When Feedback gets Creative by Zoe Dyer


This academic year we started the BTEC in Performing Arts Level 1 / 2 Award and were faced with a range of issues.  Since changing to GCSE, over 5 years ago, a lot had changed – from the marking and grading, to the unit specifics, terminology use and the weighting of units.  Lucy and I felt like we were back to square one…Many see the BTEC as a ‘soft’ option, but anyone who has had to deliver one will know, this is far from the case.

Many hurdles were tackled by visiting a partnership centre.  For us that is Burnside in Wallsend where the Drama teacher, besides someone who went to University with me and hosted me for my PGCE training, has been delivering the BTEDC for over 10years and is a Lead Verifier with Edexcel.  A day visit, much resource sharing and taking pictured of work left me feeling less overwhelmed and instead Lucy and I looked at how we could personalise our BTEC provision here at CLV whilst meeting Edexcel requirements and CLV Marking Policy.

Within BTEC students work is an ongoing development – progressing from lower level standards through to their best ability.  This goes for both practical and written components. Our students complete a ‘log’ or Drama ‘diary’ that documents their development from the start of the course through to the end of each unit.  For our Unit 3: Acting Skills this notebook proved challenging for many.  From a literacy perspective we were facing many issues; how to analyse skills, use of specific terminology, being evaluative and critical and the largest challenge of all: death by description!

Resources were the key to this; creating a bank of useful resources that were accessible to our students but also saved us from writing the same feedback each time.  Sentence starters, model work and ultimately our feedback sheets:

Screenshot 2017-05-10 at 19.50.33

The standard of work started to noticeably develop.  Students, who had previously been writing ‘log’ entries at only a side of A5 in their notebooks, were developing, expanding and improving their work.  The path to success was evident on their feedback sheets and all levels of students responded well to their ‘path’ or their ‘journey’ to success in Drama.  Screenshot 2017-05-10 at 19.57.12

Fortunately we can add and develop work in creative ways.  Places where work needed expanding were seen through detailed postit notes that provided analytical justification and development and prompted by the feedback sheets.  SEND/PP students liked the structure and were able to sit, read and think about their feedback before responding; rather than automatically calling for my support.  Using images as a recall and recap device also helped.  The weaker students in the room were able to remind themselves in a visual way that stopped any ‘I can’t remember’ proclamations.

Screenshot 2017-05-10 at 19.59.02

Consequently we wanted to know we were on the right track and sought out the Lead BTEC guy at Edexcel.  The specialist offered support and guidance early on which enabled us to tailor our feedback to be more specific; requirements for more analysis and supporting examples.  Sending him photos of our logs and receiving his feedback lead to lessons focused on ‘upgrading’ and ‘sticking it to the exam board’ with their awesomeness! This in turn aided the work development with those who genuinely want to develop, exhibiting this in their written work.

Screenshot 2017-05-10 at 20.00.20

Our logs were initially a scary thing for us.  In Drama we have become very adept at controlled assessments, marked for the exam boards, trained in coursework examination and shared good practice with the Drama social network.  However this was a whole new area for us.

Things that we found hugely beneficial were open conversations with students, knowing what they needed and whether the sheets worked.  Now it’s second nature; written lessons involve focused and driven individuals that know where they are going and how they need to achieve it. Support sessions on a weekly basis offer those who want to push themselves, the space and support from us to do that along with extra verbal feedback.

We still have a long way to go and our first centre visit will really provide the best feedback but being more creative with the way we present this feedback has definitely been a learning journey.  I’d love to see how anybody else collates their feedback so please drop me a line!


Displays their way by Lyndsay Jubb

When we were told that we were to be getting our own classrooms this year, I was so excited to get stuck into creating some displays and making my classroom the best environment for my students. I was most excited to have classroom routines that I could keep up and not gradually forget about (mostly due to being consistently late to my next lesson after the casual sprint from the JLV to the SLV). So, like the keen bean that I am, I came in for a few days in the summer holidays to set some things up. I started my first display board, which I know you will have all read about in the Maths department Mojo Moments published earlier this year. I was focussed on changing the mind set of students so that I could finally hear the back of flippant comments like “eh, how can she just do everything and I can’t?” and “I give up. Too hard” and create a more positive learning environment for everybody involved. I thought this may be something that had an effect at the start of the year and would fade out, but the students have really surprised me. I still have students hear a negative comment from one of their peers and they turn around and patronisingly quote a phrase from the wall which they should use instead. I realise that the students are mostly saying this in jest, but it has had a really positive impact on students’ mind set. I rarely hear any of the phrases which I was so sick of hearing last year anymore and students always have somewhere to get an upgrade question to extend or challenge their thinking. Time well spent.

change the mindset display.jpg

Change your mindset display

I also, I suppose quite controversially, spent some time in September creating little laminated CLV shields with the names of each student from my Y11 class lovingly typed out on top and laminated for good measure to start my Y11 shrine (my students actually still call this wall their shrine…). I popped the shields up in the different columns indicating where their most recent assessment placed them in relation to their target grade. I’ll admit, it wasn’t a pretty sight at first, but what has surprised me most is the motivation that has come from having a paper shield with their name on stuck on the wall underneath a sign which says ‘more than two grades from target’. It has had a really positive effect on my higher attaining students, but my PP students responded really well to this too. I have students who attend Maths club every week religiously because they are “going to move that bloody shield eventually”. After every assessment, I allow 5 minutes of carnage to erupt in my classroom as the students run to the back wall to proudly move their shields – Kira Shieber even videoed the occasion and sent it to other Y11 students! The students are proud of their shield now (have a look at how far the classes have come in the photos!) From a teacher’s point of view, this also allows me to be constantly aware of how students are performing and a quick glance to the back wall reminds me who my key focus students are.

september shield display

September, 2016

december shield display

December, 2016

April shield display

April, 2017

This all sounds very well and good, but then we had the CPD training delivered by Trish and Elaine. I thought I was quite good at updating the displays so that they were constantly relevant to the topics and lessons that I was teaching and the students that I was aiming to impact, but, where is the students’ input here? Did I have their work on my walls? No, it was all my bright ideas. I went away that evening and thought about how I could incorporate their work into my displays without having a display that I needed to constantly update (e.g. work of the week). My idea, was to create a wall of revision ideas. I would start off the wall, with the generic revision materials that we as Maths teachers find ourselves constantly bleating on about in the week leading up to assessments, but then I would ask students for their ideas too. The result is in the picture below! I stuck up my pieces but then students would tell me how they made use of the revision cards, or the revision tab on Frog so I added in some top tips. A few students have contributed their own revision materials which I have scanned or photographed and put on the wall too with a little caption from the student themselves. I have included a pouch of blank revision timetables for students to take too, to help them organise their revision across all subjects, which have gone down a storm.

 Revision IdeasTrig Display

Revision ideas 

How do you measure the impact this has? My Y11 students have performed better than they ever have in the latest assessment. I attributed this to us having finished the course and revision season kicking in, but students have commented on how they used ‘Emily’s strategy’ with the revision cards, or ‘Kira’s notes pages’ which they find really helpful.

So there you have it, a display with no fuss, which is easy to install and update, with a positive impact on student’s work and achievements.

– Lyndsay Jubb

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!

MFL Grade descriptors by Susie Riddell

For the excellent Teach meet in November, I spoke about the ways MFL have adapted marking to the new grade system, particularly when marking written and spoken work.

Feedback sheets are made up of the criteria for content on one side, grammar on the other with the grades in the middle. On the feedback sheets, we highlight in green the content and grammar included, making the reasoning behind the grade awarded clear to the student and anyone that is looking at the work.

It also allows us to highlight in pink anything that could have been added, or that wasn’t accurate, so the student can focus on those aspects to upgrade their work.


We have also produced feedback sheets for peer assessment, which include specific examples of the language features needed to achieve each grade.  In this way, students simply have to locate the examples in the piece of writing/speaking and highlight them in green if found.

Praisealitus by Jamie Thom

As an NQT I suffered from a tragic and deadly case of praisealitus. At every possible moment I would exclaim loudly and gleefully: “fantastic”, “outstanding”, “brilliant”, “superb”, “wonderful”. They were tossed around like confetti, sprouted in response to even the most incoherent of grunted answers. My students’ workbooks would be scrawled with more hyperbole: “I absolutely love this” was a particular favourite. Then one day, my arch nemesis Danielle decided to inform me about the reality of my condition. Rolling her eyes with impeccable talent (again) she looked at me scathingly: “Is anything not excellent?”

While I admit that Danielle intimidated/terrified me on a number of levels, she really had me there. How do you counter that? Other than letting the ground metaphorically open me up, I decided there and then that I would no longer be so thoughtless with my praise. No: I would now become a sophisticated, nuanced user of praise. How to reach those lofty heights was another question.

Fast forward five years and I am intrigued to see how far, or if, I have developed on this mission. Before I do, a point of clarity: I am very aware of the value of praise in the classroom and I am by no means rejecting it. It is vital in both building successful relationships and motivating students, crucial in creating a positive and optimist classroom culture. We all love being praised, we all love being recognised for things we have  done well. It is a huge part of nurturing our self-esteem and confidence. We all, however, can spot disingenuous and flippant praise a mile off – and we know how it makes us feel about our efforts. Young people are no different; my conversations with students this week have, somewhat disconcertingly, reiterated to me their capacity to see through any lack of sincerity in the classroom.

Now to the ‘Praiseometer. I asked a student in each of my classes to complete the ‘Praiseometer’ for an identified twenty minute period in the lesson. They had to listen

 carefully to dialogue I was having with students and the whole class and write down the forms of praise they noticed; the final result was a tally of each form of praise employed.

Looking carefully at the results of this (I am aware this is not the most sophisticated of evidenced based endeavours!) it was clear was that I continue to fall into the trap of unspecified praise. In one twenty minute section I used “good” fifteen times. Fifteen times! Also being more self-conscious about my own use of praise this week than usual, I recognised my desire to reassert the positive, to be relentlessly optimistic and to seek to find the things to praise in the classroom.  That youthful desire to please and fear of crushing students motivation is still very much a part of my lessons.

There are worse things to be doing, but my reflections this week have left me with six key priorities. They are also taken from brief conversations with each class about what they valued in terms of praise (I did do some teaching this week, not just talk/think about praise!) It represents a final and conclusive list that can drive my praise mission:

Honest praise: Over-inflation is dangerous and detrimental in any context. If I tell the students they are “outstanding” when really they have given me something mediocre I am only serving to confuse them about my expectations.  My praise needs to be seriously tempered and a focus on the reality of what is being offered to me. I need to communicate high expectations about what “outstanding” looks like in my classroom – and make this something that students are relentlessly striving to attain. The ubiquity of “good” in my classroom is something for me to reflect on. It will only serve to confuse my pupils: how do they know when I think something is really effective? What is my criteria for “good work” and are they really matching this?  The cognitive scientist Daniel T Willingham surmises: “To motivate students—especially older students who are more discerning and better able to appreciate the differences between what is said and what is meant—teachers need to avoid praise that is not truthful, is designed to control behaviour, or has not been earned.

Specific praise: We know that high quality feedback is vital to learning and clarity in the classroom. Any praise that is offered has to be specific: “that is good because… that is strong as you have used… you have responded to that well because…”.  Training students to do this to their own and each others’ work is also useful and vital in moving peer and self assessment from perfunctory to effective.  As an English teacher I also feel responsible for developing students’ literacy: offering detailed and precise verbal responses is something I am coaching young people to do, so I should also be modelling this in my own praise and feedback. This is also clear in marking: writing “good” in the margin is utterly pointless. They need to recognise why something is good – even if they go back themselves afterwards and write down what they did effectively.  Linking the praise to the objective of the lesson (one of Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach like a Champion techniques) is also very useful for clarity: it helps in ensuring there is a consistency and a drive to the lesson and so that students know exactly what you want them to achieve. Daniel Goleman’s masterful ‘Emotional Intelligence’ clarifies: “specificity is just as important for praise as for criticism. I won’t say that vague praise has no effect at all, but it doesn’t have much, and you can’t learn from it.

Behavioural praise: Praise for behaviour is hugely illuminating and useful in the classroom. It also prevents the diatribe of negativity that can dominate in more challenging groups. It models to students expectations and celebrates a positive classroom culture. Spotting what is going right, rather than going wrong and specifically praising it models the behaviours that I might want my harder to reach students to demonstrate.  This needs to be based on high expectations – I am not advocating praising students for merely taking a pen out. It is about setting the bar very high then recognising when students are striving to achieve it. This excellent post by Tom Sherrington captures this approach.

Effort praise: Praise needs to be earned and to be richly deserved. More importantly it should be about process and effort rather than what might be perceived as ability. My naive NQT self was actually demotivating students quite drastically – making them at the very most ambivalent about striving to achieve their very best but certainly unclear about what they could potentially achieve. Carol Dweck’s TED talk on praise and mindset will, of course, explain this far better than I could attempt.

Differentiated praise: Sensitivity and empathy is again core when considering how to praise students meaningfully. In my own classes I know the students who would curl up into a ball of embarrassment if I publicly acknowledge and praise them. They are my students who need quiet and focused moments of sincere praise. Despite being so fixated on praise this week, I got this horribly wrong on Tuesday when I showed the wonderful Amy in Year 11’s homework, four pages of research on ‘Inspector Calls’, to the class. She was mortified! Conversely, I also know I need to feed some of my other students’ desire for public recognition – using moments to recognise their efforts in front of their peers is what they need. Ryan – in the same class – was beaming when I later in the week showered him with praise for his knowledge of ‘Moonshine’ (he knew it was homemade and illicit alcohol, I had no idea!)

Unexpected praise: Predictability is the curse of any classroom. Students in my classroom are probably keeping their own tally of how many times I say “good” in the lesson. Praise will now be much more spontaneous and earned, not predictably at the end of all responses offered. I want students to be working hard to gain some positive recognition, not expect it.

Praisealitus is a condition that needs careful monitoring. Praise needs to be a part of our genetic makeup as teachers; I am certainly not hunting for a vaccination (last one, promise). Rather, we are looking to regulate and reflect on its impact; allow it to seep in only of moments of true merit and not for triviality. It serves its function in many different levels, most profoundly when it enables and encourages effort in its different forms.

Thanks for reading; some useful points of reference:

Doug Lemov ‘Teach like a Champion 2.0’

Daniel Goleman: ‘Emotional Intelligence’

Carol S DweckMindset

How Praise Can Motivate—or Stifle by Daniel T. Willingham (see link) 

What World Challenge Expeditions have taught me: failure is the way forward by Cathy Williams


We all learn the most when we’re challenged. Those of you who listened to Will Ord’s key-note at the school conference a couple of years ago heard lots about putting students in the ‘pit’ in order to help them out, to encourage a growth mindset and demonstrate that learning begins with confusion or even failure. The beauty of a World Challenge expedition is that the ‘challengers’ have to help themselves out. They are well and truly outside of their comfort zones, dealing with language barriers and culture shock in developing countries where sometimes very little goes to plan. They lead the expedition, with two of them taking charge each day and organising team decisions. Two become accountants, take all of our money at the beginning of the trip and work out how to spend it. Each evening, they lead a reflection on that day’s progress, on things they’ve achieved and things they need to improve. While it is clear that employers and universities value the skills developed (one student was accepted on a university course she didn’t have the grades for as soon as she mentioned World Challenge), we have seen expeditions have perhaps a more profound impact too.

cw1Girls in Morocco washing clothes by hand for the first time ever!

cw2The next day’s team leaders planning late into the night…

Epic Fails:

There have been a number of times during the five expeditions we’ve ‘led’ when students have managed to ‘fail’ in sometimes spectacular ways. In every single case, the fact that we restrained ourselves from intervening meant that they were much more independent and careful for the rest of the expedition, and hopefully beyond.

  1. Waiting for a bus in Malaysia for nearly two hours, despite the fact that the buses weren’t running in ramadan (as it clearly said on the timetable).
  2. Poor map reading leading to going into Spain instead of onto Gibraltar and wondering why people only spoke Spanish in a country that was part of the UK.
  3. Turning a 6 hour trek into a 14 hour one, during which three students cried continually. (All later apologised to the team.)
  4. Writing the word ‘one’ under the number ‘two’ on the mural on Peace Perfect School in Ghana.
  5. Forgetting to book accommodation until they asked where we were staying.
  6. Leaving litter behind on a campsite the day after they had taught a lesson about littering to the rural community in the Himalayan foothills.
  7. Not waking anyone up on the night train to Delhi until we were already pulling into the most chaotic station in the world at 2am.
  8. Forgetting to book a bus until it didn’t show up.
  9. Losing the team leader pack, including the budget sheets, contacts and itinerary.
  10. Not picking up the money at Heathrow for our Malawi expedition.


At times it has been a struggle for both Laura and I to take enough of a step back, but this struggle has definitely improved my practice in the classroom too. These examples of ‘failures’ are all things that the students continued to talk about long after the event, so the learning sticks in a very useful way. The Malaysia group read everything carefully from that point on and the Malawi accountants were so meticulous that they saved enough money to fund an extra safari activity for the whole team as well as provide more resources to the nursery school before we left. This has definitely changed the way I behave in a classroom too; while we need to make students experience in school positive, letting them fail, as long as we reflect on and make use of these failures, can only be a valuable thing. When I first started teaching I was definitely a little afraid of telling students that they’d made mistakes, but now I like to embrace and celebrate them as a first step to doing better. This is surely the best way to develop a growth mindset, especially in the high achieving sixth formers who we tend to take on expedition, since this group are often least familiar with failure and most fixed in their mindsets.

cw4Callum and Gyan proving they could be resourceful.

Last year, I looked at the impact of our expeditions for the PEG looking at learning communities. We surveyed students before and after expedition. One of the most interesting findings of these surveys was the difference between the things they said they were looking forward to before the expedition and the things that they said were the best part of it afterwards. Beforehand 78% said they were looking forward to “making a difference” or “helping people less fortunate”, whereas, after the expedition, they clearly demonstrated a much more realistic understanding of their experiences during a very short community project. 85% mentioned something about “learning from” or “getting to know” the people. They also mention working “with” rather than “for” in almost all responses. Most satisfying though, was that 78% also used the words “reflect”, “learning”, “pushing myself” or “difficult” to describe what was best about expedition, while none of them expected this to be the best thing about the experience before they went; the expedition had made them realise the value of learning through challenges.


Working “with”- students learn skills from local workers.

Some musings from ‘challengers’:

“I don’t think I could ever have learned so much in two weeks at school, these lessons will last me a lifetime.”

“Being pushed out of your comfort zone, being uncomfortable, makes you realise what type of person you are.”

“It sounds cliche, but it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that teaches you valuable life lessons. You develop as a person and create unforgettable memories!”

“It was the hardest but most rewarding thing I have ever done.”

“I didn’t realise I haven’t ever really pushed myself before, so it was hard. There were times on expedition that I didn’t think I could go on, but I did, so now I know that I can.”

Cw6Overcoming the language barrier with smiles.

cw7“A real sense of satisfaction that we’d managed to do a good job in the end.”



Time for reflection…


“It just makes you realise how greedy humans are doesn’t it.”You might expect that the best thing about safari in Liwonde National Park at the end of the exhausting two week expedition would be the close encounters with beautiful herds of elephants and incomprehensibly graceful hippos in the wild. Perhaps it would be waking up in a tent to the sounds of bee-eaters and barbets. Or maybe taking a sunset boat journey. Yet the moment that stands out involved no wildlife at all. Sitting in the jeep as the guide explained why they had to make a rhino enclosure within the National Park to protect dwindling numbers of black rhino, Laura and I listened in to a conversation between two students who weren’t really friends before expedition. It was the kind of conversation we all love to hear in a classroom; they were linking things they’d learned in Science at school to new information that our guide Tom was so keen to provide, they were questioning each other and linking their experiences in the community to their lives in the UK. Without any prompting, they had taken this quiet time in a natural environment as a chance to reflect and review their own experiences.


Literacy Bookmarks by Zoe Taylor

Keeping track of literacy targets can be difficult- for the teacher as well as the student. This was especially tricky in my low ability year 7 English class, where 12 out of 16 students are SEND and- bizarrely- reading ages range from 6 to 15.

Searching for a solution to this problem, Jayne Claydon and I decided to create a literacy bookmark for each student. We wanted a resource that filled the following criteria:

  • We could easily add/amend student literacy targets across the year
  • The bookmark would indicate to students where they should begin their next piece of work, therefore encouraging gold standard presentation
  • Students could independently check their literacy targets following completion of extended writing
  • Both teacher and LSA could work with students to check they had ‘ticked off’ their literacy targets as part of the proofreading process.


At first, targets were generic. For example, students were encouraged to orally rehearse their writing and check their individual spelling list. As the year progressed, Jayne and I could make this more personalised, adding new areas of concern where we saw them develop and crossing off targets that students had met. At the end of the year, we found many benefits to using this system. For example, where Google Docs can be useful to track this sort of data, the bookmarks were ‘live’ and easily visible to students. Additionally, when amending IEPs at the end of the year, we already had a wealth of information on the bookmarks about student literacy targets. I would definitely recommend trialling these literacy bookmarks with key students in your classes- they made a big difference to the way we tracked and used data in the classroom.