A Rounded Approach to Progress

This post is to say a big thank you to @Laura_suths for sharing and caring and to explain some of the things I have done to try and create a rounded approach to accelerating and improving progress for lower ability students.


I teach a group of very lovely students – whose ability is currently lower than the national average for their age group. They are a varied bunch with some wonderful traits and who have much to offer. However, their ability to recall information or refine their basic skills is worryingly weak (for a few their ability to contextualise or transfer skills between subject matter is non-existent). This does not apply to all of the students, although most find it difficult to access the demands of the English curriculum. The good news is that I think all are making progress this year in some way. Not down to me but our wonderful SEN department, the support of our fabulous TA Tana and their previous teachers.

These students all have numerous SEN department interventions which I am very grateful for. In September, I knew that I would have to approach this class differently and I did try to differentiate madly between Autumn and Christmas. However, it was taking me hours to plan each lesson and the range of difficulties we were facing each lesson was so varied that I was starting to lose grip a little bit. Thankfully around this time I spoke to and read @Laura_suths, Head of English at a wonderful school, and read her blog about her lower ability group: http://300000questions.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/magpies-petals-and-christmas-cake-a-journey-with-y9/

This post chimed with me as we were about to start war poetry with year 9 and I didn’t have a clue how to approach such emotive and ambitious texts with this group. I decided to magpie Laura’s use of Pie Corbett’s ‘magpie’ terminology and use it with my group in the first lesson where the aim was to improve retrieval skills.  It went down really well. The terminology we use is always relevant. In particular with this semantics matter.  Embedding key language matters because this improves retrieval and ensures a sense of common ground for all. Lessons flow much more easily now that I use the same terminology over and over again. This is usually just verbally but can appear in the booklets and resources too.

The use of this word ‘magpie’ and the explanation that went with it, meant that for the first time in ages the whole group new what I was talking about without me having to explain it  14 times. This led to me thinking about how to simplify as much as possible of what happens in the lesson (the extra stuff) to make it accessible but whilst ensuring the content was challenging. After having spent an entire unit teaching basic punctuation skills I decided we may as well give space to a more knowledge based scheme whilst ensuring I underpinned their basic skills throughout the module – the use of terminology such as ‘magpie’ made this possible. Thank you Laura!

Many of the images and ideas are Laura’s; although I adapted the assessment for this group. The lessons and booklets I used can be downloaded from here: https://db.tt/3wKe99ta

In summary, after reading about Laura’s work, the main things I did to address this class over the forthcoming term were:

Addressing Organisational Skills and PLTS:

I adapted many of Laura’s lessons to create my own booklets for each lesson. Against school policy I stopped them using their exercise books and ordered 14 ring binder folders and sets of dividers. The idea behind the use of booklets each lesson, rather than the exercise books, was to stop wasting time writing down tittles, underlining, issues with overall presentation and organisation and try to improve these skills that really matter first of all. (I’m not saying presentation doesn’t matter, just that in some cases it’s the least of our worries!).







Students now have responsibility for their own folder. Each folder has a ‘targets’ section at the front which includes 1 behavioural, 1 social and 1 academic target for that term. These sheets look like this with a second sheet for signing off targets when complete.


For example, one set of targets looks like this:

Target How to achieve it?
1 To attempt to read words that are found to be difficult/ challenging/unknown, independently a)    Use   key word booklets/mats/dictionary/thesaurus/ connectives cards/synonyms mats
2        To take time when writing, to form all letters carefully b)    Use sentence starters/writing frames/scaffolding to support extended writing/structure
3 To have a positive approach to school and learning


c)    Think positively, ask for help when you need it. Make sure you say when you find something difficult so we can overcome it together.


Students also have a year group specific target sheet for each module’s assessments and targets to be recorded – the same as they would in their exercise books. In the second section they have all their booklets (numbered by lesson) for the War Poetry Scheme of work and in the third section they have all the booklets for their new A Midsummer Night’s Dream Scheme of Work. Every lesson I try to press upon them the importance of being organised, of filing their work carefully and ensuring they have all the work they need. If they miss a lesson I still put this booklet in their folder and mark it absent so that they have it to refer to or complete.

Each lesson I am to explicitly explains to students how they will be improving upon a PLTS. This includes asking students to work in groups with a specific role that challenges them; asking them to think creatively or to use specific terminology that lesson. As previously mentioned, on their individual target sheets each student has a specific target for their social skills and often these are referred to by the TA or me to encourage them to become more aware of their own decisions in the classroom and to improve their confidence levels.

Symbols in Booklets:



Each lesson I create a booklet with a starter activity on – this ensures a smooth start to the lesson even if some pupils take longer than others to get ready. The booklets also use clear symbols (thanks to Laura) which tell the students whether they are reading, discussing, writing or a combination so that they know what to do and how to do it. The booklets then move on to our main task and development. If that lesson we are studying a poem or piece of text, I will type that up so that we don’t have to use numerous sources to get our work done. This has really saved us time and avoids the ‘which page is it on?’ issue.

I always ensure there are extension activities for those who are able to complete each task in the time or quickly. These extension tasks ask students to relate their thinking to previous ideas, evaluate the issue or extend their thinking by thinking about the topic in another way. This leaves me and my TA time to support those who need it. You can have all your resources in one place for each lesson and despite the time it takes to make the booklets this saves times in the long run – I think!


Marking these booklets is easy because students are not allowed to take them home. I do most of my marking in class because they are simple and short tasks that I can give feedback on as they work. Students complete their assessments in these folders too. I don’t know why but for some reason they seem less laborious than books to mark!


This class have quite a few short homeworks to complete. They’ve started to realise recently that I really am being serious about doing the homework. Often lower ability classes aren’t given homework – and although, in general, I am not a big fan of homework I believe that for organisational purposes and improving their key skills that they must be taught how to meet deadlines and have to take some responsibility for themselves.


Alongside their short homeworks they have to complete a section of a SPAG booklet each week. This SPAG booklet was put together by a colleague who teaches the same set to address basic SPAG skills. Each week this booklet is marked with RAG and returned to the student to either complete missing sections, address what went wrong and try again or to do the next exercise. This ensures basic skills are covered.

Following on with A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

When writing the new AMSND Scheme of work for this group, I was keen to use the same language, symbols and process of learning as we had used for War Poetry. Having read about the value of interleaving and memory recall I planned to ensure that each section of the SoW refers back to key concepts I taught in the War Poetry scheme of work. We use the same terminology as the previous term in order to try and improve recall of these skills. Including the key terminology ‘to magpie’!

The SoW is knowledge based as I have become more aware of the fact that it is best to weave the skills through the teaching of knowledge rather than relay on a ‘content-less curriculum’.  I feel the practical changes to the lessons have benefited these students greatly and the use of recall and interleaving key concepts has aided their progress.

The scheme of work is only rough and can certainly be improved but there is a link to it below. Some of these students arrived in school on levels 2H or below in English and it is great to see them now working at around a level 5 or beyond. Moreover, they are more confident in English, able to read and criticise Shakespeare, Owen and Sassoon and are improving in a much more rounded way. I hope to carry on differentiating in a way that allows them to become independent and confident before year 10 begins.


The first 8 lessons for a Midsummer Night’s Dream: https://db.tt/EcwuaWmS – more to follow soon.




3 Replies to “A Rounded Approach to Progress”

  1. This looks great. I have a low-ability year 9 class this year and for my masters assignment, I have looked into the idea of memory recall and over-learning. Something which has obviously been a success with you and it has greatly improved the ability to retain information with my class too.
    I also love the idea of the symbols to indicate read, write or speak- definitely going to have to pinch that idea!

  2. Jenny Jen Jen this is a fab post, you are doing such brilliant work with this class. Can I pretty please come in and watch next term for my own interest (not a formal ob or anything!)? Think these are such brilliant strategies you are using and that they would be worth sharing across the school 🙂 xxxxx

    1. Of course. But be warned their progress isn’t quite as obvious as others! They can either be silly little devils or quiet as a mouse. They don’t ever go ‘oh I get it!’ Progress over time. Not 20 mins of time!

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