Take-Away Revision

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘I’m looking forward to revising for my exams!’, said no student ever.

Revision is a fact of life for students preparing for exams and for many it may seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  Building revision time into your scheme of work, teaching students effective and efficient revision strategies and lots and lots of exam practice will all help but the fact remains – revision is about hard work.

Once students have faced the fact that revision is a necessity if they wish to achieve their best results, then offering them support, encouragement and resources is the teacher’s next job.

One of the ways in which you can do this is to provide them with a ‘Take-Away Revision Bag’.

Goody bag 2

In the bags go…

  • ‘What is the examiner looking for from each question?’ guides
  • ‘How to answer different types of exam questions’ guides
  • Revision booklets
  • Past papers
  • Worksheets
  • Factsheets
  • Pen and Pencil
  • A highlighter
  • Blank revision cards
  • Post-its
  • Sweets
  • A personal message from me

Goody bag 3

Once students have been given their take-away bag they can add to them, or use them to keep all their revision materials and notes together in one place.

Students then bring elements of the bag to each lesson to use.

The bags also  mean they are able to work through different tasks at their own pace and plan their own revision.

Goody bag 4

I am then able to use the time gained from having pre-planned the revision activities to analyse their exam answers to target further revision on required topics or to focus on the needs of individual students.

The students were delighted by their revision ‘gift’ and it gave them a lift when undertaking the hard work that was being demanded of them.

Goody bag 1

Why not offer your students a take-away!

Learning with Games

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘To play or not to play?’, that is the question.  Are games a valuable tool in the teacher’s arsenal of learning strategies or are they a distraction and trivialisation of education?

Go fish

Figure 1: Go Fishing: hook yourself a question and provide an answer.  Get it right and keep your catch.  Get it wrong and the fish goes back in the pond

There are those who would argue that we as teachers are ‘educators not entertainers’ and there are indeed times when we need to remind our pupils of that.  However, there are also times when the enthusiasm and engagement engendered by ‘playing’ a game in class can be harnessed to serve the teacher’s purpose, whether it be to acquire knowledge, reinforce learning or to develop critical thinking skills.


Figure 2: Jenga.  Take a question from the pile and a block with a points score written on it.  Answer the question and score the points.  Get it wrong and no points are scored and the question goes back in the pile

As teachers our priority is to ensure that the learning behind our choice of teaching strategy remains the key focus of our lessons and games do not become an end in themselves.

Guess who - what's for dinner

Figure 3: Guess What’s for Dinner? Swap the cards in the ‘Guess who?’ boxes for food related words and concepts and then take it turn to question your opponent until you have worked out what the answer is

Games do have many educational virtues to commend them, not least the development of social skills such as cooperation and teamwork  but perhaps above all, it is the sense of engagement they can foster that makes them a useful learning tool.

Labelling game

Figure 4: The Labelling Game  Compete with a friend to produce the most detailed ‘Nutri-Man’ and ‘Healthy Hands’

Taking the principle or format of some of the most popular or simple games that have stood the test of time and adapting them to the classroom can be a very effective teaching strategy.  Simplicity is key to making such games work.  Take a familiar format from a traditional game (snakes and ladders, hangman) or one from the popular culture (Who wants to be a millionaire?, Top Trumps, Guess Who?) and you have a head start as pupils know how to play the game.

A carousel of such games (as shown in the pictures) can make an engaging revision session.

Why not visit your local charity shops and pick up the games people no longer want and re-purpose them in your classroom!

Featured image: ‘Dice, game’ by OpenClip-Art Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain


Improving pupils’ handwriting

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Sarah Barker (English)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Teachers are expert at deciphering poor handwriting.  Whether it be the last footsteps of a spider who has dragged its eight, ink-stained legs across the page of an exercise book, or the text that has taken leave of the lines  to wander freely about the page in defiance of the laws of gravity.  However, there are times when even the most skilled and experienced of teachers is left stumped by what a pupil has written.

Expressing oneself clearly in writing is a skill for life, not to mention the desire we have to ensure that the examiner will be able to read our pupils’ answers!

Improving handwriting, especially when a pupil is well into their teens is a challenge and requires real effort and concentration once writing habits have been formed.

K Before

Figure 1. A pupil’s handwriting BEFORE handwriting practice

One strategy promoted by the English Faculty to develop ‘automaticity’ in handwriting for pupils in all year groups, is to go back to basics and consciously and deliberately practise some of the basic building blocks of handwriting as an activity in its own right.

Separating out the task of improving handwriting from the challenge of writing a considered evaluation of an extract from Shakespeare, works to the benefit of both endeavours.  Improve the physical skill and then apply it to the intellectual challenge.


Figure 2. A pupil’s handwriting AFTER handwriting practice

So, you might open an exercise book to see that a 15 year old boy spent the first few minutes of the lesson ‘writing’ lines of ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’, followed by a line of breaking waves.  Or in a 13 year old girl’s book lines of ‘a’s, ‘c’s and ‘d’s have been carefully scribed as the first part of a homework assignment.   In this way the basics of a legible script are developed and when applied to the written work to follow, handwriting improves, the pupil feels a sense of pride and the teacher breathes a sigh of relief that they  (the examiner, the college admissions tutor and the future employer) will be able to read what has been written.


Featured image: ‘Font, lettering’  by Victorian Lady on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Public Domain


Scaffolding and Differentiation

An Action Research project by Teresa Howe

My action research project was born out of a realisation that as a primary trained teacher I would naturally scaffold and differentiate for the pupils in my class. I could quickly establish their needs, and therefore adapt my teaching style and resources (often overnight). Transferring to teach in a secondary setting, teaching Year 8 and 9 English as well as SEND pupils in a nurture class, highlighted that scaffolding and differentiation were paramount in lesson planning. I felt that my skills in Scaffolding and Differentiation needed refreshing. I was also aware that there were many approaches that I still had to learn and try.

Rebecca Alber in her blog post ‘Scaffolding lessons- six strategies’ on Edutopia.org explains both the difference and connection between the two clearly. Scaffolding is ‘breaking up’ the learning into chunks and then modelling or explaining the tool to help. For example, when scaffolding for reading you may do one or many different things prior to work on the text. You may discuss the nature of the text and key vocabulary. Alternatively, you may chunk the text and read and discuss each part as you go. Differentiation might involve you giving a different piece of text to a pupil, or you may give a shortened or altered version. You may also modify the writing task associated with the text.

In my opinion, there are many approaches used in primary teaching that are useful tools in secondary teaching. The most important approach, I feel is flexibility. It is having the confidence to adapt and change set lesson plans to best suit an immediate pupil need.

I heard a fabulous example of this given by a PGCE tutor, who observed a student using a block of post it notes. During a task, the student would assess the progress of pupils and jot a note of help/advice/challenge to pupils and pop it on the desk next to them.

The student explained this as ‘instant differentiation’.

One of the classroom management tools I find very effective, no matter what level a pupil is working at, or whether they have a particular learning need, is a visual lesson plan displayed to the class giving a brief LIST of the steps or activities to be completed in the lesson. This helps pupils (and you) to focus on what to expect and acts as a reminder as to how far the lesson has progressed. I have used this with all my classes, small groups and when teaching individuals. It has  worked especially well with challenging groups of boys who have a reading intervention with me.

I’ve also found this useful when needing to ‘change’ the lesson content / order / recording method to suit the needs of the group (flexibility). The pupils appear to appreciate that their needs have been taken into account when you are crossing through your ideas and writing the new ‘agreed’ task.

Scaffolds and differentiated tasks, including visual aids, benefit all pupils. I’ve found that when pupils become familiar with the variety and range of activities that form part of your everyday lessons, they are not seen as ‘the easier option’ but rather, a different way of working. A good way to introduce this is by using a ‘tick-tack-toe’ or ‘noughts and crosses’ grid. This gives the pupils a choice of 9 activities (on a 3X3 grid). They have to choose 1 activity from each row but they make the choice. (You select tasks that you know give all pupils in your class the ability to access the lesson and use prior learning). Other consolidating or starter activities could be loop games, matching activities or sequencing tasks.

Since starting my action research, I have become more interested and stimulated by the needs of Dyslexic Pupils, primarily, when I began working with a statemented pupil and others who showed strong dyslexic tendencies, particularly with regards to literacy. As a result, I adapted my activities (scaffolding and differentiation) for intervention with these pupils and assessed their impact. The area that is crucial for such pupils before expecting them to complete tasks is to ensure that they are organised in preparation for both their learning and then recording. The lesson plan plays an important role, as does giving them model answers and creating opportunities for shared writing. Mostly for me, this would be teacher/pupil shared writing which proved very successful with groups of boys. Shared writing is not cheating but a way in which a group can learn from and teach each other.

One important fact became evident from my initial work with groups.  I was not always ‘chunking’ information into small enough steps, I assumed too much as far as the skills a secondary aged pupil would have. I found myself revising initial tasks set, chunking information into smaller steps. I ensured step by step instructions with model sentence starters. Diagrams and mind maps proved to be essential in allowing the pupil to both access and complete the task. Another crucial discovery was that the time needed to complete an extended task was at least doubled. I became more realistic about the quantity of work output as well as the amount of practise time needed before independent work would follow. Consolidation exercises, such as loop games, were essential in raising the self-esteem of dyslexic and other SEND pupils.  All of these scaffolds and differentiated tasks contributed to the groups progress.


The most ‘obvious’ point I learned when trying new approaches in my teaching is to not expect the pupils to ‘know’ what or how they want to do something – without first giving them choices and ideas. With a few hints and scaffolded activities they develop the confidence to ‘have a go’ and follow their own instincts. They know that, using my lesson plan, I will keep them focused if they go ‘off piste’.

The resounding success was the lesson plan/structure.

Next Steps

During my research, particularly of the US websites, I regularly heard the phrase ‘having a growth mindset’. I liked this quote which made its meaning clearer for me.

Carissa Romero’s Tch blog post:

“People with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is innate. This belief can make school a threatening place. It becomes a place to go to learn how smart you are — or how smart you’re not. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe intelligence can be developed. For these students, school can be an exciting place, as it provides them with an opportunity to learn and develop their intelligence.”

This will be the focus for my on-going research, with the hope that my teaching provides children with positive support and I contribute to school being an exciting place.






Featured image: ‘Scaffolding’ by 3112014 on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain

Learning Maps

An Action Research project by Matthew Yandell (P.E.)


My action research focus, ‘The use and impact of Learning Maps’, was chosen following a visit to a local secondary school.

I was inspired by the school’s use of Learning Maps as a way to promote consistency and engagement within the school community.

I felt their approach to learning and innovative teaching methods were a model for St Bernadette’s to take inspiration from and add to the work already being undertaken at to develop ‘consistent’ and ‘excellent’ practice across the school.

Learning Maps

‘Effective planning and lesson design is the starting point for quality first teaching and learning. In schools that excel in this, it is viewed as a series of decisions which build a planned series of learning episodes. The choice of appropriate learning objectives is supported using the Primary or Secondary Frameworks or subject specifications.’

 Personalised Learning – A Practical Guide (Department for Children, Schools and Families).

A Learning Map focuses on key aspects of a unit of work (normally a termly focus area). This is then broken down into termly maps for each year group, in each faculty. Each map has the same key areas on it which helps teachers, pupils and parents understand learning objectives and ensures consistency in teaching and learning across faculties.

The key areas of each learning Map are:

– 3/4 Driving Questions (which are used to challenge pupils’ understanding)

– 6/7 Blocks of learning (which would be the key foci for the topic)

– 6 Essential areas of understanding (6 things that you would like pupils to know by the end of the topic)

– 10 key words for the topic

The main driver behind the introduction ‘Learning Maps’ was to establish consistency of practice and expectations within each faculty.

I saw an opportunity for us to introduce this approach in order to promote our consistency and engagement between teachers, faculties, pupils and parents. Our school typicality has improved greatly over the past few years and the quality of lessons has improved with it. I feel this is partly down to consistent practices and expectations of both staff and pupils.

Within the PE department we have a clear and consistent introduction /starter to our lessons and all pupils understand that regardless of which teacher is teaching them, the lesson starter will always follow the same format. This consistent practice contributed significantly towards the PE faculty being graded as ‘Outstanding’ in our most recent review. By implementing Learning Maps in addition to our current practices, we will I believe, provide pupils with a consistent resource to use at the beginning of each lesson to enhance their learning.

Another benefit of using subject specific Learning Maps is the way in which it can engage parents. The easy to follow information helps parents to understand each individual subject’s curriculum aims for each term. This can then be used to enhance the learning experience at home as parents have the opportunity to become involved in understanding and supporting their child’s learning.

Learning maps have the potential to further strengthen bell work/starter activities and develop independent learning further.

Teaching and learning is most effective where teachers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and have the confidence to stand back and encourage pupils to become independent learners”

The Children’s Plan.

Staff trial

I discussed this idea at one of our ‘Raising Achievement’ meetings with the Second in Learning from each faculty.  They felt the idea and concept was good, and that the consistent approach would benefit our learners. They also felt that with the changes to the curriculum and levelling in school, this new approach could benefit learners understanding of the courses they are studying.

There were questions raised about how to accurately plot a learning map for a whole term’s learning episodes. It was felt that a tailored format to create uniformity across the school would be beneficial.

Staff from the Raising Achievement Team plotted examples for their individual subject areas. They found the process simple and easy to do.

This idea was also shared during a staff inset day. Feedback from staff was incredibly positive. In particular, from learning support staff, who felt that it would add a consistent approach to their small group interventions and would be a great way of keeping parents informed of focus areas.

Here are some examples of the Learning Maps produced:

Hums learning map

Figure 1. Humanities Learning Map

Maths learning map

Figure 2. Mathematics Learning Map

 PE learning map

Figure 3. Physical Education Learning Map 

Pupil trial

I trialed this with pupils in PE lessons in Term 4. As it was a practical lesson I used the maps in the form of a handout. The response from pupils was good, in particular, when they used the Learning Maps to highlight areas of progress with other pupils and to reinforce peer to peer questioning. It also provided a common baseline of key topic specific vocabulary, thus improving pupils’ literacy and subject knowledge. Pupils in PE already use assessment ladders routinely and are aware of how to use them. The Learning Maps build on this experience.  The learning maps targeting curriculum objectives and ideas really helped pupils to see progression in the subject area.


I feel that Learning Maps are an opportunity to further develop consistent practice across the school. They could also be used as a valuable tool to further engage parents.

Recommendations for implementing Learning Maps

  • Introduce Learning Maps on a rolling basis with Year 7 being developed in the first year, followed by Year 8 in the second and so on.
  • Form a working party. A member of each faculty would take responsibility for developing the Learning Maps on a termly basis. The key information could then be added to a template, so they can be produced by reprographics.
  • The school would need to ensure that Learning Maps are accessible to pupils and parents outside of school.
  • An introductory campaign to help promote this tool with pupils, staff and parents.
  • Linking the Learning Maps to established typicality measures and other whole school initiatives such as our Excellence initiative.  


Personalised Learning – A Practical Guide (Department for Children, Schools and Families). http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/publications

‘The Children’s Plan’ https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-childrens-plan

Featured image: ‘Technology, classroom’ by LTDimages on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Learning Outside of the Classroom

An Action Research Prjoect by Sarah Fox (Art, Design & Technology)


The main focus for this project was to improve uptake and engagement in my subject area (Design Technology, Food Technology and Catering).

Learning inside a classroom is a tried and tested method of organising schooling.  However, teachers and learners have always valued the further opportunities for learning that can take place outside the classroom, including:

  • activities within a school’s or college’s own buildings, grounds or immediate area
  • participation in dramatic productions, concerts and other special events
  • involvement in clubs, musical groups and sporting activities held during break-times and before or after the end of the school day
  • educational visits organised within the school day
  • Residential visits that take place during the school week, a weekend or holiday.


The Ofsted paper, ‘Learning outside the classroom- How far should you go?’ evaluates the impact of learning outside the classroom in 12 primary schools, 10 secondary schools, one special school, one pupil referral unit and three colleges across England where previous inspections had shown that curricular provision, in particular outside the classroom, was good, outstanding or improving rapidly. Inspectors also visited or contacted 13 specialist organisations, including providers of learning outside the classroom, and held discussions with representatives from five local authorities.

All of the schools and colleges surveyed provided exciting, direct and relevant learning activities outside the classroom. Such hands-on activities led to improved outcomes for pupils and students, including better achievement, standards, motivation, personal development and behaviour. The survey also found examples of the positive effects of learning outside the classroom on young people who were hard to motivate.

When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards and improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.

Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.

The schools in the survey relied very heavily on contributions from parents and carers to meet the costs of residential and other visits and had given very little thought to alternative ways of financing them. Of the schools and colleges visited, only three had evaluated the impact of learning outside the classroom on improving achievement, or monitored the take-up of activities by groups of pupils and students. The vast majority in the sample were not able to assess the effectiveness, inclusiveness or value for money of such activities.

The schools and colleges had worked hard and successfully to overcome some of the barriers to learning outside the classroom, including those relating to health and safety, pupils’ behaviour and teachers’ workload.

Diss High School (Norfolk) 21 March 2014

  • The pupil premium funding is used to provide one-to-one support in classrooms, small-group support and learning resources for eligible students, as well as the opportunity for them to take part in educational visits. They are able to take part in local and foreign trips, for example to Iceland, Sri Lanka, Flanders and Dorset. The school has links with schools in Sri Lanka and Rwanda. The school provides a wide range of activities for students to take responsibility, for example, through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. There is a wide range of opportunities for students to take part in enrichment activities such as residential trips, music and drama activities.

Elm C of E Primary School (Cambridgeshire) 28 April 2014

  • The curriculum offers pupils a wide range of experiences to support their learning, including trips and visitors. During the inspection, pupils in Year 3 experienced a Victorian day to support their history topic. Pupils love these experiences, and in most classes they are used well to develop pupils’ extended writing skills.”
  • Additional sports funding is used to employ specialist physical education teachers to lead one lesson each week. These lessons are observed by class teachers, who subsequently lead a follow-up session. Pupils report that they now love their physical education lessons and enjoy more opportunities to be involved in competitive sport.”


I went about planning a series of educational visits and visitors to visit the school during the academic year. Examples of these were:

  • London Food Tour
  • Afternoon Tea Trip
  • Royal Marines Visit to School
  • Vegetarian Society Visit to School
  • Royal Navy Visit to School
  • Harry Potter Trip
  • Zoo Trip


  • Undertaking and organising educational trips and visits can be a very stressful and time consuming task. However, the rewards are huge in term of engagement and pupil progress.
  • As a case study, one boy in Year 10 who had not previously taken food tech, has already made 3 levels of progress in a year.
  • Due to my work of building contacts and having the experience of organising these extra-curricular activities, both in school and out, this has and will be beneficial and less time consuming to organise in the coming years, especially with the introduction of a new GCSE.


  • When planned and implemented well, learning outside the classroom contributed significantly to raising standards & improving pupils’ personal, social and emotional development.
  • Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.
  • According to research, the success of learning outside the classroom depends very much on the leadership and support of the schools and colleges.


  • The clear message from Ofsted is that inspectors want schools to shout about their LOtC activities, not do them as an extra or ‘add-on’ that is shelved when the call from Ofsted comes. If you believe in what you’re doing, demonstrate that to the inspectors. Speaking at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom national conference in 2011, senior Ofsted HMI, Robin Hammerton, declared that he wanted to see ‘inspection outside the classroom’ and challenged schools to “make sure inspectors get out there and see the innovative practice where it’s happening”.

Next Steps

  • Further research into professionals who would be willing to visit the school.
  • Using social media to keep in touch with other schools and professional organisations.
  • Developing what has been organised this year into new schemes of work for the GCSE.


Feature image: ‘Carrot Kale Walnut’ by dbreen on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain


An Action Research Project by Victoria Ryan (MFL)

Resilience in learning, as in life, is about being able to persevere through setbacks, take on challenges and risk making mistakes to reach a goal.

Resilience is often referred to as a quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and to come back stronger. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, these people find a way to rise up from a troubled time.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary and that it is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Rather, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed by anyone.


The vision…How do we want our pupils to show resilience?

Having researched the meaning of resilience it was important to consider which behaviours were necessary to develop in our pupils in order for them to become more independent learners.

Behaviours key to pupils being able to demonstrate resilience:

  • To be able to concentrate for long/longer periods of time (and not give up).
  • To be able to control their thoughts and emotions.
  • To enjoy challenge and problem solving.
  • To see failures/mistakes as part of the learning process and be prepared to have a go.
  • To show initiative when ‘stuck’


Research highlighted that life for our pupils isn’t exactly stress-free. What helps children in navigating the challenges they face is resilience. It has shown that resilient children are problem solvers who can face unfamiliar or tough situations and strive to find positive solutions.

“When they step into a situation, [resilient kids] have a sense they can figure out what they need to do and can handle what is thrown at them with a sense of confidence.” (Lynn Lyons, Psychotherapist)

This doesn’t mean that children have to do everything on their own. Rather, they need to know how to ask for help and are able to problem-solve their next steps.

As a Modern Foreign Language Teacher I often found pupils would say they couldn’t complete a task because they couldn’t speak the language. They would ask me for a translation rather than looking back through their work or looking in a dictionary or textbook for a solution, despite this being an obvious solution to me.

It became clear that my pupils needed to know how to be resilient and that I would have to teach them the behaviours and skills needed in order to do this.


I decided to focus my resilience research on a lower achieving Year 9 Spanish class who were particularly demotivated, needy and really just didn’t see the point in languages, despite my enthusiasm and passion for the subject. I had taught them as a group since Year 8 and they would not use the resources available to them to answer questions, rather they would ask me for answers. For a teacher with thirty pupils in the class constantly asking these questions, I was beginning to find the lessons draining. Something had to be done.

Whilst being a lower achieving set, it was a very mixed-ability group with pupils ranging from a Level 2 – 5 and a number of pupils having special educational needs and others having emotional and behavioural needs.

My initial thoughts on the group and how resilient they were that 12/30 showed no resilience at all, 14/30 occasionally showed initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than me for help and 4/30 did show an ability to problem solve themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance.

This was my subjective view based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons in Year 8. There is no specific test to demonstrate how resilient a person is; rather I based this judgment on how I as the class teacher had seen the pupils handle work and situations that I had placed them in. Not a very resilient class then with only four pupils able to demonstrate resilience at the start of the year.  Something had to be done!


The first step was making “resilience” the language of the classroom. This was achieved by displaying the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ poster, explaining this to pupils by using examples of my own failures and then referring to this during lessons.

Iceberg illusion

The Iceberg Illusion by Sylvia Duckworth original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sylviaduckworth (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

see also https://sylviaduckworth.com/sketchnotes/

It was also necessary to remember techniques as a teacher to instil resilience in pupils, so after research, I made a poster into a desk mat which I had in front of me each lesson.

The poster was based on:  ‘10 best phrases to teach resilience to your kids’ by Michael Grose at http://www.kidspot.com.au/10-phrases-you-hear-in-resilient-families-are-you-using-them/

This allowed me to change the language I used and to remind me of how I should act in order to promote resilience.

I then came up with a Resilience Plan of ten points that I would aim to do each lesson.

  1. Don’t accommodate every need.
  2. Avoid eliminating all risk.
  3. Teach them to problem-solve.
  4. Teach your pupils concrete skills.
  5. Avoid “why” questions.
  6. Don’t provide all the answers.
  7. Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.
  8. Let your pupils make mistakes.
  9. Help them to manage their emotions.
  10. Model resiliency.


Using these actions I noticed that barriers to learning/relationships were improved by the following means:

    • Awareness of the language used in the classroom – Both myself and the pupils began to talk the language of resilience often using humour to see ourselves through difficult tasks.
    • Different approaches to the four skills/exercises – Pupils took on board the advice and techniques that were taught for each language skill (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and were therefore better equipped to problem solve questions/tasks.
    • More confidence – Pupils were much more confident in their own abilities and were much less reliant on me.
    • A more positive classroom environment – Pupils would ‘have a go’ at the work rather than saying that they could not do it and just giving up. They recognised that I valued their effort more than getting the correct answer each time.

By the end of the year, in my opinion, 24/30 showed an a readiness to problem solve for themselves and attempt tasks before asking for assistance and 6/30 showed some capacity to show initiative to seek solutions or use resources other than asking me for help.

Whilst subjective, this data was again based on classwork, homework, test results and general attitude in lessons but in my opinion, all the pupils vastly improved and became much more resilient within lessons.


It is worth noting that the majority of pupils in my target class were not going on to study languages at GCSE level and that for the first time in three years, the inevitable question of “Why do I still have to study this?” or “What is the point in languages?” was not posed. This in itself was a major breakthrough and a sign that pupils not only had come to enjoy the lessons, being much more motivated as they knew the skills to problem solve, but they had also started to take pride in the work they completed feeling a sense of accomplishment when they could complete a task. Even if they got an answer wrong, they had come to realise that this was a stepping stone and part of the inevitable learning process.

Therefore in conclusion, the evidence shows that the work completed on resilience had a big impact, not just on my targeted group but also on other classes that I taught due to my language within lessons changing to a more resilience based approach.

My group and I believe that our strategies have made a difference, as this approach supports stretch and challenge allowing you to have higher expectations and avoid ‘helicopter’ teaching. It supports pupil independence and there is much less teacher dependence, however, it would be far more powerful if the language of resilience was consistent across the school. Something has to be done!

Next Steps

In order to promote resilience further this needs to become a whole school approach. Strategies that I intend to use in the next academic year include:

  • Remembering it works! Being patient with new classes whilst teaching the language of resilience.
  • Making resilience language part of school life – Success Iceberg posters in classrooms and assemblies on resilience with colleagues who have also worked on developing resilience.
  • Effort and reiteration – Spending time at the start of each lesson reinforcing the language of resilience and making expectations clear to students.
  • List of key ideas to focus on – I will choose three to four key ideas from my ten point plan to focus on with individual classes, thus better tailoring them to each classes’ needs to make them more resilient.
  • Resilience list for pupils – I will give each student the following table for their book:

Be Resilient

I’m not good at this What am I missing?
I give up I’ll use a different strategy
It’s not good enough Is this really my best work?
I can’t make this any better I can always improve
This is too hard This may take some time
I made a mistake Mistakes help me learn
I’ll never be that smart I will learn how to do this


  • Resilience level/mark at the end of each term – Rewarding attitude and effort is crucial in sending the right messages about what we value.


When will we also teach them what they are?”

We should say to each of them:

Do you know what you are?

You are a marvel. You are unique.

In all the years that have passed,

there has never been another child like you.

Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers,

the way you move.

You may become a Shakespeare,

a Michelangelo, a Beethoven.

You have the capacity for anything.

Yes, you are a marvel.

And when you grow up, can you then harm

another who is, like you, a marvel?

You must work; we must all work,

to make the world worthy of its children.

By Pablo Casals


Featured image: ‘Success’ by animatedheaven on Pixabay.  Original image licensed under CC0 Public Domain


An action research project by Kevin Magner (R.E.)


To develop a range of strategies to engage a group of Year 10 boys with lower level literacy in learning; to help build confidence in their own ability; a willingness to engage in written work and to help them achieve their target grades.


Examination of GCSE Religious Studies is based on the completion of two written exam papers. Pupils need to be able to express their learning in the appropriate written format for the exam.

Literacy is a skill for life and the ability to communicate effectively in both the written and spoken word is a basic skill for daily life and for employability.


The focus for this action research project has been my Year 10 GCSE RE group. The group is made up 13 boys, many of whom have lower level literacy skills.  The boys are taught together as part of a faculty initiative to teach pupils in single-sex groups.  The boys have a wide range of learning needs including six who are Pupil Premium, six have SEND needs (two being statemented), seven have dyslexic tendencies, two have ADHD and there are a mixture of emotional and behavioural issues also present in the group.

A significant proportion of the boys have relatively low self-esteem which manifests itself in many cases as a reluctance to participate in academic work. Behavioural and emotional needs mean they often find it difficult to work cooperatively.

The target grades for this group range from minimum target grades of C-F and challenge target grades of C-E.

During the course of the year it has been confirmed that eight of the boys will receive additional support in their final exams, including seven who will have the support of a scribe and reader. While these pupils will not have to physically write in their exam they will still have to know and explain verbally how they want their answers to be written.

Background Reading and Research

Background Reading

Historically, boys in general have been less academically successful than girls in Religious Education as they have been in most literacy based subjects.

“The one area of the curriculum where boys do tend to underachieve is English” (pg ii3)

Initially, in my research I looked for evidence of practical strategies to engage boys in learning. The document, ‘Me Read, No Way’ – A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills, produced by the Ontario Ministry for Education (2004)1 and which draws on findings from OFSTED, provided some very helpful strategies based around the structure and delivery of lessons:

Boys respond best when:

  • work is assigned in bite-sized, digestible pieces and is time-limited;
  • lessons are broken down into a variety of activities that include more research, or the use of information technology; “active” learning opportunities, such as drama, investigation,
  • the work seems relevant to them – that is, when it has a purpose they can understand;
  • lessons are delivered in a brisk, well-paced format, with an obvious direction, so that they can tell that progress is occurring;
  • the work includes an element of competition and/or involves short-term goals;
  • time is allowed for review and reflection following the lesson or assignment;
  • an analysis of the “concrete” aspects of a text precedes an analysis of one’s emotional response to it;
  • they receive regular, positive feedback.

(Wilson, 2003, p. 123) (pg161)

Other guidance focused on specific teaching strategies with reference to the development of written literacy:

“Some strategies for establishing the link between reading and writing:

  • Explicitly discuss models of good writing in detail, pointing out elements such as sentence structure, paragraphing, and vocabulary, so that students become aware of the choices that the writer has made.
  • Maintain a balance between the development of skills such as spelling and grammar and the exploration of content, meaning, and effect” (pg 141)

“Graphic organizers and other visual tools can be a useful means of demonstrating the relationships between things, both spatially and conceptually. They can be used in literacy activities in ways that may help “let boys in on the secret”.” (pg201)

Seeing a teacher model the use of writing frames or templates and using writing frames themselves helped students understand narrative structure.

  • Breaking text down to its skeletal outline helped students understand how writers develop a story
  • Writing frames were most useful to students of average ability, but they also helped lower-achieving students, especially when those students used the frames in groups, with a teacher’s guidance.
  • Writing frames built structure into the narrative writing task, improving boys’ writing performance.” (pg211)

However, it quickly became evident as the year progressed with the class that issues of self-esteem, motivation and social interaction were as much of a barrier to engaging the boys in my class as their practical skills. Low self-esteem can often become embedded in academic behaviours which can then be reinforced by gender stereotypes.

As the DFCS (Department for Children, Schools and Family) document, ‘Gender issues in school: What works to improve achievement of boys and girls’ (2004)2 states:

“The peer group is of central importance in reinforcing gender stereotypes. For instance, given the choice, pupils usually sit in same gender groups and both primary and secondary pupils ‘police’ the gendered behaviour of their peers, and punish failure to conform to traditional gender norms.”(pgiii2)

It soon became apparent to me that in my all male class a number of negative stereotypes were well established amongst the boys concerning their attitude to learning in general and to R.E. in particular. Working hard, or being seen to work hard, was not ‘cool’ and R.E. was not perceived to be of relevance to their current or future lives.

This exacerbates the social challenges the pupils have to overcome in terms of literacy development.

Boys designated “poor readers” are more likely to react against their perceived low

status in class than girls working in the same group. In an effort to bolster their standing with their peers this group of boys may avoid spending much time on a task they find difficult (pgvii2)

This effect is multiplied, even in a single gender class, given the ‘practice’ the boys have had in trying to avoid work they find difficult throughout their education.

There are therefore academic, personal and social factors that all combine to act as hurdles in the race to develop the literacy skills necessary to enable the boys to successfully reach the finishing line of their GCSE exams. This acutely highlights the tension for any teacher, between the desire to develop literacy skills for life against the all too real deadline of an exam date.

Visit to a primary school

Discussion with a colleague from a primary teaching background highlighted the idea that many of the boys may have struggled or indeed missed key steps in the development of their literacy skills while in primary education. As a result they have struggled to build more advanced skills over these gaps.  Similarly, a loss of confidence and a consequent lack of self-esteem may have resulted in their being reluctant to undertake, or even trying to avoid written tasks which expose their limitations – this being most obvious when it comes to public examinations!

I undertook a visit to a primary school which had undertaken a school-wide writing project to explore strategies, particularly those relating to boys who are struggling to develop their literacy, which I hoped would help me to find strategies which might be effective with my class.

Among the strategies used by the primary school were the following, which fall into three broad categories:

  1.  Practical support
  • Teachers model the writing process using pupils’ ideas. This is then used to model the ‘Review, Edit, Improve’ process
  • The ‘Think, Say, Write’ process is used to allow pupils to express their ideas using verbal skills in which most pupils are stronger, before the more challenging task of capturing them in writing
  • Pupils are supported in the drafting and editing of written answers through the use of mini-whiteboards so that work is improved before it is written in ‘best’
  • Laminated ‘placemats’ which include key words, vocabulary, grammatical forms and success criteria are used to provide individual pupils with immediate support and guidance on specific tasks/activities
  • Keyboards and voice recorders are used to support pupils who find the motor skills involved in writing difficult thus providing them with the chance to produce ‘written’ work they can be proud of
  • Written work is ‘reverse engineered’ by starting with a finished piece of writing and then working backwards to explore and understand how that answer was produced thus modelling the process that build towards successful written work in small steps

2. Social strategies to build self-esteem

  • Talk to small groups of pupils directly about the difficulties they are facing in their literacy and ask them what support or help they want, thus showing that they are not alone and that the teacher intends to support them
  • Share pupils’ best work with an appropriate audience (another teacher, the Head teacher, the rest of the class, display, a younger class, a visitor, sent home to parents) to celebrate success and foster self-esteem
  • Use practical/engaging activities (build…, make…, do…) as a stimulus for consequent written work
  • Use laminated speech bubbles with pupils’ names and board markers during lessons to capture and display good ideas from pupils, thus providing recognition and a sense of immediate success with aspects of a written task to build self-esteem and retain good ideas for later use

3. Whole-school principles and strategies to support literacy

  • Develop a culture which recognises the need for ‘practice, practice, practice’ in written work
  • Establish the expectation that every pupil will be writing
  • Ensure that all pupils learn and practise the ‘review, edit, improve’ cycle in their written work
  • Provide support at ‘the point of learning’ (placing an emphasis on helping pupils to succeed rather than waiting for failure and then providing remedial support)
  • Have clear expectations regarding legibility and spelling to ensure pupils do not try to mask their needs through poor handwriting
  • Have a regular (termly, weekly, module) focus on an aspect of literacy (spelling, handwriting, punctuation)


Strategies to engage interest

This was the first approach I tried at the beginning of the year as I sought to make lessons both stimulating and engaging for the boys. As far as possible I broke the lessons into small chunks and sought to use a wider variety of activities than those that were already built into the faculty scheme of work.  I did this to shift the emphasis of the lessons away from written activities and to encourage greater participation.  Increasing the emphasis on visual resources (including picture based activities and the use of short film clips) did stimulate interest and as the year has progressed, become a springboard for discussion which the boys enter into more freely than written tasks.

The use of IT based resources which I thought would appeal to boys has been of mixed benefit. The use of ‘Plickers’ (a discussion/quiz based activity) based on the principle of immediate feedback using QR coded cards proved ineffective for this group as the practicality of using the technology (the ability of an I-pad to read a set of QR codes held up by pupils in a single camera shot) led to frustration amongst the pupils.  The use of ‘Kahoot’ quizzes using mobile phones was more successful in engaging interest but was soon found to be open to abuse as some of the boys used the ‘give yourself a name’ function to use words which provoked a negative response from other pupils.  A creative use of the resource I had not foreseen – intelligence but employed in the wrong direction!

Other successful strategies have included an increased focus on vocabulary based activities which reinforce the learning of the specific terms required for the exam. This has included the development of both paper and Power point resources which link vocabulary to images and involve pairing, matching and odd-one-out type activities.  These have served both to introduce and to revise key words, with repetition of the vocabulary through a variety of activities – a fundamental principle underpinning lessons.  This has also resulted in the production of resources which the Teaching Assistant linked to the class can use when working one-to-one with key pupils.  These vocabulary games have been extended to include:

‘Chopped Words’ (take a set of key words – chop up and mix the words like the pieces of a jigsaw – pupils have to recreate the key words e.g.   IST   IAN  CHR  ITY  becomes CHRISTIANITY)

‘Scrabble’ (provide scrabble tiles of the letters of a key word. Pupils have to find as many words as they can from the tiles with a bonus for the key word using all tiles)

‘20 Questions’ / ‘Guess the password’ (pupils are given the opportunity to ask questions which can only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to ask their fellow pupils, to help them identify a key word which has been shared with the rest of the class)

‘Hangman’ (the traditional game using key vocabulary) – the boys particularly enjoyed this game, especially when it was played by them against the teacher!

‘Here’s the answer, what’s the question?’ (pupils have to identify the key word from its definition or a series of statements about it)

These, along with other activities have promoted familiarity with key words and an opportunity to practise the correct spelling at the same time.

An increased emphasis on discussion rather than Q&A tasks or note-taking has also helped increase engagement in lessons. Any discussion that includes personal anecdote or experience from teacher or pupils stimulates interest further.  This has been a particularly useful way of engaging the boys’ natural curiosity when discussing ‘big issues’ such as the existence of God, the morality of abortion and euthanasia or the existence of the paranormal – but is a greater challenge when discussing ‘drier’ areas of the curriculum.  When used together with skilled questioning techniques this has provided an effective way to explore an issue without reliance on a written text.

Developing good behaviour and promoting self-esteem

By far the biggest obstacle to engagement was the behaviour of pupils, much of which I believe is an expression of their low self-esteem. Many boys came to the class bringing a reputation or set of behaviours which they sought to maintain in the presence of their peers.  Some had a history of not getting along together which coloured all of their interactions.  Some are easily wound up and can be provoked at the slightest instance.

The consequence of this was that class management was a priority from the start of the year. It also meant that a number of cooperative learning strategies were not practical.  In consequence I focused on trying to remain positive in outlook, to be consistent with the class and to be optimistic in my expectations of the boys.

To move class management onto a positive footing I introduced two reward initiatives; reward stickers and a good behaviour report for the class.

The reward stickers are simply small praise stickers which are stuck on the cover of a pupil’s book in recognition of a positive effort, answer, contribution or achievement either in the lesson or in their written work. It is easy to use these either for a specific focus as required or for general recognition.  No specific attention is drawn to their use but pupils do take an interest in the number of stickers they have collected and consequently these are counted and the total transferred as they move into a new exercise book.  A number of the boys do take pride in the growing number of stickers and they do promote a sense of achievement and self-esteem.

To address common concerns regarding behaviour I introduced a Good Behaviour Report for the class. At the end of each lesson boys could gain a point in any, or all of five categories of behaviour I identified as those that would most benefit the overall performance of the class i.e. settling to work quickly, completing tasks, asking/answering questions, behaving well.  The foci were always positive and reward gained for achieving each foci rather than a negative consequence for failing to meet it.  Points were tallied and shared with the class across a two week timetable cycle and then rewards given in line with the school’s rewards system.  I ran this over two terms until I felt it had served its purpose of establishing expectations.

One strategy that was a chance discovery was the use of personal behaviour reports. Initially used to focus one of the boys with ADHD who is very easily distracted but who values positive feedback given to his mother.   This was a simplified paper version of the class behaviour report and was based on the idea that I would give his mum a phone call to acknowledge good behaviour if he had a series of successful lessons.  This report was then requested by another boy to help him to focus.  I continued to use these reports for the remainder of the year for those pupils.

Overall, I have found that the boys respond best to initiatives that are positive in nature, immediate in their feedback and tangible in their reward. A sticker given today with praise and either a call home or a positive referral, is more likely to have an impact than the promise of a greater reward in two weeks’ time.

Perhaps the most important approach I have tried to adopt has been to try and build positive relationships with the boys together with conveying an unfailing optimism in their ability to achieve academic success. This is undoubtedly a long-term strategy but a number of conversations with individual boys show that many need an awful lot of reassurance that their efforts are worthwhile and when they do succeed, they hold onto the successes they have achieved, however small or far apart they might be.

Developing writing skills

The principal reason for engaging the boys in learning was to develop their literacy skills to enable them to achieve a GCSE exam grade. With this in mind it has been important to maintain a clear focus on working towards the exam in every lesson.

Underlying this is what is referred to as ‘The Plan’ – a simple formula for framing exam answers to ensure that pupils access all of the marks available in each part of a question. A copy of this is glued into the back of each exercise book and folds out to provide an instant guide for pupils in lessons.  This is supported by the systematic way in which the format of lessons works its way around the four elements of a full GCSE question.   In almost every lesson we use our learning to address one of these four elements, giving their learning real significance.

Writing frames are used to help pupils to collect and record relevant learning as we work through each topic. These can be differentiated to support the needs of different learners, especially those with the greatest literacy needs.  Writing frames also help to ensure that as the course progresses pupils develop an orderly set of work in their books to support later revision.

Blank writing frames are also available for each part of an exam question. These are based on the same format as the exam paper they will sit at the end of the year and provide practise in applying ‘The Plan’ to the exam paper.  With minor differentiation in the form of sentence starters, they help establish the correct vocabulary for the exam and the principle of paragraphing longer answers – a skill many of the boys have yet to master.

Following my visit to a Primary School, I have increasingly used ‘Teacher Writing’ to model the writing process for the whole class using individual pupil’s ideas. This has allowed me to demonstrate how answers might be worded and edited to ensure that they meet the requirements of the exam.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how good the pupils often were in this exercise, especially in terms of correcting spelling and punctuation as well as in the need to explain points fully for the examiner.  However, while most of the boys could record such answers from the board there remains a reluctance to complete extended answers independently.

‘Teacher Writing’ also supports the process of ‘Think, say, write’, encouraging pupils to verbalise and rehearse an answer, with teacher input, before committing it to writing.


Overall, I feel that we have made some progress as a class. The pupils do understand the structure of exam answers and what is required to answer them.  They have become familiar with a wide range of key vocabulary though they are not always confident in its use.  The boys can engage in discussion and express opinions verbally and they have demonstrated the ability to frame exam answers when supported by ‘Teacher Writing’.

Behaviour continues to vary from lesson to lesson but we have had more productive lessons as the year has progressed. A clear format for lessons has been established and pupils understand the routines that shape lessons.

In the mock exams at the end of Year 10 results were still below target; however it was encouraging to hear from scribes that pupils did understand the structure of exam answers and tried to frame their answers accordingly. The ‘Teacher Writing’ activities had also helped pupils with the weakest written skills to make best use of their scribes by enabling them to try and put answers into the format that had been practised in lessons.


This is a challenging class to teach on many levels but with the challenge comes reward that is often measured in the small steps the boys have taken in their academic work or sometimes in those precious moments when ‘a penny drops’ or a pupil wants to stay a few moments beyond the lesson to make a point or ask a question. However, it has also been a rewarding process professionally if only in making me review, refine and re-think every lesson that I teach them.

On a broader level I have learnt a number of important lessons as a teacher:

  • Allow time to embed practice, even when it doesn’t seem to be working at first. Pupils like routine and clear expectations. If you have core behaviours or skills to teach you must stick with them even if you need to vary the way in which they are delivered.
  • Develop teaching strategies to meet the individual needs of your pupils. It is important to start from where the pupils are at academically and not simply expect them to fit the mould set for the majority of pupils. This requires patience, reflection and differentiation. Such differentiation can often be subtle and simple in practice.
  • It is important to build self-esteem at every turn. Pupils with low self-esteem take an awful lot of building up and their confidence can be very easily knocked. This takes a conscious and planned effort to maximise the opportunities to celebrate success and consistently reinforce, in the pupils’ eyes, your belief in their potential, where they may lack it themselves.
  • Identify your priorities for the course/class and stick to them. Even when you are not successful, you must be prepared re-iterate and re-define your priorities until they are achieved.
  • Develop routines and build expectations of how pupils will behave or learn. In time pupils come to accept and often rely on these routines, and will then hopefully, rise to these expectations.
  • Keep it simple. In developing new teaching strategies look for simple activities that vary and enhance your repertoire but are not overly complicated or onerous in terms of their planning and preparation. They must also be clearly focused on clear teaching points. Once you have found a strategy that works stick with it but be creative in the way you present and use it.
  • Time invested in resources or strategies that can be re-used is time better spent than investing hours in elaborate activities that have limited use.
  • Be persistent. Teaching a group of Year 10 boys with such a broad range of needs has been challenging. I have often left lessons frustrated, angry or doubted my own ability to teach but with patience and persistence I have learnt more about myself as a teacher and come to recognise the even greater challenges some of these pupils face both academically and in their future lives.

Next Steps

  • Continue to maintain or raise expectations the boys have of themselves academically and socially
  • Continue to work on using and developing the strategies that have proved effective so far
  • Work to develop greater resilience in pupils when faced by challenge or failure
  • Remain optimistic about the benefits to pupils of making small steps in their learning
  • Seek to establish a culture in which pupils are willing to write full exam format answers independently


  1. ‘Me Read, No Way’ – A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills.

Ontario Ministry of Education (2004)


  1. ‘Gender issues in school: What works to improve achievement of boys and girls’

Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009)


3. ‘Using the National Healthy School Standard to raise boys’ achievement’, Gary Wilson  Department for Education and Skills, UK. (2003)

Further reading:

Improving Boys’ Literacy


Improving literacy in secondary schools: a shared responsibility – OFSTED


Featured image: Texting boy by Fangirl on Pixabay (original image) licensed by CC0 Public Domain










How to engage disaffected learners in Modern Foreign Languages

An Action Research Project by Jo Whalley (MFL)


In September 2015, I began as Head of MFL. I inherited a number of classes who had had a disjointed experience in the previous academic year and therefore had a very negative view of language learning. Engagement in lessons was poor from the outset and behaviour was not good in a number of classes. Many of the learners lacked confidence. As such, language learning can pose some barriers for many students.


I had previously attended some training by Martine Pillette about the New Secondary Curriculum and it taught me how with less restrictions on the content covered at KS3 and a greater focus on the skills of language learning, I could find authentic, appealing resources to engage learners in languages. I was interested in her approaches so I did some further reading namely, ‘Motivating reluctant learners at 14-16’ and also ‘Independent reading – how to make it work’.

This helped me develop my strategy in firstly building confidence in comprehension skills.

  • First of all, to build student confidence by fostering effective strategies to develop comprehension skills.
  • Use of authentic materials to genuinely appeal to teenagers (music, film, magazines and books)
  • To use whatever resources we could to engage students on an intellectual level not just language learning for language learning’s sake. I wanted to appeal to their curiosity to WANT to understand the language.


I set about researching animated films which students already knew to exploit language from. For example, I used clips/images to support personal descriptions and the description of animals in Year 7 French lessons and for describing food and using the past tense in Year 8.

 I developed skills for reading for gist with a four point plan of how to tackle longer pieces of reading and unknown language:

  1. Read and highlight cognates (words that look and sound similar in the target language and have a shared meaning e.g. la television)
  2. Look for familiar words in the target language
  3. Make connections and try to work out what might make sense
  4. If a particular word is still a barrier to your understanding use a dictionary

I used video clips/images and songs from these films to develop listening skills, predominantly using “listening bingo” (Fig. 1) as a technique to stop students worrying about the words they don’t know an instead to focus on picking out familiar language.

JWH - bingo

Figure 1 – an example of a ‘listening bingo’ slide from Year 8

Secondly, I developed three week mini projects to enrich the existing schemes of work. I devised a mini unit of work based around the French classic “Le Petit Prince” which had recently been released as an animated film. This enabled me to produce an abridged version of the book for students to read, again developing their reading techniques. In addition, I produced a short module on endangered species and Virunga National Park in Congo. I hoped that these projects would be sufficiently different from other areas of study that the pupils would be genuinely keen to work on these topics.

With Year 9 French, I developed a module of lessons about French music. I started firstly with Daft Punk, David Guetta and Madeon as they would hopefully be artists they had heard of. We developed reading skills of biographies of the artists and listening skills by studying the lyrics of some of the songs. Some of these lessons led to other interesting spin offs such as the artist Stromae whose name is made using the Parisian underground language “verlan” which inverts words (Fig.2). Students found this very interesting and enjoyed trying to decode the “verlan”, students resilience was noticeably improved when reading something which appealed to them (Fig. 3).

In Parisian suburbs an underground language is used amongst young people. They take the two halves of the word and invert them.


(a distinguished musician, especially a conductor of classical music)


Stro mae

Figure 2 – What is Verlan?

JWH - verlan

Figure 3: Verlan activity slide from a Year 9 lesson

Finally, I have been trying to engage boys in particular by developing more SMARTBOARD resources. Powerpoint can be rather static and the drag and drop, reorder and match up tasks that can be produced on SMART are far more engaging for them. I have developed some resources of this nature for Year 8 Spanish and Year 7 & 8 French.


The main focus for these strategies has been with Years 7 & 8 French, though some strategies have been used with Year 9. The current year 7 average National Curriculum Level is higher than it was this time last year with the current year 8. The current year 7 & 8 French classes show greater resilience and independence when working on longer reading tasks and faced with listening to language spoken at normal speed. Student feedback on these approaches has been overwhelmingly positive. They especially feel that they can read with greater success.

Next steps

Overhaul all units of work to reflect the approaches identified above

Develop the resources needed for the Year 8 and 9 Schemes of Work

Continue to build on the pupils’ listening skills as this is still seen as intimidating by some, especially the less able.


‘Motivating reluctant learners at 14-16’ – by Martine Pillette, published by Collins Educational 1997

‘Independent reading – how to make it work’ – by Martine Pillette, published by Collins Educational 1997

Featured image: Citroen 2CV (original image) by PIRO4D at Pixabay, licensed under CC 0 Public Domain