Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Applying Memory and Recall Strategies to MFL - Annabelle Head

Research and development focus:
The focus of my research was in memory and recall. In relation to the teaching and learning going on in my MFL classroom, I wanted in particular to research a strategy that I could implement that would ensure that pupils commit grammatical knowledge to their long term memory. At present we cover grammatical points as and when they appear in the textbook. We practise that particular point in the context of that lesson and maybe revise that grammatical point in the following lesson before we move on to a new grammatical point. Although some pupils remember a particular grammar point learnt in the past, this is often a bit of a hit and miss situation and some will remember it in the long term but many will have forgotten days, weeks or months down the line. So, the aim is to research and find a particular method that I could employ in the classroom that would commit the grammatical points covered to the pupils’ long term memory as opposed to short term memory only.

Literature Review
Ian Stonnell recommended a book from the staffroom shelf by Daniel T Willingham called “Why Don’t Students Like School” and in particular, Chapter 3 (Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say) However, my attention was also drawn to Chapter 5 (Is Drilling Worth It) and I ended up reading that one too. I also read 7 articles in the publication SecEd by Matt Bromley published in the first term of the academic year 2017/18.

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The main finding of my research was that you cannot store everything in your short-term memory. Therefore, things will not go into your long-term memory unless they have been in your working memory. Repetition and exposure are also obvious to make learning work. Whatever you think about is what you remember.  The implication for teachers is that they must therefore plan and organise ideas/material in a coherent way so that students will understand and remember it and give maximum exposure to those ideas/that material. Students must practise regularly in order to learn the facts and skills they need.  It is impossible to become proficient at something without extended practice and drilling is an excellent way of using the working memory. Practice makes memory long lasting. You get longer lasting memory because you practise more and because your practice is stretched over time. Practice also improves transferring what you already know to new contexts/situations. But what should be practised? If practice makes mental processes automatic, what needs to become automatic?  The answer is the building blocks of skills.  Building blocks are the things that are done again and again in a subject area and they are the prerequisites for more advanced work e.g. grammar in a modern foreign language.

The aim is to focus on my year 7 groups, both A band set 1 and B band set 1. I have designed a series of grammatical powerpoint presentations to be used as starters.  However, instead of focusing on one particular point for a lesson only as in the past, I am choosing a key grammatical point and producing six starters for a whole half term practising the same grammatical point in one out of the two lessons each week and building on that point every week. The time frame set is to practise over at least a half term, but if time allows to do so over two half terms practising two key grammatical points.

The intended impact is that the pupils will become more proficient at that particular grammatical points with prolonged practise, that they will have committed it to their long-term memory as the result of extended practice and also that they will then be able to apply it to new contexts in the future when that same grammatical point surfaces.  It should also result in greater accuracy in their written and spoken work as well as in translation work as the grammatical points will be practised through a series of activities in the PowerPoint presentations which includes translation both ways (in and out of the target language).

I hope I will see an improvement in pupils’ scores in the starters as in the first half (weeks 1 to 3) they will be allowed to look at their notes to do the activities but in the second half (weeks 4 to 6) they will do them in test conditions.  I also hope to see a marked improvement in spoken work, written work such as paragraph writing and in end of half termly assessments (where we assess listening, reading, speaking, writing and translation skills) as well as end of year exams. I will compare quantitative data i.e. previous results to new assessment results. Finally, I would like to see a distinct growth in confidence when pupils are working on grammar in lessons.

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Implementation and impact
At the start of the process I identified a key grammatical point that needed further practise due to repeated misconceptions or mistakes being made by pupils. Pupils were confused about there being four words for ‘the’ in Spanish, two words for ‘a’ and two words for ‘some’. Despite these points having been introduced and practised at the start of the academic year, errors were still being made. This led to me producing six starters for a whole half term practising the same grammatical point in one out of the two lessons each week and building on that point every week. This was then delivered to two sets in different bands, 7ASp1 and 7BSp1.

Each PowerPoint starter consisted of drilling the same grammatical point, practice of that point through translation to and from Spanish and an extension task for early finishers.  In weeks 1 to 3 they were allowed to look at their notes to do the activities but in the second half (weeks 4 and 5), they did the translations under  test conditions to determine whether pupils had well and truly grasped the point . They then peer marked the answer sheets and they were then handed in to the teacher to appraise impact. I found that 60% of pupils across both groups achieved full marks, 20% of pupils achieved 75% or more but the other 20% of pupils (mainly the lowest ability students) had not made as much progress as I would have liked, achieving 50% or less. No pupil got 0%.

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After eliciting feedback from both groups through the AFL technique of traffic lighting, it was clear that the pupils found the strategy (and PowerPoint) useful as well as enjoyable and were able to articulate that they had particularly liked the repetitive nature of it, constantly drilling and recycling the same grammatical point.  I also detected a distinct growth in confidence when working on grammar. What I had not anticipated was a very welcome by product of the whole process which was that their translation skills also markedly improved in general when translating into English and into Spanish as this skill was also being practised regularly in every starter. This strategy has been implemented by the French department for a whole year now and Sandrine Florand, our line manager, described the grammar PowerPoint to me as being “a very powerful tool in the MFL teaching of grammar”.

Practice/Recycle/Reinforce/Revise key knowledge on a regular basis through the medium of starters.  This could take many forms e.g. quick quizzes, drilling, testing (multiple choice, short or long answers, translation), etc.  It should be systematic, built into the weekly routine and therefore part of your scheme of work. For example in languages pupils know that they will have a vocabulary test on one of the two lessons in the week and a grammar PowerPoint with activities in the second. Allowing this time for practice and repetition of specific knowledge (a certain topic or point) for a whole half term will consequently become a habit and part of long term memory.

I feel there is enough evidence to roll out this strategy with all year groups and all key stages. This is a huge endeavour for one person only, however, and would work better if teachers collaborated and worked together in sharing the workload, undertaking to produce the starters for a particular year group or whole key stage. It will take time to produce but once done the resources could be shared centrally so that all teachers of that subject can reap the benefits.

Daniel T Willingham. Why Don’t Students Like School (Chapter 3 – Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say)
Daniel T Willingham. Why Don’t Students Like School (Chapter 5 – Is Drilling Worth It?)
Article SecEd 14/09/17 by Matt Bromley. Improving the Learning Process.
Article SecEd 21/09/17 by Matt Bromley. Comfortable with Discomfort – Creating a Positive Learning Environment.
Article SecEd 28/09/17 by Matt Bromley. Memory – Sense and Sensibility.
Article SecEd  05/10/17 by Matt Bromley. Hard Times.
Article SecEd  02/11/17 by Matt Bromley. Practice Makes Perfect.
Article SecEd  09/11/17 by Matt Bromley. Deliberately Difficult.
Article SecEd  16/11/17 by Matt Bromley. It’s Quiz Time.

Annabelle Head

You can follow Matt Bromley and Daniel Willingham on twitter

Friday, 13 September 2019

Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction - Jess Pather

Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction resonate with me as a classroom practitioner because it pretty much focuses on the everyday self-reflective processes of teaching and learning - those universal aspects. Enjoy this article by Andy McHugh published in this month's issue of Sec Ed.

You can also read Rosenshine's original article 'Principles of Instruction' first hand here.

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You can follow Jess Pather on Twitter @JPather74

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

VLOG#1 - Technology for Learning - Using tour creator in PE and Geography - Ian Hayden and Mattaya Nabarro

Ever thought about getting more experimental with technology? Thanks to Google there are a whole range of applications that can help engage students. In this VLOG we have Ian Hayden (Geography) and Mattaya Nabarro (PE) talking to us about their use of Google Tour creator and how it can improve engagement in their subjects.

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If you want to know more about how to use tour creator at Denbigh you can speak to Emma Darcy, Ian Hayden or read a user guide here.

Follow Ian on @IanHayden8
Follow Mattaya on @MissNabarroPE
Follow Emma on @darcyprior

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Using 'Power Spots' to address low-level disruption in Geography - Mqliza Sikdar

Research and development focus
The focus of the research is reducing low-level disruption through effective teacher presence in the classroom. Features of low-level disruption are stated by Ofsted (2014) as any distracting behaviour which does not threaten the safety of students but includes actions such as:

  • Talking unnecessarily or chatting 
  • Calling out without permission, 
  • Being slow to start work or follow instructions
  • Showing a lack of respect for each other and staff 
  • Not bringing the right equipment. 

It is argued that all behaviour is linked to emotions, and thus as teachers our jobs are to develop emotional intelligence in students in order for them to achieve the best academic and personal outcomes (Kilby, 2018). The way to do this is (a) build effective relationships between students and teacher (b) set clear expectations of behaviour using sanctions and rewards and (c) maintaining a physical ‘presence’ in the classroom in three “powerful places”; at the door, at the front of the class (in ‘your’ space), and at the back of the class; in ‘their’ space (Wirth, 2019).

From our group discussions we noted that as there was a school-wide procedure of “meet-and-greet” students are usually engaged at the beginning of the lessons. However, low-level disruption in the form of chatter, or passivity usually starts when students are seated at their desks.

Literature Review
The article “Behaviour: Rules vs Expectations” questions whether the emphasis on sanctions and rewards is the best response to managing challenging behaviour and ensuring the best outcomes for students, particularly when it could be counterproductive to “developing well-rounded, intrinsically driven individuals”.

The article by Stafford (2018) explores the underlying causes of challenging behaviour, whether this is considered a mental health problem, and looks at other underlying causes, for example, reading age, depression or ADHD. Stafford (2018) argues for the need of diagnosis and a whole-school approach to mental health and well-being rather than focusing on sanctions.

Wirth (2019) states the importance of space in establishing authority in the classroom. The key spots are stated to be at the (a) class door where the teacher should greet and welcome each student, (b) in front of the whiteboard, which is the teacher’s “power spot” and lastly (c) the back wall of the classroom which is “their” space. Wirth suggests that the more “expert” teachers use these three spots strategically to establish classroom behaviour.

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The front of the classroom is the teacher's 'power spot', yet not always the best place to position oneself.

I am to focus on the use of these three “power spots” with a middle ability year 8 class that can be unsettled at certain points within the lesson. I already use the space at the door to welcome students and stand in front of the whiteboard to teach, so I will focus on the impact of being in “their” space against the back wall to explore the impact of this on pupil behaviour.

I will practice using these three places of power over a six week period and evaluate each lesson for low-level disruption by keeping a learning log. I will then compare the first lesson with the last lesson to see if there have been any improvement in pupil behaviour since the beginning of the intervention.

I will also compare the evaluations to a lesson reflection I have done with this class before beginning the intervention.

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A teacher occupying the students space.
Implementation and Impact
The class is made up mainly of boys who have a close friendship group and they can get unsettled quite easily. The meet and greet at the class door was already being used prior to this study. This meant lessons started off well however during the course of the lesson some low-level disruption (LLD) would appear.

For the first lesson in the research period I conducted my lesson as usual. I was teaching mainly at the front of the class and only went towards the back of the classroom when checking on progress during individual work. I did not use the back wall when teaching. This was to make this lesson a control to compare with the intervention.

From evaluating the first lesson I found that students would lose focus when I was standing at the front constantly during whole-class teaching. I noted that “after ten minutes two tables at the back started to whisper to each other. I addressed them with a question and this re-focused them. Went to check on them after to check they were focused.”

For the next five lessons I tried to use the back wall as the “third space of power” when whole-class teaching. About five minutes into verbal questioning I would travel to the back of the class and target a student with a question whilst standing at the back wall. This engaged students in the back two rows. However some students were distracted by the movement as they were not used to seeing this. I observed this in the learning log:

 “...ZA started to snigger and look at ON as I approached the back wall. ZA made a response like “what’s going on?” as he found the situation humorous.” Similar reactions did occur in the second lesson however in further lessons they had become more accustomed to movement around the classroom during targeted questioning. In the last lesson the students in the back rows seemed to be more engaged during the whole lesson. I reflected in the learning log that:

“ON started to raise hands within the first few minutes of the feedback session and ZA was repeatedly raising hand to join in with the discussion. However MR lost focus and as he could not see me at the back started to whisper across the table.” The student MA was sitting in the front row. I believe he may have begun to become disengaged as I was no longer as present at the front of the classroom where he sits. This reflection shows that the movement of the teacher around the room can be a useful tool in keeping students engaged. However the movement may need to be varied and frequent to keep all students engaged at the same time.

Further research
Further research could explore the effect of time on the impact of teacher presence at different spaces within the classroom. The presence of the three spaces may be most effective at different times in the lessons as well. For example, during targeted questioning it could be insightful to explore the length of time a teacher should spend at each space of power and how this affects engaged of all pupils in the classroom.


  1. For effective teaching and engagement of all pupils in lessons teachers should think carefully about their positioning in the classroom.
  2. Teachers should avoid limiting their presence to one part of the classroom as the presence of the teacher can help to keep students engaged throughout the lesson.
  3. Movement in the classroom should not become a distracting factor which then leads to lower level disrption.


You can follow Mqliza on Twitter @MqlizaS

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

How to engage with the education debate

The world of online education research and debate is a daunting one to any teacher looking to start getting involved. There are hundreds tweeters, dozens of education blogs and several education sites all of which can enlighten but also confuse. It is hard to know where to begin and where to find the quality. So, as a teacher looking to get involved and learn something new what do you do? Here is a short guide to start getting involved.

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1) Get on Twitter and start to follow some of the main teaching blogs and education celebrities. You can start by following @DenbighCPD and have a look at who I am following (minus all the cricketers). A useful Twitter hashtag to search for is #Edutwitter. I would highly recommend Tom Sherrington and David Didau as people to follow.

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2) Start looking at some of the best teaching and learning blogs. I have provided a list of links to many of these blogs on this site (look to the right if on the desktop site). These blogs routinely use academic evidence to support their strategies and can also be followed on twitter. Bear in mind that there are many subject specific blogs and sites that I have not included in this list.
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3) Consider joining or subscribing to some of the larger organisations that provide research informed strategies such as the Chartered College of Teaching and ResearchED. These organisations are leading the way in evidence informed practice. ResearchED also host several events across the country through the year that are well worth a visit. Denbigh will be running another trip for teachers this year.

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4) Fancy a listen? There are several podcasts that can replace bedtime reading and help you to nod off. The learning Scientist podcast is a great start and here is a good list of some other podcasts that may tickle your fancy. 

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5) Experiment with what you learn. Perhaps pick up one strategy and idea and give it a go - see if it works and if it does keep on using it and why not share!?

I am sure that once you start getting involved you will find lots of things that will inspire you - I haven't met many teachers who haven't found it beneficial - perhaps just avoid getting into any protracted and unnecessary twitter debates unless you like that kind of thing!

Good Luck!

Thursday, 4 July 2019


Welcome to the new Denbigh High School Teaching and Learning Blog. On this blog you will find posts contributing to the latest discussion in teaching and learning as well as research conducted by our very own staff about their own implementation of new teaching and learning strategies.

We hope you enjoy the content posted here and that it may inspire you in your own teaching and learning journey.

All the best,

Ian Stonnell

Assistant Headteacher for Professional Development
Denbigh High School, Luton.

Applying Memory and Recall Strategies to MFL - Annabelle Head

Research and development focus: The focus of my research was in memory and recall. In relation to the teaching and learning going on i...