce twice’ or ‘did it go up six inches’ – teaching the students the rules in a ‘tiny but huge’ way. This can also be used to present learning objectives in rooms without projectors or white boards.


And finally…using toy soldiers as targets: Giving students an aim!

Kemp’s Musings- Part 3

For the inspiring Teach Meet he organised, Stu Kemp talked about solutions to a range of issues we face daily. Here are some of his ruminations:

Bottom set year 9:

Entrance policy – They cross the ‘learning threshold’ of my lab.

They have 60 seconds to get their folders out. 

Sit down.

Open their book.

Get on with connect/create a summary of last lesson.

All in silence, they must be silent!

Exit policy – They must be sitting down, they must be silent.

I will not talk until all rulers, pens, etc. are away.

Movement in class – Do it like bacteria – quietly. Chairs cannot be scraped. Must be lifted.

Work hard on the relationships

Be assertive, authoritative and inspire confidence in your expertise. However, if students don’t connect with your human qualities- let them know.

‘I work for you. You work for yourself.’


Marking and feedback:

Photocopy brilliant work with your feedback on it.

screenshot-2016-12-14-at-20-42-17Hand it out; show the kids what great work looks like.

Ask the kids to make improvements based on what they know is great work.

When they improve their work, make sure they add the word ‘improvements’.

Get the pens out and live mark their work. 
When you are live marking they must be silent. 

DIRT time is important:


screenshot-2016-12-14-at-20-53-01Concept check:

When you introduce a new concept, check at least 3 times with three different students. Saves constant micro-
teaching and repetition.

Be relentless:


Infinite extension:

Every subject has concepts that take many steps to grasp, or skills that take hours to hone. Instead of always providing a different extension activity, why not offer an extension project- something for the students to work away at over the term or the year?

Finished? No. Never.


And finally, remind your students (and yourself, at times):


Kemp’s Musings – Part 2

Due to the popularity of last issue, here is a second collection of Dr. Kemp’s musings to peruse:

Image 1- We all need a reminder from Rita. If you haven’t already, watch this!


Image 2- Key messages for the students and maybe even the adults?

Image 3- Next time you are planning a lesson, remember this: If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.

Change it up, take a risk.


Image 4- Do teachers who make mistakes make better teachers?

I guess they do, but only if they put effort into correcting the mistake.


Image 5- Which one can you have a big say in? More than one hexagon? Have a think on it.  Follow @headguruteacher


Image 6- A big bag of balls.

Put answers on them, lob them at the students and then ask the students to generate appropriate questions.


Image 7- How many ways could you use  whiteboard dice? 4000?


Image 8- Students shrink their learning, another student then expands it.


News from the Market Place- A Level Feedback

A level feedback- not to be ignored!

Due to timetabling, it is often easy to mark an AS/A2 essay and never to refer to it again. The pace at A Level is fast, modules need to be completed in good time and so there aren’t always opportunities for in depth discussion about a piece of home learning. Sophie Minchell introduces a way to feedback to her students, both on a class and a more personal level.

Firstly, the students complete the work e.g. an essay. When marking the home learning, Sophie has a document entitled ‘class feedback’, which is dated and titled subject to the home learning. Using the assessment objectives (AOs) as her guide, Sophie writes out the particular, general strengths of this selection of home learning and of course, the common mistakes made, complete with quotations from the students’ work. At a more personal level, Sophie marks each individual piece of work, annotates it and selects a paragraph that the student can improve.

When students then have time to look at the feedback, included at the beginning of the lesson, or perhaps as the review, they are asked to start a new page, entitled progress task, ensure that they date it and using the Class Feedback Sheet, improve the suggested paragraph mentioned in their personalised feedback.

The students are then provided with a ‘progress sheet’ which is, of course, yellow. They are expected to use the language of the AOs to explain what they have improved on in their paragraph.


  • students get in depth feedback
  • students make similar errors and so once a document is created, it is quite easy to make a copy and keep some of the mistakes from the last round of marking
  • students are able to say that they are aware of the AOs, in their own words
  • more feedback at AS/A2 level, which needs to improve
  • the filing, when chronological, works to show progress


  • to create one of the documents takes time
  • not all students write the date/title- folders can get messy (but this is nothing that a folder sorting session after school can’t fix!)

Assessment for Learning: The Cramlington Teaching and Learning Model

– This issue we are looking at Assessment for Learning

The quote below sums up nicely how a positive learning environment should challenge and encourage young people to move forward in their learning. The following article contains many useful strategies and ideas that have direct application in all classrooms.

“There is no failure, only feedback”

An Assessment for Learning classroom Looks like…

1. Its part of every lesson, in every day for every student

2. All students’ achievements recognised.

3. Learning outcomes visible throughout the lesson.

Sounds like…

1. Students describing how they can improve.

2. Students describing how they learn.

3. All students giving and using feedback.

Feels like…

1. Calm, can reflect on their successes

2. Safe, students take risks in their learning, as feedback is constructive

3. Motivating, students look to make their own improvements

A Safe Environment

Develop a “No put down zone” in your classroom. Display a sign like this one on the door of the classroom. It is a simple statement to the students that they are in an environment where they are free to learn, where no one will laugh or make fun of what they say, do or the questions that they ask. In this environment students will be more likely to ask questions and seek out help and guidance. They will also feel more comfortable taking risks in their learning, knowing that if they make a mistake no one will make fun of them. Class teachers will endeavour to set up consistently apply this rule making the message clear that students should support each other in their learning.

No Hands Up Policy

The idea behind a no hands up policy is to ensure all students are involved, and expect to be involved, in learning. When the teacher asks questions the same students will often put their hands up to answer. It is easier for the teacher to accept these offered responses, as the lesson can proceed quickly forward. It is also easy for the other students who did not raise their hand because they know that they are unlikely to be asked to contribute.

They can ‘buy out’ of the learning process. Teachers must know their students’ names for this strategy to work, of course. Using a random name selector can add a dimension of anticipation here. We can use ICT to display names at random on the whiteboard, or simply pick names out of a hat! The idea is to keep challenge high, whilst keeping the stress low. If students perceive too much stress they will stop participating and thinking. To avoid this a range of getout clauses will help your students manage high challenge but with low stress:

1) Training students to respond “I do not know yet, please come back to me later” when stuck with a question is a good starting point. This buys the student some more time to think, look up answers and consult with friends.

2) Sell the idea that we learn by our mistakes so that offering their ideas is better than not. Students’ misconceptions can be great start points to lessons.

3) Give the students some educative guessing strategies, and model these regularly.

4) Employ an “Ask the Audience” device, similar to the TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The student with the impetus to answer opens up the question to the class who offer suggestions. The student still has to choose the response and therefore maintains ownership of this learning.

Why Feedback is Important

One easy way of increasing the value students add to feedback is to ask students for their thoughts. Record this conversation on flipchart paper so that it can be displayed and referred to throughout the year. The example below contains genuine comments from year 9 students.

Success Criteria

The agreeing of learning outcomes should be done at the beginning of most sessions. Some sessions, especially thinking skill lessons, are often better debriefed at the end so that the students reflect more on what they have learned.

Outcomes should reveal to your students the purpose of the lesson, so that they know what they know what they will be able to do by the end of the lesson rather than just today we are learning about “energy”, Anderson’s revision of Bloom’s taxonomy is useful here, as the words are active:

• Apply your knowledge of alkanes and alkenes to deduce difference between them

• Predict a heating curve for water

• These are very explicit examples of what success will look like, thereby making it measurable for teachers and students alike.

Increasing Student Engagement

As well as using positive language when selling the learning outcomes to students, raise interest and motivation by capturing their imagination and emotions. If students are to be really engaged in learning they must be able to see the point of it. Why should they learn about it? We must set the learning in context.

This can be done several ways such as WILF (What I’m Looking For) and TIB (This Is Because). The teacher outline what is to be learned and then gives reasons why this learning is important.

Although this is useful it is often more powerful to encourage students to create these links themselves. Once the lesson objectives have been shared, ask the students why it is important to learn about this. Once you get past the “I might get asked about it in an exam sir!” response, other questions can be asked to help students to make connections.

“What jobs or professions would find this information useful?”

“How does this connect with what you already know?”

“What will you be able to explain in your world with this knowledge?”

For example, a science lesson on heat transfer was linked to chefs, firemen and architects. By doing this the students saw their learning having real life applications.

Another way of involving students in this process is to ask them what they would like to find out about a topic. Students benefit from having a stimulus, such as books or magazine articles, while thinking about what they would like to know. It is vital that a response is taken from every student and that their ideas are recorded and displayed. This adds value to the students’ input, as well as increasing ownership of the learning.

This is ideally used at the beginning of a module so that a range of questions can be gathered and gives the teacher the chance to use these suggestions to plan lessons around. This gives students further ownership of their lessons, and as a result, should be more motivated.

Value Getting Stuck

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of moving forward.” – Neils Bohr

Change the culture of finding tasks difficult. Explain to your students that no one ever climbed on bike and rode off into the sunset. Everybody falls off a few times, so why should learning in school be any different? Learning should be exciting and when they get stuck they are about to learn something new. That is why they cannot do it at the moment. Share strategies with students to help them solve problems when they encounter them .

Increasing Challenge in Lesson Outcomes

Use Anderson’s revised taxonomy to plan lesson outcomes that are challenging for your students.

Consider the thinking that would be required by these two contrasting outcomes.

1.Draw a cooling curve for water.

2.Predict cooling curves for different materials

The first one requires students to translate numerical information into a graphical form. The student is translating and therefore showing “comprehension”. Where as the second requires the student to identify the important pattern in previous graphs, adapt it to create a new graph and speculate on the outcome of an experiment. In the second one the student is “synthesising” information.

The Thinking spiders included below and are a good start point to planning lessons and questions. See Darren, Julie or Fergus to get hold of a set of spiders or to discuss the many ways in which they can be used.

Assessment Tools

These help students (and teachers!) focus on the success criteria of a piece of work. They help agree what a high quality piece of work will look like. Over time the following steps can develop students from teacher dependant to independent. These steps also increase the learners’ capacity for self-assessment.

Some examples of assessment tools.

1. The checklist. The first assessment tools you use may just be a simple tick exercise to acknowledge that criteria have been met. The next step will allow space for comment or guidance.

Teacher assessment tool for homework Example ‘Why is the Thermos (Vacuum) Flask the greatest invention of all time?”

2. Structure space to invite comments – simple graphic organisers. Example – Students are asked for two positives and one improvement. Positive can-do language will encourage valuable contributions.

Assessment tools are great way to start training students to give each other feedback, as they provide a structure for the advice. This is especially powerful if the students have an input into the criteria. Next time your students make posters, agree a list of five success criteria that a good poster should have, and then use this to feedback their successes.

Exchanging Feedback

When students have assessed the work of others, make them sit face to face to give their feedback. To do this the emotional environment in the classroom must feel safe. The feedback process is useful for both parties; as the person must really scrutinize the others work against the success criteria. This process helps them reflect on their own work. The student receiving the feedback will benefit from someone providing an alternative view on his or her understanding.

1. Beware – students find giving objective feedback very difficult, and tend to avoid doing so, preferring just to say positive things. To avoid this establish the following ground rules:

2. The group / person receiving the feedback must sit in silence and only speak if they are asked a direct question. This allows them to focus on the feedback, and makes it safer for the people giving feedback.

3. The person / group giving the feedback must feedback only against he agreed criteria. This helps to keep the feedback fair and open.

4. The feedback must include successes and advice on how to improve.

5. The feedback must be finished by saying I / we have finished our feedback. Thereby drawing a line under the feedback.

6. The person/group must respond “Thank you for your feedback” This shows that the effort made is appreciate.

7. No further discussion must take place after the feedback is over. To help with this it is advantageous to have groups feeding back to different groups that they received feedback from.

Teacher Marking

Teachers spend hours marking students work, but, how effective is it in helping students learn? To make the most of this effort it is most useful just to provide them with comments only. Research shows that when students receive a grade along as well the impact of the written comment is reduced.

Good written feedback

1. Informs the students if they are on the right track.

2. Encourages improvement

3. Provides guidance on how to improve

Steps to take

1. Plan key pieces of work into schemes of work that you will mark in detail. Do not aim to mark everything in a student’s book.

2. Use comment only marking. 3a. Make sure praise is specific, such as “You have listed some reasons behind global warning. I particularly liked the layout of your news article. Well done.” 3b. Only comment on agreed success criteria

3. Plan lesson time for students to respond to your feedback.

4. Plan opportunities for students to go back to the targets you set.

5. Plan self and peer assessment into schemes of work

Comment only marking strategies

Strategy 1 – Provide a hint.

This will help your students think through the problem whilst keeping ownership of learning. For example – Giving the first letter of the answer, or starting a sentence, or drawing their attention to where they have useful information in their book or worksheet.

Strategy 2 – Rephrasing the question can help students think about a problem in a different way.

Questions can lead students to the answer.

Strategy 3 – Provide a structure for your students to work in, such as sentences with gaps in so that students have to fill in key learning points. This can really help weaker students to focus on the subject.

“Some other ways to keep food fresh are r________ (make it cool), p________(heating to kill microbes), and i__________ (using gamma rays to kill microbes)”

Strategy 4 – Provide model answers.

Highlight them in the student’s work. Refer to them when work slips below the required standard. Use them as a targets for students to match structure and quality.

Strategy 5 – Colour coding student’s work

Using one colour, say green to highlight where the student has met the leaning outcome of a lesson. Where a learning outcome has not been met highlight using a different colour say blue. This could be used in connection with a praise sandwich – two pieces of positive feedback bread to one filling improvement.

Strategy 6 – Guidance can develop a students understanding.

Specific tasks should be quick to complete so that the student can see the improvement. For example, ‘A good explanation – insert these key words in to your answer: antagonistic, fulcrum”

Wait Time

During question and answer session the effective use of wait time can help students reflect more on their understanding. Teachers often answer their own questions, when a student appears stuck, often the time waited for a response is only around one second. So, this technique simply aims to increase the time to about 4 seconds. At first the silence of four seconds will feel uncomfortable, but once the students start thinking and responding with thoughtful answers it will seem worthwhile. It should be used directly after a question has been asked to allow the students time to think through possible responses.

When a response has been pause again. This sends a strong message to them that further elaboration of their ideas is required. Any response given by the teacher at this point may stop the student in their tracks. A smile would convey that a correct answer is being given, although it may not yet be complete. A furrowed brow may indicate that a incorrect answer is being given. Feedback can be this simple.

When listening to responses an open body posture and impassive facial expression will help the students complete their thinking. The effective use of wait time is an integral strategy in the assessment for learning classroom.

• It increases student motivation, shown by more student contributions and questions.

• It helps build confidence prompting students to be more speculative.

• They will test their ideas, as they know they are being supported

• It develops students’ ability to self-assess their answers. These are likely to become longer of better quality.

Celebrate Progress

The celebration of progress is also a big motivator for students. Rather than the familiar rank order of ability, this display can be motivating for all students, regardless of ability. The list is ranked in order of the degree to which students had beaten their own personal target. At the top the students had beaten their targets by more than those at the bottom. It is not a rank of ability. Watch out for this list grows each time it is used, and more students achieve and move beyond their targets. Certificates are awarded on the basis of how much they beat their target by. Gold by more than 15% Silver more than 5% and Bronze for achieving their target score. Clearly, those students who are very high achievers have a real challenge ahead of them to appear on this progress chart.

Adapted from TEEP

A rising tide lifts all ships

…why Gifted and Talented provision is less about labelling students, separate work or extension tasks and more about providing opportunities for all.

At the recent Gifted and Talented conference organised jointly by NACE and SSAT, Professor Deborah Eyre outlined her philosophy regarding G&T provision. What came as something of a surprise was the way in which she questioned the idea that G&T students should be given a separate diet from other students. Indeed, the ideas she outlined almost question the need to have a Gifted and Talented register at all.

Eyre started with the perennial problem of how to define and measure intelligence. Unhelpfully (or perhaps helpfully) over the past one hundred years of study, psychological opinion regarding conceptions of giftedness has fragmented rather than converged and definitions are now numerous and often conflicting. Educationalists and psychologists even over the last decade or so can’t agree, with Lykken (1998) arguing that ability is redetermined by our genes and can be measured, while Ericsson (2007) suggests the opposite; that there is no evidence of innate constraints in reaching high performance. Add to the debate Gardner’s suggestion (1983) that ability is multi-dimensional, while Sternberg (2005) suggests that ability is intelligence, creativity and wisdom, and the argument that we can both define intelligence and accurately label those that possess it becomes rather fragile.

Nevertheless, Eyre suggests that intelligence can be divided into three broad categories. The first of these is analytic intelligence, which is a general intelligence, where ability can be demonstrated through success on IQ and similar tests. Creative intelligence is the ability to think what others don’t think and often children are very good at this. Finally, practical intelligence is the ability to bring your intelligence to bear on practical problems or situations. Currently our whole school G&T cohort is defined as those exhibiting the first of these types of intelligence, as the criteria for inclusion on the register are based on CAT scores, KS2 SAT results or KS3 Maths results. Subject specific criteria for identifying students that have exceptional ability in individual subject areas are more flexible, as they are based not just on data but also on ‘soft’ skills such as demonstrating curiosity, using language or materials in a creative way or demonstrating a practical skill.

The age at which a child should be labelled as G&T also creates problems. Bloom’s research in 1982 concluded that, contrary to popular belief, gifted adults were seldom child prodigies. This research was supported by Lohman and Korb (2006) who found when cohorts of children are tested at a young age then regularly retested over time, the scores show substantial year-to-year regression, disproving the common myth that a child considered gifted at aged six would still be considered gifted at sixteen. If, the implication is, that early identification doesn’t necessarily lead to better educational achievement and, indeed, those that are G&T may not actually show their ability until much later in life, what is the point of the register at all?

Eyre moved on to look at the three different ways in which G&T students can be provided for educationally. The first of these she called the ‘Unique Level’ and this would accommodate the needs of a unique individual, the ‘child genius’. This would be a special educational pathway and, perhaps ironically, would not necessarily be provided by the school, as the educational system may be of little importance to the achievements of such a child.

Second, is the ‘Cohort Paradigm’, where a group of G&T students is identified as being different from others and follows educational programmes that separate them from others in terms of the concepts and content covered, the skills developed and the learning attitudes nurtured. Key issues for educators using the cohort paradigm include choosing the cohort, defining the learning conditions needed and designing the optimal curriculum offer. There are a number of pros and cons to such a system and these are outlined below:

The main arguments against the Cohort Paradigm view of G&T provision can be summed up by Shore (2000), who in a meta-analysis of able pupils’ learning found that G&T students do not seem to use strategies that others never use, and though they differ from others in their creativity and the extent to which they draw upon a repertoire of intellectual skills these are nonetheless available to others. Sternberg (2007) also suggests that traditional education tends to “shine the spotlight” on certain students almost all of the time, and on other students almost none of the time. The result is that some students are placed in a much better position to achieve than are others. The students who are not placed in an optimal position to achieve may be just as able to achieve at high levels as the students placed in a position to achieve. Moreover, the advantaged students will not necessarily be more successful later in life.

So what should the educational objectives for Gifted Programmes actually be? Gallagher (1985) suggests the following:

• Gifted children should master important conceptual systems that are at the level of their abilities in various content fields.

• Gifted children should develop skills and strategies that enable them to become more independent, creative and self-sufficient searchers after knowledge.

• Gifted children should develop a joy and excitement about learning that will carry them through the drudgery and routine that is an inevitable part of learning.

Sounds familiar? Well much of this ties very nicely in with the philosophy that underpins our KS3 curriculum in the JLV, as well as the new National Curriculum, especially with its focus on personal, learning and thinking skills and subject specific key concepts. Independence, creativity and self-sufficiency overlap with responsibility and resourcefulness, while mastery of conceptual systems surely involves both reasoning and reflection. Finally, what carries children through the ‘drudgery and routine’ that is an inevitable part of learning better than a healthy dose of resilience? As Eyre points out, learning shouldn’t need to be ‘whizz-bang and exciting’. Rewards come from mastering something that requires hard work and easy success is ultimately unsatisfying.

But if Gallagher’s are the kinds of skills, attributes and competencies that we are seeking to develop in all students, how can we accommodate the needs of the most able and show we are providing appropriate levels of stretch? Well this brings us to Eyre’s third approach to G&T provision, the ‘Human Capital Paradigm’.

The ‘Human Capital Paradigm’ operates at the macro level of education, in that it provides G&T opportunities for all students. Using such a model, G&T students would not be a pre-defined cohort but would instead emerge, much like a butterfly from a chrysalis, having been provided with the right kinds of conditions for optimum development. G&T students are therefore defined as those that actually reach high levels of performance and their development is significantly influenced by environmental and personality characteristics. Such an approach to provision demands an ‘expert performance approach’, as defined by Anders Ericsson et al June 2007: “The expert performance approach starts by identifying reproducibly superior performance and then works backwards to explain development of the mediating mechanisms.” Such an approach does not place a numerical limit on the number of students seen as capable of achieving exceptional levels of performance.

The key is also that students learn they can develop, improve and progress. “From the outside, it seems like talented people don’t have to put in a lot of effort. They make it look so easy,” said Ericsson in a recent interview. “But when you look closely, the opposite is actually true. The best performers are almost always the ones who practise the most. I have yet to find a talented person who didn’t earn their talent through hard work and thousands of hours of practice.” This kind of philosophy is similar to that of Carol Dweck , who in her book Mindset, suggested that ability is not a fixed thing but something that, with the right kind of mindset and the determination to succeed, can be developed. This sounds a lot like resilience again.

Eyre suggests there are various aspects of the Human Capital Paradigm that need to be developed for it to be successful. These are outlined below:

School structures

• Advanced curriculum running alongside normal curriculum

• Advanced curriculum characterised by problem-solving, enquiry and creative tasks

• Teaching focused on developing high levels of subject knowledge plus the ability to ‘use and apply’ it

• Learners in active dialogue with their teachers encouraged to challenge ideas and deal with cognitive conflict

• Offer is personalised wherever possible to offer choice

• No age-related ceilings imposed on achievement


• Ambitious aspirations on behalf of all students

• Rewards for high achievement in a variety of contexts

• Emphasis on striving and persisting and overt rewards for doing so – practice, practice, practice

• Openly appreciative of individuality – students and staff

• A learning environment where staff demonstrate the value of learning through their own engagement

• An academic climate that aims to build intellectual confidence in individuals and enables them to practice articulating and defending ideas

Management of Individuals

• Use of ‘assessment for learning’ techniques

• Regular review meetings between students and personal tutor (coach)

• Identified ‘SMART’ targets for improvement and timeframes for achievement

• Access to e-library of information, advice and guidance for secondary students

• Use of diagnostic tools to identify strengths and weaknesses

Close scrutiny of these should offer some reassurance that we are heading in the right direction at Cramlington, with our focus on a personalised approach, student choice, assessment for learning, the CASKE curriculum, ICT access, shared success criteria, learning conversations and the development of the role of tutor as a learning guide.

Eyre’s philosophy can be summed up as follows: “Meeting the educational needs of the Gifted and Talented is about building on good general school provision, not about providing something entirely different,” and she communicates this through her visual ‘English Model’, shown below.

None of this looks terribly far from where we are regarding our current practice with all students. The question still remains, however, that if we are providing such a rich diet of opportunity for all of our students at Cramlington, how can we ensure we maximise achievement, particularly with regard to top grades? Clearly we aren’t getting it completely right at present, as although our most able students achieve well at KS4, coming out with a positive value added score, they aren’t doing quite as well as other groups within the school. Those of you that like nothing better than scrutinising a bit of data might like to take a look at the RAISE Online package, which shows that where there are negative value added scores in different subjects at KS4, these tend to be among the A/A* students.

Perhaps we need to reflect more on our current classroom practice and think about whether we are actually providing appropriately challenging tasks for students, tasks that truly require higher level cognitive thought and resilience, or whether we are making things a little too easy, chunking the learning too much and teaching to the middle. Here too, Eyre has a suggestion. While most of us may plan a lesson then think about how to adapt it for the most and the least able, Eyre suggests that a better approach is ‘top down’ planning, whereby we plan first for the most able students, then adapt the lesson and resources for the range of the ability spread in the class. Such an approach to planning, while seemingly simple, should ensure that an appropriate level of challenge is built in automatically and should also provide opportunities for all students to rise to the challenge if they are capable.

And finally, what about that G&T register? Well, despite Eyre’s suggestion that a national register may be a flawed idea, it looks like it isn’t going to go away any time soon. The DCSF asks all schools to identify the top ten per cent of their students for inclusion on this register, which we dutifully do each year and justify this on the grounds that it raises the aspirations of staff, students and parents. Perhaps we should follow the example of some of the more subversive schools, who have sent their returns to the DCSF including all of their students on the register and while we’re about it, why not set A* as everyone’s target? Now that’s aspirational!

Karen Blackburn