Best Lesson Series #2 Art

The second in an occasional series of ‘best lessons’, this one from Richard in the Art Department.


Attached are two powerpoints from lessons this week that have worked really well.

One is from a Junior school, the other is from a senior school class but both work in the same/similar way.

The lesson begins with the starter task of either working in pairs (junior school) or individuals (senior school) to study images by the artist that they will learn about in that lesson. (They will not have seen much of this work before).

This is done in a few minutes and either on sticky lables or small paper they write down key words or phrases. With the year 7 lesson I even had a song related to Picassos Blue Period playing in the background…which they loved.

Then the lesson is split into smaller tasks.

With year 6, they study LS Lowry’s style of drawing and practice this technique. First focussing on the figures and then moving onto the buildings. The idea being that when they come to produce their main piece of work (a Lowry style painting/drawing of the La Storta campus) that they have already learned the techniques needed.

With year 7, they first focus on producing a textured background using mixed media (which in its own right is a good piece of work) and then on top they will add a portrait in the style of either Picasso or a similar artist (but is slightly easier for those that struggle with drawing to do). This is related to previous lessons work where they have looked at portraiture.

In both lessons, the plenary is to reitterate any homework and to revise the key facts/words that they have learned about.

The feedback from the year 7’s was really positive and the year 6’s were very mature in their understanding of the artwork and some of them also liked the fact that I could link Lowry to Manchester United!

Sutton Trust ‘Great Teaching’


On Friday 31st October, The Sutton Trust published their most event research into what makes great teaching. The team, led by Professor Coe from Durham University, sought to identify particular teaching practices, approaches and techniques which had the most significant impact on student outcomes.

Quite simply they say:

We define effective teaching as that which leads to improved student achievement using outcomes that matter to their future success. Defining effective teaching is not easy. The research keeps coming back to this critical point: student progress is the yardstick by which teacher quality should be assessed. Ultimately, for a judgement about whether teaching is effective, to be seen as trustworthy, it must be checked against the progress being made by students.

The full report represents, on a number of levels, a challenge to aspects of progressive teaching methods. Many of the recent new practice orthodoxies, discovery learning, learning styles, active learning, are identified as having limited impact. While often maligned ‘traditional’ approaches such as the quality of direct instruction and subject knowledge are identified as having a significant impact on student outcomes

I strongly advise you read the full report, there are significant risks associated with taking a few headlines and developing any new pedagogical approach on these. However as a starting point the key teaching approaches identified as having the most significant impact were.

  1. (Pedagogical) content knowledge (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)

The most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students’ learning. As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.

  1. Quality of instruction (Strong evidence of impact on student outcomes)

Includes elements such as effective questioning and use of assessment by teachers. Specific practices, like reviewing previous learning, providing model responses for students, giving adequate time for practice to embed skills securely and progressively introducing new learning (scaffolding) are also elements of high quality instruction.

  1. Classroom climate (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)

Covers quality of interactions between teachers and students, and teacher expectations: the need to create a classroom that is constantly demanding more, but still recognising students’ self-worth. It also involves attributing student success to effort rather than ability and valuing resilience to failure

  1. Classroom management (Moderate evidence of impact on student outcomes)

A teacher’s abilities to make efficient use of lesson time, to coordinate classroom resources and space, and to manage students’ behaviour with clear rules that are consistently enforced, are all relevant to maximising the learning that can take place. These environmental factors are necessary for good learning rather than its direct components.

  1. Teacher beliefs (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)

Why teachers adopt particular practices, the purposes they aim to achieve, their theories about what learning is and how it happens and their conceptual models of the nature and role of teaching in the learning process all seem to be important.

  1. Professional behaviours (Some evidence of impact on student outcomes)

Behaviours exhibited by teachers such as reflecting on and developing professional practice, participation in professional development, supporting colleagues, and liaising and communicating with parents.

In addition the team evaluated the impact of number of teaching strategies which, while widely used, were identified as having little notable impact on learning, these were.

Use praise lavishly

Allow learners to discover key ideas for themselve

Group learners by ability

Encourage re-reading and highlighting to memorise key ideas

Address issues of confidence and low aspirations before you try to teach content

Present information to learners in their preferred learning style

Ensure learners are always active, rather than listening passively, if you want them to remember

So what lessons can we draw for this? It would be foolish to career headlong into action without careful consideration of context. It is also dubious to expect a proscribed list of actions to provide a panacea to all our teaching desires. Having said this of many of the recommendations in the report seem eminently sensible. Summarised below are some early thoughts on how we can improve the quality of teaching at SGBIS.

Improving the quality of teaching

Raise awareness of educational research

Develop a robust professional learning culture

Provide opportunities to share best practice

Develop tools to enable systematic reflection and evaluation on the impact of teaching

Improving measurement of the quality of teaching

Triangulate data to measure effectiveness over time

Improve measurement tools enabling a wider input from both staff and students

I would be interested in any thoughts on this.

‘Best lesson’ series 1 History

Lesson 10 My lai

A_turning_point_My_Lai diff


Response 1

Of course the very idea of a best lesson is a misnomer. What works wonderfully in one context and with one class will fall flat with another, the same is true in reverse. However we have all experienced lessons when interest, engagement, curiosity and intellect combine to produce wonderful results. Those moments when it all seems to flow, new knowledge is quickly attached onto old and skills become quickly embedded. This series of posts aims to celebrate those moments. We aim to showcase lessons from across all subjects and with every age group. They may, or may not, include a brief write up from the teacher. Similarly they may or may not include materials and resources. However they, hopefully, all share one thing in common, enabling students to make excellent progress.

This was a Year 10 history lesson. The topic was the Vietnam War which comprised the coursework element of the gcse. The students had studied the background to the Vietnam War, the key stages and of US involvement and escalation of US forces after the Gulf of Tonkin. After looking at US and VC military tactics this lesson focused on My Lai. It was crucial to give students opportunities to reflect on the actions of C company in the context of the wider war. The focus was on how far My Lai could be considered a turning point, both on the frontline but more especially on the home front. Subsequent lessons would address events post My Lai with a focus on the growing support for and influence of the anti war movement in America.

I am including the lesson resources and plan. I hope they are a useful starting point for discussion.

Taxonomies of thinking

Taxonomies are great. From planning, through group work onto questioning and finally assessment and feedback they can help provide suitable markers of progress for both student and teacher. The taxonomy most often quoted, referred to and used in the classroom was developed by Benjamin Bloom.


Blooms taxonomy places thinking skills within a hierarchy from low order (knowledge) to high order (synthesis). It can be really powerful in framing suitable verbs for lesson objectives and structuring tiered questioning.

For example in history Blooms style verbs can be used to provide differentiated practice exam questions, see the example below:


Low/Mid Order Thinking C Describe the consequences of the French Revolution

Mid Order Thinking B Explain the consequences of the French Revolution

High Order Thinking A Evaluate the consequences of the French Revolution


The content in each question remains the same. However the task is differentiated according to prior attainment and understanding, providing an access point and allowing all to make progress from their particular starting point. Attached is a guide to using Blooms to help frame suitable learning objectives.

Used in a different way Blooms can be very powerful in questioning, providing suitable question starters which can then be targeted at students across the attainment spectrum. If these are carefully targeted and tiered they allow all the class to make a positive contribution while moving swiftly from low to high order thinking.


With a little preparation it can make a very useful plenary, see the example below

Critique the interpretation that the role of women changed significantly as a result of World War One
Compare the impact of World War One and World War Two on the role of Women
Explain one way in which the Role of Women changed as a result of World War One
Identify one way in which the Role of Women changed as a result of World War One




In this example Blooms style questions have been formed around the key lesson content and provided for all the students. They are then encouraged either to begin answering the low order questions and seeing how far they get, or start at specific a point based on prior understanding in the lesson and seeing if they can develop this by one or two levels of thinking.

While Blooms has dominated educational taxonomies a not very new contender has recently challenged this position.

SOLO taxonomy shares many similarities with Blooms. It is a hierarchical ordering of thinking ordered into five stages from prestuctural to abstract relational. See the diagram below.



Advocates of SOLO claim it greater benefits for both teacher and student. In addition to informing planning it gives very clear frameworks for progress. SOLO has a wide range of possible applications. From planning outline programmes of study and schemes of work, though tiered starter and questioning activities to organizing SOLO stations for group work and finally in providing structured feedback to help move student on. This has been helpfully summarized as:

‘feed up’ your students on where they are going;

give them ‘feedback’ on how well they are doing

and ‘feed forward’ on their next learning steps.

More on SOLO in the next edition of the Learning Review.

Framing and sharing learning objectives


differentiated approach to planning questions_Blooms_Taxonomy_in_Action

Would you get on a bus or tram without knowing the direction you were traveling in, would you choose to organize a race without a clear start and finish point or arrange to meet somebody but not tell them where, in effect leaving them stranded. The answer to these is, in most cases, no.

Similarly as teachers it is vital we know the direction of travel, That we give careful consideration to the starting point, what my students already know, and the intended destination, what new knowledge and skills I would like them to develop in this lesson.

Planning lessons around activities rather than specific learning aims can often lead to misunderstanding, misconceptions and can limit progress. Therefore we need to give careful consideration to the framing and sharing of the key objectives. Already we are in a minefield; we can discuss aims, objectives and outcomes sometimes simultaneously yet without differentiating between them.

For the purposes of clarity I would propose that we consider the following as a useful rule of thumb:

Aims are broad statements of what learning you hope to generate

Objectives are statements of what you are setting out to teach

Outcomes are are the skills and knowledge which it is intended that students should be able to demonstrate

One we have navigated this challenge we need to consider wording. Phrases such as ‘to know’ or ‘to understand’ demand low order thinking skills. They do not stretch students or promote deep learning. Once again we can turn to Bloom, this time to consider carefully the most appropriate verbs which will action learning. Within any lesson this may require two or three different verbs, which when linked closely to the tasks and activities provide both challenge and support for learners at both end of the attainments spectrum.

To be able to identify the causes of the Wall Street Crash

To be able to explain the causes of the Wall Street Crash

To be able to assess the causes of the Wall Street Crash

The example above is simple but effective. Not only does it differentiate the aims it can also be used to differentiate the tasks, providing suitable access points and clear instructions for all.

Once you have framed the objectives how best to share with the students? It is important for the students to know the aims but is it necessary for them to write them, a range of teachers will have differing views on this. Attached is a link to 51 ways to share objectives. The key advice would seem to be, share them in any way you like, but share them!

Assessment for Learning

William AfL keynote


Having discussed questioning in the last post it makes sense to place this within the context of wider assessment for learning strategies here. Questioning might be thought of as forming one quarter of the assessment for learning pie alongside planning, feedback and with peer and self-assessment.

The diagram below illustrates this well.


Afl is not new. William and Black made a strong case for its inclusion in the teacher’s toolkit way back in 1997 with Inside the Black Box.

We all probably know a good number of strategies which could be defined as AFL. Dylan William has defined five key strands

These are:

-clarifying and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success

-engineering effective classroom discussions, questions and tasks that elicit evidence of learning

-providing feedback that moves learners forward

-activating students as instructional resources for each other, and

-activating students as owners of their own learning

An interesting debate between William and David Didau, author of the Learning Spy has highlighted further how the debate about what AFL is and isn’t and how it can be applied in the classroom with maximum impact continues to develop. The link to their discussion is below.

For what’s it is worth I am no great fan of the thumbs up/down, five fingers in the air if you are confident type of AFL These tend to elicit the response the students think the teacher wants, not least if they form part of the plenary session and are the ticket to a quick exit from the classroom. Much better to place AFL within a holistic approach to teaching and learning.

Some thoughts on how we might do this are below:

Firstly carefully consider the students starting point, what knowledge skills and understanding do they already have on this topic, what transferable skills can we draw on from other subject areas, what is our starting point?

Next what do we want them to learn in this lesson or series of lessons, focussing not just the ‘what’ but the ‘how’. How can we frame and share these objectives? Taxonomies such a Blooms and SOLO can be useful constructing learning objectives helping to bring both clarity and challenge.

The next stage is to consider the organization of the learning, ensuring that each activity builds carefully on the previous one and the link to the overall objectives are clear and that the learning is carefully scaffolded.

The balance of independent, supported, group and whole class work needs to be considered to maximize opportunities for participation, collaboration, independence, support and intervention.

Planning opportunities for reflection, not artificial mid lesson plenaries which aim to measure infinitesimal degrees of progress, but significant opportunities to enable the student and teacher to reflect on what they are learning, what new ideas they have developed and the particular difficulties they may be facing.

Planning questioning at key points in the learning to probe, extend, challenge and intervene. This is crucial in gathering feedback on progress and helping to identify and overcome barriers to learning.

Providing significant opportunities for students to self and peer assess their work, applying and mastering the assessment criteria. Over time and with careful guidance allowing the students to construct their own success criteria and assessing their own progress against these.

Reflecting on progress and highlighting key areas which remain a challenge and need to be addressed in subsequent lessons. Most of the time this will occur in a plenary session.

After the lesson marking students work, providing formative comments and suggestions and giving them the opportunity to respond to this and improve their work as with a minimal time gap. (More on this in subsequent posts).

Before finally thinking about what progress has been made and how best to sequence and organize the next sequence of learning.

The description above seems equally applicable to a lesson, cycle or whole unit of work. It is not a straitjacket to be followed, rather an approach to be considered, adapted, tweaked, twisted and made appropriate to the subject topic class and teacher

Attached are some materials related to AFL which provide a good starting point for further discussion.


Developing Effective Questioning differentiated approach to planning questions_Blooms_Taxonomy_in_Action Questioning Audit Questioning strategies Questioning

Teachers ask hundreds of questions a day. It would not be far wrong to suggest that skilled questioning, a rich mix of probing, challenging, redefining and stretching student understanding is the single most important skill a teacher needs. It is free, requires no ICT support or significant INSET expense and provides instant feedback on understanding and progress. If skilfully applied and monitored it can promote effective collaboration and reflection and support students to feel confident in their own ideas, promoting confidence and high levels of engagement.

It is rare today to see an extended period of questioning where students sit passively while the teacher asks a series of questions to three or four members of the class. The old rules, hands up in silence, nanoseconds to think and fastest hand wins are long gone: so what does excellent questioning look like?

Two key approaches that require little in the way of pre-planning but have huge impact are:

Wait Time (into No Hands)

Very simple, embarrassingly so as a teaching strategy really, but the impact it has on the quality of responses is profound. Pose a question (even better pose a range of questions linked to Blooms or Solo taxonomy). Wait….give a specified time for all to consider their ideas, think through their response and prepare an answer, say 1 minute. Then select a student to respond and check with the rest of the class for agreement or disagreement, extension or development.

Think Pair Share

Also very simple, pose the question(s) and give students wait time (very similar to above really). This time follow this up with one minute’s paired/group discussion, before rolling this into a whole class discussion. This works really well if you monitor closely the group discussion and pick out groups who had opposing or differing points and ask these to justify and defend their ideas against one another.

Both of the above give students time to consider their ideas, and do not allow a few, fast thinking individuals to dominate speaking and listening activities. They can also be really powerful in validating a less confident students thinking, checking this against their peers and supporting their willingness to share with the wider group.

Two very interesting blog posts are below, along with a series of resources and strategies which might be a useful starting point for discussion.