Butterfly #11: Exam Classes

Today Paul and Jen took us through their strategies with exam classes, central to this being the consistent immersion in the processes, content and questioning for the courses our students take.

These strategies align with other innovative approaches to give variety to lessons, but underpinning this is the consistency of preparation, and building the habit of reflection on exam processes.

Exam skills and questions

It’s all about the preparation, so starting early with the skills is an aid to success.

  • Baby steps at KS3 – mark schemes, terminology and exam-style questions and exam-appropriate language

At KS4…

  • Exam question practice and revision books

001   004

  • Simple mark schemes that describe what is needed to achieve a certain mark
  • Student version of the mark scheme – they make their own, and/or we provide them
  • Sentence-starter practice kits: Aiming for a C for borderline students &  Aiming for A* with stronger students. Get all students to compare requirements to move students on above their targets


  • Practise , Practise, Practise


  • Assessment cover sheet for every essay, outlining key criteria, and where the students got to in their work


  • Immerse them some more with exam question Hooks and Homeworks.
  • Teach with grade boundaries and question styles, so students are constantly engaging with how they will be assessed in the real thing.
  • Regularity – homework can be a real back-up for exam practice, and use the tricky timetabled lesson (after lunch anyone?) for exam-question-time. Make this a regular thing, as well as end of unit assessments.

exam 1

  • Log it all on Go4schools and get students and parents engaged with this.

In discussing all these strategies, what came through was…

Don’t leave anything to chance, teach the exam from Day 1.


Butterfly #10: Personalising learning for our students

We have a multicultural, mixed ability intake across 6 sets in each year. From Berners-Lee to Stephenson, this covers a huge variety of learners of different abilities.

Emma and Olivia spoke of the strategies that they use for 2 particular groups – Berners-Lee, our higher ability students, and Stephenson, learners that require more support.

High Ability strategies include



2)Thought provoking imagespics

3) Today’s killer question is… a focus for the lesson…

4) Speed dating – to add depth by sharing information and thoughts across the class

5) Silent debate – win an argument with the written word

6) Complex articles – for higher order understanding, answers and questions

7) Rewrite exam spec student versions to open up understanding

8) Sharing understanding and comparing findings


These startegies can be used with all students, but seem to suit BL particularly.


-The Environment – calm & blame-free, with routines, free from distractions and clear rules and expectations.

-Develop our questioning – voting boxes, post-its, desks as whiteboards, silent signals, 1st names for students, Chinese whispers.

-Reduce teacher-talk with students leading the intros and instructions, signals & signposts – Quite Area, Thinking Time…

-Use what support you can get – Neo-pads and 6th Formers are great!


-Traffic lighting – for understanding and also colour code your worksheets from Stretch and Challenge to Further Support

-Draw it with pictures, logos and annotation for notes that work for individuals




-Behaviour – tough love for expectations, and praise and support for all, ‘what I love about you…’

Challenge and Support the students. Always.

Take care of yourselves.


Butterfly #9: Establishing the learning environment and ethos, plus some awe and wonder!

Learning environments are what students first see in a class. All 5 senses can be either stimulated or assaulted, and this shapes the next hour, possibly 5 times a week. A sobering exercise can be sitting at a desk looking forward and around. Would we want to work here?


Whenever I go to the Art rooms, my eyes open, and so does my imagination and sense that I too could draw, apply colour and just be creative. Sadly, none of this ever happened for me, but for our students it does, thanks to the learning environment that they are presented in their Art lessons.


Sam and Leah gave us the tour of their rooms, but also emphasised the consistency that they have applied to the whole Art learning experience, from lining up onwards. This sets out the expectations for the students, and the work that cocoons them furthers this with both support and challenge.

Classroom Entry Procedure

1.Class lined up outside

2.Uniform check

3.Wait for silence

4.Students to enter room quietly (teacher greets at door)

5.To stand behind their chair, getting out their equipment and homework

6.Students will be invited to sit down once they are quiet again

This establishes the learning ethos, just as much as resourcing, planning and delivering.


Following this, the visual is emphasised, not just with displays, but also how activities are presented – colour, format and font all play a part. Context is in place with each Year groups’ syllabus and targets displayed. And all around the classroom, students see their work, their current and target grades, and aspirational art by their peers. The learning climate and ethos has been created.



The displays are not just the awe and wonder, but the recognition of effort, and the forum for feedback and how students can actually improve.


An environment is defined as constructed surroundings that provide the setting for human activity. If we construct it well, human activity will respond.

Butterfly #8: How do you like them Arrows?

Back after half term, properly rested we gathered again for Term 1.2 of Butterflies. Metaphors and analogies seem to be in the educational air, with our Butterfly effect, the chrysalis image of ACSL, and @HeadGuru’s sliver arrows. As teachers we are in the business of transforming, developing and targeting the students in our care, hence the images. Fair enough, so we looked at the 10 Silver arrows of HeadGuru for some external strategies to trial.

These comprise a variety of classroom strategies – ‘if you do just one thing, do this!’, so we did.

  • Signal, Pause, Insist for Behaviour
  • ‘In your pairs, discuss’ for Questioning
  • ‘Say it again, properly’ for Literacy
  • Close the Gap for Marking and Feedback
  • Objectives, Explain, Model Practice, Check for Straight Teaching
  • Set lots of tests – formatively for Assessment
  • Teach to the top for Most able
  • HW as Guided study for Homework
  • 10 Minutes silence for Hard Work
  • Respond in ANY FORMAT for Creative Opportunities


These strategies really match with our learners, so staff set about planning a favoured one for inclusion in lessons this week, and as an extra we looked at prospective Arrow no.11s:

007 008


I think ours count as Gold.

Walking down the corridor I saw this just now..



  • Respond in ANY FORMAT for Creative Opportunities

Looks like the arrows are already hitting home.

Butterfly #7: VAK

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

Unfortunately I can’t claim this wisdom (Benjamin Franklin apparently), but it very much underpinned our final session for this half term. A packed BIT 4 participated in numerous VAK strategies led by Katie and Seamus, and a good time was had by all.


Fuelled by cookies we looked at how we all are stimulated by a variety of strategies that appeal in a Visual, Auditory and/or Kinaesthetic way. Educationalists have debated the validity of this approach,  but teaching in an engaging and personalised style is always going to be vital and important for our students.


Seamus and Katie took us through a variety of approaches:

  • Post-its for memory tests,
  • What’s-in-the-box for imagination, descriptions and theorizing (no Brad though)box
  • Slap-board for competition and consolidation
  • Connect 4 for personalised challenge

All of these offered VAK activities that strike a chord with our learners, whatever may be their more dominant learning style. The ‘involve me’ aspect of these activities transcends learning styles and draws in all learners in fun and engaging activities, and this also counts for what we can get out of our own planning and teaching.


A no-brainer really.

This half term there have been 7 sessions, with 59 staff attending. 14 of you have come to all of the sessions. 17 staff have delivered CPD to their colleagues. This Blog has had 560 views.

Please fill out the questionnaire to review and suggest sessions for next half term.

If sufficient butterflies were to beat their wings in the Amazonian forest they could trigger a hurricane thousands of miles away…



Butterfly #6: Teaching the 6th form


Mature , independent young people, or fresh out of Year 11? Our 6th formers are a bit of both, so a flexible, personalised approach is needed, but above all they need developing as independent learners. How this independence and personal responsibility is cultivated is vital – both in and outside the classroom.


Nadia, Jeremy and Jack spoke on Tuesday about the needs of and for our 6th formers, in particular how they

  • are taught how to work by themselves, for themselves
  • take ownership and responsibility for their learning

Spec and syllabus information and consistent monitoring through a variety of tests and assessments will keep them focused and knowledgeable in the right, relevant areas. This will also target that sharpness that they often fall down on.

Independent study is vital – for course coverage as well as developing their own accountability and responsibility. Facilitating this is vital – book lists, syllabus specs and past papers, as well as a course breakdown will support and scaffold their learning, which can be brought literally into the lesson.

We are in many ways in an interim stage with our 6th formers – supporting their development as independent workers, and that cord of support has to fluctuate in stretching and tightening across the 2 years they are with us.


Not a pleasant image, but just what students need to engage them and develop their thinking and participation in lessons where we really need their involvement. How we present the information matters – colours, font and subject matter all make a difference when students need to be drawn into the lesson. Marry this with their prior research and independent study and lessons can take off and developed thinking set in.


Next week is VAK strategies with Seamus and Katie, then a new programme for after half term. Get your preferences to me next week.


Butterfly #5: Staff well-being and minding ourselves


Live from the Emerald Isle, the focus today was on strategies to help us take care of ourselves, enjoy work and retain a balance in our lives. Jen Egan and Paula Creber both spoke of personal strategies and modes of existence that worked for them.

Enjoying Westfield:

Top tips…

  1. Most of us chose to teach a particular subject because its what we loved to do at one point. We may not always love our subject in the classroom, but find an opportunity to do what you love outside the classroom… try a sport, join in with the musical etc. This gives you something to look forward to but also means you get to know the students in a different way and they get to know you as someone who wants to join in etc. This is what makes school enjoyable for the kids so why not for you too?
  2. Speak to people! No man is an island like the old saying goes so don’t hide away in your office or classroom. Talk to people, especially from outside your department. Its easy to find yourself talking shop at every lunch and break. Chatting to people teaching different types of subject may  help you to figure out a new approach to a particular group.
  3. Think of yourself. Not everyone has the choice or want to work at home but maybe try marking in your pjs on your sofa rather than in you classroom.
  4. If you do decide to stay in school to mark etc do it with a friend. Put on some music and stick the kettle on.
  5. Play music between lessons/at break etc.
  6. We spend our days around the kids so treat yourself as a child once in a while – have some sweets!
  7. Chat to people (adults and students) while on duty. It makes the time go faster and can change your relationship with students.
  8. Reward yourself! We are encouraged to reward the students at every opportunity don’t forget to reward yourself. Try to leave school on time at least every two weeks with no plans for work in the evening. Make sure you have a life!
  9. Share the funny bits not just the horrible bits.
  10. Leave it in school when you can. Try to not carry stress with you… its only a job! (It’s a very important one but the bottom line is that it is only a job)

So what can we do to look after ourselves?

Teacher Toolkit has a 5 minute well-being plan with suggested processes and support strategies – well-worth a look. Paula spoke about  utilising our support network – friends and family, as well as having a cut-off point for when the school bag gets shut.


Alongside this, we owe it to ourselves to mind ourselves, and taking care of body and mind with our intakes of food, drink and exercise.


Pay it forward as well, by helping others for that feel-good factor that we all can get by doing good:

‘When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad I feel bad. And that’s my religion.’ Abraham Lincoln.

Before we became an Academy we were a Community school for many years, and that community ethos is still here – for staff and students, so tap into that as well if you need a helping hand. It will fill your glass…

full glass